Archives of American Art

The Architect Who Was a Poet and He Knowed It

Calendar with verses by William Adams Delano and illustrations by Tina Safranski, 1945. Arthur Sinclair Covey papers, 1882-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Calendar with verses by William Adams Delano and illustrations by Tina Safranski, 1945. Arthur Sinclair Covey papers, 1882-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

While it might seem strange to read holiday cards while spring flowers are in bloom, April is National Poetry Month, which is the perfect time to highlight some rhyming regards. The Arthur Sinclair Covey papers offer many of these delights.

In thirty-one, generally thin, folders of correspondence there are many holiday greetings, some of the most charming of which were sent by the architect William Adams Delano. Delano, along with Chester Holmes Aldrich, is best known for designing Kykuit (John D. Rockefeller’s estate in Hudson Valley, New York), several buildings at Yale University (including the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle), and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Delano had a habit of writing holiday messages in verse, and some years he printed small pocket calendars which were illustrated by artists and served as his annual Christmas card (three examples of which are found in Covey’s papers). His verses tend to be short and humorous—they very much remind me of Ogden Nash—though, living through world wars and the era of the atomic bomb, he did not leave more serious subjects untouched (his 1952 calendar was titled, A Caustic Calendar for a Worried World). Leading into 1945, the year World War II ended, he wrote:

I wish you happy months

In 1945 and

Send these silly rhymes,

Written last summer to my grandson,

BECAUSE

Though in the midst of global wars

I hope you may agree with me

There’s still a place for pleasantry.

The verses for 1945 were all animal themed, though, he took note of the war in October: The Geese are foolish fowl — BECAUSE / They taught the German Army Corps / That step so splendid on parade, / So useless fleeing from a raid

June 1950 selection from William Adam Delano holiday card
Printed calendar with verses by William Adams Delano and illustrations by Herbert Abrams, 1950. Arthur Sinclair Covey papers, 1882-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
August 1950 page from William Adams Delano holiday card
Printed calendar with verses by William Adams Delano and illustrations by Herbert Abrams, 1950. Arthur Sinclair Covey papers, 1882-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

In later calendars, there is a more reflective tone in Delano’s short poems, with ruminations on nature and the role of humankind in the world. June 1950’s verse offers: The search for truth leads far — BECAUSE / Some sceptics [sic] will uncover flaws / In many precepts long believed / And tell the world it’s been deceived. In the poem for August of the same year—five years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and two months since the start of the Korean War—Delano gives an illusion to the atomic bomb: The atom baffles us — BECAUSE / The more the scientist explores / The more we wonder whether it / Brings mankind woe or benefit.

In one of his last holiday greetings before passing away in 1960, Delano abandoned his printed pocket calendar and instead typed a short note to Covey:

This year my muse is on vacation but, before leaving, she charged me to send a word to all the kind friends who remember me at this season; so, obediently, I send my thanks and my best wishes for 1957.

And in typing out those wishes, he reminds us that even when he wasn’t rhyming he still served his muse.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Archives of American Art Blog.

Elizabeth Botten

Elizabeth Botten is a reference specialist at the Archives of American Art.

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