Between 1927 and 1931, the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer issued a series of illustrated poems called the Ariel Poems, named after Shakespeare’s sprite. Several prominent English writers contributed to the series including T.S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy, G. K. Chesterton, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, and Edith Sitwell. Each pamphlet had more or less the same simple format: a black and white artist print on the cover and a colored print inside followed by a poem.
What is most striking about these deceptively simple pamphlets is the role the illustrations play to complement and vastly enrich the poetry. Edward McKnight Kauffer, one of England’s most prolific and influential advertising poster artists during the 1920s and 30s, illustrated five of the poems T.S. Eliot wrote for the Ariel series. These poems were “The Journey of the Magi” (1927), “A Song for Simeon” (1928), “Marina” (1930), “Triumphal March” (1931), and later when the series was revived in the 1950s, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (1954).
Kauffer was renowned for his avant-garde graphic design and poster art for companies such as London Underground Railways (1915–40), Shell UK Ltd., the Daily Herald and British Petroleum (1934–6). His work incorporated techniques and aesthetics from numerous modernist movements including cubism, futurism, and surrealism. These influences are evident in his illustrations for T.S. Eliot’s Ariel Poems with their whimsical play with geometric form and abstraction.