Poems of Sidney Lanier.
[Sidney Lanier; (Amer.) Georgian poet and scholar. 1842-1881.]
Etext by A. Light, email@example.com
Special thanks to Oliver Darmstaedter, Wiebke Schuck, and Thomas Schaich for their help deciphering the old German font used for the poem (in German), `An Frau Nannette Falk-Auerbach’.
Special thanks also to Sibyl Tyson, at The Springs Inn in Ponce de Leon, Fla., for assistance in making this etext possible.
[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are capitalized, if the italics were used for emphasis, or put in quotation marks, if the italics indicated a quotation. In one case, an italicized and indented paragraph has been indented 10 spaces to set it apart. Lines longer than 78 characters are broken, and the continuation is indented two spaces.]
Poems of Sidney Lanier.
Edited by his wife (Mary D. Lanier)
With a Memorial by William Hayes Ward.
—- “Go, trembling song,
And stay not long; oh stay not long; Thou’rt only a gray and sober dove,
But thine eye is faith and thy wing is love.”
Hymns of the Marshes.
(published December, 1882.)
(published January, 1882.)
III. Marsh Song — At Sunset.
(published February, 1882.)
IV. The Marshes of Glynn.
The Waving of the Corn.
The Song of the Chattahoochee.
From the Flats.
The Revenge of Hamish.
To Bayard Taylor.
A Dedication. To Charlotte Cushman.
(`Earliest Collected Poems’, 1876.)
To Charlotte Cushman.
A Song of Eternity in Time.
Owl against Robin.
A Song of the Future.
The Harlequin of Dreams.
II. The Ship of Earth.
III. How Love Looked for Hell.
V. Life and Song.
VI. To Richard Wagner.
VII. A Song of Love.
An Frau Nannette Falk-Auerbach.
To Nannette Falk-Auerbach.
To Our Mocking-Bird.
To —-, with a Rose.
On Huntingdon’s “Miranda”.
Ode to the Johns Hopkins University.
To Dr. Thomas Shearer.
Psalm of the West.
At First. To Charlotte Cushman.
A Ballad of Trees and the Master.
A Florida Sunday.
To My Class: On Certain Fruits and Flowers Sent Me in Sickness. (October, 1884.)
On Violet’s Wafers, Sent Me When I Was Ill. (October, 1884.)
Under the Cedarcroft Chestnut.
An Evening Song.
A Sunrise Song.
On a Palmetto.
To J. D. H.
Thou and I.
The Hard Times in Elfland.
A Florida Ghost.
Uncle Jim’s Baptist Revival Hymn.
(Sidney and Clifford Lanier). (1876.)
“Nine from Eight”.
“Thar’s more in the Man than thar is in the Land”. (1869.)
Jones’s Private Argyment.
The Power of Prayer; or, The First Steamboat up the Alabama. (Sidney and Clifford Lanier). (1875-76.)
Unrevised Early Poems.
The Jacquerie. A Fragment.
The Golden Wedding of Sterling and Sarah Lanier, September 27, 1868.
The Raven Days.
Laughter in the Senate.
A Sea-Shore Grave. To M. J. L.
(Sidney and Clifford Lanier). (July, 1871.)
Souls and Rain-Drops.
Night and Day.
A Birthday Song. To S. G.
The Palm and the Pine.
The Dying Words of Stonewall Jackson.
In the Foam.
June Dreams, in January.
Notes to Poems.
The Centennial Meditation of Columbia. 1776-1876. A Cantata.
Note to the Cantata.
Because I believe that Sidney Lanier was much more than a clever artisan in rhyme and metre; because he will, I think, take his final rank with the first princes of American song, I am glad to provide this slight memorial. There is sufficient material in his letters for an extremely interesting biography, which could be properly prepared only by his wife. These pages can give but a sketch of his life and work.
Sidney Lanier was born at Macon, Ga., on the third of February, 1842. His earliest known ancestor of the name was Jerome Lanier, a Huguenot refugee, who was attached to the court of Queen Elizabeth, very likely as a musical composer; and whose son, Nicholas, was in high favor with James I. and Charles I., as director of music, painter, and political envoy; and whose grandson, Nicholas, held a similar position in the court of Charles II. A portrait of the elder Nicholas Lanier, by his friend Van Dyck, was sold, with other pictures belonging to Charles I., after his execution. The younger Nicholas was the first Marshal, or presiding officer, of the Society of Musicians, incorporated at the Restoration, “for the improvement of the science and the interest of its professors;” and it is remarkable that four others of the name of Lanier were among the few incorporators, one of them, John Lanier, very likely father of the Sir John Lanier who fought as Major-General at the Battle of the Boyne, and fell gloriously at Steinkirk along with the brave Douglas.
The American branch of the family originated as early as 1716 with the immigration of Thomas Lanier, who settled with other colonists on a grant of land ten miles square, which includes the present city of Richmond, Va. One of the family, a Thomas Lanier, married an aunt of George Washington. The family is somewhat widely scattered, chiefly in the Southern States.
The father of our poet was Robert S. Lanier, a lawyer still living in Macon, Ga. His mother was Mary Anderson, a Virginian of Scotch descent, from a family that supplied members of the House of Burgesses of Virginia for many years and in more than one generation, and was gifted in poetry, music, and oratory.
His earliest passion was for music. As a child he learned to play, almost without instruction, on every kind of instrument he could find; and while yet a boy he played the flute, organ, piano, violin, guitar, and banjo, especially devoting himself to the flute in deference to his father, who feared for him the powerful fascination of the violin. For it was the violin-voice that, above all others, commanded his soul. He has related that during his college days it would sometimes so exalt him in rapture, that presently he would sink from his solitary music-worship into a deep trance, thence to awake, alone, on the floor of his room, sorely shaken in nerve.
In after years more than one listener remarked the strange violin effects which he conquered from the flute. His devotion to music rather alarmed than pleased his friends, and while it was here that he first discovered that he possessed decided genius, he for some time shared the early notion of his parents, that it was an unworthy pursuit, and he rather repressed his taste. He did not then know by what inheritance it had come to him, nor how worthy is the art.
At the age of fourteen he entered the sophomore class of Oglethorpe College, an institution under Presbyterian control near Midway, Ga., which had not vitality enough to survive the war. He graduated in 1860, at the age of eighteen, with the first honors of his class, having lost a year during which he took a clerkship in the Macon post-office. At least one genuine impulse was received in this college life, and that proceeded from Professor James Woodrow, who was then one of Sidney’s teachers, and who has since been connected with the University and Theological Seminary in Columbia, S. C. During the last weeks of his life Mr. Lanier stated that he owed to Professor Woodrow the strongest and most valuable stimulus of his youth. Immediately on his graduation he was called to a tutorship in the college, which position he held until the outbreak of the war.
And here, with some hesitation, I record, as a true biography requires, the development of his consciousness of possessing real genius. One with this gift has a right to know it, just as others know if they possess talent or shiftiness of resource. While we do not talk so much of genius now as we did a generation ago, we can yet recognize the difference between the fervor of that divine birth and the cantering of the livery Pegasus forth and back, along the vulgar boulevards over which facile talent rides his daily hack. Only once or twice, in his own private note-book, or in a letter to his wife when it was needful, in sickness and loneliness, to strengthen her will and his by testifying his own deepest consciousness of power, did he whisper the assurance of his strength. But he knew it, and she knew it, and it gave his will a peace in toil, a sun-lit peace, notwithstanding sickness, or want, or misapprehension, calm above the zone of clouds.
As I have said, his genius he first fully discovered in music. I copy from his pencilled college note-book what cannot have been written after he was eighteen years old. The boy had been discussing the question with himself how far his inclinations were to be regarded as indicating his best capacities and his duties. He says:
“The point which I wish to settle is merely, by what method shall I ascertain what I am fit for, as preliminary to ascertaining God’s will with reference to me; or what my inclinations are, as preliminary to ascertaining what my capacities are, that is, what I am fit for. I am more than all perplexed by this fact, that the prime inclination, that is, natural bent (which I have checked, though) of my nature is to music; and for that I have the greatest talent; indeed, not boasting, for God gave it me, I have an extraordinary musical talent, and feel it within me plainly that I could rise as high as any composer. But I cannot bring myself to believe that I was intended for a musician, because it seems so small a business in comparison with other things which, it seems to me, I might do. Question here, What is the province of music in the economy of the world?”
Similar aspirations he felt at this early age, probably eighteen, for grand literary labor, as the same note-book would bear witness. We see here the boy talking to himself, a boy who had found in himself a standard above anything in his fellows.
The breaking out of the war summoned Sidney Lanier from books to arms. In April, 1861, he enlisted in the Confederate Army, with the Macon Volunteers of the Second Georgia Battalion, the first military organization which left Georgia for Virginia. From his childhood he had had a military taste. Even as a small boy he had raised a company of boys armed with bows and arrows, and so well did he drill them that an honored place was granted them in the military parades of their elders. Having volunteered as a private at the age of nineteen, he remained a private till the last year of the war. Three times he was offered promotion and refused it because it would separate him from his younger brother, who was his companion in arms, as their singularly tender devotion would not allow them to be parted. The first year of service in Virginia was easy and pleasant, and he spent his abundant leisure in music and the study of German, French, and Spanish. He was in the battles of Seven Pines, Drewry’s Bluffs, and the seven days’ fighting about Richmond, culminating in the terrible struggle of Malvern Hill. After this campaign he was transferred, with his brother, to the signal service, the joke among his less fortunate companions being that he was selected because he could play the flute. His headquarters were now for a short period at Petersburg, where he had the advantage of a small local library, but where he began to feel the premonitions of that fatal disease, consumption, against which he battled for fifteen years. The regular full inspirations required by the flute probably prolonged his life. In 1863 his detachment was mounted and did service in Virginia and North Carolina. At last the two brothers were separated, it coming in the duty of each to take charge of a vessel which was to run the blockade. Sidney’s vessel was captured, and he was for five months in Point Lookout prison, until he was exchanged (with his flute, for he never lost it), near the close of the war. Those were very hard days for him, and a picture of them is given in his “Tiger Lilies”, the novel which he wrote two years afterward. It is a luxuriant, unpruned work, written in haste for the press within the space of three weeks, but one which gave rich promise of the poet. A chapter in the middle of the book, introducing the scenes of those four years of struggle, is wholly devoted to a remarkable metaphor, which becomes an allegory and a sermon, in which war is pictured as “a strange, enormous, terrible flower,” which “the early spring of 1861 brought to bloom besides innumerable violets and jessamines.” He tells how the plant is grown; what arguments the horticulturists give for cultivating it; how Christ inveighed against it, and how its shades are damp and its odors unhealthy; and what a fine specimen was grown the other day in North America by “two wealthy landed proprietors, who combined all their resources of money, of blood, of bones, of tears, of sulphur, and what not, to make this the grandest specimen of modern horticulture.” “It is supposed by some,” says he, “that seed of this American specimen (now dead) yet remains in the land; but as for this author (who, with many friends, suffered from the unhealthy odors of the plant), he could find it in his heart to wish fervently that this seed, if there be verily any, might perish in the germ, utterly out of sight and life and memory, and out of the remote hope of resurrection, forever and ever, no matter in whose granary they are cherished!” Through those four years, though earnestly devoted to the cause, and fulfilling his duties with zeal, his horror of war grew to the end. He had entered it in a “crack” regiment, with a dandy uniform, and was first encamped near Norfolk, where the gardens, with the Northern market hopelessly cut off, were given freely to the soldiers, who lived in every luxury; and every man had his sweetheart in Norfolk. But the tyranny and Christlessness of war oppressed him, though he loved the free life in the saddle and under the stars.
In February, 1865, he was released from Point Lookout and undertook the weary return on foot to his home in Georgia, with the twenty-dollar gold piece which he had in his pocket when captured, and which was returned to him, with his other little effects, when he was released. Of course he had the flute, which he had hidden in his sleeve when he entered the prison, and which had earned him some comforts. He reached home March 15th, with his strength utterly exhausted. There followed six weeks of desperate illness, and just as he began to recover from it his beloved mother died of consumption. He himself arose from his sick-bed with pronounced congestion of one lung, but found relief in two months of out-of-door life with an uncle at Point Clear, Mobile Bay. From December, 1865, to April, 1867, he filled a clerkship in Montgomery, Ala., and in the next month made his first visit to New York on the business of publishing his “Tiger Lilies”, written in April. In September, 1867, he took charge of a country academy of nearly a hundred pupils in Prattville, Ala., and was married in December of the same year to Miss Mary Day, daughter of Charles Day, of Macon.
To the years before Mr. Lanier’s marriage belong a dozen poems included in this volume. Two of them are translations from the German made during the war; the others are songs and miscellaneous poems, full of flush and force, but not yet moulded by those laws of art of whose authority he had hardly become conscious. His access to books was limited, and he expressed himself more with music than with literature, taking down the notes of birds, and writing music to his own songs or those of Tennyson.
In January, 1868, the next month after his marriage, he suffered his first hemorrhage from the lungs, and returned in May to Macon, in very low health. Here he remained, studying and afterward practising law with his father, until December, 1872. During this period there came, in the spring and summer of 1870, a more alarming decline with settled cough. He went for treatment to New York, where he remained two months, returning in October greatly improved and strong in hope; but again at home he lost ground steadily. He was now fairly engaged in the brave struggle against consumption, which could have but one end. So precarious already was his health that a change of residence was determined on, and in December, 1872, he went to San Antonio, Texas, in search of a permanent home there, leaving his wife and children meanwhile at Macon. But the climate did not prove favorable and he returned in April, 1873.
During these five years a sense of holy obligation, based on the conviction that special talents had been given him, and that the time might be short, rested upon Lanier, until it was impossible to resist it longer. He felt himself called to something other than a country attorney’s practice. It was the compulsion of waiting utterance, not yet enfranchised. From Texas he wrote to his wife:
“Were it not for some circumstances which make such a proposition seem absurd in the highest degree, I would think that I am shortly to die, and that my spirit hath been singing its swan-song before dissolution. All day my soul hath been cutting swiftly into the great space of the subtle, unspeakable deep, driven by wind after wind of heavenly melody. The very inner spirit and essence of all wind-songs, bird-songs, passion-songs, folk-songs, country-songs, sex-songs, soul-songs and body-songs hath blown upon me in quick gusts like the breath of passion, and sailed me into a sea of vast dreams, whereof each wave is at once a vision and a melody.”
Now fully determined to give himself to music and literature so long as he could keep death at bay, he sought a land of books. Taking his flute and his pen for sword and staff, he turned his face northward. After visiting New York he made his home in Baltimore, December, 1873, under engagement as first flute for the Peabody Symphony Concerts.
With his settlement in Baltimore begins a story of as brave and sad a struggle as the history of genius records. On the one hand was the opportunity for study, and the full consciousness of power, and a will never subdued; and on the other a body wasting with consumption, that must be forced to task beyond its strength not merely to express the thoughts of beauty which strove for utterance, but from the necessity of providing bread for his babes. His father would have had him return to Macon, and settle down with him in business and share his income, but that would have been the suicide of every duty and ambition. So he wrote from Baltimore to his father, November 29, 1873:
“I have given your last letter the fullest and most careful consideration. After doing so I feel sure that Macon is not the place for me. If you could taste the delicious crystalline air, and the champagne breeze that I’ve just been rushing about in, I am equally sure that in point of climate you would agree with me that my chance for life is ten times as great here as in Macon. Then, as to business, why should I, nay, how CAN I, settle myself down to be a third-rate struggling lawyer for the balance of my little life, as long as there is a certainty almost absolute that I can do some other thing so much better? Several persons, from whose judgment in such matters there can be no appeal, have told me, for instance, that I am the greatest flute-player in the world; and several others, of equally authoritative judgment, have given me an almost equal encouragement to work with my pen. (Of course I protest against the necessity which makes me write such things about myself. I only do so because I so appreciate the love and tenderness which prompt you to desire me with you that I will make the fullest explanation possible of my course, out of reciprocal honor and respect for the motives which lead you to think differently from me.) My dear father, think how, for twenty years, through poverty, through pain, through weariness, through sickness, through the uncongenial atmosphere of a farcical college and of a bare army and then of an exacting business life, through all the discouragement of being wholly unacquainted with literary people and literary ways — I say, think how, in spite of all these depressing circumstances, and of a thousand more which I could enumerate, these two figures of music and of poetry have steadily kept in my heart so that I could not banish them. Does it not seem to you as to me, that I begin to have the right to enroll myself among the devotees of these two sublime arts, after having followed them so long and so humbly, and through so much bitterness?”
What could his father do but yield? And what could he do during the following years of his son’s fight for standing-room on the planet but help? But for that help, generously given by his father and brother, as their ability allowed, at the critical times of utter prostration, the end would not have been long delayed. For the little that was necessary to give his household a humble support it was not easy for the most strenuous young author to win by his pen in the intervals between his hemorrhages. He asked for very little, only the supply of absolute necessities, what it would be easy for a well man to earn, but what it was very hard for a man to earn scarce able to leave his bed, dependent on the chance income had from poems and articles in magazines that would take them, or from courses of lectures in schools. Often for months together he could do no work. He was driven to Texas, to Florida, to Pennsylvania, to North Carolina, to try to recover health from pine breaths and clover blossoms. Supported by the implicit faith of one heart, which fully believed in his genius, and was willing to wait if he could only find his opportunity, his courage never failed. He still kept before himself first his ideal and his mission, and he longed to live that he might accomplish them. It must have been in such a mood that, soon after coming to Baltimore, he wrote to his wife, who was detained in the South:
“So many great ideas for Art are born to me each day, I am swept away into the land of All-Delight by their strenuous sweet whirlwind; and I find within myself such entire, yet humble, confidence of possessing every single element of power to carry them all out, save the little paltry sum of money that would suffice to keep us clothed and fed in the meantime.
“I do not understand this.”
Lanier’s was an unknown name, and he would write only in obedience to his own sense of art, and he did not fit his wares to the taste of those who buy verse. It was to comfort his wife, in this period of greatest uncertainty whether he had not erred in launching in the sea of literature, that he wrote again a letter of frankest confession:
“I will make to thee a little confession of faith, telling thee, my dearer self, in words, what I do not say to my not-so-dear-self except in more modest feeling.
“Know, then, that disappointments were inevitable, and will still come until I have fought the battle which every great artist has had to fight since time began. This — dimly felt while I was doubtful of my own vocation and powers — is clear as the sun to me now that I KNOW, through the fiercest tests of life, that I am in soul, and shall be in life and utterance, a great poet.
“The philosophy of my disappointments is, that there is so much CLEVERNESS standing betwixt me and the public . . . Richard Wagner is sixty years old and over, and one-half of the most cultivated artists of the most cultivated art-land, quoad music, still think him an absurdity. Says Schumann in one of his letters: `The publishers will not listen to me for a moment’; and dost thou not remember Schubert, and Richter, and John Keats, and a sweet host more?
“Now this is written because I sit here in my room daily, and picture THEE picturing ME worn, and troubled, or disheartened; and because I do not wish thee to think up any groundless sorrow in thy soul. Of course I have my keen sorrows, momentarily more keen than I would like any one to know; but I thank God that in a knowledge of Him and of myself which cometh to me daily in fresh revelations, I have a steadfast firmament of blue, in which all clouds soon dissolve. I have wanted to say this several times of late, but it is not easy to bring one’s self to talk so of one’s self, even to one’s dearer self.
“Have then . . . no fears nor anxieties in my behalf; look upon all my disappointments as mere witnesses that art has no enemy so unrelenting as cleverness, and as rough weather that seasons timber. It is of little consequence whether *I* fail; the *I* in the matter is a small business: `Que mon nom soit fle/tri, que la France soit libre!’ quoth Danton; which is to say, interpreted by my environment: Let my name perish — the poetry is good poetry and the music is good music, and beauty dieth not, and the heart that needs it will find it.” ==
Having now given sacredly to art what vital forces his will could command, he devoted himself, with an intense energy, to the study of English literature, making himself a master of Anglo-Saxon and early English texts, and pursuing the study down to our own times. He read freely, also, and with a scholar’s nice eagerness, in further fields of study, but all with a view to gathering the stores which a full man might draw from in the practice of poetic art; for he had that large compass which sees and seeks truths in various excursions, and no field of history, or philology, or philosophy, or science found him unsympathetic. The opportunity for these studies opened a new era in his development, while we begin to find a crystallization of that theory of formal verse which he adopted, and a growing power to master it. To this artistic side of poetry he gave, from this time, very special study, until he had formulated it in his lectures in the Johns Hopkins University, and in his volume “The Science of English Verse”.
But from this time the struggle against his fatal disease was conscious and constant. In May, 1874, he visited Florida under an engagement to write a book for distribution by a railroad company. Two months of the summer were spent with his family at Sunnyside, Ga., where “Corn” was written. This poem, published in `Lippincott’s Magazine’, was much copied, and made him known to many admirers. No one of these was of so much value to him as Bayard Taylor, at whose suggestion he was chosen to write the cantata for the opening of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, and with whom he carried on a correspondence so long as Mr. Taylor lived. To Mr. Taylor he owed introductions of value to other writers, and for his sympathy and aid his letters prove that he felt very grateful. In his first letter to Mr. Taylor, written August 7, 1875, he says:
“I could never describe to you what a mere drought and famine my life has been, as regards that multitude of matters which I fancy one absorbs when one is in an atmosphere of art, or when one is in conversational relation with men of letters, with travellers, with persons who have either seen, or written, or done large things. Perhaps you know that, with us of the younger generation in the South since the war, pretty much the whole of life has been merely not dying.” ==
The selection of Mr. Lanier to write the Centennial Cantata first brought his name into general notice; but its publication, in advance of the music by Dudley Buck, was the occasion of an immense amount of ridicule, more or less good-humored. It was written by a musician to go with music under the new relations of poetry to music brought about by the great modern development of the orchestra, and was not to be judged without its orchestral accompaniment. The criticism it received pained our poet, but did not at all affect his faith in his theories of art. To his father he wrote from New York, May 8, 1876:
“My experience in the varying judgments given about poetry . . . has all converged upon one solitary principle, and the experience of the artist in all ages is reported by history to be of precisely the same direction. That principle is, that the artist shall put forth, humbly and lovingly, and without bitterness against opposition, the very best and highest that is within him, utterly regardless of contemporary criticism. What possible claim can contemporary criticism set up to respect — that criticism which crucified Jesus Christ, stoned Stephen, hooted Paul for a madman, tried Luther for a criminal, tortured Galileo, bound Columbus in chains, drove Dante into a hell of exile, made Shakespeare write the sonnet, `When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’, gave Milton five pounds for `Paradise Lost’, kept Samuel Johnson cooling his heels on Lord Chesterfield’s doorstep, reviled Shelley as an unclean dog, killed Keats, cracked jokes on Glueck, Schubert, Beethoven, Berlioz, and Wagner, and committed so many other impious follies and stupidities that a thousand letters like this could not suffice even to catalogue them?” ==
Since first coming to the North in September, 1873, Mr. Lanier had been separated from his family. The two happy months with them after his visit to Florida was followed by several other briefer visits. The winters of 1874-75 and 1875-76 found him still in Baltimore, playing at the Peabody, pursuing his studies and writing the “Symphony”, the “Psalm of the West”, the “Cantata”, and some shorter poems, with a series of prose descriptive articles for `Lippincott’s Magazine’. In the summer of 1876 he called his family to join him at West Chester, Pa. This was authorized by an engagement to write the Life of Charlotte Cushman. The work was begun, but the engagement was broken two months later, owing to the illness of the friend of the family who was to provide the material from the mass of private correspondence.
Following this disappointment a new cold was incurred, and his health became so much impaired that in November the physicians told him he could not expect to live longer than May, unless he sought a warmer climate. About the middle of December he started with his wife for the Gulf coast, and visited Tampa, Fla., gaining considerable benefit from the mild climate. In April he ventured North again, tarrying through the spring with his friends in Georgia; and, after a summer with his own family in Chadd’s Ford, Pa., a final move was ventured in October to Baltimore as home. Here he resumed his old place in the Peabody orchestra, and continued to play there for three winters.
The Old English studies which he had pursued with such deep delight, he now put to use in a course of lectures on Elizabethan Verse, given in a private parlor to a class of thirty ladies. This was followed by a more ambitious “Shakespeare Course” of lectures in the smaller hall of the Peabody Institute. The undertaking was immensely cheered on and greatly praised, but was a financial failure. It opened the way, however, to one of the chiefest delights of his life, his appointment as lecturer on English literature for the ensuing year at the Johns Hopkins University. After some correspondence on the subject with President Gilman, he received notice on his birthday, 1879, of his appointment, with a salary attached (it may be mentioned), which gave him the first income assured in any year since his marriage. This stimulated him to new life, for he was now barely able to walk after a severe illness and renewed hemorrhage.
The last two years had been more fruitful in verse than any that had gone before, as he had now acquired confidence in his view of the principles of art. In 1875 he had written:
“In this little song [`Special Pleading’] I have begun to dare to give myself some freedom in my own peculiar style, and have allowed myself to treat words, similes, and metres with such freedom as I desired. The result convinces me that I can do so now safely.” ==
Among his poems of this period may be mentioned “A Song of the Future”, “The Revenge of Hamish”, and — what are excellent examples of the kind of art of which he had now gained command — “The Song of the Chattahoochee”, and “A Song of Love”. It was at this time that he wrote “The Marshes of Glynn”, his most ambitious poem thus far, and one which he intended to follow with a series of “Hymns of the Marshes”, which he left incomplete.
The summer of 1879 was spent at Rockingham Springs, Va., and here, in six weeks, was begun and finished his volume, “Science of English Verse”. Another severe illness prostrated him in September, but the necessity of work allowed no time for such distractions. In October he opened three lecture courses in young ladies’ schools; and through the winter, notwithstanding a most menacing illness about January 1st, he was in continuous rehearsals and concerts at the Peabody, and besides miscellaneous writings and studies, gave weekly ten lectures upon English literature, two of them public at the University, two to University classes, and the remaining six at private schools. The University public lectures upon English Verse, more especially Shakespeare’s, in part contained, and in part were introductory to, “The Science of English Verse”.
The final consuming fever opened in May, 1880. In July he went with Mrs. Lanier and her father to West Chester, Pa., where a fourth son was born in August. Unable to bear the fall climate, he returned, alone, early in September to his Baltimore home.
This winter brought a hand-to-hand battle for life. In December he came to the very door of death. Before February he had essayed the open air to test himself for his second University lecture course. His improvement ceased on that first day of exposure. Nevertheless, by April he had gone through the twelve lectures (there were to have been twenty), which were later published under the title “The English Novel”. A few of the earlier lectures he penned himself; the rest he was obliged to dictate to his wife. With the utmost care of himself, going in a closed carriage and sitting during his lecture, his strength was so exhausted that the struggle for breath in the carriage on his return seemed each time to threaten the end. Those who heard him listened with a sort of fascinated terror, as in doubt whether the hoarded breath would suffice to the end of the hour.
It was in December of this winter, when too feeble to raise his food to his mouth, with a fever temperature of 104 degrees, that he pencilled his last and greatest poem, “Sunrise”, one of his projected series of the “Hymns of the Marshes”. It seemed as if he were in fear that he would die with it unuttered.
At the end of April, 1881, he made his last visit to New York, to complete arrangements with Charles Scribner’s Sons for the publication of other books of the King Arthur series. But in a day or two aggravated illness compelled his wife to join him, and his medical adviser pronounced tent-life in a pure, high climate to be the last hope. His brother Clifford was summoned from Alabama to assist in carrying out the plans for encamping near Asheville, N.C., whither the brothers went soon after the middle of May. By what seemed a hopeful coincidence he was tendered a commission to write an account of the region in a railroad interest, as he had done six years before with Florida. This provided a monthly salary, which was to be the dependence of himself and family. The materials for this book were collected, and the book thoroughly shaped in the author’s mind when July ended; but his increasing anguish kept him from dictating, often from all speech for hours, and he carried the plan away with him.
A site was chosen on the side of Richmond Hill, three miles from Asheville. Clifford returned to Alabama, after seeing the tents pitched and floored, and Mrs. Lanier came with her infant to take her place as nurse for the invalid. Early in July Mr. Lanier the father, with his wife, joined them in the encampment. As the passing weeks brought no improvement to the sufferer he started, August 4th, on a carriage journey across the mountains with his wife, to test the climate of Lynn, Polk County, N. C. There a deadly illness attacked him. No return was possible, and Clifford was summoned by telegraph, and assisted his father in removing the encampment to Lynn. Deceived by hope, and pressed by business cares, Clifford went home August 24th, and the father and his wife five days later, expecting to return soon. Mrs. Lanier’s own words, as written in the brief “annals” of his life furnished me, will tell the end:
“We are left alone” (August 29th) “with one another. On the last night of the summer comes a change. His love and immortal will hold off the destroyer of our summer yet one more week, until the forenoon of September 7th, and then falls the frost, and that unfaltering will renders its supreme submission to the adored will of God.”
So the tragedy ended, the manly struggle carried on with indomitable resolution against illness and want and care. Just when he seemed to have conquered success enough to assure him a little leisure to write his poems, then his feeble but resolute hold upon earth was exhausted. What he left behind him was written with his life-blood. High above all the evils of the world he lived in a realm of ideal serenity, as if it were the business of life to conquer difficulties.
This is not the place for an essay on the genius of Sidney Lanier. It is enough to call attention to some marked points in his character and work.
He had more than Milton’s love for music. He sung like a bard to the accompaniment of a harp. He lived in sweet sounds: forever conscious of a ceaseless flow of melody which, if resisted for a while by business occupations, would swell again in its natural current and break at his bidding into audible music.
We have the following recognition of his genius from Asger Hamerik, his Director for six years in the Peabody Symphony Orchestra of Baltimore:
“To him as a child in his cradle Music was given: the heavenly gift to feel and to express himself in tones. His human nature was like an enchanted instrument, a magic flute, or the lyre of Apollo, needing but a breath or a touch to send its beauty out into the world. It was indeed irresistible that he should turn with those poetical feelings which transcend language to the penetrating gentleness of the flute, or the infinite passion of the violin; for there was an agreement, a spiritual correspondence between his nature and theirs, so that they mutually absorbed and expressed each other. In his hands the flute no longer remained a mere material instrument, but was transformed into a voice that set heavenly harmonies into vibration. Its tones developed colors, warmth, and a low sweetness of unspeakable poetry; they were not only true and pure, but poetic, allegoric as it were, suggestive of the depths and heights of being and of the delights which the earthly ear never hears and the earthly eye never sees. No doubt his firm faith in these lofty idealities gave him the power to present them to our imaginations, and thus by the aid of the higher language of Music to inspire others with that sense of beauty in which he constantly dwelt.
“His conception of music was not reached by an analytic study of note by note, but was intuitive and spontaneous; like a woman’s reason: he felt it so, because he felt it so, and his delicate perception required no more logical form of reasoning.
“His playing appealed alike to the musically learned and to the unlearned — for he would magnetize the listener; but the artist felt in his performance the superiority of the momentary living inspiration to all the rules and shifts of mere technical scholarship. His art was not only the art of art, but an art above art.
“I will never forget the impression he made on me when he played the flute-concerto of Emil Hartmann at a Peabody symphony concert, in 1878: his tall, handsome, manly presence, his flute breathing noble sorrows, noble joys, the orchestra softly responding. The audience was spellbound. Such distinction, such refinement! He stood, the master, the genius.” ==
In the one novel which he wrote at the age of twenty-five, he makes one of his characters say:
“To make a HOME out of a household, given the raw materials — to wit, wife, children, a friend or two, and a house — two other things are necessary. These are a good fire and good music. And inasmuch as we can do without the fire for half the year, I may say music is the one essential.” “Late explorers say they have found some nations that have no God; but I have not read of any that had no music.” “Music means harmony, harmony means love, love means — God!” ==
The theoretical relation between music and poetry would hardly have attracted his study had it not been that his mind was as truly philosophically and scientifically accurate, as it was poetically sensuous and imaginative. In a letter to Mr. E. C. Stedman he complained that “in all directions the poetic art was suffering from the shameful circumstance that criticism was without a scientific basis for even the most elementary of its judgments.”
Although the work was irksome to him, he could not go on writing at hap-hazard, trusting to his own mere taste to decide what was good, until he had settled for himself scientifically what are the laws of poetical construction. This accounts for his exposition of the laws of beauty in that unique work, “The Science of English Verse”, which was based on Dante’s thought, “The best conceptions cannot be save where science and genius are.” The book is chiefly taken up with a discussion of rhythm and tone-color in verse; and it is well within the truth to say that it is the most complete and thorough original investigation of the formal element in poetry in existence. The rhythm he treated as the marking of definite time measurements, which could be indicated by bars in musical notation, having their regular time and their regular number of notes, with their proper accent. To this time measurement Mr. Lanier gave the pre-eminence which Coleridge and other writers have given to accent. He conceived of a line of poetry as consisting of a definite number of bars (or feet), each bar containing, in dactylic metre, three equal “eighth notes”, of which the first is accented, or in iambic metre (which has the same “triple” time), of one “eighth note”, and one “quarter note”, with the accent on the second. Thus the accented syllable is not necessarily “longer” than the unaccented, except as the rhythm happens to make it so. This idea is very fully developed and with great wealth of curious Old English illustrations. Under the designation of “tone-color” he treats very suggestively of rhyme, alliteration, and vowel and consonant distribution, showing how the recurrence of euphonic vowels and consonants secures that rich variety of tone-color which music gives in orchestration. The work thus breaks away from the classic grammarian’s tables of trochees and anapaests, and discusses the forms of poetry in the terms of music; and of both tone-color and of rhythm he would say, in the words of old King James, “the very touch-stone whereof is music.”
Illustrations of these technical beauties of musical rhythm, and vowel and consonant distribution, abound in Lanier’s poetry. Such is the “Song of the Chattahoochee”, which deserves a place beside Tennyson’s “Brook”. It strikes a higher key, and is scarcely less musical. Such passages are numerous in his “Sunrise on the Marshes”, as in the lines beginning,
“Not slower than majesty moves,”
or the other lines beginning,
“Oh, what if a sound should be made!”
These investigations in the science of verse bore their fruit especially in the poems written during the last three or four years of his life, when his sense of the solemn sacredness of Art became more profound, and he acquired a greater ease in putting into practice his theory of verse. And this made him thoroughly original. He was no imitator either of Tennyson or of Swinburne, though musically he is nearer to them than to any others of his day. We constantly notice in his verse that dainty effect which the ear loves, and which comes from deft marshalling of consonants and vowels, so that they shall add their suppler and subtler reinforcement to the steady infantry tramp of rhythm. Of this delicate art, which is much more than mere alliteration, which is concerned with dominant accented vowels as well as consonants, with the easy flow of liquids and fricatives, and with the progressive opening or closing of the organs of articulation, the laws are not easy to formulate, but examples abound in Lanier’s poems.
Mr. Stedman, poet and critic, raises the question whether Lanier’s extreme conjunction of the artistic with the poetic temperament, which he says no man has more clearly displayed, did not somewhat hamper and delay his power of adequate expression. Possibly, but he was building not for the day, but for time. He must work out his laws of poetry, even if he had almost to invent its language; for to him was given the power of analysis as well as of construction, and he was too conscientious to do anything else than to find out what was best and why, and then tell and teach it as he had learnt it, even if men said that his late spring was delaying bud and blossom.
But it would be a great mistake to find in Lanier only, or chiefly, the artist. He had the substance of poetry. He possessed both elements, as Stedman says, “in extreme conjunction.” He overflowed with fancy. His imagination needed to be held in check. This was recognized in “Corn”, and appears more fully in “The Symphony”, the first productions which gave him wide recognition as a poet. Illustrations too much abound to allow selection.
And for the substance of invention there needed, in Lanier’s judgment, large and exact knowledge of the world’s facts. A poet must be a student of things, truths, and men. His own studies were wide and his scholarship accurate. He did not believe that art comes all by instinct, without work. In one of his keen criticisms of poets he said of Edgar A. Poe, whom he esteemed more highly than his countrymen are wont to do: “The trouble with Poe was, he did not KNOW enough. He needed to know a good many more things in order to be a great poet.” Lanier had “a passion for the exact truth,” and all of it.
The intense sacredness with which Lanier invested Art held him thrall to the highest ethical ideas. To him the most beautiful thing of all was Right. He loved the words, “the beauty of holiness”, and it pleased him to reverse the phrase and call it “the holiness of beauty”. When one reads Lanier, he is reminded of two writers, Milton and Ruskin. More than any other great English authors they are dominated by this beauty of holiness. Lanier was saturated with it. It shines out of every line he wrote. It is not that he never wrote a maudlin line, but that every thought was lofty. That it must be so was a first postulate of his Art. Hear his words to the students of Johns Hopkins University:
“Let any sculptor hew us out the most ravishing combination of tender curves and spheric softness that ever stood for woman; yet if the lip have a certain fulness that hints of the flesh, if the brow be insincere, if in the minutest particular the physical beauty suggests a moral ugliness, that sculptor — unless he be portraying a moral ugliness for a moral purpose — may as well give over his marble for paving-stones. Time, whose judgments are inexorably moral, will not accept his work. For, indeed, we may say that he who has not yet perceived how artistic beauty and moral beauty are convergent lines which run back into a common ideal origin, and who therefore is not afire with moral beauty just as with artistic beauty — that he, in short, who has not come to that stage of quiet and eternal frenzy in which the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty mean one thing, burn as one fire, shine as one light within him; he is not yet the great artist.”
And he returns to the theme:
“Can not one say with authority to the young artist, whether working in stone, in color, in tones, or in character-forms of the novel: So far from dreading that your moral purpose will interfere with your beautiful creation, go forward in the clear conviction that unless you are suffused — soul and body, one might say — with that moral purpose which finds its largest expression in love; that is, the love of all things in their proper relation; unless you are suffused with this love, do not dare to meddle with beauty; unless you are suffused with beauty, do not dare to meddle with love; unless you are suffused with truth, do not dare to meddle with goodness; in a word, unless you are suffused with truth, wisdom, goodness, and love, abandon the hope that the ages will accept you as an artist.” ==
Thus was it true, as was said of his work by his associate, Dr. Wm. Hand Browne, that “one thread of purpose runs through it all. This thread is found in his fervid love for his fellow-men, and his never ceasing endeavors to kindle an enthusiasm for beauty, purity, nobility of life, which he held it the poet’s first duty to teach and to exemplify.” And so there came into his verse a solemn, worshipful element, dominating it everywhere, and giving loftiness to its beauty. For he was the democrat whom he described in contrast to Whitman’s mere brawny, six-footed, open-shirted hero, whose strength was only that of the biceps:
“My democrat, the democrat whom I contemplate with pleasure, the democrat who is to write or to read the poetry of the future, may have a mere thread for his biceps, yet he shall be strong enough to handle hell; he shall play ball with the earth; and albeit his stature may be no more than a boy’s, he shall still be taller than the great redwoods of California; his height shall be the height of great resolution, and love, and faith, and beauty, and knowledge, and subtle meditation; his head shall be forever among the stars.” ==
This standard he could not forget in his judgments of artists. There was something in Whitman which “refreshed him like harsh salt spray,” but to Whitman’s lawlessness of art he was an utter foe. We find it written down in his notes:
“Whitman is poetry’s butcher. Huge raw collops slashed from the rump of poetry, and never mind gristle — is what Whitman feeds our souls with.”
“As near as I can make it out, Whitman’s argument seems to be, that, because a prairie is wide, therefore debauchery is admirable, and because the Mississippi is long, therefore every American is God.” ==
So he says of Swinburne:
“He invited me to eat; the service was silver and gold, but no food therein save pepper and salt.” ==
And of William Morris:
“He caught a crystal cupful of the yellow light of sunset, and persuading himself to dream it wine, drank it with a sort of smile.” ==
Though not what would be called a religious writer, Lanier’s large and deep thought took him to the deepest spiritual faiths, and the vastness of Nature drew him to a trust in the Infinite above us. Thus, his young search after God and truth brought him into the membership of the Presbyterian Church while at Oglethorpe College; and though in after years his creed became broader than that imposed by the Church he had joined on its clergy, he could not outgrow the simple faith and consecration which are all it requires of its membership. His college notebook records his earnestness;
“Liberty, patriotism, and civilization are on their knees before the men of the South, and with clasped hands and straining eyes are begging them to become Christians.”
How naturally his large faith in God finds expression in his “Marshes of Glynn”; or his reverent discipleship of the great Artist and Master in his “Ballad of the Trees and the Master”, or his “The Crystal”, which was Christ. Yet, with not a whit less of worshipfulness and consecration, there grew in him a repugnance to the sectarianism of the Churches which put him somewhat out of sympathy with their formal organizations. He wrote, in what may have been a sketch for a poem:
“I fled in tears from the men’s ungodly quarrel about God. I fled in tears to the woods, and laid me down on the earth. Then somewhat like the beating of many hearts came up to me out of the ground; and I looked and my cheek lay close to a violet. Then my heart took courage, and I said:
`I know that thou art the word of my God, dear Violet: And Oh, the ladder is not long that to my heaven leads. Measure what space a violet stands above the ground; ‘Tis no further climbing that my soul and angels have to do than that.'” ==
It was this quality, high and consecrate, as of a palmer with his vow, this knightly valiance, this constant San Greal quest after the lofty in character and aim, this passion for Good and Love, which fellows him rather with Milton and Ruskin than with the less sturdily built poets of his day, and which puts him in sharpest contrast with the school led by Swinburne — with Rossetti and Morris as his followers hard after him — a school whose reed has a short gamut, and plays but two notes, Mors and Eros, hopeless death and lawless love. But poetry is larger and finer than they know. Its face is toward the world’s future; it does not maunder after the flower-decked nymphs and yellow-skirted fays that have forever fled — and good riddance — their haunted springs and tangled thickets. It can feed on its growing sweet and fresh faiths, but will draw foul contagion from the rank mists that float over old and cold fables. For all knowledge is food, as faith is wine, to a genius like Lanier. A poet genius has great common sense. He lives in to-day and to-morrow, not in yesterday. Such men were Shakespeare and Goethe. The age of poetry is not past; there is nothing in culture or science hostile to it. Milton was one of the world’s great poets, but he was the most cultured and scholarly and statesmanlike man of his day. He was no dreamer of dead dreams. Neither was Lanier a dreamer. He came late to the opportunity he longed for, but when he came to it he was a tremendous student, not of music alone, but of language, of philosophy, and of science. He loved science. He was an inventor. He had all the instincts and ambitions of this nineteenth century. But that only made his range of poetic thought wider as his outlook became larger. The world is opening to the poet with every question the crucible asks of the elements, with every spectrum the prism steals from a star. The old he has and all the new.
All this a man of Lanier’s breadth understood fully, for he had a large capacity and he sought a full equipment. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of his gifts was their complete symmetry. It is hard to tell what register of perception, or sensibility, or wit, or will was lacking. The constructive and the critical faculties, the imaginative and the practical, balanced each other. His wit and humor played upon the soberer background of his more recognized qualities. The artist’s withdrawn vision was at any need promptly exchanged for the exercise of that scrupulous exactitude called for in the routine of the law-office or the post-office clerkship or other business relations, or for the play of those energies exerted in camp or field. There, so his comrades testify, the most wearing drudgeries of a soldier’s life were always undertaken with notable alacrity and were thoroughly discharged, when he would as invariably return, the task being done, to the gentle region of his own high thoughts and the artist’s realm of beauty.
But how short was his day, and how slender his opportunity! From the time he was of age he waged a constant, courageous, hopeless fight against adverse circumstance for room to live and write. Much very dear, and sweet, and most sympathetic helpfulness he met in the city of his adoption, and from friends elsewhere, but he could not command the time and leisure which might have lengthened his life and given him opportunity to write the music and the verse with which his soul was teeming. Yet short as was his literary life, and hindered though it were, its fruit will fill a large space in the garnering of the poetic art of our country.
William Hayes Ward.
Mr. Lanier’s published works, previous to the present volume, and exclusive of poems and essays published in literary journals, are the following:
Tiger Lilies: A novel. 16 mo, pp. v, 252. Hurd & Houghton, New York, 1867.
Florida: Its Scenery, Climate and History. 12 mo, pp. 336. J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1876.
Poems. Pp. 94. J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1877.
The Boy’s Froissart. Being Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of Adventure, Battle, and Custom in England, France, Spain, etc. Edited for Boys. Crown 8vo, pp. xxviii, 422. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1878.
The Science of English Verse. Crown 8vo, pp. xv, 315. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1880.
The Boy’s King Arthur. Being Sir Thomas Malory’s History of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Edited for Boys. Crown 8vo, pp. xlviii, 404. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1880.
The Boy’s Mabinogion. Being the Earliest Welsh Tales of King Arthur in the famous Red Book of Hergest. Edited for Boys. Crown 8vo, pp. xxiv, 378. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1881.
The Boy’s Percy. Being Old Ballads of War, Adventure, and Love, from Bishop Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Edited for Boys. Crown 8vo, pp. xxxii, 442. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1882.
The English Novel and the Principles of its Development. Crown 8vo, pp. 293. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1883.
Poems of Sidney Lanier.
———————————————————————– | SUNRISE, the culminating poem, the highest vision of Sidney Lanier, | | was dedicated through his latest request to that friend | | who indeed came into his life only near its close, | | yet was at first meeting recognized by the poet | | as “the father of his spirit”, | | GEORGE WESTFELDT. | | When words were very few and the poem was unread, | | even by any friend, the earnest bidding came: | | “Send him my SUNRISE, | | that he may know how entirely we are one in thought.” | ———————————————————————–
Hymns of the Marshes.
In my sleep I was fain of their fellowship, fain Of the live-oak, the marsh, and the main. The little green leaves would not let me alone in my sleep; Up-breathed from the marshes, a message of range and of sweep, Interwoven with waftures of wild sea-liberties, drifting, Came through the lapped leaves sifting, sifting, Came to the gates of sleep.
Then my thoughts, in the dark of the dungeon-keep Of the Castle of Captives hid in the City of Sleep, Upstarted, by twos and by threes assembling: The gates of sleep fell a-trembling
Like as the lips of a lady that forth falter `Yes,’ Shaken with happiness:
The gates of sleep stood wide.
I have waked, I have come, my beloved! I might not abide: I have come ere the dawn, O beloved, my live-oaks, to hide In your gospelling glooms, — to be
As a lover in heaven, the marsh my marsh and the sea my sea.
Tell me, sweet burly-bark’d, man-bodied Tree That mine arms in the dark are embracing, dost know From what fount are these tears at thy feet which flow? They rise not from reason, but deeper inconsequent deeps. Reason’s not one that weeps.
What logic of greeting lies
Betwixt dear over-beautiful trees and the rain of the eyes?
O cunning green leaves, little masters! like as ye gloss All the dull-tissued dark with your luminous darks that emboss The vague blackness of night into pattern and plan, So,
(But would I could know, but would I could know,) With your question embroid’ring the dark of the question of man, — So, with your silences purfling this silence of man While his cry to the dead for some knowledge is under the ban, Under the ban, —
So, ye have wrought me
Designs on the night of our knowledge, — yea, ye have taught me, So,
That haply we know somewhat more than we know.
Ye lispers, whisperers, singers in storms, Ye consciences murmuring faiths under forms, Ye ministers meet for each passion that grieves, Friendly, sisterly, sweetheart leaves, Oh, rain me down from your darks that contain me Wisdoms ye winnow from winds that pain me, — Sift down tremors of sweet-within-sweet
That advise me of more than they bring, — repeat Me the woods-smell that swiftly but now brought breath From the heaven-side bank of the river of death, — Teach me the terms of silence, — preach me The passion of patience, — sift me, — impeach me, — And there, oh there
As ye hang with your myriad palms upturned in the air, Pray me a myriad prayer.
My gossip, the owl, — is it thou
That out of the leaves of the low-hanging bough, As I pass to the beach, art stirred?
Dumb woods, have ye uttered a bird?
* * * * *
Reverend Marsh, low-couched along the sea, Old chemist, rapt in alchemy,
Distilling silence, — lo,
That which our father-age had died to know — The menstruum that dissolves all matter — thou Hast found it: for this silence, filling now The globed clarity of receiving space,
This solves us all: man, matter, doubt, disgrace, Death, love, sin, sanity,
Must in yon silence’ clear solution lie. Too clear! That crystal nothing who’ll peruse? The blackest night could bring us brighter news. Yet precious qualities of silence haunt
Round these vast margins, ministrant. Oh, if thy soul’s at latter gasp for space, With trying to breathe no bigger than thy race Just to be fellow’d, when that thou hast found No man with room, or grace enough of bound To entertain that New thou tell’st, thou art, — ‘Tis here, ’tis here thou canst unhand thy heart And breathe it free, and breathe it free, By rangy marsh, in lone sea-liberty.
The tide’s at full: the marsh with flooded streams Glimmers, a limpid labyrinth of dreams.
Each winding creek in grave entrancement lies A rhapsody of morning-stars. The skies
Shine scant with one forked galaxy, — The marsh brags ten: looped on his breast they lie.
Oh, what if a sound should be made!
Oh, what if a bound should be laid
To this bow-and-string tension of beauty and silence a-spring, — To the bend of beauty the bow, or the hold of silence the string! I fear me, I fear me yon dome of diaphanous gleam Will break as a bubble o’er-blown in a dream, — Yon dome of too-tenuous tissues of space and of night, Over-weighted with stars, over-freighted with light, Over-sated with beauty and silence, will seem But a bubble that broke in a dream,
If a bound of degree to this grace be laid, Or a sound or a motion made.
But no: it is made: list! somewhere, — mystery, where? In the leaves? in the air?
In my heart? is a motion made:
‘Tis a motion of dawn, like a flicker of shade on shade. In the leaves ’tis palpable: low multitudinous stirring Upwinds through the woods; the little ones, softly conferring, Have settled my lord’s to be looked for; so; they are still; But the air and my heart and the earth are a-thrill, — And look where the wild duck sails round the bend of the river, — And look where a passionate shiver
Expectant is bending the blades
Of the marsh-grass in serial shimmers and shades, — And invisible wings, fast fleeting, fast fleeting, Are beating
The dark overhead as my heart beats, — and steady and free Is the ebb-tide flowing from marsh to sea — (Run home, little streams,
With your lapfulls of stars and dreams), — And a sailor unseen is hoisting a-peak,
For list, down the inshore curve of the creek How merrily flutters the sail, —
And lo, in the East! Will the East unveil? The East is unveiled, the East hath confessed A flush: ’tis dead; ’tis alive: ’tis dead, ere the West Was aware of it: nay, ’tis abiding, ’tis unwithdrawn: Have a care, sweet Heaven! ‘Tis Dawn.
Now a dream of a flame through that dream of a flush is uprolled: To the zenith ascending, a dome of undazzling gold Is builded, in shape as a bee-hive, from out of the sea: The hive is of gold undazzling, but oh, the Bee, The star-fed Bee, the build-fire Bee,
Of dazzling gold is the great Sun-Bee That shall flash from the hive-hole over the sea.
Yet now the dew-drop, now the morning gray, Shall live their little lucid sober day Ere with the sun their souls exhale away. Now in each pettiest personal sphere of dew The summ’d morn shines complete as in the blue Big dew-drop of all heaven: with these lit shrines O’er-silvered to the farthest sea-confines, The sacramental marsh one pious plain
Of worship lies. Peace to the ante-reign Of Mary Morning, blissful mother mild,
Minded of nought but peace, and of a child.
Not slower than Majesty moves, for a mean and a measure Of motion, — not faster than dateless Olympian leisure Might pace with unblown ample garments from pleasure to pleasure, — The wave-serrate sea-rim sinks unjarring, unreeling, Forever revealing, revealing, revealing, Edgewise, bladewise, halfwise, wholewise, — ’tis done! Good-morrow, lord Sun!
With several voice, with ascription one, The woods and the marsh and the sea and my soul Unto thee, whence the glittering stream of all morrows doth roll, Cry good and past-good and most heavenly morrow, lord Sun.
O Artisan born in the purple, — Workman Heat, — Parter of passionate atoms that travail to meet And be mixed in the death-cold oneness, — innermost Guest At the marriage of elements, — fellow of publicans, — blest King in the blouse of flame, that loiterest o’er The idle skies yet laborest fast evermore, — Thou, in the fine forge-thunder, thou, in the beat Of the heart of a man, thou Motive, — Laborer Heat: Yea, Artist, thou, of whose art yon sea’s all news, With his inshore greens and manifold mid-sea blues, Pearl-glint, shell-tint, ancientest perfectest hues Ever shaming the maidens, — lily and rose Confess thee, and each mild flame that glows In the clarified virginal bosoms of stones that shine, It is thine, it is thine:
Thou chemist of storms, whether driving the winds a-swirl Or a-flicker the subtiler essences polar that whirl In the magnet earth, — yea, thou with a storm for a heart, Rent with debate, many-spotted with question, part From part oft sundered, yet ever a globed light, Yet ever the artist, ever more large and bright Than the eye of a man may avail of: — manifold One, I must pass from thy face, I must pass from the face of the Sun: Old Want is awake and agog, every wrinkle a-frown; The worker must pass to his work in the terrible town: But I fear not, nay, and I fear not the thing to be done; I am strong with the strength of my lord the Sun: How dark, how dark soever the race that must needs be run, I am lit with the Sun.
Oh, never the mast-high run of the seas Of traffic shall hide thee,
Never the hell-colored smoke of the factories Hide thee,
Never the reek of the time’s fen-politics Hide thee,
And ever my heart through the night shall with knowledge abide thee, And ever by day shall my spirit, as one that hath tried thee, Labor, at leisure, in art, — till yonder beside thee My soul shall float, friend Sun,
The day being done.
Baltimore, December, 1880.
Sail on, sail on, fair cousin Cloud:
Oh loiter hither from the sea.
Still-eyed and shadow-brow’d,
Steal off from yon far-drifting crowd, And come and brood upon the marsh with me.
Yon laboring low horizon-smoke,
Yon stringent sail, toil not for thee Nor me; did heaven’s stroke
The whole deep with drown’d commerce choke, No pitiless tease of risk or bottomry
Would to thy rainy office close
Thy will, or lock mine eyes from tears, Part wept for traders’-woes,
Part for that ventures mean as those In issue bind such sovereign hopes and fears.
— Lo, Cloud, thy downward countenance stares Blank on the blank-faced marsh, and thou Mindest of dark affairs;
Thy substance seems a warp of cares; Like late wounds run the wrinkles on thy brow.
Well may’st thou pause, and gloom, and stare, A visible conscience: I arraign
Thee, criminal Cloud, of rare
Contempts on Mercy, Right, and Prayer, — Of murders, arsons, thefts, — of nameless stain.
(Yet though life’s logic grow as gray As thou, my soul’s not in eclipse.)
Cold Cloud, but yesterday
Thy lightning slew a child at play, And then a priest with prayers upon his lips
For his enemies, and then a bright
Lady that did but ope the door
Upon the storming night
To let a beggar in, — strange spite, — And then thy sulky rain refused to pour
Till thy quick torch a barn had burned Where twelve months’ store of victual lay, A widow’s sons had earned;
Which done, thy floods with winds returned, — The river raped their little herd away.
What myriad righteous errands high
Thy flames MIGHT run on! In that hour Thou slewest the child, oh why
Not rather slay Calamity,
Breeder of Pain and Doubt, infernal Power?
Or why not plunge thy blades about
Some maggot politician throng
Swarming to parcel out
The body of a land, and rout
The maw-conventicle, and ungorge Wrong?
What the cloud doeth
The Lord knoweth,
The cloud knoweth not.
What the artist doeth,
The Lord knoweth;
Knoweth the artist not?
Well-answered! — O dear artists, ye
— Whether in forms of curve or hue Or tone your gospels be —
Say wrong `This work is not of me,
But God:’ it is not true, it is not true.
Awful is Art because ’tis free.
The artist trembles o’er his plan
Where men his Self must see.
Who made a song or picture, he
Did it, and not another, God nor man.
My Lord is large, my Lord is strong:
Giving, He gave: my me is mine.
How poor, how strange, how wrong, To dream He wrote the little song
I made to Him with love’s unforced design!
Oh, not as clouds dim laws have plann’d To strike down Good and fight for Ill, — Oh, not as harps that stand
In the wind and sound the wind’s command: Each artist — gift of terror! — owns his will.
For thee, Cloud, — if thou spend thine all Upon the South’s o’er-brimming sea
That needs thee not; or crawl
To the dry provinces, and fall
Till every convert clod shall give to thee
Green worship; if thou grow or fade,
Bring on delight or misery,
Fly east or west, be made
Snow, hail, rain, wind, grass, rose, light, shade; What matters it to thee? There is no thee.
Pass, kinsman Cloud, now fair and mild: Discharge the will that’s not thine own. I work in freedom wild,
But work, as plays a little child,
Sure of the Father, Self, and Love, alone.
III. Marsh Song — At Sunset.
Over the monstrous shambling sea,
Over the Caliban sea,
Bright Ariel-cloud, thou lingerest: Oh wait, oh wait, in the warm red West, — Thy Prospero I’ll be.
Over the humped and fishy sea,
Over the Caliban sea
O cloud in the West, like a thought in the heart Of pardon, loose thy wing, and start,
And do a grace for me.
Over the huge and huddling sea,
Over the Caliban sea,
Bring hither my brother Antonio, — Man, — My injurer: night breaks the ban;
Brother, I pardon thee.
IV. The Marshes of Glynn.
Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs, — Emerald twilights, —
Virginal shy lights,
Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows, When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods, Of the heavenly woods and glades,
That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within The wide sea-marshes of Glynn; —
Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire, — Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire, Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves, — Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves, Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood, Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good; —
O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine, While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine; But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest, And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West, And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream, — Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak, And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low, And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know, And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within, That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore, And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnamable pain Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain, —
Oh, now, unafraid, I am fain to face
The vast sweet visage of space.
To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn, Where the gray beach glimmering runs, as a belt of the dawn, For a mete and a mark
To the forest-dark: —
Affable live-oak, leaning low, —
Thus — with your favor — soft, with a reverent hand, (Not lightly touching your person, Lord of the land!) Bending your beauty aside, with a step I stand On the firm-packed sand,
By a world of marsh that borders a world of sea.
Sinuous southward and sinuous northward the shimmering band Of the sand-beach fastens the fringe of the marsh to the folds of the land. Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows the firm sweet limbs of a girl.
Vanishing, swerving, evermore curving again into sight, Softly the sand-beach wavers away to a dim gray looping of light. And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high? The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky! A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade, Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade, Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain, To the terminal blue of the main.
Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea? Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin, By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.
Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea! Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun, Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily won God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.
As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod, Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God: I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies: By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God: Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.
And the sea lends large, as the marsh: lo, out of his plenty the sea Pours fast: full soon the time of the flood-tide must be: Look how the grace of the sea doth go
About and about through the intricate channels that flow Here and there,
Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes, And the marsh is meshed with a million veins, That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
Farewell, my lord Sun!
The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run ‘Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir; Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr; Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run; And the sea and the marsh are one.
How still the plains of the waters be! The tide is in his ecstasy.
The tide is at his highest height:
And it is night.
And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken The forms that swim and the shapes that creep Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.
Inscribed to the Memory of John Keats.
Dear uplands, Chester’s favorable fields, My large unjealous Loves, many yet one — A grave good-morrow to your Graces, all, Fair tilth and fruitful seasons!
Lo, how still!
The midmorn empties you of men, save me; Speak to your lover, meadows! None can hear. I lie as lies yon placid Brandywine,
Holding the hills and heavens in my heart For contemplation.
‘Tis a perfect hour.
From founts of dawn the fluent autumn day Has rippled as a brook right pleasantly
Half-way to noon; but now with widening turn Makes pause, in lucent meditation locked, And rounds into a silver pool of morn,
Bottom’d with clover-fields. My heart just hears Eight lingering strokes of some far village-bell, That speak the hour so inward-voiced, meseems Time’s conscience has but whispered him eight hints Of revolution. Reigns that mild surcease That stills the middle of each rural morn — When nimble noises that with sunrise ran About the farms have sunk again to rest; When Tom no more across the horse-lot calls To sleepy Dick, nor Dick husk-voiced upbraids The sway-back’d roan for stamping on his foot With sulphurous oath and kick in flank, what time The cart-chain clinks across the slanting shaft, And, kitchenward, the rattling bucket plumps Souse down the well, where quivering ducks quack loud, And Susan Cook is singing.
Up the sky
The hesitating moon slow trembles on, Faint as a new-washed soul but lately up From out a buried body. Far about,
A hundred slopes in hundred fantasies Most ravishingly run, so smooth of curve That I but seem to see the fluent plain
Rise toward a rain of clover-blooms, as lakes Pout gentle mounds of plashment up to meet Big shower-drops. Now the little winds, as bees, Bowing the blooms come wandering where I lie Mixt soul and body with the clover-tufts, Light on my spirit, give from wing and thigh Rich pollens and divine sweet irritants
To every nerve, and freshly make report Of inmost Nature’s secret autumn-thought Unto some soul of sense within my frame
That owns each cognizance of the outlying five, And sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, all in one.
Tell me, dear Clover (since my soul is thine, Since I am fain give study all the day,
To make thy ways my ways, thy service mine, To seek me out thy God, my God to be,
And die from out myself to live in thee) — Now, Cousin Clover, tell me in mine ear: Go’st thou to market with thy pink and green? Of what avail, this color and this grace? Wert thou but squat of stem and brindle-brown, Still careless herds would feed. A poet, thou: What worth, what worth, the whole of all thine art? Three-Leaves, instruct me! I am sick of price. Framed in the arching of two clover-stems Where-through I gaze from off my hill, afar, The spacious fields from me to Heaven take on Tremors of change and new significance
To th’ eye, as to the ear a simple tale Begins to hint a parable’s sense beneath. The prospect widens, cuts all bounds of blue Where horizontal limits bend, and spreads Into a curious-hill’d and curious-valley’d Vast, Endless before, behind, around; which seems Th’ incalculable Up-and-Down of Time
Made plain before mine eyes. The clover-stems Still cover all the space; but now they bear, For clover-blooms, fair, stately heads of men With poets’ faces heartsome, dear and pale — Sweet visages of all the souls of time
Whose loving service to the world has been In the artist’s way expressed and bodied. Oh, In arms’ reach, here be Dante, Keats, Chopin, Raphael, Lucretius, Omar, Angelo,
Beethoven, Chaucer, Schubert, Shakespeare, Bach, And Buddha (sweetest masters! Let me lay These arms this once, this humble once, about Your reverend necks — the most containing clasp, For all in all, this world e’er saw!) and there, Yet further on, bright throngs unnamable Of workers worshipful, nobilities
In the Court of Gentle Service, silent men, Dwellers in woods, brooders on helpful art, And all the press of them, the fair, the large, That wrought with beauty.
Lo, what bulk is here? Now comes the Course-of-things, shaped like an Ox, Slow browsing, o’er my hillside, ponderously — The huge-brawned, tame, and workful Course-of-things, That hath his grass, if earth be round or flat, And hath his grass, if empires plunge in pain Or faiths flash out. This cool, unasking Ox Comes browsing o’er my hills and vales of Time, And thrusts me out his tongue, and curls it, sharp, And sicklewise, about my poets’ heads,
And twists them in, all — Dante, Keats, Chopin, Raphael, Lucretius, Omar, Angelo,
Beethoven, Chaucer, Schubert, Shakespeare, Bach, And Buddha, in one sheaf — and champs and chews, With slantly-churning jaws, and swallows down; Then slowly plants a mighty forefoot out, And makes advance to futureward, one inch. So: they have played their part.
And to this end?
This, God? This, troublous-breeding Earth? This, Sun Of hot, quick pains? To this no-end that ends, These Masters wrought, and wept, and sweated blood, And burned, and loved, and ached with public shame, And found no friends to breathe their loves to, save Woods and wet pillows? This was all? This Ox? “Nay,” quoth a sum of voices in mine ear, “God’s clover, we, and feed His Course-of-things; The pasture is God’s pasture; systems strange Of food and fiberment He hath, whereby
The general brawn is built for plans of His To quality precise. Kinsman, learn this: The artist’s market is the heart of man; The artist’s price, some little good of man. Tease not thy vision with vain search for ends. The End of Means is art that works by love. The End of Ends . . . in God’s Beginning’s lost.”
West Chester, Pa., Summer of 1876.