Select Poems of Sidney Lanier

Select Poems of Sidney Lanier Edited by Morgan Callaway Select Poems of Sidney Lanier Edited With an Introduction, Notes, and Bibliography By Morgan Callaway, Jr., Ph.D. Associate Professor of English Philology in the University of Texas, Formerly Fellow of the Johns Hopkins University; Author of “The Absolute Participle in Anglo-Saxon” To My Father Preface This
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Select Poems of Sidney Lanier
[Sidney Lanier: American (Georgia) Poet, Musician, etc.; 1842-1881.] Edited by Morgan Callaway [American (Southern U.S.) Scholar; 1862-1936.]

[Note on text: Italicized words are capitalised. Lines longer than 78 characters are broken and the continuation is indented two spaces. Some obvious errors may have been corrected. The “Notes” section has been abolished, and the notes themselves appear with the poems, instead of in a separate section.]

Select Poems of Sidney Lanier

Edited With an Introduction, Notes, and Bibliography By Morgan Callaway, Jr., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English Philology in the University of Texas, Formerly Fellow of the Johns Hopkins University; Author of “The Absolute Participle in Anglo-Saxon”

[Amended to include “The Marshes of Glynn”]

To My Father


This edition of the `Select Poems of Sidney Lanier’ is issued in the hope of making his poetry known to wider circles than hitherto, especially among the students of our high-schools and colleges. To these as to older people, the poems will, it is believed, prove an inspiration from the stand-point both of literature and of life.

The biographical section of the Introduction rests in the main upon Dr. Ward’s admirable `Memorial’ prefixed to the `Poems of Sidney Lanier’ edited by his wife, though a few additional facts have been gleaned here and there. For most* of the Bibliography down to 1888 I am indebted to my Hopkins comrade, Dr. Richard E. Burton, now of Hartford, Conn., who compiled one for the `Memorial of Sidney Lanier’, published by President Gilman, of the Johns Hopkins University, in 1888. Obligations to other publications about Lanier are in every instance acknowledged in the appropriate place.

* I say `most of the Bibliography down to 1888′, because Dr. Burton’s different purpose led him to exclude items that could not be omitted in a Bibliography that, like mine, tries to be complete. —

As to the selections made, I wished to include `The Marshes of Glynn’ and yet not to exclude `Sunrise’. But both could not be put in, and I finally gave the preference to `Sunrise’, chiefly on the ground of its being Lanier’s latest complete poem.* I believe all will admit that the poems selected fairly exemplify the genius of the poet. The poems are arranged, not as in the complete edition, but in their chronological order, the only proper one, I think, for a text-book. Of course, they are all given complete.

* Later opinion generally agrees that “The Marshes of Glynn” is Lanier’s greatest poem, and as this edition has no limitations of space, it would be inappropriate to exclude it. Therefore it has been inserted more or less in chronological order (in accordance with Callaway’s plan), with some comments. — Alan Light, 1998. —

In the Notes I have made rather copious quotations from poems familiar to English scholars, because I hope that this book will go into the hands of many to whom they are not familiar, and to whom the original texts are not easily accessible. And yet, if they at all attain their end, the Notes must lead one to wish to know more of English poetry, of which Lanier’s is but a part.

Among the friends that have helped me by counsel or otherwise I gratefully name Mr. Clifford Lanier, brother of the poet; Professor Wm. Hand Browne, of the Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Charles H. Ross, of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute; and my colleagues in the School of English in the University of Texas, Mr. L. R. Hamberlin and Professor Leslie Waggener. Chief-justice Logan E. Bleckley, of Georgia, a man of letters as well as of law, very kindly put at my use his correspondence with the poet, the original draft of `Corn’, and his criticisms upon the same. My chief indebtedness, however, is to Mrs. Sidney Lanier, who has been most generous with her time and her husband’s papers.

Morgan Callaway, Jr.

University of Texas, October 1, 1894.


I. A Brief Sketch of Lanier’s Life II. Lanier’s Prose Works
III. Lanier’s Poetry: Its Themes
IV. Lanier’s Poetry: Its Style
V. Lanier’s Theory of Poetry
VI. Conclusion

Life and Song
Jones’s Private Argyment
My Springs
The Symphony
The Power of Prayer; or, The First Steamboat up the Alabama Rose-morals
To —-, with a Rose
Uncle Jim’s Baptist Revival Hymn
The Mocking-bird
Song of the Chattahoochee
The Revenge of Hamish
The Marshes of Glynn
Marsh Song — At Sunset
A Ballad of Trees and the Master


Select Poems of Sidney Lanier


I. A Brief Sketch of Lanier’s Life


Sidney Lanier has so recently passed from us that it seems desirable briefly to recount the chief incidents of his life. This task is much lightened by Dr. Wm. Hayes Ward’s `Memorial’,* upon which, as stated in the Preface, is based this section of my essay. Born at Macon, Ga., February 3, 1842, Sidney Lanier came of a family noted for their love and cultivation of the fine arts. From the time of Queen Elizabeth to the Restoration, several of his paternal ancestors were connected with the English court as musical composers and as painters. The father of the poet, however, Robert S. Lanier, was a most industrious lawyer, who, after a lingering illness of three years, recently** answered `Adsum’ to the summons of the supreme tribunal. The poet’s mother, Mary Anderson, a Virginian of Scotch descent, likewise sprang from a family distinguished for their love of oratory, music, and poetry.

* For the full title of works cited see `Bibliography’. ** October 20, 1893, at Macon, Ga.

With such an ancestry we are not surprised to learn that Sidney’s earliest passion was for music, and that in boyhood he could, although untutored, play on almost every kind of instrument. He preferred the violin, in playing which he sometimes sank into a deep trance, but in deference to his father’s view gave it up for the flute, his power over which we shall hear of farther on. At first, strange to say, he considered music unworthy of one’s sole attention, but later he came to rank it as his fullest expression of worship.

At fourteen Sidney entered the Sophomore Class of Oglethorpe College, near Macon, Ga., and, with a year’s intermission, graduated with first honor in 1860, when just eighteen. To Professor James Woodrow, of Oglethorpe, now President of South Carolina College, Lanier declared that he owed “the strongest and most valuable stimulus of his youth.” On graduating he was given a tutorship in his Alma Mater, a position that he held until the outbreak of the Civil War.

The lecture-room was now exchanged for the battle-field; in April, 1861, Lanier entered the Confederate Army as a private in the Macon Volunteers of the Second Georgia Battalion, an organization among the first to reach Norfolk and that still keeps up its corporate existence. In the spring of 1862 Lanier was joined by his young brother, Clifford; and throughout the war each seemed to vie with the other in brotherly love; for, while both were offered promotion, neither would accept it, since to do so would have entailed separation from the other. The leisure time of his first year’s service Sidney spent in the study of music and the modern languages. He was engaged in several battles in Virginia, but afterward was transferred, with Clifford, to the Signal Service, with head-quarters at Petersburg. Here he had access to a small library, of which he made sedulous use. In 1863 his company was mounted, and served in Virginia and North Carolina. In the spring of 1864 both brothers were transferred to Wilmington, the head-quarters of the Marine Signal Service, in which they remained to the end of the war. Finally the two brothers were separated, each becoming signal officer* of a blockade-runner. Sidney’s vessel was captured, and for five months he was a prisoner at Point Lookout, Md., with nothing but his flute to solace him. It was the exposure of prison-life, no doubt, that first led to decline of health by developing the seeds of consumption, a disease that was to carry off his mother and that he was to struggle with the last fifteen years of his life. Released from prison in February, 1865, he returned to Georgia, for the most part afoot, and reached home March 15th. An account of his war-life is given in his novel, `Tiger-lilies’, treated below.

* It is sometimes erroneously stated that each was put in charge of a blockade-runner.

During the succeeding nine years (1865-73) his life was checkered indeed. Seriously ill for six weeks, he arose from his bed to see his mother carried off by consumption and to find himself suffering with congestion of the lungs. Slightly relieved, Lanier turned his hand to various projects for making a living: clerking in a hotel in Montgomery, Ala., for two years; writing* and publishing his novel, `Tiger-lilies’; teaching at Prattville, Ala., one year, during which time** he married Miss Mary Day, of Macon, Ga.; studying and then practising law with his father at Macon, Ga., for five years; now, in the winter of 1872-73, trying to recuperate at San Antonio, Texas, for hemorrhages had begun in 1868, and a cough had set in two years later; and, finally, settling in Baltimore, December, 1873, to devote himself to music and literature.

* April, 1867.
** December 19, 1867.

Against the son’s devotion of his life to music and literature the father protested, chiefly on business grounds, and begged him to rejoin himself in the practice of the law. Thanking his father for his thoughtfulness, Lanier justified his own course in these earnest words: “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 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?”*1* Of course, the father yielded and did all that his slender means would allow toward keeping up his son, who henceforth devoted every energy to music and literature. Despite continued ill-health, which now and again necessitated visits of months’ duration to Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, Lanier did a vast amount of work. He was engaged as first flute for the Peabody Symphony Concerts, a position that he filled with rare distinction for six years. As to his literary work, this began with the publication of his novel, `Tiger-lilies’, in 1867, and in the same year, of occasional poems in `The Round Table’ of New York. `Corn’, published in `Lippincott’s Magazine’ (Philadelphia) for February, 1875, is the first of his poems that attracted general notice, and the one that gained him the friendship of Bayard Taylor. To Taylor he owed his selection to write the `Centennial Cantata’, which gave him still greater notoriety, though, to be sure, some of it was not very grateful to him. In 1876 the Lippincotts published his `Florida’, and in 1877 his first volume of `Poems’, which contained ninety-four pages and consisted chiefly of pieces*2* previously published in the magazines. Soon after settling in Baltimore, Lanier made a careful study of Old and Middle English, the fruits of which he partially embodied in courses of lectures given to his private class and to the public, the latter at the Peabody Institute, in 1879. During these years, too, he had been steadily turning out poems of high order. On his birthday, February 3, in 1879, he received notice of his appointment as Lecturer on English Literature at the Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore for the ensuing scholastic year, with a fixed salary, the first since his marriage. In the summer of 1879 he wrote his `Science of English Verse’, which constituted the basis of his first course of lectures at the Johns Hopkins University. Notwithstanding serious illness, this same winter, 1879-80, he lectured at three private schools and kept up his musical engagement at the Peabody Concerts. The next winter, 1880-81, he came near dying, but still kept writing (`Sunrise’ was written with a fever temperature of 104 Degrees) and went through his twelve lectures at the Hopkins, afterwards embodied in `The English Novel’. How trying this must have been to him can be gathered from the following words of Mr. Ward: “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 in a sort of fascinated terror, as in doubt whether the hoarded breath would suffice to the end of the hour.”*3* After this a trip was made to New York to arrange for issuing some books for boys, and four were issued, two posthumously: `Boy’s Froissart’ (1878), `Boy’s King Arthur’ (1880), `Boy’s Mabinogion’ (1881), and `Boy’s Percy’ (1882). Another work, an account of North Carolina similar to that of Florida, was contracted for and was definitely planned, but, owing to aggravating infirmities, could not be completed.

*1* Ward’s `Memorial’, p. xx. f.
*2* They are named in the `Bibliography’. *3* Ward’s `Memorial’, p. xxviii.

For the end was near at hand. Desperate illness had made it necessary to seek relief near Asheville, N.C., where he was joined by Mrs. Lanier and by his father and step-mother. Growing no better, he was moved to Lynn, Polk County, N.C. Of the rest we shall hear in the words of his wife: “We are left alone (it is August 29, 1881) 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 will of God.”* Unusually checkered his life had been, and yet for Lanier as for Timrod poetry (and music) had “turned life’s tasteless waters into wine, and flushed them through and through with purple tints.”** The body was taken to Mr. Lanier’s home in Baltimore, thence to the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, where services were conducted by the rector, the Rev. Dr. William Kirkus. It was then buried in Greenmount Cemetery, in the lot of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, two of the dearest friends that Mr. and Mrs. Lanier had in Baltimore.

* Ward’s `Memorial’, p. xxx.
** Timrod’s `A Vision of Poesy’, stanza xliv. —

Mr. Lanier left a family consisting of his wife and four sons. Mrs. Lanier, who lives at Tryon, N.C., was the inspiration not only of those glorious tributes, `Laus Mariae’ and `My Springs’, but also of the poet’s whole life. The eldest son, Mr. Charles Day Lanier, was born at Macon, Ga., September 12, 1868, and was graduated A.B. at the Johns Hopkins University in 1888. At one time he was Assistant Editor of `The Cosmopolitan Magazine’, a position that he gave up only to become Business Manager of `The Review of Reviews’, with which he has been connected from its beginning. He is the author of several graceful sketches in the magazines. The second son, Sidney, is passionately fond of music, and would have devoted himself thereto but for life-long ill-health. After teaching three years in West Virginia, he has started a fruit farm at Tryon, N.C., where he hopes to build up his health. The third son, Henry Wysham, was prevented from entering the Johns Hopkins by a partial failure of sight, and for three years has devoted himself to railroad engineering in Baltimore and in Jamaica. The youngest, Robert Sampson, only fourteen, is at Tryon, N.C., with his mother.

That interest in Lanier’s life and work did not cease with his death, there is abundant evidence. On October 22, 1881, a memorial meeting was held by the Faculty and students of the Johns Hopkins University, at which addresses*1* were made by President Gilman and Professor Wm. Hand Browne, of the University, and by the Rev. Dr. William Kirkus, of Baltimore, and a letter*1* was read from the poet-critic, Edmund C. Stedman, of New York. In 1883 `The English Novel’ was published, and in 1884 the `Poems’, edited by his wife, with the excellent `Memorial’ by Dr. Wm. Hayes Ward, who declared that he thought Lanier would “take his final rank with the first princes of American song.”*2* Numerous reviews of his life and works were published, notably those by Mr. Wm. R. Thayer, Dr. Merrill E. Gates, Professor Charles W. Kent, and by the London `Spectator’. On February 3, 1888, the Johns Hopkins University held another memorial meeting in Baltimore, attended by many from other cities. “A bust of the poet, in bronze (modelled by Ephraim Keyser, sculptor, in the last period of Lanier’s life, at the suggestion of Mr. J. R. Tait), was presented to the University by his kinsman, Charles Lanier, Esq., of New York. It was also announced that a citizen of Baltimore had offered a pedestal, to be cut in Georgia marble from a design by Mr. J. B. N. Wyatt. On a temporary pedestal hung the flute of Lanier, which had so often been his solace, and a roll of his manuscript music. The bust was crowned with a wreath of laurel; the words of Lanier, `The Time needs Heart’, were woven into the strings of a floral lyre; and other flowers, likewise brought by personal friends, were grouped around the pedestal. As a memento a card, designed by Mrs. Henry Whitman, of Boston, was given to those who were present. Upon its face was a wreath, with Lanier’s name and the date, and the motto — `Aspiro dum Exspiro’; upon the reverse appeared the closing lines of the Hymn of the Sun, taken from the poet’s `Hymns of the Marshes’ — and beneath, a flute with ivy twined about it.”*3* The exercises, which were interspersed with music, were as follows: addresses by President Gilman of the Hopkins and President Gates of Rutgers (now of Amherst); selections from Lanier’s poetry, read by Miss Susan Hayes Ward, of Newark, N.J.; a paper on Lanier’s `Science of English Verse’, by Professor A. H. Tolman, of Ripon College, Wis. (now of the University of Chicago); poetic tributes by Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, Miss Edith M. Thomas, and Messrs. James Cummings, Richard E. Burton, and John B. Tabb; and letters from Messrs. Richard W. Gilder, Edmund C. Stedman, and James Russell Lowell — all of which may be found in President Gilman’s dainty `Memorial of Sidney Lanier’. Again, a replica of the above-mentioned bust, the gift also of Mr. Charles Lanier, was unveiled at the poet’s birthplace, Macon, Ga., on October 17, 1890; on which occasion tender tributes*4* were again poured forth in prose and verse, by Messrs. W. B. Hill, Hugh V. Washington, Charles Lanier, Clifford Lanier, Wm. Hand Browne, Charles G. D. Roberts, John B. Tabb, H. S. Edwards, Wm. H. Hayne, Charles W. Hubner, Joel Chandler Harris, Charles Dudley Warner, and Daniel C. Gilman. But more significant than these demonstrations, perhaps, is the steadily growing study devoted to Lanier’s works. Mr. Higginson*5* tells us, for instance, that, when he wrote his tribute in 1887, Lanier’s `Science of English Verse’ had been put upon the list of Harvard books to be kept only a fortnight, and that, according to the librarian, it was out “literally all the time.” Moreover, it would not be difficult to cite various poems that have been more or less modeled upon Lanier’s; it is sufficient, perhaps, to point out that the marsh, a theme almost unknown to poetry before Lanier immortalized it, is not infrequently the subject of poetic treatment now, as in the works of Charles G. D. Roberts,*6* Clinton Scollard,*7* and Maurice Thompson.*8* It is noteworthy, too, that many of the younger poets of the day, both in Canada and the United States, have sung Lanier’s praise. A complete list is given in the `Bibliography’. Still further, a devoted admirer, Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, of Baltimore, in `The Catholic Man’, has in the person of Paul, the poet, given us an imaginative study of the character of Mr. Lanier. Finally, only a few months ago the Chautauquans of the class of 1898 determined to call themselves “The Laniers”, in honor of the poet and his brother.

*1* See the `Bibliography’.
*2* `Memorial’, p. xi.
*3* Gilman’s `A Memorial of Sidney Lanier’, pp. 5-6. *4* Published in `The Atlanta (Ga.) Constitution’ of October 19, 1890. *5* See `The Chautauquan’, as cited in the `Bibliography’. *6* See recent files of `The Independent’ (New York). *7* See his `Pictures in Song’ (New York, 1884), pp. 45-49. *8* See his `Songs of Fair Weather’ (Boston, 1883), pp. 27-28. —

II. Lanier’s Prose Works

With this brief sketch of his life, let us turn to Lanier’s works, and first to those in prose. At the head of the list comes `Tiger-lilies’, a novel written within three weeks and published immediately thereafter, in 1867. Under the figure of “a strange, enormous, terrible flower,” the seed of which he hopes may perish beyond resurrection, the author pictures the horror of war in general and of the Civil War in particular. An entertaining love-story runs through the book, the plot of which space does not allow me to detail. In execution the novel has grave defects: it lacks unity; the characters talk as learnedly as Lanier afterward wrote of music; and at times, as in the oft-quoted picture of the war,*1* the style is grandiloquent; owing to which blemishes the author wisely discouraged its republication. But, in spite of these defects, the book has one very strongly put scene,*2* the interview between Smallin and his deserter brother, and several beautiful passages*3* that distinctly proclaim the high-souled poet.

*1* `Tiger-lilies’, p. 115 ff.
*2* `Tiger-lilies’, p. 149 ff.
*3* That on “love” (p. 26) is quoted later. —

Lanier’s next publication, `Florida: Its Scenery, Climate, and History’, was written by commission of the Atlantic Coast Line, and appeared in 1876. To use the author’s own epithet, `Florida’ is “a spiritualized guide-book”.

Exclusive of the 1877 volume of `Poems’, Lanier’s next original work was `The Science of English Verse’, which in lecture-form was delivered to the students of the Johns Hopkins in the winter of 1879 and was published in 1880. According to competent critics, the book gives as searching an investigation of the science of verse on its formal side as is to be had in any language. Since the treatise is so evidently an epoch-making one, I regret that the technicality of the subject forbids my attempting in this connection even a brief exposition* of its principles. I can say only that Lanier treats verse in the terms of music; that, according to the promise of the preface, he gives “an account of the true relations of music and verse”; and that in so doing he has given us the best working theory for English verse from Caedmon to Tennyson. This is a high estimate, but it is by no means so high as that of the lamented poet-professor, Edmund Rowland Sill, who said of `The Science of English Verse’, “It is the only work that has ever made any approach to a rational view of the subject. Nor are the standard ones overlooked in making this assertion.”**

* This may be found in Professor Tolman’s article, cited in the `Bibliography’.
** Quoted by Tolman.

Lanier’s second course of lectures at the Johns Hopkins University, delivered in the winter and spring of 1881, was published in 1883 under the title, `The English Novel and the Principles of Its Development’.* According to the author’s statement, the purpose of the book is “first, to inquire what is the special relation of the novel to the modern man, by virtue of which it has become a paramount literary form; and, secondly, to illustrate this abstract inquiry, when completed, by some concrete readings in the greatest of modern English novelists” (p. 4). Addressing himself to the former, Lanier attempts to prove (1) that our time, when compared with that of Aeschylus, shows an “enormous growth in the personality of man” (p. 5); (2) that what we moderns call Physical Science, Music, and the Novel, all had their origin at practically the same time, about the middle of the seventeenth century (p. 9); and (3) “that the increase of personalities thus going on has brought about such complexities of relation that the older forms of expression were inadequate to them; and that the resulting necessity has developed the wonderfully free and elastic form of the modern novel out of the more rigid Greek drama, through the transition form of the Elizabethan drama” (p. 10). In fulfilment of his second purpose, the author gives a detailed study of several of the novels of George Eliot, whom he takes to be the greatest modern English novelist. Even this brief synopsis of the book must indicate its broad and stimulating character, in which respect it is a worthy successor of `The Science of English Verse’. Despite the limitations induced by failing life, which necessitated the cutting down of the course of lectures from twenty to twelve,** I know of few more life-giving books; and I venture to assert that it cannot safely be overlooked by any careful student of the subject.

* Mrs. Lanier informs me that `The English Novel’ will soon be issued in an amended form and with a new sub-title, `Studies in the Development of Personality’, which indicates precisely what Mr. Lanier intended to attempt, and relieves the book of its seeming incompleteness as to scope. ** `Spann’.

Among other prose works I may mention Lanier’s early extravaganza, `Three Waterfalls’; `Bob’, a happy account of a pet mocking-bird, worthy of being placed beside Dr. Brown’s `Rab and his Friends’; his books for boys: `Froissart’, `King Arthur’, `Mabinogion’, and `Percy’, which have had, as they deserve, a large sale; and his posthumous `From Bacon to Beethoven’, a highly instructive essay on music.

III. Lanier’s Poetry: Its Themes

But it is chiefly as a poet that we wish to consider Lanier, and I turn to the posthumous edition of his `Poems’ gotten out by his wife. At the outset let us ask, How did the poet look at the world? what problems engaged his attention and how were they solved? A careful investigation will show, I believe, that, despite the brevity of his life and its consuming cares, Lanier studied the chief questions of our age, and that in his poems he has offered us noteworthy solutions.

What, for instance, is more characteristic of our age than its tendency to agnosticism? I pass by the manifestations of this spirit in the world of religion, of which so much has been heard, and give an illustration or two from the field of history and politics. Picturesque Pocahontas, we are told, is no more to be believed in; moreover, the Pilgrim Fathers did not land at Plymouth Rock, nor did Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. Which way we turn there is a big interrogation-point, often not for information but for negation. Of the good resulting from the inquisitive spirit, we all know; of the baneful influence of inquisitiveness that has become a mere intellectual pastime or amateurish agnosticism, we likewise have some knowledge; but the evil side of this tendency has seldom been put more forcibly, I think, than in this stanza from Lanier’s `Acknowledgment’:

“O Age that half believ’st thou half believ’st, Half doubt’st the substance of thine own half doubt, And, half perceiving that thou half perceiv’st, Stand’st at thy temple door, heart in, head out! Lo! while thy heart’s within, helping the choir, Without, thine eyes range up and down the time, Blinking at o’er-bright Science, smit with desire To see and not to see. Hence, crime on crime. Yea, if the Christ (called thine) now paced yon street, Thy halfness hot with his rebuke would swell; Legions of scribes would rise and run and beat His fair intolerable Wholeness twice to hell.”*

* `Acknowledgment’, ll. 1-12.

More hurtful than agnosticism, because affecting larger masses of people, is the rapid growth of the mercantile spirit during the present century, especially in America. This evil the poet saw most clearly and felt most keenly, as every one may learn by reading `The Symphony’, his great poem in which the speakers are the various musical instruments. The violins begin:

“O Trade! O Trade! would thou wert dead! The Time needs heart — ’tis tired of head.”*
Then all the stringed instruments join with the violins in giving the wail of the poor, who “stand wedged by the pressing of Trade’s hand”:
“`We weave in the mills and heave in the kilns, We sieve mine-meshes under the hills,
And thieve much gold from the Devil’s bank tills, To relieve, O God, what manner of ills? — The beasts, they hunger, and eat, and die; And so do we, and the world’s a sty;
Hush, fellow-swine: why nuzzle and cry? “Swinehood hath no remedy”
Say many men, and hasten by,
Clamping the nose and blinking the eye. But who said once, in the lordly tone, “Man shall not live by bread alone
But all that cometh from the throne”? Hath God said so?
But Trade saith “No”:
And the kilns and the curt-tongued mills say “Go: There’s plenty that can, if you can’t: we know. Move out, if you think you’re underpaid. The poor are prolific; we’re not afraid; Trade is Trade.”‘

“Thereat this passionate protesting Meekly changed, and softened till
It sank to sad requesting
And suggesting sadder still:
`And oh, if men might some time see How piteous-false the poor decree
That trade no more than trade must be! Does business mean, “Die, you — live, I”? Then “Trade is trade” but sings a lie: ‘Tis only war grown miserly.
If business is battle, name it so.'”**

* `The Symphony’, ll. 1-2.
** `The Symphony’, ll. 31-61.

Of even wider sweep than mercantilism is the spirit of intolerance; for, while the diffusion of knowledge and of grace has in a measure repressed this spirit, it lacks much of being subdued. I do not wonder that Lanier “fled in tears from men’s ungodly quarrel about God,” and that, in his poem entitled `Remonstrance’, he denounces intolerance with all the vehemence of a prophet of old.

But Lanier had an eye for life’s beauties as well as its ills. To him music was one of earth’s chief blessings. Of his early passion for the violin and his substitution of the flute therefor, we have already learned. According to competent critics he was possibly the greatest flute-player*1* in the world, a fact all the more interesting when we remember that, as he himself tells us,*2* he never had a teacher. With such a talent for music the poet has naturally strewn his pages with fine tributes thereto. In `Tiger-lilies’, for instance, he tells us that, while explorers say that they have found some nations that had no god, he knows of none that had no music, and then sums up the matter in this sentence: “Music means harmony; harmony means love; and love means — God!”*3* Even more explicit is this declaration in a letter of May, 1873, to Hayne: “I don’t know that I’ve told you that whatever turn I may have for art is purely MUSICAL; poetry being with me A MERE TANGENT INTO WHICH I SHOOT SOMETIMES. I could play passably on several instruments before I could write legibly, and SINCE then the very deepest of my life has been filled with music, which I have studied and cultivated far more than poetry.”*4* We have already seen incidentally that in his `Symphony’ the speakers are musical instruments; and it is in this poem that occurs his felicitous definition,

“Music is love in search of a word.”*5*
In `To Beethoven’ he describes the effect of music upon himself:
“I know not how, I care not why,
Thy music brings this broil at ease, And melts my passion’s mortal cry
In satisfying symphonies.

“Yea, it forgives me all my sins, Fits life to love like rhyme to rhyme, And tunes the task each day begins
By the last trumpet-note of Time.”*6*
It was this profound knowledge of music, of course, that enabled Lanier to write his work on `The Science of English Verse’, and gave him a technical skill in versification akin to that of Tennyson.

*1* See Ward’s `Memorial’, pp. xx, xxxi. *2* Hayne’s (P. H.) `A Poet’s Letters to a Friend’. *3* `Tiger-lilies’, p. 32.
*4* Hayne’s `A Poet’s Letters to a Friend’. After settling in Baltimore Lanier devoted more time to poetry than to music, as we may see from this sentence to Judge Bleckley, in his letter of March 20, 1876: “As for me, life has resolved simply into a time during which I must get upon paper as many as possible of the poems with which my heart is stuffed like a schoolboy’s pocket.” *5* `The Symphony’, l. 368.
*6* `To Beethoven’, ll. 61-68.

Like most great poets of modern times, Lanier was a sincere lover of nature. And it seems to me that with him this love was as all-embracing as with Wordsworth. Lanier found beauty in the waving corn*1* and the clover;*2* in the mocking-bird,*3* the robin,*4* and the dove;*5* in the hickory,*6* the dogwood,*6* and the live-oak;*7* in the murmuring leaves*8* and the chattering streams;*9* in the old red hills*10* and the sea;*11* in the clouds,*12* sunrise,*13* and sunset;*14* and even in the marshes,*15* which “burst into bloom” for this worshiper. Again, Lanier’s love of nature was no less insistent than Wordsworth’s. We all remember the latter’s oft-quoted lines:

“To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears;”*16*
and beside them one may put this line of Lanier’s,
“The little green leaves would not let me alone in my sleep,”*17*
because, as the context shows, he was
“Shaken with happiness:
The gates of sleep stood wide.”*18*
And how naive and tender was this nature-worship! He speaks of the clover*19* and the clouds*20* as cousins, and of the leaves*21* as sisters, and in so doing reminds us of the earliest Italian poetry, especially of `The Canticle of the Sun’, by St. Francis of Assisi, who brothers the wind, the fire, and the sun, and sisters the water, the stars, and the moon. Notice the tenderness in these lines of `Corn’:
“The leaves that wave against my cheek caress Like women’s hands; the embracing boughs express A subtlety of mighty tenderness;
The copse-depths into little noises start, That sound anon like beatings of a heart, Anon like talk ‘twixt lips not far apart;”*22*
to which we find a beautiful parallel in a poem by Paul Hamilton Hayne, himself a reverent nature-worshiper:

“Ah! Nature seems
Through something sweeter than all dreams To woo me; yea, she seems to speak
How closely, kindly, her fond cheek Rested on mine, her mystic blood
Pulsing in tender neighborhood,
And soft as any mortal maid,
Half veiled in the twilight shade, Who leans above her love to tell
Secrets almost ineffable!”*23*

Moreover, this worship is restful:

“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.
. . . . .

“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.”*24*
But to Lanier the ministration of nature was by no means passive; and we find him calling upon the leaves actively to minister to his need and even to intercede for him to their Maker:
“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.”*25*

In this earnest ascription of spirituality to the leaves Lanier recalls Ruskin.*26*

*1* See `The Waving of the Corn’ and `Corn’. *2* See `Clover’.
*3* See `The Mocking-Bird’ and `To Our Mocking-Bird’. *4* See `Tampa Robins’.
*5* See `The Dove’.
*6* See `From the Flats’, last stanza. *7* See `Sunrise’.
*8* See `Sunrise’ and `Corn’.
*9* See `The Song of the Chattahoochee’ and `Sunrise’. *10* See `Corn’.
*11* See `Sunrise’ and `At Sunset’. *12* See `Individuality’.
*13* See `Sunrise’, etc.
*14* See `At Sunset’.
*15* See `The Marshes of Glynn’, and read Barbe’s tribute to Lanier, cited in the `Bibliography’.
*16* `Intimations of Immortality’, ll. 202-203. *17* `The Symphony’, l. 3.
*18* `The Symphony’, ll. 13-14.
*19* `Clover’, l. 57.
*20* `Individuality’, l. 1.
*21* `Sunrise’, l. 42.
*22* `Corn’, ll. 4-9. Compare `The Symphony’, ll. 183-190. *23* Hayne’s `In the Gray of Evening’: Autumn, ll. 37-46, in `Poems’ (Boston, 1882), p. 250.
*24* `The Marshes of Glynn’, ll. 61-64, 75-78. *25* `Sunrise’, ll. 39-53.
*26* See his `Modern Painters’, vol. v., part vi., chapter iv., and Scudder’s note to the same in her `Introduction to Ruskin’ (Chicago, 1892), p. 249.

To take up his next theme, Lanier, like every true Teuton, from Tacitus to the present, saw “something of the divine” in woman. It was this feeling that led him so severely to condemn a vice that is said to be growing, the marriage for convenience. I quote from `The Symphony’, and the “melting Clarionet” is speaking:
“So hath Trade withered up Love’s sinewy prime, Men love not women as in olden time.
Ah, not in these cold merchantable days Deem men their life an opal gray, where plays The one red sweet of gracious ladies’-praise. Now, comes a suitor with sharp prying eye — Says, `Here, you lady, if you’ll sell, I’ll buy: Come, heart for heart — a trade? What! weeping? why?’ Shame on such wooer’s dapper-mercery!”*1*
And then follows a wooing that, to my mind, should be irresistible, and that, at any rate, is quite as high-souled as Browning’s `One Way of Love’, which I have long considered the high-water-mark of the chivalrous in love. The Lady Clarionet is still speaking:

“I would my lover kneeling at my feet In humble manliness should cry, `O Sweet! I know not if thy heart my heart will greet: I ask not if thy love my love can meet: Whate’er thy worshipful soft tongue shall say, I’ll kiss thine answer, be it yea or nay: I do but know I love thee, and I pray
To be thy knight until my dying day.'”*2*
I imagine, too, that any wife that ever lived would be satisfied with his glorious tribute to Mrs. Lanier in `My Springs’, which closes thus:
“Dear eyes, dear eyes, and rare complete — Being heavenly-sweet and earthly-sweet — I marvel that God made you mine,
For when he frowns, ’tis then ye shine.”*3*
Almost equally felicitous are these lines of `Acknowledgment’:
“Somehow by thee, dear Love, I win content: Thy Perfect stops th’ Imperfect’s argument.”*4*
But the cleverest thing that Lanier has written of woman occurs in his `Laus Mariae’:

“But thou within thyself, dear manifold heart, Dost bind all epochs in one dainty fact. Oh, Sweet, my pretty sum of history,
I leapt the breadth of time in loving thee!”*5*
— a scrap worthy to be placed beside Steele’s “To love her is a liberal education,” which has often been declared the happiest thing on the subject in the English language.

*1* `The Symphony’, ll. 232-240.
*2* `The Symphony’, ll. 241-248.
*3* `My Springs’, ll. 53-56.
*4* `Acknowledgment’, ll. 41-42.
*5* `Laus Mariae’, ll. 11-14.

To Lanier there was but one thing that made life worth living, and that was love. Even the superficial reader must be struck with the frequent use of the term in the poet’s works, while all must be uplifted by his conception of its purpose and power. The ills of agnosticism, mercantilism, and intolerance all find their solution here and here only, as is admirably set forth in `The Symphony’, of which the opening strain is, “We are all for love,” and the closing, “Love alone can do.” The matter is no less happily put in `Tiger-lilies’: “For I am quite confident that love is the only rope thrown out by Heaven to us who have fallen overboard into life. Love for man, love for woman, love for God, — these three chime like bells in a steeple and call us to worship, which is to work. . . . Inasmuch as we love, in so much do we conquer death and flesh; by as much as we love, by so much are we gods. For God is love; and could we love as He does, we could be as He is.”*1* To the same effect is his statement in `The English Novel’: “A republic is the government of the spirit.”*2* The same thought recurs later: “In love, and love only, can great work that not only pulls down, but builds, be done; it is love, and love only, that is truly constructive in art.”*3* In the poem entitled `How Love Looked for Hell’, Mind and Sense at Love’s request go to seek Hell; but ever as they point it out to Love, whether in the material or the immaterial world, it vanishes; for where Love is there can be no Hell, since, in the words of Tolstoi’s story, “Where Love is there is God.” But in one of his poems Lanier sums up the whole matter in a line:

“When life’s all love, ’tis life: aught else, ’tis naught.”*4*

*1* `Tiger-lilies’, p. 26.
*2* `The English Novel’, p. 55.
*3* `The English Novel’, p. 204.
*4* `In Absence’, l. 42.

It is but a short way from love to its source, — God. And, as Lanier was continually in the atmosphere of the one, so, I believe, he was ever in the presence of the other; for the poet’s “Love means God” is but another phrasing of the evangelist’s “God is love”.*1* Of Lanier’s grief over church broils and of his longing for freedom to worship God according to one’s own intuition, we have already learned from his `Remonstrance’. What he thought of the Christ we learn from `The Crystal’, which closes with this invocation:
“But Thee, but Thee, O sovereign Seer of time, But Thee, O poets’ Poet, Wisdom’s Tongue, But Thee, O man’s best Man, O love’s best Love, O perfect life in perfect labor writ,
O all men’s Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest, — What IF or YET, what mole, what flaw, what lapse, What least defect or shadow of defect, What rumor, tattled by an enemy,
Of inference loose, what lack of grace Even in torture’s grasp, or sleep’s, or death’s — Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, Thou Crystal Christ?”*2*
How tenderly Lanier was touched by the life of our Lord may be seen in his `Ballad of Trees and the Master’, a dramatic presentation of the scene in Gethsemane and on Calvary. How implicit was his trust in the Christ may be gathered from this paragraph in a letter to the elder Hayne: “I have a boy whose eyes are blue as your `Aethra’s’. Every day when my work is done I take him in my strong arms, and lift him up, and pore in his face. The intense repose, penetrated somehow with a thrilling mystery of `potential activity’, which dwells in his large, open eye, teaches me new things. I say to myself, Where are the strong arms in which I, too, might lay me and repose, and yet be full of the fire of life? And always through the twilight come answers from the other world, `Master! Master! there is one — Christ — in His arms we rest!'”*3* Perhaps, however, Lanier’s notion of God, whom he declared*4* all his roads reached, is most clearly expressed in a scrap quoted by Ward, apparently the outline 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.'”*5* In this high spirituality Lanier is in line with the greatest poets of our race, from
“Caedmon, in the morn
A-calling angels with the cow-herd’s call That late brought up the cattle,”*6*

to him

“Who never turned his back, but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.”*7*

*1* 1 John 4:16.
*2* `The Crystal’, ll. 100-111.
*3* Hayne’s `A Poet’s Letters to a Friend’. *4* In `A Florida Sunday’, l. 85.
*5* Ward’s `Memorial’, p. xxxix.
*6* Lanier’s `The Crystal’, ll. 90-93. *7* Browning’s `Asolando’: Epilogue, ll. 11-15. —

Perhaps I may append here a paragraph upon Lanier’s criticisms of other writers, for they seem to me acute in the extreme. Despite the elaborate essays in defence of Whitman’s poetry by Dowden,*1* Symonds,*2* and Whitman himself, I believe Lanier is right in declaring that “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.”*3* Notice, again, how well the defect of `Paradise Lost’ is pointed out:
“And I forgive
Thee, Milton, those thy comic-dreadful wars Where, armed with gross and inconclusive steel, Immortals smite immortals mortalwise
And fill all heaven with folly.”*4*
Few better things have been said of Langland than this, —
“That with but a touch
Of art hadst sung Piers Plowman to the top Of English songs, whereof ’tis dearest, now And most adorable;”*5*

or of Emerson than this, —

“Most wise, that yet, in finding Wisdom, lost Thy Self, sometimes;”*6*

or of Tennyson than this, —

“Largest voice
Since Milton, yet some register of wit Wanting.”*7*

`The Crystal’ abounds in such happy characterizations.

*1* See Dowden’s `Studies in Literature’, pp. 468-523. *2* See Symonds’s `Walt Whitman: A Study’. London, 1893. *3* Ward’s `Memorial’, p. xxxviii.
*4* `The Crystal’, ll. 66-70.
*5* Ibid., ll. 87-90.
*6* Ibid., ll. 93-94.
*7* Ibid., ll. 95-97.

IV. Lanier’s Poetry: Its Style

So much for the poet’s thoughts; what shall we say of their expression? In other words, is Lanier the literary artist equal to Lanier the seer? In order the better to answer this question, let us begin at the beginning, with the elements of style, some of which, however, I pass by as not calling for special comment.

Of Lanier’s felicitous choice of words we have already had incidental illustration; but it is desirable, perhaps, to group here a few of his happiest phrases, to show that, as Lowell*1* said, he is “a man of genius with a rare gift for the happy word.” Notice this speech about the brook:

“And down the hollow from a ferny nook `Lull’ sings a little brook!”*2*

and this of the well-bucket:

“The rattling bucket plumps
Souse down the well;”*3*

and this of the outburst of a bird:
“Dumb woods, have ye uttered a bird?”*4*
and the description of a mocking-bird as
“Yon trim Shakspere on the tree;”*5*
and of midnight as

“Death’s and truth’s unlocking time.”*6*
Moreover, it should be observed that Lanier frequently uses significant compounds, — a habit acquired, no doubt, from his study of Old English, in which, as in German, such compounds abound.

*1* See `Lowell’ in `Bibliography’. *2* `From the Flats’, ll. 23-24; cited by Gates. [Line 24 was changed (to “Bright leaps a living brook!”) in later editions. — A. L., 1998.] *3* `Clover’, ll. 29-30.
*4* `Sunrise’, l. 57; cited by Gates. *5* `The Mocking-Bird’, l. 14.
*6* `The Crystal’, l. 1. Other illustrations may be found in the paragraph on figures of speech.

While in the main Lanier’s sentence-construction is good, occasionally his sentences are too long, as in `My Springs’, `To Bayard Taylor’, and `Sunrise’, in which we have sentences longer than the opening one in `Paradise Lost’, and, what is of more moment, not so well balanced, and hence affording fewer breathing spaces. That this detracts from clearness and euphony both, every reader will admit.

To come to the figures of speech, one must be struck at once with the delicacy and the vigor of Lanier’s imagination. The poet’s fancy personifies what at first blush seems to us incapable of personification. Thus at one time*1* he likens men to clover-leaves and the Course-of-things to the browsing ox, which makes way with the clover-heads; while at another he addresses an old red hill of Georgia as
“Thou gashed and hairy Lear
Whom the divine Cordelia of the year, E’en pitying Spring, will vainly strive to cheer.”*2*
Like other Southern poets,*3* Lanier sometimes fails to check his imagination, and in consequence leaves his readers “bramble-tangled in a brilliant maze,” as in his description of the stars in `June Dreams’*4* and in the `Psalm of the West’.*5* While I do not like a maze, brilliant though it be and sweet, I must say that I prefer the embarrassment of riches to the embarrassment of poverty. On the whole, however, Lanier’s figures strike me as singularly fresh and happy. In `Sunrise’, for example, the poet speaks of the marsh as follows:
“The tide’s at full: the marsh with flooded streams Glimmers a limpid labyrinth of dreams;”*6*
and of the heavens reflected in the marsh waters:
“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.”*7*
Later, as the ebb-tide flows from marsh to sea, we are parenthetically treated to these two lines:

“Run home, little streams,
With your lapfuls of stars and dreams.”*8*
Finally, the heaven itself is thus pictured:
“Now in each pettiest personal sphere of dew The summ’d morn shines complete as in the blue Big dew-drop of all heaven;”*9*

beside which must be hung this exquisite picture:
“The dew-drop morn may fall from off the petal of the sky.”*10*

*1* In `Clover’.
*2* `Corn’, ll. 185-187.
*3* See on this point the remarks of Professor Trent in his admirable life of `Simms’ (Boston, 1892), p. 149. *4* `June Dreams’, l. 21 ff.
*5* `Psalm of the West’, l. 183 ff. *6* `Sunrise’, ll. 80-81.
*7* Ibid., ll. 82-85.
*8* Ibid., ll. 114-115.
*9* Ibid., ll. 134-136.
*10* `The Ship of Earth’, l. 5.

As to versification, Lanier uses almost all the types of verse — iambic, trochaic, blank, the sonnet, etc. — and with about equal skill. Three features, however, specially characterize his verse: the careful distribution of vowel-colors and the frequent use of alliteration and of phonetic syzygy,*1* by which last is meant a combination or succession of identical or similar consonants, whether initially, medially, or finally, as for instance the succession of M’s in Tennyson’s

“The moan of doves in immemorial elms And murmuring of innumerable bees.”

All of these phenomena are illustrated in Lanier’s `Song of the Chattahoochee’, which has often been compared to Tennyson’s `The Brook’, and which alone proves the author a master in versification. To be sure, Lanier occasionally gives us an improper rhyme, as `thwart: heart’,*2* etc., but so does every poet. No doubt, too, his love of music sometimes led him, not “to strain for form effects”, but to indulge too much therein, or, in the words of Mr. Stedman, “to essay in language feats that only the gamut can render possible.”*3* But, as Professor Kent admirably puts it, “Lanier was a poet as well as an artist, and if at times his artistic temperament seemed to eclipse his poetic thought, grant that to the poet mind the very manner of expression may indicate the thought that lies beneath, while to the duller ear the thought must come in completed form.”*4* Moreover, as we shall see later, this extraordinary musical endowment gave Lanier a unique position among English poets.

*1* See `The Science of English Verse’, p. 306 ff. *2* `In the Foam’, ll. 6, 8. See, too, Kent’s `Study of Lanier’s Poems’, which gives an exhaustive treatment of Lanier’s versification. *3* Stedman’s `Poets of America’, p. 449. *4* `Kent’, p. 60.

After what has been said the qualities of style may be briefly handled. As we have already seen, Lanier sometimes fails in clearness, or, more precisely, in simplicity. This comes partly from infelicitous sentence-construction, partly, perhaps, from Lanier’s extraordinary musical endowment, but chiefly, I think, from over-luxuriance of imagination. But this occasional defect has been unduly exaggerated. Thus Mr. Gosse*1* declares that Lanier is “never simple, never easy, never in one single lyric natural and spontaneous for more than one stanza,” — a statement so clearly hyperbolic as hardly to call for notice. As a matter of fact, Lanier has written numerous poems that offer little or no difficulty to the reader of average intelligence, as `Life and Song’, `My Springs’, `The Symphony’, `The Mocking-Bird’, `The Song of the Chattahoochee’, `The Waving of the Corn’, `The Revenge of Hamish’, `Remonstrance’, `A Ballad of Trees and the Master’, etc. More than this, Lanier at times manifests the simplicity that is granted only to genius of the highest order: thus an English critic,*2* who by the way declares that Lanier’s volume has more of genius than all the poems of Poe, or Longfellow, or Lowell (the humorous poems excepted), and who considers Lanier the most original of all American poets, and more original than any England has produced for the last thirty years, says that “nothing can be more perfect than —
`The whole sweet round
Of littles that large life compound,'”*3*
lines in `My Springs’, and that “the touch of wonder in the last two lines,
`I marvel that God made you mine, For when he frowns, ’tis then ye shine,’*4*
is as simple and exquisite as any touch of tenderness in our literature.” I frankly admit that several of Lanier’s best poems, as `Corn’, `The Marshes of Glynn’, and `Sunrise’, are not simple; but the same thing is true of Milton’s `Paradise Lost’ and of Browning’s `The Ring and the Book’, and yet this fact does not exclude these two works from the list of great poems. Mr. Gosse, however, declares that `Corn’, `Sunrise’, and `The Marshes of Glynn’ “simulate poetic expression with extraordinary skill. But of the real thing, of the genuine traditional article, not a trace”! What do these poems show, then? Mr. Gosse answers: “I find a painful effort, a strain and rage, the most prominent qualities in everything he wrote;” which strikes me as the reverse of the facts. In one of his letters*5* to Judge Bleckley, Lanier wrote this sentence: “My head and my heart are both so full of poems which the dreadful struggle for bread does not give me time to put on paper, that I am often driven to headache and heartache, purely for want of an hour or two to hold a pen.” If, then, he committed an error (and I am far from considering him faultless), it was not that he beat and spurred on Pegasus, but that he failed to rein him in. Still, I repeat that I prefer the embarrassment of riches to the embarrassment of poverty. Finally, just as Milton tells us that the music of the spheres is not to be heard by the gross, unpurged ear, so I believe that many intelligent ears and eyes are at first too gross to hear and see what Lanier puts before them, whereas a bit of patient listening and looking reveals delights hitherto undreamed of.

*1* See `Bibliography’.
*2* `The Spectator’ (London); see `Bibliography’. *3* `My Springs’, ll. 49-50.
*4* `My Springs’, ll. 55-56.
*5* It is to be hoped that these letters may yet be published. I quote from one dated November 15, 1874. —

If not always simple, Lanier is often forcible in the extreme, as in `The Symphony’, `The Revenge of Hamish’, `Remonstrance’, and `Sunrise’. Of course, it is open to any one to see in these poems the “rage” attributed to Lanier by Mr. Gosse, but I prefer to consider it divine wrath in all but the last, and in it wonder unutterable, which yet is so uttered that ears become eyes. I allude to the stanzas* describing the break of dawn and the rising of the sun.

* `Sunrise’, ll. 86-152.

Of the poet’s marvelous euphony, `The Song of the Chattahoochee’ speaks clearly enough. As we have seen in our treatment of versification, it is here a question not of too little but of too much. But, despite an occasional too great yielding to his passion for music, his extraordinary endowment in this direction gave Lanier a unique position among English poets. I quote again from Professor Kent:* “But if his sense of beauty made him a peer of our great poets, it was the heavenly gift of music that distinguished him from them. Milton, it is true, whom he most resembles in this respect, had a knowledge of music, but not the same passion for it. Milton’s music was more a recreation, an accompaniment of reverie; Lanier’s was a fiery zeal; a yearning love, a chosen and adequate form of expression of his soul’s deepest feeling. Combined with this passion for music was his technical knowledge of the art, and these combined formed at once the foundation and the framework of his poetry. He seems literally to have sung his poems; they are essentially musical, tuneful, and melodious. Surcharged with music, he overflows in mellifluous numbers. Here, then, Lanier stands out differentiated in the choir of poets, and here we find that distinctive quality which is the very flavor of his writing.”

* P. 62.

While most of Lanier’s poems are in a serious strain, several disclose no mean sense of humor. I refer to his dialect poems, such as `Jones’s Private Argyment’, `Uncle Jim’s Baptist Revival Hymn’, and `The Power of Prayer’, especially the last, written in conjunction with his brother, Mr. Clifford Lanier.

There are passages in the poems no less pathetic than the poet’s life. In discussing his love of nature we have seen that he was a pantheist in the best sense of the term. So delicate was his sensibility that we do not wonder when we hear him declaring,
“And I am one with all the kinsmen things That e’er my Father fathered,”*

a saying as felicitous as the Roman’s “I am a man, and, therefore, nothing human is stranger to me.” The tenderness of the `Ballad of Trees and the Master’ must touch all readers. Few passages are more pathetic, I think, than that, in `June Dreams in January’, telling of the poet’s struggle for bread and fame, while “his worshipful sweet wife sat still, afar, within the village whence she sent him forth, waiting all confident and proud and calm.” And, if there occurs therein a plaintive tone, let us remember that it is the only time that he complained of his lot, and that here really he has more in mind his dearer self, his wife, and that calm succeeded to unrest just as it does in this passage:
“`Why can we poets dream us beauty, so, But cannot dream us bread? Why, now, can I Make, aye, create this fervid throbbing June Out of the chill, chill matter of my soul, Yet cannot make a poorest penny-loaf
Out of this same chill matter, no, not one For Mary, though she starved upon my breast?’ And then he fell upon his couch, and sobbed, And, late, just when his heart leaned o’er The very edge of breaking, fain to fall, God sent him sleep.”**

* `A Florida Sunday’, ll. 102-103.
** `June Dreams in January’, ll. 68-78. —

V. Lanier’s Theory of Poetry

It is now time to say a word about Lanier’s theory of art, especially the art of poetry. His views upon the formal side of poetry have already been noticed in the consideration of his `Science of English Verse’, and hence receive no further comment here.

That Lanier keenly appreciated the responsibility resting upon the artist, appears from `Individuality’, where he tells us,
“Awful is art because ’tis free,”*1*

“Each artist — gift of terror! — owns his will.”*2*
But he accepts the responsibility reverently and confidently:
“I work in freedom wild,
But work, as plays a little child, Sure of the Father, Self, and Love, alone.”*3*

*1* `Individuality’, l. 62.
*2* `Individuality’, l. 76.
*3* `Individuality’, ll. 89-91.

Again, the province of poetry is pointed out, as in `Clover’:
“The artist’s market is the heart of man; The artist’s price, some little good of man;”*1*
and in `The Bee’:

“Wilt ask, `What profit e’er a poet brings?’ He beareth starry stuff about his wings To pollen thee and sting thee fertile.”*2*
In `Corn’,*3* too, the “tall corn-captain” “types the poet-soul sublime.”

*1* `Clover’, ll. 126-127.
*2* `The Bee’, ll. 40-42.
*3* `Corn’, l. 52 ff.

But it is in his prose works that Lanier has treated the matter most at length, and to these I turn. In the first place, he insists that to be an artist one must know a great deal, a statement that would appear superfluous but for its frequent overlooking by would-be artists. Hence he is right in warning young writers: “You need not dream of winning the attention of sober people with your poetry unless that poetry and your soul behind it are informed and saturated with at least the largest final conceptions of current science.”* That Lanier strove to follow this precept, we have abundant evidence in his life and in his works; and I think that, if we remember his environments, we must wonder at the vastness, the accuracy, and the variety of his knowledge. As additionally illustrative of the last, I may add that Lanier invented some improvements for the flute, and made a discovery in the physics of music that the Professor of Physics in the University of Virginia thought considerable.**

* `Gates’, p. 29.
** See `West’, p. 23.

In the second place, Lanier thinks that a poet’s knowledge of his art should be scientific. It was this that led him to write `The Science of English Verse’, the motto of which is, “But the best conceptions cannot be, save where science and genius are.” In `The English Novel’ he declares that “not a single verse was ever written by instinct alone since the world began,”* and fortifies his statement by Ben Jonson’s tribute to Shakespeare, —
“For a good poet’s made as well as born, And such wert thou.”

But Lanier clearly saw that no formal laws and no amount of scientific knowledge could alone make a poet, as appears from the motto above quoted, from the closing chapter of `The Science of English Verse’, which tells us that the educated love of beauty is the artist’s only law, and from this other motto, from Sir Philip Sidney: “A Poet, no industrie can make, if his owne Genius bee not carried unto it.”

* `The English Novel’, p. 33.

In the third place, Lanier holds that a moral intention on the part of an artist does not interfere with the naturalness or intrinsic beauty of his work; that in art the controlling consideration is rather moral than artistic beauty; but that moral beauty and artistic beauty, so far from being distinct or opposed, are convergent and mutually helpful. This thesis he upholds in the following eloquent and cogent passage: “Permit me to recall to you in the first place that the requirement has been from time immemorial that wherever there is contest as between artistic and moral beauty, unless the moral side prevail, all is lost. 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 suggest 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.”* By copious quotations Lanier then shows that “many fine and beautiful souls appear after a while to lose all sense of distinction between these terms, Beauty, Truth, Love, Wisdom, Goodness, and the like,” and concludes thus: “And if this be true, cannot 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 meddle with love; unless you are suffused with truth, do not dare to meddle with goodness; — in a word, unless you are suffused with beauty, truth, wisdom, goodness, AND love, abandon the hope that the ages will accept you as an artist.”**

* `The English Novel’, p. 272 f.
** `The English Novel’, p. 280. Of the numerous discussions of this thesis, the student should consult at least those by Matthew Arnold (`Preface’ to his edition of `Wordsworth’s Poems’), John Ruskin (`Stones of Venice’, vol. iii., chap. iv.), and Victor Hugo (`William Shakespeare’, Book VI.). —

VI. Conclusion

Milton has somewhere said that in order to be a great poet one must himself be a true poem, a dictum none the less trustworthy because of its inapplicability to its author along with several other great poets. Now of all English poets, I know of none that came nearer being a true poem than did Lanier. He was as spotless as “the Lady of Christ’s”, and infinitely more lovable. Indeed, he seems to me to have realized the ideal of his own knightly Horn, who hopes that some day men will be “maids in purity”.* I will not recall his gentle yet heroic life amid drawbacks almost unparalleled; for it is even sadder than it is beautiful. It is my deliberate judgment that, while, as the poet says in his `Life and Song’, no singer has ever wholly lived his minstrelsy, Lanier came so near it that we may fairly say, in the closing lines of the poem,

“His song was only living aloud,
His work, a singing with his hand.”
And, for my part, I am as grateful for his noble private life as for his distinguished public work.

* `The Symphony’, l. 302.

And yet I will not close with this picture of the man; for my purpose is rather to present the poet. Hampered though he was by fewness of years, by feebleness of body, by shortness of bread, and, most of all perhaps, by over-luxuriance of imagination, Lanier was yet, to my mind, indisputably a great poet. For in technique he was akin to Tennyson;* in the love of beauty and in lyric sweetness, to Keats and Shelley; in the love of nature, to Wordsworth; and in spirituality, to Ruskin, the gist of whose teaching is that we are souls temporarily having bodies; to Milton, “God-gifted organ-voice of England”; and to Browning, “subtlest assertor of the soul in song”. To be sure, Lanier’s genius is not equal to that of any one of the poets mentioned, but I venture to believe that it is of the same order, and, therefore, deserving of lasting remembrance.

* Mr. Thayer puts it stronger: “As a master of melodious metre only Tennyson, and he not often, has equalled Lanier.” Mr. F. F. Browne, Editor of `The Dial’ (Chicago), compares the two poets in another aspect: “`The Symphony’ of Lanier may recall some parts of `Maud’; but the younger poet’s treatment is as much his own as the elder’s is his own. The comparison of Lanier with Tennyson will, indeed, only deepen the impression of his originality, which is his most striking quality. It may be doubted if any English poet of our time, except Tennyson, has cast his work in an ampler mould, or wrought with more of freedom, or stamped his product with the impress of a stronger personality. His thought, his stand-point, his expression, his form, his treatment, are his alone; and through them all he justifies his right to the title of poet.” —


Life and Song

If life were caught by a clarionet, [1] And a wild heart, throbbing in the reed, Should thrill its joy and trill its fret, And utter its heart in every deed,

Then would this breathing clarionet
Type what the poet fain would be;
For none o’ the singers ever yet
Has wholly lived his minstrelsy,

Or clearly sung his true, true thought, Or utterly bodied forth his life,
Or out of life and song has wrought [11] The perfect one of man and wife;

Or lived and sung, that Life and Song Might each express the other’s all,
Careless if life or art were long
Since both were one, to stand or fall:

So that the wonder struck the crowd,
Who shouted it about the land:
`His song was only living aloud,
His work, a singing with his hand!’


Notes: Life and Song

`Life and Song’ is the fifth of a series of seven poems published under the general heading of `Street-cries’, with the two stanzas following as an introduction:
“Oft seems the Time a market-town Where many merchant-spirits meet
Who up and down and up and down
Cry out along the street

“Their needs, as wares; one THUS, one SO: Till all the ways are full of sound:
— But still come rain, and sun, and snow, And still the world goes round.”

The remaining numbers of the series are: 1. `Remonstrance’, given in this volume; 2. `The Ship of Earth’; 3. `How Love Looked for Hell’; 4. `Tyranny’; 6. `To Richard Wagner’; 7. `A Song of Love’.

I can think of no more helpful comment on the subject of our poem than this sentence from Milton’s `Apology for Smectymnuus’, already alluded to in the `Introduction’ (p. liv [Part VI]): “And long it was not after, when I was confirmed in this opinion, that he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy.”

Lines 19-20. I have been pleased to discover that the application I have made of this poem, especially of these lines (see `Introduction’, p. liv [Part VI]), is likewise made by most students of Lanier’s life, and that Mrs. Lanier has chosen these two lines for inscription on the monument to be erected to his memory. On the reverse side of the stone, I may add, are to be put these words: “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God” (I John iv. 16).

Jones’s Private Argyment

That air same Jones, which lived in Jones, [1] He had this pint about him:
He’d swear with a hundred sighs and groans, That farmers MUST stop gittin’ loans,
And git along without ’em:

That bankers, warehousemen, and sich
Was fatt’nin’ on the planter,
And Tennessy was rotten-rich
A-raisin’ meat and corn, all which
Draw’d money to Atlanta:

And the only thing (says Jones) to do [11] Is, eat no meat that’s boughten:

Thus spouted Jones (whar folks could hear, — At Court and other gatherin’s),
And thus kep’ spoutin’ many a year, Proclaimin’ loudly far and near
Sich fiddlesticks and blatherin’s.

But, one all-fired sweatin’ day, [21] It happened I was hoein’
My lower corn-field, which it lay
‘Longside the road that runs my way Whar I can see what’s goin’.

And a’ter twelve o’clock had come
I felt a kinder faggin’,
And laid myself un’neath a plum
To let my dinner settle sum,
When ‘long come Jones’s waggin,

And Jones was settin’ in it, SO: [31] A-readin’ of a paper.
His mules was goin’ powerful slow,
Fur he had tied the lines onto
The staple of the scraper.

The mules they stopped about a rod
From me, and went to feedin’
‘Longside the road, upon the sod,
But Jones (which he had tuck a tod) Not knowin’, kept a-readin’.

And presently says he: “Hit’s true; [41] That Clisby’s head is level.
Thar’s one thing farmers all must do, To keep themselves from goin’ tew
Bankruptcy and the devil!

“More corn! more corn! MUST plant less ground, And MUSTN’T eat what’s boughten!
Next year they’ll do it: reasonin’s sound: (And, cotton will fetch ’bout a dollar a pound), THARFORE, I’LL plant ALL cotton!”

Macon, Ga., 1870.

Notes: Jones’s Private Argyment

The themes of this poem, the relative claims of corn and cotton upon the attention of the farmer and the disastrous results of speculation, are treated indirectly in `Thar’s More in the Man Than Thar Is in the Land’, and directly and with consummate art in `Corn’.

1. “That air same Jones” appears in `Thar’s More’, etc., written in 1869, in which we are told:

“And he lived pretty much by gittin’ of loans, And his mules was nuthin’ but skin and bones, And his hogs was flat as his corn-bread pones, And he had ’bout a thousand acres o’ land.”
He sells his farm to Brown at a dollar and fifty cents an acre and goes to Texas. Brown improves the farm, and, after five years, is sitting down to a big dinner when Jones is discovered standing out by the fence, without wagon or mules, “fur he had left Texas afoot and cum to Georgy to see if he couldn’t git some employment.” Brown invites Jones in to dinner, but cannot refrain from the inference-drawing that names the poem. — “Which lived in Jones,” “which Jones is a county of red hills and stones” (`Thar’s More’, etc.) in central Georgia.

13. Readers of `David Copperfield’ will recall Micawber’s frequent use of `I-O-U-‘s’.

47. “Clisby’s head” refers to Mr. Joseph Clisby, then editor of the Macon (Ga.) `Telegraph and Messenger’, who had written editorials favoring the planting of more corn.


To-day the woods are trembling through and through [1] With shimmering forms, that flash before my view, Then melt in green as dawn-stars melt in blue. The leaves that wave against my cheek caress Like women’s hands; the embracing boughs express A subtlety of mighty tenderness;
The copse-depths into little noises start, That sound anon like beatings of a heart, Anon like talk ‘twixt lips not far apart. The beech dreams balm, as a dreamer hums a song; Through that vague wafture, expirations strong [11] Throb from young hickories breathing deep and long With stress and urgence bold of prisoned spring And ecstasy of burgeoning.
Now, since the dew-plashed road of morn is dry, Forth venture odors of more quality
And heavenlier giving. Like Jove’s locks awry, Long muscadines
Rich-wreathe the spacious foreheads of great pines, And breathe ambrosial passion from their vines. I pray with mosses, ferns, and flowers shy [21] That hide like gentle nuns from human eye To lift adoring perfumes to the sky.
I hear faint bridal-sighs of brown and green Dying to silent hints of kisses keen
As far lights fringe into a pleasant sheen. I start at fragmentary whispers, blown
From undertalks of leafy souls unknown, Vague purports sweet, of inarticulate tone. Dreaming of gods, men, nuns, and brides, between Old companies of oaks that inward lean [31] To join their radiant amplitudes of green I slowly move, with ranging looks that pass Up from the matted miracles of grass
Into yon veined complex of space
Where sky and leafage interlace
So close, the heaven of blue is seen Inwoven with a heaven of green.

I wander to the zigzag-cornered fence Where sassafras, intrenched in brambles dense, Contests with stolid vehemence [41] The march of culture, setting limb and thorn As pikes against the army of the corn.

There, while I pause, my fieldward-faring eyes Take harvests, where the stately corn-ranks rise, Of inward dignities
And large benignities and insights wise, Graces and modest majesties.
Thus, without theft, I reap another’s field; Thus, without tilth, I house a wondrous yield, And heap my heart with quintuple crops concealed. [51]

Look, out of line one tall corn-captain stands Advanced beyond the foremost of his bands, And waves his blades upon the very edge And hottest thicket of the battling hedge. Thou lustrous stalk, that ne’er mayst walk nor talk, Still shalt thou type the poet-soul sublime That leads the vanward of his timid time And sings up cowards with commanding rhyme — Soul calm, like thee, yet fain, like thee, to grow By double increment, above, below; [61] Soul homely, as thou art, yet rich in grace like thee, Teaching the yeomen selfless chivalry
That moves in gentle curves of courtesy; Soul filled like thy long veins with sweetness tense, By every godlike sense
Transmuted from the four wild elements. Drawn to high plans,
Thou lift’st more stature than a mortal man’s, Yet ever piercest downward in the mould
And keepest hold [71] Upon the reverend and steadfast earth
That gave thee birth;
Yea, standest smiling in thy future grave, Serene and brave,
With unremitting breath
Inhaling life from death,
Thine epitaph writ fair in fruitage eloquent, Thyself thy monument.

As poets should,
Thou hast built up thy hardihood [81] With universal food,
Drawn in select proportion fair
From honest mould and vagabond air; From darkness of the dreadful night,
And joyful light;
From antique ashes, whose departed flame In thee has finer life and longer fame; From wounds and balms,
From storms and calms,
From potsherds and dry bones [91] And ruin-stones.
Into thy vigorous substance thou hast wrought Whate’er the hand of Circumstance hath brought; Yea, into cool solacing green hast spun White radiance hot from out the sun.
So thou dost mutually leaven
Strength of earth with grace of heaven; So thou dost marry new and old
Into a one of higher mould;
So thou dost reconcile the hot and cold, [101] The dark and bright,
And many a heart-perplexing opposite, And so,
Akin by blood to high and low,
Fitly thou playest out thy poet’s part, Richly expending thy much-bruised heart
In equal care to nourish lord in hall Or beast in stall:
Thou took’st from all that thou mightst give to all.

O steadfast dweller on the selfsame spot [111] Where thou wast born, that still repinest not — Type of the home-fond heart, the happy lot! — Deeply thy mild content rebukes the land Whose flimsy homes, built on the shifting sand Of trade, for ever rise and fall
With alternation whimsical,
Enduring scarce a day,
Then swept away
By swift engulfments of incalculable tides Whereon capricious Commerce rides. [121] Look, thou substantial spirit of content! Across this little vale, thy continent,
To where, beyond the mouldering mill, Yon old deserted Georgian hill
Bares to the sun his piteous aged crest And seamy breast,
By restless-hearted children left to lie Untended there beneath the heedless sky, As barbarous folk expose their old to die. Upon that generous-rounding side, [131] With gullies scarified
Where keen Neglect his lash hath plied, Dwelt one I knew of old, who played at toil, And gave to coquette Cotton soul and soil. Scorning the slow reward of patient grain, He sowed his heart with hopes of swifter gain, Then sat him down and waited for the rain. He sailed in borrowed ships of usury —
A foolish Jason on a treacherous sea, Seeking the Fleece and finding misery. [141] Lulled by smooth-rippling loans, in idle trance He lay, content that unthrift Circumstance Should plough for him the stony field of Chance. Yea, gathering crops whose worth no man might tell, He staked his life on games of Buy-and-Sell, And turned each field into a gambler’s hell. Aye, as each year began,
My farmer to the neighboring city ran; Passed with a mournful anxious face
Into the banker’s inner place; [151] Parleyed, excused, pleaded for longer grace; Railed at the drought, the worm, the rust, the grass; Protested ne’er again ‘twould come to pass; With many an `oh’ and `if’ and `but alas’ Parried or swallowed searching questions rude, And kissed the dust to soften Dives’s mood. At last, small loans by pledges great renewed, He issues smiling from the fatal door,
And buys with lavish hand his yearly store Till his small borrowings will yield no more. [161] Aye, as each year declined,
With bitter heart and ever-brooding mind He mourned his fate unkind.
In dust, in rain, with might and main, He nursed his cotton, cursed his grain, Fretted for news that made him fret again, Snatched at each telegram of Future Sale, And thrilled with Bulls’ or Bears’ alternate wail — In hope or fear alike for ever pale.
And thus from year to year, through hope and fear, [171] With many a curse and many a secret tear, Striving in vain his cloud of debt to clear, At last
He woke to find his foolish dreaming past, And all his best-of-life the easy prey
Of squandering scamps and quacks that lined his way With vile array,
From rascal statesman down to petty knave; Himself, at best, for all his bragging brave, A gamester’s catspaw and a banker’s slave. [181] Then, worn and gray, and sick with deep unrest, He fled away into the oblivious West,
Unmourned, unblest.

Old hill! old hill! thou gashed and hairy Lear Whom the divine Cordelia of the year,
E’en pitying Spring, will vainly strive to cheer — King, that no subject man nor beast may own, Discrowned, undaughtered and alone —
Yet shall the great God turn thy fate, And bring thee back into thy monarch state [191] And majesty immaculate.
Lo, through hot waverings of the August morn, Thou givest from thy vasty sides forlorn Visions of golden treasuries of corn — Ripe largesse lingering for some bolder heart That manfully shall take thy part,
And tend thee,
And defend thee,
With antique sinew and with modern art.

Sunnyside, Ga., August, 1874.

Notes: Corn

As stated elsewhere (`Introduction’, p. xvii [Part I]), `Corn’ was the first of Lanier’s poems to attract general attention; for this reason as well as for its absolute merit the poem deserves careful study.

In the first of his letters to the Hon. Logan E. Bleckley, Chief-justice of Georgia, dated October 9, 1874, Lanier tells us how he came to write `Corn’: “I enclose MS. of a poem in which I have endeavored to carry some very prosaic matters up to a loftier plane. I have been struck with alarm in seeing the numbers of deserted old homesteads and gullied hills in the older counties of Georgia: and, though they are dreadfully commonplace, I have thought they are surely mournful enough to be poetic.”

In the introductory note to `Jones’s Private Argyment’ I have incidentally stated the theme of `Corn’. Instead of adding a more detailed statement of my own here, I give Judge Bleckley’s analysis of the poem, which occurs in his reply to the above-mentioned letter. After giving various minute criticism (for Lanier had requested his unreserved judgment), Judge Bleckley continues: “Now, for the general impression which your Ode has made upon me. It presents four pictures; three of them landscapes and one a portrait. You paint the woods, a corn-field, and a worn-out hill. These are your landscapes. And your portrait is the likeness of an anxious, unthrifty cotton-planter who always spends his crop before he has made it, borrows on heavy interest to carry himself over from year to year, wears out his land, meets at last with utter ruin, and migrates to the West. Your second landscape is turned into a vegetable person, and you give its portrait with many touches of marvel and mystery in vegetable life. Your third landscape takes for an instant the form and tragic state of King Lear; you thus make it seize on our sympathies as if it were a real person, and you then restore it

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