July 6, 2010

Death of Paul Hamilton Hayne

When Charleston, South Carolina was bombarded during the Civil War, Paul Hamilton Hayne lost his home and his ample library to an exploding shell. His first book of poems was published only a few years earlier in 1855 when he was 25. He published two others by the time he was 30.

Hayne refused to let the Civil War deter him from his path of poetry, especially after his health kept him from fulfilling a term of enlistment. He moved to a new home in Georgia, one which he described as "a crazy wooden shanty, dignified as a cottage... Our little apology for a dwelling was perched on the top of a hill, overlooking in several directions hundreds of leagues of pine barren... A wilder, more desolate and savage-looking home could hardly have been seen east of the prairies." His writing desk was a workbench left behind by carpenters.

Life became somewhat isolated for Hayne, who died at this home he named Copse Hill on July 6, 1886. He was 56 years old. His new home provided him ample inspiration and his post-bellum works included the poem "From the Woods" and the collection Mountain of the Lovers. He has been nicknamed the Poet Laureate of the South and, though he embraced Southern themes in his writing, also proudly noted his appreciation of northern poets like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Hayne's own place in the literary canon is questionable (as are most Southern writers from this period, be it Albert Pike, William Gilmore Simms, or Hayne's good friend Henry Timrod). He may have been his own worst critic. On his personal copy of one of his early books, he scribbled, "Boyish and bombastic! Should have been whipped for publishing it!"

"Great Poets and Small"

Shall I not falter on melodious wing,
In that my notes are weak and may not rise
To those world-wide entrancing harmonies,
Which the great poets to the ages sing?
Shall my thought's humble heaven no longer ring
With pleasant lays, because the empyreal height
Stretches beyond it, lifting to the light
The anointed pinion of song's radiant king?
Ah! a false thought! the thrush her fitful flight
Ventures in vernal dawns; a happy note
Trills from the russet linnet's gentle throat,
Though far above the eagle soars in might,
And the glad skylark — an ethereal mote —
Sings in high realms that mock our straining sight.

1 comment:

  1. South CarolinianJuly 11, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    Thank you for honoring this great poet of the South.