December 8, 2010

Birth of Henry Timrod

The only son of William and Thyrza Timrod was born on December 8, 1828. They named him Henry Timrod. He would spend most of his life in the state of his birth, South Carolina. One day as toddler, young Henry stared stared out the window at a lightning storm. The boy said the thunder was like God's voice. His father (himself a binder and amateur poet) predicted, "That boy will, if he lives, be a poet." His father was right.

Henry Timrod was later nicknamed the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy, though he died in poverty in 1867. In 1901, he was memorialized with a public monument in the city of his birth. Ten years later, his poem about his home state was adapted to become the official song of South Carolina. Yet, today, he remains relatively forgotten — which, perhaps, he predicted in his poem "A Vision of Poesy." The poem refers to a boy of humble parentage: "The stars that shone upon his lonely birth / Did seem to promise sovereignty and fame— / Yet no tradition hath preserved his name."

His poem "The Past":

To-day's most trivial act may hold the seed
   Of future fruitfulness, or future dearth;
Oh, cherish always every word and deed!
   The simplest record of thyself hath worth.

If thou hast ever slighted one old thought,
   Beware lest Grief enforce the truth at last;
The time must come wherein thou shalt be taught
   The value and the beauty of the Past.

Not merely as a warner and a guide,
   "A voice behind thee," sounding to the strife;
But something never to be put aside,
   A part and parcel of thy present life.

Not as a distant and a darkened sky,
   Through which the stars peep, and the moonbeams glow;
But a surrounding atmosphere, whereby
   We live and breathe, sustained in pain and woe.

A shadowy land, where joy and sorrow kiss,
   Each still to each corrective and relief,
Where dim delights are brightened into bliss,
   And nothing wholly perishes but Grief.

Ah, me!—not dies—no more than spirit dies;
   But in a change like death is clothed with wings;
A serious angel, with entranced eyes,
   Looking to far-off and celestial things.


  1. I first heard about him when Bob Dylan lifted some of his lyrics....and have since been able to visit his grave twice. He is buried with his son, who died at Christmastime, and Timrod has a moving poem about that Christmas too.

  2. I haven't paid my respects yet, but he's definitely on my list.


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