December 21, 2010

Lanier: a huge cantle out of the world

Though (wrongly) forgotten today, poet and travel writer Bayard Taylor had a major impact on his generation. His death in Germany in 1878 at the age of 53 inspired several poetic tributes, for example. Among his many admirers was Sidney Lanier (pictured). On December 21, 1878, Lanier wrote a letter to a friend, noting his surprise over the death of Taylor:

Bayard Taylor's death slices a huge cantle out of the world for me. I don't yet know it, at all; it only seems that he has gone to some other Germany, a little farther off. How strange it all is: he was such a fine fellow, one almost thinks he might have talked Death over and made him forego his stroke. Tell me whatever you may know, outside the newspaper reports, about his end.

Only a few months earlier, Lanier (then living in Baltimore, Maryland) paid a visit to Taylor. Though the two missed one another, Lanier kindly returned a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass which he had borrowed. In a letter to Taylor from February of 1878, Lanier calls the book "a real refreshment to me — like rude salt spray in your face."

Taylor, who had shown an interest in Lanier's poem "The Symphony," called him "the representative of the South in American song." In 1876, Taylor presented at the Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia and, hoping to re-connect the North and South through poetry, invited Lanier to write an original cantata for the celebration. After Taylor's death, Lanier also wrote a poem "To Bayard Taylor":

Not into these, bright spirit, do we yearn
    To bring thee back, but oh, to be, to be
Unbound of all these gyves, to stretch, to spurn
    The dark from off our dolorous lids, to see
Our spark, Conjecture, blaze and sunwise burn,
    And suddenly to stand again by thee!

No comments:

Post a Comment