March 23, 2011

Cawein: So mad, so wild is March!

"I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, March 23, 1865," wrote Madison Cawein, in response to a request about his biography. He spent much of his childhood in Kentucky and, for a time, Indiana ("Here I formed my great love for nature."). In high school, Cawein discovered writers like "Shelley, Scott, Goldsmith and Tennyson, mainly" and was inspired to attempt writing himself. "But my poor accomplishments as compared with their great ones filled me with despair very frequently.... and [I] determined to write no more."

Cawein changed his mind, however, and continued writing — though every poem he submitted for publication was rejected. Finally, upon graduating from high school in 1886 at age 21, he was elected class poet. He published his first book at his own expense and, with the help of a positive review from William Dean Howells, he suddenly became recognized as a poet. He earned the nickname "The Keats of Kentucky."

His first book Blooms of the Berry, published  in 1887 (the same year the image at left was taken), included the poem "Waiting":

...So mad, so wild is March!—
    I long, oh , long
To see the redbud's torch
    Flame far and strong;
Hear, on my vine-climbed porch,
    The bluebird's song.

How slow the Hours creep,
    Each with a crutch!—
Ah, could my spirit leap
    Its bounds and touch
That day, no thing would keep—
    Or matter much!

But now, with you away,
    Time halts and crawls,
Feet clogged with winter clay,
    That never falls,
While, distant still, that day
    Of meeting calls.


  1. It always strikes me as a little sad that the posts about the more obscure authors rarely get any comments -- so here is one. (Of course, it might be noted that most of the posts rarely get comments, which I hope does not really reflect the readership.)

  2. Thanks for the comment! Posts on obscurer writers tend to get fewer visits (per statistics tracked by, but I hope those that do take a look find them interesting. Cawein is a great one, and it's a shame he's forgotten. That said, I get a few additional comments on the Facebook page, and some emails too, but it's always nice to have feedback of any kind. Thank you for taking the time!

  3. I found several of his collections of poems in Project Gutenberg. In the one, WEEDS BY THE WALL, there is a poem called "Hoodoo." Have you ever read it?