April 28, 2011

Cawein: true of myself and of all poets

One of the most respected writers from Kentucky, Madison Cawein still appreciated the opinion of friends. He wrote a letter to Robert Edward Lee Gibson, a minor poet from Missouri, on April 28, 1898:

You have always interested yourself so deeply in my work, and have expressed such great admiration for it, that I have been often at a loss how to show to you my appreciation of both. I have seized the opportunity of doing so, and dedicated my latest volume, Idyllic Monologues, to you, my friend. I think you will like the dedicatory stanzas when you see them. They are true of myself and of all poets of the present day; American poets, at any rate, and Southern and Western poets, particularly.

As promised, the book was dedicated "To my friend: R. E. Lee Gibson." That friend was also subject of the poetic forward:

And one, perchance, will read and sigh:
"What aimless songs! Why will he sing
Of nature that drags out her woe
Through wind and rain, and sun, and snow,
From miserable spring to spring?"
      Then put me by.

And one, perhaps, will read and say:
"Why write of things across the sea;
Of men and women, far and near,
When we of things at home would hear—
Well, who would call this poetry?"
      Then toss away.

A hopeless task have we, meseems,
At this late day; whom fate hath made
Sad, bankrupt heirs of song; who, filled
With kindred yearnings, try to build
A tower like theirs, that will not fade,
      Out of our dreams.

*The portrait of Cawein above dates to 1910, painted by the poet's friend John Bernard Alberts, Jr. The original is now in the collection of the Filson Historical Society in Kentucky.

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