May 3, 2011

Miller: the love of the beautiful

With a few books already under his belt, Joaquin Miller made his way to Europe as a celebrated poet. He was received especially well by the English artist/post Dante Gabriel Rossetti in London. Miller wrote in his diary on May 3, 1871:

I find here among the Pre-Raphaelites one prevailing idea, one delight—the love of the beautiful. It is in the air. At least I find it wherever the atmosphere of the Rossettis penetrates, and that seems to be in every work of art—beautiful art. I am to dine with Dante Rossetti! ...I shall listen well, for this love of the beautiful is my old love—my old lesson. I have read it by the light of the stars, under the pines, or away down by the strange light on the sea, even on the peaks of the Pacific—everywhere. Strange that it should be so in the air here. And they all seem intoxicated with it, as with something new, the fragrance of a new flower that has only now blossomed after years of waiting.

Miller had first met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his brother William Rossetti a few months earlier, but it was this dinner that he considered the most importance experience he had while overseas. He even wrote about it at length months later once back in the United States. Certainly, Miller attracted their attention, and that of many throughout England: though born in Indiana, he wanted to embody the image of a quintessential Californian. To that end, he crafted a Western look complete with oversized cowboy hat, red flannel shirt, spurred boots, a blue polka-dotted bandanna and, occasionally, chaps over his pants.

Though the Rossettis turned down the opportunity to have Songs of the Sierras dedicated to them, William later called it "a truly remarkable book" with "picturesque things picturesquely put." From that book's poem "The Californian":

Afar the bright Sierras lie
A swaying line of snowy white,
A fringe of heaven hung in sight
Against the blue base of the sky.

I look along each gaping gorge,
I hear a thousand sounding strokes
Like giants rending giant oaks,
Or brawny vulcan at his forge;
I see pick-axes flash and shine
And great wheels whirling in a mine.
Here winds a thick and yellow thread.
A moss'd and silver stream instead;
And trout that leap'd its rippled tide
Have turn'd upon their sides and died.

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