July 27, 2011

Cawein: an ode on The Republic

The "Keats of Kentucky," Madison Cawein wrote to his longtime correspondent Robert Edward Lee Gibson on July 27, 1912:

I am writing an ode on The Republic now, which I intend to be a protest against the attitude of the times, public and political, and a sort of appeal to God and the world of the lowly and the wise, for patience, etc. I think it is going to be a good poem, but don't know yet.

The poem which Cawein was writing, good or not, was published the next year in his book, The Republic: A Little Book of Homespun Verse. The title poem, "The Republic," filled nine pages. In it, Cawein criticizes politicians who "build authority" around "calumny and party hate." Instead, he elevates those who "sacrifice their honor for the State." He also rails against the "Proletariat," and calls for freedom and equality for all individuals. He believes that the chaos of current times will yield to peace and prosperity, if we are but patient and turn to God. After all, he writes, "God made our Country, wombing her with gold / And veining her with copper, iron, and coal." Here is just a short excerpt from the long poem:

By the long leagues of cotton Texas rolls,
And Mississippi bolls; a
By the wide seas of wheat
The far Dakotas beat
Against the barriers of the mountainland:
And by the miles of maize
Nebraska lays
Like a vast carpet in
Her House of Nights and Days,
Where, glittering, in council meet
The Spirits of the Cold and Heat,
With old Fertility whose heart they win:
By all the wealth replete
Within our scan,
From Florida to where the snows begin,
Made manifest of Nature unto Man—
The Land is as a mighty scroll unrolled,
Whereon God writes His name
In harvest: green and gold
And russet making fair as oft of old
Each daedal part He decorates the same
With splendors manifold
Of mountains and of rivers, fruits and flowers;
Sealing each passage of the rubric Hours
With esoteric powers
Of life and love, and all their mystery,
Through which men yet may see
The truth that shall refute the fool that cries,
"God has forgot us and our great emprise!"

...God of the wise,
The meek and humble, who still look to Thee,
Holding to sanity
And truth and purpose of the great emprise.
Keep her secure,
And beautiful and pure
As when in ages past Thou didst devise,
Saying within Thy heart, "She shall endure!—
A great Republic!"—Let her course be sure,
O God, and, in detraction's spite,
Unquestionably right;
And in the night, 
If night there must be, light a beacon light
To guide her safely through the strife,
The conflict of her soul, with passions rife.

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