October 17, 2011

Lanier: melodious unities

The public library in Macon, Georgia unveiled a bust to their native poet/musician Sidney Lanier on October 17, 1890. The bust was a copy of and complement to another which was installed at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where Lanier had spent his last working years. The original bust was created by Ephraim Keyser, who did not accept payment for the work.

Lanier had died nine years earlier at the age of 39. In his short career, had inspired many including various other writers. Lanier saw the connection between poetry and music and allowed the concepts of both to intertwine in his work. He also believed that these art forms could help heal the nation in the years after the Civil War.

The bust's unveiling in Georgia, naturally, was celebrated with poetry. One of the poets who presented for the occasion was William Hamilton Hayne (son of poet Paul Hamilton Hayne). His "Poem for the Unveiling of the Bust of Sidney Lanier, October 17, 1890":

Unveil the noble brow, the deep-souled eyes,
Wherein melodious unities
   Of Music and of Poetry were born,
   For undeterred by care's half sluggish thorn—
Barbed oft with suffering—he bravely brought
To Song's full bloom his Lyric buds of thought.

Here love and homage shall alike proclaim
The undying whiteness of our poet's fame;
Wed to the marble, yet exempt from the cold
As winter clouds blessed by the sun's warm gold.

                    And now I hear
                    Far off yet clear
                Two voices that are one—
             For drawing close to Music's feet
             'Tis thus her Lyric sister sweet
                Sings of their cherished son!

Strong-winged and free each mood of me
   Thrilled through his heart and brain,—
His soul was lit by lights that flit
   Across the waving grain!
The marshes drear he made a prayer
   With words whose wondrous flight
Bore thoughts that reach, through rhythmic speech,
   To sunlands out of sight!

He let no seed from Doubt's dark weed
   Fall in the holy shrine
Where song was bred, by music led
   To beckoning heights divine!
And seldom mute his silver flute
   Invoked with matchless art
Each wave of sound by Silence bound
   Within her vestal heart!

Death's arctic fear—"a cordial rare"
   To his enraptured dream,—
Came from the blue his spirit knew
   Of love and faith supreme!
His "Sunrise" song, with rapture strong,
   Rose like a lark in light
Who feels the sway of sovereign Day
   Reign o'er the mists of night!

He loved the flow of winds that blow
   To "odor-currents" set,—
The gem-like hue of fleeting dew,
   Frail rose and violet,—
The soul in trees whose litanies
   His reverent spirit heard;
The corn-blades rife with vernal life,
   The rune of bee or bird!

Strong-winged and free each mood of me
   Thrilled through his heart and brain,—
His soul was lit by lights that flit
   Across the waving grain.
The marshes drear he made a prayer
   With words, whose wondrous flight
Bore thoughts that reach, through rhythmic speech,
   To sunlands out of sight!

*The image included here is an early photograph of the original bust at Johns Hopkins University. It was copied for the public library at Macon.

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