February 3, 2012

Birth of Lanier: Go, trembling song

The short life of Sidney Lanier began with his birth in Macon, Georgia on February 3, 1842. He became interested in music early in his boyhood, and that interest was sustained for the rest of his life. As he said, "since then the very deepest of my life has been filled with music." In fact, he later claimed that he could play several instruments before he learned how to write legibly. But he did learn to write, and infused his interest in music into his poetry (he also wrote only one novel).

At age 14, Lanier took his first job working in a post office and, that year, went to Oglethorpe College (around the same time, he sat for the photograph here). It was there that his interest in music was compounded with a deep interest in literature. After graduating at 18, he was hired as a teacher himself, but the job was cut short by the Civil War, during which Lanier joined the Confederate Army. In camp with the Second Georgia Battalion (alongside his brother Clifford), Lanier always kept his flute and a steady supply of books. He was eventually captured and, after his release, returned to his home in Georgia in ill health. From then on, he held a series of jobs, all while writing poetry, until his death at age 39.

His poem, "A Song of the Future":

               Sail fast, sail fast,
     Ark of my hopes, Ark of my dreams;
     Sweep lordly o'er the drowned Past,
     Fly glittering through the sun's strange beams;
               Sail fast, sail fast.
Breaths of new buds from off some drying lea
With news about the Future scent the sea:
My brain is beating like the heart of Haste:
I'll loose me a bird upon this Present waste;
               Go, trembling song,
     And stay not long; oh, stay not long:
     Thou 'rt only a gray and sober dove,
     But thine eye is faith and thy wing is love.


  1. His portrait looks surprisingly similar to one of George Lippard, in regard to pose and costume.

  2. I think you're referring to this portrait - and I agree!


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