February 12, 2012

Cawein: words the whole world reads

Nothing defines Kentucky poetry like Madison Cawein. Born in Louisville in 1865, his prolific career as a poet earned him the nicknamed "the Keats of Kentucky." Echoing classic English poets like John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he carved a niche for himself as describing the unique nature of his home state during the late 19th century into the early 20th.

One of his many poems celebrating Kentucky life was presented in New York City on February 12, 1913 at a gathering of displaced Kentuckians, aptly named the New York Society of Kentuckians. The poem was simply titled "Kentucky" and it reminds his listeners of the ideal world they left behind:

You, who are met to remember
  Kentucky and give her praise;
Who have warmed your hearts at the ember
  Of her love for many days!
Be faithful to your mother,
  However your ways may run,
And, holding one to the other,
  Prove worthy to be her sons.

Worthy of her who brought you;
  Worthy in dream and deed;
Worthy her love that taught you,
  And holds your work in heed;
Your work she weighs and watches,
  Giving it praise and blame,
As to her heart she catches,
  Or sets aside in shame.

One with her heart's devotion,
  One with her soul's firm will,
She holds to the oldtime notion
  Of what is good, what ill;
And still in unspoiled beauty,
  With all her pioneer pride,
She keeps to the path of duty,
  And never turns aside.

She dons no new attire
  Of modern modes and tricks,
And stands for something higher
  Than merely politics;
For much the world must think on—
  For dreams as well as deeds;
For men, like Clay and Lincoln,
  And words the whole world reads.

Not for her manners gracious,
  Nor works, nor courage of
Convictions, proud, audacious,
  Does she compel our love—
But for her heart's one passion,
  Old as democracy,
That holds to the ancient fashion
  Of hospitality.

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