March 18, 2012

Cawein II: Take you my sheaf of rhymes

When he was born in Louisville, Kentucky on March 18, 1904, he was named Preston Hamilton Cawein. His birth came nine months and two weeks after the marriage of his parents, Madison Cawein and Gertrude McKelvey. He was their only child. When he was still a boy, his famous poet father died; though well-known, he was financially destitute at the time. Three years later, at 13 years old, young Preston changed his name in honor of his father to Madison Cawein II.

The elder Cawein lamented that poetry after the turn of the century was becoming less important in society. The end result was the poetry was no longer a viable career, especially for those that had a family. He complained the end result of choosing the path of poetry left one with "nothing but worry and the grind of keeping a family up and enough money to live respectably on." But that same family also pressed him onward, particularly his young son, who inspired an entire book called The Giant and the Star. "I had no intention of writing these down," wrote Cawein, "But Preston pestered me so for stories." Preston had a surprising amount of creative control over his father's work — especially considering he was four years old at the time. As his father said, "He is one of the severest critics I have. He knows at once if a story is worth anything... If he failed to be interested in a story, I would leave it out." The first twenty copies of The Giant and the Star were given to Preston to distribute to his friends. The dedicatory poem, "To My Little Son Preston":

You, who are four years old;
You, with the eyes of blue;
You, with the age of gold
Young in the heart of you,
Boy with the eyes of blue:

You, with the face so fair,
Innocent-uttered words,
All the glad sunlight there,
Music of all the birds,
Boy, in your face and words:

Take you my sheaf of rhymes.
Sung for your childish ear;
Rhymes you have loved, at times
Begged for, and sat to hear,
Lending a loving ear.

Since you have listened, sweet,
They to some worth attained;
Since in your heart's young beat
They for a while remained,
They to some worth attained.

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