November 26, 2013

Peck's 'Rings and Love-Knots: so unpretentious

The Critic called Samuel Minturn Peck's second book of poems, Rings and Love-Knots, a book of "seventy-five dainty love-lyrics and vers-de-société in a prettily bound volume." This review, published in the November 26, 1892 issue, continued Peck's reputation as a good but simple poet. In fact, the review recommended the collection for those who like "light verse" and observed that the Alabama poet had not tried to make his poems more serious than his previous work.

The critic goes on with faint praise: "He also has a command of rhymes and metres, and his work exhibits much technical skill; it is accurate, finished and perfectly straightforward." Without irony, the critic finds Peck likable precisely because "all the songs he has here collected... are so unpretentious, so musical and so finished." Of the 75 poems in the book, the critic highlighted "An Alabama Garden" as one of his favorites:

Along a pine-clad hill it lies,
O'erlooked by limpid Southern skies,
A spot to feast a fairy's eyes,
       A nook for happy fancies.
The wild bee's mellow monotone
Here blends with bird-notes zephyr-blown,
And many an insect voice unknown
       The harmony enhances.

The rose's shattered splendor flees
With lavish grace on every breeze,
And lilies sway with flexile ease
       Like dryads snowy-breasted;
And where gardenias drowse between
Rich curving leaves of glossy green,
The cricket strikes his tambourine,
       Amid the mosses nested.

Here dawn-flushed myrtles interlace,
And sifted sunbeams shyly trace
Frail arabesques whose shifting grace
       Is wrought of shade and shimmer;
At eventide scents quaint and rare
Go straying through my garden fair,
As if they sought with wildered air
       The fireflies' fitful glimmer.

Oh, could some painter's facile brush,
On canvas limn my garden's blush,
The fevered world its din would hush
       To crown the high endeavor;
Or could a poet snare in rhyme
The breathings of this balmy clime,
His fame might dare the dart of Time
       And soar undimmed forever!

In the 20th century, Peck was named the first Poet Laureate of Alabama, a position he earned in part because of his accessibility as a poet and in part because of how frequently his poetry celebrated his native state, as in the poem above. Similarly, many of his poems were set to music because of their song-like quality and their generally positive themes. Peck also apparently appreciated the praise he received for what the above critic called "vers-de-société" as a later book had an entire section with that label.

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