January 15, 2014

Death of Randall: I slumber soon

Though he was born in Baltimore and started his career in Louisiana for much of his career, it was in August, Georgia that James Ryder Randall died on January 15, 1908. He had just turned 69 years old only two weeks earlier. He is mostly known for "Maryland, My Maryland," a now-controversial poem written to his native state urging them to join the Confederacy during the Civil War.

As that war began, Randall was teaching at Poydras College in Louisiana; he could not enlist due to health problems. He became an editor and journalist, publishing various poems here and there, though none achieved the fame of "Maryland, My Maryland." That song was frequently included on lists of "most patriotic songs" alongside the most famous writings of Julia Ward Howe and Francis Scott Key (apparently intended without irony).

After the war, he moved to Georgia and Randall's anti-Union sentiments abated somewhat. He hoped the Northerners (whom he had previously referred to as "scum") would accept the "rebels" back into the fold. Still, the majority of his known verses glorify the South and the Southern cause, which is said to have inspired many people in those states. Even after the War ended, he viewed Confederate soldiers as more honorable and more worthy of adoration (even to the detriment of Union soldiers, as is both the literal and metaphorical case with his poem "At Arlington"). These themes earned him the nickname "The Poet of the Lost Cause." For this post, here is his poem "After a Little While":

              After a little while,
When all the glories of the night and day
              Have fled for aye,
From Friendship's glance and Beauty's winsome smile,
              I pass away,
              After a little while.

              After a little while,
The snow will fall from time and trial shocks
              Down these dark locks;
Then gliding onward to the Golden Isle,
              I pass the rocks,
              After a little while

              After a little while,
Perchance, when youth is blazoned on my brow,
              As Hope is now,
I fade and quiver in this dim defile,
              A fruitless bough,
              After a little while.

              After a little while,
And clouds that shimmer on the robes of June
              And vestal moon,
No more my vagrant fancies can beguile—
              I slumber soon,
              After a little while.

              After a little while,
The birds will serenade in bush and tree,
              But not for me;
On billows duskier than the gloomy Nile
              My barque must be—
              After a little while.

              After a little while,
The cross will glisten and the thistles wave
              Above my grave,
              And planets smile;
Sweet Lord! then pillowed on Thy gentle breast,
              I fain would rest,
              After a little while.

Shortly after Randall's death, friends gathered his various scraps of poetry (which he had given to them when he was last in Baltimore) and published them in a compilation. Much of poetry from his 20s, amid the background of Civil War, are unsurprisingly focused on that conflict. His later poetry became more deeply religious, as in "Resurgam," the final entry in his posthumous collection. In 1936, a monument to Randall was placed in Augusta, the city where he died.

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