May 1, 2010

Henry Timrod memorialized

Charleston, South Carolina memorialized the poet Henry Timrod on May 1, 1901 with a large statue in Washington Square. Timrod, who was born in Charleston, gained notoriety as "The Poet Laureate of the Confederacy."

A trained lawyer and teacher, Timrod published poetry here and there as early as 1848. However, it was not until the outbreak of the Civil War that he achieve significant fame. Illness kept him from serving as a soldier for long so he turned to editing a newspaper in his hometown. He became prolific as a poet but never earned much money; he died poor of tuberculosis in 1867.

Proceedings for the memorial began at 5:00 p.m. that "glorious May day with rays aslant," as one newspaper reported. It was unveiled from beneath an oversized United States flag. The massive crowd ("a scene of rare beauty," according to the newspaper) saw a tall pedestal of gray granite, surmounted by a bronze bust sculpted by Edward V. Valentine. Children presented wreaths and flowers, enough that the base of the monument was no longer visible. If Timrod himself had been there, perhaps he would have humbly yet graciously thanked the crowd by reciting this sonnet of his:

I thank you, kind and best beloved friend,
With the same thanks one murmurs to a sister,
When, for some gentle favor, he hath kissed her,
Less for the gifts than for the love you send,
Less for the flowers than what the flowers convey,
If I, indeed, divine their meaning truly,
And not unto myself ascribe, unduly,
Things which you neither meant nor wished to say,
Oh! tell me, is the hope then all misplaced?
And am I flattered by my own affection?
But in your beauteous gift, methought I traced
Something above a short-lived predilection,
And which, for that I know no dearer name,
I designate as love, without love's flame.

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