April 12, 2012

Stedman: melodious thunders

The copyright for Poems, Lyrical and Idyllic, by Edmund Clarence Stedman was taken out on April 12, 1860. It was the 26-year old's first book and, with a few exceptions, none of the poems included within had been published previously. In his preface, he offers a bit of an apology (in a third-person voice):

If they exhibit too great variety of purpose, it is because he has not been able, at any one period during the last few years, to prepare enough matter to offer in the present form. What has been done is the result of unequal moments, saved from that daily taskwork, which must first be met by every true man on whom it is imposed.

Only 30 poems were included, though most were quite long; some stretched out to a dozen pages or more. Stedman most often used short lines and frequently alluded to nature in the form of flowers or wildlife. He described both sunny days and rainy days, windy days and snowfall, ultimately making the book a very pastoral one. In the ensuing decades, Stedman would become a major figure in the New York literary scene, and an advocate for international copyright but his first book is hardly impressive. Somewhat atypical is a short poem which serves as an invocation of the god of poetry, "Apollo":

  Vainly, O burning Poets!
  Ye wait for his inspiration,
    Even as kings of old
    Stood by the oracle-gates.
Hasten back, he will say, hasten back
  To your provinces far away!
  There, at my own good time,
  Will I send my answer to you.
    Are ye not kings of song?
  At last the God cometh!
  The air runs over with splendor:
  The fire leaps high on the altar;
Melodious thunders shake the ground.
  Hark to the Delphic responses!
  Hark! it is the God!

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