July 14, 2012

Lanier: to welcome a bold new-comer

After the Civil War, Sidney Lanier moved to Montgomery, Alabama for a time, where he worked as a teacher and musician. He also contributed a few editorials. One was published on July 14, 1866. In it, Lanier asked for a new cultural revival in the post-war period: "Who will come forward and inaugurate a new era of bold, electrical, impressive writing?"

We look to see young men coming forward who shall inaugurate a better literature. If ever there was a time when a magnificent field opened to young aspirants for literary renown, that time is the present. Every door is wide open... All the graces of poesy and art and music stand waiting by, ready to welcome a bold new-comer.

As if inspired by his own declaration, Lanier quit his job in Montgomery and moved to New York, the completed manuscript to his first book in hand. Just over one month later, he was the published author of a novel, Tiger Lilies. The book drew little attention; his second book was even less successful. Instead, Lanier turned to poetry and, in that field, made his mark. One of his earliest poems after his novel was "Life and Song":

If life were caught by a clarionet,
    And a wild heart, throbbing in the reed,
Should thrill its joy and trill its fret,
    And utter its heart in every deed,

Then would this breathing clarionet
    Type what the poet fain would be;
For none o' the singers ever yet
    Has wholly lived his minstrelsy,

Or clearly sung his true, true thought,
    Or utterly bodied forth his life,
Or out of life and song has wrought
    The perfect one of man and wife;

Or lived and sung, that Life and Song
    Might each express the other's all,
Careless if life or art were long
    Since both were one, to stand or fall:

So that the wonder struck the crowd,
    Who shouted it about the land:
His song was only living aloud,
    His work, a singing with his hand!


  1. I love Lanier's poetry (that is, I haven't read a great deal of it yet, but I love what I've read). Good post!

    1. Hi Gina friend, 6 years later - wish I knew someone to discuss Sidney with, memorizing as many of his poems as I can, balm for my soul.


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