Poems of Sidney Lanier
U. of Georgia Press
This is an invaluable reprint of the 1916
edition of Mary Lanier's 1884 collection, which is only marred by a certain over-solicitousness
for the poet's fame that depreciates the early poems and the jolly, Twainy "dialect" poems, which rise to Frost in
"Thar's more in the Man than thar
is in the Land."
Sidney Lanier saw the Real through "Christ's crystal" clear as the great fourth stanza of "Song of the Chattahoochee":
And oft in the hills of Habersham,
And oft in the valleys of Hall,
The white quartz shone, and the smooth brook-stone
Did bar me of passage with friendly brawl,
And many a luminous jewel lone
—Crystals clear or a-cloud with mist,
Ruby, garnet and amethyst—
Made lures with the lights of streaming stone
In the clefts of the hills of Habersham,
In the beds of the valleys of Hall.
"A Florida Sunday" is an evocation pure as any of Florida, and there is homesickness in "From the Flats":
Oh might I through these tears
But glimpse some hill my Georgia high uprears,
Where white the quartz and pink the pebble shine,
The hickory heavenward strives, the muscadine
Swings o'er the slope, the oak's far-falling shade
Darkens the dogwood in the bottom glade,
And down the hollow from a ferny nook
Bright leaps a living brook!
The famous "Hymns of the Marshes"
are what Georgia is like, so that when in "Ireland" he offers against
the famine "the main and cordial current of our love," he prophesies Finnegans Wake.
Hart Crane's noble tribute to "Psalm of the West", Pound's rare salute to "A Ballad of Trees and the Master", bespeak a poet loudly ignored.
His great Cantata for the Centennial would serve as well in 1976.
In his Afterword, John Hollander points to "the opening line of 'The Marshes of Glynn,' when separated from the weaker, rhyming second one: 'Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven'; here again we feel that the music of Lanier's verse lies closer to the ebb and flow of Whitman's than to the brilliant contraptions of Swinburne's."
That second line is,
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
—go on to the third,
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,—
and you have Lanier.