Poetry and Music have always been a wedded pair. Both are forms of imaginative expression, though poetry is the more intellectual, and music the more emotional. It is claimed by some that music is the original and fundamental reality. The word " Muse" seems to favor that contention. Certain it is that children and'childlike peoples strive to put their feelings into melodic form, even before they can give them words. With growing maturity there comes more definite thought. Emotion becomes conscious. Ideas, in turn, blossom into song. "Maxwelton Braes Are Bonnie" and "The Marseillaise Hymn" are poetry so full of emotion that nothing but music can give it utterance. Music thus becomes the handmaid and helper of poetry. Rhythm and melody, however, react upon the thought that called them forth. The servant sometimes gives law to the master, and the rules of musical art stifle spontaneity of invention. If poetry is to be truly great, it must insist upon independence. Inspiration must make its own rules. The melodist must not impose his rhythm too inexorably upon the poet; while at the same time the poet must never lose sight of his need of musical expression. He may use discords, but it must always be with a view to a larger harmony.
Sidney Lanier was primarily a musician, and sec
372 OUR CHIEF POETICAL MUSICIAN
ondarily a poet. He is the only one of our American poets who was master of a musical instrument, and who also evolved a complete theory of the structure of poetry. uWhile as a poet he had originality and depth of emotion, his musical tastes and thoughts.tended to dominate his poetical composition, and to make it too rigid and mechanical. With great sensitiveness of organization he united an extraordinary and even a heroic devotion to principle. To be true to his convictions with regard to art and life, he was ready to make the greatest sacrifices. His history furnishes us with an 1llustration of conscious surrender to duty, both in the esthetic and in the moral realms. And yet, in his efforts to subject poetry to the trammels of a system, his musical instincts lorded it over his genius, and prevented his most complete poetical development. We must therefore call him our chief poetical musician rather than our chief musical poet.
The life of Lanier was brief and pathetic. Born in 1842, he died in 1881. But Keats lived to be only twenty-six, and Shelley to be only thirty, while Lanier died at thirty-nine. Poe died at forty. There are curious resemblances between Lanier and Poe, and even more instructive differences. They are our two Southern poets, both of them breathing the emotion and the passion of the South. But Poe's English schooling emancipated him completely from Southern ideals and traditions. In only one of his tales does he show any acquaintance with Negro character or dialect; and as for slavery, it is as if he had never known of its existence; he thought all reformers indeed to be madmen; he was as complete a cosmo
LANIER AND POE 373
politan as if he had always lived in Great Britain. Lanier, on the other hand, was in spirit bound up with the South; he practically gave his life to the Confederate cause; though misguided, he was a true patriot; some of his most effective poems are in the Negro dialect; he sympathized with many forms of labor and reform. Poe's^conception of poetry was exclusively emotional; to him poetry was only music, designed to stir the feelings with the vague sense of beauty, but with no intent to influence the will. Lanier was equally an artist, but with truth at the basis of his art; he aimed to make beauty an inspiration to noble and heroic action; he said, " The trouble with Poe was, he did not know enough." In short, while Poe was a poetical melodist, Lanier was more; he was a poetical musician, whose intellectual apprehension of rhythm and number brought mere emotion into subjection, and made it the instrument of truth and duty.
Materials for the life of Lanier are not abundant. The memorial by William Hayes Ward prefixed to the standard edition of Lanier's "Poems," and the biography of Lanier by Edwin Mims in "American Men of Letters," are our best sources of information. The former, though succinct, is remarkably comprehensive and sympathetic. The latter fills in the outline with valuable details, drawn from Lanier's letters and the reports of his friends, while it adds much in the way of critical estimate. From both these sources we learn that our poet was the son of Robert S. Lanier, a reputable lawyer of Macon, Georgia, and of Mary J. Anderson, a Virginia lady of Scotch-Irish descent.
374 LANIER S PASSION FOR MUSIC
The father came of Huguenot ancestry, and on both sides of the family there were far back in the line both gentle blood and artistic gifts. Sidney, from a child, had a passion for music. He played all sorts of instruments—piano, organ, violin, guitar, banjo, flute—almost by instinct, and was often so carried away by harmony as to be lifted into a trancelike rapture. His father feared the influence of the violin upon him; its human quality was too engrossing; for it was substituted the flute, which the boy played with a spirituality of expression exceedingly unique and penetrating. In after days, as first flute in the Peabody Symphony Orchestra at Baltimore, he never lacked for support or admiration.
Lanier's flute and Lanier himself were so inseparable that they will go down into history, and we must give a moment to tracing the connection between them. The first instrument of the sort which he possessed was of his own manufacture. When he was only seven years old, he cut a reed from the river-bank, stopped its ends with cork, and dug six finger-holes in its sides. On this he would practise passionately, going into the woods to imitate bird-trills, and leading an orchestra of his playmates. All through his college days the flute was his recreation, and through his army life its companionship helped him to endure hardship and suffering. Natural facility, however, did not blind him to the need of technical skill. He made himself master of his art by unending study. His beautiful silver flute became a central point of interest in every concert. The director of the Peabody Orchestra writes of him:
LANIER S EDUCATIONAL BEGINNINGS 375
"His playing appealed alike to the musically learned and to the unlearned—for he would magnetize the listener; but the artist felt in his performance the superiority of the momentary living inspiration to all the rules and shifts of mere technical scholarship. His art was not only the art of art, but an art above art. I will never forget the impression he made upon me when he played the flute concerto of Emil Hartmann at a Peabody Symphony concert in 1878,—his tall, handsome, manly presence; his flute breathing noble sorrows, noble joys; the orchestra softly responding. The audience was spellbound. Such distinction, such refinement! He stood, the master, the genius!"
I have sketched thus briefly Lanier's musical development, not only because it enables us better to understand the peculiarities of his poetry, but also because it long preceded his recognition of poetry as the all-inclusive art, and his consequent determination to make it the object of his supreme devotion. It was not until he had reached the age of thirty-two that this change became complete. How gradual was the poetical development, can only be realized when we go back to his educational beginnings, and trace from those beginnings the growth of his mind and heart. In his father's house he had received the liberal culture which was furnished by a wellstocked library, and by traditions of Southern hospitality. Nearly six feet in height, and of dignified but winning manners, he was known by all as a typical Southern gentleman. When only fourteen he entered Oglethorpe College, and at eighteen he was graduated at the head of his class. After his graduation he was tutor in the college, and this position he held until the outbreak of our Civil War. With all his musical gifts, he shared the opinion of his parents that music 376 Lan1er's Struggles To Learn H1s Duty
was not a worthy profession for life. Yet he felt that music was his chief endowment. The result was a struggle to learn the way of duty—a struggle which could be decided only by a larger knowledge of literature and of life. Not until fourteen years after, when poetry had risen before him as the highest work of human imagination, did he determine to give himself to poetry, and to make his musical gifts minister to a higher and broader poetical art.
His nature was religious, but he was conscious of genius, and he desired to make the most of his talents. When he was a college boy of eighteen, he wrote in a penciled note-book the following significant words:
The point which I wish to settle is merely, by what method shall I ascertain what I am fit for, as preliminary to ascertaining God's will with reference to me; or what my inclinations are, as preliminary to ascertaining what my capacities are, that is, what I am fit for. I am more than all perplexed by this fact, that the prime inclination, that is, natural bent (which I have checked, though) of my nature is to music; and for that I have the greatest talent; indeed, not boasting, for God gave it me, I have an extraordinary musical talent, and feel it within me plainly that I could rise as high as any composer. But I cannot bring myself to believe that I was intended for a musician, because it seems so small a business in comparison with other things which, it seems to me, I might do. Question here, What is the province of music in the economy of the world?
Here are great questions suggested. That they occurred to him thus early is proof of a thoughtful and serious mind. He -nevef-forgot the Calvinistic and Presbyterian training he. had received in—Macor^ though exuberant spirits and wider knowledge modified his practice. Long afterward he wrote:
INFLUENCE OF JAMES WOODROVV ON LANIER 377
If the constituents and guardians of my childhood—those good Presbyterians who believed me a model for the Sundayschool children of all times—could have witnessed my acts and doings this day, I know not what groans of sorrowful regret would arise in my behalf.
But how intensely conscientious he was during his college life may be judged from a letter of penitence written to his father, when on one occasion he had broken his father's rule never to borrow money from a college mate:
My father, I have sinned. With what intensity of thought, with what deep and earnest reflection, have I contemplated this lately! My heart throbs with the intensity of its anguish. . . If by hard study and good conduct I can atone for that, God in heaven knows that I shall not be found wanting. . . Not a night passes but what the supplication, God bless my parents, ascends to the great mercy-seat.
It was_an jorthodpx college which Lanier attended. But James Woodrow was its Professor of Science. He was a pupil of Agassiz, and he had studied in 1/ Germany. He_maintained that science is a revelation from God, and he accepted the doctrine of evolution. For this he was ultimately tried and condemned by the Southern Presbyterian Church. He made Lanier a frequent companion, and after his graduation secured for him the tutorship. Woodrow never gave up his Christian faith, but rather held that science confirmed it. His influence on Lanier was powerful. It enabled our poet to realize that nature and art, / genius and religion, are not powers hostile to each other, but that each represents an aspect of God's truth which must have its place and influence in
3?8 LAN1EK A SOUTHERN VOLUNTEER
human life. He became an independent thinker, while at the same time he remained a genuinely religious man. The old conflict between musical taste and ethical demands was reconciled, since both had a divine origin. He learned the supremacy^of reason over emotion, of thought over melody. __He sought to reenforce his thought-life by science and literature, and so to fit himself for the largest possible service. He planned to study in Europe, as Longfellow had already done. Poetry was to be enriched by all his gifts of music, scholarship, and travel. We wonder what the result would have been if he had been permitted to carry out his plan. With sadness we must record, instead, a long period of arrested development. War had sounded his brazen trumpet, and Lanier's conscience bade him stand for the South.
The story of his valor and suffering in our Civil War is a thrilling though sorrowful one. He had the boyish love for military life. He had led mimic battalions of his schoolfellows. When Southern youth were summoned, as the proclamations ran, to defend their institutions against the despotism and fanaticism of the North, every college closed its doors and sent its students to the front. Lanier was only nineteen, a stripling, but a model of health and energy. With his brother Clifford, still younger than himself, he enlisted as a private in the Macon Volunteers, the first company that went to Virginia from Georgia. Three times, it is reported, he refused promotion, in order that he might be near his brother and care for him. During the first year, encamped near Norfolk, he saw the attractive side of army life, the pomp and
LANIER S HEALTH BROKEN BY ARMY LIFE 379
circumstance of war. The proximity of the prosperous city gave him congenial society. There was opportunity for reading and for music, and Lanier's flute made him in constant request. The daily drilling of raw recruits was followed by nightly dances and serenades. The second year of his service saw his company mounted as scouts on good horses, and patrolling the banks of the James. But war now began to reveal its horrors. Lanier was engaged in the battles of Seven Pines and of Drewry's Bluffs. He went through the seven days of fighting about Richmond, which culminated at Malvern Hill. Exposure gave him his first premonitions of consumption. But a two-weeks' visit on furlough to his home in Macon made life bright again, for there he met and became engaged to Miss Mary Day, whom four years afterward he married, and who proved to be the guardian angel of his life.
Both he and his brother served in the army for three years, but during the last of the three they were separated, though only that each might, as signal-officer, take charge of a blockade-runner which brought rebel supplies. On one of these expeditions, only fourteen hours after leaving harbor, he was captured, and for four months was confined in Point Lookout prison. His already weakened constitution never outgrew the shock of that imprisonment. To it he attributed the permanent loss of his health. In the biography by Mims, we are told that he secured his release through some gold which a friend of his had smuggled into the prison in his mouth. "He came out emaciated to a skeleton, downhearted for want 380 Lan1er's Desperate 1llxess
of news from home, downhearted for weariness." Mims quotes from Baskervill the story of his rescue from death, as told by the lady herself, who was the good Samaritan on this occasion:
"She was an old friend from Montgomery, Alabama, returning from New York to Richmond; and her little daughter, who had learned to call him Brother Sid, chanced to hear that he was down in the hold of the vessel dying. On application to the colonel in command, permission was promptly given her to minister to his necessity, and she made haste to go below. 'Now my friends in New York,' continued she, 'had given me a supply of medicines, for we had few such things in Dixie, and among the remedies were quinine and brandy. I hastily took a flask of brandy, and we went below, where we were led to the rude stalls provided for cattle, but now crowded with poor human wretches. There in that horrible place dear Sidney Lanier lay wrapt in an old quilt, his thin hands tightly clinched, his face drawn and pinched, his eyes fixed and staring, his poor body shivering now and then in a spasm of pain. Lilla fell at his side, kissing him and calling: "Brother Sid, don't you know me? Don't you know your little sister?" But no recognition or response came from the sunken eyes. I poured some brandy into a spoon and gave it to him. It gurgled down his throat at first with no effort from him to swallow it. I repeated the stimulant several times before he finally revived. At last he turned his eyes slowly about until he saw Lilla, and murmured: " Am I dead? Is this Lilla? Is this heaven?" . . To make a long story short, the colonel assisted us to get him above to our cabin. I can see his fellow prisoners now as they crouched and assisted to pass him along over their heads, for they were so packed that they could not make room to carry him through. Along over their heads they tenderly passed the poor emaciated body, so shrunken with prison life and benumbed with cold. We got him into clean blankets, but at first he could not endure the pain from the fire, he was so nearly frozen. We gave him some hot soup and more brandy, and he lay quiet till after midnight. Then he asked for his flute and began playing. As he played the first few notes, you should
DAWN OF POETICAL AMBITION 381
have heard the yell of joy that came up from the shivering wretches down below, who knew that their comrade was alive. And there we sat entranced about him, the colonel and his ■wife, Lilla and I, weeping at the tender music, as the tones of new warmth and color and hope came like liquid melody from his magic flute.'"
His release from Point Lookout occurred in February, 1865. Within a few weeks the Confederacy was at an end, and Lanier, with only his twenty-dollar gold-piece and his flute, walked all the way from Richmond to his home in Georgia. Six weeks of desperate illness followed, and not long after his recovery his beloved mother died of consumption. He was by turns a clerk and a schoolmaster for three years, and during these years he married. Then came his first hemorrhage, settled cough, and steady decline. But out of these troubled days he emerged with a new sense of his vocation. Though for several years he strove to make both ends meet, by studying and practising law with his father, it gradually dawned upon him that literature was his real calling. Indeed, when death most threatened him, he became most conscious of genius and most determined to fight for life. So early as 1864, in a letter to his father, he wrote:
Gradually I find that my whole soul is merging itself into this business of writing, and especially of writing poetry. I am going to try it; and am going to test, in the most rigid way I know, the awful question whether it is my vocation.
If this was his ambition in the very stress and strain of his war experiences, it is not wonderful that the law practice of a country attorney did not satisfy him. In 1873 ne wrote from Texas to his wife:
3&2 Lan1er's Confess1on Of H1s Call1ng
Were it not for some circumstances which make such a proposition seem absurd in the highest degree, I should think that I am shortly to die, and that my spirit hath been singing its swan-song before dissolution. All day my soul hath been cutting swiftly into the great space of the subtle, unspeakable deep, driven by wind after wind of heavenly melody.
And in another letter to his wife he makes frank confession of his faith in himself and in his calling:
Know, then, that disappointments were inevitable, and will still come, until I have fought the battle which every great artist has had to fight since the world began. This—dimly felt while I was doubtful of my own vocation and powers—is clear to me as the sun, now that I know, through the fiercest tests of life, that I am in soul, and shall be in life and utterance, a great poet.
All this might seem but the dream of an overwrought imagination, if it were not for the religious faith in which it is grounded, and the humble sense of his dependence upon God. Let us read some later words of this same letter:
Now this is written because I sit here in my room daily, and picture thee picturing mc worn, and troubled, or disheartened; and because I do not wish thee to think up any groundless sorrow in thy soul. Of course I have my keen sorrows, momentarily more keen than I would like any one to know, but I thank God that in a knowledge of Him and_of_ n1jse!1 which cometh to me daily in fresh revelations, I have a steadfast firmament of blue, in which all clouds soon dissolve.
The utter collapse of the Confederacy and the ruin of the South, added to his own ill health, gave a somber tone to his earliest poetry. He was naturally cheerful, yet there seemed to hang over his spirit the premonition of future sorrow. He refused to Lan1er's Love-poems 383
print his first poems, for the very reason that their sadness of tone was not consistent with the highest art. In this he was the opposite of Poe, who welcomed and echoed the most doleful voices of humanity, provided they were moving and melodious. We find in Lanier's early works a sweetness and maturity which more than make up for their occasional mournfulness. His love-poems belong mostly to this period, and they are addressed to his wife. There is a daintiness of touch in his " Song for the Jacquerie," which gives promise of the future:
May the maiden,
Out of the violet sea,
Comes and hovers
Over thee, Marie, and me,
Over me and thee.
Day the stately,
Into the violet sea,
Over thee, Marie, and me,
Over me and thee.
Night the holy,
Over the violet sea.
Stars for thee, Marie, and me,
Stars for me and thee.
"My Springs," written long after, when struggle and sorrow had given new sacredness to their affection,
384 "THE JACQUERIE"
must be quoted to show how nobly ripened was the expression of that affection in his poetry:
In the heart of the Hills of Life, I know
Two springs that with unbroken flow
Forever pour their lucent streams
Into my soul's far Lake of Dreams.
O Love, O Wife, thine eyes are they,
—My springs from out whose shining gray
Issue the sweet celestial streams
That feed my life's bright Lake of Dreams.
Dear eyes, dear eyes and rare complete—
Being heavenly-sweet and earthly-sweet,
—I marvel that God made you mine,
For when He frowns, 'tis then ye shine!
"The Jacquerie," the longest of his poems, is also one of his earliest. Its subject is the uprising of the French peasantry against feudal oppression in the middle of the fourteenth century. Lanier's readings of history in college drew his attention to this theme, and enlisted his sympathy with the poor and downtrodden. He sought to glorify in verse the advent of Trade, which first set limits to the domination of the nobles; and then sought equally to glorify the advent of Brotherhood, which now promises to restrict the aggressions of Trade. His plan was too large, and it required too much of learning, to reach completion. "The Jacquerie" always remained "A Fragment." But it contains some dignified and impressive stanzas, and it shows rare powers not yet under perfect control. Its opening lines are a poetical descrip
tion of that great popular outbreak which began so hopefully, but which came to so speedy and so fearful an end:
Once on a time, a Dawn, all red and bright
Leapt on the conquered ramparts of the Night,
And flamed, one brilliant instant, on the world,
Then back into the historic moat was hurled
And Night was King again, for many years.
—Once on a time the Rose of Spring blushed out
But Winter angrily withdrew it back
Into his rough new-bursten husk, and shut
The stern husk-leaves, and hid it many years.
Even in this poem the dominant note is not that of sadness, but of joy. And in his whole poetic developmentJhe element of joy became more and more pronounced as he went on. i^iis JCalvinistic training was in a measure outgrown, but faith in a divine ordering of human life and destiny remained, the change being only in the new emphasis given to God's love. In the first poems, pain and death are more plain to view; in the last, He who conquered pain and death. In proof of this, let us set in juxtaposition two poems, one from the beginning of his career, and the other from the end. The first is " Resurrection ":
Sometimes in morning sunlights by the river
Where in the early fall long grasses wave,
Light winds from over the moorland sink and shiver
And sigh as if just blown across a grave.
And then I pause and listen to this sighing.
I look with strange eyes on the well-known stream. I hear wild birth-cries uttered by the dying.
I know men waking who appear to dream.
386 "A BALLAD OF TREES AND THE MASTER"
Then from the water-lilies slow uprises
The still vast face of all the life I know,
Changed now, and full of wonders and surprises,
With fire in eyes that once were glazed with snow.
For eighteen centuries ripple down the river,
And windy times the stalks of empires wave,
—Let the winds come from the moor and sigh and
Fain, fain am I, O Christ, to pass the grave.
jjere_seems to be a vision of Him who is "the Resurrection and the L1TeT7 and who has brought ""Tife-and immortality to light." Compare with this the poem next to the last Lanier wrote—a poem, in our judgment inimitably expressing the method by which that " life and immortality" were won, namely, by our Lord's loving surrender to death, "for the joy that was set before Him." It is "A Ballad of Trees and the Master ":
Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.
Out of the woods my Master went,
And He was well content.
Out of the woods my Master came,
Content with death and shame.
When Death and Shame would woo Him last,
From under the trees they drew Him last:
'Twas on a tree they slew Him—last
When out of the woods He came.
LANIER A LECTURER ON LITERATURE 387
It was not until December, 1873, that Lanier obtained employment sufficiently steady to support his growing family and to permit any regular devotion to literary work. At that time his great musical talent secured for him a permanent position in the Peabody Symphony Orchestra of Baltimore. With this encouragement he felt that he must put forth every energy of his being to do his work while strength remained. Then began a heroic fight with death— a fight which lasted for eight long years, and in which the frail body at last succumbed. He was cheered by being appointed Lecturer on English Literature in the Peabody Institute in 1878, and in the Johns Hopkins Uersity in 1879. But these encouragements came late, when he was greatly weakened. His lectures seemed like the struggles of an indomitable spirit to resist a tide that was bearing him to another shore. His courses on Shakespeare and on the English Novel were admired. They revealed rare powers of criticism and an unexpected wealth of learning. In truth, the access to great libraries and to cultivated society had stimulated him to omorous reading, and had given his faculties a wonderfully rapid growth. The world had come to believe in him as the rising poet of the South, and the atmosphere of praise, after long depression, was grateful and quickening.
It was his poem entitled " Corn " that first brought his poetry into public notice. After his first winter's work as musician in Baltimore he spent the summer near his old home. The waving fields of corn which alternated with deserted farms stirred the fountains of poetry within him. He saw in the multiplication 388 "Corn"
of homesteads, and the cultivation of the soil by free labor, the restoration of prosperity in the South. Manufactures had not yet impressed their claims upon him. The beauty of the woods and of all natural growths seemed to him God's appeal to man to till the soil. So in this poem we have the contrast between desolation and fertility, and the prophecy of harvests yet to come:
To-day the woods are trembling through and through
With shimmering forms, that flash before my view,
Then melt in green as dawn-stars melt in blue.
The leaves that wave against my cheek caress
Like women's hands; the embracing boughs express
A subtlety of mighty tenderness;
The copse-depths into little noises start.
That sound anon like beatings of a heart,
Anon like talk 'twixt lips not far apart.
He sees all this promise turned to naught by unthrift and avarice, yet believes in the better future which industry may insure:
Yet shall the great God turn thy fate,
And bring thee back into thy monarch state
And majesty immaculate.
Lo, through hot waverings of the August morn,
Thou givest from thy vasty sides forlorn
Visions of golden treasuries of corn—
Ripe largesse lingering for some bolder heart
That manfully shall take thy part,
And tend thee.
And defend thee,
With antique sinew and with modern art.
The publication of " Corn " in "Lippincott's Magazine " made many friends for the poet. To one of these
"THE SYMPHONY" 389
friends, Mr. Peacock, he wrote, in 1875, of another poem, based upon the same idea that agriculture was the hope of the South—not the agriculture of great plantations, but of innumerable farms tilled by freemen. As in his earlier poem of "Jacquerie," with a still lingering prejudice against workmen and factories, he regards Trade as stifling individual development, and welcomes the new Brotherhood of labor. Of this new poem he writes:
I call it "The Symphony": I personify each instrument in the orchestra, and make them discuss various deep social questions of the times, in the progress of the music. It is now nearly finished; and I shall be rejoiced thereat, for it verily racks all the bones of my spirit.
The program was a bold one; whether it was wise to make musical instruments actually speak, may well be doubted. The poet's skill in executing his scheme, however, was considerable, as may be seen from the following quotations:
"O Trade! O Trade! would thou wert dead!
The Time needs heart—'tis tired of head:
We're all for love," the violins said.
A velvet flute-note fell down pleasantly
Upon the bosom of that harmony,
And sailed and sailed incessantly,
As if a petal from a wild-rose blown
Had fluttered down upon that pool of tone.
Yea, Nature, singing sweet and lone,
Breathes through life's strident polyphone
The flute-voice in the world of tone.
390 LANIERS CANTATA FOR THE CENTENNIAL
Man's love ascends
To finer and diviner ends
Than man's mere thought e'er comprehends.
And then the hautboy played and smiled,
And sang like any large-eyed child,
Cool-hearted and all undefiled.
"Huge Trade!" he said,
"Would thou wouldst lift me on thy head
And run where'er my finger led!
Once said a Man—and wise was He—
Never shalt thou the heavens see,
Save as a little child thou be."
"And yet shall Love himself be heard,
Though long deferred, though long deferred:
O'er the modern waste a dove hath whirred:
Music is Love in search of a word."
This poem, when published in "Lippincott's Magazine," won the praise of Bayard Taylor, and led, through his recommendation, to the choice of Lanier to compose the Cantata for the Opening of the Centennial World's Fair at Philadelphia, in 1876. Our poet merited his appointment, for he represented the reconstructed South, and the new consciousness of our national unity. The days of bitterness had passed; slavery was no more; let the blue and the gray clasp hands and vow fidelity to the Union. It was a large task to put all this into song. Lanier's conception of his work was that of Pindar's Odes. His Cantata was not a poem, to be read; it was a song, to be sung, and sung by a thousand voices, with majestic orchestral accompaniment. Judged simply as a poem, it seems flighty and hysterical. It was received by
LANIER S CANTATA FOR THE CENTENNIAL 39I
the press with ridicule. But when actually rendered, it proved to be the one and only part of the program that completely held the attention and won the applause of the vast audience. We cannot deny the startling energy and poetic insight of the following passages:
From this hundred-terraced height,
Sight more large with nobler light
Ranges down yon towering years.
Humbler smiles and lordlier tears
Shine and fall, shine and fall,
While old voices rise and call
Yonder where the to-and-fro
Weltering of my Long-Ago
Moves about the moveless base
Far below my resting-place.
This opening stanza is accompanied by the following Musical Annotations: "Full chorus, sober, measured and yet majestic progressions of chords." Then comes a second "Chorus: the sea and the winds mingling their voices with human sighs ":
Mayflower, Mayflower, slowly hither flying,
Trembling westward o'er yon balking sea,
Hearts within Farewell dear England sighing,
Winds without But dear in vain replying,
Gray-lipp'd waves about thee shouted, crying
"No! It shall not be!"
After a musical representation of the famine and savagery of Jamestown, and an allusion to the "wild brother-wars" from which our country had just emerged, comes a " Chorus of jubilation ":
Now Praise to God's oft-granted grace,
Now Praise to man's undaunted face,
Despite the land, despite the sea,
392 DEFECTS AND HANDICAP OF LANIER
I was: I am: and I shall be—
How long, Good Angel, O how long?
Sing me from Heaven a man's own song!
And in a " basso solo" the Good Angel replies to this importunity:
"Long as thine Art shall love true love,
Long as thy Science truth shall know,
Long as thine Eagle harms no Dove,
Long as thy Law by law shall grow,
Long as thy God is God above.
Thy brother every man below,
So long, dear Land of all my love,
Thy name shall shine, thy fame shall glow!"
Our national Centennial fairly launched our poet in his literary career. Music now became the servant of poetry. He had won his way to public notice. He had given promise of great achievements. While success made him more sure of his vocation, it also gave him a new sense of his defects as a writer. So early as .1864, indeed, he had written to his father:
I have frequently noticed in myself a tendency to a diffuse style; a disposition to push my metaphors too far, employing a multitude of words to heighten the patness of the image, and so making of it a conceit rather than a metaphor, a fault copiously illustrated in the poetry of Cowley, Waller, Donne, and others of that ilk.
Twelve years had passed since then, and the defects still remained; indeed, they were never fully corrected, and to some extent they mar even his best work. But he now had new encouragement and new determination to remedy them. He strove diligently to perfect his style. How great the strain of the effort was can
"PSALM OF THE WEST 393
be appreciated only when we remember that he was handicapped by a gnawing and fatal disease, and by the devotion of a large part of his time to the rehearsals and concerts of the orchestra. The deep inspirations of his flute-playing did something to prolong his life, but the meagerness of its financial returns almost counterbalanced this advantage. Only during the last two years of his life was he sufficiently free from monetary cares to devote himself exclusively to literature. He deserved all the more credit for the progress which he made. His poem "Psalm of the West" is vague and prolix, though it is lit up by two stanzas referring to our Civil War, in which the contestants are pictured as two knights in a medieval tournament:
"They charged, they struck; both fell, both bled;
Brain rose again, ungloved;
Heart fainting smiled, and softly said,
My love to my Beloved."
Heart and Brain! no more be twain;
Throb and think, one flesh again!
Lol they weep, they turn, they run;
Lo! they kiss: Love, thou art one!
"The Marshes of Glynn" is often called Lanier's best production. It is spontaneous and simple, while at the same time it is mature and profound. The poet enters into the life of Nature, and in that life finds another life revealed, even the life of God. As the tide comes in, he seems to himself possessed of new purity and freedom, because he can put his weakness and sin into the care of limitless mercy and love:
394 THE MARSHES OF GLYNN
A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad is
the blade, Green, and all of a height, and undecked with a light or a
shade, Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain, To the terminal blue of the main.
Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea?
Somehow my soul seems suddenly free From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin. By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.
Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholdinj
and free Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the
seal Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun. Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily
God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.
As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod.
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space "twixt the marsh and the
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within
The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.
Here is not only insight into the meaning of Nature which would do credit to Wordsworth, but also a mastery of form which would do credit to Shelley. The "Psalm of the West" seems to have been outgrown, and a larger vision of truth to have been gained. Lanier's lectures at Johns Hopkins Uer
sity confirm our impression that the last years were years of moral and religious as well as of intellectual and esthetic progress. I He believed in a moral selfhood which was no mere product of Nature, but which dominated Nature instead, and this faith he expressed in his poem entitled " Individuality ":
What the cloud doeth
The Lord knoweth,
The cloud knoweth not.
What the artist doeth,
The Lord knoweth;
Knoweth the artist not?
Well-answered!—O dear artists, ye
—Whether in forms of curve or hue
Or tone your gospels be—
Say wrong This work is not of me,
But God: it is not true, it is not true.
Awful is Art because 'tis free.
The artist trembles o'er his plan
Where men his Self must see.
Who made a song or picture, he
Did it, and not another, God nor man.
My Lord is large, my Lord is strong:
Giving, He gave: my me is mine.
How poor, how strange, how wrong,
To dream He wrote the little song
I made to Him with love's unforced design!
We fortunately have Lanier's own interpretation of this poem. The enormous generalizations of modern science had filled him with dreams like those of his boyhood. In a letter to a friend he writes:
It is precisely at the beginning of that phenomenon which is the underlying subject of this poem, " Individuality," that the 39<J THE HIGH MORAL SPIRIT IN LANIER'S ART
largest of such generalizations must begin; and the doctrine of evolution when pushed beyond this point appears to me, after the most careful examination of the evidence, to fail. It is pushed beyond this point in its current application to the genesis of species; and I think Mr. Huxley's last sweeping declaration is clearly parallel to that of an enthusiastic dissecter who, forgetting that his observations are upon dead bodies, should build a physiological conclusion upon purely anatomical facts. For whatever can be proved to have been evolved, evolution seems to me a noble and beautiful and true theory. /But a careful search has not shown me a single instance in which such proof as would stand the first shot ot a boy lawyer in a moot-court, has been brought forward in support of an actual case of species-differentiation. A cloud (see the poem) may be evolved; but not an artist; and I find, in looking over my poem, that it has Vnade itself into a passionate reaffirmation of the artist's autonomy, threatened alike from the direction of the scientific fanatic and the pantheistic devotee.
So human individuality, with its correlates of conscience and will, enables us to interpret the poetic merging of man in God which we find in "The Marshes of Glynn." In God we "live and move and have our being "; but it is nevertheless true that we are still free and responsible creatures.
'William Hayes Ward has done us great service by pointing out that, like Milton and Ruskin, JLanie1Lwas dominated by the beauty of holiness. He loved indeed to reverse the phrase, and to speak also of " the holiness of beauty." But a.high moral spirii_informed all his art. In one of his lectures to the students of Johns Hopkins Uersity he declared true beauty and true holiness to be one:
Let any sculptor hew us out the most ravishing combination of tender curves and spheric softness that ever stood for woman; yet if the lip have a certain fulness that hints of the SCIENCE OF ENGLISH VERSE 397
flesh, if the brow be insincere, if in the minutest particular the physical beauty suggest a moral ugliness, that sculptor—unless he be portraying a moral ugliness for a moral purpose— may as well give over his marble for paving-stones. Time, whose judgments are inexorably moral, will not accept his work. For, indeed, we may say that he who has not yet perceived how artistic beauty and moral beauty are convergent lines which run back into a common ideal origin, and who therefore is not afire with moral beauty just as with artistic beauty—that he, in short, who has not come to that stage of quiet and eternal frenzy in which the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty mean one thing, burn as one fire, shine as one light within him—he is not yet the great artist.
This is an utterance worthy to be written in letters of gold and posted upon the walls of every studio of art. It shows that Lanier was finding in his own work a moral development and education. He wished to subject his own art to eternal principles, and to make a conscience of poetry. In no other way can I understand the long thought and labor which he gave to the composition of his "Science of English Verse." He would master the theory, before he ventured further upon practice. That volume is proof of his wide reading, but also of his philosophical acuteness. Whether we accept its conclusions or not, we must acknowledge the keen insight and the judicial spirit with which it is written.
Lanier's " Science of English Verse " is an effort to interpret the forms of poetry in terms of music. He would substitute time-measurement in place of stressmeasurement. Poe had maintained that accent makes a syllable always long. Lanier's musical instinct rejected this doctrine, and while, like Poe, he insisted on melody as indispensable to poetry, he held that
398 "SPECIAL PLEADING"
this melody is the product of rhythm, tone, and color, rather than of mere stress of sound. He began in "Special Pleading" to work out his theory. We must acknowledge that this poem hardly justifies his contention. Its compound substantives, "now-time," "lonesome - tree," "star - consummate," "rose - complete," "dusk-time," "noon-time," seem made to order, and to have in them little of poetic beauty. The rhythm itself sounds broken and unmusical, and the thought is not of sufficient value to make up for a certain ambitious thrusting into notice of the merely formal element of the verse:
Time, hurry my Love to me:
Haste, haste! Lov'st not good company?
Here's but a heart-break sandy waste
'Twixt Now and Then. Why, killing haste
Were best, dear Time, for thee, for thee!
Sweet Sometime, fly fast to me:
Poor Now-time sits in the Lonesome-tree
And broods as gray as any dove,
And calls, When wilt thou come, O Love?
And pleads across the waste to thee.
Well, be it dusk-time or noon-time,
I ask but one small boon, Time:
Come thou in night, come thou in day,
I care not, I care not: have thine own way,
But only, but only, come soon, Time.
While Lanier sought to rescue poetry from the lawlessness of mere accent, he ran the risk of enslaving it to mere rhythm. Shakespeare is greatest of poets, in large part, because he unites the most delicate sense
CHRISTIAN FAITH IN LANIER S POEMS 399
of time-measurement with the greatest freedom of accent. In his later work, indeed, there is the most of spontaneity, with the least of mere mechanism. The rule for the tyro ceases to bind the master. Lanier's music too much dominated his poetry. "Sunrise," for example, while noble in conception, is exceedingly faulty in execution. The effort after form leads to display of words with little meaning. "The Science of English Verse" is a useful manual for the beginner, but it presents only one side of the truth, and it needs to be supplemented by considerations drawn from the realm of the ideal, rather than from the realm of musical notation.
Our poet's conscientiousness appeared more and more clearly as his days drew near to their end. [/His sense of duty was grounded in religion. While in Oglethorpe College he had professed his Christian faith, and had united with the Presbyterian Church. In his college note-book he wrote:
Liberty, patriotism, and civilization are on their knees before the men of the South, and with clasped hands and straining eyes are begging them to become Christians.
"This Christian faith he never disowned. He learned to criticize the forms of religion, as he criticized the forms of poetry, without ever giving up their spirit. We find him in his later life skeptical with regard to churches and denominations and creeds, while yet he clung to his old beliefs with regard to sin and Christ and salvation.' The external gave way to the internal. There was less and less of dependence upon self and upon human aid, but more and more dependence upon
the infinite pity and love of God, as they are made known to us in Jesus Christ. He did not express his faith in any dogmatic way, but this theology is implicit in his poems, as I shall proceed to illustrate. Let me begin with his poem entitled " Remonstrance ":
"Opinion, let me alone: I am not thine.
Prim Creed, with categoric point, forbear
To feature me my Lord by rule and line.
Thou canst not measure Mistress Nature's hair.
Not one sweet inch: nay, if thy sight is sharp,
Would'st count the strings upon an angel's harp?
"Oh let me love my Lord more fathom deep
Than there is line to sound with: let me love
My fellow not as men that mandates keep:
Yea, all that's lovable, below, above,
That let me love by heart, by heart, because
(Free from the penal pressure of the laws)
I find it fair.
"I would thou left'st me free, to live with love,
And faith, that through the love of love doth find
My Lord's dear presence in the stars above.
The clods below, the flesh without, the mind
Within, the bread, the tear, the smile.
Opinion, damned Intriguer, gray with guile,
Let me alone."
'-In "A Florida Sunday" he recognizes the grain of truth in pantheism, while he asserts just as clearly the independence and responsibility of each human soul:
All riches, goods and braveries never told
Of earth, sun, air and heaven—now I hold
Your being in my being; I am ye,
And ye myself; yea, lastly, Thee,
God, whom my roads all reach, howe'er they run,
My Father, Friend, Beloved, dear All-One,
Thee in my soul, my soul in Thee, I feel,
Self of my self. . .
And I am one with all the kinsmen things
That e'er my Father fathered. Oh, to me
All questions solve in this tranquillity;
E'en this dark matter, once so dim, so drear,
Now shines upon my spirit heavenly-clear:
Thou, Father, without logic, tellest me
How this divine denial true may be,
—How All's in each, yet every one of all
Maintains his Self complete and several.
•'The problem of sin at times perplexed our poet, as it has perplexed every thoughtful soul since the world began. How can a holy and omnipotent God permit moral evil? The only answer is: It is the condition of the highest virtue that man should be free; and freedom to choose the good implies also freedom to choose the evil. Only faith in God's perfect love enables us to face the problem calmly, and still to believe that in the end God will justify his ways to men. In his poem, " Acknowledgment," Lanier has grappled with the problem, and has given the true solution:
If I do ask, How God can dumbness keep
While Sin creeps grinning through His house of Time, Stabbing His saintliest children in their sleep,
And staining holy walls with clots of crime?—
Or, How may He whose wish but names a fact
Refuse what miser's-scanting of supply
Would richly glut each void where man hath lacked
Of grace or bread?—or, How may Power deny
Wholeness to th' almost-folk that hurt our hope—
These heart-break Hamlets who so barely fail
In life or art that but a hair's more scope
Had set them fair on heights they ne'er may scale?-
Somehow by thee, dear Love, I win content:
Thy Perfect stops th' Imperfect's argument.
Not hardest Fortune's most unbounded stress
Can blind my soul nor hurl it from on high,
Possessing thcc, the self of loftiness,
And very light that Light discovers by.
Howe'er thou turn'st, wrong Earth! still Love's in sight:
For we are taller than the breadth of night.
And in "Clover" he adds the needful injunction:
"Tease not thy vision with vain search for ends.
The End of Means is art that works by love.
The End of Ends ... in God's Beginning's lost."'
Some of these utterances are enigmatical:—It is quite possible that the poet himself had not reached entire clearness of thought, and that his verse simply reflects his own dimness of vision. Yet the drift is plain. I'He trusts an overruling Wisdom, even though that Wisdom is for the present inscrutable to us. Some at least of God's dealings, untoward at first sight, have ultimate value and meaning. "Lanier's poem "Opposition" teaches us to trust, where we cannot fully understand:
Of fret, of dark, of thorn, of chill,
Complain no more; for these, O heart,
Direct the random of the will
As rhymes direct the rage of art.
Of fret, of dark, of thorn, of chill,
Complain thou not, O heart; for these
Bank-in the current of the will
To uses, arts, and charities.
HOW LOVE LOOKED FOR HELL 4O3
In "Rose-Morals" the poet seems to teach that the only refuge of the afflicted soul is found in that prayerfulness which links our work and our fate with the will of the Eternal:
Soul, get thee to the heart
Of yonder tuberose: hide thee there—
There breathe the meditations of thine art
Suffused with prayer.
Of spirit grave yet light,
How fervent fragrances uprise
Pure-born from these most rich and yet most white
Mulched with unsavory death,
Grow, Soul! unto such white estate,
That virginal-prayerful art shall be thy breath,
Thy work, thy fate.
It is cheering and even thrilling to see how this heroic soul, with the clouds of failure and death lowering about him, still perceived Love ruling in the uerse, and making all things work together for good. '^How Love Looked for Hell " is a declaration that even penal suffering is referable to eternal Goodness:
"To heal his heart of long-time pain
One day Prince Love for to travel was fain
With Ministers Mind and Sense.
'Now what to thee most strange may be?'
Quoth Mind and Sense. 'All things above,
One curious thing I first would see—
Hell,' quoth Love.
"There, while they stood in a green wood
And marvelled still on 111 and Good,
Came suddenly Minister Mind.
404 HOW LOVE LOOKED FOR HELL"
'In the heart of sin doth hell begin:
'Tis not below, 'Tis not above,
It lieth within, it lieth within':
(' Where? ' quoth Love?)
"' I saw a man sit by a corse;
Hell's in the murderer's breast: remorse!
Thus clamored his mind to his mind:
Not fleshly dole is the sinner's goal,
Hell's not below, nor yet above,
'Tis fixed in the ever-damned soul'—
'Fixed?' quoth Love—
"' In dreams, again, I plucked a flower
That clung with pain and stung with power,
Yea, nettled me, body and mind.'
"Twas the nettle of sin, 'twas medicine;
No need nor seed of it here Above;
In dreams of hate true loves begin.'
'True,' quoth Love.
"' Now strange,' quoth Sense, and ' Strange' quoth
'We saw it, and yet 'tis hard to find,
—But we saw it,' quoth Sense and Mind.
'Stretched on the ground, beautiful-crowned
Of the piteous willow that wreathed above,
But I cannot find where ye have found
Hell,' quoth Love."
But here Lanier in part misses the truth. He sees that Hell begins in the heart of Sin, and that Remorse is Hell. But he makes Remorse to be Repentance, and Sin to furnish its own medicine, so that in the very act of penal suffering Hell is made to vanish away. The obduracy of an evil will is not taken account of. It is not Mind and Sense alone that demand punishment for persistent iniquity. Conscience and Reason
"EVENING SONG" 405
also echo the words of Holy Writ: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Dante's inscription over the gate of the Inferno is more true than Lanier's verse:
"Justice incited my sublime Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the Primal Love."
</' He had little to look forward to in this world: he yearned all the more for a world to come. Rarely do we find in literature so strong a faith in immortality. His struggle with disease had gone on for three whole years when he wrote to his wife this " Evening Song ":
Look off, dear Love, across the sallow sands,
And mark yon meeting of the sun and sea,
How long they kiss in sight of all the lands.
Ah! longer, longer, we.
Now in the sea's red vintage melts the sun,
As Egypt's pearl dissolved in rosy wine,
And Cleopatra night drinks all. 'Tis done,
Love, lay thine hand in mine.
Come forth, sweet stars, and comfort heaven's heart;
Glimmer, ye waves, round else unlighted sands.
O night! divorce our sun and sky apart;
Never our lips, our hands.
^ And death to him is only new and perfect converse with the elect spirits of all time. It is the drinking of " The Stirrup-Cup" whose wine will be better than any fabled nectar of the gods:
Death, thou'rt a cordial old and rare:
Look how compounded, with what care I
Time got his wrinkles reaping thee
Sweet herbs from all antiquity.
406 "A SONG OF THE FUTURE"
David to thy distillage went,
Keats, and Gotama excellent,
Omar Khayyam, and Chaucer bright,
And Shakspere for a king-delight.
Then, Time, let not a drop be spilt:
Hand me the cup whene'er thou wilt;
'Tis thy rich stirrup-cup to me;
I'll drink it down right smilingly.
He has no fear for his work. The song which God has inspired, God will preserve. "A Song of the Future " seems to express this hope, trembling, yet confident:
Sail fast, sail fast,
Ark of my hopes, Ark of my dreams;
Sweep lordly o'er the drowned Fast,
Fly glittering through the sun's strange beams;
Sail fast, sail fast.
Breaths of new buds from off some drying lea
With news about the Future scent the sea:
My brain is beating like the heart of Haste:
I'll loose me a bird upon this Present waste;
Go, trembling song,
And stay not long; oh, stay not long:
Thou'rt only a gray and sober dove,
But thine eye is faith and thy wing is love.
"Sunrise " is Lanier's last poem, dictated when he was too weak to write. Its singularities show the lack of revision; yet, with much that is below the level of his best, there are bursts of true poetry which merit our praise. The rise of the sun over the marshes, and the flooding of the world with his light, symbolize to the poet the lifting up of his frailty into the infinite life of God:
Thou chemist of storms, whether driving the winds a-swirl
Or a-flicker the subtiler essences polar that whirl
In the magnet earth,—yea, thou with a storm for a heart,
Rent with debate, many-spotted with question, part
From part oft sundered, yet ever a globed light,
Yet ever the artist, ever more large and bright
Than the eye of man may avail of:—manifold One,
I must pass from thy face, I must pass from the face of the
Old Want is awake and agog, every wrinkle a-frown;
The worker must pass to his work in the terrible town:
But I fear not, nay, and I fear not the thing to be done;
I am strong with the strength of my lord the Sun:
How dark, how dark soever the race that must needs be run,
I am lit with the Sun.
And ever my heart through the night shall with knowledge
abide thee, And ever by day shall my spirit, as one that hath tried thee, Labor, at leisure, in art,—till yonder beside thee My soul shall float, friend Sun, The day being done.
Lanier's greatest poem, to our mind, is " The Crystal." vlt is his greatest because it combines the most of critical judgment with the clearest confession of his faith in Christ. He gives us estimates of the world's greatest teachers, estimates so mature and convincing as to show that he might have made his mark in literary criticism. I can select only a few names of those whom he has described, but they will demonstrate the justice of his thought as well as the incisiveness of its expression. Only the imagination of a poet could so seize upon the central characteristic of its subject and set it forth so luminously. Let us instance Buddha:
408 "THE CRYSTAL"
So, Buddha, beautiful! I pardon thee
That all the All thou hadst for needy man
Was Nothing, and thy Best of being was
But not to be.
Worn Dante, I forgive
The implacable hates that in thy horrid hells
Or burn or freeze thy fellows, never loosed
By death, nor time, nor love.
And I forgive
Thee, Milton, those thy comic-dreadful wars
Where, armed with gross and inconclusive steel,
Immortals smite immortals mortalwise
And fill all heaven with folly.
Brave ^schylus, thee I forgive, for that
Thine eye, by bare bright justice basilisked,
Turned not, nor ever learned to look where Love
So, unto thee, Lucretius mine
(For oh, what heart hath loved thee like to this
That's now complaining?), freely I forgive
Thy logic poor, thine error rich, thine earth
Whose graves eat souls and all.
So pass in review Marcus Aurelius, Thomas a Kempk Epictetus, Behmen, Swedenborg, Langley, Casdmon. all pictured in single sentences, but with master-strokts that open to us the very life. Coming down to our own day we have
Most wise, that yet, in rinding Wisdom, lost
Thy Self, sometimes; tense Keats, with angels' nerves
Where men's were better; Tennyson, largest voice
Since Milton, yet some register of wit
Wanting;—all, all, I pardon, ere 'tis asked,
Your more or less, your little mole that marks
You brother and your kinship seals to man.
LANIER S TRIBUTE TO CHRIST 40Q
And finally, in contrast to all these human teachers, Lanier presents to us his picture of Him who is the Teacher of all true teachers, even as He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords:
But Thee, but Thee, O sovereign Seer of time,
But Thee, O poets' Poet, Wisdom's Tongue,
But Thee, O man's best Man, O love's best Love,
O perfect life in perfect labor writ,
O all men's Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest,—
What if or yet, what mole, what flaw, what lapse,
What least defect or shadow of defect,
What rumor, tattled by an enemy,
Of inference loose, what lack of grace
Even in torture's grasp, or sleep's, or death's,—
Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, thou Crystal Christ?
In all the great writers and great men of history he could find flaws which needed forgiveness. But Christ is so free from fault, so crystal-clear, that God's rays of truth and love can shine through him without hindrance. ^This perfect transparency to the divine proves him to be himself divine, our proper and only Prophet, Priest, and King. This seems to be the substance of Lanier's theology. We could wish that he went further, and saw as clearly that the uersal need of forgiveness implies a holiness in God which makes forgiveness difficult; so difficult indeed that only Christ's suffering on account of sin renders it consistent that God should forgive.^ Our poet believed in God's holiness, for his own conscience reflected it. He believed also that sin brings suffering to the holy God as well as to the guilty transgressor. If he had put together the two facts of God's holiness and God's love, he
4IO LANIER S AFFECTION AND OPTIMISM
would have seen that Christ's Cross is the only solution of the problem how God can forgive sin; for, in that Cross, are manifested God's holiness necessitating suffering, and God's love enduring suffering, for men's salvation.
Though his faith in God's holiness did not lead him to its proper logical conclusion, it did lead him to try all art by the highest and severest of tests.5-' He was no believer in " art for art's sake." Art has a nobler mission—the revelation of divine purity and love. He could criticize Whitman, Swinburne, and Morris, not only, for their lapses from that ideal standard; even Shakespeare is subjected to condemnatory judgment for his occasionally " labored-lewd discourse "; Homer too, for his "too soiled a patch to broider with the gods"; and even Socrates, for his "words of truth that, mildlier spoke, had manlier wrought." Yet he was a great lover of great men, and specially of family, friends, and institutions that had sympathized with him and helped him. We have seen how he loved his wife, reverenced his father, cared for his brother. He celebrates Charlotte Cushman, as " Art's artist, Love's dear woman. Fame's good queen "; Bayard Taylor, as mingling now with Plato and the bards of ancient and of modern times; and Dr. Thomas Shearer, on his presenting a portrait-bust of the author:
Since you, rare friend! have tied my living tongue
With thanks more large than man e'er said or sung,
So let the dumbness of this image be
My eloquence, and still interpret me.
To his class, on certain fruits and flowers sent him in sickness, he writes:
TO RICHARD WAGNER 411
If these the products be of love and pain,
Oft may I suffer, and you love, again.
But to Johns Hopkins Uersity, that had first given its academic recognition to his merit, and had made him one of its honored instructors, he pours forth a noble tribute of gratitude in his "Ode," read on the fourth Commemoration Day, February, 1880:
How tall among her sisters, and how fair,—
How grave beyond her youth, yet debonair
As dawn, 'mid wrinkled Metres of old lands
Our youngest Alma Mater modest stands!
And he calls upon the new uersity to inaugurate a reign of culture in our western world:
Bring old Renown
To walk familiar citizen of the town,—
Bring Tolerance, that can kiss and disagree,—
Bring Virtue, Honor, Truth, and Loyalty,—■
Bring Faith that sees with undissembling eyes,—
Bring all large Loves and heavenly Charities,—
Till man seem less a riddle unto man
And fair Utopia less Utopian,
And many peoples call from shore to shore,
The world has bloomed again, at Baltimore!
Lanier's poem " To Richard Wagner " expresses his own ambition to interpret our modern world by the music of poetry:
"O Wagner, westward bring thy heavenly art,
No trifler thou: Siegfried and Wotan be
Names for big ballads of the modern heart.
Thine ears hear deeper than thine eyes can see.
Voice of the monstrous mill, the shouting mart,
Not less of airy cloud and wave and tree,
Thou, thou, if even to thyself unknown,
Hast power to say the Time in terms of tone."
412 "to Beethoven"
His verses "To Beethoven" celebrate the dignity of music, in the person of the great composer:
In o'er-strict calyx lingering,
Lay music's bud too long unblown,
Till thou, Beethoven, breathed the spring:
Then bloomed the perfect rose of tone.
0 Psalmist of the weak, the strong,
O Troubadour of love and strife,
Co-Litanist of right and wrong,
Sole Hymner of the whole of life,
1 know not how, I care not why,
Thy music brings this broil at ease,
And melts my passion's mortal cry
In satisfying symphonies.
Yea, it forgives me all my sins,
Fits life to love like rhyme to rhyme,
And tunes the task each day begins
By the last trumpet-note of Time.
Lanier was an optimist, not that he believed all things to be good, but that he believed all things work together for good, under the government of a holy and loving God. He believed in Christ, as the divine Governor, in nature and in history. In " Tiger-Lilies" he wrote:
Here, one's soul may climb as upon Pisgah, and see one's land Of peace, seeing Christ, who made all these beautiful things.
In other words, it is Christ who has created all things, and in whom all things consist, or hold together. This enables us to understand what otherwise might be thought a mere poetical fancy, I mean his attributing ptayer even to the trees of the forest:
LANIER S INTERPRETATION OF NATURE 4I3
The trees that ever lifted their arms toward heaven, obeying the injunction of the Apostle, praying always,—the great uncomplaining trees, whose life is surely the finest of all lives, since it is nothing but a continual growing and being beautiful.
And in his lectures on Shakespeare at Johns Hopkins Uersity he adds an instructive comment on the uses of Nature:
To him who rightly understands Nature, she is more than Ariel and Ceres to Prospero; she is more than a servant conquered like Caliban, to fetch wood for us: she is a friend and comforter; and to that man the cares of the world are but a fabulous Midsummer Night's Dream, to smile at—he is ever in sight of the morning and in hand-reach of God.
All this interprets to us his conception of his own vocation, together with its central importance and dignity:
It is the poet who must sit at the centre of things here, as surely as some great One sits at the centre of things Yonder, and who must teach us how to control, with temperance and perfect art and unforgetfulness of detail, all our oppositions, so that we may come to say with Aristotle, at last, that poetry is more philosophical than philosophy and more historical than history.
In the biography of Lanier by Mims, the most suggestive and valuable paragraph, from our point of view, is that one in which is described our poet's conception of the meaning and use of music, and I venture to quote the whole of it, as indicating the place he must occupy in the history of art:
"Lanier believed in the religious value of music; it was a 'gospel whereof the people are in great need,—a later revela414 MUSIC OVERRATED IN LANIER S POEMS
tion of all gospels in one'; 'music,' he says, 'is to be the Church of the future, wherein all creeds will unite like the tones in a chord.' He was one of' those fervent souls who fare easily by this road to the Lord.' Haydn's inscription, 'Lous Deo,' was in Lanier's mind whenever he listened to great music; for it tended to 'help the emotions of man across the immensity of the known into the boundaries of the Unknown.' He would have composers to be ministers of religion. He could not understand the indifference of some leaders of orchestras, who could be satisfied with appealing to the aesthetic emotions of an audience, while they might 'set the hearts of fifteen hundred people afire.' s-3"he final meaning of music to him was that it created within man 'a great, pure, unanalyzable yearning_jiflex_GfiA'"
-At is not too much to say that Lanier regarded himself as the apostle of a new era, in which poetry should have music as its continual ministrant and helper. For this reason he cultivated not only his musical gifts, but also all his gifts of mind and heart. He sought to apply the scientific method to the study of poetry, and he conceived that he had improved the art by his discovery that rhythm, tone, and color, and not mere stress, are its essentials. He probably erred in thinking the science of versification more important than it is in realityt But he made up for this error by his constant insistence upon the moral significance of poetry, and by his subjection of all art to the final standard of God's purity and love. ^Being himself a great musician, he overrated music, and made it too dominant an element in his own compositions. We cannot doubt that some great poetry, like that of Wordsworth, is deficient in musical quality. Unrhythmical enunciation of important thought has sometimes all the effect, and even more than the effect, of
LANIER S INDOMITABLE SPIRIT 415
the most melodious and measured utterance. To Lanier's contention that the basis of rhythm is time, not accent, we would modestly reply that the basis of rhythm is both time and accent; the former giving us the form, the latter giving us the substance, of poetry. Which of the two, form or substance, is most important, is like the question which blade of the shears does the cutting. No poetry is great which is not a combination of the two; for the one is soul, the other is body; and though soul is the primary and dominant element, it will never make itself known to men except through the body which manifests it.
We are reminded again of the contrast between the two Southern poets, Lanier and Poe. Poe had inveighed against "the heresy of the didactic." He disdained all aims in art except the rousing of emotion. Lanier, on the other hand, held that art has a moral end. This gave to his poetry a joyful and hopeful air, while Poe's was enveloped in cloud and gloom. This made Lanier himself a steady and indomitable worker, even to the very end of his days, while Poe worked only in the intervals of debauch. When strength failed, 'Lanier was still undaunted. There was nothing sorrowful in his heroism. He cheered others when he could have no hope for himself, at least in this present life. He dictated his poem "Sunrise" with a fever of one hundred and four degrees, when he was too weak to hold a pen or to lift food to his mouth. His last lectures were read from his chair; every sentence seemed as if it might be his last; in the carriage, after the lecture was over, his exhaustion was so great that it was a problem whether he could reach his home
416 LANIER A GREAT POET IN THE MAKING
alive. On November 19, 1880, he wrote to Paul Hamilton Hayne:
For six months past a ghastly fever has been taking possession of me each day at about twelve M., and holding my head under the surface of indescribable distress for the next twenty hours, subsiding only enough each morning to let me get on my working-harness, but never intermitting. A number of tests show it to be not the "hectic" so well known in consumption; and to this day it has baffled all the skill I could find in New York, in Philadelphia, and here. I have myself been disposed to think it arose purely from the bitterness of having to spend my time in making academic lectures and boy's books—pot-boilers all—when a thousand songs are singing in my heart that will certainly kill me if I do not utter them soon. But I don't think this diagnosis has found favor with any practical physician; and meantime 1 work day after day in such suffering as is piteous to see.
The end was sure to come, and speedily. He was taken to Polk County, North Carolina, to camp out in the open air, in hope that this might bring relief. But there he was seized with deadly illness. The closing scene is best described' by Mrs. Lanier, who was with him to the end:
"We are left alone (August 29th) with one another. On the last night of the summer comes a change. His love and immortal will hold off the destroyer of our summer yet one more week, until the forenoon of September 7th, and then falls the frost, and that unfaltering will renders its supreme submission to the adored will of God."
Lanier was not a great poet, but he had in him the making of a great poet. He had made unmistakable progress in his art; his best work is, in occasional passages, equal to any other work of his country, if not of his time. There are lightning-flashes of true
AN ARGUMENT FOR IMMORTALITY 417
poetry, which seem to promise the advent of an illuminating sun. But the poet has not his powers under full control; he runs off upon a tangent when a fancy strikes him; and these fancies often turn out to be only conceits. He has originality, but he seems too often to be straining after novelty. He has the gift of melody, but he sometimes mars the music of his verse by the effort to bring it into harmony with a mechanical theory. In short, he lacks, except at rare moments, the spontaneity that belongs to the highest poetical achievement, and the inevitableness of the truest poetical inspiration. But, when all this is said, we have still to take account of a noble poetic gift in process of development—a gift so noble as to cause unending sorrow, when we see it coming to its earthly end.
Such an end' of such a gift suggests to us one of the most serious problems of theology. Man, as an intellectual, moral, and religious being, does not attain the end of his existence on earth. His development is imperfect here. Will divine wisdom leave its- work incomplete? Must there not be a hereafter, for the full growth of man's powers, and for the satisfaction of his aspirations? Created, unlike the brute, with infinite capacities for moral progress, must there not be an immortal existence in which those capacities shall be brought into exercise? Surely we have here an argument from God's love and wisdom- for the immortality of the righteous. God will not treat the righteous as the tyrant of Florence treated Michelangelo, when he bade him carve out of ice a statue, which would melt under the first rays of the sun. Lanier died, with
418 BEYOND THE SHADOW OF OUR NIGHT
a thousand songs singing in his soul; his head and heart were full of poems. Is all that wealth to go for naught? We can only point to the poet's own unwavering assurance of the life to come, and to the promises of the Christ in whom he trusted, to answer the gloomy assertion that death ends all. Reason may not enable us to predict a certain and personal immortality. But Christ has "brought life and immortality to light" in his blessed gospel; and what reason cannot prove, He proves who rose himself from the dead, and so conquered death forevermore. The end of Lanier was very different from the end of Poe. While Poe's life ended in darkness and despair, Lanier's ended in hope and joy. To Lanier we may apply without qualification Shelley's triumphant words with regard to Keats:
"He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny, and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight.
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain.
He lives, he wakes—'tis Death is dead, not he;
Mourn not for Adonais!"