Monday, August 25, 2008

Out of the Woods

Sidney Lanier managed to do just about everything, but nothing for long. He was a soldier in the Civil War, a teacher, a school administrator, a hotel clerk, a lawyer, a professional musician, ship's pilot, a prisoner of war, professor, and Anglo-Saxon scholar. And he did it all while caring for his wife and three kids and battling the tuberculosis that finally defeated him before he turned forty.

Add to the list a novel, books on scholarly topics, and the development of a theory of poetry based on musical notation. He may not have found his niche as far as a job went, seems to have changed careers every year or two, but he was no rambler like W. H. Davies. Consider the years of preparation required for many of his jobs, lawyer, professor, musician, etc. He must have been an intense man!

Yet his poems do not sound like the work of a man gnawed with fever to accomplish. They have a quiet meditative feel to them, more like one would expect from a recluse like Emily Dickinson or a peripatetic poet/teacher like Basho. He is one man I would like to know more about, for I can't reconcile what little I know of his life with the at-peace-with-the-world quality of his poems.

I would like to post the whole of The Marshes of Glynn, for it is a beauty, but for now I'll only post the ending stanza, along with a short poem.


And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken
The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.


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.

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