Mar 25, 2008

Sidney Lanier

Sidney Lanier was not the first poet I read.  I did go to school. But like many a student who got C’s in english I managed to ignore every poem I wasn’t required to read or memorize.  There were far too many science fiction books in the library for me to stray into the strange land of poetry.  Strangely then, it was science fiction that led me to those lands in spite of myself.

As a freshman in college I was reading Macroscope by Piers Anthony.  The book opens with the main character in Georgia, visiting the places where Sindey Lanier had lived and written about.  The story also quoted quite a bit of Lanier’s poetry.  It was enough to gain my mild interest.

At the same time I had my first term paper coming due.  So, on a whim, I researched and wrote about this somewhat obscure poet.  In the process I discovered that I actually liked poetry.  The change wasn’t immediate, but it was the beginning of my own more serious attempts to write, and occasionally read poetry.

It was easy to fall in love with his poetry.   It combines sounds, rhythm, and a hopeful worship of nature free of the stricter rules of meter common at the time.  He developed his own theories of poetics inspired by the similarities between music and poetry: The Science of English Verse by Sidney Lanier.

Excerpt from Sunrise by Sidney lanier

O cunning green leaves, little masters! like as ye gloss

All the dull-tissued dark with your luminous darks that emboss

The vague blackness of night into pattern and plan,


(But would I could know, but would could I know,)

With your question embroid’ring the dark of the question of man, --

So, with your silences purfling this this silence of man

While his cry to the dead for some knowledge is  under the ban,

Under the Ban, --

So, ye have wrought me

Designs on the night of our knowledge, -- yea, ye have taught me,


That Haply we know somewhat more than we know.

{Read this out loud.  The pacing and sounds are like a symphony, and in the next stanza he changes the pace and sounds, like starting a new movement.}

Ye lispers, whisperers, singers in storms,

Ye consciences murmuring faiths under forms,

Ye ministers meet for each passion the grieves,

Friendly, sisterly, sweetheart leaves,

Oh, rain me down from your darks that contain me

Wisdoms ye winnow from winds that pain me, --

Sift down tremors of sweet-withing-sweet

That advise me of more than they bring, -- repeat

Me the woods-smell that swiftly but now brought breath

From the heaven-side bank of the river of death, --

Teach me the terms of silence, -- preach me 

The passion of patience, -- sift me, -- impeach me, --

And there, oh there

As ye hang with your myriad palms upturned in the air,

Pray me a myriad prayer.

Sidney Lanier is well worth the space on your bookshelf, but if you want his poetry for free  go to Project Gutenberg and download it from there.

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