On this day in 1881, American poet and musician, Sidney Lanier died from possible complications due to tuberculosis. He was 39 years old.
This one time confederate soldier, first published in 1867, is thought today by many to be the greatest Southern poet to emerge after Edgar Allan Poe. His debut novel, Tiger Lilies deals mostly with his war experiences but is a hint of the sort of musical writer he would one day become.
Unfortunately, many of the poems he is best remembered for, can be rather racist. “The Raven Days,” “Civil Rights,” “Betrayal,” “Corn,” “Laughter in the Senate,” and “The Revenge of Hamish” are just a few that come to mind. Before pursuing writing full-time, he practiced law, and wrote in 1878 the poem, “The Marshes of Glynn” which endeared him to his native state of Georgia. In 1879, he was made lecturer on English literature at Johns Hopkins University. His lectures became the basis of his Science of English Verse (1880, his most important prose work, and an admirable discussion of the relations of music and poetry.
Since his death, an enlarged and final edition (1884) of his poems, prepared by his wife, his Letters, 1866-1881 (1899), and several volumes of miscellaneous prose have been published. In fact, a posthumous work on Shakespeare and his Forerunners (1902) was edited by H. W. Lanier. If you are a fan of Southern poetry and historical content from this time period, we recommend The Song of the Chattahoochee (1877).
Today, write a love letter to your native state or town. Write about the times we’re currently living in… the war, the politics… get angry, be empathetic… find the beautiful things beneath the turmoil.
Write on in peace, Mr. Lanier!
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