Poets of the South
Part 4 out of 4
The circumstances of its composition possess a melancholy interest. It
was Lanier's last and greatest poem. He penciled it a few months before
his death when he was too feeble to raise his food to his mouth and when
a burning fever was consuming him. Had he not made this supreme effort,
American literature would be the poorer. This poem exhibits, in a high
degree, the poet's love for Nature. Indeed, most of his great pieces--
_The Marshes of Glynn, Clover, Corn_, and others--are inspired by the
sights and sounds of Nature. _Sunrise_, in general tone and style,
closely resembles _The Marshes of Glynn_.
The musical theories of Lanier in relation to poetry find their highest
exemplification in _Sunrise_. It is made up of all the poetic feet
--iambics, trochees, dactyls, anapests--so that it almost defies any
attempt at scansion. But the melody of the verse never fails; equality of
time is observed, along with a rich use of alliteration and assonance.
The poem may be easily analyzed; and a distinct notation of its
successive themes may be helpful to the young reader. Its divisions are
marked by its irregular stanzas. It consists of fifteen parts as follows:
1. The call of the marshes to the poet in his slumbers, and his awaking.
2. He comes as a lover to the live-oaks and marshes. 3. His address to
the "man-bodied tree," and the "cunning green leaves." 4. His petition
for wisdom and for a prayer of intercession. 5. The stirring of the owl.
6. Address to the "reverend marsh, distilling silence." 7. Description of
the full tide. 8. "The bow-and-string tension of beauty and silence." 9.
The motion of dawn. 10. The golden flush of the eastern sky. 11. The
sacramental marsh at worship. 12. The slow rising of the sun above the
sea horizon. 13. Apostrophe to heat. 14. The worker must pass from the
contemplation of this splendor to his toil. 15. The poet's
inextinguishable adoration of the sun.]
[Footnote 34: "Gospeling glooms" means glooms that convey to the
sensitive spirit sweet messages of good news.]
[Footnote 35: Lanier continually attributes personality to the objects of
Nature, and places them in tender relations to man. Here the little
"Friendly, sisterly, sweetheart leaves,"
as a few lines before they were "little masters." In _Individuality_
"Sail on, sail on, fair cousin Cloud."
And in _Corn_ there is a passage of great tenderness:--
"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."]
[Footnote 36: This passage is Wordsworthian in spirit. Nature is regarded
as a teacher who suggests or reveals ineffable things. Lanier might have
said, as did Wordsworth,--
"To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."]
[Footnote 37: Lanier had a lively and vigorous imagination, which is seen
in his use of personification and metaphor. In this poem almost every
object--trees, leaves, marsh, streams, sun, heat--is personified. This
same fondness for personification may be observed in his other
In the use of metaphor it may be doubted whether the poet is always so
happy. There is sometimes inaptness or remoteness in his resemblances. To
liken the naming heavens to a beehive, and the rising sun to a bee
issuing from the "hive-hole," can hardly be said to add dignity to the
In _Clover_ men are clover heads, which the Course-of-things, as an
ox, browses upon:--
"This cool, unasking Ox
Comes browsing o'er my hills and vales of Time,
And thrusts me out his tongue, and curls it, sharp,
And sicklewise, about my poets' heads,
And twists them in....
and champs and chews,
With slantly-churning jaws and swallows down."]
[Footnote 38: The deities of Olympus, being immortal, have no need of
strenuous haste. They may well move from pleasure to pleasure with
* * * * *
SELECTIONS FROM FATHER RYAN
SONG OF THE MYSTIC 
I walk down the Valley of Silence--
Down the dim, voiceless valley--alone!
And I hear not the fall of a footstep
Around me, save God's and my own;
And the hush of my heart is as holy
As hovers where angels have flown!
Long ago was I weary of voices
Whose music my heart could not win;
Long ago was I weary of noises
That fretted my soul with their din;
Long ago was I weary of places
Where I met but the human--and sin.
I walked in the world with the worldly;
I craved what the world never gave;
And I said: "In the world each Ideal,
That shines like a star on life's wave,
Is wrecked on the shores of the Real,
And sleeps like a dream in a grave."
And still did I pine for the Perfect,
And still found the False with the True;
I sought 'mid the Human for Heaven,
But caught a mere glimpse of its Blue;
And I wept when the clouds of the Mortal
Veiled even that glimpse from my view.
And I toiled on, heart-tired of the Human,
And I moaned 'mid the mazes of men,
Till I knelt, long ago, at an altar,
And I heard a voice call me. Since then
I walked down the Valley of Silence
That lies far beyond mortal ken.
Do you ask what I found in the Valley?
'Tis my Trysting Place with the Divine.
And I fell at the feet of the Holy,
And above me a voice said: "Be Mine."
And there arose from the depths of my spirit
An echo--"My heart shall be thine."
Do you ask how I live in the Valley?
I weep--and I dream--and I pray.
But my tears are as sweet as the dewdrops
That fall on the roses in May;
And my prayer like a perfume from censers,
Ascendeth to God night and day.
In the hush of the Valley of Silence
I dream all the songs that I sing;
And the music floats down the dim Valley,
Till each finds a word for a wing,
That to hearts, like the dove of the deluge
A message of peace they may bring.
But far on the deep there are billows
That never shall break on the beach;
And I have heard songs in the Silence
That never shall float into speech;
And I have had dreams in the Valley
Too lofty for language to reach.
And I have seen thoughts in the Valley--
Ah me! how my spirit was stirred!
And they wear holy veils on their faces,
Their footsteps can scarcely be heard:
They pass through the Valley like virgins,
Too pure for the touch of a word!
Do you ask me the place of the Valley,
Ye hearts that are harrowed by care?
It lieth afar between mountains,
And God and His angels are there:
And one is the dark mount of Sorrow,
And one the bright mountain of Prayer.
THE CONQUERED BANNER 
Furl that Banner, for 'tis weary;
Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary;
Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there's not a man to wave it,
And there's not a sword to save it,
And there's not one left to lave it
In the blood which heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it--let it rest!
Take that Banner down! 'tis tattered;
Broken is its staff and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
Over whom it floated high.
Oh! 'tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there's none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
Now must furl it with a sigh.
Furl that Banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly,
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman's sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
O'er their freedom or their grave!
Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner--it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
Of its people in their woe.
For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
But, oh! wildly they deplore it,
Now who furl and fold it so.
Furl that Banner! True, 'tis gory,
Yet 'tis wreathed around with glory,
And 'twill live in song and story,
Though its folds are in the dust:
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages--
Furl its folds though now we must.
Furl that Banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently--it is holy--
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not--unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead!
THE SWORD OF ROBERT LEE 
Forth from its scabbard, pure and bright,
Flashed the sword of Lee!
Far in the front of the deadly fight,
High o'er the brave in the cause of Right,
Its stainless sheen, like a beacon light,
Led us to victory.
Out of its scabbard, where full long
It slumbered peacefully,
Roused from its rest by the battle's song,
Shielding the feeble, smiting the strong,
Guarding the right, avenging the wrong,
Gleamed the sword of Lee.
Forth from its scabbard, high in air
Beneath Virginia's sky--
And they who saw it gleaming there,
And knew who bore it, knelt to swear
That where that sword led they would dare
To follow--and to die.
Out of its scabbard! Never hand
Waved sword from stain as free;
Nor purer sword led braver band,
Nor braver bled for a brighter land,
Nor brighter land had a cause so grand,
Nor cause a chief like Lee!
Forth from its scabbard! How we prayed
That sword might victor be;
And when our triumph was delayed,
And many a heart grew sore afraid,
We still hoped on while gleamed the blade
Of noble Robert Lee.
Forth from its scabbard all in vain
Bright flashed the sword of Lee;
'Tis shrouded now in its sheath again,
It sleeps the sleep of our noble slain,
Defeated, yet without a stain,
Proudly and peacefully.
Out of the shadows of sadness,
Into the sunshine of gladness,
Into the light of the blest;
Out of a land very dreary,
Out of the world very weary,
Into the rapture of rest.
Out of to-day's sin and sorrow,
Into a blissful to-morrow,
Into a day without gloom;
Out of a land filled with sighing,
Land of the dead and the dying,
Into a land without tomb.
Out of a life of commotion,
Tempest-swept oft as the ocean,
Dark with the wrecks drifting o'er,
Into a land calm and quiet;
Never a storm cometh nigh it,
Never a wreck on its shore.
Out of a land in whose bowers
Perish and fade all the flowers;
Out of the land of decay,
Into the Eden where fairest
Of flowerets, and sweetest and rarest,
Never shall wither away.
Out of the world of the wailing
Thronged with the anguished and ailing;
Out of the world of the sad,
Into the world that rejoices--
World of bright visions and voices--
Into the world of the glad.
Out of a life ever mournful,
Out of a land very lornful,
Where in bleak exile we roam,
Into a joy-land above us,
Where there's a Father to love us--
Into our home--"Sweet Home."
Cometh a voice from a far-land,
Beautiful, sad, and low;
Shineth a light from the star-land
Down on the night of my woe;
And a white hand, with a garland,
Biddeth my spirit to go.
Away and afar from the night-land,
Where sorrow o'ershadows my way,
To the splendors and skies of the light-land,
Where reigneth eternity's day,--
To the cloudless and shadowless bright-land,
Whose sun never passeth away.
And I knew the voice; not a sweeter
On earth or in Heaven can be;
And never did shadow pass fleeter
Than it, and its strange melody;
And I know I must hasten to meet her,
"Yea, _Sister!_ Thou callest to me!"
And I saw the light; 'twas not seeming,
It flashed from the crown that she wore,
And the brow, that with jewels was gleaming,
My lips had kissed often of yore!
And the eyes, that with rapture were beaming,
Had smiled on me sweetly before.
And I saw the hand with the garland,
Ethel's hand--holy and fair;
Who went long ago to the far-land
To weave me the wreath I shall wear;
And to-night I look up to the star-land
And pray that I soon may be there.
NIGHT THOUGHTS 
Some reckon their age by years,
Some measure their life by art,--
But some tell their days by the flow of their tears,
And their life, by the moans of their heart.
The dials of earth may show
The length--not the depth of years;
Few or many they come, few or many they go,
But our time is best measured by tears.
Ah! not by the silver gray
That creeps through the sunny hair,
And not by the scenes that we pass on our way,
And not by the furrows the fingers of care,
On forehead and face, have made:
Not so do we count our years;
Not by the sun of the earth, but the shade
Of our souls, and the fall of our tears.
For the young are oft-times old,
Though their brow be bright and fair;
While their blood beats warm, their heart lies cold--
O'er them the springtime, but winter is there.
And the old are oft-times young,
When their hair is thin and white;
And they sing in age, as in youth they sung,
And they laugh, for their cross was light.
But bead by bead I tell
The rosary of my years;
From a cross to a cross they lead,--'tis well!
And they're blest with a blessing of tears.
Better a day of strife
Than a century of sleep;
Give me instead of a long stream of life,
The tempests and tears of the deep.
A thousand joys may foam
On the billows of all the years;
But never the foam brings the brave  heart home--
It reaches the haven through tears.
For a general introduction to Father Ryan's poetry, see Chapter VI.
[Footnote 1: As stated in the sketch of Father Ryan, this poem strikes
the keynote to his verse. It therefore properly opens his volume of
poems. It became popular on its first publication, and was copied in
various papers. It is here taken from the _Religious Herald_, Richmond,
[Footnote 2: The location of _The Valley of Silence_ is given in the
[Footnote 3: This poem may be taken, in a measure, as autobiographic. In
this stanza, and the two following ones, the poet refers to that period
of his life before he resolved to consecrate himself to the priesthood.]
[Footnote 4: This indicates the general character of his poetry. Inspired
in _The Valley of Silence_, it is sad, meditative, mystical, religious.]
[Footnote 5: Perhaps every poet has this experience. There come to him
elusive glimpses of truth and beauty which are beyond the grasp of
speech. As some one has sung:--
"Sometimes there rise, from deeps unknown,
Before my inmost gaze,
Far brighter scenes than earth has shown
In morning's orient blaze;
I try to paint the visions bright,
But, oh, their glories turn to night!"]
[Footnote 6: This poem was first published in Father Ryan's paper, the
_Banner of the South_, March 21, 1868, from which it is here taken. Coming
so soon after the close of the Civil War, it touched the Southern
[Footnote 7: For a criticism of the versification of this stanza, see the
chapter on Father Ryan.]
[Footnote 8: This note of pardon, in keeping with the poet's priestly
character, is found in several of his lyrics referring to the war. In
spite of his strong Southern feeling, there is no unrelenting bitterness.
Thus, in _The Prayer of the South_, which appeared a week later, we
"Father, I kneel 'mid ruin, wreck, and grave,--
A desert waste, where all was erst so fair,--
And for my children and my foes I crave
Pity and pardon. Father, hear my prayer!"]
[Footnote 9: This was the poet's feeling in 1868. In a similar strain we
read in _The Prayer of the South_:--
"My heart is filled with anguish deep and vast!
My hopes are buried with my children's dust!
My joys have fled, my tears are flowing fast!
In whom, save Thee, our Father, shall I trust?"
Happily the poet lived to see a new order of things--an era in which vain
regrets gave place to energetic courage, hope, and endeavor.]
[Footnote 10: This poem first appeared in the _Banner of the South_,
April 4, 1868, and, like the preceding one, has been very popular in the
[Footnote 11: Father Ryan felt great admiration for General Lee, who has
remained in the South the popular hero of the war. In the last of his
_Sentinel Songs_, the poet-priest pays a beautiful tribute to the
stainless character of the Confederate leader:--
"Go, Glory, and forever guard
Our chieftain's hallowed dust;
And Honor, keep eternal ward,
And Fame, be this thy trust!
Go, with your bright emblazoned scroll
And tell the years to be,
The first of names to flash your roll
Is ours--great Robert Lee."]
[Footnote 12: This poem was first published in the _Banner of the
South_, April 25, 1868. It illustrates the profounder themes on which
the poet loved to dwell, and likewise the Christian faith by which they
[Footnote 13: This mournful view of life appears frequently in Father
Ryan's poems. In _De Profundis_, for example, we read:--
"All the hours are full of tears--
O my God! woe are we!
Grief keeps watch in brightest eyes--
Every heart is strung with fears,
Woe are we! woe are we!
All the light hath left the skies,
And the living, awe-struck crowds
See above them only clouds,
And around them only shrouds."]
[Footnote 14: This poem, as the two preceding ones, is taken from the
_Banner of the South_, where it appeared June 13, 1868. It affords a
glimpse of the tragical romance of the poet's life. The voice that he
hears is that of "Ethel," the lost love of his youth. Her memory never
left him. In the poem entitled _What?_ it is again her spirit voice
that conveys to his soul an ineffable word.]
[Footnote 15: This desire for death occurs in several poems, as _When?_
and _Rest_. In the latter poem it is said:--
"'Twas always so; when but a child I laid
On mother's breast
My wearied little head--e'en then I prayed
As now--for rest."]
[Footnote 16: This poem is taken from the _Banner of the South_, where
it appeared June 29, 1870. In the volume of collected poems the title
is changed to _The Rosary of my Tears_.]
[Footnote 17: "Brave" is changed to "lone" in the poet's revision.]
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