Sidney Lanier HTML version
The Beginning of a Literary Career
During the winter of 1873-74, the first winter in Baltimore, Lanier had, as has been seen,
given his entire time to music. The only poetry he had written had been inspired by love
for his absent wife, -- poems breathing of the deepest and tenderest affection. Scarcely
less poetical were the letters written to her giving expression to his joy in the large new
world into which he was entering, and at the same time to his sense of loneliness and pain
at their separation. To her and his boys he went as soon as his engagement with the
Peabody Orchestra was ended. In one of his letters he had spoken of himself as "an exile
from his dear Land, which is always the land where my loved ones are." He found delight
during this summer, as in the following ones, in the renewal of home ties, and in the
enjoyment of the natural scenery of Macon and Brunswick, to whose beauty he never
ceased to be sensitive.
It was in August, 1874, that he received a fresh impulse towards poetry, or, at least,
towards the writing of more important poems than those he had heretofore written. While
visiting at Sunnyside, Georgia, some sixty miles from Macon, he was struck at once with
the beauty of cornfields and the pathos of deserted farms. Hence arose his first poem that
attracted attention throughout the country. He took it to New York with him in the fall.
Writing to his friend, Judge Logan E. Bleckley, now Chief Justice of Georgia, who
during this summer spoke encouraging words to him about the faith he had in his literary
future, he inclosed his recently finished poem with these words: --
195 Dean St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
October 9, 1874.
My dear Sir, -- I could never tell you how sincerely grateful I am to you, and shall always
be, for a few words you spoke to me recently.
Such encouragement would have been pleasant at any time, but this happened to come
just at a critical moment when, although I had succeeded in making up my mind finally
and decisively as to my own career, I was yet faint from a desperate struggle with certain
untoward circumstances which it would not become me to detail.
Did you ever lie for a whole day after being wounded, and then have water brought you?
If so, you will know how your words came to me.
I inclose the manuscript of a poem in which I have endeavored to carry some very prosaic
matters up to a loftier plane. I have been struck with alarm in seeing the number of old,
deserted homesteads and gullied hills in the older counties of Georgia; and though they
are dreadfully commonplace, I have thought they are surely mournful enough to be
poetic. Please give me your judgment on my effort, WITHOUT RESERVE; for if you
should say you do not like it, the only effect on me will be to make me write one that you