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American Literature:
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Sidney Lanier

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The most remarkably original singer of the South was Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) , who was chosen to write the cantata for the opening of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. He was descended from a long line of musicians, and distinguished his poetry by the intermingling of musical effects. He was born at Macon, Georgia, and studied at Oglethorpe College, until the war broke out, when he entered the Confederate service. He was captured on a blockade-runner, and held prisoner for five months. The hardships of war developed consumption, and the rest of his life was a courageous struggle with that disease. In 1873 he went to Baltimore to be a musician. He had already published a novel "Tiger Lilies" (1867), founded on his war experiences. His fine poem, "Corn," which appeared in "Lippincott's Magazine" in 1875, was the first to attract attention to his name. For support of his family he wrote a "Guide-Book to Florida" and edited for boys "Froissart," "King Arthur," "Percy's Reliques" and the "Mabinogion." In 1879, he was appointed lecturer on English literature in Johns Hopkins University. His "Science of English Verse" (188o) is an elaborate study of the metrical structure of English poetry, in which he held that time was as important as in music. "The English Novel and the Principle of Its Develop-ment" (1883) was the first treatise in which the growth of fiction was fully considered, historically and philosophically. Lanier's "Poems" were not collected until 1884, three years after his death; but since that time his fame has steadily risen. All of his work is marked by his strong feeling for music, and many of his pieces are really songs, "Song of the Chattahoochee," "A Song of Love." His "Psalm of the West" is a grand expression of true Americanism. "The Stirrup Cup" is a friendly challenge to death. "A Ballad of Trees and the Master" is a mystical expression of the sympathy of nature with the sufferings of Christ. Many others of his poems give a striking personality to the products of nature, as "Corn," "Clover," "Tampa Robins," and "The Dove." His dying swan-chants are found in "Hymns of the Marshes." Though his art was too fine and high for general appreciation, Lanier must be regarded as one of the greatest American poets.

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