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Muscogee County GaArchives Photo Person.....Lanier, Sidney
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Christine Thacker CGT714(a)aol.com August 29, 2007, 3:33 pm
Source: Sesquicentennial- Ledger-Enquirer
Name: Sidney Lanier
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Life Was Difficult For Sidney Lanier
By James M. Gifford
Against the backdrop of Civil War and Reconstruction, Sidney Lanier, a
native of Macon, Georgia, emerged as one of nineteenth century America's
He was a novelist, critic, musician, lecturer, university professor,
soldier, and lawyer during his short lifetime. When the late Edd Winfield
delivered the Eugenia Dorothy Blount Lamar Lecture Series at Wesleyan
in 1968, he concluded that Sidney Lanier was one of America's "most vital
most interesting minor poets."
Sidney, the son of Robert Sampson and Mary Anderson Lanier, was born
February 3, 1842 in Macon, Georgia. His father was a lawyer, and his
grandfather, Sterling Lanier, was a successful businessman. Sidney and his
brother Clifford and sister Gertrude grew up in a serious Presbyterian
household where family life and education were stressed. As a child, he
precocious musical abilities while gaining a more general education in a
He entered the sophomore class at Oglethorpe University, a staunch
Presbyterian school near the state capital of Milledgeville, on January
While enjoying his student days, Sidney belonged to the Thalian Literary
Society, played the flute to entertain his classmates, and had a series of
He matured intellectually under the influence of one of his teachers, James
Woodrow, a fine young scholar who had studied under Louis Agassiz at Harvard
and later graduated summa cum laude from his doctoral work at Heidelberg.
Sidney graduated from Oglethorpe in the sprlng of 1860 first in his class
accepted an appointment there as tutor. That fall he decided to eventually
a doctoral degree at Heidelberg and prepare himself for life as a university
professor, but Georgia seceded from the Union on January 19, 1861, and his
plans were disrupted by Civil War.
In July 1861 Lanier joined the Macon volunteers and, was soon transferred to
Virginia, where he witnessed the famous battle between the "Merrimac" and
the "Monitor." After participating In the seven days fight at Chickahominy
the battle of Malvern Hill, he and his brother transferred to the Mounted
He experienced more of the grim realities of war in North Carolina, and on
November 2, 1864 he was captured by Union troops. Lanier spent four months
P.O.W. in the "hell-hole" prison' at Point Lookout, Maryland, where fifteen
twenty men died daily from the deploraple conditions. The tuberculosis he
inherited from both parents became worse, and he probably would have died in
prison had he not made his escape through bribery. He reached Macon on March
15, 1865 exhausted, near death and delirious for parts of the next three
months. The unexaggerated trauma of war and prison life pours forth in his
The rest of Lanier's life was a struggle for survival, yet he managed to
write a number of enduring works. Following a number of tangled wartime
romances, he married Mary Day on December 21, 1867. For the next seven years
Lanier tried to balance his need for creativity and the pressing necessity
providing for a wife and four sons during the "dark raven days" of
Reconstruction. Often he awoke hemorrhaging with his mouth full of blood,
his illnesses forced long separations from his family. His wife suffered
malaria, but in. spite of numerous problems they had an excellent marriage.
Between 1867 and 1873 Lanier tried a variety of jobs. He taught in
Prattvllle, Alabama. He clerked in a hotel. In July 1869 he was admitted to
bar and began practicing law. He gave several flute concerts. Most
he continued to write. In addition to the strong support of his family,
was reinforced by the praise of literary people like Joel Chandler Harris
Paul Hamilton Hayne.
By 1873 the frustrations of being a part-time writer had taken their toll.
Lanier decided not to be a "third rate struggling lawyer" for the rest of
life when he could do "other things so much better."
As he told his father, he had suffered twenty years "through poverty,
through pain, through weariness, through sickness, through the uncongenial
atmosphere of a farcical college and of a bare army and then of an exacting
business life, through all the discouragements of being born on the wrong
of Mason and Dixon's line and of being wholly unacquainted with literary
and literary ways" (quoted in Parks, 25-6). Lanier resolved to devote the
of his life to literature and music.
Still, much of his remaining years were spent writing "potboilers,"
like "Florida" and "The Boy's Froissart," to support his family.
confessed to a friend that his "head and heart" were "full of poems,"
dreadful struggle for bread" did not give him ample time to write (quoted in
Yet he did the best he could under the circumstances and began to receive
some national recognition. "Corn" and "The Symphony" were published
in "Lippincott's Magazine" in 1875. He published a volume of his poetry in
1877. Two years later he was appointed lecturer in English literature at
Hopkins University, where he made some very interesting scientific analyses
English verse. "The Marshes of Glynn" (1878), reflecting on his native
may be his best work. In all, he wrote more than 100 poems; nature and
were two of the dominant themes of his work.
Throughout the years 1873-81 his health had been getting worse. In June 1881
he took his family to a mountain retreat in North Carolina. He was jotting
outlines for future poems and dictating to his wife until his death on
September 7, 1881.
Today on the Duke University campus three statues guard the southern past:
Thomas Jefferson, "Statesman of the South;" Robert E. Lee. "Soldier of the
South;" and Sidney Lanier, "Poet of the South." Had the circumstances of
life been more favorable, Lanier might have been a poet of the world.
Song Of The Chattahoochee
Out of the hills of Habersham.
Down the valleys of Hall
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall,
Split at the rock and together again,
Accept my bed, or narrow or wide,
And flee from folly on every side
With a lover's pain to attain the plain
Far from the hills of Habersham,
Far from the valleys of Hall.
All down the hills of Habersham,
All through the valleys of Hall,
The rushes cried Abide, abide,
The willful waterweeds held me thrall,
The laving laurel turned my tide,
The ferns and the fondling grass said Stay,
The dewberry dipped for to work delay,
And the little reeds sighed Abide, abide,
Here in the hills of Habersham,
Here in the valleys of Hall.
High o'er the hills of Habersham,
Veiling the valleys of Hall,
The hickory told me manifold
Fair tales of shade, the poplar tall
Wrought me her shadowy self to hold,
The chestnut, the oak. the walnut, the pine,
Overleaning, with flickering meaning and sign,
Said, Pass not, so cold, these manifold
Deep shades of the hills of Habersham,
These glades in the valleys of Hall.
And oft in the hills of Habersham,
And oft in the valleys of Hall,
The white quartz shone. and the smooth brooks tone
Did bar me of passage with friendly brawl,
And many a luminous jewel lone
-Crystals clear or a-cloud with mist,
Ruby, garnet, and amethyst-
Made lures with the lights of streaming stone
In the clefts of the hills of Habersham,
In the beds of the valleys of Hall.
But oh, not the hills of Habersham,
And oh, not the valleys of Hall
Avail: I am fain for to water the plain.
Downward the voices of Duty call-
Downward, to toil and be mixed with the main,
The dry fields burn, and the mills are to turn,
And a myriad flowers mortally yearn,
And the lordly main from beyond the plain
Calls o'er the hills of Habersham,
Calls through the valleys of Hall.
Special Sesquicentennial Supplement 1
Ledger-Enquirer, Sunday, April 16, 1978
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