The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

IV. The New South: Lanier

§ 33. Elaboration

But the general impression is of an elaborated verse, not a gush of words from the heart. Indeed, it seems to have been Lanier’s practice to write out the ideas of his poems in prose before turning them into verse. Not many of his poems sang themselves over in his soul before he committed them to paper. He was, on the other hand, forever haunted by ideas for poems. As an obscure lawyer in Georgia he complained to Paul Hamilton Hayne of the “thousand various songs that oppress me, unsung.” Even after he had won the ear of the nation, he wrote to Gibson Peacock:

  • I’m taken with a poem pretty nearly every day, and have to content myself with making a note of its train of thought on the back of whatever letter is in my pocket. I don’t write it out, because I find my poetry now wholly unsatisfactory.
  • Sometimes a poem, like The Symphony, would shake him like a James River ague until he had finished it. Sometimes he would revise patiently, as in Corn. In general it is true that he did not work in that calm serenity which might have brought him closer to perfection of form. There is one blemish, however, that no amount of revision would have eliminated. His exuberant fancy betrayed him into conceits as far fetched as ever disfigured Donne or Crashaw or Tabb. An ox in a clover field becomes “the Course-of-Things,” and the rising sun is “the Build-fire Bee.” He did not see the grotesqueness of such comparisons, but cultivated them as original adornments to his verse.