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.

III. Poets of the Civil War II

§ 8. Timrod; The Cotton Boll

Henry Timrod (1829–67), the friend of Simms and Hayne, had also definitely dedicated himself to the work of a poet, having already published a volume of poems in Boston (1860) and many individual poems in Russell’s Magazine and The Southern Literary Messenger. A poet by natural temperament, he was a critical student of the classics and of the best English poetry. A poet hitherto of nature and of love, he was now to show himself the greatest Southern poet of the Civil War. Even before the Southern Confederacy was formed he wrote The Cotton Boll, which struck a new note in that it was almost the first Southern poem of local colour. The single boll of cotton which he holds in his hand as he reclines beneath an immemorial pine suggests the great plantation near Charleston from which it came, and then all the cotton fields of the South, from gray Atlantic dawns to the evening star; and not only cotton fields, but the rivers and mountains and forests of this land, which blesses the world with its mighty commerce, joining “with a delicate web remotest strands.” In offices of peace and love his country’s mission lies; but now the enemy is coming—war is inevitable. In words of passionate indignation and patriotism he exclaims:

  • Oh, help us, Lord! to roll the crimson flood
  • Back on its course, and, while our banners wing
  • Northward, strike with us! till the Goth shall cling
  • To his own blasted altar-stones, and crave
  • Mercy; and we shall grant it, and dictate
  • The lenient future of his fate
  • There, where some rotting ships and crumbling quays
  • Shall one day mark the Port which ruled the Western seas.
  • The closing lines—partly ridiculous and partly pathetic in the light of today—are typical of the absolute confidence of the South.