Monday, February 27, 2017

On the "People's Poet"

On 27 February 1907, Mrs. Coates attended a dinner celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at the National Arts Club in New York. Mrs. Coates' poem, "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," was published in Harper's Weekly a few days later in the 2 March 1907 issue:

If tasting Heliconian springs
     He of their waters drank not deep,
If, smiling, he beheld not things
     Revealed to eyes that weep,
If dread Dodona's Oracle
     And Delphi's voice for him were mute,
If grave Minerva in his path
     Dropped never silver flute,— 
Yet beauty wove a magic spell
     For him, and early, at his need,
Upon a bed of asphodel
     He found a tuneful reed,—
The Syrinx-reed Thessalian,
     Of plaintive, far renown,
The universal pipe of Pan,—
     Where the god laid it down.
Right reverently from the ground
     He lifted up the sacred thing,
Accepted it with awe profound,
     With faith unfaltering;
And when its music forth he drew
     Earth half forgot her ancient pain,
For Marsyas himself ne'er blew
     A purer, sweeter strain!
What though there be who self-attired
     In robes of judgment some misuse,
Protest that he was not inspired
     By the authentic Muse,—
Love, granting all his faults to these,
     Forever holds his name apart,
Who moved not senseless stones and trees,
     But the quick human heart.
"The people's poet." Did he lack
     Return? He served in his degree
The people, and they gave him back
     Their immortality!
Time careless grows of costly wit,
     Brave monuments are quickly gone,—
But that which on the heart is writ
     Lives on, and on, and on!

Subsequently published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II, with changes to text.

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