Henry Timrod: Contribution as American Poet

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      Henry Timrod (1829-1867) was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1829. He attended the University of Georgia; but was prevented by delicate health and poverty from taking his degree. He was early thrown upon his own resources to earn a livelihood, and having tried law and found it distasteful, he depended upon teaching and writing. His verses were well received, but the times preceding the Civil War were not propitious for a poor poet. As he was not strong enough to bear arms at the outbreak of hostilities, he went to the field as a war correspondent for a newspaper in Charleston and he became later an associate editor in Columbia. His printing office was demolished in Sherman's march to the sea, and at the close of the war Timrod was left in a desperate condition. He was hopelessly ill from consumption; he was in the direst poverty; and he was saddened by the death of his son. There was no relief for Timrod until death released him from his misery in 1867. Yet in spite of all his trials, he desired earnestly to live, and when his sister told him that death would, at least, bring him rest, he replied, "Yes, my sister, but love is sweeter than rest."

Henry Timrod contribute to American Literature
Henry Timrod

      Timrod's one small volume of poetry contains some of the most spontaneous nature and love lyrics in the South. In this stanza to Spring, the directness and simplicity of his manner may be seen:—

      "In the deep heart of every forest tree  The blood is all aglee,  And there's a look about the leafless bowers  As if they dreamed of flowers."  He says in A Vision of Poesy that the poet's mission is to "… turn life's tasteless waters into wine, And flush them through and through with purple tints."

      His best known and most original poem is The Cotton Boll. This description of the wide stretches of a white cotton field is one of the best in the poem. He shows the field

 "… lost afar
 Behind the crimson hills and purple lawns
 Of sunset, among plains which roll their streams
 Against the Evening Star!
 And lo!
 To the remotest point of sight,
 Although I gaze upon no waste of snow,
 The endless field is white;
 And the whole landscape glows,
 For many a shining league away,
 With such accumulated light
 As Polar lands would flash beneath a tropic day!"

      Simplicity and sincerity in language, theme, and feeling are special characteristics of Timrod's verse. His lyrics are short and their volume slight, but a few of them, like Spring and The Lily Confidante, seem almost to have sung themselves. So vivid is his reproduction of the spirit of the awakening year in his poem Spring, that, to quote his own lines:—

 "… you scarce would start,  If from a beech's heart,  A blue-eyed Dryad, stepping forth, should say,  'Behold me! I am May.'"

      Timrod shows the same qualities of simplicity, directness, and genuine feeling in his war poetry. No more ringing lines were written for the southern cause during the Civil War than are to be found in his poems, Carolina and Ethnogenesis.

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