John Bannister Tabb: Contribution as American Poet

Also Read

      John Bannister Tabb was born in 1845 on the family estate in Amelia County, Virginia. He was a strong adherent of the southern cause, and during the war he served as clerk on one of the boats carrying military stores. He was taken prisoner, and placed in Point Lookout Prison, where Lanier also was confined. After the war, Tabb devoted some time to music and taught school. His studies led him toward the church, and at the age of thirty-nine he received the priest's orders in the Roman Catholic church. When he died in 1909, he was a teacher in St. Charles College, Ellicott City, Maryland. He had been blind for two years.

John Bannister Tabb Literary Contribution as American Poet
John Bannister Tabb

      Tabb's poems are preeminently "short swallow-flights of song," for most of them are only from four to eight lines long. Some of these verses are comic, while others are grave and full of religious ardor. The most beautiful of all his poems are those of nature. The one called The Brook is among the brightest and most fanciful:—

 "It is the mountain to the sea
 That makes a messenger of me:
 And, lest I loiter on the way
 And lose what I am sent to say,
 He sets his reverie to song
 And bids me sing it all day long.
 Farewell! for here the stream is slow,
 And I have many a mile to go."
 [Footnote: Poems, 1894.]

      The Water Lily is another dainty product, full of poetic feeling for nature:—

 "Whence, O fragrant form of light,
 Hast thou drifted through the night,
 Swanlike, to a leafy nest,
 On the restless waves, at rest?
 "Art thou from the snowy zone
 Of a mountain-summit blown,
 Or the blossom of a dream,
 Fashioned in the foamy stream?"
 [Footnote: The Water Lily, from Poems, 1894.]

      In Quips and Quiddits he loves to show that type of humor dependent on unexpected changes in the meaning of words. The following lines illustrate this characteristic:—

 "To jewels her taste did incline;
 But she had not a trinket to wear
 Till she slept after taking quinine,
 And awoke with a ring in each ear."

      Tabb's power lay in condensing into a small compass a single thought or feeling and giving it complete artistic expression. The more serious poems, especially the sacred ones, sometimes seem to have too slight a body to carry their full weight of thought, but the idea is always fully expressed, no matter how narrow the compass of the verse. His poetry usually has the qualities of lightness, airiness, and fancifulness.

Previous Post Next Post