Paul Hamilton Hayne: Contribution as American Poet

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      Paul Hamilton Hayne was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1830. His family was rich and influential, and he inherited a fortune in his own right. After graduating at Charleston College, he studied law, but devoted his independent leisure entirely to literature. He became associated with The Southern Literary Gazette, and was the first editor of Russell's Magazine, an ambitious venture launched by the literary circle at the house of Simms. Hayne married happily, and had every prospect of a prosperous and brilliant career when the war broke out. He enlisted, but his health soon failed, and at the close of the war he found himself an invalid with his fortune destroyed. He went to the Pine Barrens of Georgia, where he built, on land which he named Copse Hill, a hut nearly as rude as Thoreau's at Walden. Handicapped by poverty and disease, Hayne lived here during the remainder of his life, writing his best poems on a desk fashioned out of a workbench. He died in 1886.

Paul Hamilton Hayne Literary Contribution to American Literature
Paul Hamilton Hayne

      Hayne wrote a large amount of poetry, and tried many forms of verse, in almost all of which he maintained a smoothness of meter, a correctness of rhyme, and, in general, a high level of artistic finish. He is a skilled craftsman, his ear is finely attuned to harmonious arrangements of sounds, and he shows an acquaintance with the best melodists in English poetry. The limpid ease and grace in his lines may be judged by this dainty poem:—

 "A tiny rift within the lute
 May sometimes make the music mute!
 By slow degrees, the rift grows wide,
 By slow degrees, the tender tide—
 Harmonious once—of loving thought
 Becomes with harsher measures fraught,
 Until the heart's Arcadian breath
 Lapses thro' discord into death!"

      His best poems are nature lyrics. In The Woodland Phases, one of the finest of these, he tells how nature is to him a revelation of the divine:—

 "And midway, betwixt heaven and us,
 Stands Nature in her fadeless grace,
 Still pointing to our Father's house,
 His glory on her mystic face."
      Hayne found the inspiration for his verse in the scenes about his forest home: in the "fairy South Wind" that "floateth on the subtle wings of balm," in

      "… the one small glimmering rill That twinkles like a wood-fay's mirthful eye," in the solitary lake "Shrined in the woodland's secret heart," in "His blasted pines, smit by the fiery West,  Uptowering rank on rank, like Titan spears,"  in the storm among the Georgian hills, in the twilight, that "… on her virginal throat Wears for a gem the tremulous vesper star," and in the mocking-birds, whose "… love notes fill the enchanted land;  Through leaf-wrought bars they storm the stars,  These love songs of the mocking-birds!"

      The chief characteristics of his finest poetry are a tender love of nature, a profusion of figurative language, and a gentle air of meditation.

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