Friday, November 26, 2010

A Troubadour Tramps Through the Mountains - 16

This virtual walk through the southern mountains with Vachel Lindsay has taken several weeks longer than his actual walk in the spring of 1906. So be it.

There's more to go. Two more (?) installments after this one, including a PERFORMANCE by the troubadour himself.

From Vachel Lindsay, A Poet in America, by Edgar Lee Masters:

The first day out of Asheville he made twenty miles. He was now penniless. A man was willing to give him lodging for the night for thirty cents. Lindsay substituted his shirt and collar for the money, much to the host’s disgust, who was a silent man ruling a grim household. He was partially deaf and could not read. Lindsay was bedded with a crippled child. That evening Lindsay read “The Tree of Laughing Bells,” being compelled to trumpet into the ear of this dour North Carolinian. The diary now reads, “Hospitality now wanes, and I am far from home. I do not seem to have any fight in me today. Five dollars in my pocket would give me all the nerve in the world.” Where was the soul of Johnny Appleseed at this hour? Were there not the stars to sleep under in this May of North Carolina?

The diary now shows how far he was from the full philosophy of the road: “My book must have a few dreadfully cynical poems about money, dedicated to the merchants of the world. I must say, Brothers, though I have rebelled, I must acknowledge sometimes that there are a few things more honest than a trade. The soul is so seldom its high self in extremity that it cannot emanate enough spiritual glory to give a fair exchange, even for a night’s lodging, and we must get back to a money basis…

He now encountered a Negro preacher with whom he walked for many miles. Coming to Little Creek, Madison County, North Carolina, he was a quarter of a mile from the ridge of Ball Mountain. Here he received hospitality from a generous woman who gave him corn bread, beans, and buttermilk. She looked like the cartoon of a peasant in Simplicissimus, and played the banjo famously; while a sister naemd Diana danced in plough-shoes and red stockings, with her waist half open at the throat, around which was tied a blue handkerchief. This hostess was managing the little farm alone, her husband being in prison for moonshining.

She glad to have “The Tree of the Laughing Bells.” Look how quickly the temperamental spirits of Lindsay were raised! “As far as the raw material of womanhood in concerned I could love her forever,” was his tribute to Diana. “The hills have done wonders for me.” And he set forth again with “visions of brown-eyed womanhood to make me forget the perils of the way. Farewell to the fairest of all North Carolina. Biltmore and all its glories is not arrayed like the tigress who toils with the hoe because her husband is in state’s prison”; misdefended, the tigress had confided to the poet, by a lawyer named Lindsay...


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