Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Troubadour Tramps Through the Mountains - 18

In 1931, the makers of Lysol promoted its effectiveness as a douche.

Some Lysol customers had already discovered its usefulness as a contraceptive.

On December 5, 1931, Vachel Lindsay found one more use for Lysol. Declaring victory, “They tried to get me - I got them first!” he drank a bottle of the disinfectant and died.

His longtime friend, Sara Teasdale, remembered him in verse:

In Memory of Vachel Lindsay

“Deep in the ages”, you said, “deep in the ages,”
And, “To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name.”
You are deep in the ages, now, deep in the ages,
You whom the world could not break, nor the years tame.

Fly out, fly on, eagle that is not forgotten,
Fly straight to the innermost light, you who loved sun in your eyes,
Free of the fret, free of the weight of living,
Bravest among the brave, gayest among the wise.

Fourteen months after Vachel’s death, Sara herself committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills.

Weeks ago, I mentioned Vachel Lindsay’s “chanted” or “sung” poetry. I knew there wasn’t much point in my attempting to describe his unique style. But hearing is believing and I have managed to piece together some actual recordings of his performance of “The Congo.” This was recorded shortly before his death:

Many years later, Robert Frost reflected on Vachel Lindsay:
I was as happy about Vachel as we jealous poets, artists can be, you know. He was one I could be happy about. . . . Vachel was one of these disarming people, very good boy, and one of the real kind of genius, you can call it, you can say there was [something] a little strange about him, lofty, and he did some very crazy things and he knew how to do them without trying. Some of these poets seem to get in a corner and gnaw their fingernails and try to get a dark corner, you know, and try to go crazy so they will qualify. There's none of that in Vachel. He was just crazy in his own right; he did some of the strangest things.

During the Beat Era, Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem inspired by the troubadour:
Vachel, the stars are out
dusk has fallen on the Colorado road
a car crawls slowly across the plain
in the dim light the radio blares its jazz
the heartbroken salesman lights another cigarette
In another city 27 years ago
I see your shadow on the wall
you're sitting in your suspenders on the bed
the shadow hand lifts up a Lysol bottle to your head
your shade falls over on the floor

I don’t know any clever or profound way to sum up this series about Vachel Lindsay and the spring days he spent wandering the mountains of Western North Carolina. Wallace Stevens said, “Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.”

Regardless of the literary merit of the verse left by Vachel Lindsay (or the lack thereof), his walk through the mountains was a valiant effort by one brave soul to “get the world right.”

And that is reason enough to remember Vachel Lindsay.


I already posted this video, but it bears repeating. One of Sara Teasdale's last poems has been adapted as an a cappella choral composition by Frank Ticheli (b. 1958):

by Sara Teasdale

There will be rest, and sure stars shining
Over the roof-tops crowned with snow,
A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
The music of stillness holy and low.
I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace, – above me
Stars I shall find.


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