Wednesday, March 23, 2011

“Shake down, in purple showers, the luscious muscadine”

I can’t leave the lovely Nacoochee Valley just yet, not when I can dredge up an antebellum poet who found his muse there.

Nacoochee Mound and Mount Yonah

This is the place where Charles Lanman reported (in 1848):

…half a dozen log cabins were discovered in one portion of the valley, lying upwards of ten feet below the surface; and, in other places, something resembling a furnace, together with iron spoons, pieces of earthenware, and leaden plates were disinterred…

A later re-teller of this story, about the buried cabins left behind by Spanish miners, alluded to a poem by Henry R. Jackson. Now, I thought I had posted that poem a long time ago, but instead, it was another Nacoochee poem, by another Georgia-born poet, Thomas Holley Chivers (1809-1858), the writer that Charles Dana called “a literary freak.”

Henry R. Jackson (1820-1898) was born in Athens, GA, graduated from Yale University (where he was a member of Skull and Bones), and served as a Confederate general in the War Between the States.


After the war, he resumed his law practice, served as an ambassador to Mexico, was a railroad executive and a banker, as well as president of the Georgia Historical Society.

In his preface to Tallulah and Other Poems, (1850) Henry R. Jackson humbly states:

The author of the following poems makes no pretensions to literary excellence:—the offspring of moments of leisure from engrossing pursuits, they are, strictly speaking, fugitive in their character; —but little time or labor having been bestowed upon their composition. He is aware that their interest (should they, indeed, be possessed of any) will be limited to the places which they describe, and the persons to whom they refer.—It is from the affection which he feels for the former, and a hope that they may afford some gratification to the latter, that he has published them in their present form.

Mount Yonah—Vale of Nacoochee.

Before me, as I stand, his broad, round head
Mount Yonah lifts the neighboring hills above,
While, at his foot, all pleasantly is spread
Nacoochee's vale, sweet as a dream of love.
Cradle of Peace! mild, gentle as the dove
Whose tender accents from yon woodlands swell,
Must she have been who thus has interwove
Her name with thee, and thy soft, holy spell,
And all of peace which on this troubled globe may dwell!

Nacoochee—in tradition, thy sweet queen—
Has vanished with her maidens: not again
Along thy meadows shall their forms be seen;
The mountain echoes catch no more the strain
Of their wild Indian lays at evening's wane;
No more, where rumbling branches interwine,
They pluck the jasmine flowers, or break the cane
Beside the marshy stream, or from the vine
Shake down, in purple showers, the luscious muscadine.

Yet round thee hangs the same sweet spirit still
Thou art among these hills a sacred spot,
As if shut out from all the clouds of ill
That gloom so darkly o'er the human lot.
On thy green breast the world I quite forgot—
Its stern contentions—its dark grief and care,
And I breathed freer, deeper, and blushed not
At old emotions long, long stifled there,
Which sprang once more to life in thy calm, loving air.

I saw the last bright gleam of sunset play
On Yonah’s lofty head: all quiet grew
Thy bosom, which beneath the shadows lay
Of the surrounding mountains; deeper blue
Fell on their mighty summits; evening threw
Her veil o’er all, and on her azure brow
A bright star shone; a trusting form I drew
Yet closer to my side; above, below,
Within were peace and hope life may not often know!

Thou loveliest of earth’s valleys! Fare thee well!
Nor is the parting pangless to my soul.
Youth, hope and happiness with thee shall dwell,
Unsullied Nature hold o’er thee control,
And years still leave thee beauteous as they roll.
Oh! I could linger with thee! Yet this spell
Must break, e’en as upon my heart it stole,
And found a weakness there I may not tell—
An anxious life, a troubled future claim me! Fare thee well!

And here's a short excerpt from Thomas Holley Chivers' 1837 poem, Nacoochee:

Beyond that wild illimitable waste
Of unfenced prairie, there are wild flowers growing
In rich luxuriance, over by the chaste
And velvet-vested rivers that are flowing
Within the moss-clad suckle valleys glowing;
And in that sea-like undulating wild,
The moon-like roses are forever blowing,
For there the wild deer, on the lawn, so mild,
Leaps with the unscared fawn like some delighted child

One critic even came up with a recipe for Chivers' literary efforts:

Evert Augustus Duyckinck joked that Chivers was formulaic and suggested the formula included 30% Percy Bysshe Shelley, 20% Poe, 20% "mild idiocy", 10% "gibbering idiocy", 10% "raving mania" and 10% "sweetness and originality.


Chivers had a complicated relationship with Edgar Allen Poe. He compared Poe's voice to:

...the soft tones of an Aeolian Harp when the music that has been sleeping in the strings is awakened by the Breezes of Eden laden with sweet Spices from the mountains of the Lord.

But after Poe died, Chivers accused him of plagiarizing both "The Raven" and "Ulalume" from his own work.

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