Vachel Lindsay Poems

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Vachel Lindsay
Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (November 10, 1879 December 5, 1931) was an American poet. His exuberant recitation of some of his work led some critics to compare it to jazz poetry despite his persistent protests. Because of his use of American Midwest themes he also became known as the "Prairie Troubador." Lindsay was born in Springfield, Illinois, where his father Vachel Thomas Lindsay worked as a medical doctor and had considerable financial resources. As a result, the Lindsays lived next door to the Illinois Executive Mansion, home of the Governor of Illinois. This location of his childhood home had its influence on Lindsay, and one of his poems, "The Eagle Forgotten", eulogizes Illinois governor John P. Altgeld, whom Lindsay admired for his courage in pardoning the anarchists involved in the Haymarket Riot despite the strong protests of US President Grover Cleveland. Growing up in Springfield influenced Lindsay in other ways as well, as evidenced in such poems as "On the Building of Springfield" and culminating in poems praising Springfield's most famous resident, Abraham Lincoln. In "The Ghosts of the Buffaloes", Lindsay exclaims "Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all!" In his 1914 poem "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight (In Springfield, Illinois)", Lindsay specifically places Lincoln 'in' Springfield, with the poem opening: It is portentous, and a thing of state That here at midnight, in our little town A mourning figure walks, and will not rest... Lindsay studied medicine at Hiram College in Ohio from 1897 to 1900, but he did not want to be a doctor. His parents pressured him toward medicine. One day Vachel wrote home to his parents saying that he wasn't meant to be a doctor and that his true living should be that of a painter. His parents wrote back saying that doctors can draw pictures in their free time. Leaving Hiram, he thought he would become an artist, and went to Chicago to study at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1900 to 1903. He said that the school tried to change him into a different kind of artist than what he really was and then in 1904 left to attend the New York School of Art (now The New School) to study pen and ink. Lindsay remained interested in art for the rest of his life, drawing illustrations for some of his poetry. His art studies also probably led him to appreciate the new art form of film, on which he wrote a book in 1915: 'The Art of the Moving Picture,' generally considered the first book of film criticism. While in New York in 1905 Lindsay turned to poetry in earnest. He tried to sell his poems on the streets. Self-printing his poems, he began to barter a pamphlet entitled 'Rhymes To Be Traded For Bread', which he traded for food as a self-perceived modern version of a medieval troubadour. From March to May, 1906, Lindsay traveled roughly 600 miles on foot from Jacksonville, Florida to Kentucky, again trading his poetry for food and lodging. From April to May, 1908, Lindsay undertook another poetry-selling trek, walking from New York City to Hiram, Ohio. From May to September 1912 he travelled again on foot from Illinois to New Mexico, trading his poems for food and lodging. During this last trek, Lindsay composed his most famous poem, "The Congo". On his return, Harriet Monroe published in Poetry magazine first his poem "General William Booth Enters into Heaven" in 1913 and then "The Congo" in 1914. At this point, Lindsay became very well-known.

a blade of grass
You ask for a poem.
I offer you a blade of grass.
You say it is not good enough.
You ... [read poem]
to my little niece anne duyckinck, aged 9 years
To his charming black-eyed niece
Uncle Harry wishest peace!
Wishes roses over strow'd... [read poem]
abraham lincoln walks at midnight
(In Springfield, Illinois)

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at... [read poem]
the leaden-eyed
Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.... [read poem]
sometimes it happens
And sometimes it happens that you are friends and then
You are not friends,
And friendship... [read poem]
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