Saturday, November 16, 2013

Immortal Truths to Earth's Mortality

To a Windflower
by Madison Cawein

Teach me the secret of thy loveliness,
That, being made wise, I may aspire to be
As beautiful in thought, and so express
Immortal truths to Earth's mortality;
Though to my soul ability be less
Than 'tis to thee, O sweet anemone.


Teach me the secret of thy innocence,
That in simplicity I may grow wise;
Asking of Art no other recompense
Than the approval of her own just eyes;
So may I rise to some fair eminence,
Though less than thine, O cousin of the skies.


Teach me these things; through whose high knowledge,
I, — When Death hath poured oblivion through my veins,
And brought me home, as all are brought, to he
In that vast house, common to serfs and thanes, —
I shall not die, I shall not utterly die,
For beauty born of beauty — that remains.

Cawein is sometimes known as the 'Keats of Kentucky'. He was extraordinarily prolific, and popular enough that he did quite well in monetary terms writing poetry, although he lost the bulk of it in 1912 in a stock market crash at the very end of his life.

One of the more talked about questions to do with his work is the relation between his poem "Waste Land" and T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. They are very different poems, but there are some thematic and some possible verbal echoes, and Cawein's poem was published in a magazine of which Ezra Pound was the editor, and in which Pound had contributed an article. Pound, of course, suggested a number of changes to Eliot's draft of his poem, and may have actually seen an even earlier version. Coincidence or connection?

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