Last night, just as the Royals-Orioles game was turning sour, I decided to take a break and get off the internet for awhile. One of my favorite things to do in the world is simply roam around the library stacks, randomly flipping through books that catch my eye, so while Trachsel was mowing down Royals and Gil Meche was looking like the least impressive ace of all time, that's what I did.
It was a good hour for me. I accidentally found a not very good college novel that I'd been looking for (Purely Academic by Stringfellow Barr) a good book on fish (or so I thought, actually, it was kinda lame) and a host of others that I flipped through but didn't check out.
What turned out to be a real highlight for me was a little book of poetry that I grabbed purely on title, threw in my bag, and didn't look at again until about 2:30 AM last night. If you heard someone yelling last night around that hour, it was me, for as I kept reading the introduction and then some of the poems themselves, I kept saying, "I have never heard of this guy" to myself, louder and louder as I went on. The poet was a Topeka man named Thomas Brower Peacock (1852-1919) and the book was Poems of the Plains and Songs of the Solitudes from 1888. Basically a collection of everything he'd written thus far, Poems of the Plains included a glowing and perhaps over-praising introduction and biography, as well as a long poem on the Bleeding Kansas period ("The Rhyme of the Border War") that Peacock had written in the 1870s.
The introduction, written by a man named Thomas Danleigh Suplee essentially argues that Peacock is the greatest midwestern poet alive, and maybe one of the best American poets period. The odd, even embarrassing thing about the introduction is that the bulk of it is little excerpts from reviews of his poems. Typical deal really... he's celebrated as being a true western/midwestern voice, but then all his cultural cache is from being well-reviewed in Chicago, New York, and, especially, London. But anyway, Suplee had a point, because all the London literary bigwigs like Arnold and Wilde and Taylor really did seem the like this guy, and had plenty of nice things to say about his work. Which again, caused me to say, over and over again, "I've never heard of this guy!". And not that I'm a genius or anything, but American poetry is sorta my field, and Peacock was even a nineteenth century dude at that. In 1893, Peacock's "Columbian Ode" was read at the opening of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, one of the biggest deals in the nineteenth century. Still, I grabbed a few of the anthologies I had lying around me: no Peacock in any of them.
So lets get rolling with some Peacock, shall we. For supposedly being such a true Kansas poet, many of his poems are romantic tales set in Corsica or Turkey or even Texas. Nevertheless, he wrote a great many short poems, which I can easily type out:
There's love that's like a meteor --
Endearing while it lasts --
That flashes, burns, for evermore:
Dies -- darkness then oer'casts.
Yet, like th' sweet, fix'd star of night,
A love far, far more dear, there be --
Pure beautiful, and grand, and bright! Glowing ever -- eternally!
There are many many poems in this vein, quite many of which are also about someone dying and their passage into Heaven. Let's go with one that's a tad different.
The Evil Spirit of the Plains
Tis Midnight on the endless plain,
The round moon shines upon the slain --
Shines on the white man and the red;
Two scores are sleeping with the dead --
The Indian warriors number more
Than their pale foeman of the war.
And lo! excited braves appear,
Conversing of a foe they fear;
Their dreaded enemy remains --
"The Evil Spirit of the Plains"
They fear him as a denizen
Of some far world beyond their ken.
'T would seem that mortal weapons failed
To slay him through a host assailed;
'T would seem some power, some field, or God,
Protected him each path he trod;
For when the war waxed wild and dread,
He fought around and o'er the dead --
Though scores died in the battle's breath,
he would not fly nor yield to death.
His battle-cry rose o'er the plains,
Ad e'er their solitudes profanes.
He comes! they see him -- now they fly,
Far onward, 'neath the western sky.
And well they fly -- 't is Buffalo Bill,
Who for swift vengeance seeks his fill.
Like all white writers of the time, Peacock couldn't resist a good Vanishing Indian poem for some easily earned melancholy and pathos, and he did just that in "The Kansas Indian's Lament". Looking through Peacock's work, it's hard to find many that are distinctly about Kansas. Living and working as a newspaper man in Topeka, there are a few that respond to current events in the 1870s and 1880s, but not anymore than there are about events in Chicago and London. There are numerous poems to his wife, his children and his father, even his in-laws, which are very sweet, but really not worth reading, and quite a few to other literary figures (Arnold, Holmes, etc.) which may have been how he got so much positive press. Nevertheless, there are some poems which stand out as unique, or at least, different:
Capital and Labor
Must Wrong the wide world e'er oppress?
Must Truth forever be downtrod?
Must men unanswered, e'er address
Their orisons to God?
Must gold o'er labor ever gloat
In crimes too dark to be forgiven?
Must hell's black banners ever float
Against the glorious skies of Heaven?
Not if I read the stars aright --
The stars of far immensity!
Lo! morning breaks, and melts the night
Before the golden days to be!
Progression leads us up and on,
And Error must his life resign,
While Truth on joyous wings of dawn,
Immortal, floats to the Divine.
A founding member of the Kansas Authors Club in Topeka, Peacock remained a man about town there for a number of years, though at some point he moved to Colorado, where he eventually died. to my knowledge, the only published study of Peacock was a 1971 article in the Bulletin of Bibliography. My library copy however has seen some action: it was checked out once in 1975, 1992, 1996 and 1999. And now, by me. Not a bad run.
Will You Remember Me?
When I am gone, and friends of thine
Who may be near and dear to thee,
Are gathered round thyself divine,
Will you, fair friend, remember me?
When Morn light to the world doth bring,
When birds pour forth their melody,
Awakening from her sleep sweet Spring,
Will you, fair one, remember me?
When Spring hath gone, and Summer Sweet
Beholds the blooming flower and thee,
And Heaven, once more seems Earth to greet,
Will you, e'en then, remember me?
When Autumn comes, with her decay --
When brown and sere each towering tree --
And I am absent, far away,
Oh, say! will you remember me?
When winter shakes his hoary locks,
And life seems but a mockery;
When th' blast the moaning forest rocks,
Undimm'd, will you remember me?
When twilight comes at eventide,
And Luna walks in beauty free,
O'er fields of ether, endless wide,
Will you still, still remember me?