Any of you who saw the film “Dead Poet’s Society,”will remember the scene where the boys march off to the secret cave while reciting lines from Vachel Lindsay’s Poem “The Congo.”
Lindsay was a major American Poet who wrote during the great days of Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters.
Lindsay today however, is read much less than these other poets. Lindsay was one of the most American of poets. Perhaps the greatest national poet since Whitman.
With the commerce oriented plan to cut back the teaching of creative classics in the schools, It may not be that soon that he won’t be taught at all.
With this thought in mind I hope to give a glimpse of this great man who loved America so well.
Lindsay was born in Springfield, Illinois and he set his famous poem, “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight”there. As he grew, his parents had hopes of him becoming a doctor but Lindsay had other ideas. He wanted to be an artist and a poet…not just of the old school, but of the ancient school. He wanted to revive the musical aspect of poetry found in ancient Greek works.
It could fairly be said that Lindsay helped pave the way for the modern “Folk Revival”of the fifties and sixties. He declaimed and sang his poems from the stage stamping around and acting them out. The audience often had copies of the words to the poems so they could chant along with him.
In this public way Lindsay traversed the country, sometimes in the guise of a tramp, to get out the good word. He sang his poems “General William Booth enters into Heaven,” “The Chinese Nightingale,”“Johnny Appleseed”and many others to steadily growing audiences. It is worth hunting out some of the few recorded examples of his stage work to get a notion of how he moved his audiences as he did.
It is sad to record that Lindsay took his own life in 1931. He had become depressed and mental illness played a part, but he left a great legacy for those who wish to rediscover it. He felt that he poured his soul into a prose work called “The Golden Book of Springfield.”it is a curious work, unique as Lindsay was unique. Hunt him up online. You’ll be impressed.