in particular, that a plain and natural way of putting things would have seemed to him insipid, inane, and inartistic. The literary glamour which he casts over his writings, which draws attention from the thought itself to some supposed felicity of expression, never entirely left him. Yet some of his later books, particularly where he is pouring forth his convictions on music, literature, and life, possess all the fluency of the Old South, without ceasing to be strong, luminous, and eloquent. These shortcomings have been explained away on the ground that his prose is the prose of a poet. Certainly it is as a poet that he jumps to the front rank among Southern writers. The single volume of his verse, gathered with loving care by his wife three years after his death, is paramount among his writings. Upon that corer-stone must be reared whatever reputation he may attain in American letters. Yet his poetry too suffers from defects similar to those in his prose. His verse in general betrays a lack of spontaneity without obtaining that finish, that technical polish, that wedding of word and thought which Tabb achieved. There are, to be sure, moments of fine phrasing, intermittent flashes from the heaven of song:
Music is love in search of a wordBut the general impression is of an elaborated verse, not a gush of words from the heart. Indeed, it seems to have been Lanier's practice to write out the ideas of his poems in prose before turning them into verse. Not many of his poems sang themselves over in his soul before he committed them to paper. He was, on the other hand, forever haunted by ideas for poems. As an obscure lawyer in Georgia he complained to Paul Hamilton Hayne of the ‘thousand various songs that oppress me, unsung.’ Even after he had won the ear of the nation, he wrote to Gibson Peacock:
For when God frowns, 'tis then ye shine.
I'm taken with a poem pretty nearly every day, and have to content myself with making a note of its train of thought on the back of whatever letter is in my pocket. I don't write it out, because I find my poetry now wholly unsatisfactory.