Sidney Lanier


Lanier's Life

Lanier, born in Macon, Georgia (2/3/1842-9/7/1881) dreamed of living as a musician, poet, and scholar in Europe - an unconventional choice for a Southern gentleman. His plans were dashed when the Civil War broke out. Lanier joined the Confederate Army, and after a short time as a blockade runner was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, where he contracted the tuberculosis that killed him at age 39.

Meanwhile, after brief, unsatisfying stints in business, Lanier set out to make a life in the arts. His accomplishments as a flautist (he eventually became first flute at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore) make him the only notable American poet who was also a musician; he is known for the musicality of his innovative verse. In 1879 he was invited to join the faculty of the recently established Johns Hopkins University. He died barely 2 years later.

Favorite Lanier quotes

My principle is, the artist shall put forth, humbly & lovingly, without bitterness, the very best & highest that is within him, utterly regardless of contemporary criticism.
Letter to the poet's father May 6 1876.

And yet shall Love himself be heard,
Though long deferred, though long deferred:
O'er the modern waste a dove hath whirred:
Music is Love in search of a word.
"The Symphony" (1875)

Further reading

See Jane S. Gabin. "Lanier, Sidney", in American National Biography Online, and the Sidney Lanier page on the Poetry Foundation site for a lengthy critique.