I really have to get done with Sinclair Lewis’s novel…1926’s poetry is getting harder and harder to track down. So, today, I went up to the literature section of the Suzzallo/Allen library, and found one of the only books of poetry published in 1926 that’s available to me—Vachel Lindsay’s Going-to-the-Stars. Lindsay is most famous for a poem called “The Congo”, which was the poem prized by the “Dead Poets Society” in the movie of that name (“Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black, cutting through the forest with a golden track…”). Lindsay’s otherwise unfamiliar to me, and so I was interested to read this volume of poems written during a trip he and his wife took in the West (starting from their home in Spokane, they made their way through national parks and forests, hiking a lot of the way). And I reached a conclusion….Lindsay is not a terribly good poet. But he writes very nice prose—prose full of enough nice turns of phrase and sparkly little images that I wish he’d taken up more of a career as a novelist. Maybe I’m wrong, though–I thought I’d let you decide. Below I include one of the better poems (in my opinion) from this little volume of his, and an excerpt from the introduction (in which he largely describes the trip on which the poems were written). Tell me where he shows more skill, in your opinion.
The poem: “When I Was A Tree”
When I was a tree, an aspen tree
An Indian wigwam hid by me
And a great big redwood sheltered me,
And a great big mountain sheltered him.
But a white man came and cut him down
To make cheap shacks in a dirty town,
And shot the Indian in my shade,
And I wondered why young trees were made.
I stood alone, sunburnt and slim,
And the mountain stood. Those men left him.
The Prose: From the introduction to Going-to-the-Stars
Almost as an afterthought, on our last afternoon in the mountain, at four o’clock, we started up Mount Kipp, which marks the Continental Divide. By the merest chance, we found at the very top, in a crevice of the boulders, a sort of Pass of Thermopylae, the only way over, and the only way down, in miles of summit. So down through the perilous crevice we crept, feeling like John Ridd and Lorna, sneaking down the Doone Pass. On that other side we found the Secret Place of Glacier Park, The Place That Nobody Knows. In it, across a little glacial lake far below the natural balcony on which we stood stranded in mid-air, were the strange deserted peaks we called ‘Egypt’s Last Stand’ and ‘The Secret Door’. Here, to this hidden place, let the traveler climb with faith to find the ghosts of the flower-fed buffaloes, trooping up a distant valley toward that ancient iceberg lake; here also let him find celestial flowers and trees, for here winged seeds can take root and grow. No breaker of spells ever dares come up through the Pass of Thermopylae: that circle of many-colored rocks encloses an enchanted fortress. Almost to the very summit, are tossing inaccessible fields of the flowers we call ‘Going-to-the-Stars’.