Monday, May 27, 2013

Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay (1879—1931) devoted his life to preaching what he called the “Gospel of Beauty”. In 1904 he began to experience mystical visions, whose images surface in many of his poems. After trying pre-med studies, and then art school in Chicago and New York, in 1906 Lindsay tramped from Florida to Kentucky by foot, idealistically seeking to exchange his poetry booklet The Tree of Laughing Bells for a meal and a night’s lodging along the way. Such tramping and travel became his life.

His breakthrough came with the poem “General William Booth Enters into Heaven”, a tribute to the founder of the Salvation Army, which appeared as the lead piece in Poetry in January 1913. His brief romance with poet Sara Teasdale ended when she refused to marry him, in favour of a wealthy shoe manufacturer in 1914.

Although Lindsay was one of the best-known poets in the United States during the last twenty years of his life, he had long struggled with financial troubles and with physical and mental health issues. He could not support his family without heading out on reading tours. On December 5, 1931, a disheartened Vachel Lindsay committed suicide by drinking a bottle of lye.

In performance, Lindsay would sing or chant his poems; he championed musical qualities in poetry, which became less popular with the rise of modernism after his death.

Heart of God

O great heart of God,
Once vague and lost to me,
Why do I throb with your throb tonight,
In this land, eternity?

O little heart of God,
Sweet intruding stranger,
You are laughing in my human breast,
A Christ-child in a manger.

Heart, dear heart of God,
Beside you now I kneel,
Strong heart of faith. O heart not mine,
Where God has set His seal.

Wild thundering heart of God
Out of my doubt I come,
And my foolish feet with prophets' feet,
March with the prophets' drum.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: