The Casquet of Literature
I want to write something about Emerson’s poem “The Romany Girl,” which was first published in the first issue of Atlantic Monthly (1857), then in Emerson’s second and last book of poems, May-Day and Other Pieces (1867). The poem was subsequently reprinted in a variety of contexts, including the British anthology illustrated on the left. The title of that anthology and the title page for the first volume, the one in which “The Romany Girl” appeared, are so suggestive of Emerson’s fate as a poet, that I thought I’d savor the image while preparing my notes on the poem.
Emerson is hardly the only poet buried in literature, but he at least is remembered from time to time, his casket lifted up and admired, for its craftsmanship and sturdiness, perhaps, or out of fondness for the memory of his prose. But what of those poets who were simply tumbled into the earth, buried without even a stone to mark their brief time under the sun? What sort of casket has literature given them?
In asking this question, I’m reminded of the story of McDonald Clarke, the mad poet of Broadway, whose funeral was attended by Lydia Maria Child and Walt Whitman. He died penniless, but friends arranged for his burial in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and raised money for an obelisk, which is still standing today, though none of his works remain in print.
I’d like to write about Clarke too someday.