American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan

A Vast Extent of Brine

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I’m a big fan of the University of Michigan’s digital library, Making of America. MOA gives page images for some 10,000 nineteenth-century American books. The format is far from ideal — for online reading I prefer the Internet Archive — and the images are poorly formatted for printing (which may be due to Michigan’s proprietary interest in selling bound reprints), but the material itself is invaluable. I’ve spent many hours there browsing, finding incredible things. Incredibly useful, important, memorable, and delightful. Also: incredibly strange, amusing, dreadful, and dull.

The item below falls somewhere in the latter camp. To me, it’s dreadful amusing; to you, perhaps, dreadful dull.

Choice rhymes follow, with thumbnails that open onto larger views; click on the title page for a link to the complete text.

poetical-geography2

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Written by Ben Friedlander

November 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Poems of Places 9

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From Poems of Places, vol. 22, Asia 2 (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1878), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

[Afghanistan: Cabul (Cabool)]

Excerpted from Ruins of Many Lands: A Descriptive Poem (1850), by the Cornish poet Nicholas Michell. Longfellow cuts the awkward opening of the Cabul section, which reads like this:

A moment yet we linger ’mid the bowers
Of Northern Ind — a land of fruits and flowers,
Where the proud Affghan treads a blessed soil,
That yields all Nature asks with little toil,
A land where God his heavenliest smile hath thrown
On all beneath — man, man the blot alone.

That last line casts an ominous shadow on the poem — a shadow of original sin, I thought, reading the description of earthly paradise that followed. Alas, no; it’s a thicker, uglier shadow. But here’s the Longfellow excerpt: Read the rest of this entry »