Today is the birthday of Vachel Lindsay, a poet I know almost nothing about.
Vachel Lindsay is one of those poets whose name I know, and who I have a vague idea existed on the fringes of the modernist movement, but about whom I know almost nothing else. Even after doing a little bit of research, my knowledge of the man and his work is fuzzy, at best. However, I greatly admire one small poem of his.
Vachel Lindsay was born in Illinois in 1879, and admired William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman. He treasured the vocal, singing quality of poetry, and fancied himself a sort of modern troubadour. Lindsay became a literary star, an optimistic voice in American literature, somehow channeling the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and Johnny Appleseed.
Lindsay's fame became a burden. His fans wanted to hear him perform, vocally, his most famous poems. He became disillusioned, depressed, and finally ended his life by drinking a poison akin to Lysol.
In doing my research of Vachel Lindsay, I was surprised to learn that he was the author of "The Flower-Fed Buffaloes," a quiet and mournful poem that I first encountered in the literature book I was given my first year of teaching. Here it is.
The Flower-Fed Buffaloes
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low:—
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by the wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us, long ago.
They gore no more, they bellow no more,
They trundle around the hills no more:—
With the Blackfeet, lying low,
With the Pawnees, lying low,
"Lindsay, Vachel (1879-1931)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 9 Nov. 2011.