Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Earliest appearance of Wyeth in print: at age 14

Thanks once again to Roger Allen's assiduous research, a very early piece on Wyeth has been brought to light: an article in the December 1908 issue of The Confederate Veteran, discussing fourteen-year-old John Allan Wyeth, Jr.'s recent literary accomplishments.  Also included is young Wyeth's most recent effort, a poem entitled  "To Schonberg". 

Unsurprisingly, the poem is in no way remarkable, a schoolboy's exercise which never attains to any originality or felicity.  What it does demonstrate is that even at this young age, Wyeth already possesses a sound understanding of basic poetic vocabulary, syntax, metrics and rhyme, and an evident familiarity with English and Classical poetic tradition.  In other words, a capable grasp of the fundamentals.

These days such ability and understanding in a fourteen-year-old boy would be unusual indeed, to say the least.  In Wyeth's day, similar exercises were commonly assigned in school, and ability such as Wyeth's, even at fourteen, might have been praiseworthy, but was probably not rare.  That a fourteen-year-old boy possessed a serious interest in literature at all is probably the truer rarity.

Together with Wyeth's later work in the Aesthetic mode while at Princeton (see Wyeth the Aesthete), we now possess at least a few clues as to Wyeth's development as a poet, which would result ultimately in work of striking originality and consummate craft.  But that would not be for another twenty years, and an entire war later.

The full article, as it appeared in the December 1908 issue of The Confederate Veteran, appears below:


The Veteran is proud of the achievements of the fourteen-year-old son of Dr. John A. Wyeth, an ex-Confederate soldier, author of the “Life of Lieut. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest” and President of the New York Southern Society.

John Allan Wyeth, Jr. first came into public notice in his thirteenth year as the author of a poetic drama entitled “The Weaker Man,” which was written for and accepted and is to be produced upon the stage by the distinguished actor, Mr. E.H. Sothern, who declared it to be “remarkable as literature of great dramatic merit.”

The writing of the play came about in this way: Its author, having witnessed a performance of “The Sunken Bell,” a symbolic play rich in poetic suggestion as rendered by Mr. Sothern and Miss Julia Marlowe, ventured to write a criticism upon the play and the performance.

This criticism attracted Mr. Sothern’s attention to such an extent that it resulted in his requesting Master John to try his hand at a play.

A contract was made, and within two months’ time the child forwarded to Mr. Sothern the poetic drama entitled “The Weaker Man,” which was promptly accepted by the great artist.

Among a number of minor poems written by this young author is the one printed herewith.

It was written under the excitement of a letter received from a playmate whose father had bought and rehabilitated a famous and, for several centuries, deserted castle on the Rhine.

The letter gave a graphic description of the castle, its secret passages and haunted towers, with its history, which dated back to medieval times, and also told of the beauties of the river Rhine and the surrounding picturesque country.

The poem was written within an hour of the receipt of this letter and is printed verbatim et literatim as then written:


     TO SHONBERG by John Allan Wyeth, Jr.

Hail to thee, noblest castle on the Rhine.
   Far famed in ancient history for strength!
The Rhine beneath thee curves about they base
   And lays before thy feet her sinuous length.

Apollo sinks behind the distant hills
   And hurls his feeble rays about the sky,
While softly glowing is the evening star,
   And night falls, placing all her lights on high.

The river ripples and the grasses sway;
   The moonlit leaves turn from the gentle wind.
About thee in the woods a boar is heard,
   Or else a leaping deer or startled hind.

Pale Dian slips between the angry clouds
   Which seek to thwart her in her chariot white,
Till, closing round her with a rumbling sound,
   They hide her gracious form and welcome light.

The storm clouds sweep along the ruffled Rhine,
   A deadly silence fills the startled air;
The breathless land awaits the tempest’s force
   With fearful expectation everywhere.

Amidst the storm thy turret-crowned head
   Is lifted as in scorn.  Against the gale
Thy stony strength thou wagest till at last
   The storm retreats and dies into a wail.

Then smiles the morn upon the fruitful fields;
   The birds sing, twittering their merry lays;
While thou, serene, majestic, stand’st aloft
   Within they dream of medieval days.

No comments:

Post a Comment