The True Fire Within

Henry Timrod died in 1867 at the age of 39 from tuberculosis—his end aggravated and hastened by inadequate food and the rigors of eking out a living amidst the charred ruins of South Carolina’s capital city.  The newspaper that had provided the only income for himself, his wife, his child, and his widowed sister’s large family had gone up in Sherman’s fire.  Timrod described the last period of his life as “beggary, starvation, death, bitter grief, utter want of hope” and added: “I would consign every line I ever wrote to eternal oblivion for one-hundred dollars in hand.”  The man who spoke thus may well have been America’s greatest poet living at the time.

Consider the first and last stanzas of his “ode” sung in 1866 as ladies brought flowers to the otherwise undecorated graves of 600 Confederates killed in the long siege of Charleston:

Sleep sweetly in your humble graves,

Sleep, martyrs of a fallen cause!

Though yet no marble column craves

The pilgrim here to pause.

. . .

Stoop, angels, hither from the skies!

There is no holier spot of ground,

Than where...

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