Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"The angels may love her / But surely they do not visit her."

By now, Library Society members should have received their 2009 Annual Appeal letters.  If you've got yours, then you have noticed that the Society now has a tiered membership structure. There is a basic Friend of the Library membership at $75 (the same as the old Adult Annual membership), a new Senior membership at $20, and a range of giving circles to recognize gifts from $100 right on to gifts of over $5000.  These circles have been named for figures either important in the history of the Society or whose work is an outstanding part of our collection.

All of this is prelude for something I've been wanting to do for weeks, ever since it was decided to name our $100-$499 giving Circle after her: talk about Beatrice Witte Ravenel.

Here goes: stop reading this blog, come down to the Society, and check out the poetry of Beatrice Witte Ravenel.  It's a quick read, and it's ridiculously great.  A wildly talented poet- during her time at Radcliffe she was an editor of the Harvard Monthly Magazine, and was published in Harpers and The Atlantic- Ravenel abandoned her poetry when she married.  During her lifetime she produced just one bound volume, The Arrow of Lightning: one more volume, The Yemassee Lands was compiled after her death.  Her three dozen or so poems stand as the greatest poems of the Charleston Renaissance; they easily equal any contemporary work on the national scene.  Today Ravenel is a largely forgotten part of the Charleston Renaissance, but her work is unforgettable to any readers who experience it.  An excerpt, describing Nicholas Trott's judgment of the Pirates from the view of the condemned, and then a full poem:

"And first he lifts from your shoulder the cover of common humanity,
Men?  You are not men.  You are hostes humani generis,
Enemies of all mankind.  Neither faith, nay, nor oath need be kept with you.  You were formerly ousted of clergy.
Now the law grants you this comfort; and, with a smooth lovingkindness
Equal to that of the law, he trusts you will profit.
But- he may allow you no council.

"He is telling you further
That the God of the land made the ocean,
(He swivels the Scriptures about like a gun, texts spitting for grapeshot):
That he parceled it out and place it under the thumbs of Kings and of lawyers.
(O ye fowls of the air, ye wild winds, ye waterspouts,
Praise ye the Lord!)
And against all these three, God, King, and Lawyers, have you offended."

-excerpted from "The Pirates"

"Salvage "

Three things in my house are my own.
Not the dark pictures whose blood runs in my veins,
Nor the vines that I trained round the windows,
Nor even the books.
But the curve of a shabby armchair that molded itself on your body,
And the echoes of songs that you sang,
And the square of sun
That comes as it came, first in the morning,
When you had opened the window.

There: there's a little poetry for a slow Thursday afternoon.  Stop by, pick up a copy of The Yemassee Lands, take it home, read the whole thing in forty minutes.  Connect with your cultural inheritance as Charlestonians; experience some of the best literary imagery of the Lowcountry ever penned; feel a little more civilized for checking out a book of poetry.

One last excerpt, from "Tidewater":

"Is Marathon richlier echoed
With voices of youthful heroes
Than the swamps of Santee?
When the bloom runs over the moss
In a lost gray glory of tarnished sliver,
  of shadowy pearl,
Riders furrow the night-
Marion, Marion's men,
Pass in a voiceless tumult,
Pass like the smoke from a torch,
With dark, unextinguished eyes."

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