Authors: Sidney Lanier

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works


Poems, 1877

Poems of Sidney Lanier, 1884 (Mary Day Lanier, editor)

Long Fiction:

Tiger-Lilies, 1867


“Retrospects and Prospects,” 1871

Florida: Its Scenery, Climate, and History, 1875

“Sketches of India,” 1876

The Science of English Verse, 1880

The English Novel, 1883

Shakspere and His Forerunners, 1902

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Boy’s Froissart, 1879

The Boy’s King Arthur, 1880

The Boy’s Mabinogion, 1881

The Boy’s Percy, 1882


The Centennial Edition of the Works of Sidney Lanier, 1945 (10 volumes)


Among nineteenth century American poets, Sidney Lanier (luh-NIHR) may be ranked in order behind Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. He was a master of the craft of versification. Lanier was taught music in childhood, an education that greatly influenced his growth as a poet. At fourteen, he entered Oglethorpe College and was graduated in 1860. While a student there, he spent a year as a tutor in English. Intending to pursue an academic career, he hoped to proceed to Heidelberg, Germany, but the outbreak of the Civil War precluded such a design. Lanier enlisted as a Confederate private and served four years. His one novel, Tiger-Lilies, a weak but informative antiwar story, he began while in the Confederate signal service. In 1864 he was captured and confined in the federal military prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. He was released after four months, but his health was shattered. The tuberculosis that would eventually kill him was already latent.{$I[AN]9810000516}{$I[A]Lanier, Sidney}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Lanier, Sidney}{$I[tim]1842;Lanier, Sidney}

Lanier worked as a hotel clerk, as a schoolmaster, and as an assistant in his father’s law office. After his marriage to Mary Day in 1867, he experienced financial hardship; there was little demand for poets or musicians in central Georgia. At the same time his illness grew worse. Looking for a tolerable climate, he went to San Antonio, Texas, in 1872, but the following year he accepted an appointment as first flutist in the Peabody Orchestra in Baltimore. There his work was appreciated, and he had the good fortune to become friends with journalist and novelist Bayard Taylor.

Through Taylor, Lanier had poems published in Lippincott’s Magazine and obtained the commission to write a cantata for the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876. In 1879 he was named to the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University and gave two series of lectures, one on the English novel, another on the science of prosody. He died in Lynn, North Carolina, where he had gone in a last effort to rally his broken strength.

Lanier is distinguished for his profound articulation of the relation between poetry and music and for his application of musical theory to his own verse. In The Science of English Verse, he looked to music to find rules governing versification. Among his finest poems are “The Marshes of Glynn,” suggested by a visit to the Georgia coast near the town of Brunswick, and “The Symphony,” a quasi-orchestral composition on the theme of the enmity between commercialism and humankind’s vital nature.

BibliographyDe Bellis, Jack Angelo. Sidney Lanier. New York: Twayne, 1972. Examines Lanier’s growth by analyzing his growing awareness of the ways to make poetry express the morality of feeling. “The Symphony” is treated as a poem in which Lanier discovered how to symbolize the conflict between feeling and thought, and how to inject great feeling into the poem via the musicality of his verse. “The Marshes of Glynn” and “Sunrise” are shown to be rhythm experiments. Includes indexes.Gabin, Jane S. A Living Minstrelsy: The Poetry and Music of Sidney Lanier. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985. Maintains that Lanier is unique in American literature because he is the only poet who is both active and accomplished in music. Gabin believes his poetry developed as a direct result of his pursuit of musical interests and that his achievements and innovations came as a direct result of his exposure to innovation in musical composition. Includes bibliography and index.Mims, Edwin. Sidney Lanier. 1905. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1968. Mims’s study relies heavily on Lanier’s letters and stresses his modernity. He suggests that the advances the poet made in “The Marshes of Glynn” and The Science of English Verse were negated by his weak health and short life. Includes introduction and illustrations.White, Donna R. A Century of Welsh Myth in Children’s Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. A chronological study of the adaptations in children’s books of the Welsh legends collectively known as the Mabinogi. Includes a discussion of Lanier’s The Boy’s Mabinogion.
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