Henry Timrod: Poet Laureate of the Confederacy
Henry Timrod lived a short life, dying at age thirty-nine after suffering for nearly a decade from tuberculosis.
In fact, just about everything Timrod did was short-lived: he served only a few months in the Confederate Army; he had to leave the service because of his poor health. He married in 1864 and died in 1867.
Henry Timrod was born December 8, 1828, in Charleston, SC, to William Henry Timrod and Thyrza Prince Timrod. His father had served as a captain in the Seminole War and was also a published poet. But his mother was likely more influential in fostering the young poet's sensibilities.
About their mother Thyrza, Henry's sister has explained:
It was from her, more than his gifted father, that my brother derived that intense, passionate love of Nature which so distinguished him. Its sight and sound always afforded her extreme delight...a walk in the woods to her was food and drink, and the sight of a green field was joy inexpressible...
Born in the Southern Literary Capital
When Timrod was born, Charleston, SC, was considered a southern literary capital with other poets such as William Gilmore Simms and Paul Hamilton Hayne, who were widely read but later considered “somewhat pallid and sentimental.”
Timrod had a scholarly nature and wanted to become a professor. He attended a good private school and then entered the University of Georgia, but had to drop out after a year because of his poor health.
Timrod continued to study the classics and other literature in hopes of returning to his studies to become a professor.
Journalist and Poet
Later after his health improved, he studied law and also tutored the children of families at three plantations; then at age thirty he entered journalism. He had been writing and publishing poems in The Southern Literary Messenger since 1848 at the age of twenty.
Timrod's first and only volume of poems published in his lifetime was printed in Boston in 1860, and later his friend, P. H. Hayne, edited his works and published them.
Plagiarized by Bob Dylan
Henry Timrod’s name surfaced for a time after it was discovered that Bob Dylan had plagiarized some of Timrod’s poems in Dylan's most recent album, Modern Times. Unlike Allen Tate’s original poem which was legitimately inspired by Timrod’s poem, Dylan actually lifted lines from the Civil War poet’s poems without ever mentioning Timrod.
The Fugitive poet Allen Tate’s most noted poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead” was inspired by Timrod’s “Ode” Timrod's most famous and widely anthologized poem.
Tate’s poem does not contain lines or images that are obviously taken verbatim from Timrod. Dylan, on the other hand, has lifted verbatim and employed the exact images that result in pure plagiarism.
Dylan fans have attempted to whitewash the singer’s theft by calling it “the folk process,” but allusion, even echoing, is not the same as plagiarism.
Allusion assumes the reader is familiar with the work being referenced, but plagiarism assumes the reader is not aware of the work, and the plagiarizer puts forth the work as belonging to the plagiarist.
Dylan knew his fans were unlikely to be acquainted with Henry Timrod's works; the poet has hardly been a household object of discussion in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Regarding the legitimate and illegitimate use of earlier literary works, the critic Christopher Ricks has averred, “plagiarism wants you not to know the original, whereas allusion wants you to know.”
Dylan's penchant for plagiarism has now extended to his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. For his speech, the "Mr. Tambourine Man" creator lifted quotations from the online CliffsNotes-like site, sparknotes. Dylan did not even have the wherewithal to quote from the classic works themselves.
While the bestowing of this prize on a pop star is ludicrous on its face, the Nobel committee continues to debase that prize by offering it to charlatans like Dylan.
Worthy of More Attention and Further Study
Henry Timrod is certainly not as noted as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, but he wrote some important poems about the Civil War. In his own lifetime his work was well received, and he was called the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.
The poet Henry Timrod well deserves more attention because of his talent and the importance of his offerings in the poetic experience of his day and times.
Henry Timrod's "Ode"
Sleep sweetly in your humble graves,
Sleep, martyrs of a fallen cause;
Though yet no marble column craves
The pilgrim here to pause.
In seeds of laurel in the earth
The garlands of your fame are sown,
And somewhere, waiting for its birth,
The shaft is in the stone!
Meanwhile, your sisters for the years
Which hold in trust your storied tombs,
Bring all they now can give—tears,
And these memorial blooms.
Small tributes! but your shades will smile
As proudly on these wreaths today,
Than when some cannon-molded pile
Shall overlook this bay.
Stoop, angels, hither from the skies!
There is no holier spot of ground
Than where defeated valor lies,
By mourning beauty crowned!
State Song, "Carolina"--lyric by Henry Timrod
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes