The Smack and Tang of Elemental Things
The coolest thing I’ve ever purchased online was a book of poetry about trees published in 1923 or 1924. Not your ordinary, run-of-the-paper-mill tree poetry book. It was published by Florence Barton Loring as a remembrance from her husband, Charles M. Loring, “The Father of Minneapolis Parks.” (Do not accept imitation “creators” of the Minneapolis park system. More to come on that subject.) Only forty-eight pages with a hard cover. The little book was explained this way in a brief foreword by Mrs. Loring:
In explanation of this booklet’s publication, it may be stated that my beloved husband requested me, when circumstances favored, to compile a collection of verses from which we had derived much pleasure, on the subject of trees, for distribution as a parting souvenir of himself, among those who knew him well, and share his tastes and enthusiasm…It does not require this parting remembrance from Charles M. Loring to keep his memory alive in the hearts of his friends, but that may render it none the less acceptable to the recipients; while, to the compiler, it has been not only a means of redeeming a promise, but, also, has provided a labor of love.
Poets included range from Byron, Longfellow and William Cullen Bryant (Bryant Avenue) to Minnesota poets Henrietta Jewett Keith and May Stanley.
The poem excerpt that caught my attention though was a few lines from “Lincoln: The Man of the People,” by Edwin Markham. Loring cites only six lines of the poem including the closing four lines:
And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down
As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,
Goes down with a great shout upon the hills
And leaves a lonesome place against the sky
That was perhaps Mrs. Loring’s tribute to Lincoln as well as her husband, who had been a stalwart of Lincoln’s party. But she left out Markham’s great description of Lincoln including the fabulous line used as a title here:
The color of the ground was in him, the red earth;
The smack and tang of elemental things;
A reading of Markham’s poem was part of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in May, 1922. Markham, who had published the poem in 1901, read it himself. The dedication took place a little more than a month after Charles Loring died at the age of 88.
I first saw the book at the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul (there is also a copy in Special Collections at the Hennepin Country Central Library downtown Minneapolis). Because relatively few copies were printed for gifts to Loring’s friends I was surprised to find one for sale online from a Los Angeles rare book dealer. It is one of only a few souvenirs I have collected from my research of Minneapolis parks.
More on Florence Barton Loring soon.
David C. Smith, minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith