Poet in Mind: Something About Blue Mountain

It has been over a year since I wrote something in this series. I had been thinking recently about poets and their writing process, and I was looking for writing that focused on southern ideals and influences- from an out-of-the limelight source. I decided to focus on post-civil war era writers in the south. Researching that idea lead me to an interesting story that isn’t necessarily just about poetry, but I can’t help but think it influenced poetry a great deal.

Mark Perrin Lowrey (1828-1885) served in the confederate army during the civil war, reaching the rank of Brigadier General. He was often referred to as the “preacher general” because of his background as a baptist preacher. Originally from Tennessee, he and his wife Sarah Holmes had settled in rural northeast Mississippi before the war. He returned after the war was over, and recognized the need for educational opportunities for women in the South. In 1873, he established the Blue Mountain Female Institute, later called Blue Mountain College, in Blue Mountain, Mississippi (near Tupelo).

Mark and Sarah Lowrey had eleven children. Among them, born April 2, 1860, named Mark Booth Lowrey (1860-1930) and his twin brother Perrin Holmes Lowrey. Both of the boys grew to have distinguished public careers. Perrin became a lawyer and judge in Mississippi and Booth became a well-known public speaker/essayist/satirist/humorist in his day. Both at times were faculty members at the Blue Mountain school.

Mark Booth Lowrey’s writing was well-regarded and he was a sought lecturer/speaker and professor of “expression” at the Blue Mountain Institute. Among Booth Lowrey’s canon of poetry is a collection of folk poetry, written in “Negro dialect” in the vein of Uncle Remus or Mark Twain, which was a popular form around the the turn of the century. It is an interesting style and raises thoughtful questions. It is worthy of its own discussion, but not here. Instead, I chose the following poem, a delightful song of admiration.

The Red-Haired Girl
by Mark Booth Lowrey

You may sing your song to the queenly grace
Of the raven-haired brunette,
To the faithful soul of the blue-eyed blonde
With her pose of a statuette;
You may pine and die over hazel eyes,
You may rave o’er the chestnut curl,
But for all the charms of the world combined,

Just give me a red-haired girl.

The eyes of jet and the raven locks
Are a source of rare delight,
And the moonbeam curls of the meek-eyed blonde
Are a soul-bewitching sight;
But the peach-like cheeks and the rosy lips
And the teeth of chiseled pearl,
Are the outward sparks of an inward light,

The soul of the red-haired girl.

Her cheeks are fresh as the blushing rose
That blooms in the joyous spring;
Her eyes are bright as the summer’s beams
That dance on the blue-bird’s wing;
Her hair is like to the autumn leaves
That glisten, and dance, and whirl;
And the seasons, all but the winter’s chill,

Are found in the red-haired girl.

The blush of spring, and the summer’s calm,
And the autumn’s sober truth,
The placid candor of sweet old age
And the fire of ardent youth,
O, Nature’s casket of rarest gems,
Of rubies and gold and pearl,
Of diamonds, onyx and evening stars,

O, royal, red-haired girl!
*******************************
Booth’s grandson, also named Perrin Holmes Lowrey (P.H. Lowrey)(1923-1965), also became a poet. He frequently published short stories and poems in his earlier years, but later shunned the life of a writer. Some of his poems reflect his time serving in the Navy during WWII. In Song of the Flag, P.H. Lowrey conveys a strong patriotism with imagery and word choices.

Song of the Flag
by Perrin Holmes Lowrey

OH, sing we the song of the flag,

Of the banner that billows and beats
As it rips through the wind on the roofs of the towns
And whips at the top of the fleets.
It tears through the rage of the blast,

In a fury it tugs to be free,
As it swings in the teeth of the storms of the land
And sings in the gales of the sea.

It runs in the winds of the plains,
It steadies and stiffens and thrills,
It streams in the smoke of the scattering clouds,
And gleams on the bayonet hills.

Oh, sing we a song of the flag,

As it bellies and flutters and flings,
As it leaps to a home in the arms of the air,
And laughs at the lusts of the kings.

It flames with the red of the dawn,
And the white of the breakers that race;
It burns with a beacon of wonderful stars
On a banner of infinite space
******************************

Another member of the faculty of Blue Mountain College, David E. Guyton (1880-1964), was a professor of history…and a poet. He was blind since the age of 11.

Triolets
by David E. Guyton

WHILE thou art near,
As now thou art,
I feel no fear,
While thou art near,
That others, Dear,
May win thy heart,
While thou art near,
As now thou art.

When thou art far,
As thou shalt be,
No jealous jar,
When thou art far,
Shall ever mar
My faith in thee,
When thou art far,
As thou shalt be.

Till saints deceive
And truth is trite,
Sweet Genevieve,
Till saints deceive,
I shall believe
And trust thee quite,
Till saints deceive
And truth is trite.

***********************
Muna Lee (1895-1965) was born in Mississippi, but moved to Oklahoma at an early age. She returned to study at Blue Mountain College in 1909, and was encouraged to write by David Guyton. After one year, she returned to Oklahoma and studied at the University of Oklahoma, followed by a return to Mississippi, ultimately graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1913. Early in her career, she was a school teacher, and wrote poems. As she felt the need to contribute more, she taught herself spanish and applied and was hired to be a translator for the US Secret Service during WWI. It was during this time that she became enamoured with latin american culture, and translated a large number spanish language poems. She had a long brilliant career in civil service, as a writer of fiction and poetry, and held an interest in Pan-american affairs in Puerto Rico, where she made her home in 1920. Much of her personal poetry seemed to focus on personal heartbreak-love lost-but was infused with imagery of beauty that filled the void.

The Unforgotten
By Muna Lee

I can forget so much at will:
That first walk in the snow,
The violet bed by the April rill,
The song we both loved so;

Even the rapture of Love’s perfect hour.
Even the anguish of Love’s disdain —
But never, but never, the little white flower
We found one day in the rain.

A Song of Happiness
By Muna Lee

From “Songs of Many Moods”

SO many folk are happy folk—
The feathered folk and furred!
And many a kindly glance I’ve had
And many a brisk bright word
From squirrel and from gray fieldmouse,
From cardinal and blackbird.

It’s only folk within the wood
Can know my happiness.
I did not tell my secret, but
I heard the robins guess;
The golden minnow knows it
Beneath the water-cress.

**********************************
Poetry often originates in quietest of places and is capable of reaching the farthest points. Each of these poets passed through a sleepy town with a small college in rural Mississippi. There are many such places I’m sure. Much of their poetry was published in small periodicals, something that is done much less these days.

And finding those gems, unknown before, is like finding “the little white flower in the rain.”

**********************************

1. The Mississippi Poets, Ernestine Clayton Deavours, 1922, E. H. Clarke & Brothers, Memphis, TN.
2. The Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, James B. LLoyd, ed. 1981, University Press of Mississippi.
3. A Pan-American Life: Selected Poetry and Prose of Muna Lee, Edited and with biography by Jonathan Cohen, Foreword by Aurora Levins Morales, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004

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