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Friday, April 30, 2010

National Poetry Month

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I thought I would share poems from Lake County residents.

The Academy of American Poets began National Poetry Month in 1996. It is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.

One of my favorite published poems about Lake County is The Legend of Mish-i-mi-nong by Robert Pearce of Chicago. Robert was inspired by Crab Apple Island on Fox Lake, the lotus beds, and Native American legends. He completed the poem in 1899 and sent it to his father, Frank Pearce, who was living in Leavenworth, Kansas.

In turn, Frank illustrated the poem and sent it back to his son with a note: "I have endeavored to engross and illustrate it with my pen as a birth-day gift to you. May you find interwoven in each line and page the love of your affectionate Father." Even this generation's letters are poetic!

This is one of 10 pages from the poem, which was published in red leather binding in 1909. (LCDM 93.6.1)

The beauty of the lotus beds in Lake County's Chain o' Lakes region inspired many. An excerpt from a poem written by Colonel John Vidvard of Grass Lake in 1916 reads:

From far off India's shores there came one day a mighty wind,
That carried in its shapeless arms a seed of wondrous kind;
And loathe, foresooth, to let it fall on uncongenial land,
Soared and soared o'er mount and vail and oaks that grandly stand
'Till Illinois shores were reached, where mid rice and break,
The wind let fall this precious seed in the waters of Grass Lake.

Vidvard was a great booster and conservator of the lotus. However, he mistakenly identified the local plants as Egyptian lotus (nelumbium speciosum). This was a common misconception, no doubt fueled by the exotic appeal of a plant making its way across the world to blossom on our shores. The species of lotus that grows in the Chain O' Lakes is the American lotus (nelumbo lutea), a native to the northeastern United States. (Lotus on Grass Lake, circa 1907 - LCDM 61.8.2)

In 1896, Robert Darrow compiled and published, Poems by Residents of Lake County, Ill. Robert wrote in his preface that "This little volume is published for the purpose of showing that Lake County has many writers of poetry, of whom it may be proud."

I chose the following poem from Darrow's book to herald the spring.

by Nannie Bliss Colby

Winter has flung his sceptre down,
His dreary reign is over;
And in the meadows, erst so brown,
We catch a glimpse of clover.

The maples wave their crimson tips.
In every breeze that passes,
The violets kiss with dainty lips,
The pale, sweet, springing grasses.

The crocus lists its golden head
to catch the sun's first glances,
the brook, along its pebbly bed,
With merry ripple dances.

The lilac nods each lovely plume
At snow-drops, upward springing;
In all the air a faint perfume,
Sweet hints of spring are bringing.

The wild birds trill their sweetest song
Of greeting, praise or pleasure;
And mother earth, ice-bound so long,
Yields up her choicest treasure.

Oh, spring, thou time of birds and flowers,
We give thee fondest greeting;
Would we could stay thy passing hours,
And make thy joys less fleeting.

~ ~ ~

These samples are a small introduction to poetry. Hopefully they inspire other Lake Countians to take up pen and paper to create beautiful prose.


Janice Ellen DeKnock said...

Could this "Nannie Bliss Colby" be my great-grandmother? She was Nancy Ellen Bliss, born 10/10/1851 and married to Lake County farmer Byron Colby, whose barn was moved to Prairie Crossing in Grayslake & restored. I an Janie Ellen DeKnock, born 10/10/50, and named for Nancy Ellen Bliss Colby because I share her birthdate. I had been told that she wrote poetry, but had not actually found any before today! Thanks much, Jan

D_Dretske said...

Hello Jan,
This could very well be your great grandmother. There is no biographical information in the book, but Nannie Bliss Colby has 11 poems in the book (credited as Nannie Bliss, Nannie Bliss Colby and Nannie B. Colby). Please email me at if you would like copies of all of her poems.
Thank you for commenting!

Anonymous said...
have you seen this book of poems

Diana Dretske said...

Hi Tony,
Yes, the poem I posted "Spring"
by Nannie Bliss Colby is from that book. Lovely, isn't it?