Other Literary Forms
Although George H. Boker is remembered primarily as a dramatist, he wanted to be remembered as a poet. To this end, he wrote hundreds of poems. The Book of the Dead, written in 1859 and 1860 and published in 1882, is his vindication of his father’s name. After his father, a banker, died, the Girard Bank tried unsuccessfully to sue his estate for more than a half million dollars. The emotion in these 107 poems is sincere, and the events prompting the collection are interesting, but the poems are less well crafted than those in Boker’s other volumes of poetry.
After Boker ceased to write about the problems of his father’s estate, he wrote many poems about the Civil War. Nearly every poem of this type is precisely dated, offering a narrative of a particular battle. Published soon after they were written in periodicals and leaflets, these poems, sentimental yet sincere and richly detailed, inspired patriotism in Northern readers. In 1864, Boker collected his Civil War verse in Poems of the War.
Boker’s third important collection of poetry, Sonnets: A Sequence on Profane Love, consists of poems written between 1857 and 1887, but the work was published posthumously in 1929. Of the 313 sonnets in the sequence, the first 282 seem to be about one woman, the next thirteen about another, and the last eighteen about a third woman. Written in the Italian form, these sonnets are generally well constructed and evoke intense images. The classical allusions are forced, but the descriptions of nature are powerful. Writing in 1927, Edward Sculley Bradley, the eminent critic who served as Boker’s biographer and as editor of the sequence, argued that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the only American to equal Boker as a sonneteer.