The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Within the framework of five stanzas of ten lines each, Sidney Lanier’s “Song of the Chattahoochee” takes the reader on a river journey from the mountains to the sea. Essentially, the poem foretells the 436-mile route of the Chattahoochee River as it rises in Habersham County in northeast Georgia to flow southwest diagonally across the state to form Georgia’s western boundary with Alabama before crossing into Florida and eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The poem draws parallels between the gravitational momentum of the river and the social, creative, and spiritual responsibilities of humankind.

Told from the perspective of the river itself, the poem begins in the higher elevations of Habersham and Hall, both counties in northeast Georgia. It is here that the river’s source can be traced and here that the river acquires its impetus “to reach the plain.” Already in the first stanza, however, there are topographical impediments to the river’s motion: steep heights, rock-strewn beds, and narrow banks.

The middle three stanzas serve to add to these topographical obstructions a host of organic distractions, all aimed at inducing the river to delay its journey. The second stanza, for example, is populated by water vegetation such as rushes, reeds, and “willful waterweeds” as well as shoreside vegetation like the “laving laurel” and “fondling grass.” All combine forces to convince the river to “Abide,...

(The entire section is 471 words.)