Vachel Lindsay Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was born and died in his father’s house next to the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield, Illinois. His father, Vachel Thomas Lindsay, was a general practitioner whose home and financial stability made possible his son’s slow progress toward a self-sustaining career as a poet. His mother, Esther Catharine Frazee Lindsay, a college mathematics teacher and instructor of painting before she married, had the spirit and endurance to continue to support their son as he ambivalently moved from college (leaving Hiram College in June of 1900 without a degree after three years), to the Art Institute in Chicago, and on to New York to try to market his skills as an artist. His father may have hoped that his son would join his practice and settle down, but both parents were trampers and travelers in their own way. They had courted each other in the art galleries of Europe in the summer of 1875 and had taken the family to Europe in the summer of 1906, immediately after Lindsay’s first American walking tour. In the spring of 1906, Lindsay had walked from Florida back north through the Okefenokee swamp to Atlanta, lecturing (on the Pre-Raphaelites), singing his poems (“The Tree of the Laughing Bells”) all the way to Grassy Springs, Kentucky, and the home of relatives. The immediate leap to Europe, the Louvre, and the tomb of Napoleon was in some ways shocking, but Lindsay was comfortable in both milieux, marking the range of his experience, the talents and interests of his parents, and the end of the era of art and design as his principal interests.

His next “tramp” (in 1912) led directly to publication. He had tried “poem-peddling” in New York in the spring of 1905 without success, but now set out to trade rhymes for bread as he walked from Illinois to California. He caught the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas and felt charged with poetic material and enthusiasm. That the trip was hard was undeniable; there was less room for self-delusion or self-indulgence than in any other episode of his life. When he “gave up” and took the train from Wagon Mound, New Mexico, to Los Angeles, he felt defeated; but here, after gloom and despair, came the inspiration for “General William Booth Enters into Heaven.” Booth of the Salvation Army had died almost a month earlier, but as Lindsay walked the city at night, the poem flashed into being.

“General William Booth Enters into Heaven” was his making, and, because it was such a showpiece to read, perhaps his unmaking as well. Lindsay’s career has been divided into sections of composition and recital, with the transitional stage between the publication of General William Booth Enters into Heaven, and Other Poems by...

(The entire section is 1110 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (LIHN-zee) was a native of Illinois, born in Springfield in a house which Abraham Lincoln had often visited. Lindsay’s parents were both of Scottish ancestry; his father had been a Kentucky doctor, and his mother came of Virginia and Maryland stock. The parents were devout members of the Christian (Campbellite) church, and Lindsay’s mother, particularly, possessed strong artistic leanings. His family background contributed naturally to the author’s interest in southern themes, including the lives of African Americans; it also helps to account for his successful interlocking of such interests as religion, poetry, and art as well as the evangelistic fervor of his verse.

After graduating from Springfield High School in 1897, young Lindsay attended Hiram College in Ohio for three years. There he came under the influence of a strong academic tradition in oratory, an influence strong enough to affect his later literary work. After abandoning the idea of entering the ministry, he studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago (1900-1903) and at the New York School of Art (1904-1905).

His early efforts in art and poetry attracted some critical approval but little financial return. Unperturbed, he found various ways of earning a livelihood. For a while he lectured for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in New York, then for the Illinois Anti-Saloon League. He issued the Village Magazine in 1910; and he...

(The entire section is 571 words.)