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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Writing life, achieving the dream

“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” – Edwin Markham

Edwin Markham’s story is one of those remarkable “American Dream” types.  Born to a family of 10 kids and growing up in a broken home (his parents divorced shortly after his birth in 1852), he worked the family farm as a child, was mostly self-educated and against the wishes of his family decided to go to college and study literature.

Good idea.  After teaching for several years (he had a two-year degree from a “Normal” school), he earned his bachelor’s and master’s in the Classics, fell in love with poetry and began writing in his late 40s.  His most famous poem"The Man with the Hoe," inspired by a painting by the French artist Millet, was first presented at a public poetry reading in 1898.    His poem "Lincoln, the Man of the People" was selected from 250 entries to be read at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. The president of Princeton University called it “The greatest poem ever written on the immortal martyr, and the greatest that ever will be written."
 Edwin Markham                             Millet’s ‘The Man With The Hoe’

An amazing letter writer and collector of books, Markham amassed a huge library of 15000+ books.  He bequeathed them and his personal papers and letters, which included years of correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ambrose Bierce, and fellow poets Carl Sandburg and Amy Lowell, to tiny Wagner College in New York City at the time of his death in 1940.
Poet Laureate of Oregon in the '30s, he was the first recipient of the American Academy of Poets Award in 1937.  Six schools and a World War II ship were named in his honor after his death. Near the end of his long life, he remarked, “Ah, great it is to believe the dream as we stand in youth by the starry stream; but a greater thing is to fight life through and say at the end, the dream is true!”

Here is a link to his poem about Lincoln:

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