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Vachel Lindsay's Covenant with America (Critical Essay)

Modern Age 2008, Fall, 50, 4

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On December 5, 1931, Nicholas Vachel Lindsay died in the upstairs bedroom that he had occupied as a child, having committed suicide by the horrific means of ingesting Lysol. In hindsight, the tragedy--and the slide into depression and paranoia that preceded it--was predictable, for in his career as heartland poet and polemicist Lindsay had set himself against the gathering forces of secularism and materialism in modern American culture. Lindsay's quixotic mission, a cultural reformation that mirrored his beloved mother's evangelical faith, was nothing less than an attempt to reverse the course of modernity itself, and this as America was being transformed from a rural-agrarian into an urban-industrial society. At this most unpropitious moment, Lindsay entered almost single-handedly into his own personal culture war against the cynics and skeptics of his day, an effort that was perhaps heroic but certainly doomed. In the first decades of the twentieth century no one, not even the saintly prophet that Lindsay imagined himself to be, could have slowed the revolutionary social and technological changes taking place in America. Lindsay's critique of modernity, though much influenced by the romantic tradition that included Blake, Shelley, and the German Romantics--Goethe, Schiller, and Heine--was distinctive in its emphasis on nativist and religious elements. Centered on what was called the "New Springfield," his idealistic scheme stressed civic revitalization based on what Springfield, Illinois, and other small towns might achieve if informed by a program of spiritual revival and cultural uplift. Like Ronald Reagan, who emanated from precisely the same social and religious background, Lindsay envisioned a modern-day "city on a hill," its people redeemed by faith and dedicated to the global spread of democracy. Lindsay's was perhaps the last significant literary voice to reaffirm in an unqualified manner John Adams's providential faith in America as "the opening of a grand scene and design [...] for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth."

Vachel Lindsay's Covenant with America (Critical Essay)
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 September 2008
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute Inc.
  • Print Length: 24 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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