One of my favorite poets is the late Sidney Lanier, the Southerner who considered “Song of the Chattahoochee” to be his best poem when he completed it in November, 1877.
Having contracted tuberculosis while a Union prisoner-of-war during the Civil War, Lanier traveled extensively in North Georgia hoping to restore his health. He died on Sept.7, 1881.
The “valleys of Hall” mentioned in the poem would become Lake Sidney Lanier in 1953.
Song of the Chattahoochee
Out of the hills of Habersham,
Down the valleys of Hall,
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall,
Split at the rock and together again,
Accept my bed, or narrow or wide,
And flee from folly on every side
With a lover’s pain to attain the plain
Far from the hills of Habersham,
Far from the valleys of Hall.
The book is acclaimed as a work of both conservationism and history and has been compared to Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
All down the hills of Habersham,
All through the valleys of Hall,
The rushes cried Abide, abide,
The wilful waterweeds held me thrall,
The laving laurel turned my tide,
The ferns and the fondling grass said Stay,
The dewberry dipped for to work delay,
And the little reeds sighed Abide, abide,
Here in the hills of Habersham,
Here in the valleys of Hall.
High o’er the hills of Habersham,
Veiling the valleys of Hall,
The hickory told me manifold
Fair tales of shade, the poplar tall
Wrought me her shadowy self to hold,
The chestnut, the oak, the walnut, the pine,
Overleaning with flickering meaning and sign,
Said, Pass not, so cold, these manifold
Deep shades of the hills of Habersham,
These glades in the valleys of Hall.
And oft in the hills of Habersham,
And oft in the valleys of Hall,
The white quartz shone, and the smooth brook-stone
Did bar me of passage with friendly brawl,
And many a luminous jewel lone
-Crystals clear or a-cloud with mist,
Ruby, garnet, and amethyst-
Made lures with the lights of streaming stone
In the clefts of the hills of Habersham,
In the beds of the valleys of Hall.
But oh, not the hills of Habersham,
And oh, not the valleys of Hall
Avail: I am fain for to water the plain.
Downward the voices of Duty call-
Downward, to toil and be mixed with the main,
The dry fields burn, and the mills are to turn,
And a myriad flowers mortally yearn,
And the lordly main from beyond the plain
Calls o’er the hills of Habersham,
Calls through the valleys of Hall.
Sidney Clopton Lanier