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Charles William Kent, 1860-1917
Southern Poems. Selected, Arranged and Edited with Biographical Notes
Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., c1913.

Summary

Charles William Kent was born September 27, 1860 in Kalona, Virginia to Robert Meredith Kent and Sallie Garland Hunter Kent. Raised and educated in Louisa County, Kent entered the University of Virginia in 1878, graduating with an M.A. four years later. Along with Lewis Minor Coleman, a friend from college, Kent founded the University School in Charleston, South Carolina in 1882 and taught there until 1884. He continued his graduate studies in English and modern languages in Germany, receiving his Ph.D. in 1887 at Leipsig. Kent then returned to the University of Virginia as an instructor of French and German before becoming a professor of English and modern languages at the University of Tennessee. In 1893 he once again returned to the University of Virginia as a professor of English and remained on the faculty until his death October 5, 1917. Kent married Eleanor Miles in June 1895.

A lifelong educator and university lecturer, Kent contributed to a number of published works as a literary editor. Perhaps the most well known among these is the multi-volume Library of Southern Literature series (1909-1923). In addition to Cynewulf's Elene (1889), the Shakespeare Note-book (1897), and Idylls of the Lawn (1899), a collection of short stories by University of Virginia undergraduates, Kent edited several collections of poetry, including Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Princess as well as selected poems by Robert Burns, Daniel Bedinger Lucas, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Published in 1913 by Houghton Mifflin, Kent's compilation Southern Poems offers a representative sampling of southern poetry that expresses the particularity of the southern experience. In his preface Kent attempts to moderate the radical tone of certain poems, specifically those related to the Civil War, while elevating southern literature to its appropriate place among American letters. As he explains, "These poems are selected from the wide range of Southern poetry, [so] that the South's contribution to our national literature may be in part apprehended." Kent continues praising southern verse, even asserting that for certain literary periods and movements, "literature in the South has been the dominant and controlling factor."

Arranged more or less chronologically, one of the first poems to appear is Francis Scott Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner"—a strategic inclusion. In claiming the Maryland-born Key as a southern author, Kent boldly demonstrates the degree to which southern verse has shaped the larger American consciousness. Most poets are allotted no more than three poems, though Kent includes five from Paul Hamilton Hayne's oeuvre. The collection incorporates an assortment of familiar love poems, such as Richard Henry Wilde's "My Life Is Like the Summer Rose," Edward Coote Pinkney's "A Health," and Philip Pendleton Cooke's "Florence Vane," as well as verses glorifying nature's beautiful bounty, among them "I Sigh for the Land of the Cypress and Pine" by Samuel Henry Dickson and Sidney Lanier's "The Mockingbird" and "Ballad of Trees and the Master." Such pieces often provide details considered uniquely southern: the cultivated muscadine and scuppernong grapes referenced in Maurice Thompson's "Nectar and Ambrosia" or the haunting cry of Madison Cawein's "The Whippoorwill." Moreover, in a poem such as Alexander Beaufort Meek's "Land of the South," subtle allusions are replaced by valiant testimonies of the South's grandeur. Yet even as Kent includes poems extolling the South and its culture, many in the collection reveal the pervading sense of loss connected to the region. Often composed against a backdrop of war, these verses are written in memoriam, eulogizing departed friends and comrades, the South's bygone glory days, and a former, more idyllic way of life.

Works Consulted: Bain, Robert, Joseph M. Flora, and Louis D. Rubin, Jr., eds., Southern Writers: A Biographical Dictionary, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979; Burke, W. J. and Will D. Howe, eds., American Authors and Books: 1640 to the Present Day, 3rd revised edition, New York: Crown Publishers, 1972; Wallace, W. Stewart, comp., A Dictionary of North American Authors Deceased Before 1950, Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1968.

Mary Alice Kirkpatrick

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