Biography of Vachel Lindsay
Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was born on November 10, 1879 in Springfield, Illinois. The second of six children and the only son of Dr. Vachel Thomas Lindsay and Esther Catharine Frazee Lindsay. Vachel did not attend school until he was eight. He was taught at home by his mother, who had been a teacher and artist before her marriage. Grimm’s Fairy Tales is said to have been his primer. He graduated from Stuart School in 1893, having skipped the seventh grade and winning several prizes for his writing compositions.
During his youth, Vachel was encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps, therefore as a dutiful son, he enrolled at Hiram College, as a premedical student in 1897. Three years later, he wrote home and asked his parents to allow him to attend art school. In 1901 he was accepted as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and began his pursuit of a career as an illustrator. He spent time reading the works of English mystic poet William Blake and writing poetry in earnest.
He moved in 1904 to continue his studies at the New York School of Art and, while there, began to combine poetry and art. After hearing Lindsay recite one of his illustrated poems, "The Tree of the Laughing Bells," Robert Henri, a painter and teacher at the New York School, suggested to Lindsay that he devote himself to poetry. It was a turning point in the poet’s life.
The years 1906 through 1912 were Lindsay’s troubadour years as he took his poetry to the people. He ventured out into the world on walking tours of the countryside, taking no money with him, instead trading his poetry for food and shelter. In 1920, Lindsay became the first American poet invited to recite at Oxford University and undertook his first national lecturing tour.
Nicholas Vachel Lindsay died in 1931, his funeral attended by hundreds. Cables expressing Lindsay’s popularity and people’s great sorrow at his death came from all over the nation.
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Would I might wake in you the whirl-wind soul
Of Michelangelo, who hewed the stone
And Night and Day revealed, whose arm alone
Could draw the face of God, the titan high
Whose genius smote like lightning from the sky —
And shall he mold like dead leaves in the grave?
Nay he is in us! Let us dare and dare.
God help us to be brave.