This month and next we recall the Old South, the family farm, and the Tidewater home, a home that challenges imagination. When young in the North, home was most appreciated when the fireplace allowed hard drifting snow to be pacified. Now when old in the South, home is appreciated for shade and breeze, its cool and ease. True, never have I worked a farm as landholder, servant or employee, yet with some little imagination I can feel the Tidewater home, hear its accent, and see the pacing of seasons from birth to reunion in heaven.
Old pictures tell much of the Tidewater, tell of the land’s favor, its challenge, cost and reward. Notice the abundant quiet, the song of a slowly leafing bean, the sound of tendrils as they twist themselves around foundation, porch, and beam. Recent pictures tell more of the Tidewater, its quiet passing without family, friend, or advocate. As with all this nation’s many beauties, the modern celebrates the Tidewater’s degradation, papers its disappearance with bold, bright colors, vacant and ignorant. Well, that is how I imagine then in our season of history.
Our poet, Longfellow, summered in a Tidewater, and while there composed Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, the story of a lost world, of a lost love. The poem begins with the ending, as we do here. Listen in your mind’s ear to the meter of the verse. I suppose you know how to read verse. If not, the verse line is accented, tum de-de, tum de-de, tum de-de, tum de-de, tum de-de, tum tum; a dactylic hexameter, the verse form of Horace, Juvenal, Virgil. If you do not know verse, you might secure a copy of my Occasional Poetry, or one of many books on prosody.
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest…
Consider: most every person of XIX Century America could read or recite verse in its many forms. Do you hear the metered pacing of seasons, of centuries. Expect you do. Notice what has been lost and know that persons of the Tidewater home would not envy us. Look close at what we have become. Pardon, I am sympathetic to a people who have been silenced, to houses that cannot stand alone.
Also on the Longfellow property, a humble Tidewater, the typical family farm, a house that differs almost not at all from the slave and servant house, except for the historic marker. Slave houses are preserved and celebrated. Not so the family farm. These fall to ruin, despite the truth that Tidewater families competed against plantations, for the most (over 95%) part. From the XVIII Century into the mid XX Century, Southerners of all opinions and persuasions tended to Tidewater life, to rocking porch, quiet, goodness, and shade. Buzzing machines, conditioned air, and talking boxes changed the South, its houses, wisdom, and ways.
At this year’s passing into next, a look back, sympathetically, nostalgically to the best of an often better people, a people who have become us, a people seldom at our best. Again, I am compassionate for the families whose dreams rest in earth, whose homes are turned in earth’s diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees.
So then, in coming weeks: historic Tidewater houses, chance finds, sustaining and fading traditions, the old religion, the repurposed and the preserved. Hope you find a Tidewater beauty that you were not seeking.
Featured image, Tidewater Home, Longfellow Evangeline State Historic Site. credit: State of Louisiana