Ever since I was young, my Aunt Marge and my family told me that I was related to Will Carleton, the poet laureate of Michigan. I went to Hillsdale College in 1993 to meet Dr. Jerome Fallon, who was writing a book about Will Carleton.
My aunt told me that my grandfather always said that we were distant cousins. After looking at the family tree in Michigan, (although he has no direct descendants), I came to the conclusion that Will was my great grandfathers cousin. I guess that makes me a distant cousin
Will was an awesome poet. His most famous poem was "Over The Hill To The Poor House", about the inhumane treatment of the elderly. His poem, "Sewing Girl's Diary", was about indoor air pollution. Landlords at that time didn't think it was their responsibility to keep the air clean from the pollution caused by the chimneys in their buildings and people were dying from the indoor air pollution.
He also had poems about divorce, homelessness, and many other topics that greatly reflect today, as well as the 1800's.
The idea that Will's topics are so timeless and relevant today is what fascinates me. In his poem, "The New Church Organ", the congregation is not sure of using new sounds and techniques in their church services, while in "The Old Man Laments", the old man says that before the telegraph came along he never was aware of the whole worlds problems - he just had to worry about the problems in his own home town!
Will was popular as The United States changed from a rural to an industrial society. People were leaving their farms to move and get work in the cities. Will's poems, along with his fellow writers from that era, became part of America's conscience, and, partly because of their writings, helped establish a safety net for the poorer members of our society.
His poem "Want, Want, Want" is a more accurate look at poverty than either the right or left wing is presenting today, while in "A Doctors' Story", Will gives some insight into the medical profession. On "How We Kept The Day", Will satirizes our festivities on July 4th. We eat and drink too much, and listen to politicians; This is how we celebrate our Nations Independence!
Lord willing, I am going to write a play about Will Carleton. I have the outline for it - I just have to find the time to do it.
Will Carleton Play - First Concept
(NOTE: This original outline was written by Dennis Carleton and has beeen revised since.)
Narrator: Will Carleton. Where do you start with Will? Will was born in a log cabin in a small town called Hudson Michigan. Will had the usual conflicts that come when a farmers son wants to be, of all things, a poet. Will's father did not think that being a writer was the best occupation for his son, but Will perservered, recieved a four yearr degree from Hillsdale College, became a teacher and - more importantly - a poet.
Will's poems shed light and helped people through difficult cultural changes as the United States went from farming to an industrialized society. Citizens fled the country for jobs and a better life in the cities. As with many great works of art, Will's poems have withstood the test of time and are just as relevant today. Will discussed poverty, homelessness, air poluttion, divorce and the role of the newspaper in society. Before we hear some of Will's poems, let's' hear what Will had to say about his own work.
WILL CARLETON PREFACE
Will At the Podium: In his books, the author has aimed to give expression to the truth, that within every person, even if humble or debased,there may be some good worth lifting up and saving; that in each human being, though revered and seemingly immaculate, are some faults which deserve pointing out and correcting, Likewise, in all circumstances of life, however trivial they appear, may possess the comic and pathetic, the good and bad, the joyful and sorrowful. I also believe that the most important consideration of a book or a poem is the motive, which should be connected either with the substantial improvement, or the rational entertainment of the human race.
The author who has the attention of any great number of people, and does not use it to make them better and truer, is to be pitied as well as his readers. Third, I believe that the next important consideration in a book or a poem is the subject matter; this should never be above the comprehension of the average mind and thought of the world if the author expects to write for the people, and not for the short lived praises of a small, transient, artificial admiration. The clearer the windowpane, the brighter may be seen the flowers of the garden and the tints of the sky. I also believe that an author should have his own thoughts and and so far as a writer uses another's thoughts and expressions, he is a compiler and not an author.. With these few words of introduction, the author launches upon the sea of popular opinion, grinds his axe and enters once more the great forest of human nature for timber to go on with his boat-building.
Narrator: Wills most famous poem started as he witnessed an older woman being thrown into a poor house. Over The Hill To the Poor House was written by Will, sent to the Toledo Blade newspaper and published. The Harper Brothers liked this poem and others so much that he was asked to compile a book that eventually sold hundreds of thousands. When Over The Hill To the Poor House was published, thousands of people repented and and rescued their poor parents from poor houses. How far have we really cone in our society's treatment of the elderly?
OVER THE HILL TO THE POORHOUSE
To the poorhouse I'm trudgin' my weary way
Over the hill to the poorhouse
What's the use of heapin' a paupers shame
Over the hill to the poorhouse
So they have shirked and slighted me and shifted me about
Over the hill to the poorhouse
Narrator: One of today's biggest problems is the chaos that has become health care but once again over a hundred years ago, Will was wrestling with how a doctor should treat his patients, how much he should charge.
THE DOCTORS STORY
Good folks ever will have their way-
Purge the body, and humor the mind;
Deacon Rogers, he came to me;
"Twenty women., with remedies new,
"So she pleases wboe'er may call,
Blistered and bandaged from head to toe,
Every thing a body could bear,
Bottles and blisters, powders and pills,
"You are crazy" a visitor said:
"All the people have poohed an' slirred-
"All of the doctors, beyond a doubt,
IF I EVER DOCTOR THAT WOMAN AGAIN
Narrator: In the old man meditates the old man is upsets because of the telegraph. Before the telegraph came along the old man had only to worry about his local problems. Isn't this what we say about our information age explosion of the Internet and Cable TV.?
THE OLD MAN MEDITATES
The world keeps newing so!-they fashion it
"An average, moderate life, if these things last,
The rich grow richer, smarter grow the smart;
Because a thousand dollars you may steal,
Look at that scamp of sanctimonious style,
Who pilfers millions with a charming smile
Once my horse and I in peace could drive,
These cars-they carry thousands in a day,
And I have heard and read distressing things
Where in the most that I can calculate
But now the telegraph and papers try
It is an interesting fact to know
And talk that's false, or frivolous, or too small,
NARRATOR: If a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear? Langston Hughes has a poem where he talks of love unfulfilled being one of our worse sufferings. Will has a more optimistic view that although we are alone, there is always a chance that our best selves will be discovered. This is one of wills most romantic poems as well as one in which he describes the beauty of nature, namely the ocean and the forest.
What didst thou then, Oh Ocean? Did you toss thy foam in air,
The strong and terrible Ocean, with rock-embattled shore;
For I knew that sometime - sometime
And pride thyself in beauty the while to be unseen?"
Oh I was the self-same Forest, The same low-whispering Forest,
For I knew that some time birds of beautiful plumage would flit and nestle here;
"Oh! I was the self-same Maiden, The simple and trusting Maiden,