Sunday, November 16, 2014

John Banister Tabb: "Evolution"--a short poem


Out of the dark, a shadow,
  Then, a spark;
Out of the cloud a silence,
  Then, a lark;
Out of the heart a rapture,
  Then, a pain;
Out of the dead, cold ashes,
  Life again. 

-- John Banister Tabb --
 (March 22, 1845--November 19, 1909)

A Poem A Day: editors:  Karen McCosker and Nicholas Albery

"Tabb was a convert to Roman Catholicism, and ordained in 1884 two years after his first book of poetry was brought out through private publication.  Born in Virginia and a blockade runner for the Confederacy, Tabb called himself an 'unreconstructed Rebel,' though he taught English at St. Charles College in Maryland until he was made to retire in1907, probably due to the loss of his eyesight."

I can see this as being the story of a person emerging from some deep personal sorrow, perhaps the loss of a loved one--especially the last two lines: Out of the dead, cold ashes,/ Life again.  He has now reached the point where he can, once again, feel pain, for the numbness of grief is gone.  This one grows on me.  I think I shall do a bit of digging about John Banister Tabb.

Let there be light,
Let there be sound,
Let there be feelings,
Let there be life.


  1. Perhaps the final two lines reflect the poet's understanding of Christian resurrection. In any case, I am struck by the condensed power of the poem. It is much like something that begins with "In the beginning . . . " and ends a few thousand pages later with news of a rapture and a puzzling revelation. Now, where have I read that before? In any case, Tabb's poem also reminds me of a much simpler version of some of G. M. Hopkins' poems.

  2. R. T.,

    I did a bit of digging around and found a web page with a large number of his poems, and many were short and condensed like this one--their compactness reminds me of haiku or Emily Dickinson.

    A number of his poems are religious, which reminded me of John Donne and Hopkins, although Tabb's style is more concise than theirs.

  3. If he were "an unreconstructed Rebel," then we have to worry if that didn't indicate some kind of subterranean poison in his system. It would come out in his poetry somewhere.

  4. Shelley,

    I know little of his poetry in depth. I have scanned a web page that had a lot of his poems and many of them are religious. I didn't detect any "subterranean poison" in them, but again, I wasn't looking for any and I really didn't look to closely at them.

    In addition, I'm not sure what he means by "an unreconstructed Rebel."

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.