Mark Twain's writing not only provided novels and short stories, but poetry also. Poems by Mark Twain have never received the same level of attention as his other literary works have, but he wrote some notable lines of verse, nonetheless. Mark Twain claimed to have detested poetry, but he wrote more than one-hundred-twenty poems, some humorous and some very serious. As his life suffered more and more sadness after 1890, he began to write more of this literary form that he had shunned most of his career.
A comparison between his first poems and those written later in life show the changes taking place in the man as his lines turned from being mostly witty and humorous to serious and full of emotion. Later Mark Twain poems also display how much his poetic sensitivity and imagination had improved; they were also more disciplines. It was obvious that as life grew more lonely and sad for him, Twain developed a deep respect for poetry.
Composed in 1866 and written in his journal while traveling about the ship America, Mark Twain's poem, "Genius" may be self-observing, judging by these lines:
Genius, like gold and precious stones,
is chiefly prized because of its rarity.
Geniuses are people who dash off weird, wild,
incomprehensible poems with astonishing facility,
and get booming drunk and sleep in the gutter.
Genius elevates its possessor to ineffable spheres
far above the vulgar world and fills his soul
with regal contempt for the gross and sordid things of earth.
It is probably on account of this
that people who have genius
do not pay their board, as a general thing.
Geniuses are very singular.
If you see a young man who has frowsy hair
and distraught look, and affects eccentricity in dress,
you may set him down for a genius.
If he sings about the degeneracy of a world
which courts vulgar opulence
and neglects brains,
he is undoubtedly a genius.
If he is too proud to accept assistance,
and spurns it with a lordly air
at the very same time
that he knows he can't make a living to save his life,
he is most certainly a genius.
If he hangs on and sticks to poetry,
notwithstanding sawing wood comes handier to him,
he is a true genius.
If he throws away every opportunity in life
and crushes the affection and the patience of his friends
and then protests in sickly rhymes of his hard lot,
and finally persists,
in spite of the sound advice of persons who have got sense
but not any genius,
persists in going up some infamous back alley
dying in rags and dirt,
he is beyond all question a genius.
But above all things,
to deftly throw the incoherent ravings of insanity into verse
and then rush off and get booming drunk,
is the surest of all the different signs
Another poem Twain wrote was penned in the guest book of Laurence Hutton, literary editor of Harper's Magazine in the early 1890s. The light, witty words of Mark Twain's poem are:
When I meet you, I shall know you
By your halo I shall know you
Men shall know you, blameless man,
And you'll know me also, Larry,
When we meet, but may not tarry,
Yes, alas, alas, you'll know me by my fan.
Mark Twain's poetry was often romantic. One example was "A Marriage" believed to have been written for his wife, Livy. The poem, shown below, proves his adoration for the woman to whom he was married for thirty-four years and the woman most responsible for the editing and final approval of his works.
"Makes of two fractional lives a whole;
It gives to two purposeless lives a work
And doubles the strength of each to perform it
It gives to two questioning natures a reason for living,
And something to live for;
It will give a new gladness to the sunshine,
A new fragrance to the flowers,
A new beauty to the earth,
And a new mystery to life"
Many people have thought that Mark Twain's poem, entitled "To Jennie," was in recognition of his daughter, Jean, who died from complications of epilepsy. The poem, however, is written in memory of his niece, Jennie Clemens, the only child of Twain's brother, Orion Clemens. Jennie and Mark Twain shared a love of reading; he was her favorite uncle. When Jennie dies of spotted fever in 1864, Twain was devastated. He considered her a friend, thus the reference in the poem.
Good-bye! a kind good-bye,
I bid you now, my friend,
And though 'tis sad to speak the word,
To destiny I bend
And though it be decreed by Fate
That we ne'er meet again,
Your image, graven on my heart,
Forever shall remain.
Aye, in my heart thoult have a place,
Among the friends held dear,-
Nor shall the hand of Time efface
The memories written there.
Mark Twain's poetry, like his other literary works, express the way he felt about the world around him, both as it was and the way he felt it should be. They also prove his sensitivity to things he often claimed meant little to him, especially as they related to spirituality and religion.