In doing research for this challenge from West in New England, I learned so much about California poetry! I knew from the second I first read about the challenge that I wanted to find a Gold Rush era poet and this turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I first thought. I could have looked into other geographic areas where I had relatives from (I did briefly look at Ohio and Michigan poets) but because the Gold Rush was (I think) the single most important event in my family tree, I really felt compelled to try and find an "artist voice" from then. I grew up in the heart of California's Gold Rush country so I know all the landmarks and figures from then well, but I had never looked into the artistic works that were inspired by the event.
For this prompt I looked at several poets but the one that stood out the most was Joaquin Miller. Miller, a journeyman of sorts, came to Northern California during the Gold Rush. He traveled around the Pacific Northwest for years before going east for a time. Eventually, Miller came back to California and spent the last years of his life in Oakland. A contemporary of Bret Harte and Ambrose Bierce, he was called the "Byron of the Rockies" and "Poet of the Sierras." I had never heard of him before and was quite surprised to learn how famous he was in his lifetime. He seems to have been a casualty of time, which is a shame because his current status is undeserved. In reading his poetry and non-poetic works (many of which can be found on Google Books), I quite enjoyed his work and can easily understand why he was as popular as he was in his lifetime.
I wanted to find a poem of Miller's specifically about California and the one below, "California's Christmas," seemed most fitting for the season and I liked it because it describes a California Christmas quite well I think, even all these years after it was written:
CALIFORNIA'S CHRISTMAS. (p. 67-68, In Classic Shades, 1890)
The stars are large as lilies! Morn
Seems some illumined story—
The story of our Savior born,
Told from yon turrets hoary—
The full moon smiling tips a horn
And hies to bed in glory!
My sunclad city walks in light
And lasting summer weather;
Red roses bloom on bosoms white
And rosy cheeks together.
If you should smite one cheek, still smite
For she will turn the other.
The thronged warm street tides to and fro
And Love, roseclad, discloses.
The only snowstorm we shall know
Is this white storm of roses—
It seems like Maytime, mating so,
And—Nature counting noses.
Soft sea winds sleep on yonder tide;
You hear some boatmen rowing. Their sisters' hands trail o'er the side ;
They toy with warm waves flowing ; Their laps are laden deep and wide
From rose-trees green and growing.
Such roses white ! such roses red !
Such roses richly yellow ! The air is like a perfume fed
From autumn fruits full mellow— But see ! a brother bends his head,
An oar forgets its fellow !
Give me to live in land like this,
Nor let me wander further ;
Some sister in some boat of bliss
And I her only brother—
Sweet paradise on earth it is;
I would not seek another.
A big thank you to Bill from West in New England for thinking of this activity and putting it out there for us bloggers. I really enjoyed learning about California's poetic past and the poets and poems that my ancestors probably knew of and read.