Vachel Lindsay: "Rhymes to be Traded for Bread."

Lindsay publications in
Brookens Library Special Collections
University of Illinois at Springfield

Web exhibit created by Thomas J. Wood and Sarah Kirsch, 1999-2000.

Copyright 2000, University of Illinois at Springfield

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was born and died in the same house in Springfield, Illinois. Although he wrote verse from an early age, his initial aspiration was to be an artist. To this end, he attended the Chicago Art Insitute in 1901-1903 before moving to New York in 1903 to work for five years with the Art Students League. But he established his fame through his poetry, with vivid works designed for public recitation, such as "The Congo" and "General William Booth Enters into Heaven."

The prairie town of Springfield was for Lindsay a symbol of agrarian utopia. In Lindsay's thought this small city, bordered on all sides by farmland, stood in opposition to the mean commerical meccas of Chicago and New York. Lindsay dreamed of a future Springfield transformed by the love of beauty and the democratic spirit of Lincoln, leading the world to a "spirit-dawn."

In 1912 Lindsay made a cross-country "tramp" on foot from Illinois to New Mexico, during which he lived off his art (supplemented by physical labor), trading copies of his poetry and drawings for food and shelter: "rhymes to be traded for bread." "The Village Improvement Parade" is an example of the works he distributed during his "tramps."

Lindsay printed many of his illustrated poems at his own expense and distributed them gratis, not only in Springfield but during his "tramps." In the tradition of evangelical Christian tracts, he saw this free distribution as a vital tool for "preaching the gospel of beauty." All the items in this exhibit were created by Lindsay for free distribution.

1. The Wedding of the Rose and the Lotus. Springfield: The Author, 1912.

2. The Soul of the City Receives the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Springfield: The Author, 1913.

3. The Village Magazine. Springfield: Jeffersons Printing Company, 1925.

4. The Village Improvement Parade. Souvenir Programme. Springfield: The Author, 1930. Signed by Lindsay and his wife.

Archive Banner Image: