Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

To Lindsay

Vachel, the stars are out
dusk has fallen on the Colorado road
a car crawls slowly across the plain
In the dim light the radio blares its jazz
the heartbroken salesman lights another cigarette
In another city 27 years ago
I see your shadow on the wall
You’re sitting in your suspenders on the bed
The shadow hand lifts up a pistol to your head
Your shade falls over on the floor

 Allen Ginsberg, Paris, May, 1958

91 years ago today Vachel’s suicide  – poisoning himself,  drinking Lysol  (Allen was well aware of the true nature of Lindsay’s death but preferred to take poetic license)

The New York Times in its obituary notice,  the next day, December 6, 1931, referred only to “a heart attack”

Eleanor Ruggles, in The West Going Heart, her biography of Lindsay, provides some of the details:

(Elizabeth, Lindsay’s wife) “was awakened by a crash below. Then she heard other noises, then rapid but extraordinarily heavy footsteps thudding along the lower hall, and then Vachel crawling up the almost perpendicular stairs on his hands and knees with unbelievable swiftness and force. Her instant thought was that he had had some hideous seizure, had reverted completely to the subhuman and was coming up the finish off her and the sleeping children… But the moment she saw him running through the upstairs hall with his hands raised, she knew it was for him she should be afraid. His eyes were distended, his face was white, wild and terrified… (H)e asked for water and the she brought it managed to say, in reply to her anguished questioning, “I tried to kill myself by drinking Lysol”


And the famous last words – “As she was hurrying from the bedroom to call Dr. McMeen, he threw down the glass and shook his fists in the air and gasped out something to the effect that “I got them before they could get me – they can just try to explain this if they can”

The poet Edgar Lee Masters, in his biography, Vachel Lindsay – A Poet in America, adds the following details

When Mrs Lindsay went downstairs she found her picture and those of the children propped around the table centerpiece with two lighted candles burning before them. In the bathroom she found a tea glass stained with Lysol and a large empty bottle of Lysol. On the floor was a pillow from the library and a picture of Mrs Lindsay at seventeen propped over the little blue coat of Susan, his little daughter.”

More on Vachel Lindsayhere and here and here

Lindsay on The Allen Ginsberg Project – here and here – and here

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