Every time I hear about the mountaintop removal of Gauley Mountain, I cringe at the irony. The best known work of the late West Virginia Poet Laureate, Louise McNeill, was Gauley Mountain, a set of poems about the people in one small place in the hills. Her genius was relating the very particular detail of life in one small bit of West Virginia and illuminating the universal human condition. Her best poems are about mountain people, but here is one on the land.
Where the mountain river flows
And the rhododendron grows
Is the land of all the lands
That I touch with tender hands;
Loved and treasured, earth and star,
By my father’s fathers far–
Deep-earth, black-earth, of-the-lime
From the ancient oceans’ time.
Plow-land, fern-land, woodland shade,
Grave-land where my kin are laid,
West Virginia’s hill to bless–
Leafy songs of wilderness;
Dear land, near land, here at home–
Where the rocks are honeycomb,
And the rhododendrons . . .
Where the mountain river runs.
Her poetry used to be on-line at gauleymountain.org, but it is no more. Mountain Stage produced Gauley Mountain spoken and set to music; it is available on CD (some excerpts available on-line.) Here is Jay Rockefeller’s tribute to her in the Congressional Record.
For more information on the mountaintop removal at Gauley Mountain and a link to a petition to deny extension of the current mining permit see this post on West Virginia Blue