Memory Lane: Nov. 5, 1973


From the November 5, 1973 edition of The Wayne Herald

Neihardt embarks on 'last adventure'

The master of words is gone. And how does one write words suitable now for John G. Neihardt? The little man who was a giant of literature- more than that, a giant of wisdom- died Saturday in Columbia, Missouri. But people who knew him well know he did not really die, for they believe what he often said- "I am ready for the last great adventure." Many times, he came back to the Wayne State campus where he graduated from college in 1897 at the age of 16. Especially in recent years, he appeared here almost annually- sometimes to fill teaching or speaking invitations, sometimes to attend alumni reunions, but always ready to speak of life. And always, he spoke of his abiding faith that, despite all the world's gloom, something better is evolving.

Most often when asked to say something, Neihardt chose to speak in the language of his own poetry. What better? For it spoke most eloquently of the life that filled his nearly 93 years, spoke of his experience on the pioneer prairies as one of the few white men who knew the soul of conquered Native Americans.

He knew because he lived with them. From such experience, came Neihardt's epic poetry, most notably "Cycle of the West," perhaps the centerpiece of his 25 books, both poetry and prose.

In them he distilled the gold of truth from the dross of life. Essentially, much of it is religious, in broadest sense, and bursting with vitality. Vitality, of course, might well have been Neihardt's middle name. He lived. Only in most recent years did he concede that "The rumors of the flesh and the whisperings of the spirit alert me to the fact that I am approaching my great change. But I look forward to my going." He said that in Lincoln on the occasion of his 91st birthday anniversary.

But he said it many other times and places- among them, Wayne. And significantly, he said it with a smile. So those who knew him came to understand that John G. Neihardt, poet
laureate of Nebraska, meant what he said, that he was ready for the "last great adventure."

And now he has embarked.