Joaquin Miller -
Comments on Selected Poems
Joaquin Miller's life and exploits would have become legendary if someone else had written his story. He chose the medium of poetry to tell the story of the American West at a time of rapid growth and change. Miller's life blended in his verses and in his prose with the subject matter. In a sense he invented himself. He left behind Cincinnatus, and became Joaquin. From a modern perspective, this blending of truth and fiction seems wholly unnecessary. The frontier life he actually lived is the stuff of legends. We must remember however, that he was a struggling poet who travelled to Europe. He presented in his verse and in person the spirit of the American West. In his selection of the name Joaquin, he solidified the image of rogue adventurer, and found an audience for his poetry. It is also important to remember that Miller became Joaquin not only in his literary life, but also in his life on the American frontier. He really was many of the things he claimed to be. Unfortunately his credibility suffered because some of the stories he told about his adventures proved in the end to be untrue.
Although it owes much in style and imagery to Europe, Joaquin Miller's poetry captures the essence of the American West. The poems included in this selection capture the essence of California. In the incredible fabrication that was his life, Joaquin Miller invented a new mythology, based largely upon himself, but also upon the people and places of the American West. Although Miller is not without his critics, we own him a debt of gratitude for capturing the spirit of the time in which he lived, and for helping us obtain a sense of place in Central California.