He's "all wool and a yard wide." Who? Our poet philosopher. Who's he? Now, dont' get in a hurry; wait till we have had time to whisper to you in a deep undertone, Gustav G. Wenzlaff. Doesn't that sound philosophical? Yes, but not altogether Yankefied.

Wenzlaff is president of the Springfield (S. D.) State Normal. He represents the old school of thought and the new. If you multiply the old school by the new, and then extract the square root of the product, you will have a mean proportional—you will have Wenzlaff—a man of poise and forbearance, of culture and refinement, of dignity and justice, of courage and faith, of hope and truth, of kindness and honor.

What a renovation at the Springfield normal when he took charge, a few years since. How the cobwebs fairly tumbled from the walls. How the pigeon holes gave up their mildewed contents. How the loose ends of fluttering thought were tied together in an organized whole and made into a cable of strength. With what unanimity the train of thought pulled in off the siding onto the main track and started foward and upward. How soon the school began to take its merited place among the educational institutions of the state.

Germany frequently lays claim to thefact that she is largely directing the educational thought of America. Pointing to her native-born sons whom she is constantly sending to us, as teachers, and to our American-born lads whom we send over there to be educated, it is easy to prove her contentions. President Wenzlaff was born in Europe. True, he got his education mostly in this country, but we had to let him go back home to finish it. Very well! He got it just the same, and South Dakota is profiting by it.

His early education was begun in the old country, and was received at the hands of his father who was a successful German teacher. Then he came to America and settled in Yankton county, South Dakota. Here's his educational record in a nutshell, but it's a good one:

Graduated from Yankton high school, 1884.
Graduated from Yankton college, 1888.
Studied in Chicago, 1888-9.
Instructor in Yankton college, 1889-92.
Student, Berlin University and University of Leipzig, Germany, 1892.
Professor of philosophy and German in Yankton college, 1893—on.
Student University of Chicago, 1897-8.
Recuperating in California, 1899-1900.
Superintendent Yankton county, 1905-8.
President Springfield normal, 1908—to date.

How's that? Go back and run it over again. "Who's Who?" We guess Wenzlaff is. Here's a record as a student and as an educator that any man might well be proud of.

(Later.-Since the above was written, Yankton College has honored him with his LL. D.)


But it is in the field of philosophical thought that Wenzlaff excels. The whole bent of his nature is toward philosophy. He loves to reason—and he does it spontaneously at times. When the ethical committee met in Mitchell a few years since, the discussion over the advisability of making the ethical out line for the schools of the state dove-tail into the Bible was growing "warm" when Wenzlaff piped out: "Gentlemen, the Bible did not give us religion; religion gave us the Bible." This hard philosophical morsel, placed on the tongues of some of the theological members of the committee, took some time to melt. Here was a concept—clearly, positively, definitely formed. It stood.



President Wenzlaff has acquired a style of English prose composition that is polished, smooth, clear and captivating. We regard his diction as the most perfect of any writer in the state. This is saying considerable for it, but we believe we are right. Think of it! He reads and writes prose and poetry in two different languages, and he can read at least three of four more tongues. It is but natural that such an able linquist should become literary inclined.

He is the author of one of the best psycholgies on the market. In addition to its exceptionally fine analysis of the mind and its operations, practically every critic who has commented on it has also referred to its charming diction. He is also the author of "Sketches and Legends of the West."

Last year President Wenzlaff and a friend made a trip down to the old historic settlement of Bon Homme. Upon his return he wrote a sketch for publication in "The Normal Pulse," a paper issued monthly by the students of the Springfield Normal, which it has been our privilege to preserve, and which we should love to publish herein in full, did space permit. We regard it as one of the tastiest pieces of faultless English composition that we have ever read.

We invite attention to only a few paragraphs of it which we cull out and sandwich together:

"It was a fall day. No frost had yet blighted the vegetation, but already the yellow corn showed through the wilting husks. A longing to get away from the humdrum of routine work and to dream a day-dream took us out toward old Bon Homme on the Missouri.

"Eight miles to the east of the dingy stone walls of the Springfield Normal we look down upon a fair plain dotted with farm buildings in the midst of clustering trees. To the east a white church spire catches our eye, and farther to the south a group of buildings rather too large tc be a collection of farm buildings. A little cemetery, well kept after a fashion, enclosed by a weather-beaten fence, overlooks the Bon Homme valley and the wide strecthes of the wild Missouri granite blocks and marble shafts rise above the stubble of the prairie grass. Yes, we read some of the inscribed names and remember those who years ago responded to them.

"A well-traveled road leads to; where years ago stood the fair little town of Bon Homme. At one place a few buildings are on either side of the road, once a street of the town, and a little farther on the little white school house, once the village school, the successor of the first school house in Dakota Territory. I have seen some of the pupils that were gathered in that first school house in Dakota—not as ruddy-faced youngsters, but as serious men and women past midde life.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Yes, this settlement, like others of its kind and persuasion, possesses fields, and mills and barns and machinery and all that goes to make a model farm, and something else—some ancient manuscripts. The young teacher soon brought in several of them for inspection. They are hooks containing the doctrines of the founder of the Brotherhood, all written by some of the brothers in the days of old, in German `print,' with the most pleasing exactness. The initial letters would do credit to a Medieval professional scribe. The paper used in these volumes is soft rag paper, such as one finds nowadays only in fancy-priced editions de luxe. The title pages show the dates 1509 and 1520. As we sat there waiting for a fall shower to pass by, our host expounded some features of the ancient, pricless volumes.

"Before the day closed we were retracing our way, leaving behind old Bon Homme, but carrying back with us a feeling that we had peered into the past and heard voices of long ago."


What peculiar strains of melody must be concealed in the intellect of a man who can write such ideal prose and who can, in the next instant, transfer himself into another mood and mould his thoughts into perfect rhythm. Only once in a great while—only now and then at great intervals—do you find a man who can burrow into the depths of philosophy and paint his conclusions in deep-colored prosaic images, and who can then climb "Jacob's ladder" and sing beautiful poetic lullabys to the stars. Wenzlaff can. He is an adept at it.

Some poets hibernate in the fall and come back in the spring to sing with the opening of the buds and the return of our winged warblers. Not so with Wenzlaff. He sings through the season. His heart is ever atune with nature. Springtime extracts the poetic nectar from his soul; summer awakens in him a melodious response; fall wells up his great heart until it bursts with joy; and winter's falling snow causes him to become en rapport with nature's God.

We should like to publish the long list of his poems which we have at various times collected, but lack of space absolutely forbids. We shall use but a few of the shorter ones. To those who would possess themselves of more address to the Educator School Supply Company, Mitchell, S. D., a card asking for terms on the new volume of "Dakota Rhymes" compiled and partially written by President Wenzlaff. It is now completed.


One name—when spring winds whisper softly—
   I hear amidst the green boughs' leaves;
The creek's low song, the wild dove's crooning—
   That name to me all nature breathes.

One face I see in every blossom,
   That meekly hides within the grass;
The evening clouds in hues of sunset
   Reflect that face before they pass.

One dream so vague, so dreamy, vivid,
   Like music of a sylvan stream,
Like fragrance from the prairie roses—
   My loved one is my constant dream.


Cold are the winds that waft
   The faded leaves about;
Chill are the days that laughed
   Once through the summer cloud.

Far flies the pinioned fowl
   To other cheerier lands
Touched not by Winter's scowl
   Nor by his chilling hands.

Ah me! Could I but rise
   And from chill moods retreat,
Dwell would I, too, 'neath skies
   Where only warm hearts beat.


Before the last of winter's drift has thawed
   And run in rills to swell the creek, that glides
Among the rushes drear and willows gray,
   The meadow-lark, the herald of the spring,
Comes piping in the drowsy life that hides
   From grim, all-devastating frosts away.

And when the first bold flower—the violet,
   Or 'tis th' anemone—wide opes its eyes
Upon the quiet meads to greet the morn,
   The prairie's homely bird sings matin lays,
That clear and sweet mount swelling to the skies
   And then on ether wings are softly borne.

When twilight shades come o'er this prairie world
   In summer's garb, and thousand eyes then close
Upon the waning splendor of the evening sky,
   The meadow-lark's clear roundelay resounds
And lulls sun-sated life to cool repose—
   Ne'er heard the flowers a sweeter lullaby!

At last the fields, once gay, stand sad and sear,
   And silent is the cricket's chorus song.
The weary blossom drooping on the stem,
   Now sleeps its long, long sleep, and weary looks
The sun. The meadow-lark, of all the throng
   Of birds, remains to pipe the requiem.


   Good piper of the Spree,
   Why pipe so mournfully
When brightly smiles the summer day,
And sunbeams on the river's way
Are dancing lightly to and fro
And casting glances from below,
Caressing warm the bridge's span,
While zephrys cool your temples fan?—
   A mist is gath'ring in my eye,—
   Good piper, I must hasten by.

   Ah! piper of the Spree,
   Why pipe so merrily
When lowering clouds are sailing fast,
The swallow, too, is hastening past
And scowling looks the rushing tide,
Upon whose crest the foam doth ride,
And whips the bridge's pillar-stays?
How merrily sound your oaten lays!

   I can, thus drawn, not hasten by—
   But what! is blind my piper's eye?

Many men can translate prose from various languages into our own with ease, but few have ever lived who could successfully translate poetry and maintain the metre and rhythm. President Wenzlaff has done this repeatedly, and he has given over to us for culture and for pastime some musical translations of foreign ballads that still retain their original charm. Following is one translated from Uhland:


Yonder stands the mountain chaplet
   Looking quietly down the vale;
There below by mead and brooklet
   Sings the shepherd boy so hale.

Mournful tolls the bell from yonder,
   Awful sounds the funeral lay,
Hushed is now the merry singer
   By the chanting far away.

They are borne to graves up yonder
   Who enjoyed themselves below.
Shepherd boy, ah! list young shepherd,
   'Twill be sung for thee just so!

Having revealed to the readers of the Argus-Leader, through our theme, the greatness of our SUBJECT, and having in a measure proven our contentions that he is a true poet, a linguist, a translator, a philosopher, a teacher, a man—we are willng to let his case go to the jury—public opinon.


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved