See study by R. S. Moore (1972).
Hayne was educated in Charleston city schools and graduated from the College of Charleston in 1852. He began the practice of law but soon abandoned it in order to pursue his literary interests and ambitions. Hayne served in the Confederate army in 1861 and remained in the army until his health failed. He lost all of his possessions — including his house and an extensive library — when Charleston was bombarded in 1862. In 1863, Hayne moved his family to Grovetown, Georgia, a wooded area about 16 miles from Augusta, Georgia. Here Hayne lived and worked until his death in 1886. Groveton was also where his career as a literary critic and magazine editor began. He contributed to the important magazines of the South during his era, including the Charleston Literary Gazette, the Southern Literary Messenger, the Home Journal, and Southern Bivouac. Hayne was also instrumental with Southern novelist William Gilmore Simms in the founding of Russell's Magazine, which Hayne edited.
Hayne was an emerging poet and published various collections of poems, including a complete edition in 1882. His poetry emphasizes romantic verse, long narrative poems, and ballads. Like other fellow Southern poets of his day, his work was highly descriptive of nature. Some critics contend that his graceful lyrics reflect the influence of poet John Keats. Hayne's sonnets are considered his best work.
Hayne is also noteworthy for his friendship with fellow Southern poet Henry Timrod, whom Hayne helped with both his life and his career. Timrod was frail and ill throughout his life with tuberculosis, and Hayne helped to provide financially for Timrod and his wife and young son. Most importantly for literature and history, Hayne preserved Timrod's poems and edited them into a collection that was published in 1872 and that presented such historically important poems as "The Cotton Boll" and "Ode to the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery". Timrod now has the greater reputation as a poet, while Hayne is known more for his role as an editor and literary critic than as a poet. Timrod has continued to influence other modern Southern writers, including the poet Allen Tate, whose most famous poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead", owes a great deal to Timrod's similarly titled poem.
Hayne died at his home, Copse Hill, at Grovetown, Georgia, on July 6, 1886. His papers are variously preserved in the libraries of the College of Charleston, Duke University, the University of Virginia, and the South Carolina Historical Society.
The Paul Hayne School in Birmingham, Alabama was named for Hayne after he sent an original poem and book of verse to the school on the occasion of its dedication in 1886.