The Materialistic Maiden

Where I sip coffee and tirelessly transcribe.

Category: 19th Century Writers

“LIFE AND THE GRAVE” from the New-York Mirror

I found this curious article within the pages of the December 29, 1827 issue of The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette. Certain sections in this are humbling, while others are, understandably, morose. As we enter this New Year, may we all reevaluate our goals, whether short term or long term, and continue striving to do good works, not only for our own benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of others, our planet, and the future generations to come. Time and life are precious, and we needn’t spend our lives perpetually indulging in frivolous pleasure, when we should be lending our talents and resources to better ourselves and those around us while we are still able to. Pseudo-contemplative remarks aside, I hope you enjoy this article. It comes from a series of articles by the same author under “The Essayist” section of The New-York Mirror, and only ran between 1827-1828. To my knowledge and research, the articles cannot be traced to any other source other than the Mirror. Finally, on a side note, I was unable to track down the author of this article, only relying on the author’s initials, “C. M. A.” I am only lead back to one writer and scholar, Charles Anthon (where does the mysterious “M” fit in that name? I’m not positive—), although I doubt he wrote these articles. If you agree, disagree, or have a better lead, please feel free to comment and let me know. Also, if you’d be interested in reading the other articles in his series, I’d be happy to post them.

FOR THE NEW-YORK MIRROR.
LIFE AND THE GRAVE.
“How sad a sight is human happiness,
“To those whose thought can pierce beyond an hour?”

I LOVE to indulge in that kind of pleasure termed melancholy—to look on the dark side of the picture of human life—to meditate on the many ills to which we are subject here—and to become inured, through reflection on the difficulties we meet with, to the various hardships, and troubles, and trails of life. There is a pleasing sadness in this strain of feeling, a melancholy pleasure, which often invites my attention, and which claims the merit of not being elsewhere found. It renders the feelings that were once soft, tender, and fearful of the rude blasts of adversity, cold and callous to their howlings; and imparts to the mind a thoughtful, determined preparation to endure whatever troubles may be imposed upon it.
How gloomy and forbidding is that view which reality and experience unfold to us of the state of human life! How dark the picture presented for our inspection! How few streaks of light and cheerfulness are interspersed throughout that vast extent of gloomy canvass! How few scenes of bliss and happiness are mixed with those numerous objects of misery and wretchedness that appear on its surface! How many and various are the blemishes of crime, rapine, and fraud, that stain and pollute to its appearance! There is, indeed, but little happiness here–but little to hope for—but little that is worth having, which we can desire with a probability of our request being granted.
If we take a retrospective glance, and look back on times and scenes gone by, we find but little in the recollection that can add to our present comfort. A few pleasures we may have experienced, but they were few indeed, and, like angels’ visits, “far between.” The man of fourscore can claim but a small portion of even his past life as being one of pure and unalloyed happiness. If he but estimates his age according to the pleasure he may have enjoyed, deducting from his years every portion of time spent in sorrow or anxiety, he will find himself but an infant in age, a mere babe in life. If we cast a glance beyond time past and present, and look inquiringly into the unborn future, what is there that will calm and cheer our spirits, now so drooping?—what that will make us more peaceful, more happy, more contented?—what that will act as a charm on our senses, rendering them insensible to pain, and lively to emotions of pleasure?—what that will be different from present experience of the vanity, coldness, and dreariness of life? It will be but a repetition of former scenes and former sorrows—a change of time, indeed, not of circumstances;—
——————”Endless is the list of human ills,”
“And sighs might sooner fail than cause to sigh.”
There is another theme of contemplation which I love—that inspired by a walk among the monuments of the dead—among those stones which bear the names and descriptions of those beneath them buried. Can it be that these inmates of the grave, whose forgotten names, and still more forgotten bodies, were once as I am now—as full of life and vigour—more full of its hopes and expectations—as fond of life’s enjoyments—and as pleased with the routine of fashionable pleasures—as those now in being? When they left the world, how did they leave it?—Did they die willing victims to the grave? Did they leave earth’s toys behind them as do those who know their emptiness, and give a welcome to death as a to messenger of peace that would convey them to an abode beyond the reach of life’s adversities?—or did they, in their last agonies, still cling to life—still hang to that brittle thread which bound them to earth’s domain, and wish that it might strengthen and wax stronger, that it could draw them back again to the scenes of gayety, and folly, and fashions, which once occupied their attention, and usurped the greater part of their life?
A walk in the grave-yard, when we are deeply impressed with the sensations of awe and dread inspired by the place and occasion, will be of benefit to the mind, as it is there that we can discuss dispassionately, if any where, the merits and demerits of life’s enjoyments. We feel a kind of sacred seclusion from the world, and that which usually troubles us—we imagine ourselves cut off from all sensual connexion with it, and evince but few, if any, desires to become again possessed of the charms it once maintained;—we wonder in what consisted the attractions which before bound us to life—what there was so great and glorious in the world, of a nature sufficient to cause our labours and cares to be so much and so often called into exercise—why we were once so unwilling to yield and give up those pleasures which now possess no value in our estimation—and why we declined regarding the duties enjoined on us by the will of heaven, when the faithful performance of them we now esteem to be of the greatest consequence. We contemplate also the labours of man, and endeavor to recollect for what ends his exertions are called into motion. We find the gratification of ambition to be the aim of one—the acquisition of wealth to be the desire of another—the indulgence of sensual pleasure to be the wish of a third. Various as are all of these, they alike have their end in the grave. It is, indeed, the end of man. Why then be so anxious to acquire the possession of those things whose stay must be so short, when acquired?
“Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?
“What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame?
“Earth’s highest station ends in ‘here he lies’—
“And ‘dust to dust’ concludes her noblest song.”
What a picture of contemplation and reflection does the grave-yard present! The old and the young are there, and the poor and the rich are there. The child of five years lies beside of the man of eighty. They alike rest in peace—unnoticed by friends, undisturbed by foes. Nought remains of what was once flesh, and life, and vigour, but a few crumbling bones, and they turning to their original dust, as fast as the revolutions of times and seasons can make them.
It is but a few years at most that can divide the grave from the now living. A short space of time will intervene, and then shall all be brought victims to its ravages, and be swallowed up in the multitude of its openings. However much we may wish this time protracted, “to this condition we must come at last”—and it is doubtful whether it will then be welcomed more cheerfully than it would be at the present moment.
Taking this view of life and the grave, would it not be wisdom to follow the advice of the poet, so beautifully given in the following lines?
“Lean not on earth—’twill pierce thee to the heart;
“A broken reed, at best; but oft, a spear;
“On its sharp point peace bleeds, and hope expires.”
C. M. A.

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“December” by Edmund Ollier

December
Edmund Ollier
From The Living Age, Vol. 40.

THE unseen Presence with the noiseless wing—
Time—has swept bare the bounteous earth at last,
And Summer’s green and crimson shows have past
From out men’s sight, like cloud-shapes when winds sing.

The seeds, which from the year’s great ripening
Were shaken, and within the warm earth cast,
Live but in future life, and slumbering fast,
Lie waiting for the vital breath of Spring.

And all is thoughtful, vacant, dusk and still;
A Sabbath pause, a resting everywhere,
A sleep and a thanksgiving, which now fill
The world, and make its bareness seem less bare.
The winds are laid, no sound is in the rill,
And not a murmur ripples the smooth air.

“Winter” by Mrs. Mary Noel M’Donald, or Mary Noel Meigs

While looking through the 1853 volume of Graham’s Magazine, I was immediately presented with this Wintery poem, which served as the featured cover piece for January’s issue. Because the author’s name seemed unfamiliar, I took to researching. For those interested, here is what I found.

According to Initials and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises, Volume 1, by William Cushing (what a curious book!), the name “Mrs. Mary Noel (Bleecker M’Donald) Meigs” appears, with an allusion to a poetry book entitled “Poems by…N.Y. 1845” (179). A quick search for Mary Noel Meigs reveals several titles by this authoress, including Lays of a Lifetime, Cousin Bertha’s Stories, Fanny Herbert, and Other Stories: A Holiday Gift, as well as the aforementioned Poems. Her works may also be found in Rufus Griswold’s The Female Poets of America. However, as one may question, what other information is there to support the notion that M’Donald and Meigs are the same person, other than Cushing’s source? According to this page, it is indicated that M’Donald, or Meigs, was married to both Pierre Edward Flemming McDonald [erroneous spelling in Graham’s?] as well as Henry Meigs, Jr., with Bleecker being her maiden name. Therefore, it’s safe to say this Mary Noel M’Donald, the author of the poem featured in my post, is Mary Noel Meigs—a no longer mysterious and obscure poet, but one who was well-published and favored during her time.

What more is to be known of her, though? According to The Cyber Hymnal online, she was born February 15, 1812 in New York, and died May 13, 1890 in New Jersey. Along with her published volumes of poetry and prose, she provided four notable hymns, which are posted on this website, including “Christmas Morning” and “Hark! A Burst of Heavenly Music.” Finally, in Griswold’s Female Poets, he states the following,

The father of Miss Bleecker (now Mrs. Meigs) was of the Bleecker family so long distinguished in the annals of New York, and among her paternal connexions were Mrs. Anne Eliza Blecker and Mrs. Faugeres, whose poems have been commented upon in an earlier part of this volume. Her maternal grandfather was the late Major William Popham, the last survivor of the staff of Washington. In 1834 Miss Bleecker was married to Mr. Pierre E. F. McDonald, who died at the end of ten years. In 1845 she published an octavo volume entitled Poems by M.N.M., and she has since written many poems and prose essays for the magazines, besides several volumes of stories for children, &c. In the autumn of 1848 she was married to Mr. Henry Meigs, of New York.

You may, therefore, find in the poem below a small example of the credence given to her work. However, if I may be critical, I find the following poem to be unorganized and messy. Sloppily displaced words and lack of punctuation in certain areas makes this a confusing and unnatural poem when read aloud. Perhaps her other works are nicer when read or spoken. Regardless, I hope others find enjoyment from this poem.

Winter

Mary Noel M’Donald

HID in the bosom of life-giving earth,
In darkness and in silence deep and still,
The buried seed to springing roots given birth,
That fix them in the mold with firmest will;
Strong hold have they below there in the soil
Before the leaves upshoot them to the light,
And beauty crowns the deep and hidden toil
With blossomed boughs that charm the gazer’s sight
So thou, oh soul, obscure and hidden long,
Uncared for and unknown must bide thy time,
And like the aspiring seed strike, deep and strong,
Roots that shall bear thee upward in thy prime,
So firm sustained, thou shalt the worthier be
For life’s fair flower that all men honor thee.

In Memoriam of Fitz-Greene Halleck, Along With “Fitz-Greene Halleck” by John Greenleaf Whittier

This day marks a significant milestone for writer Fitz-Greene Halleck, being the 150th anniversary of his death. He may go relatively unrecognized by today’s readership, which is truly a pity; however, this man was so celebrated and beloved by several 19th century social and literary circles of his day, that it makes one question why his name hasn’t stood the tests of time. A statue serves as reminder of this immortal writer—you can read more information about that statue here, as well as at the end of this post. But who or what does this statue represent–what purpose does it serve? Surely, it implies prominence, being the last statue to be dedicated and installed in the Literary Walk in Central Park (source). But what more to it is there, besides being a handsome, decorative lawn piece?

Halleck sits erect, his legs elegantly crossed, his foot alight in communication with his thoughtful, musing gaze. His right hand delicately pinches his quill, while his left is preoccupied with a manuscript or “tablet” of sorts; perhaps this is to signify that his thoughts are unceasingly flitting about the streets of New York. He is not merely a fleeting writer of yore—to say such would only besmirch the other writers on the lawn, including Scott and Burns—nor should it be given credence that he was only known for his sociable behaviour. Who he was, and where his legacy remains, is in that he helped mould American poetry into what it was. His poetic voice laid the groundwork for the American voice. His style inspired future writers, while he, himself, drew upon foregone poets. In fact, a descendant of his labeled him the “American Byron.”  William Cullen Bryant, quoted in The Poets and Poetry of Americahad this to say about Halleck’s writing,

His poetry, whether serious or sprightly, is remarkable for the melody of the numbers. It is not the melody of monotonous and strictly regular measurement. His verse is constructed to please an ear naturally fine and accustomed to a range of metrical modulation…He is familiar with those general rules and principles which are the basis of metrical harmony; and his own unerring taste has taught him the exceptions which proper attention to variety demands. He understands that the rivulet is made musical by obstructions in its channel. In no poet can be found passages which flow with more sweet and liquid smoothness; but he knows very well that to make this smoothness perceived, and to prevent it from degenerating into monotony, occasional roughness must be interposed (172).

But to what standard of proclamation are these words given? Observe a stanza from Halleck’s poem, “Twilight,” being that a passage of “sweet and liquid smoothness,”

In youth the cheek was crimson’d with her glow;
Her smile was loveliest then; her matin song
Was heaven’s own music, and the note of wo
Was all unheard her sunny bowers among.
Life’s little world of bliss was newly born;
We knew not, cared not, it was born to die.
Flush’d with the cool breeze and the dews of morn,
With dancing heart we gazed on the pure sky,
And mock’d the passing clouds that dimm’d its blue,
Like our own sorrows then—as fleeting and as few. (source)

The impetus of this lyric is Hope, which is, at first, seemingly swayed through life’s progress. However, Halleck argues, through painted imagery, that Hope remains formidable and shines from Heaven with an “angel-smile of tranquil loveliness,” being “A moon-beam in the midnight cloud of death” (lines 33, 40). In the stanza especially extracted, we see Halleck describe Hope, in youth, as being the “crimson’d” glow that concealed life’s “passing clouds [which] dimm’d [the pure sky’s] blue.” The musicality of the piece brings it a dreamy, ethereal quality, which is sure to enchant the reader of any age.

The stanza above serves as only one example of Halleck’s masterful hand, though. Reading through the few, yet golden pieces which stemmed from his pen, a few other poems stick out for these same notable qualities. For example, “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake”* is a touching eulogy, which, albeit short and succinct, being comprised of six quatrains, evocatively imbues sentiment through such lines as, “Green be the turf above thee, / Friend of my better days! / None knew thee but to love thee, / Nor named thee but to praise” and “Tears fell, when thou wert dying, / From eyes unused to weep, / And long where thou art lying, / Will tears the cold turf steep” (lines 1-8). Another poem of high regard is Fanny, which is notably Halleck’s greatest piece. Fanny satirizes American culture and politics of the 19th century, and is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek whilst doing so. Consider stanzas 28 and 29, which are, humorously, as follows,

“He struggled hard, but not in vain, and breathes
The mountain air at last; but there are others
Who strove, like him, to win the glittering wreaths
Of powers, his early partisans and brothers,
That linger yet in dust from whence they sprung,
Unhonour’d and unpaid, though, luckily, unhung.

‘Twas theirs to fill with gas the huge balloon
Of party ; and they hoped, when it arose,
To soar like eagles in the blaze of noon,
Above the gaping crowd of friends and foes.
Alas! like Guillé’s car, it soar’d without them,
And left them with a mob to jeer and flout them.”

This successful poem, first published in 1819, found its place in several subsequent volumes of Halleck’s poetry, and was eventually given fifty extra appended verses by the author. According to James Grant Wilson in The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck, “The Popularity of ‘Fanny’ was so great, that the publisher offered Halleck five hundred dollars for another canto, an offer which he accepted,” and thus came the extra canto (234). Halleck, in a letter to his sister Maria, however, remarked, “The popularity of ‘Fanny’ is far above my expectations, and certainly far above its merits; but the great secret is, that it is fashionable to admire it, and, fortunately for its author, the general class of readers does not know good from bad” (236). Regardless of its “merits,” whether they be perceived by readers who “know good from bad” or not, the poem represents to modern readership an insightful, humorous perception of American culture during the early 1800s.

Therefore, whether it be for his witty tongue and praised pen, or his friendly demeanour and sociable conversation, Halleck more than deserves that high throne on which he rests. “Personally,” exclaims Edgar Allan Poe in his article entitled “Fitz-Greene Halleck,” “he is a man to be admired, respected…With his friends he is all ardor, enthusiasm and cordiality…He is a good modern linguist, and an excellent belles lettres scholar…”

But what was Halleck to his other peers? The viewpoints of Bryant, Poe, and Drake have been presented (see footnote for Drake); however, famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier excellently bids warm wishes and praise to his friend in the poem, “Fitz-Greene Halleck: At the Unveiling of His Statue.” This poem, as may be inferred, was a companion piece to the unveiling of the Halleck statue—thus, I present this poem. Perhaps, if you have not been convinced of Halleck’s notability as a poet, or the significance of this statue, Whittier’s words may convince you.

Fitz-Greene Halleck
John Greenleaf Whittier

AT THE UNVEILING OF HIS STATUE.

AMONG their graven shapes to whom
Thy civic wreaths belong,
O city of his love, make room
For one whose gift was song.

Not his the soldier’s sword to wield,
Nor his the helm of state,
Nor glory of the stricken field,
Nor triumph of debate.

In common ways, with common men,
He served his race and time
As well as if his clerkly pen
Had never danced to rhyme.

If, in the thronged and noisy mart,
The Muses found their son,
Could any say his tuneful art
A duty left undone?

He toiled and sang; and year by year
Men found their homes more sweet,
And through a tenderer atmosphere
Looked down the brick-walled street.

The Greek’s wild onset Wall Street knew;
The Red King walked Broadway;
And Alnwick Castle’s roses blew
From Palisades to Bay.

Fair City by the Sea! upraise
His veil with reverent hands;
And mingle with thy own the praise
And pride of other lands.

Let Greece his fiery lyric breathe
Above her hero-urns;
And Scotland, with her holly, wreathe
The flower he culled for Burns.

Oh, stately stand thy palace walls,
Thy tall ships ride the seas;
To-day thy poet’s name recalls
A prouder thought than these.

Not less thy pulse of trade shall beat,
Nor less thy tall fleets swim,
That shaded square and dusty street
Are classic ground through him.

Alive, he loved, like all who sing,
The echoes of his song;
Too late the tardy meed we bring,
The praise delayed so long.

Too late, alas! Of all who knew
The living man, to-day
Before his unveiled face, how few
Make bare their locks of gray!

Our lips of praise must soon be dumb,
Our grateful eyes be dim;
O brothers of the days to come,
Take tender charge of him!

New hands the wires of song may sweep,
New voices challenge fame;
But let no moss of years o’ercreep
The lines of Halleck’s name.

Edit: I found this newspaper clipping in my personal collection and thought it may be of interest for those further interested in the unveiling of the Halleck statue. It is from Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, Vol. II, pg 226.

scan0006

*For more about Halleck and Drake’s relationship

“Indian Summer” by Thomas Buchanan Read

(To learn more about Read, check out my post about his life here.)

Indian Summer
Thomas Buchanan Read

IT is the season when the light of dreams
Around the year in golden glory lies;—
The heavens are full of floating mysteries,
And down the lake the veilèd splendour beams!
Like hidden poets lie the hazy streams,
Mantled with mysteries of their own romance,
While scarce a breath disturbs their drowsy trance.
The yellow leaf which down the soft air gleams,
Glides, wavers, falls, and skims the unruffled lake.
Here the frail maples and the faithful firs
By twisted vines are wed. The russet brake
Skirts the low pool; and starred with open burrs
The chestnut stands—But when the north-wind stirs,
How, like an arméd host, the summoned scene shall wake!

“November” by Hartley Coleridge, With a Brief Sketch of the Author

Hartley_Coleridge_1

David Hartley Coleridge, known commonly as Hartley Coleridge, was a nineteenth century poet, critic, biographer, essayist, and, for a brief time, teacher. Born in England in 1796, he was the eldest son of the well-known Samuel Taylor Coleridge (source.) Although Coleridge struggled with maintaining a unique image and reputation from that of his father’s, the culmination of his work up until his death in 1849 left him certainly accomplished enough to separate himself from his father’s esteemed legacy.

Of his skill as a writer and generally regarding the character of Hartley Coleridge, his brother, Derwent, explains,

A resemblance in kind is discernable, more especially if the comparison [between Hartley and their father, Samuel] be made with the earlier productions of the elder Coleridge, though this is not so striking as the contrast exhibited on the whole. A wit and a humorist, a keen observer,  and a deep but not a sustained or comprehensive thinker; intensely subjective, or at least introspective, yet not disposed to dwell in pure abstractions; seeing the universal in the individual, yet resting in the individual rather than the universal; acute and sagacious, often under the disguise or paradox; playful and tender, with a predominance of the fancy over the imagination, yet capable of the deepest pathos; clear, rapid, and brilliant, the qualities of his mind may almost be regarded as supplemental to those by which his father’s later and more elaborate productions are distinguished (Coleridge xx).

During his impressionable boyhood years, Hartley acquainted himself with figures such as Sir Walter Scott and Wordsworth, which,

…made an indelible impression upon his mind, the effect being immediately apparent in the complexion of those extraordinary day-dreams in which he passed his visionary boyhood, and to which he was wont to transfer whatever struck his fancy or stimulated his intellect in actual life. Nothing remained for him upon the earth to which it belonged. The scenery at his feet he beheld mirrored a floating cloud, when it became for him more real and important than the matter-of-fact world in which he had to live (xl-xli).

Although the poem I have transcribed for this post does not fully display the unique, seemingly eccentric and dreamy qualities of this gentleman, it provides a keyhole to peer into scattered hints of sombre and mournful imagery, characteristic of the mystical world Coleridge had created for himself.

November
Hartley Coleridge

The mellow year is hasting to its close;
The little birds have almost sung their last,
Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast—
That shrill-piped harbinger of early snows;
The patient beauty of the scentless rose,
Oft with the morn’s hoar crystal quaintly glass’d,
Hangs, a pale mourner for the summer past,
And makes a little summer where it grows.
In the chill sunbeam of the faint brief day
The dusky waters shudder as they shine;
The russet leaves obstruct the straggling way
Of oozy brooks, which no deep banks define;
And the gaunt woods, in ragged, scant array,
Wrap their old limbs with sombre ivy twine.

On the Life of Thomas Buchanan Read, alongside his poem, “The Withering Leaves”

thomas_buchanan_read_age_28

Thomas Buchanan Read is one of my favorite 19th century personalities. A poet and artist, he’s best known today for Sheridan’s RideHowever, his poetic repertoire definitely expands beyond that of this often studied poem; and although virtually unknown otherwise, his life is worth exploring, if even briefly.

Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on March 12, 1822, he grew up in a financially modest household. Unable to acquire formal education, according to The Knohl Collection online, he left home at the age of ten to remove himself to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he partook in various jobs that only benefited and catered to his growing artistic skill. He thus began painting and sculpting here, especially under the influence of Shobal Veil Clevenger, and with the aid of Nicholas Longworth (source). According to A Compendium of American Literature by Charles Dexter Cleveland, although starting as a sculptor, Read took to painting, which gained him success as an artist, and he removed to Boston, where he remained for five years in this profession (738).

Between the years 1841 and 1861, he wrote and painted prolifically, submitting to journals such as Graham’s Magazine and the Boston Courier, and moved back and forth between the United States and Europe, namely Italy, where he found beauty and conversation to inspire his profound mind (738). However, according to the History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, he was met with two majorly impactful blows, the first being the death of his first wife, Mary J. Pratt, and child, Lilian, due to a choleric epidemic while living in Florence in 1853; and the second being the outbreak of the Civil War, for which he volunteered under General Lew Wallace (Futhey, 707). Futhey states, “[Read’s] voice and pen, in patriotic addresses and poems, gave hearty encouragement to his countrymen in the great work of saving the national life. In this heroic struggle none surpassed Read in patriotic ardor….” (707). Following the Civil War, Read remarried to Harriet Dennison and moved to Italy in 1867 (The Knohl Collection). Four years later, he was critically injured by the overturning of his carriage, and he died that next year, on May 11, 1872, at the age of 50, just a few days after his arrival to New York. His death was due to complications of the carriage accident, and pneumonia. In the Poetical Works of T. Buchanan Read: New Revised Edition of 1894, it is stated in his memoir that “[he died] calmly on the evening of Saturday, May 11, in the arms of those who loved him best. ‘Your kisses are very sweet to me,’ were among his last words” (XX).*

Futhey imparts an effective passage describing Read’s character, stating the following:

The distinguishing characteristics of Read’s nature were purity of thought, refinement of feeling, gentleness of manner, generosity of disposition, geniality and unselfish devotion to others, and the possession of all those qualities of mind and character which attract and attach friends. Tenderness of feeling and delicacy in treatment were marked traits in all his work, whether with the pen or the pencil. Gifted with an extraordinary genius, Read was unlike many other men thus formed by nature. He relied for success not upon sudden, uncertain, and spasmodic impulses, but was a faithful, diligent, and conscientious worker by turns in the two distinct yet congenial fields of labor to which his talents were devoted, finding his only rest and recreation in the alternate use of his pen or pencil (707).

In the span of his life, Read saw 17, if not more, publications of his literary works, and was met with publicly celebrated reactions to both his literary and artistic pursuits. Some of his artistic works can be found between the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in the Knohl Collection, and the Harvard University Art Museum, to name a few places.

In the spirit of my Autumnal poetry series, and after “painting” (pun intended) a “portrait” (pun intended once more) of this poet, I thus want to present a newfound favorite work by Read that I, regrettably, just stumbled across whilst finding works to share on this blog.

Without further ado—

The Withering Leaves
Thomas Buchanan Read

The summer is gone and the autumn is here,
And the flowers are strewing their earthly bier;
A dreary mist o’er the woodland swims,
While rattle the nuts from the windy limbs:
From bough to bough the squirrels run
At the noise of the hunter’s echoing gun,
And the partridge flies where my footstep heaves
The rustling drifts of the withering leaves.

The flocks pursue their southern flight—
Some all the day and some all night;
And up from the wooded marshes come
The sounds of the pheasant’s feathery drum.
On the highest bough the mourner crow
Sits in his funeral suit of woe:
All nature mourns—and my spirit grieves
At the noise of my feet in the withering leaves.

Oh! I sigh for the days that have passed away,
When my life like the year had its season of May;
When the world was all sunshine and beauty and truth,
And the dew bathed my feet in the valley of youth!
Then my heart felt its wings, and no bird of the sky
Sang over the flowers more joyous than I.
But Youth is a fable, and Beauty deceives;—
For my footsteps are loud in the withering leaves.

And I sigh for the time when the reapers at morn
Came down from the hill at the sound of the horn:
Or when dragging the rake, I followed them out
While they tossed the light sheaves with their laughter about;
Through the field, with boy-daring, barefooted I ran;
But the stubbles foreshadowed the path of the man.
Now the uplands of life lie all barren of sheaves—
While my footsteps are loud in the withering leaves!

*For a more in depth biographical read about T. B. R., consider The Poetical Works of T. Buchanan Read: New Revised Edition

“To***” by Henry William Herbert

It is always a treat to read Herbert’s poetry, for it is unlike his other work. As far as authorship is concerned, he was an outstanding and prolific sportswriter, essayist, translator of the classical languages, prose writer, and editor—he also wrote outstanding poetry. His poems are what really captured my interest in his work, aside from his tumultuous biography; and, although I am saving his especial treasures to feature after the conclusion of my biographical series—which I am tardy on updating—I wish to periodically share some of his other touching or captivating pieces until then. And thus, following “Sunset on the Hudson,” I present “To***”. -Ann Neilson 

To***
Henry William Herbert
The Magnolia of 1837 

WE are not parted—no!—Though never more
Thy cherished form may greet my watchful eye—
Nor thy soft voice speak welcome to mine ear,
Sweeter than summer music.—Seas may roll,
And realms unnumbered stretch their boundless width,
A wearisome gulf between!—Long years of wo
May lag above us, with their icy weight
Freezing the healthful current of our lives!—
Yea, death himself, with blighting fingers cold
May sunder us, not e’er to meet again
On this side immortality! Thy frame
May gently moulder to its natural dust—
Dewed by the tear-drops of lamenting friends—
Mine rot unhonored in a foreign soil,
Without a stone to mark the exile’s head,
Or blessed ministry of holy church
To smooth the sinner’s passage to his God.
Yet so we are not parted!—Souls like ours,
Knit by so strong a harmony of love,
With hopes, fears, sorrows, sympathies the same,
Still commune with each other, twin in one
Indissolubly joined, and yet more near,
When dies the clay, that dims the immortal spark.

On John Keats’ influence of Thomas Hood’s “Ode To Autumn”

I picked up a copy of English Romantic Poets a few years back, an anthology containing writers such as Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Beddoes—the typical English poets. In accordance of keeping up with my Fall series, I took to it and found a delightful poem I would like to share, by Thomas Hood (whom I’d never heard of, egad). However, I felt the poem needed a little more substance, rather than slapping it on the page and calling it a day. Little did I know that poet John Keats, whose poetry I quite dislike, may have inspired Hood’s own poem. More on that now.

For convenience’s sake and due to the brief, albeit analytical nature of this discussion,  here is a link to Keats’ “To Autumn.”

The two never met, according to Alvin Whitley in Keats and Hood,” found in the Keats-Shelley Journal of Winter, 1956. They did, however, share friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts (33). After Keats’s death, Hood found himself immersed in the former’s circle and soon became close friends with John Hamilton Reynolds, who is considered to be Keats’s best friend (33-34). Not only was the connection formidable, but it was further cemented by Hood’s betrothal to Reynold’s sister, Jane (35). Although indirect, the familial and acquainted ties within the overarching group certainly interwove the connection between Hood and Keats.

Whitley states, “Though Keats and Hood never met in the flesh, they met in English poetic tradition. Lately it has been one of Hood’s major distinctions that he was the first English poet to react significantly to the stimulus of Keats. The tenor of his reaction is of some importance, for it was that of most of the nineteenth-century imitators of Keats, Hood retained, with considerable dilution, the mood, the music, the imagery, the diction, the atmosphere, the settings of Keats’s poems; he ignored…the philosophy of Keats” (39). This is significant to note as it will be the key to comparing Keats’s “To Autumn” and Hood’s own featured “Ode to Autumn.”

Of our two poems in question, Whitley continues in his article with an excellent analysis. Using the tools quoted above—mood, music, imagery, diction, atmosphere, and setting—Whitley expertly analyzes and compares the two poems, which I feel I could not do as great of justice as he. He explains,

…”Ode: Autumn” affords the best possible example. The poem opens with a personification of Autumn—as a male figure—standing shadowless and silent. The poet asks and answers a series of similar questions: where are the songs, the birds, the blooms of summer? They have fled, following the seasons. Some of the creatures of nature are pictured as rejoicing in their hoards; others have flown. Here the Autumn-Melancholy—a female figure—dwells, weeping and reckoning up the dead, while the world looks on sadly. The poem ends with an apostrophe to go and join her; there are enough withered things to make her bower, enough sadness, sorrowing, fear, and despair. Keats, of course, saw and captured the quiet beauty of mellow fruitfulness and fulfilled ripeness; behind his poem is a pagan acceptance of the natural cycle. Hood gives us a moody description; behind his poem is the vague sentiment: the end of things is always sad, alas and farewell…

The translation of imagery corresponds to the translation of mood. The essence of Keatsian imagery, I take it, lies in original preciseness and immediacy, usually grounded in sensual perceptions—”With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.” Abstractions are either personified or qualified in a strikingly new and exact way—”aching Pleasure,” “embalmed darkness.” The imagery of “To Autumn” is as precise as the scope of the subject will allow: “barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,” and even a cliché such as “rosy hue” is linked with “touch the stubble-plains” (41-42).

To continue off of Whitley’s analysis, and to conclude this post before presenting Hood’s poem—the major difference I notice between these two pieces, what brings them absolute distinction, is indeed the tone of the poems. Keats begs to know, “Where are the songs of spring? / Ay, Where are they?,” before complacently waving away this melancholic yearning and concluding, “Think not of them, thou [Autumn] hast thy music too,—” He awaits the renewal of Spring with optimism, finding idealistic pleasure in Autumn’s gloom, “Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft / The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;  / And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.” Hood contrastingly bemoans the autumnal changes, giving us his “moody description”: “There is enough of sorrowing and quite / Enough of bitter fruits the earth doth bear,— / Enough of chilly droppings for her bowl;  / Enough of fear and shadowy despair.” Nothing seems to redeem the forlorn atmosphere consuming Hood, whereas sprightly Keats muses acceptingly over the changes and takes them in stride. Hood is immersed and static, momentum haesit; Keats willingly moves forward with hope.

ODE
Autumn
Thomas Hood
I
I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like Silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.

II
Where are the songs of Summer?—With the sun,
Opening the dusky eyelids of the south,
Till shade and silence waken up as one,
And Morning sings with a warm odorous mouth.
Where are the merry birds?—Away, away,
On panting wings through the inclement skies,
Lest owls should prey
Undazzled at noon-day,
And tear with horny beak their lustrous eyes.

III
Where are the blooms of Summer?—In the west,
Blushing their last to the last sunny hours.
When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest
Like tearful Proserpine, snatch’d from her flow’rs
To a most gloomy breast.
Where is the pride of Summer,—the green prime,—
The many, many leaves all twinkling?—Three
On the moss’d elm; three on the naked lime
Trembling,—and one upon the old oak tree!
Where is the Dryad’s immortality?—
Gone into mournful cypress and dark yew,
Or wearing the long gloomy Winter through
In the smooth holly’s green eternity.

IV
The squirrel gloats on his accomplish’d hoard,
The ants have brimm’d their garners with ripe grain,
And honey been save stored
The sweets of summer in their luscious cells;
The swallows all have wing’d across the main;
But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
And sighs her tearful spells
Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain.
Alone, alone,
Upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone,
With the last leaves for a love-rosary;
Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
Like a dim picture of the drownëd past
In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far-away,
Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.

V
O go and sit with her, and be o’ershaded
Under the languid downfall of her hair;
She wears a coronal of flowers faded
Upon her forehead, and a face of care;—
There is enough of wither’d everywhere
To make her bower,—and enough of gloom;
There is enough of sadness to invite,
If only for the rose that died, whose doom
Is Beauty’s,—she that with the living bloom
Of conscious cheeks most beautifies the light:
There is enough of sorrowing, and quite
Enough of bitter fruits the earth doth bear,—
Enough of chilly droppings from her bowl;
Enough of fear and shadowy despair,
To frame her cloudy prison for the soul!

For further reading: an excellent literary analysis of Hood’s poem alone.

Elizabeth Oaksmith’s “The First Leaf of Autumn”

“…for the breath of autumn had passed over them changing their color, but as yet few were displaced. The distant hills, and slopes of the river, looked as if some gorgeous drapery had been drawn over the rich earth.”—The Western Captive and Other Indian Stories by Elizabeth Oakes Smith, pg. 139

How glorious is this time of transition? I never feel I can exhaust my delight with autumn and its artistic presentation. I am grateful for poets of the past who are able to adequately describe the rich beauty of the season and its fruitful splendor. Thus, Elizabeth Oaksmith is today’s spotlighted poet, due to her skillful representation of Fall. Was there no end to her other-worldly abilities as a writer?

However, before the poem—although I do not usually pair music with my transcriptions, I happened to be listening to this song by South Korean musician Yiruma whilst transcribing Oaksmith’s poem, and I feel it sonorously echoes her words.

“The First Leaf of Autumn”

I SEE thee fall, thou quivering leaf, of faint and yellow hue,
The first to feel the autumn winds, that, blighting, o’er thee blew—
Slow-parted from the rocking branch, I see thee floating by,
To brave, all desolate and lone, the bleak autumnal sky.

Alas! the first, the yellow leaf—how sadly falls it there,
To rustle on the crispéd grass, with every chilly air!
It tells of those that soon must drop all withered from the tree,
And it hath waked a sadder chord in deathless memory.

Thou eddying leaf, away, away, there’s sorrow in thy hue;
Thou soundst the knell of sunny hours, of buds, and liquid dew—
And thou dost tell how from the heart the blooms of hope decay;
How each one lingers, loath to part, till all are swept away.

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