The Thaw-King’s Visit to New York by Charles Fenno Hoffman
by Ann Neilson
Due to the chilly weather now enclosing in on the southern parts of the United States, I have been perusing my books and staying in more (naturally). The poem featured in this post is one I have been ecstatic about posting for a while now. For me, it hearkens to the old tales of Jack Frost, yet spins Frost in a new light. Whether or not Hoffman was inspired by the old tale I am unsure. Regardless, he has excellently spun his own wintery narrative. This first appeared in The New-York Mirror in 1831 and saw several publications thereafter. There are a couple asterisks and crosses strewn throughout this transcription, which indicate Hoffman’s various changes throughout the history of this poem’s publication, and a few of my personal notes. Below, you will find the source of the full version I have transcribed. -Ann
The Thaw-King’s Visit to New York
From Humors of a Young Man About Town, originally printed in The New-York Mirror, Volume 9, pgs 286-287.
This version is transcribed from Roberts’ Semi-monthly Magazine, Volume 1-2, pgs 525-526.
He comes on the wings of the warm south-west
In the saffron hues of the sunbeam drest,
And lingers awhile on the placid bay,
As the ice-cakes languidly steal away,
To drink these gems which the wave turns up,
Like Egyptian pearls in the Roman’s cup.
Then hies to the wharves, where the hawser binds
The impatient ship from the wistful winds,
And slackens each rope till it hangs from on high,
Less firmly pencil’d against the sky ;
And sports in the stiffened canvas there
Till its folds float out in the wooing air ;
Then leaves these quellers of ocean’s pride
To swing from the pier on the lazy tide.
He reaches the Battery’s grassy bed,
And the earth smokes out from beneath his tread ;
And he turns him about to look wistfully back
On each charm that he leaves on his beautiful track ;
Each islet of green which the bright waters fold,
Like emerald gems from their bosom rolled,
The sea just peering the headlands through,
Where the sky is lost in its deeper blue,
And the thousand barks which securely sweep
With silvery wings round the land-locked deep.
He loiters awhile on the springy ground,
To watch the children gambol around,
And thinks it hard that a touch from him
Cannot make the aged as lithe of limb ;
That he has no power to melt the rime,
The stubborn frost that is made by time ;
And sighing, he leaves the urchins to play,
And launches at last on the world of Broadway.
There were faces and figures of heavenly mould,
Of charms not yet by the poet told ;
There were dancing plumes, there were mantles gay,
Flowers and ribbons flaunting there,
Such as of old on a festival day
The Idalian nymphs were wont to wear.
And the Thaw-king felt his cheek flush high,
And his pulses flutter in every limb,
As he gazed on many a beaming eye,
And many a form that flitted by,
With twinkling foot and ankle trim.
And he practised many an idle freak,
As he lounged the morning through ;
He sprung the frozen gutters aleak,
For want of aught else to do ;
And left them black as the libeller’s ink,
To gurgle away to the sewer’s sink.
He sees a beggar gaunt and grim
Arouse a miser’s choler,
And he laughs while he melts the soul of him
To fling the wretch a dollar ;
And he thinks how small a heaven ‘twould take,
For a world of souls like his to make.*
And now as the night falls chill and gray,
Like a drizzling rain on a new-made tomb,
And his father the Sun has slunk away,
And left him alone to gas and gloom,
The Thaw-king steals in a vapor thin,
Through the lighted porch of a house, wherein
Music and mirth were gayly mingled ;
And groups like hues in one bright flower,
Dazzled the Thaw-king while he singled
Some one on whom to try his power.
He enters first in a lady’s eyes,
And thrusts at a dandy’s heart ;
But the vest that is made by Frost, defies
The point of the Thaw-king’s dart ;
And the baffled spirit pettishly flies
On a pedant, to try his art ;
But his aim is equally foiled by the dust-
y lore that envelopes the man of must.
And next he tries with a lover’s sighs
To melt the heart of a belle ;
But around her waist there’s a stout arm placed,
Which shields that lady well.
And that waist! oh! that waist–it is one that you would
Like to clasp in a waltz, or—wherever you could.
Her figure was fashioned tall and slim,
But with rounded bust and shapely limb ;
And her queen-like step as she trod the floor,
And her look as she bridled in beauty’s pride,
Was such as the Tyrian heroine wore
When she blushed alone on the conscious shore,
The wandering Dardan’s unwedded bride.
And the Thaw-king gazed on that lady bright,
With her form of love, and her looks of light,
Till his spirits began to wane ;
And his wits were put to rout,**
And entering into a poet’s brain,
He thawed these verses out :***
‘They are mockery all—these skies, these skies—
Their untroubled depths of blue—
They are mockery all—those eyes, those eyes,
Which seem so warm and true.
Each tranquil star in the one that lies,
Each meteor glance that at random flies
The other’s lashes through ;
They are mockery all, these flowers of spring,
Which her airs so softly woo—
And the love to which we would madly cling,
Ay! it is mockery too ;
The winds are false which the perfume stir,
And the looks deceive to which we sue,
And love but leads to the sepulchre,
Which flowers spring to strew.’†
*He read, placarded upon the wall,
“That the country now on its friends did call,
For liberty was in danger,”
And he went to a room ten feet by four,
Where a chairman and sec., and couple more
(Making five with our friendly stranger),
By the aid of four slings and two tallow tapers,
Were preparing to tell in the morning papers
Of the UNION unbroken,
By this very token,
“That the people in mass last night had woken
And their will at the primal meetings spoken!”
And he trembled himself to the tip of his wing
At the juggling might of the Caucus king.
He saw an Oneida baskets peddling
Around the place where the polls were held ;
And a Fed. the Red-skin kicked, for meddling,
As the Indian a Democrat’s ballot spell’d.
That son of the soil
Who had no vote,
How dared he to spoil
A trick so neat,
Meant only to cheat
The voters who hither from Europe float!
From The Poems of Charles Fenno Hoffman, edited by Edward Fenno Hoffman, pgs 210-211. This is also included in his version of
“The Thaw-king” found in The Vigil of Faith, and Other Poems, published in 1845.
**And the Thaw-king gazed on that lady bright,
With her form of love and her looks of light,
Till his spirits began to wane,
And his wits were put to rout ;
And entering into an editor’s brain,
He thaw’d this “article” out.
From The Vigil of Faith, and Other Poems by Charles Fenno Hoffman, pg. 141.
***”River, O river, thou rovest free
From the mountain height to the fresh blue sea,
Free thyself, while in silver chain
Linking each charm of land and main.
Calling at first thy banded waves
From hill-side thickets and fern-hid caves,
From the splinter’d crag thou leap’st below
Through leafy glades at will to flow—
Idling now with the dallying sedge,
Slumbering now by the steep’s moss’d edge,
With statelier march once more to break
From wooded valley to breezy lake ;
Yet all of these scenes, though fair they be,
River, O river, are bann’d to me!
‘River, O river ! upon thy tide
Gayly the frightened vessels glide ;
Would that thou thus couldst bear away
The thoughts that burthen my weary day,
Or that I, from all, save thou, set free,
Though laden still, might rove with thee.
True that thy waves brief lifetime find,
And live at the will of the wanton wind—
True that thou seekest the ocean’s flow
To be lost therein for evermoe !
Yet the slave who worships at glory’s shrine,
But toils for a bubble as frail as thine,
But loses his freedom here, to be
Forgotten as soon as in death set free.”
From The Poems of Charles Fenno Hoffman, edited by Edward Fenno Hoffman, pg. 213
† This was borrowed and replaced as the first stanza in Hoffman’s Love’s Calendar; Or, Eros and Anteros. There are minimal differences between this version and the version found in The Poems of Charles Fenno Hoffman.