“To Edith, on Her Birthday,” and a Happy Birthday to Mrs. Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli!
by Ann Neilson
Today (May 23) marks the 208th anniversary of Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli’s birth. Although this famed 19th century female poet, women’s rights advocate, and transcendentalist may seem a familiar name to many readers, I implore you take a moment to observe the following passage, derived from a review of Fuller’s At Home and Abroad; or, Things and Thoughts in America and Europe, from Graham’s Magazine of April, 1856, which judiciously discusses her intellect and character,
MARGARET FULLER was, in intellect, one of the most remarkable women the country has produced, and, since her death, it has been demonstrated that her intellect was not more powerful than her heart was high and heroic. She was essentially a noble woman, who, for a long time, was judged, not by her mental accomplishments, but by her mental defects and foibles. She lacked geniality, and perhaps lacked genius; but, as a critic of art and literature—as a discourser on the loftiest themes of philosophy—as a scholar, and as a thinker, she deserved a heartier recognition than she received. Perhaps the enmities she provoked were due in some degree to her sturdy independence of thinking, an independence which was not always free from dogmatism, and was sometimes expressed with a contemptuous positiveness, which irritated those with whom she disagreed. But we can remember few instances in her writings of this self-asserting quality, in which she does not prove her right to positive opinions by thoroughness of research and depth of reflection (464).
Below you will find a poem extracted from Rufus Wilmot Griswold’s Female Poets of America, pg. 253, written by Fuller. I felt that the title alone was rather apropos, considering.
TO EDITH, ON HER BIRTHDAY.
If the same star our fates together bind,
Why are we thus divided, mind from mind?
If the same law one grief to both impart,
How couldst thou grieve a trusting mother’s heart?
Our aspiration seeks a common aim,
Why were we tempered of such differing frame?
—But ’tis too late to turn this wrong to right;
Too cold, too damp, too deep, has fallen the night!
And yet, the angel of my life replies—
“Upon that night a Morning Star shall rise,
Fairer than that which ruled the temporal birth,
Undimmed by vapors of the dreamy earth.”
It says, that, where a heart thy claim denies,
Genius shall read its secret ere it flies;
The earthly form may vanish from thy side,
Pure love will make thee still the Spirit’s bride.
And thou, ungentle, yet much-loving child,
Whose heart still shows the ‘untamed haggard wild,’
A heart which justly makes the highest claim,
Too easily is checked by transient blame;
Ere such an orb can ascertain its sphere,
The ordeal must be various and severe;
My prayers attend thee, though the feet may fly,
I hear thy music in the silent sky.