From Godey’s Lady’s Book, Volume 41, pg. 360
Shine out, my lamp, with welcome ray,
Thou fair, domestic planet, shine!
For something dearer than by day
Is shown in this sweet light of thine.
My books, which, by the shadows pall
Of evening, hidden were from view,
Look from their shelves along the wall,
Each clothed with a serener hue.
My chairs and tables, like old friends,
Stand round, as if rejoiced to see
That Time is making some amends
For what his wings have swept from me;
Bestowing joys of ripened age,
Loves, friendships, intellectual hours,
Thoughts that maturest minds engage,
Fruits rich as youth’s unfolded flowers.
And better forms than these thy beams
Endow with beauty; kindlier looks
Yield to my soul diviner dreams
Than all the golden stores of books—
My lamp! and well thou know’st how bright
Their smiles appear, when, like a sun
Set sudden on the vault of Night,
Thou shin’st to cheer the saddest one.
My best companion! reft of thee,
What were my happiness below?
Half gone; for dearer far to me
Than daylight’s is thy gentler glow.
Since daylight shows the real scene;
But in thy lustre Fancy flings
A purer grace, a softer mien
Around earth’s frail and common things.
My evening lamp! still mayst thou burn
As constant through the coming years,
When towards the tomb my footsteps turn,
And Love’s fond eyes are wet with tears;
Still may thy radiance through the dark
Shine on with hope and comfort rife,
Till thou hast seen the latest spark
Fade slowly from my lamp of life.
In the Poems of Park Benjamin, editor Merle M. Hoover points out an incident in 1839 in which the Brother Jonathan accused Benjamin of plagiarizing Charles Dance’s “Song of the Grave Digger.” Hoover suggests that this was precipitated by the fact that Benjamin left Brother Jonathan to establish the New World, a rival journal. This petty enmity seemed to be both a stressful and positive happenstance for Benjamin, for his poems were scrutinized thereafter under the pretense of plagiarism, but he was also provided advertisement for his works—surrounded by scandal (16).
Benjamin’s poem, “The Old Sexton,” is the poem up for debate. I’ll place both poems back to back and you can judge whether or not it sounds as if Benjamin plagiarized Dance’s work. Hoover insists that this accusation is “unfounded;” however, I disagree to an extent (16). Benjamin’s poem (published in 1840) sounds reminiscent of Dance’s poem (published in 1830), not only because of the blatant copying of the phrase “I gather them in,” but also because of the cadence of both works. Furthermore, the subject matter is the same, and there are words such as “spade,” which echo in both poems. These seem to be loose claims, I’m sure; however, neither does Hoover offer adequate points to articulate his stance. Simply put, they’re far too similar, and Benjamin may be guilty.
The Old Sexton Park Benjamin
Nigh to a grave, that was newly made, Leaned a sexton old on his earth-worn spade: His work was done, and he paused to wait The funeral train through the open gate: A relic of by-gone days was he, And his locks were white as the foamy sea— And these words came from his lips so thin, “I gather them in! I gather them in!”
“I gather them in! for, man and boy, Year after year of grief and joy I’ve builded the houses that lie around In every nook of this burial ground. Mother and daughter, father and son, Come to my solitude, one by one— But come they strangers or come they kin, I gather them in! I gather them in!”
“Many are with me, but still I’m alone! I’m king of the dead—and I make my throne On a monument slab of marble cold, And my sceptre of rule is the spade I hold. Come they from cottage or come they from hall— Mankind are my subjects—all, all, all! Let them loiter in pleasure or toilfully spin— I gather them in! I gather them in!”
“I gather them in—and their final rest, Is here, down here in the Earth’s dark breast”— And the sexton ceased—for the funeral train Wound mutely over that solemn plain: And I said to my heart—when time is told, A mightier voice than that sexton’s old Will sound o’er the last trump’s dreadful din— “I gather them in! I gather them in!”
Song of the Grave Digger Charles Dance
Poor mortals imagine they stand on the ground, Supported by all that is solid and sound; ‘Tis a plank, and beneath it my work’s to be found— I gather them in, I gather them in. The child, strong and healthy, careers on the heath— Not thinking, not caring, scarce knowing of death; In an instant he draws his last innocent breath: I gather him in, I gather him in. The youth, in the vortex of folly and crime, Advised to repent—answers, “Not in my prime” ; He would, if he knew he had run out his time: I gather him in, I gather him in. Says Fifty, “poor Sixty is breaking space; He must long for the health that he sees in my face.” Self-deceiver! he dreams not he’s first in the race: I gather him in, I gather him in. “Huzza,” says the dotard, “I’m turned of four score, And now I shall live to a hundred or more”; At nightfall his coffin is brought to the door: I gather him in, I gather him in. The drunkard exclaims, “Fill my cup to the brim, In water life sinks, but in brandy ‘twill swim”’ He dies as he speaks, and I make sure of him: I gather him in, I gather him in. The rich man observes his poor neighbor look old, And hugs himself on his resources of gold; A lackey all lace, says, “a knell must be tolled.” I gather him in, I gather him in. E’en while he was speaking, the moralist elf Was digging, unthinking, a pit for himself; His spade and his mattock are laid on the shelf; They’ve gathered him in, They’ve gathered him in.
‘Tis Christmas Eve—I hear the chime
Of bells announce the holy time!
The air grows muter as they fling
Their soft, sweet sounds afar,
As if on some bright angel’s wing
CAme music from a star.
‘Tis Christmas Eve—I look above
And see, in thought, the missioned dove
Descending from a vapory cloud,
With glory round his form;
While sounds a voice, not wild or loud,
The voice that hushed the storm.
That voice comes blended with the tone
Which, half in mirth and half in moan,
A gleeful requiem sings for all,
Who, in this holy time,
Will heed the solemn spirit-call—
The bells’ melodious chime.
Ring on! ring on! ye bring to earth
Remembrance of the Saviour’s birth;
And with it dreams of love and home,
Of innocent, calm days,
When guarded childhood joyed to roam
In Virtue’s pleasant ways.
Oh, bells! dear bells! the long ago
Comes back while ye are chiming so—
I sit my mother’s knee before,
I see her tearful eyes,
And hear her as she says, “Adore
Your Maker good and wise!”
Ring on! ye stir the soul of prayer
Thus floating through the twilight air;
Your music breathes a sweet accord,
As in that night of old,
When first the angels of the Lord
Emmanuel’s coming told!
‘Tis Winter now—but Spring will blossom soon,
And flowers will lean to the embracing air—
And the young buds will vie with them to share
Each zephyr’s soft caress—and when the Moon
Bends her new silver bow, as if to fling
Her arrowy lustre through some vapor’s wing,
The streamlets will return the glance of Night
From their pure, gliding mirrors, set by Spring,
Deep in rich frames of clustering chrysolite,
Instead of Winter’s crumbled sparks of white.
So, dearest! shall our loves, though foreign now
By cold unkindness, bloom like buds and flowers,
Like fountain’s flash—for Hope, with smiling brow
Tells of a Spring, whose sweets shall all be ours!
As I write this, it has just begun snowing! Oh, what a splendor are the white flakes, which blanket the earth with restorative power. All decay beneath the frozen conqueror; but, as everything becomes dormant, so does it revive itself, only to rekindle gloriously in Spring.
Park Benjamin, a nineteenth-century poet and editor, also describes the decaying powers of “Frost, the destroyer,” in his “Sonnet—Frost,” which you can find below.
Frost, the destroyer, has begun his work
Upon the foliage; leaves, that were as bright
With the young dew upon them as the light
Of new-found emeralds, show that in them lurk
Decay and death—for the rich, hectic glow
Is burning in their cheeks, and they will fall
Before, with tender ministry, the snow
Shall hide them under an unspotted pall.
Soon will the voice of all the streams be still,
And still the choir that in the woodlands made
Harmony with the rejoicing thoughts that fill
The Universe about us! Grove and glade
Will doff their singing robes and garlands fair,
And the white shroud of icy Winter wear.