The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Category: poetry

“Ambition” by John Neal

Here’s a poem, “Ambition,” penned by 19th-century author, poet, and all-around charismatic American ruffian John Neal. You will find two versions of the poem. The first one appears in an 1842 volume of poetry, whereas the second one is an earlier version dating to 1817. In both versions I find the last sentence of the last stanza to be of particular interest, as I think the different lines uniquely shape the conclusion of the poem. To me, the earlier version clarifies what he’s attempting to illustrate in the later version. You will find other noticeable differences throughout, especially in stanza two. 

Ambition
By John Neal
From The Poets and Poetry of America, 1842, ed. Rufus W. Griswold

I loved to hear the war-horn cry,
And panted at the drum’s deep roll;
And held my breath, when—flaming high—
I saw our starry banners fly,
As challenging the haughty sky;
They went like battle o’er my soul:
For I was so ambitious then,
I burn’d to be a slave—of men.

I stood and saw the morning light,
A standard swaying far and free;
And loved it like the conquering flight
Of angels floating wide and bright,
Above the stars, above the fight
Where nations warr’d for liberty:
And though I heard the battle-cry
Of trumpets in the hollow sky.

I sail’d upon the dark-blue deep,
And shouted to the eagle soaring;
And hung me from a rocking steep,
When all but spirits were asleep;
And, O, my very soul would leap
To hear the gallant waters roaring;
For every sound and shape of strife
To me was but the breath of life.

But I am strangely alter’d now,—
I love no more the bugle’s voice—
The rushing wave—the plunging prow—
The mountain, with his clouded brow—
The thunder, when his blue skies bow,
And all the sons of God rejoice,—
I love to dream of tears and sighs,
And shadowy hair, and half-shut eyes.

Song
N.
From The Portico, Volume 3, pp. 252-253

I’ve loved to hear the war-horns cry,
And panted at the drums deep roll,
And held my breath, when flaming high,
I saw our starry banners fly,
As challenging the haughty sky.
They talk’d of battle to my soul;
For I was so advent’rous then
I burn’d to be—the slave of men.

I’ve look’d upon the morning light,
Flushing its standard far and free,
And seen it struggle with the night,
And loved it—for it told of fight,
And every flash that triumph’d bright,
Seem’d glance of glorious Liberty.
For I was fanciful and wild
As youthful Freedoms freest child.

I’ve sail’d upon the dark blue deep,
I’ve shouted to the eaglet soaring,
And hung me from a rocking steep,
When all but my spirits were asleep;
And oh! my very soul would leap
To hear its gallant waters roaring.
For every sound that told of life,
To me, was but the breath of strife.

But I am strangely alter’d now,
I love no more the bugles voice—
The rushing wave—the plunging prow—
The mountains tempest clouded brow—
The daring—the exulting flow
Of all that made me once rejoice.
I’ve learn’d to talk of tears and sights—
And locks of gold—and dying eyes.

“Awake, My Lyre” by James Gates Percival

Awake, My Lyre
By James Gates Percival
From The Dream of a Day, and Other Poems by James Gates Percival, pp. 168-169

AWAKE, my lyre, awake!
Breathe aloud the choral strain;
From thy heavy slumber break;
Wake to life and joy again.

Hark! how on thy trembling strings
Songs of hope and love rebound;
Brushed as by an angel’s wings,
How the vocal chords resound.

Now thy long deep sleep has flown;
Spirit burns along thy wire:
How the swelling peals roll on,
Full, instinct with living fire.

O! be silent never more;
Soar to day’s eternal blue;
Through the solemn midnight pour
Notes that fall like starry dew.

As on eagle’s pinions, take
High to heaven thy sweep again;
Light and music o’er us shake,
Like a shower of golden rain—
Awake, my lyre, awake!
Breathe aloud the choral strain.

“To Elizabeth” by Charles Lane

Here we have a simple poem written by the 19th century Transcendentalist Charles Lane. Lane was friends (rather acquaintances after all was said and done) with Amos Bronson Alcott, who is best known as being the father of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott.

I find this poem to be of particular importance as we receive a glimpse of Lane’s poetic voice. This poem was dedicated to Elizabeth Alcott, or “Lizzie,” on her birthday, and was written during the family’s stay at the Fruitlands.*

*A failed Utopian communal living experiment. Lane and Alcott were hopeful when they first established the community; however, towards the end of its short run, enmity grew between the two and their friendship was nearly severed.

To Elizabeth
Charles Lane
From Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands, compiled and edited by Clara Endicott Sears

Of all the year the sunniest day
Appointed for thy birth
Is emblem of the longest stay
With us upon the earth.

Now dressed in flowers
The merry hours
Fill up the day and night.
May your whole life
Exempt from strife
Shine forth as calm and bright.

FRUITLANDS.

“The Fountain in the Park” by Epes Sargent

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From The Romance of American Landscape by Thomas Addison Richards, pg. 21

The Fountain in the Park.
By Epes Sargent
From Sargent’s New Monthly Magazine of Literature…Vol. 1, January 1843, pg. 38

Amid the city’s din and dust, thy foaming column springs,
And on the trodden soil around, refreshing moisture flings.
Thou’rt like that grateful human heart, O fountain pure and bright,
Which, in the midst of sin and care, is ever fresh and white;
Which scatters love and joy around, and, as it gushes, shows
Each ray from Heaven, its fountain-head, and Faith’s prismatic bows.

“Morning” by Thomas Dunn English

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A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove) by Sanford Robinson Gifford

Morning.
By Thomas Dunn English
From The Casket Vol. 16, 1840, pg. 151

Morn on the placid landscape. Nature woke,
And from her long night’s slumber proudly broke.
Gazed, smiling gazed on mountain, and on dale,
And tossed unto the skies her misty veil.
The sun was there to glad the morning’s birth,
And empty living fire upon the earth.
The deer stole slily from his hiding-place.
Basked in the beams, nor panted for the chase.
The squirrel leaped from rock to rock in pride;
The rabbit pattered up the mountain side;
While mingled with the wild-bee’s hum was heard
The whirring of the gaudy humming-bird;—
That painted insect of the feathered tribe,
Whom all can wonder at, but none describe,—
The red-head woodpecker with steady stroke,
Commenced his labor on the hollow oak;
The feathered choir with rapture-swelling throats,
Began in concert their melodious notes;
While from the low-growth, where it deep lay hid,
Came the shrill clarion of the katy did.
In deep delight creation seemed to swim,
And pour thanksgiving in their matin hymn.