The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

“To E. O. S.” by Sarah Helen Whitman

In this endearing tribute written by Whitman to her close friend, Elizabeth Oaksmith, Whitman attests to Oaksmith’s mysticism. Both Whitman and Oaksmith bonded over a mutual interest in supernatural studies, and this tribute gives unique, brief glimpses into the divinatory eye of Oaksmith, as perceived by an adoring Whitman. It is worth noting this poem is especially befitting to be posted on this date, for today we celebrate Oaksmith’s 212th Birthday. Perhaps I can find my own divinatory means to contact Oaksmith on her birthday—think she’d be willing to communicate with us?

[By the way, the featured photo, if you’re able to see it, is of Elizabeth Oaksmith, not Sarah Helen Whitman. I deliberately chose the former’s photo, considering the day.]

To E[lizabeth] O[akes] S[mith]
By Sarah Helen Whitman
From Hours of life, and other poems by Sarah Helen Whitman, pg. 189.

“Eos, fair Goddess of the Morn! whose eyes
Drive back night’s wandering ghosts.”

When issuing from the realms of ‘Shadow Land’*
I see thee mid the orient’s kindling bloom,
With mystic lilies† gleaming in thy hand,
Gathered by dream-light in the dusky gloom
Of bowers enchanted—I behold again
The fabled Goddess of the Morning, veiled
In fleecy clouds. Thy cheek, so softly paled
With memories of the Night’s mysterious reign,
And something of the star-light, burning still
In thy deep, dreamy eyes, do but fulfil
The vision more divinely to my thought:
While all the cheerful hopes enkindling round thee—
Warm hopes, wherewith thy prescient soul hath crowned thee—
Are with the breath of morning fragrance fraught.

*Note: possibly a reference to Oaksmith’s book, Shadow Land, or The Seer, published in 1852.
†Note: Lilies are often associated with possessing divinatory powers.

Comment-a-Haiku Poetry Competition!

I invite any of my readers to join me in entering this competition. I would love to see your entries!

Vita Brevis

Vita Brevis is hosting a four-day haiku competition–taking place entirely in the comment section of this post!

Support Us Here.

Here’s What You Need to Know:

How to Submit:

1. Submit one nature-themed haiku as a comment on this post

2. Reblog this post on your blog or write a post announcing that you’ve entered it

3. (Optional) Give good feedback on other commenters’ work!

Theme: Nature

Reward: We’ll publish the winning poet, featuring their haiku on the front page of our online magazine with a link to their blog.

When: Starting right now (08/10), ending Monday night (08/13)

Questions: Use our Contact Us page–I’ll get back to you soon!

I’ll try to respond to as many of you as I can–get writing and have fun!

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“Lines” by Charles Henry Foster

By Charles Henry Foster


OLD wood, that has stood ‘mid the tempests rude,
Whose fibres the years have woven;
Brought by sturdy arm from some ancient farm,
And in faggots[*] deftly cloven:
In the forest dim each stalwart limb
On the tough old tree has thickened;
And now, by its heat, won from wind and sleet,
My shivering frame is quickened.
At this gladsome hearth; I can guess the worth
Of the blasts it has grimly weathered,
As with crackle and roar it yields the store
Of warmth it has slowly gathered:
While the embers glow, my fancies go,
By the cheering flame up-kindled:
Now, with sudden leap the dogs I heap;*
In my musing the blaze had dwindled.

Old books from their nooks, with searching looks,
I bear to the lighted table;
As I gaze within, I try to win
The fact in their cunning fable.
Now the worlds of old their lore unfold,
As converse I hold with the ages;
And I hoard their dowers through the waxing hours,
While scanning the painted pages.
Then the Christian seers of the middle years,
When the Church had might and glory,
Wield weapons dense, in the Faith’s defence,
Or chant some martyr’s story.
Oh! the earnest word is for ever heard,
From the open page that speaketh;
And the souls of men sound it back again,
And in deathless echoes it breaketh.

Old friends HEAVEN sends, and my study ends;
Right joysome is our greeting;
In gay discourse we prove the force
Of the love in our bosoms beating:
Now the merry shout rings cheerly out,
As the lively jest is started;
Now wells the tear as we sadly hear
Of some kind soul departed.
In an alien land, still a friendly hand
To his last dark slumber laid him;
And the honors due to a heart so true,
In prayerful sorrow paid him.
Oh! friendship pure will aye endure,
When this masque below is ended,
And in union dear in a better sphere
We meet with the dead ascended.

Old wine, divine, born of Gallia’s vine,
From its cellared covert bringing,
We quaff its wealth of mirth and heath,
As its genial beams ‘t is flinging.
Now we tread the realm where falls the film
That dulls this mortal vision,
And our mounting dreams are bright with gleams
From the blissful fields of Elysian.
While beats the storm our souls grow warm,
Our spirits its shrieks embolden;
And the song we raise in the glad GOD’S praise,
Who brought us this blessing golden.
PROMETHEUS gave flame, but till BACCHUS came,
Men knew not the truth of feelings,
The swift-winged thought and the wisdom caught
From the ruddy bowl’s revealing.

[*In order to spare confusion and address concern regarding this term, refer to this 19th century definition of the term: “A bundle of sticks bound together as fuel.”]

*———’LIGNA super foco
Large reponens.’—HOR. Lib. I, CARMEN IX.

“The Guests of Night” by Bayard Taylor

The Guests of Night.
By Bayard Taylor
From the Atlantic Monthly, Volume 29, January, 1872, pp. 15-16.

I RIDE in a gloomy land,
I travel a ghostly shore,—
Shadows on either hand,
Darkness behind and before;
Veils of the summer night
Dusking the woods I know;
A whisper haunts the height,
And the rivulet croons below.

A waft from the roadside bank
Tells where the wild-rose nods;
The hollows are heavy and dank
With the steam of the golden-rods:
Incense of Night and Death,
Odors of Life and Day,
Meet and mix in a breath,
Drug me, and lapse away.

Is it the hand of the Past,
Stretched forth from its open tomb,
Or a spell from thy glamoury cast,
O mellow and mystic Gloom?
All, wherein I have part,
All that was loss or gain,
Slips from the clasping heart,
Breaks from the grasping brain.

Lo, what is left? I am bare
As a new-born soul,—I am naught;
My deeds are as dust in air,
My words are as ghosts of thought.
I ride through the night alone,
Detached from the life that seemed,
And the best I have felt or known
Is less than the least I dreamed.

But the Night, like Agrippa’s glass,
Now, as I question it, clears;
Over its vacancy pass
The shapes of the crowded years;
Meanest and most august,
Hated or loved, I see
The dead that have long been dust,
The living, so dead to me!

Place in the world’s applause?
Nay, there is nothing there!
Strength from unyielding laws?
A gleam, and the glass is bare.
The lines of a life in song?
Faint runes on the rocks of time?
I see but a formless throng
Of shadows that fall or climb.

What else? Am I then despoiled
Of the garments I wove and wore?
Have I so refrained and toiled,
To find there is naught in store?
I have loved,—I love! Behold,
How the steady pictures rise!
And the shadows are pierced with gold
From the stars of immortal eyes.

Nearest or most remote,
But dearest, hath none delayed;
And the spirits of kisses float
O’er the lips that never fade.
The night each guest denies
Of the band or haughty brain,
But the loves that were, arise,
And the loves that are, remain.

“Lines: Far from this dull prosaic land…” from the Knickerbocker

From the Knickerbocker, Volume 46, July, 1855, pp. 36-38.

——’ANIMAM ne crede puellis,
Namque est faminea tutior, unda fide.’—PETRON.

FAR from this dull prosaic land,
Many a weary league away,
Stretches a beach of whitest sand,
Spread out by Ocean’s mighty hand,
And glittering with his pearly spray.
Scattered thereon in richest store
Are tinted shells of color rare,
And, following on the breakers’ roar,
The sea-breeze drifts the foam it bore
In snowy masses through the air.
Along the beach, some near, some far,
Dropped by the wave’s returning flow,
Lies many a shattered mast and spar,
Relics of elemental war,
Blackened, as battle’s trophies are,
Memorials of distress and woe.
And far to sea, tho frothy crest
Of many a rolling breaker glancing,
Shoulders its way above the rest,
As seeking in its earnest quest
To view the shore upon whose breast,
Like charging squadron, ‘t is advancing.

Nestled beneath a mighty rock,
(St. ANNE’S Cape the name it bore,)
The ‘Faery Isle’ escapes the shock
Of billows, and their rage may mock;
Looking a jewel from the shore,
Heaved from the sea—a shred of land
Scarce larger than a fisher’s boat,
A glittering ring of silver sand,
Close plumed with shrubs whose flowers expand,
A many-colored glorious band,
And on the ocean seem to float.
Within the isle a little well
Of purest, freshest crystal sprung,
Whose bubbling column, legends tell,
Opened, before the proper spell,
The glittering road to Faerydom.
A charméd spot: for faery aid,
So mortals said, was often given
To those who by the well had prayed;
And many a loving youth and maid
Their frequent vows together paid
Beside that shrine, as if to HEAVEN.
Oft to the font young EDWARD came,
With murmured prayer for faery favor.
His whispered suit was still the same;
For EMMA’S love—no other name
E’er crossed his lip—no other flame
E’er shone beside the love he gave her.
He won the maid; by faery power
Or lover’s art I know not, tell not;
Or whether it chanced at vesper hour
On the white sea-beach, or in secret bower,
Or by the faery fountain’s shower:
From EDWARD’S lip the secret fell not.
The lovers plighted their faith; and who,
If he seeks through earth to its utmost bound,
E’er met a maid but her faith was true,
Or a woman false to her promise found?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .
One summer eve, as the sun declined,
Hung in the red and glowing West,
‘Like a burning thought in a poet’s mind,’
Or a passionate lover closely twined
On the blushing curve of his maiden’s breast—
Young EDWARD sought the faery well,
And lo! beside its margin stood
A figure like EVE’S before she fell,
Or the women of old, whom poets tell
The angels stooped from heaven and wooed.
‘The blue of her eye was the hue of the sky,’
Her hair like the streakings of morning light,
As it shoots from the cloud, an airy shroud,
Which veils from the earth the sun-day bright.

Her face was young and wondrous fair,
(A girl she was, or little older,)
But in its rest there was an air
Of power, and something scornful there
There lurked, which daunted the beholder.
And on her brow a shimmering star
Seemed ever and anon to quiver,
As ye see the lights in heaven that are
Stoop from their aërial home afar,
And shine reflected in a river.
Her robe was the finest of silken sheen,
Its tint was a glancing silvery green,
And it clung to her figure’s swell
Till her bosom’s faintest curve was seen,
And the curious eye could trace, I ween,
Her dainty waist as well.
Oh! it was startling to see her so
Standing beside the spring,
And from her presence there seemed to flow
Something which made the pulses go
With a chilling feel and a beat more slow,
And fear on the heart to bring.

She spoke, and her silver voice was clear,
And low, and sad, though sweet;
And its murmuring cadence met the ear
Like the whispered grieving we sometimes hear,
Made by the wailing sorrowing air,
E’er the storm begins to beat.
Her words in their rhythm seemed to swell
Or die, as the fountain rose and fell.

‘On woman’s love oh! ne’er believe:
More stable the wave in its flow;
She will smile and promise, and yet deceive—
Naught falser on earth below!
One whose nature is higher than clay,
(And her bosom began to swell,)
I who seek thee here to-day,
If you’ll follow me through this crystal way,
I’ll love thee long and well.’

And as she ceased, the opening Spring
Received her in its breast,
And the faery minstrels seemed to ring
Their harps, and many a welcome sing,
Such as might greet the blessed.

He followed not: his steadfast love
The faëry’s charm defied.
Her beauty failed his heart to move,
Or only served his faith to prove
To her, his promised bride.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .
The faëry font is choked and dry,
Its mistress never seen,
And EDWARD the island ne’er comes nigh,
Though he glances oft with a troubled eye
Toward its foliage green.
And EMMA: did woman ever fail
In constancy to man?
Or is it but a slanderous tale
Which says that her passion soon grows pale,
That her love and faith like mists exhale?
Let him answer the quest who can.