The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: christian

“Written in a Blank Leaf of Thomas A Kempis” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith


Thomas à Kempis was a German monk, priest, and writer, who is best known for his work Imitatio Christi, or Imitation of Christ. According to Christian Classics Ethereal Library online, the book is “a charming instruction on how to love God…free from intellectual pretensions, [and] has had great appeal to anyone interested in probing beneath the surface of life.” Kempis, born in 1380, entered Mount St. Agnes’s monastery at age nineteen and lived the remainder of his life there until his death in 1471.

Oaksmith’s poem is a warm tribute to Kempis’s patient temperament and bids the preservation of his legacy in Heaven. One wonders whether or not she felt compelled to pen the following poem after reading Kempis’s book?

Written in a Blank Leaf of Thomas A Kempis
By Elizabeth Oakes Smith
From Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, May, 1849, pg. 336.

What though a gloomy faith were thine,
With vigil pale and penance stern,
That deemed it sinful when the heart
For kindly sympathy did yearn;
And thou, within thy monkish cell,
For weary years thy beads didst tell—

Yet, Kempis, it is sweet to feel
That God’s own spirit from above,
Will rightly guide the blinded child
By its own law of truth and love;
That, let the creed be what it may,
The heart will find the better way.

We praise thee not, that to thy limbs
The hairy vesture torture gave;
That all thy cloister vows were kept,
And fastings wore thee to the grave—
But humble Peace to thee was given,
And Love, which leads to God and Heaven.

“The Seen and the Unseen” by “Ernest Helfenstein”

The Seen and the Unseen
Ernest Helfenstein (Elizabeth Oakes Smith)
From The Mayflower, 1847, ed. Elizabeth Oakes Smith

‘As in a glass darkly.’ St. Paul.*

WE pass along with careless tread,
Where vine and buds are springing;
We smile for all above our head,
Are light and gladness ringing,
Unconscious that beneath our feet,
The lava flood is leaping,
That in the pleasant summer heat,
The lightning flash is sleeping:

And human eyes each other meet,
With meanings sealed forever,
And loving lips each other greet,
Their tale revealed, ah! never—
And smiles, cold beaming smiles go round,
The breaking heart concealing,
And temples are with garlands crowned,
Nor they their throbs revealing.

I too, for seeming must be mine,
With careless words shall greet thee,
Although the slightest tone of thine,
Like music will entreat me—
And I shall coldly meet thine hand,
‘T is thus the world is going,
Like mocking effigies we stand,
No one his neighbor knowing.

Ah! better thus than each should know
His brother’s heart-felt grieving,
For who could bide the sight of we,
Which bears of no relieving;
And who could list the mournful tone,
From every heart up-swelling,
Where hopes are dying one by one,
And hear their death-dirge knelling.

Oh! should a sickness of the heart,
A weariness come o’er thee,
Would that these lines might peace impart,
Might unto joy restore thee.
And thou, with dreamy half-closed eyes,
Would’st o’er the missive ponder,
While floating faintly should arise
A form of light and wonder.

Oh then bethink, that there is one,
Though none the secret readeath,
Whose soul forever and alone,
For thee in secret pleadeth;
Who trembles when thy name is heard,
Yet meekly would be dreaming,
That had we dared to breathe one word,
Thy coldness had been seeming.

*[Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.“]