The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: death

“To the Dead” by John G. C. Brainard

To the Dead
John G. C. Brainard
From the Poets and Poetry of America, 1854, pg. 210

How many now are dead to me
That live to others yet!
How many are alive to me
Who crumble in their graves, nor see
That sickening, sinking look, which we
Till dead can ne’er forget.

Beyond the blue seas, far away,
Most wretchedly alone,
One died in prison, far away,
Where stone on stone shut out the day,
And never hope or comfort’s ray
In his lone dungeon shone.

Dead to the world, alive to me,
Though months and years have pass’d;
In a lone hour the hum of some wild bee,
And then his form and face I see,
As when I saw him last.

And one with a bright lip, and cheek,
And eye, is dead to me.
How pale the bloom of his smooth cheek!
His lip was cold—it would not speak:
His heart was dead, for it did not break:
And his eye, for it did not see.

Then for the living be the tomb,
And for the dead the smile;
Engrave oblivion on the tomb
Of pulseless life and deadly bloom,—
Dim is such glare: but bright the gloom
Around the funeral pile.

“My Mother’s Miniature” by Isa L. Jenkins

My Mother’s Miniature
By Isa L. Jenkins
From Godey’s Magazine, July, 1853, pg. 61

Faint picture, far more dear to me
Than all the treasures earth can give,
Since she, my all, hath ceased to be,
For whom it was my life to live.

Here I behold that faded cheek,
That calm, smooth brow and flowing hair,
The lips that spoke in tones so meek,
And breathed to heaven their fervent prayer.

Oh, she who ceaseless vigils kept
Above my path in faded years,
And o’er my waywardness hath wept,
Now soars beyond this vale of tears.

Yes, she who sought my heart to mould
For brighter climes and purer skies,
Now dwells where countless suns hath rolled,
Unmarked by years or centuries.

Yon moon, whose track the milky way,
Whose light still glimmers on the wave,
Through months hath cast its mellow ray
Upon her lone and dreary grave.

Thou sweet memento of the past,
A priceless treasure now thou art;
Through years to come, while life shall last,
I’ll keep and wear thee next my heart.

Is Park Benjamin Guilty of Plagiarism?

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.

“Never” by William Winter

Never
By William Winter
From The Poems of William Winter, pg. 140

THE sere leaves rustle in the moaning blast,
The dreary rain is pattering on the roof,
Sad bless, far off, toll through the twilight hours—
And I shall never see thy face again!

The shadows deepen, but there comes no dawn;
And through the dark I hear the rustling robe
Of the grim angel that has veiled my eyes—
Never to see thy glorious face again!

“Two Days” by Thomas Dunn English

TWO DAYS.
By Thomas Dunn English.
From the Southern Literary Messenger, July, 1857, pg. 21.

I. YESTERDAY.

Her skin is white as cold moonlight,
The lids her blue eyes cover;
And beats her heart with throb and start,
With a tremulous thrill as a maiden’s will,
Before her own true lover.
She cannot speak, but on her cheek
The tear-drop downward starting,
Too well reveals how much she feels,
In that sad hour of parting.

Her skin is white as cold moonlight,
The lids her blue eyes cover;
Her arms are wound his neck around,
With languid sighs she reads his eyes,
The fond eyes of her lover.
Look thou elsewhere. This mournful pair,
Who show for love such fitness,
Should have no spies with soulless eyes,
But heaven alone for witness.

——

II. TO-MORROW.

Her skin is white as cold moonlight,
The lids her blue eyes cover;
No more her heart will throb and start
With a natural start devoid of art,
When meeting her true lover.
She cannot speak, nor on her cheek
Henceforth will tear-drops glisten;
Nor ever again, to wooing strain
Her willing spirit listen.

Shade skin so white, hide hair so bright,
Those blue eyes gently cover—
Shield her ever from earth’s alarms;
Enshroud her charms and cross her arms,
Then sprinkle blossoms over,
Nail down the lid—the guests are bid
To see these nuptials sombre;
And gently take, lest she awake,
My darling to her slumber.