The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: elizabeth oaksmith

“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.”
HORNE’S ORION.

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.

“Repose” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith

Repose
Elizabeth Oakes Smith
From Graham’s Magazine, June, 1843, pg. 362.

As some lone pilgrim, weary and o’erspent,
Turns from the dusty way aside, to drink
At some cool fountain on the river’s brink,
And looking back the toilsome path he went
Revives once more the peril and the pain;
And nerveless, shrinking, lives it o’er again,
Till all along the marge he’ll downward sink,
Forgetful of his shrine: the winds may plain,
The wild bud blossom, and the bird go by,
And yet he resteth with his dream-like eye,
Seeing as one who seeth not, so deep
Is his full sense of rest, a needful rest:
So I would linger thus—beguiled to sleep
That is but waking sleep, most grateful to the breast.

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

Thomas-von-Kempen

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.

“A Sonnet.—The Poet” by Elizabeth Oakes Smith

A Sonnet.—The Poet.
Elizabeth Oakes Smith
From The Ladies’ Companion, October, 1842

IT cannot be—the baffled heart, in vain,
May seek amid the crowd its throbs to hide,
Ten thousand others, kindred pangs may bide;
Yet not the less will our own griefs complain.
Chained to our rock, the vulture’s gory stain
And tearing beak are every moment rife,
Renewing pangs, that end but with our life.
Thence bursteth forth the gushing voice of song—
The soul’s deep anguish thus an utterance finds,
Appealing to all hearts, and human minds
Bow down in awe; thence doth the bard belong
Unto all times.    And this, oh, this is fame!
He asked it not—his soul demanded bread,
And ye, charmed with the voice, gave but a stone
instead.

Elizabeth Oaksmith’s “The First Leaf of Autumn”

“…for the breath of autumn had passed over them changing their color, but as yet few were displaced. The distant hills, and slopes of the river, looked as if some gorgeous drapery had been drawn over the rich earth.”—The Western Captive and Other Indian Stories by Elizabeth Oakes Smith, pg. 139

How glorious is this time of transition? I never feel I can exhaust my delight with autumn and its artistic presentation. I am grateful for poets of the past who are able to adequately describe the rich beauty of the season and its fruitful splendor. Thus, Elizabeth Oaksmith is today’s spotlighted poet, due to her skillful representation of Fall. Was there no end to her other-worldly abilities as a writer?

However, before the poem—although I do not usually pair music with my transcriptions, I happened to be listening to this song by South Korean musician Yiruma whilst transcribing Oaksmith’s poem, and I feel it sonorously echoes her words.

“The First Leaf of Autumn”

I SEE thee fall, thou quivering leaf, of faint and yellow hue,
The first to feel the autumn winds, that, blighting, o’er thee blew—
Slow-parted from the rocking branch, I see thee floating by,
To brave, all desolate and lone, the bleak autumnal sky.

Alas! the first, the yellow leaf—how sadly falls it there,
To rustle on the crispéd grass, with every chilly air!
It tells of those that soon must drop all withered from the tree,
And it hath waked a sadder chord in deathless memory.

Thou eddying leaf, away, away, there’s sorrow in thy hue;
Thou soundst the knell of sunny hours, of buds, and liquid dew—
And thou dost tell how from the heart the blooms of hope decay;
How each one lingers, loath to part, till all are swept away.