The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: fitz-greene halleck

“The winds of March are humming” by Fitz-Greene Halleck

This plaintive (or is it humorous) parody of Thomas Moore’s “To Ladies’ Eyes” was written by 19th century poet and Byron scholar Fitz-Greene Halleck.

You can click here to find accompanying sheet music, originally scored for Moore’s poem. 

SONG, or The winds of March are humming
By Fitz-Greene Halleck
From Fanny: With Other Poems, pp. 111-114

Air, “To ladies eyes a round, boy.”
MOORE.

THE winds of March are humming
Their parting song, their parting song,
And summer’s skies are coming,
And days grow long, and days grow long.
I watch, but not in gladness,
Our garden tree, our garden tree;
It buds, in sober sadness,
Too soon for me, too soon for me.
My second winter’s over,
Alas! and I, alas! and I
Have no accepted lover:
Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me why.

‘Tis not asleep or idle
That love has been, that love has been;
For many a happy bridal
The year has seen, the year has seen;
I’ve done a bridemaid’s duty,
At three or four, at three or four;
My best bouquet had beauty,
Its donor more, its donor more.
My second winter’s over,
Alas! and I, alas! and I
Have no accepted lover:
Don’t ask me why, don’t ask my why.

His flowers my bosom shaded
One sunny day, one sunny day;
The next, they fled and faded,
Beau and bouquet, beau and bouquet.
In vain, at ball and parties,
I’ve thrown my net, I’ve thrown my net;
This waltzing, watching heart is
Unchosen yet, unchosen yet.
My second winter’s over,
Alas! and I, alas! and I
Have no accepted lover:
Don’t ask my why, don’t ask me why.

They tell me there’s no hurry
For Hymen’s ring, for Hymen’s ring;
And I’m too young to marry:
‘Tis no such thing, ’tis no such thing.
The next spring tides will dash on
My eighteenth year, my eighteenth year;
It puts me in a passion,
Oh dear, oh dear! oh dear, oh dear!
My second winter’s over,
Alas! and I, alas! and I
Have no accepted lover:
Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me why.

In Memoriam of Fitz-Greene Halleck, Along With “Fitz-Greene Halleck” by John Greenleaf Whittier

This day marks a significant milestone for writer Fitz-Greene Halleck, being the 150th anniversary of his death. He may go relatively unrecognized by today’s readership, which is truly a pity; however, this man was so celebrated and beloved by several 19th century social and literary circles of his day, that it makes one question why his name hasn’t stood the tests of time. A statue serves as reminder of this immortal writer—you can read more information about that statue here, as well as at the end of this post. But who or what does this statue represent–what purpose does it serve? Surely, it implies prominence, being the last statue to be dedicated and installed in the Literary Walk in Central Park (source). But what more to it is there, besides being a handsome, decorative lawn piece?

Halleck sits erect, his legs elegantly crossed, his foot alight in communication with his thoughtful, musing gaze. His right hand delicately pinches his quill, while his left is preoccupied with a manuscript or “tablet” of sorts; perhaps this is to signify that his thoughts are unceasingly flitting about the streets of New York. He is not merely a fleeting writer of yore—to say such would only besmirch the other writers on the lawn, including Scott and Burns—nor should it be given credence that he was only known for his sociable behaviour. Who he was, and where his legacy remains, is in that he helped mould American poetry into what it was. His poetic voice laid the groundwork for the American voice. His style inspired future writers, while he, himself, drew upon foregone poets. In fact, a descendant of his labeled him the “American Byron.”  William Cullen Bryant, quoted in The Poets and Poetry of Americahad this to say about Halleck’s writing,

His poetry, whether serious or sprightly, is remarkable for the melody of the numbers. It is not the melody of monotonous and strictly regular measurement. His verse is constructed to please an ear naturally fine and accustomed to a range of metrical modulation…He is familiar with those general rules and principles which are the basis of metrical harmony; and his own unerring taste has taught him the exceptions which proper attention to variety demands. He understands that the rivulet is made musical by obstructions in its channel. In no poet can be found passages which flow with more sweet and liquid smoothness; but he knows very well that to make this smoothness perceived, and to prevent it from degenerating into monotony, occasional roughness must be interposed (172).

But to what standard of proclamation are these words given? Observe a stanza from Halleck’s poem, “Twilight,” being that a passage of “sweet and liquid smoothness,”

In youth the cheek was crimson’d with her glow;
Her smile was loveliest then; her matin song
Was heaven’s own music, and the note of wo
Was all unheard her sunny bowers among.
Life’s little world of bliss was newly born;
We knew not, cared not, it was born to die.
Flush’d with the cool breeze and the dews of morn,
With dancing heart we gazed on the pure sky,
And mock’d the passing clouds that dimm’d its blue,
Like our own sorrows then—as fleeting and as few. (source)

The impetus of this lyric is Hope, which is, at first, seemingly swayed through life’s progress. However, Halleck argues, through painted imagery, that Hope remains formidable and shines from Heaven with an “angel-smile of tranquil loveliness,” being “A moon-beam in the midnight cloud of death” (lines 33, 40). In the stanza especially extracted, we see Halleck describe Hope, in youth, as being the “crimson’d” glow that concealed life’s “passing clouds [which] dimm’d [the pure sky’s] blue.” The musicality of the piece brings it a dreamy, ethereal quality, which is sure to enchant the reader of any age.

The stanza above serves as only one example of Halleck’s masterful hand, though. Reading through the few, yet golden pieces which stemmed from his pen, a few other poems stick out for these same notable qualities. For example, “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake”* is a touching eulogy, which, albeit short and succinct, being comprised of six quatrains, evocatively imbues sentiment through such lines as, “Green be the turf above thee, / Friend of my better days! / None knew thee but to love thee, / Nor named thee but to praise” and “Tears fell, when thou wert dying, / From eyes unused to weep, / And long where thou art lying, / Will tears the cold turf steep” (lines 1-8). Another poem of high regard is Fanny, which is notably Halleck’s greatest piece. Fanny satirizes American culture and politics of the 19th century, and is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek whilst doing so. Consider stanzas 28 and 29, which are, humorously, as follows,

“He struggled hard, but not in vain, and breathes
The mountain air at last; but there are others
Who strove, like him, to win the glittering wreaths
Of powers, his early partisans and brothers,
That linger yet in dust from whence they sprung,
Unhonour’d and unpaid, though, luckily, unhung.

‘Twas theirs to fill with gas the huge balloon
Of party ; and they hoped, when it arose,
To soar like eagles in the blaze of noon,
Above the gaping crowd of friends and foes.
Alas! like Guillé’s car, it soar’d without them,
And left them with a mob to jeer and flout them.”

This successful poem, first published in 1819, found its place in several subsequent volumes of Halleck’s poetry, and was eventually given fifty extra appended verses by the author. According to James Grant Wilson in The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck, “The Popularity of ‘Fanny’ was so great, that the publisher offered Halleck five hundred dollars for another canto, an offer which he accepted,” and thus came the extra canto (234). Halleck, in a letter to his sister Maria, however, remarked, “The popularity of ‘Fanny’ is far above my expectations, and certainly far above its merits; but the great secret is, that it is fashionable to admire it, and, fortunately for its author, the general class of readers does not know good from bad” (236). Regardless of its “merits,” whether they be perceived by readers who “know good from bad” or not, the poem represents to modern readership an insightful, humorous perception of American culture during the early 1800s.

Therefore, whether it be for his witty tongue and praised pen, or his friendly demeanour and sociable conversation, Halleck more than deserves that high throne on which he rests. “Personally,” exclaims Edgar Allan Poe in his article entitled “Fitz-Greene Halleck,” “he is a man to be admired, respected…With his friends he is all ardor, enthusiasm and cordiality…He is a good modern linguist, and an excellent belles lettres scholar…”

But what was Halleck to his other peers? The viewpoints of Bryant, Poe, and Drake have been presented (see footnote for Drake); however, famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier excellently bids warm wishes and praise to his friend in the poem, “Fitz-Greene Halleck: At the Unveiling of His Statue.” This poem, as may be inferred, was a companion piece to the unveiling of the Halleck statue—thus, I present this poem. Perhaps, if you have not been convinced of Halleck’s notability as a poet, or the significance of this statue, Whittier’s words may convince you.

Fitz-Greene Halleck
John Greenleaf Whittier

AT THE UNVEILING OF HIS STATUE.

AMONG their graven shapes to whom
Thy civic wreaths belong,
O city of his love, make room
For one whose gift was song.

Not his the soldier’s sword to wield,
Nor his the helm of state,
Nor glory of the stricken field,
Nor triumph of debate.

In common ways, with common men,
He served his race and time
As well as if his clerkly pen
Had never danced to rhyme.

If, in the thronged and noisy mart,
The Muses found their son,
Could any say his tuneful art
A duty left undone?

He toiled and sang; and year by year
Men found their homes more sweet,
And through a tenderer atmosphere
Looked down the brick-walled street.

The Greek’s wild onset Wall Street knew;
The Red King walked Broadway;
And Alnwick Castle’s roses blew
From Palisades to Bay.

Fair City by the Sea! upraise
His veil with reverent hands;
And mingle with thy own the praise
And pride of other lands.

Let Greece his fiery lyric breathe
Above her hero-urns;
And Scotland, with her holly, wreathe
The flower he culled for Burns.

Oh, stately stand thy palace walls,
Thy tall ships ride the seas;
To-day thy poet’s name recalls
A prouder thought than these.

Not less thy pulse of trade shall beat,
Nor less thy tall fleets swim,
That shaded square and dusty street
Are classic ground through him.

Alive, he loved, like all who sing,
The echoes of his song;
Too late the tardy meed we bring,
The praise delayed so long.

Too late, alas! Of all who knew
The living man, to-day
Before his unveiled face, how few
Make bare their locks of gray!

Our lips of praise must soon be dumb,
Our grateful eyes be dim;
O brothers of the days to come,
Take tender charge of him!

New hands the wires of song may sweep,
New voices challenge fame;
But let no moss of years o’ercreep
The lines of Halleck’s name.

Edit: I found this newspaper clipping in my personal collection and thought it may be of interest for those further interested in the unveiling of the Halleck statue. It is from Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, Vol. II, pg 226.

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*For more about Halleck and Drake’s relationship

“Weel, Fitz, I’m here”—On Joseph Rodman Drake’s Scottish epistle, written for Fitz-Greene Halleck

For the past several weeks I have had a single poem running over and over through my mind. Because these lines have haunted me relentlessly, night and day, I feel compelled to share them. However, before we read the piece, I must provide context for the poem and its author.

“A Poet’s Epistle,” written by Joseph Rodman Drake, stems from an epistle written by Drake to his very good friend, Fitz-Greene Halleck, while abroad in Scotland. Drake, a young poet who died at age 25, acquainted himself with Halleck during Autumn of 1812, and the two “became devoted friends” very quickly, according to James Grant Wilson in his book, Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck (163). Their friendship was further solidified during the year 1813, “when Halleck, in the course of a conversation on the delights of another world, fancifully remarked that it would be heaven to ‘lounge upon the rainbow and read Tom Campbell.’ Drake was delighted with the thought, and from that hour the two poets maintained a friendship only severed by death” (163). Their friendship is furthermore evinced by the deep-rooted, brotherly love they shared, as, upon Drake’s untimely death, Fitz-Greene stated, “There will be less sunshine for me hereafter” (163). This weighted statement, paired with a poem written by Halleck and dedicated to Drake, entitled “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake”, showcases the profound grief that Fitz-Greene felt over the loss of Drake and provides for the reader a mere glimpse of their tragic and unabiding friendship.

Regarding “A Poet’s Epistle,” the poem seems to have made its public debut in volume 6 of the American Monthly Magazine, preceded by the following statement, “Not the least attractive pieces in this volume are those which record the intercourse of this ‘Castor and Pollux of Quizzers,’ as they were dubbed in those days when Croaker & Co. kept the town continually upon a broad grin. The ease, humour, and occasional flashes of true poetry which characterise the following epistle to Mr. Halleck, remind us of some of the happiest sallies of the Croakers…” (74). Wilson’s Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck provides even more context for the poem, as he explains, “In the spring of 1818, Dr. and Mrs. Drake, with DeKay, visited Europe….During their foreign tour, Halleck received the following poetical epistles, written by his friend Joseph Rodman Drake. The one dated May first is certainly remarkable as being the production of an American who had not been ten days in Scotland” (197-198).

Although both Wilson and the American Monthly Magazine provide slightly differing transcriptions of the poem, the one I have transcribed is borrowed from The New-York Book of Poetry, edited by Charles Fenno Hoffman, pp. 37-39.

A Poet’s Epistle.
[Written in Scotland to Fitz-Greene Halleck, Esq.]
By J. R. Drake.

Weel, Fitz, I’m here; the mair’s the pity,
I’ll wad ye curse the vera city
From which I write a braid Scots ditty
Afore I learn it;
But gif ye canna mak it suit ye,
Ye ken ye’ll burn it.

My grunzie’s got a twist until it
Thae damn’d Scotch aighs sae stuff and fill it
I doubt, wi’ a’ my doctor skill, it
‘ll keep the gait,
Not e’en my pen can scratch a billet
And write it straight.

Ye’re aiblins thinking to forgather
Wi’ a hale sheet, of muir and heather
O’ burns, and braes, and sic like blether,
To you a feast;
But stop! ye will not light on either
This time at least.

Noo stir your bries a wee and ferlie,
Then drap your lip and glower surly;
Troth! gif ye do, I’ll tell ye fairly,
Ye’ll no be right;
We’ve made our jaunt a bit too early
For sic a sight.

What it may be when summer deeds
Muir shaw and brae, wi’ bonnie weeds
Sprinkling the gowan on the meads
And broomy knowes,
I dinna ken; but now the meads
Scarce keep the cows.

For trees, puir Scotia’s sadly scanted,
A few bit pines and larches planted,
And thae, wee, knurlie, blastic, stuntit
As e’er thou sawest;
Row but a sma’ turf fence anent it,
Hech! there’s a forest.

For streams, ye’ll find a puny puddle
That would na float a shull bairn’s coble,
A cripple stool might near hand hobble
Dry-baughted ever;
Some whinstone crags to mak’ it bubble,
And there’s a river.

And then their cauld and reekie skies,
They luke ower dull to Yankee eyes;
The sun ye’d ken na if he’s rise
Amaist the day;
Just a noon blink that hardly dries
The dewy brae.

Yet leeze auld Scotland on her women,
Ilk sonzie lass and noble yeoman,
For luver’s heart or blade of foeman
O’er baith victorious;
E’en common sense, that plant uncommon,
Grows bright and glorious.

Fecks but my pen has skelp’d alang,
I’ve whistled out an unco sang
‘Bout folk I ha’ na been amang
Twa days as yet;
But, faith, the farther that I gang
The mair ye’ll get.

Sae sharpen up your lugs, for soon
I’ll tread the hazelly braes o’ Doon,
See Mungo’s well, and set my shoon
Where i’ the dark
Bauld Tammie keek’d, the drunken loon,
At cutty sark.

And I shall tread the hallowed bourne
Where Wallace blew his bugle-horn
O’er Edward’s banner, stained and torn.
What Yankee bluid
But feels its free pulse leap and burn
Where Wallace stood!

But pouk my pen! I find I’m droppin
My braw Scots style to English loppin;
I fear amaist that ye’ll be hoppin
I’d quit it quite:
If so, I e’en must think o’ stopping,
And sae, gude night.

*Note: Line one of stanza one states, “The mair’s the pity,” which may reference Sir Walter Scott’s The Black Dwarf, as the line is found verbatim here.