The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: poems

“The Frost Spirit” by John Greenleaf Whittier

The Frost Spirit

HE comes,—he comes,—the Frost Spirit comes! You may trace his footsteps now
On the naked woods and the blasted fields and the brown hill’s withered brow.
He has smitten the leaves of the gray old trees where their pleasant green came forth,
And the winds, which follow wherever he goes, have shaken them down to earth.

He comes,—he comes,—the Frost Spirit comes! from the frozen Labrador,
From the icy bridge of the Northern seas, which the white bear wanders o’er,
Where the fisherman’s sail is stiff with ice, and the luckless forms below
In the sunless cold of the lingering night into marble statues grow!

He comes,—he comes,—the Frost Spirit comes! on the rushing Northern blast,
And the dark Norwegian pines have bowed as his fearful breath went past.
With an unscorched wing he has hurried on, where the fires of Hecla glow
On the darkly beautiful sky above and the ancient ice below.

He comes,—he comes,—the Frost Spirit comes! and the quiet lake shall feel
The torpid touch of his glazing breath, and ring to the skater’s heel;
And the streams which danced on the broken rocks, or sang to the leaning grass,
Shall bow again to their winter chain, and in mournful silence pass.

He comes,—he comes,—the Frost Spirit comes! Let us meet him as we may,
And turn with the light of the parlor-fire his evil power away;
And gather closer the circle round, when that firelight dances high,
And laugh at the shriek of the baffled Fiend as his sounding wing goes by!

In the case I don’t transcribe a work, I source my borrowings. This transcription is borrowed from the following source, and credit goes to their transcribers.

 

“The silent moon is rising…” by Jones Very

“All is hushed and still”—which better words are there to describe Jones Very’s piece than this calming sentence derived from his own poem, “The silent moon is rising…” Although simplistic, minimal, and to the point, Jones’ poem provides enough staging to create a vivid Winter evening. He, at first, showcases scenery of quiet snow resting by a “silent river;” however, he next describes busy, bustling workers turning homeward from their work day. And thus, with the removal of society, and supplemented by such imagery as, again, “The silent [river] flowing,” the reader is returned to a snowy world lain in a hushed state.

Because of its simplicity, it is in my opinion that this poem provides enough barebone context to allow any reader the ability to further flesh out the tiny narrative. He reminds me of Robert Frost in this way. What do you think? Am I giving him too much credit? Feel free to comment below.

“The silent moon is rising…”
The silent moon is rising
O’er the hills of purest snow,
The silent river’s flowing
In its deep bed below.

The bustle too is dying,
Around the noisy mill;
The workmen home are hying,
All is hushed and still.

(From Jones Very: The Effective Years, 1833-1840 by Edwin Gittleman, pg. 34.)

“The Sleigh Bells” and “Sleighing Song”-Presenting the early and final drafts of Charles Fenno Hoffman’s merry poem, accompanied by an article from the New-York American

“The Sleigh Bells,” by Charles Fenno Hoffman, is a timeless poem, which inspires good cheer. Its tinkling melody is reminiscent of that same playful song by our author, entitled “Sparkling and Bright,” and rhythmically whisks the reader into a land of frost and whim.

The poem below is the revised, and perhaps final, version of Hoffman’s poem, found in Love’s Calendar, Lays of the Hudson, and Other Poems. Below this is a transcription of an article, which was originally paired with an earlier version of the poem, as they originally appeared just sixteen years prior in the New-York American. What is curious about this article is that it is marked with an asterisk, which, according to Hoffman biographer Homer Barnes, Charles was apt to use either an asterisk or the initial “H” as a sign off to his articles: [in a letter to his brother George] “when you read the articles marked by an asterisk in the American you may know that I commune with you as lovers have done for some thousand years—through a star” (Barnes 37). Therefore, I will boldly assume that the article accompanying this poem was written by Hoffman.

The Sleigh Bells. 
From Love’s Calendar, Lays of the Hudson, and Other Poems by Charles Fenno Hoffman

MERRILY, merrily sound the bells
As o’er the ground we roll,
And the snow-drift breaks in silvery flakes
Before our cariole.
When wrapp’d in buffalo soft and warm,
With mantle and tippet dight,
We cheerily cleave the fleecy storm,
Or skim in the cold moonlight.
Merrily, merrily! Merrily, merrily!
Merrily sound the bells.

Merrily, merrily sound the bells
Upon the wind without,
When the wine is mull’d and the waffle cull’d,
And the song is passed about.
While rosy lips and dimpled cheeks
The welcome joke inspire,
And mirth in many a bright eye speaks
Around the hickory fire.
Merrily, merrily! Merrily, merrily!
Merrily sound the bells.

[The original article with its early “draft” of the poem.]
From the New-York American, January 21, 1831, pg. 1
“And theirs were happy sleigh-ride winters.”—Halleck
And so do ours bid fair to be, if the sun does not think proper to treat the earth like the man in the fable, and strip the ground of the wintry mantle with which an old-fashioned North Easter has covered it. Our distant readers must know that we have just been blessed with one of those storms which are only “known in the memory of the oldest inhabitants,”—one of those hearty, bouncing fellows which wrap nature in a snowy upper Benjamin that will stand the wear of sun and rain for a month. Mockasons and fur caps must come once more into vogue, if people would keep their feet from going astray, and their ears from chilblanes: our belles too, if the emergency of the occasion can call out originality, may for the nonce, instead of servilely copying the costume of other climes, venture upon something appropriate to their own. Now is the time (as the Journal of Health would say) for colds, coughs and consumptions—the egg, the chrysalis, and the consuming worm of disease. Now, too, is the time to lay up stores of health and bloom that will last a whole six weeks of subsequent dissipation. Can any thing be more invigorating to a system unstrung from breathing the atmosphere of crowded rooms, or reading novels over an anthracite fire, (a source of heat only fit for Pandoemonium,) than the bracing air of a January morning, snatched through the folds of a buffalo robe, and caught when going at the rate of twelve miles an hour? Sleighing is your true panacea for the ills that flesh is heir to—always excepting punning and dyspepsia—complaints which, when chronic, are incurable. Who is there that loves the republic, who does not grieve over the faded glories of sleighing, when he recollects the hospitality which was wont to cheer him at the goal of his winter’s ride, “where Cato gave his little Senate laws,” and remembers the music and merriment which, sweeping fitfully upon the blast, came so pleasantly to his ears, when he had made good his seat by the crackling hickory fire?—Such rides and such fires are no more. Cato indeed survives; but the fortunes of his house are obscured—the sceptre hath departed from his hand. The world “frolic” is not the be found in Pelham, and hickory now is only used for election poles. Surely the world grows colder, though less snow falls to soften our pathway through it.
May we not be forgiven for concluding our remarks upon this moving subject, with the following feeble translation of a spirited Dutch song, by an early and forgotten poet of this province?         *

SLEIGHING SONG—By Hans Van Poeng. [Hoffman]
Merrily, merrily sound the bells
As o’er the ground we roll;*
And the snow-drift breaks in silver flakes
Before our Cariole;
While, muffled in sables rich and warm,
With mantle and beaver dight,
We rive in the teeth of the angry storm,
Or skim in the cold moonlight,
Merrily, merrily, &c.

Merrily, merrily sound the bells
Upon the wind without,
When the wine is mulled, and the waffle culled,
And the joke is pass’d about:
And rosy lips and dimpled cheeks
The flash of wit inspire,
While mirth in many a bright eye speaks,
Around the crackling fire.
Merrily, merrily, &c.

*The term of rolling is not as inappropriate as it seems, for a bond broken through a deep snow forms into what the Canadians call Cahoo’s-waves, which make a light “cutter” dance about like a cockle boat.
So in another poet of the period
“From varied pastry heaped upon the board,
Cull the light kruller when the schnap is poured.”

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

“The Fallen Leaves” by Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

Caroline Norton’s poem, “The Fallen Leaves,” depicts four distinct stages relating to the Autumnal season, which are observed by our narrator. A childlike, giddy wonder transitions into premature hope; man’s “prime” transitions into aged nostalgia. These simple themes give the poem such poignancy and sentimentality, that I believe the verses will undoubtedly rouse reminiscent memories of the golden Falls of yore. -Ann

The Fallen Leaves
Caroline Norton

WE stand among the fallen leaves,
Young children at our play,
And laugh to see the yellow things
Go rustling on their way:
Right merrily we hunt them down,
The autumn winds and we,
Nor pause to gaze where snow-drifts lie,
Or sunbeams gild the tree:
With dancing feet we leap along
Where wither’d boughs are strown;
Nor past nor future checks our song–
The present is our own.

We stand among the fallen leaves
In youth’s enchanted spring–
When Hope (who wearies at the last)
First spreads her eagle wing.
We tread with steps of conscious strength
Beneath the leafless trees,
And the colour kindles on our cheek
As blows the winter breeze;
While, gazing towards the cold grey sky,
Clouded with snow and rain,
We wish the old year all past by,
And the young spring come again.

We stand among the fallen leaves
In manhood’s haughty prime–
When first our pausing hearts begin
To love ‘the olden time;’
And, as we gaze, we sigh to think
How many a year hath pass’d
Since ‘neath those cold and faded trees
Our footsteps wander’d last;
And old companions–now perchance
Estranged, forgot, or dead–
Come round us, as those autumn leaves
Are crush’d beneath our tread.

We stand among the fallen leaves
In our own autumn day–
And, tott’ring on with feeble steps,
Pursue our cheerless way.
We look not back–too long ago
Hath all we loved been lost;
Nor forward–for we may not live
To see our new hope cross’d:
But on we go–the sun’s faint beam
A feeble warmth imparts–
Childhood without its joy returns–
The present fills our hearts!