The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: victorian poetry

“Two Sonnets” by Thomas Dunn English

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Cabinet Card of Thomas Dunn English. Year: unknown.

Although often recognized as the brass knuckled*, mustachioed, sometimes friend, sometimes enemy of Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas D. English was a celebrated politician, author, and songwriter during his day.* Here for your consideration are two sonnets by English, from The Ladies’ Companion, May, 1841 (14).

Two Sonnets.
Thomas Dunn English, M. D.

PLEASURE! what’s that?—the heat to reason’s ice;
A specious term in use, to banish vice.
Men seek this beldame, and she seems to them
Attired in purple, decked with many a gem,
And fair as day-dawn when the bright sun sips
The dewy nectar from each blossom’s lips.
Fools! strip her of her mask—her face is old;
Tinsel is that your eyes mistook for gold;
Her velvet, serge, and false her colored gaws—
Pursue her not, or, if pursuing, pause.
Virtue may seem austere, but dim your eye,
If less than bliss within her face you spy.
Or, if you deem aught false within her train,
Weak, your perception, and your judgment vain.
Well have I learned by bitter deeds, to deem
Not always men are candid when they seem.
Cowards oft courage, as a mantle, don;
Liars talk loud their matchless truth upon;
Those born ignobly, bear of birth no taint,
And sinners hide them in the name of saint.
Not so with holy nature, who is still,
As she has ever been, and ever will.
Governed by laws, by fixed, unchanging rules,
That mock the wise man’s fathoming, and fool’s.
She still the same external visage wears,
Or filled with sunny smiles, or dewy tears.
Her every beauty to thy touch is free,
Mistress, as well as mother, she to thee.

*Note: English did not actually don brass knuckles. The story goes, rather, that, spurred by Poe’s indignant, demanding behavior over borrowing one of his guns for a duel, English proceeded to get in a scuffle with Poe, accidentally cutting Poe’s face with his ring.
**Consider “Ben Bolt,” arguably English’s best known lyric. Visit this link for the poem. Visit this link for a musical recording.

Blog Update!

Greetings, all! I have been posting inconsistently, so thank you for bearing with me.

I want to update you all on where I anticipate the content of this blog to be heading. I have been mostly transcribing 19th-century prose and poetry, which I plan to further focus on—my aim on this blog is to reintroduce many obscure, forgotten poets and poems. That being said, rather than transcribing and posting poems that have been posted elsewhere on the internet, you will receive content that has not been previously posted (or at least I hope). Any posted content already on the web will be implemented in literary review or analysis; otherwise, there may be less of the popular Victorian poets (Poe, Whittier, Emerson, Longfellow, etc.) and more of the 19th-century poets who are no longer well-known (Hoffman, Herbert, Oakes Smith, etc.).

Thank you for your support and understanding.

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.

“A September Stroll” by Alfred Billings Street

Due to the lack of transcriptions of Street’s poetry on the internet, I had bestowed it upon myself to transcribe a few pieces and place them here for safekeeping. I now regret this decision and have decided to resign from this self-appointment, as Street’s poetry is frustratingly lengthy.

Regardless, here is one that managed to escape and find its place on my blog.

“A September Stroll”

The dull mist of September, fitfully
Thickening to chill and gusty streams of rain,
Lifted at sunset, and the western verge
Showed a broad stripe of light; a golden smile
Burst o’er the dripping scene, then died away :
And the North swept, in hollow moan and hiss,
Round dwellings and through branches.

Morning broke
In cloudless beauty, but a chilly breath
Still edged the crystal air. The sun went down
With a rich halo glowing round the spot
Where his orb glided, and  a splendid belt
Of orange burn’d above his slanting track,
Melting to soft bright gray, that deepend’ up
Into the rich mid-blue ; and where the pearl
Darken’d into the sapphire, bounded forth
The courier-star of night’s magnificence.
Morning again rose gloriously clear :
The air was softer, and the gentle West
Was fanning where the North had struck its chill :
And as the sun climb’d up, his light was cast
So warm and genial, and the atmosphere
Was felt so sweetly and deliciously,
It seemed ’twere pleasure merely to lie down,
And bask and breathe.

The noontide now has come :
Green woods and pleasant fields are smiling forth
Inviting welcome. Let us leave the walls
Of the close city, and with wandering feet
Seek the sweet haunts of Nature. O’er the dust
Of the great thoroughfare, with rapid wheels
And trampling hoofs vex’d ever, where the gay
And flaunting motes sport thick in Fashion’s beam,
Idle and worthless, quick we tread, and turn
Gladly  aside, where a green narrow lane
Leads to a wild ravine amid the hills.
Smooth fields,with browsing cattle, are around,
And now and then the tinkling sheep-bell breaks 
Pleasantly on the ear. Our pathway leads
Through a rude gate and o’er a broken bridge,
Where the green rushes and long tangled grass
Proclaim the shrunken streamlet ; a faint track
Leads to a barrell’d spring, whose waters boil
Unceasing from their loose gray sandy depth.
Grass spreads its sides with velvet, and tall trees
Drop their black shapes around. We pass along :
A gorge winds up, wall’d in with rocky banks
Plumaged with leaning branches : wheel-marks deep
Are traced upon the stone floor of the chasm,
And grateful shadow rests like sleep within.
Grim roots start out from crevices : green sprouts
Flaunt from moss’d ledges ; and large trickling drops,
From the steep sides, shed moisture on the air.
We rest awhile, then tread again our path.
A grassy glade, with points and curving banks,
The dry bed of a streamlet, lures our steps. 
The varied aster-tribes are cluster’d round ; 
The gnarl’d thorn shows its yellow-crimson fruit,
Studding its boughs and scatter’d thick beneath ; 
And from the brinks the solidago  bends
It sgolden feather : mingling with the sweet
And peaceful quiet, low monotonous sounds
Stream from the insects, varied with the swell
Of the near locust’s peevish clarion,
And chirrup of the cricket. Now the fence 
We leap, and stray into the broad green field.
The air is an elixir ; as we breathe,
The blood swift tingles in our veins; we long
To bound with transport and shout out our joy.
The thread-like gossamer is waving past,
Borne on the wind’s light wing, and to yon branch
Tangled and trembling, clings like snowy silk.
The thistle-down, high lifted through the rich
Bright blue, quick float, like gliding stars, and then
Touching the sunshine, flash, and seem to melt
Within the dazzling brilliance. Yon tall oak
Standing from out the straggling skirt of wood,
Touched by the frost, that wondrous chemist, shows
Spottings of gorgeous crimson through its green,
Like a proud monarch, towering still erect,
Though sprinkled with his life-blood. Close beside,
That aspen, to the wind’s soft-finger’d touch,
Flutters with all its dangling leaves, as though 
Beating with myriad pulses. Misty shade
Films the deep hollows, misty sunshine glows
On the round hills. Across the far-off wood,
The atmosphere is shaded like thin smoke,
Until we fancy a dim swarm of motes
Is glimmering there and dancing. We approach,
And tread the dark recesses : wither’d leaves
Spread a thick crackling mantle, countless trunks
Lead on the eye in labyrinths, till lost
Within a dizzy maze, and overhead
A vast and interlacing roof of green.
The hickory-shell, cracked open by its fall,
Shows its ripe fruit, an in ivory ball, within; 
And the cleft chesnut-burr displays its sheath
White glistening, with its glossy nuts below.
Scatter’d around, the wild rose-bushes hang
Their ruby buds tipping their thorny sprays.
The everlasting’s blossoms seem as cut
In delicate silver, whitening o’er the slopes ; 
The seedy clematis, branch’d high, is robed
With woolly tufts; the snowy Indian-pipe
Is streak’d with black decay; the wintergreen
Offers its berries; and the prince’s-pine,
Scarce seen above the fallen leaves, peers out,
A firm green glossy wreath.

Within this knot
Of twining roots, a shelving aperture
Proclaims the hedge-hog’s chamber; through the gloom
Within we see the sparkle of his eye,
And his slim snout thrust level with the brink
To scent his danger; but fear not! no staff
Will pierce thy winding cavern, to drive forth
Thy crouching form, and beat, with cruel blows,
Thy gasping being from thee.

By we pass,
And from the darkening woods released, we see
One mass of shadow stretching to the east,
And narrow stripes of gold upon the tops
Of hill and three; and climbing the ascent,
We view the sun sink calmly to his rest.

Autumn’s Unabated Appearance

Today marks the Autumn Equinox—those two delightful words which bring a crisp taste of nostalgia to the tongue. Cozily blanketed evenings; effervescent leaves resignedly dropping to the earth, blanketing the world in gamboge and golden hues; warm fires snapping vivaciously amidst an atmosphere of dark cheer; these are merely a few of the memories I carry with me of Autumn from my younger years.

I must be candid, Autumn is debatably my favorite season, albeit being closely tied with Winter. Therefore, please look forward to a new Autumnal-themed poem every few days or so (or perhaps more frequently than that) throughout the rest of this month and into October. It is a season to be celebrated, and several of my dead literary friends certainly left us with substantial content to last us several more Falls to come. To begin, I want to share a poem that I have greatly enjoyed for a while; one which is now, I believe, transcribed for the first time here in cyberspace.

By James Gates Percival

Now the growing year is over,
And the shepherd’s tinkling bell
Faintly from its winter cover
Rings a low farewell:—
Now the birds of Autumn shiver,
Where the wither’d beech-leaves quiver,
O’er the dark and lazy river,
In the rocky dell.

Now the mist is on the mountains,
Reddening in the rising sun;
Now the flowers around the fountains
Perish one by one:—
Not a spire of grass is growing,
But the leaves that late were glowing,
Now its blighted green are strowing
With a mantle dun.

Now the torrent brook is stealing
Faintly down the furrow’d glade—
Not as when in winter pealing,
Such a din is made,
That the sound of cataracts falling
Gave no echo so appalling,
As its hoarse and heavy brawling
In the pine’s black shade.

Darkly blue the mist is hovering
Round the clifted rock’s bare height—
All the bordering mountains covering
With a dim, uncertain light:—
Now, a fresher wind prevailing,
Wide its heavy burden sailing,
Deepens as the day is failing,
Fast the gloom of night.

Slow the blood-stain’d moon is riding
Through the still and hazy air,
Like a sheeted spectre gliding
In a torch’s glare:—
Few the hours, her light is given—
Mingling clouds of tempest driven
O’er the mourning face of heaven,
All is blackness there.