American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘1848

Something More Has Haunted Prudence

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Larcom-Poems2The middle thirty years of the nineteenth century were a revolutionary time, and one longs for a taste of that in the poetry — for a poem that goes beyond piecemeal criticism to denounce the entire shape of life as laid out by society.

Lucy Larcom’s “Prudence” is one such poem — one of the more devastating feminist critiques of the time. So much of the nineteenth-century women’s poetry now anthologized is subtle in its critique; persuasively so when one reads a single poem slowly. But the cumulative effect of many read quickly is the opposite. One feels engaged in a process of adjustment, with outrage muted. Anti-slavery poetry is of course an exception.

Larcom was as well prepared as any freeborn American poet to grasp the import of the ideas we now associate with 1848. She was 24 years old that magic year, and had already given up work in the Lowell mills to become a schoolteacher. She later edited the children’s magazine Our Young Folks and wrote several books in poetry and prose, including A New England Girlhood Outlined from Memory. That memoir contains a beautiful description of revolutionary desire, in the chapter entitled “Beginning to Work,” under the guise of millennialism. “The thought of it,” she writes, “was continually breaking out, like bloom and sunshine, from the stern doctrines of the period.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ben Friedlander

June 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm