American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘Lydia Sigourney

Of Plucked Flowers

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An addendum to my previous note

Frontispiece for The Voice of Flowers by Mrs. L. H. Sigourney

Frontispiece for The Voice of Flowers by Mrs. L. H. Sigourney

Looking this morning at Lydia Sigourney’s The Voice of Flowers (my copy a sweet miniature with tinted engravings), I found a parallel to these lines from Emerson’s “Blight”:

But these young scholars, who invade our hills,
Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
And travelling often in the cut he makes.
Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
And all their botany is Latin names.

The parallel is right there at the start of Signourney’s book. Here are the title and first stanza of the first poem:

Flowers

Sweet playmates of life’s earliest hours!
They ne’er upbraid the child,
Who, in the wantonness of mirth,
Uproots them on the wild;
And when the botanist, his shaft,
With cruel skill, doth ply,
Reproachless ’neath the fatal wound,
Martyrs to science die.

I will have to do some research to figure out if the parallel is coincidence or trace of influence. Emerson’s “Blight” appeared in his 1847 Poems. The Voice of Flowers bears a copyright date of 1845 (my copy is the fourth edition from two years after). But it may be that Emerson’s poem was written long before, or appeared long before in a journal; and it may be that Sigourney’s poem also appeared or was written long before. So who knows?

But I’m leaning away from coincidence, as I hear yet another echo of Sigourney (I assume it’s Sigourney who came first) in these later lines from Emerson’s poem:

… to our sick eyes,
The stunted trees look sick,…
And life, …
… in its highest noon and wantonness,
Is early frugal, like a beggar’s child

This too could be coincidence — it probably is — but the conjunction of “wantonness” and “child” in consecutive lines strikes me as a meaningful parallel.

Anyway, if casual research turns up anything relevant I’ll add it as a footnote to this post.

Written by Ben Friedlander

September 30, 2009 at 1:02 pm

For a Commonplace Book 4

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…gratitude
Is a fine word to play on. Many a niche
It fills in letters, and in billet-doux, ―
Its adjective a graceful prefix makes
To a well-written signature. It gleams
A happy mirage in a sunny brain;
But as a principle, is oft, I fear,
Inoperative. Some satirist hath said
That gratitude is only a keen sense
Of future favors
.

As regards myself,
Tis my misfortune, and perhaps, my fault,
Yet I’m constrain’d to say, that where my gifts
And efforts have been greatest, the return
Has been in contrast, so that I have shrunk
To grant myself the pleasure of great love
Lest its reward might be indifference,
Or smooth deceit. Others no doubt have been
More fortunate. I trust ’tis often so:
But this is my experience, on the scale
Of three times twenty years, and somewhat more.

―Lydia Sigourney, The Man of Uz and Other Poems (1862)

A sad excerpt from Sigourney’s last long poem, “The Rural Life in New-England.”

Written by Ben Friedlander

June 16, 2009 at 10:37 pm