Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Poems by Frances S. Osgood,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XIII: Literary Criticism - part 06 (1902), pp. 17-26


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[page 17:]

POEMS. BY FRANCES S. OSGOOD. NEW YORK: CLARK & AUSTIN.

[Broadway Journal, Dec. 13, 1845.]

A NEAT volume of 252 pages duodecimo, including many but by no means all, or even the best, of the author’s late compositions, with several of those which made up the “Wreath of Wild Flowers from New-England.

The book opens with these few words of Preface:

The Author’s chief fear, in collecting and publishing the following Poems, is that they may not be thought worthy the notice of that just and true criticism, whose praise and blame are alike valuable, and would by her be equally welcomed and appreciated.

We have no poetess among us who has been so universally popular as Mrs. Osgood — and yet, with the exception of “The Wreath of Wild Flowers,” (an English publication,) this is the first collection of her Poems. Our only regret is that she has not presented us, in one view, all that she has written in verse. In omitting so much, she is in danger of losing the credit to which she is so fairly entitled on the score of versatility — of variety in expression and invention. There is scarcely a form of poetical composition in which she has not made experiment, and there is not one in which she has not very creditably succeeded. Of course, then, it is a task of no little difficulty to give any generalization of her powers. We may say, in the beginning, however, that in no one poetical requisite is she deficient. Her negative merits are of the highest respectability. [page 18:] We look in vain, throughout her writings, for an offence against taste, or decorum — for a low thought — a platitude of expression — a violation of grammar — or for any of those lapses in the mere technicality of composition, of which, in America, we meet so abundant examples. A happy refinement — an exquisite instinct of the pure — the delicate — the graceful — gives a charm inexpressible to everything which flows from her pen.

In respect to the positive merits — to the loftier excellences of the Muse — we are constrained to speak with somewhat more reserve. Deficient — that is to say markedly deficient at no point — Mrs. Osgood has, nevertheless, neither the bold and rich imagination of Maria Brooks — nor the rhythmical ear and glowing fervor of Mrs. Welby — but to no other American poetesses is she, even in these particulars, inferior. A peculiar trait of her mind is its versatility and originality of poetic invention — whether in the conception of a theme or in the manner and tone of its handling. A portion, or rather a consequence of this trait, is a certain piquancy, point, and epigrammatic terseness of phraseology — in which she is approached only by Miss Gould. But it is in that indescribable something which, for want of a more definite term, we are accustomed to call grace — that Will-o’-the-Wisp, which in its supreme development may be said to involve nearly all that is pure and ethereal in poetry — it is in this charm of charms — so magical because at once so shadowy and so irresistible — that Mrs. Osgood pre-eminently excels. It is in this that she has no equal among her countrywomen. It is this rod of the enchanter which throws open to her the road to all hearts. [page 19:]

In the collection now before us there occur very many of those half sentimental half allegorical or rather emblematical compositions, of which the authoress seems to be especially fond — for the reason, perhaps, that she constructs them with little facility, and that, for their mere ingenuity, they are admired by the mass of mankind. We regret to see these pieces in the volume; they are, in general, very graceful pleasantries — but no more — and quite unworthy her who could pen so truly consistent and beautiful a prosopopeia as

THE SPIRIT OF POETRY.

Leave me not yet! Leave me not cold and lonely,

Thou dear Ideal of my pining heart!

Thou art the friend — the beautiful — the only,

Whom I would keep, tho’ all the world depart

Thou, that dust veil the frailest flower with glory,

Spirit of light and loveliness and truth

Thou that didst tell me a sweet fairy story

Of the dim future, in my wistful youth!

Thou, who canst weave a halo round the spirit,

Through which nought mean or evil dare intrude,

Resume not yet the gift, which I inherit

From Heaven and thee, that dearest, holiest good!

Leave me not now! Leave me not cold and lonely,

Thou starry prophet of my pining heart!

Thou art the friend — the tenderest — the only,

With whom, of all,’twould be despair to part.

 

Thou that cam’st to me in my dreaming childhood,

Shaping the changeful clouds to pageants rare,

Peopling the smiling vale, and shaded wildwood,

With airy beings, faint yet strangely fair;

Telling me all the sea-born breeze was saying,

While it went whispering through the willing leaves, [page 20:]

Bidding me listen to the light rain playing

Its pleasant tune, about the household eaves;

Tuning the low, sweet ripple of the river,

Till its melodious murmur seem’d a song,

A tender and sad chaunt, repeated ever,

A sweet, impassion’d plaint of love and wrong’.

Leave me not yet! Leave me not cold and lonely,

Thou star of promise o’er my clouded path!

Leave not the life that borrows from thee only

All of delight and beauty that it bath

 

Thou, that when others knew not how to love me,

Nor cared to fathom half my yearning soul,

Didst wreathe thy flowers of light, around, above me,

To woo and win me from my grief’s control.

By all my dreams, the passionate, and holy,

When thou hast sung love’s lullaby to me —

By all the childlike worship, fond and lowly,

Which I have lavish’d upon thine and thee —

By all the lays my simple lute was learning,

To echo from thy voice, stay with me still!

Once flown — alas! for thee there’s no returning

The charm will die o’er valley, wood, and hill.

Tell me not Time, whose wing my brow has shaded,

Has wither’d spring’s sweet bloom within my heart.

Ah, no! the rose of Love is yet unfaded,

Though Hope and Joy, its sister flowers, depart.

 

Well do I know that I have wrong’d thine altar,

With the light offerings of an idler’s mind,

And thus, with shame, my pleading prayer I falter,

Leave me not, spirit! deaf, and dumb, and blind!

Deaf to the mystic harmony of nature,

Blind to the beauty of her stars and flowers!

Leave me not, heavenly yet human teacher,

Lonely and lost in this cold world of ours!

Heaven knows I need thy music and thy beauty

Still to beguile me on my weary way, [page 21:]

To lighten to my soul the cares of duty,

And bless with radiant beams the darken’d day;

To charm my wild heart in the worldly revel,

Lest I, too, join the aimless, false, and vain;

Let me not lower to the soulless level

Of those whom now I pity and disdain!

 

Leave me not yet! — leave me not cold and pining,

Thou bird of paradise, whose plumes of light,

Where’er they rested, left a’glory shining;

Fly not to heaven, or let me share thy flight!

Of its kind — a kind not of the highest — there have been written few finer poems than this. It is replete with feeling, with elevated sentiment — and its versification is correct — sonorous, harmonious and well-sustained.

One of the best of Mrs. Osgood’s shorter poems is entitled

SHE LOVES HIM YET.

She loves him yet!

I know by the blush that rises

Beneath the curls

That shadow her soul-lit cheek;

She loves him yet!

Thro’ all Love’s sweet disguises

In timid girls,

A blush will be sure to speak.

 

But deeper signs

Than the radiant blush of beauty,

The maiden finds,

Whenever his name is heard. —

Her young heart thrills,

Forgetting herself — her duty —

Her dark eye fills,

And her pulse with hope is stirr’d. [page 22:]

 

She loves him yet!

The flower the false one gave her

When last he came,

Is still with her wild tears wet.

She’ll ne’er forget,

However his faith may waver.

Thro’ grief and shame,

Believe it — she loves him yet!

 

His favorite songs

She will sing — she heeds no other;

With all her wrongs

Her life on his love is set.

Oh, doubt no more!

She never can wed another

Till life be o’er,

She loves — she will love him yet!

There is in this a rich simplicity which cannot be too highly admired, and the metre is original and otherwise of peculiar excellence.

We cannot forbear quoting the noble poem entitled

ASPIRATIONS.

I waste no more in idle dreams my life, my soul away

I wake to know my better self, — I wake to watch and pray.

Thought, feeling, time, on idols vain, I’ve lavished all too long;

Henceforth to holier purposes I pledge myself, my song!

 

Oh! still within the inner veil, upon the spirit’s shrine,

Still unprofaned by evil, burns the one pure spark divine

Which God has kindled in us all, and be it mine to tend

Henceforth, with vestal thought and care, the light that lamp may lend. [page 23:]

 

I shut mine eyes in grief and shame upon the dreary past —

My heart, my soul pour’d recklessly on dreams that could not last.

My bark has drifted down the stream, at will of wind or wave,

An idle, light, and fragile thing, that few had cared to save.

 

Henceforth the tiller Truth shall hold, and steer as Conscience tells,

And I will brave the storms of Fate tho’ wild the ocean swells.

I know my soul is strong and high, if once I give it sway;

I feel a glorious power within, tho’ light I seem and gay.

 

Oh, laggard soul! unclose thine eyes. No more in luxury soft

Of joy ideal waste thyself! awake, and soar aloft!

Unfurl this hour those falcon wings which thou dost fold too long;

Raise to the skies thy lightning gaze, and sing thy loftiest song.

Here, as in nearly all the compositions of Mrs. Osgood, the rhythm is singularly good, without art, — sonorous, well-balanced and well-modulated. The “aspirations” — or more properly, perhaps, the bitter and unavailing regrets — have in them a touching — a despairing sadness which makes us shudder as we read.

Neither of the poems just quoted, however, conveys much of the ordinary manner of the poetess. This is far better exemplified in [page 24:]

LENORE.

Oh! fragile and fair, as the delicate chalices,

Wrought with so rare and so subtle a skill;

Bright relics, that tell of the pomp of those palaces,

Venice — the sea-goddess — glories in still.

 

Whose exquisite texture, transparent and tender,

A pure blush alone from the ruby wine takes;

Yet ah! if some false hand, profaning its splendor,

Dares but to taint it with poison, — it breaks!

 

So when Love pour’d thro’ thy pure heart his lightning,

On thy pale cheek the soft rose-hues awoke, —

So when wild Passion, that timid heart frightening,

Poison’d the treasure — it trembled and broke!

Here we have a full representation of the author’s customary turn of thought — of her grace of expression — of her facility in illustration — of her exactitude — and of her epigrammatism. The versification (except in the first quatrain) is not as good as usual. The first two lines of the third are even rough. The rhythm is anapæstic — but the anapæsts are all false and inadmissible — e.g.

So when Love | poured through thy | pure heart his | lightning,

On thy pale | cheek the soft | rose hues a | woke.

Here the necessarily long syllables love, through, heart, pale, soft and hues, should be short, and the rhythm halts because they are not so. There is, also, either a syllable too much or a syllable too little at “lightning” — but these are trivialities of which it is, perhaps, hypercritical to speak. [page 25:]

We conclude this imperfect notice by the citation of what we consider as, upon the whole, the finest poem in the collection.

A SONG.

Yes! “lower to the level”

Of those who laud thee now!

Go! join the joyous revel,

And pledge the heartless vow

Go! dim the soul-born beauty

That lights that lofty brow!

Fill, fill the bowl! let burning wine

Drown, in thy soul, Love’s dream divine!

 

Yet when the laugh is lightest,

When wildest goes the jest,

When gleams the goblet brightest,

And proudest heaves thy breast,

And thou art madly pledging

Each gay and jovial guest, —

A ghost shall glide amid the flowers —

The shade of Love’s departed hours

 

And thou shalt drink in sadness

From all the splendor there,

And curse the revel’s gladness,

And hate the banquet’s glare,

And pine’mid Passion’s madness,

For true Love’s purer air,

And feel thou’dst give their wildest glee

For one unsullied smile from me!

 

Yet deem not this my prayer, love,

Ah, no! if I could keep

Thy alter’d heart from care, love,

And charm its griefs to sleep, [page 26:]

Mine only should despair love,

I — I alone would weep!

I — I alone would mourn the flowers

That fade in Love’s deserted bowers!

There is here a terse, concentrated and sustained energy which impresses us with a high opinion of the power of the poetess, and which warrants us in saying that she could do better — very far better than she has hitherto done. The poem would be improved, however, (as would all poems) by the substitution throughout of “you” for “thee” and so forth — the modern and colloquial for the ancient and so called poetical pronoun.

The limits of our paper warn us to bring these comments to a close. We shall resume this subject — to us a truly delightful one — at some future opportunity, in the more ample pages of Godey’s Magazine.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Poems by Frances S. Osgood)