May 20, 2010

Halleck: Inscribed with all reverence

Fitz-Greene Halleck became a household name as a poet in the nineteenth century. In fact, his reputation was so strong that, immediately after his death, efforts were made to memorialize him in no less a public spot than New York City's Central Park. The statue, still standing, is considered the first public memorial to an American poet. Today, he is mostly forgotten.

But, at the age of 12, young Fitz-Greene (who was partially deaf) knew nothing of that legacy, or forgotten legacy, that was to come. On May 20, 1803, the young boy wrote one of his earliest poems, likely at his family's home in Guilford, Connecticut:

Stern winter is gone: no more it snows,
But lambkins briskly play;
They skip about the verdant fields,
And hail returning May.

The robin sits on yonder bough
And tunes his whistling lay,
While sweetly throbs his little throat
To hail returning May.

The sun, just rising in the east,
New gilds the smiling day;
With noises gay the hills resound,
And hail returning May.

The plains are dotted in verdure green,
The hills and dales look gay;
The shepherd sings along the plain,
And hails returning May.

Maria rose at early dawn,
And took her lonely way
Where bleating herds skip lightly round,
And hail returning May.

Maria, gayest of the plain,
To you I tune my lay;
May you fore'er enjoy the sweets
Of verdant, blooming May.

The poem was addressed to his sister. The original manuscript opens with: "Inscribed with all reverence to Miss Maria Halleck, by her brother, Fitz-Greene Halleck."


  1. Charming post today.
    You took part in the Compleat Biographer Conference this past weekend? I'm hoping that yours was a providential experience there.

  2. Cheryl, sorry for my ridiculously slow response! Yes, I served on the site committee for the conference and chaired the panel on "New Frontiers in Electronic Resources." It was one of the most positive conference experiences I've ever had - invigorating, really!