June 18, 2010

Birth of Fanny Osgood

Frances Sargent Locke was born on June 18, 1811 in Boston, Massachusetts, though most of her early life was spent in nearby Hingham. Years later, she submitted her first poems to Juvenile Miscellany, a publication edited by Lydia Maria Child. She met Samuel Stillman Osgood at the Boston Athenaeum; they married in 1835 and soon had three daughters. She often directed her poetry to her family.

In the late 1830s, living in London while her husband pursued his career as a painter there, "Fanny Osgood" (as she came to be known), published her first two collections of poems. After returning to the United States, she published about a half-dozen more. One of her biggest advocates was the influential editor/anthologist Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who called her work "forcible and original" as well as "picturesque." He believed she was constantly improving as well: "Every month her powers have seemed to expand and her sympathies to deepen." Griswold doted on her enough that it was rumored he was falling in love with her. Either way, Osgood's popularity among American women poets was truly unparalleled up to her early death in 1850.

Modern critics are on the fence with Osgood. Some dismiss the occasionally-flirtatious Osgood and some rate her work with the kind of sentimental, domestic poetry which deserves to be forgotten. One poem which would have feminist critics up in arms is "A Song," which asks a lover to "Call me a bird" before the narrator is locked in a cage, "ne'er dreaming of flight," but only existing to sing to entertain her lover. But the tenderness in some of her domestic works, particularly those addressed to her children, reveal a sincere motherly affection. Literary historian Emily Stipes Watts notes that these poems "are honest attempts to express thoughts and emotions never so fully expressed before by women in poetry" and depict a sincere concern for her daughters' development and well-being. Of course, making any generalization for such a prolific writer is impossible. Even choosing a sample is never fully representative, but I'll go with this one:

  Ah! woman still
  Must veil the shrine,
Where feeling feeds the fire divine,
  Nor sing at will,
  Untaught by art,
The music prison'd in her heart!
  Still gay the note,
  And light the lay,
The woodbird warbles on the spray,
  Afar to float;
  But homeward flown,
Within his next, how changed the tone!

  Oh! none can know,
  Who have not heard
The music-soul that thrills the bird,
  The carol low
  As coo of dove
He warbles to his woodland-love!
  The world would say
  'Twas vain and wild,
The impassion'd lay of Nature's child;
And Feeling so
Should veil the shrine
Where softly glow her fires divine!


  1. which poem is this please?

  2. It's called "A Reply," subtitled "To one who said 'Write from your heart'" (1846).