September 26, 2010

Brainard: cut down even as the flowers

Though almost entirely forgotten today, Connecticut poet John Gardiner Calkins Brainard was popular in his own time. When he died on September 26, 1828, poetic tributes were written by John Greenleaf Whittier, Lydia Sigourney, and others. Brainard suffered from tuberculosis, causing him to retire in the spring of 1827. Hoping he would yet recover, he returned to his home town in Connecticut; it was there, in New London, that he died, about a month shy of his 33rd birthday.

His poem "An Invocation" expresses an early Romantic (and pious) notion of death:

O Death! O grave! O endless world beyond!
And Thou, the Holy One, that shuttest up
What no man openeth, — that openeth
That which nor man — nor death — nor the filled grave
Can ever shut? To Thee, how reverend,
How humble, and how pure should be our prayer.
Forgive us, for what are we! What but worms
That crawl, and bask, and shine — then writhe and die
But there is hope in Heaven. I hear a voice
That says the dead are blessed, if they die
In Him who died for them. That whoso lives
Believing, shall not die eternally.
— So may we live, and so apply our hearts
To God's true wisdom in our numbered days,
That though we be cut down even as the flowers,
And though we flee like passing shadows by,
Hereafter we may bloom again, — and stand
Where all that blooms shall bloom eternally,
And shadows, like the bitter thoughts of life,
Can never flit across the holy path,
Nor darken one forgiving smile of Heaven.

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