November 27, 2010

McCord: One formless wreck

Louisa Susannah McCord was just a week shy of her 69th birthday when she died on November 27, 1880, though she outlived her husband by 25 years. Educated in Philadelphia, she was a strong supporter of the Confederacy (she hoped the Southern states would remain independent; when former Confederates were asked to swear allegiance to the Union after the war, she fled to Ontario for a short time). She published a book of poems, My Dreams, in 1848, and a Greek-styled tragedy, Caius Gracchus, in 1851.

One of her poems, the metrically-complex "We're Born to Die," suggests a very negative view on life. She opens with the image of a newly-opened flower on a summer's eve which spreads a beautiful fragrance through a forest untrodden upon by strangers. Even so, she asks:

"Sprung from earth, in dust to lie,
Why so fair? Thou'rt born to die."

A butterfly is next to die in the poem, "its life is o'er; perishing with yon fair flower." Then an oak with "unscathed branches" falls victim to a storm.

      See the lightning's flash!      Hark! the o'erwhelming crash!
The roar of thunder, through the forest sounding,
Loudly it calls, (earth's trembling caves resounding,
      "Die! die!—thou thing of earth,
      Whate'er thy strength,—thy birth
      Has marked thy doom.—
Die.—Thou wert born,—thou liv'st but for the tomb."

  'Tis ruin all. Tree, flower, and insect lie,
  One formless wreck; for all were born to die.

Life, McCord says, is a "wooing tone" from "the Siren Pleasure." Do not be tempted, she warns, for it will only fade away. Worse, death is actively seeking our destruction:

See, the eyeless spectre!—What doth he glare withal?
Hark! a tongueless voice!—whence comes the fearful call?
"Ye're mine!—Strength, beauty, youth, shrink not.— Ye're mine!
Truer than love's,—these fleshless arms entwine
In close embrace.—And vainly would ye shun,
Poor fools! your lot.—'Tis here.—Earth has but one.
That moment ye woke to life's struggling sigh,
That moment declared,—ye were born but to die;
And the pang which first called you from torpor to breath,
Was the stamp and the seal of your mortgage to Death."

1 comment:

  1. Oy! I can only imagine what this woman was like to live with - she would send me into the depths of despair if her daily outlook was as drear as her written work!