December 29, 2010

Moulton: as the fragrance of a rose

In 1889, the Connecticut-born writer Louise Chandler Moulton published her book of poems In the Garden of Dreams (she gave a copy as a Christmas gift to her friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson; that copy has been digitally scanned here). Though a published author for 35 years, she turned to a veteran writer for advice: Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. In a letter dated December 29, 1889, Holmes wrote to her:

I thank you most cordially for sending me your beautiful volume of poems. They tell me that they are breathed from a woman's heart as plainly as the fragrance of a rose reveals its birthplace. I have read nearly all of them — a statement I would not venture to make of most of the volumes I receive, the number of which is legion, and I cannot help feeling flattered that the author of such impassioned poems should have thought well enough of my own productions to honor me with the kind words I find on the blank leaf of a little book that seems to me to hold leaves torn out of the heart's record.

Holmes may have been impressed as early as the first page, which printed a poem of lament for the past titled "Come Back, Dear Days":

Come back, dear days, from out the past!
...I see your gentle ghosts arise;
You look at me with mournful eyes,
And then the night grows vague and vast:
You have gone back to Paradise...

You left no pledges when you went:
The years since then are bleak and cold;
No bursting buds the Junes unfold.
While you were here my all I spent;
Now I am poor and sad and old.

Within a couple years of this letter, Holmes would become one of the last of his generation of authors still living — a frequently lamented fact. Earlier, Holmes had written a poem, "No Time Like the Old Time," about his own nostalgia for the "dear days" of old:

There is no time like the old time, when you and I were young,
When the buds of April blossomed and the birds of springtime sung!

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