June 29, 2011

English: a change in the things I loved

Thomas Dunn English was born in Philadelphia on June 29, 1819. He became a medical doctor, was bored by it, and became a lawyer, but was bored with that too. He eventually became an elected politician in New Jersey (where he died after the turn of the century). Through it all, he continuously wrote poetry, essays, novels, short stories, and edited various magazines and anthologies. He was most famous in his lifetime, however, for "Ben Bolt" (a fact reflected in the headline of his obituary). He wrote the poem when he was 24 years old and it was immediately set to music, making it even more popular.

Don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
     Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown,
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile
     And trembled with fear at your frown?
In the old churchyard in the valley, Ben Bolt,
     In a corner obscure and alone,
They have fitted a slab of the granite so gray,
     And Alice lies under the stone.

Under the hickory tree, Ben Bolt,
     Which stood at the foot of the hill,
Together we've lain in the noonday shade,
     And listened to Appleton's mill:
The mill-wheel has fallen to pieces, Ben Bolt,
     The rafters have tumbled in,
And a quiet which crawls round the walls as you gaze,
     Has followed the olden din.

Do you mind the cabin of logs, Ben Bolt,
     At the edge of the pathless wood,
And the button-ball tree with its motley limbs,
     Which nigh by the door-step stood?
The cabin to ruin has gone, Ben Bolt,
     The tree you would seek in vain;
And where once the lords of the forests waved,
     Grows grass and the golden grain.

And don't you remember the school, Ben Bolt,
     With the master so cruel and grim,
And the shadow nook in the running brook,
     Where the children went to swim?
Grass grows on the master's grave, Ben Bolt,
     The spring of the brook is dry,
And of all the boys who were schoolmates then,
     There are only you and I.

There is a change in the things I loved, Ben Bolt,
     They have changed from the old to the new;
But I feel in the deeps of my spirit the truth,
     There never was change in you.
Twelvemonths twenty have past, Ben Bolt,
     Since first we were friends -- yet I hail
They presence a blessing, thy friendship a truth,
     Ben Bolt, of the salt-sea gale.

No comments:

Post a Comment