September 27, 2011

Birth of Davidson: Rouse thee, America!

Lucretia Maria Davidson was born on September 27, 1808 in Plattsburgh, New York. From a young age, she often avoided the more typical pastimes of children and instead spent her days with books. In fact, her mother became suspicious when her personal writing paper kept disappearing. It was quite by accident that she found that young Lucretia had taken to poetry.

Over the years, Lucretia honed her writing skills and, at age eleven, wrote a poem in honor of George Washington. Upon reading it, an aunt declared that the girl had plagiarized the poem from someone else. Hurt by the accusation, Lucretia responded by writing a verse to her aunt assuring her of the poem's original origins. It reads, in part:

The work is mine — why should you doubt?
        It's not so very well:
What all this fuss is made about,
        I'm sure I cannot tell.

A benefactor discovered her abilities and assisted her in being admitted to the Troy Female Seminary. Her family and friends had high hopes for Lucretia, but she was modest: "I hope the expectations of my friends will not be disappointed; but I am afraid you all calculate upon too much... I fear I shall not equal the hopes which you say are raised."

One can only speculate how her talents would have developed. Lucretia Maria Davidson died in 1825 before reaching 17 years old. Her only book of poems was published posthumously with the help of family friend and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse. Included in that collection was an unfinished fragment, "American Poetry," describing the teenager's hopes for the future of American verse (note that the last line remains incomplete):

Must every shore ring boldly to the voice
Of sweet poetic harmony, save this?
Rouse thee, America! for shame! for shame!
   Gather thy infant bands, and rise to join
Thy glimmering taper to the holy flame:—
   Such honour, if no other, may be thine.
Shall Gallia's children sing beneath the yoke?
   Shall Ireland's harpstrings thrill, though all unstrung?
And must America, her bondiige broke,
   Oppression's blood-stains from her garment wrung,
Must she be silent? — who may then rejoice?
   If she be tuneless, Harmony, farewell!
Oh! shame, America! wild Freedom's voice
   Echoes, "shame on thee," from her wild-wood dell.
Shall conquered Greece still sing her glories past?
Shall humbled Italy in ruins smile?
And canst thou then——

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