November 5, 2011

Moore: To my friend

The New Orleans-born writer Alice Ruth Moore dedicated her first book Violets and Other Tales (1895), "To my friend of November 5, 1892." The ambiguous message is better understood through her diary: "November 5, I began my romance with Nelson Mitchell."

Moore would have been about 17 years old when she began that romance. It did not last. In fact, the young Moore was known for being flirtation (to the dismay of her eventual husband, Paul Laurence Dunbar). Violets and Other Tales, which included both prose and poetry, came out three years later when Moore was 20; she later called it "sheer slop." A contemporary review, however, called it "evidence of great intelligence among persons of African birth." Sure enough, Moore was soon accepted among the elite black community.

Her poem, "Love and the Butterfly":

I heard a merry voice one day
And glancing at my side;
Fair Love, all breathless, flushed with play,
A butterfly did ride.
"Whither away, oh sportive boy?"
I asked, he tossed his head;
Laughing aloud for purest joy,
And past me swiftly sped.

Next day I heard a plaintive cry
And Love crept in my arms;
Weeping he held the butterfly,
Devoid of all its charms.
Sweet words of comfort, whispered I
Into his dainty ears,
But love still hugged the butterfly,
And bathed its wounds with tears.

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