December 3, 2011

Splendid blossoming promise of future fruits

She was born "Anne Drinker" on December 3, 1827, but her poetry is better known through her pen name "Edith May." She started writing in the 1840s and saw her works published in various newspapers and magazines. Her friends and fans insisted she publish a book and, accordingly, Poems by Edith May was released in 1850 in a high quality, expensive edition. A cheaper version was published four years later. The poet, editor, and frequent supporter of new talent, Nathaniel Parker Willis wrote the introduction to the book, and noted that these early works should be considered "promises" that better work was to come: "They are literally the fore-reachings of genius which anticipate the teachings of experience." Anthologist Rufus W. Griswold agreed, noting she was among the "most brilliant of our younger poets," but that a "critical reader" would see "splendid blossoming promise of future fruits."

Edith May's poem "A Song for Autumn":

Frighten the bird from the tasselled pine,
   Where he sings like a hope in a gloomy breast;
Tread down the blossoms that cling to the vine,
   Winnow the blooms from the mountain's crest;
Let the balm-flower sleep where the small brooks twine,
And the golden-rod treasure the yellow sunshine.

Muffle the bells of the faint-lipped waves;
   Let the red leaves fall; let the brown fawn leap
Through the golden fern; in the weedy caves
   Let the snake coil up for his winter sleep.
Let the ringed snake coil where the earth is drear,
Like a grief that grows cold as the heart grows sere.

Pluck down the rainbow; make steadfast the throne
   Of the star that was faint in the summer night;
Let the white daughters of wave and sun
   Weep as they cloister the pale, pale light;
Let the mist-wreaths brood o'er the valley-bound rills,
And the sky trail its mantle far over the hills.

Plunder the wrecks of the forest, and blind
   The waters that picture its ruinous dome.
Wildly, oh wildly, most sorrowful wind!
   Chant, like a prophet of terror to come—
Like a Niobe stricken with infinite dread,
Leave the spirit of Beauty alone with her dead.

Throne the white Naiad that filleth her urn
   At the fount of the sun; on the curtain of night
Paint wild Auroras like visions that burn,
   Rosy Auroras, like dreams of delight
Mantle the earth, fold the robe on her breast,
While the sky, like a seraph, hangs over her rest.

The "promise" seen by Willis and Griswold was never fulfilled. As one newspaper reported, she soon "lost her reason" and was institutionalized in an asylum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (where the poet Charles Fenno Hoffman was also sent). She was finally released in 1885 and died, forgotten despite her early promise, in 1903.

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