May 4, 2012

Irving: I have no confidence in my rhymes

Washington Irving was not a poet, which makes it all the more interesting that he wrote a poem on May 4, 1823. It was the birthday of young Emily Foster, whom Irving met while in Germany. Though he was pushing 40 years old, he had a slight flirtation with the teenaged beauty. He enclosed his poem, "To Miss Emily Foster on her Birthday," in a letter to her mother (who was much closer to his own age) with that date, noting the few lines have been "scribbled" for the occasion. He asked Mrs. Foster, "If you think them in any way worthy of the subject, and that they would give her any pleasure, slip them into her scrap-book." Alternatively, he said, "slip them into the stove, that convenient altar, and sacrifice them as a burnt-offering to appease the Muses. I have no confidence in my rhymes."

'Twas now the freshness of the year
   When fields were green and groves were gay,
When airs were soft and skies were clear,
   And all things bloomed in lovely May —

Blest month, when nature in her prime
   Bestows her fairest gifts on earth—
This was the time, the genial time,
   She destined for her favourite's birth.

And emblems delicate she chose,
   Thy gentle virtues to bespeak—
The lily and the pale, pale rose
   She faintly mingled in thy cheek.

The azure of her noontide sky
   With dewy gleams of morn combining,
She took to form thy speaking eye
   With heaven's own blue serenely shining.

She bade the dawning's transient blush
   The light and warmth of day revealing,
At times thy pallid beauty flush
   With sudden glows of thought and feeling.

But oh! the innate worth refined
   She treasured in thy gentle breast;
The generous gifts of heart and mind,
   They best can tell who know thee best.

Bloom on—bloom on—frank nature's child
   Her favourite flower, her spotless one,
Still may she keep thee pure, unsoiled,
   Still fresh, though ever shone upon.

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