July 7, 2012

And now the parting moment, 1841

The commencement exercises for Yale College's class of 1841 included a valedictory poem, oration, and song by fellow members. The poem was by Guy Bryan Schott, the oration was by Donald Grant Mitchell, the song by Richard Storrs Willis. The event took place on July 7, 1841.

"We meet to part!" began Schott's poem, which expressed both a reluctance to leave, but a desire to depart their institution. But theirs was not to question "the Omniscient," and Schott asks, "Has earth no charms? hath life no poetry?" He concludes:

And now the parting moment hastens near—
   How sad its joy, how mingled with regret,
At rending ties time only made more dear,
   And leaving scenes we never can forget!
Fond memory oft shall from its flower-strewn track,
   The blissful houre that fleeted here recall,
And roaming fancy love to wander back,
   And dwell once more within this classic hall.
'Tis sweet to linger! it is hard to part!
   And anguish'd feelings in the bosom swell,
Sad thoughts too deep for words oppress the heart—
   Friends of my youth, a long, a last farewell!

Schott apparently also said farewell to his pursuit of poetry; no further works have been discovered. Mitchell, however, was only at the beginning of what became modest fame as a writer. Under the pseudonym "Ik Marvel," he published a small number of books which met with some acclaim. His valedictory oration focused on "the Dignity of American Learning," which he said was best guided by a desire to discover and appreciate absolute truth: "While we do live," he said, "may we live to some purpose."

Willis, who came from a very literary family, was also at the cusp of what became a great career. In the years which followed he would move west, become an accomplished composer as well as the editor of a music journal. His song concluded:

And for us who linger here,
   Yet one parting strain.
When shall music's grateful voice
   Blend our hearts again!
God speed you, comrades! still
Heaven protect and guard you well.
Bright the sky, and fair the gale—
   Peace to honor'd 'Yale!'

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