July 25, 2012

Timrod: Across a thousand storm swept leagues

On July 25, 1862, the Charleston Mercury published the poem "Field Flowers" by native South Carolina poet Henry Timrod; it was later renamed "Two Field Flowers" about a year later. The poem was at least partially inspired by his wife England-born wife Katie:

Half hidden in a crimson-curtained nook,
   Reclined the radiant girl,
Unconscious that I bent above her book,
   Till — I had kissed a curl!

Then, with a blush that mocked the damask's tinge.
   She held the volume up.
And showed a daisy's faded disk and fringe,
   And one pale butter-cup.

Across a thousand storm swept leagues of sea
   The delicate things had sped;
Since they had fluttered on an English lea,
   But two bright moons were dead.

Realizing that these flowers had traveled all the way from England, Timrod considers their possible connection to Chaucer or that, perhaps, even Shakespeare had written about them. Much like his other poems to his wife, he considers walking with her in the countryside of her native land:

Now in the wheat I marked the whitening tops.
   Now paced some moorland brown.
And the next moment in a hazel copse,
   Was shaking filberts down

Thus as my lithesome fancy ran its rounds,
   It seemed new strength to win,
Till at the last it scorned a county's bounds,
   And took all England in!

Even as he imagines wandering in that country's "mighty cities" and "old cathedral towns," however, his thoughts bring him back to the "one fair English maid," Katie. Still, he remembers his native South and snaps back to reality (and the conflict occurring there):

Not yet the vision from my soul had passed,
   When, for a second's space,
I felt as if three rose leaves had been cast
   By fairies in my face.

Far off, within some magic mountain dell,
   Lay chained the frolic South;
And, therefore, of the touch that broke the spell,
   I charge a woman's mouth.

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