December 18, 2012

Death of Chivers: All is perfect peace with me

Few wrote about death like Thomas Holley Chivers. The Georgia-born poet experienced much suffering in his life, including his strange unhappy marriage, and he was deeply impacted by the death of his mother, sister, and a daughter. Nevertheless, his last words before his death on December 18, 1858 were recorded as "All is perfect peace with me." He was 49 years old. By his own request, he was first buried under the front doorstep of his home, Villa Allegra, before being reburied in Decatur Cemetery.

Though criticized today for excessive musicality often perceived as nonsense, or, perhaps, only known for his odd relationship with Edgar Allan Poe (who called him "one of the best and one of the worst poets in America"), Chivers was a passionate, if erratic, man. A medical doctor, a Swedenborgian, and a deeply emotional writer, he carefully studied poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and believed true poetry was the result of divine inspiration. He self-published all 11 of his books, produced over about 25 years.

His 1837 poem "The Dying Poet" begins with a quote, allegedly the dying words of John Keats, "I feel the daisies growing over me":

A little while this storm shall rage,
     And then, twill all be o'er!
The cold, dark blood will then engage
     My failing heart no more!

The fiery soul that fed on love,
     From this worn frame must part;
And there, forever more, above,
     Live mateless from my heart!

The dismal, shadowy vale that lies
     In Death's dark region there,
Is now between my tearful eyes
     And Heaven — where all is fair!

My young years' youngest flowers that grew,
     And garlanded my brow,
Are slain beneath the heavy dew,
     And all are withered now!

I see that earth cannot suffice
     To give my spirit rest;
I now must go above the skies.
     And sing among the blest.

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