January 13, 2013

Birth of Ethel Lynn: beyond the ink-clogged pen

Ethelinda Eliot was born on January 13, 1827 in Goshen, New York. She was a direct descendant of John Eliot, an educator and minister who was known as the "apostle" of the Native Americans, whom he converted to Christianity, after translating the Bible into the Massachusetts language in the 17th century. She originally wrote under the simplified name "Ethel Lynn" but, after her 1846 marriage, she went by the name Ethel Lynn Beers. She and her husband eventually moved to New Jersey.

The majority of her poems, short stories, and novellas were published in periodicals including the New York Ledger and Harper's, which she later collected in several books in her lifetime. Authorship of her most famous poem ("All Quiet Along the Potomac") came under dispute in her lifetime, but it was immensely popular and was set to music. Much of her work is domestic in nature, sentimental in style, and feature children or families. She uses nature scenes and, particularly, descriptions of flowers but she also writes about spirituality, using words like "the Unseen" or "Master" in reference to the deity. Her poem "A New Friend":

I did not know her yesterday,
     This gentle friend of mine;
There was no niche unfilled, I thought,
     Within this heart of mine.

To-day I know her; songs of mine
     Have spoken for me while unseen,
Stretching like spider lines wind-blown
     Our severed selves between.

When I have done my best she knew;
     When I have failed she cared, —
Looking beyond the ink-clogged pen,
     My unbreathed trials shared.

Ah! through this living type I guess
     How vanished ones may keep
Some busy distaff's subtle thread
     Unbroken, tho' I sleep.

And still I gladder grow to think
     Some souls I do not know
As yet may meet me by and by,
     And, loving me, yet tell me so.

For, after all, a critic's praise
     Or blame comes not so near
As gentle words from loving ones,
     Who hold some simple cadence dear.

For these I think thee, busy pen,
     With point to speak, and plume to bear
My greeting to these unknown friends
     I shall know some time — here or There.

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