January 27, 2013

Clodfelter: farewell, on earth, farewell

"I suppose it is natural for every parent to weep for his child," wrote Indiana poet Noah J. Clodfelter in a footnote, "but the ties that bound me to this little one certainly were strong, and if I were foolishly attached, it is a weakness for which I am innocently to be pitied." Clodfelter's son Byron (named after the poet) had died on January 27, 1879 at the age of 3 years, 7 months, and 28 days (as the mourning father meticulously recorded). "If there is any affection stronger than parental affection, I hope to never be fully acquainted with it." Clodfelter's poem "In Memoria" is dedicated to Byron and was written within 20 days after the boy's death:

Our home is sad since death came there,
               And bore our brilliant star away,
Our pride, our joy, our constant care,
               The hope of our declining day.

I weep, we weep, I know not why,
               But still we weep with hope and love,
Yet knowing, as I know, to die
               Is but to live with God above.

What hope, Oh, glorious hope, to think,
               Upon the river's golden side
Our friends stand waiting on the brink,
               To welcome us beyond its tide.

Methinks I see my little boy,
               With hands extended to me now,
As if in ecstacy of joy,
               To press fond kisses on my brow.

The narrative voice of the poem, Clodfelter himself, notes that time might "efface to some degree" the sadness felt by the boys' parents, but notes in particular that the branch torn from the [family] tree is particularly sorrowful. For now, their thoughts center on the lost child who "breathes" in "all things 'round us," particularly the vacant chair which Clodfelter sees rocking in his dreams. They conclude, however, that he was "too pure and fair for earth." The thought of reuniting in heaven gives him a bit of a boost:

A bleak cold world 'twould be indeed,
               If I but tho't I'd never meet
My little child — my heart would bleed
               Until its pulses ceased to beat.

I have an interest now in heaven,
               I never felt I had before,
And have had since that fatal even,
               That death came thro' our chamber door

But little Byron e'er will dwell
               Within our spirits, O, how true,
We can but say on earth farewell,
                But then 'tis sad this short adieu.

But now farewell, on earth, farewell,
               My little boy, farewell to you,
Soon will I go to thee and dwell,
               And there forget this sad adieu.

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