January 7, 2013

OH! brother loved, thy name's forever dear

Noah Clodfelter wrote that he wished his name always be remembered with the name of his brother, A. N. Clodfelter.* His brother died of tuberculosis, however, on January 7, 1879. He was 24. The elder Clodfelter dedicated a massive three-part poem, "Humphrey's Forest," to his deceased brother:

OH! brother loved, thy name's forever dear,
It is inscribed in living letters here,
How oft I've marked this dear old pensive tree,
That bears the name so plainly here of thee;
Could smiles avert the tears from off my face,
Whene'er I tread upon this sacred place,
And read that name forever dear to me,
Thy own initials, brother, A. N. C.

The poem uses the forest — and, more specifically, the single tree upon which Clodfelter's brother has inscribed his initials — as a place to remember the man's time on earth, but also to look heavenward. The poem, which stretches across parts of 16 pages in the collection Early Vanities, is deeply personal while also being universally hopeful. The poem continues:

Time's sweetest wing has sped forever on,
And left our records blank and quite unknown,
Gaze back upon the idle hours enjoyed,
And see how well they might have been employed,
But then the days of youth are not for fame,
But merely to applaud the merry game;
Blessed be the day when science first does gain,
And crush bad thoughts from out thy youthful brain.
When mediocre's jests will only tease
The once lost minds they did so truly please —
But vernal winds that shake the verdant leaf,
You thrill me with that lone and solemn grief,
That time has wrought and clasped so firm on me,
Since we did jest beneath this old beach tree.
But, oh! to me, how changed and how sublime,
Is such a change that teaches me to rhyme,
And you to dive in murky depths to find,
What seems beyond the comprehensive mind...

In what seems like an endless series of rhyming couplets, Clodfelter continues seeing the passage of time, the passage of life to death in the tree, further emphasized when he finds his father's initials also carved there. The passing of generations also reminds him that the past can never be retrieved and that some will be remembered, others forgotten. From the second part of the poem:

In Humphrey's Woods the blooming wreaths will grow
While lasts the valleys, or the fountains flow,
I long while walking tho' those sober scenes,
To see them often in my vision'd dreams,
I'll call them up whene'er my mind's oppress'd,
To give me solace and to give me rest,
I'll think how oft I've roamed from shade to shade,
In search of game within this sylvan glade... 

*It seems that the majority of the Clodfelter men used merely their initials rather than their full names. Noah, for example, most often signed his work N. J. Clodfelter.


  1. I smiled at that "endless series of rhyming couplets."

  2. It was hard to sugar coat this one. I think if it hadn't been nonstop couplets, it would have been easier to digest.

  3. I am no literary critic, but get the general impression of great sadness or a sort of melancholy that pervaded N.J.'s life. I live in the house he built and it is lovely with a great outlook. He called it "Knoll Cottage" as it is built on it's own 2/3 acre knoll.


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