February 13, 2013

I do not remember my birth, you see!

Julia Caroline Ripley was born on February 13, 1825, in Charleston, South Carolina. While still a young girl, she moved with her family and eventually settled in Rutland, Vermont. In 1847 she married Seneca M. Dorr, with whom she moved to New York for a decade before returning to Rutland (where she eventually helped establish the public library). She experimented with writing poetry in private but it wasn't until her husband secretly sent one of her poems to a newspaper that she was published. She soon became fairly popular as a writer of both prose and poetry. She published several novels, travel books, and scores of poems, earning the admiration of fellow writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The poems of Julia C. R. Dorr, as she often signed her work, are mostly simple in style and, it is said, she purposely never wrote anything she would not feel comfortable reading to children. Her poem "My Birthday" was playfully addressed to her husband:

My birthday!—" How many years ago?
   Twenty or thirty?" Don't ask me!
"Forty or fifty?"—How can I tell?
   I do not remember my birth, you see!

It is hearsay evidence—nothing more!
   Once on a time, the legends say,
A girl was born—and that girl was I.
   How can I vouch for the truth, I pray?

I know I am here, but when I came
   Let some one wiser than I am tell!
Did this sweet flower you plucked for me
   Know when its bud began to swell?

How old am I? You ought to know
   Without any telling of mine, my dear!
For when I came to this happy earth
   Were you not waiting for me here?

A dark-eyed boy on the northern hills,
   Chasing the hours with flying feet,
Did you not know your wife was born,
   By a subtile prescience, faint yet sweet?

Did never a breath from the south-land come,
   With sunshine laden and rare perfume,
To lift your hair with a soft caress,
   And waken your heart to richer bloom?

Not one? O mystery strange as life!
   To think that we who are now so dear
Were once in our dreams so far apart,
   Nor cared if the other were far or near!

But—how old am I? You must tell.
   Just as old as I seem to you!
Nor shall I a day older be
   While life remaineth and love is true!

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