March 11, 2013

Birth of Pearl Rivers: The music of my heart

She was born near the Pearl River at Gainesville, Mississippi on March 11, 1849 and named Eliza Jane Poitevent. By her teen years, however, she was a published author and poet under the pseudonym Pearl Rivers. She became literary editor for the New Orleans Picayune in 1870 and, two years later, married the newspaper's owner Alva Holbrook (despite a 41 year age difference). When he died, she was left a 28-year old widow with $80,000 in debt. Under her leadership, however, the newspaper rallied and became successful again. She was the first woman in the United States to oversee a daily metropolitan newspaper.

The majority of her creative writings were published early in her life; her book Lyrics in 1873 is her biggest collection. Her acquaintance Paul Hamilton Hayne praised the book and noted his dismay that she would be writing less: "Your own sweet poems (genuine lyrics, indeed) I have perused with real pleasure, and regret to understand that you have almost given up writing." Pearl Rivers would live a relatively short life, dying at age 52. She predicted the reaction to her own death in the "Preface" to her Lyrics:

God gave a little harp to me;
    I hold it very dear,
I tune the strings to melody,
    And play on it by ear

I never spent a single day
    Learning the rules of art;
Unconsciously my fingers play
    The music of my heart.

Sometimes my songs are low and sad,
    And thrill with tender woe;
Sometimes my songs are light and glad,
    Because my heart is so.

I cannot reach the magic note
    That soothes the sorrowing,
Like dark-eyed David when he smote
    His harp to cheer the king.

Nor can I waken martial strains
    Like the great bards of old,
Whose music throbbed through England's veins
    And made her warriors bold.

My harp has only simple strings,
    My hands are weak and small;
I only sing of simple things
    In simpler words than all.

And when some day I bow my head,
    And friends look sad and say:
"The Singer's dead, the music fled,
    Go put her harp away!"

They will not hang it in the halls,
    The echoing halls of Fame,
Where every harp against the walls
    Vibrates a master's name;

But bear it tenderly to those
    Who loved the simple thing,
Because of simple joys and woes
    The Singer used to sing.

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