April 30, 2013

Death of Sarah Hale: I must bid farewell

Sarah Josepha Hale was 89 years old when she finally retired as "editress" from the extremely popular Godey's Lady's Book; she had served in that role for 40 years, becoming one of the most influential women of letters of the period. In her final editorial column, she wrote, "I must bid farewell to my countrywomen, with the hope that this work of half a century may be blessed to the furtherance of the happiness and usefulness in their Divinely appointed sphere." She died a year and four months later on April 30, 1879 at her Locust Street home in Philadelphia. She was 90 and interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Hale was mostly an editor and did not create substantial content, though she did write short sketches, poems (including "Mary's Lamb"), novels, and editorials. She also used her role to advocate for various fundraising efforts, including the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument, the restoration of Mount Vernon, and raising money for the Perkins School for the Blind. She also advocated for the celebration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday celebrated on a Thursday in November. She believed strongly in the pure spirit of women and cautioned against their joining the public sphere, getting involved with politics, and the like. She nevertheless championed various reforms for women's health and women's education. She also must have supported women getting jobs; she began her role as a writer and editor specifically to support her family after the death of her husband.

The year before her death, at a family celebration of her 90th birthday, Hale presented a poem she had written for the occasion:

Growing old! growing old! Do they say it of me?
Do they hint my fine fancies are faded and fled?
That my garden of life, like the winter-swept tree,
Is frozen and dying, or fallen and dead?

Is the heart growing old, when each beautiful thing,
Like a landscape at eve, looks more tenderly bright,
And love sweeter seems, as the bird's wan'dring wing
Draws nearer her nest at the coming of night?

Is the mind growing old when with ardor of youth,
  Through the flower walks of Wisdom, new paths it would try,
And seek, not for shells from the ocean of truth,
  But the pearl of great price which the world cannot buy?

Is the soul growing old? See the planet at even,
  When rising at morn, melts in glory above!
Thus, turning from earth, we creep closer to Heaven,
  Like a child to her father's warm welcoming love.

Does the mortal grow older as years roll away?
  'Tis change, not destruction;—kind winter will bring
Fresh life to the germ and perfect it,
  Decay holds the youth bud IMMORTAL, and heralds its spring.

Growing old! growing old! Can it ever be true,
  While joy for life's blessings is thankful and warm.
And hopes sown for others are blooming anew,
  And the Rainbow of Promise bends over the storm?

Growing old! growing old! No, we never grow old
  If, like little, children we trust in the WORD,
And, reckoning earth's treasures by Heaven's pure gold,
  We lay our weak hands on the strength of the LORD.

1 comment:

  1. Can't say much for the poem, but "looks more tenderly bright" should strike home to anybody who looks at a face or a view with the awareness that nothing (including us) lasts forever.


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