September 21, 2013

Weeks: I am glad to be alive!

Robert Kelley Weeks was born in New York City on September 21, 1840. A graduate of Yale, Weeks went on to study law at Columbia and passed the bar in New York. In 1866, however, he took a literary turn and published a book simply titled Poems by Robert K. Weeks, which he dedicated to his mother. Much of the poetry in that compilation offers Weeks's observations of nature and the natural world.

By the time he published his second book four years later, Episodes and Lyrics Pieces, Weeks had given up on practicing law and focused on writing. That book, however, was not met positively. A review in Philadelphia called Weeks "a student of poetry rather than a poet" who merely imitated others (namely Tennyson, Swinburne, Browning) with "considerable exactness." Though the reviewer called Weeks a "graceful verse-writer" with a book full of "melodious" works showing "a refined poetical sentiment," the critic concluded: "The best of [his] pieces lack the one thing necessary to raise them above the level of respectable mediocrity—inspiration."

Negative reviews, however, could not have weakened Weeks's poetic optimism. Nevertheless, he died shortly before his final book, Twenty Poems, was published in 1876; he was 35 years old. For his birthday, it is perhaps best appropriate to look at Weeks's short poem (sonnet?) "In September" from his last book:

Feathery clouds are few and fair,
Thistle-down is on the air,
Rippling sunshine on the lake.
Wild grapes scent the sunny brake,
Wild bees murmuring take the ear,
Crickets make the silence dear;
Butterflies float in a dream,
Over all the swallows gleam.
Here and yonder, high and low,
Golden-rod and sunflowers glow,
Here and there a maple flushes,
Sumach reddens, woodbine blushes,
Purple asters bloom and thrive,—
I am glad to be alive!

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