October 9, 2013

Birth of Elizabeth Akers Allen

Elizabeth Anne Chase was born on October 9, 1832, in small town called Strong, Maine. Her mother died when she was young and her father moved the family to Farmington, Maine. It was there that young Elizabeth began writing poetry as a teenager under the pseudonym Florence Percy. Her most famous poem, "Rock Me To Sleep, Mother," was published under that name in 1859. One editor claimed the poem had been set to music at least 30 times by the turn of the century. She had married Marshall Taylor, but the marriage ended in divorce within a few years. With him she had at least one daughter, who later became an editor in California under the name Florence Percy.

Traveling in Rome, she met the sculptor Benjamin Paul Akers, also from Maine. It was in Italy that she wrote her most famous poem and sent it to be published in the Saturday Evening Post. Her absence from the country during its publication caused some confusion over its authorship; at least one other claimed to have written the poem. In 1860, she and Akers were married, though he died within a year. She later married a New Yorker named E. M. Allen in 1865.

Elizabeth Akers Allen published several books of poetry and was frequently included in prominent literary magazines of the day, including the Atlantic Monthly. One critic noted her poems were popular because they are "full of tender feeling, without any tinge of morbidness." Indeed, most of her work features an uplifting moral message, triumphant faith, and domestic tranquility. Her poem "O Cricket, Hush!" (c. 1891) alludes to the belief that a chirping cricket signifies the coming of winter:

O cricket! hush your boding song!
   I know the truth it makes so plain;
You say that autumn dies ere long,
And soon the winter's wrath and wrong
   Will chill the pallid world again.

O mournful winds of midnight, cease
   To breathe your low, prophetic sigh;
Too clearly for my spirit's peace
I see the mellow days decrease,
   And feel December drawing nigh.

Fall silently, October rain,
   Nor take that wailing undertone,
Nor beat so loudly on the pane
The sad, monotonous refrain
   Which tells me summer-time has flown.

Be charier of your golden days,
   O goldenest month of all the throng!
Oh, pour less lavishly your rays!
Hoard carefully your purple haze,
   So haply it may last more long!

Spendthrift October, art thou wise,
   Who wastest, in thy plenteous prime,
More beauty on the earth and skies,
More hue and glow, than would suffice
   To brighten all the winter-time?

Yes, better autumn all delight,
   And then a winter all unblest,
Than months of mingled dark and bright,
Of faded tints and pallid light,
   Imperfect dreams and broken rest.

Ah, better if our life could know
   One wholly happy, perfect year,
One time of cloudless joy and glow,
And then its days of rayless woe,
   Than this commingled hope and fear;

This doubt and dread which naught consoles,
   Which mark our brows ere manhood's prime;
The dread uncertainty that rolls
Like chariot-wheels across our souls,
   And makes us old before our time.

So pour your light, October skies!
   O fairest skies which ever are!
Put on, O earth, your bravest dyes,
And smile, although the cricket cries,
   And winter threatens from afar!

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