December 13, 2013

Death of Pollock: without faculty

"He was a man of much poetic genius, but without faculty to get along in the world." So read an obituary of Edward Pollock, who died on December 13, 1858, apparently due to delirium tremens. Born in Philadelphia in 1823, Pollock ran away from home as a teenager and eventually made his way to California amidst the gold rush. There, he earned the respects of those around him and became a practicing attorney. Only a few months before his death, he was invited as the speaker to a gathering of the Society of California Pioneers.

But Pollock also had a problem with alcohol. "He was the slave of strong drink," the Washington D.C. Evening Star reported in the month after his death. His friend James F. Bowman, who wrote a memoir of the poet, recalled that he was obsessed with death in the last month of his life. Hour by hour, he noted, Pollock talked "of death and of the possibility of future life. All his thoughts seemed to tend in that one direction." He even asked if others considered suicide.

Pollock died at age 35, leaving a wife and four children. Bowman claimed that the greatest tragedy in Pollock's early death was he left something unfinished: "a great poem" which would immortalize him. In fact, his most famous poem would not be published until after his death. Instead, here is his poem "Evermore":

    Oh for youth and flowery Spring,
    That with mirth and music ring,
Ere the blooming leaves have vanished,
                Taken wing!

    How the leaves are growing gray!
    How the blossoms fade away!
And the winds that sung are sighing,—

    Dimples into wrinkles grow,
    Raven tresses turn to snow;
Drear, alas! is pain and sorrow,—
                Full of woe.

    Dreary is the changing time
    When the spirit's past its prime,
Slowly, mournfully is failing,
                Like a chime.

    Drifting on the fateful tide,
    On the torrent wild and wide,
To that bourn where weary pilgrims
                All abide.

    Hark unto the surging roar,
    From the fast-approaching shore,
Of the long, black billows beating

    Oh for blossoms newly sprung,
    For the harp forever strung!
Oh to be unchanging never,—
                Ever young!

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