January 21, 2014

Death of Wasson: We hail the hour

A minor poet and Transcendentalism-inspired minister, David Atwood Wasson died on January 21, 1887. Born in Maine and raised in a Calvinist household, he briefly attended Bowdoin College, followed by the Bangor Theological Seminary, and preached from a series of pulpits in Massachusetts: Groveland, Worcester, Medford, and Boston. At least twice he lost his job due to his radical views, particularly his support of abolishing slavery.

All the while, Wasson contributed to William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator and, later, to the Atlantic Monthly. Modern critics have called him unusual for a Transcendentalist because of his careful arguments he gives to explain his ideas, rather than merely offering revelatory announcements from his idols like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Further, he has been called radical, yet not liberal. His writings are both essays and poetry ("The great poets tell us nothing new," he once said. "They remind us."), including one dedicated to Garrison, written about five years after the newspaperman and reformer had died. The poem, "To W. G. L.," is dated January 21, 1884 — exactly three years before Wasson's own death:

Thou who art ours and all men's friend,
Whom Nature gave to be and spend
Her dearest treasure, love and truth,
And justice joined with tender ruth,
When now returns thy natal day,
What for thee should our wishes pray?
What wish we for the silver star
Whose beam doth kiss our eyes from far?
Enough for it a star to be,
Enough for us its light to see.
What wish we for the breathing rose,
That, filled with grace and sweetness blows,
And its fair petals spreads about
To let the fragrant spirit out?
Its being is its blessing best;
And we in it are also blest,
If often we may hither come
To taste its fragrance, see its bloom.
O friend! we wish thee naught to-day,
Thy presence takes the power away;
And joyous while that grace is lent,
We hail the hour, and are content.

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