January 6, 2014

Pollock's "Parting Hour": fated all to part

It was just under two years before his death that Edward Pollock wrote his poem "The Parting Hour" on January 6, 1857. The Philadelphia-born poet by then had established himself as an attorney in California. He also had developed a drinking problem and began thinking more and more about death. It may have been that "parting hour" he had in mind or, perhaps, simply the departure of a friend — or, possibly both. He handed the manuscript to a friend who was about to depart to Oregon via a steamer. As he handed it to him, Pollock allegedly said, "Take this; you may, perhaps, read and appreciate the sentiment long after I have ceased to be among the living."

The poem was published in 1870 in the Portland Evening Journal, and was immediately republished in several newspapers over the next several months. It became, and likely remains, Pollock's most famous work:

There's something in the "parting hour"
    Will chill the warmest heart,
Yet kindred, comrades, lovers, friends,
    Are fated all to part;
But this I've seen,—and many a pang
    Has pressed it on my mind,—
The one who goes is happier
    Than those he leaves behind.

No matter what the journey be,—
    Adventurous, dangerous, far,
To the wild deep, or bleak frontier,
    To solitude or war,—
Still something cheers the heart that dares,
    In all of human kind,
And they who go are happier
    Than those they leave behind.

The bride goes to the bridegroom's home
    With doubtings and with tears,
But does not hope a rainbow spread
    Across her cloudy fears?
Alas! the mother who remains,
    What comfort can she find
But this,—the gone is happier
    Than one she leaves behind?

Have you a friend, a comrade dear,
    An old and valued friend?
Be sure your term of sweet concourse
    At length will have an end;
And when you part, as part you will,
    Oh, take it not unkind
If he who goes is happier
    Than you he leaves behind.

God wills it so,—and so it is,—
    The pilgrims on their way,
Though weak and worn, more cheerful are
    Than all the rest who stay.
And when at last poor man, subdued,
    Lies down, to death resigned,
May he not still be happier far
    Than those he leaves behind?

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