March 21, 2014

Birth of Emily Hawthorn: no idle dreamer

Though she sometimes wrote under the pen name "Emily Hawthorn," she was born Emily Thornton on March 21, 1845 in Lafayette, Indiana. After her marriage, she became Emily Thornton Charles. As a teenager, she had been a teacher but, after her husband died in 1874, as often happened among women in the 19th century, she needed to find a way to support herself. As a 24-year old widow and mother of two, she turned to writing.

Charles began writing for publications in Indianapolis and published her first book of poetry, Hawthorn Blossoms, in 1876. She also became a public speaker, often for the cause of woman's suffrage. In 1881, she became managing editor of a Washington D.C.-based newspaper and soon founded The National Veteran in the nation's capital. She became an officer for the National Woman's Press Association and was chosen as a speaker for the World's Fair in 1893. She collapsed at about that time and was bedridden for a year. She took the opportunity to revise her poetry and published Lyrical Poems in 1886.

In the preface to her first book, Charles explained her rewards for writing: touching the emotions of others. If, she wrote, an "expression to the thoughts that throng my mind and the emotions that swell within my heart" met sympathy in a single reader, it would be like "giving voice to those who were dumb." Perhaps her August 1873 poem, "The Poet," offers more on the subject:

My life may scatter sunbeams,
My face be smiling bright;
Yet in my heart there's sadness
That never seeks the light.

My life hath had its sorrows
Like chequered shadows cast;
They ever crossed my pathway,
And will while life shall last.

Some joys erstwhile come to me,
But pleasures never last;
Except in thought they linger—
In memories of the past.

I am no idle dreamer;
I work, I think, I feel.
Who chides me if, in rhyming,
I may my thoughts reveal?

Some heavy-laden mortal,
Who bows beneath his load,
Perhaps in reading my thoughts
May firmer tread the road.

'Tis idle all repining;
Look up, be brave, be true:
Who knows but in the future
Some brightness beams for you?

Thus, while on earth I linger,
I'll send forth words of cheer;
For this, who knows, but may be
My destined life-work here.

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