December 4, 2014

Sigourney: an ungathered sunbeam

For her latest book, Lydia Huntley Sigourney produced over 300 pages of poems and sketches about North America, from her native state of Connecticut to the Wyoming Territory. She poeticized historical or cultural objects or events, including the Washington Elm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bunker Hill, Plymouth Rock, and the Jamestown settlement. Her poems were set all over New England (where she spent much of her life) and even Niagara Falls. The book, then, lived up to its title, Scenes in My Native Land. In its final pages, dated December 4, 1844, from Hartford, Connecticut, she offered a conclusion:

And now, reader and friend, our hour of pleasant gossip is finished. We have said nothing of the pictured rocks, or the great western caverns, nor wandered together in spirit on the borders of our mighty lakes, or the shores of the " father of waters."

No. I have spoken only of such places as "keepers at home" may readily reach, and which probably you have yourself visited. Still it is as useful, and vastly more convenient, to admire objects near at hand than those far away; and on what the eye hath oft-times looked, we may still discover an unplucked flower, or an ungathered sunbeam, to cheer and to uplift the heart...

So now, reader and friend, unknown, perchance, but still a friend, Farewell. If it is morning with you, may the day be blessed and happy; and if it is evening,
                                                  "a fair good night,
              And pleasant dreams, and slumbers light."

The last words were a quote from Sir Walter Scott. Many of the poems in the collection are several pages long. Perhaps most appropriate here is a portion of her poem "The Snow-Storm" which, though without a specific location mentioned in the text, gives a fairly good image of New England:

How quietly the snow comes down,
        When all are fast asleep,
And plays a thousand fairy pranks
        O'er vale and mountain steep.
How cunningly it finds its way
        To every cranny small,
And creeps through even the slightest chink
        In window, or in wall.

To every noteless hill it brings
        A fairer, purer crest
Than the rich ermine robe that decks
        The haughtiest monarch's breast.
To every reaching spray it gives
        Whate'er its hand can hold —
A beauteous thing the snow is,
        To all, both young and old...

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