June 1, 2010

Brainard: One single flash!

The Connecticut poet John Gardiner Calkins Brainard wrote that an old lady and a young girl were killed by lightning in Montville at a Presbyterian meeting-house on June 1, 1823. The poem he wrote about the event, "The Thunder Storm," was "not an exaggerated account of the particulars" of that incident, he said.

The Sabbath morn came sweetly on,
The sunbeams mildly shone upon
     Each rock, and tree, and flower;
And floating on the southern gale,
The clouds seemed gloriously to sail
Along the Heavens, as if to hail
     That calm and holy hour.

 By winding path and alley green,
The lightsome and the young were seen
     To join the gathering throng;
While with slow step and solemn look,
The elders of the village took
Their way, and as with age they shook,
     Went reverently along.

They meet—"the sweet psalm-tune" they raise;
They join their grateful hearts, and praise
     The Maker they adore.
They met in holy joy ; but they
Grieve now, who saw His wrath that day,
And sadly went they all away,
And better than before.

There was one cloud, that overcast
The valley and the hill, nor past
     Like other mists away:
It moved not round the circling sweep
Of the clear sky, but dark and deep,
Came down upon them sheer and steep,
Where they had met to pray.

One single flash! it rent the spire,
And pointed downward all its fire—
     What could its power withstay?
There was an aged head; and there
Was beauty in its youth, and fair
Floated the young locks of her hair—
     It called them both away!

The Sabbath eve went sweetly down;
Its parting sunbeams mildly shone
     Upon each rock and flower;
And gently blew the southern gale,
—But on it was a voice of wail,
And eyes were wet, and cheeks were pale,
     In that sad evening hour.

Brainard was a lawyer and editor, in addition to writing occasional poems. His first book, published in 1825, collected these scattered works (many of which were published in the Connecticut Mirror, the newspaper he edited). He admitted he was temperamentally unsuited to be a lawyer; others admitted he was temperamentally unsuited to be an editor. He died shortly before his 33rd birthday in 1828.

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