July 9, 2010

I look through tears on Beauty now

The poet/painter Washington Allston was 63 when he died on July 9, 1843. His funeral was held two days later and, by the late evening, he was buried by moonlight and torchlight at the burying ground across from the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Common.

Several poetic tributes were written for Allston, including ones by his nephew Ellery Channing ("Allston's Funeral"), Hannah Flagg Gould (The Burial of Allston: A Dirge), and Henry Theodore Tuckerman ("On the Death of Washington Allston").

Allston's first wife, Ann Channing Allston, was sister of the minister William Ellery Channing. She died in 1815. Years later, in 1830, he married her cousin Martha Remington Dana, sister of the poet Richard Henry Dana (and, of course, aunt to the novelist Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who was the executor of Allston's estate). It was with the Dana family that Allston was buried.

Richard Henry Dana, Sr. was particularly moved by the death of his brother-in-law and wrote one of the more touching poetic tributes:

I look through tears on Beauty now;
And Beauty's self less radiant looks on me;
Serene, yet touched with sadness is the brow,
Once bright with joy, I see.

...Why shadowed thus thy forehead fair?
Why on the mind low hangs a mystic gloom,
And spreads away on the genial air,
Like vapours from the tomb?

Why should ye shine, you lights above?
Ye little flowers, why open to the heat?
No more within the heart ye filled with love
The living pulses beat.

Well, Beauty, may you mourning stand!
The fine-beholding eye, whose constant look
Was turned on thee, is dark; and cold the hand
Gave more than vision took.

Nay, heart, be still! Of heavenly birth
Is Beauty sprung:—Look up!—behold the place!
There He, who reverent traced Her steps on earth,
Now sees Her, face to face.

*The image at the top of this post is a self-portrait by Washington Allston, 1805. It is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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