November 11, 2011

Percival: with loveliest creatures

According to the notice inside the book, "on the eleventh day of November in the forty-eighth year of the Independence of the United States of America," James Gates Percival copyrighted his book Poems. That date, in more modern terms, is November 11, 1823. In addition to being a poet, the Connecticut-born, Yale-educated Percival was also a practicing medical doctor and, for a short time, a chemistry professor, as well as an assistant in the making of Noah Webster's American dictionary.

Percival's book was massive, collecting nearly 400 pages of poems, including two that were over 40 pages each. Several focused on plant life, reflecting his interest in botany, many were odes, and few are short lyrics. One of the shortest is "My Heart Was a Mirror":

My heart was a mirror, that showed every treasure
Of beauty and loveliness, life can display;
It reflected each beautiful blossom of pleasure,
But turned from the dark looks of bigots away;
It was living and moving with loveliest creatures,
In smiles or in tears, as the soft spirit chose;
Now shining with brightest and ruddiest features,
Now pale as the snow of the dwarf mountain rose.

These visions of sweetness for ever were playing,
Like butterflies fanning the still summer air;
Some sported a moment, some, never decaying,
In deep hues of love are still lingering there:
At times some fair spirit, descending from Heaven,
Would shroud all the rest in the blaze of its light;
Then wood nymphs and fays o'er the mirror were driven,
Like the fire-swarms, that kindle the darkness of night.

But the winds and the storms broke the mirror, and severed
Full many a beautiful angel in twain;
And the tempest raged on, till the fragments were shivered
And scattered, like dust, as it rolls o'er the plain :
One piece, which the storm, in its madness, neglected
Away, on the wings of the whirlwind, to bear,
One fragment was left, and that fragment reflected
All the beauty, that Mary threw carelessly there.

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