March 28, 2012

Pike: Who knoweth why?

Albert Pike wrote his poem "The Dead Child" while living in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 1884:

The young leaf lives in Spring its little hour,
      And falleth from the limb—who knoweth why?
The fair young bud blooms not into a flower,
      But sickening droops and hasteneth to die.
                            Who knoweth why?
Our Father knows, from whom the bud and leaf
Received their life, so beautiful and brief.

Those loved by us,—the young, fair, innocent,—
      When like your dear ones they have grown more dear,
For but a little season to us lent,
      He calleth home, letting us live on here—
                            Who knoweth why?
They in the early morning of Life's day
Do fade and fade, while we grow old and gray.

Our Father knows. He knew they did not need
      Life's discipline and Sorrow's chastening pain
To make them fit for Heaven, and early freed
      These pure white souls to Him returned again,
                            For us to intercede.
Thus we, amid Life's sorrows, toils and cares,
Have entertained His angels unawares.

Pike was 74 years old at the time, just a few years away from his own death, and the majority of his poetic output long behind him It's uncertain if he was thinking of a specific dead child but, it if was meant to be autobiographical, he had several options for inspiration. He and his wife Mary Ann Hamilton had ten children, several of whom died before their father. His first child died as an infant, his second only a couple days after his birth. Another son was killed by bandits during the Civil War, and a daughter committed suicide. A son drowned in the Arkansas River, and two more children died as adults. In his poem, Pike maintains a positive and spiritual outlook on the death of children — certainly a difficult point of view to hold for a man with so much tragedy in his life.

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