Sunday, December 31, 2017

BEYOND, a poem

HAD we the present—only that, no more!
Were the past, hidden by Oblivion's door,
     Impenetrable to our backward gaze,
     Its lessons lost, its joyful, tearful days!
     Were there no vision of untrodden ways,
No distant fields of morn, no blooms unfound,
No skyey hopes to beckon from the ground,—
     No loves whose waiting welcome ne'er betrays!

Were there no promise of returning Spring
When Autumn preens a migratory wing,
     And on earth's hearth the fire is burning low!—
     Were there no future with romance aglow,
     When the chilled blood within the vein moves slow,
No dream of a fair dawning, in the night,—
No fond expectancy,—no pledge of light
     Fairer than cloud-veiled days of winter know!
    ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·     ·
To-morrow!—mystic word of the Ideal!
What were all else, wert thou not there to heal
     The deepest hurt that e'er the present gave?
     Friend! Ever wise consoler! We are brave
     Because of thee! Trusting thy might to save,
We journey onward toward an unknown land,
And close, and closer still, we clasp thy hand,—
     Nor will be parted from thee at the grave.
"Beyond" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

YESTERDAY, a poem

MY soul is fain to drink of joy;
     Thy cup is full of tears.
Ah, take it from me, nor destroy
     The dream of future years!
Thy face is fair, but grief is there—
     And grief but wastes and sears.

We two have been companioned long;
     Now straightway let us part!
Another and a dearer song,
     By some mysterious art,
Draws young, sweet breath while thy lips of death
     Yet whisper to my heart.

Ah, joy it is a timid thing,
     And easily 't is slain;
A tender firstling of the spring,
     It shrinks at touch of pain;
Then haste away, dread Yesterday!
     Nor hither come again!

So quickly? But who goes with thee,
     Unrecognized before?
Are hope, alas! and memory
     Thus joined forevermore?
Then must thou stay, O Yesterday!
     Lest joy, too, quit my door.
"Yesterday" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (December 1910), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Friday, December 29, 2017

THE SUN-DIAL, a poem

THEY that read my message clear,
When the sun is shining near,
Know that moments tarry not
Though I keep no record here.

Noiseless as the river's flow,
Onward still the moments go;
Naught delays them—yet they be
Freighted for Eternity!

As the sand drops from the glass,
Unreturning, so they pass;
And the Power that bids them fall
Knows their value—each and all!
"The Sun-Dial" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Bazar (December 1908) and Lyrics of Life (1909).


Horologium Achaz, the Sun-dial of Ahaz
Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 28, 2017

IN MODERN BONDS, a poem

EARLY and late, one day but as another,
One night—one dreary night, like to its brother
Silent and songless, empty of desire,—
A numbness after unremitting tire,—
So, in a vicious circle bound alway,
From light to darkness and from night to day
I move: a thing mechanical, I ween,
As this my comrade here—this vast machine
Which seems more of me than my blood and bone;
Which more doth own me than my God doth own.

For what of difference is 'twixt it and me
Lies in myself a vague and nameless sorrow,
Baffling and barren as the flickering gleam
Of starlight fallen on a frozen stream,
Holding no ray of promise for a morrow
Whose moments, as they come and go, must be—
For one who welcomes nor the night nor morn,
Whose weariness scarce knows itself forlorn—
But portions of a dull, unwished eternity.
"In Modern Bonds" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Unconquered Air (1912).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

THE POET, a poem

IS he alone? The myriad stars shine o'er him,
     The flowers bloom for him mid wintry frost;
He needs not sleep to dream,—and dreams restore him
     Whatever he has lost.

Is he forsaken? Beauty's self is nigh him,
     Closer than bride to the fond lover's arms,—
Veiled, guarding still, to lift and glorify him,
     The mystery of her charms.

Unto his soul she speaks in accents moving—
     In moving accents meant for him alone,
Revealing, past all visioned heights of loving,
     Far-beckoning heights unknown.
"The Poet" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

On this day in 1883

A dinner at the Bellevue (supplanted by the Bellevue-Stratford in 1904) in Philadelphia was given by Mr. and Mrs. Coates in honor of Matthew Arnold, who was in town lecturing that month on the "Doctrine of the Remnant" and on "Emerson."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

SLEEP, a poem

To "the Child in us that trembles before death."—Plato.

SAY, hast thou never been compelled to lie
     Wakeful in Night's impenetrable deep,
     Counting the laggard moments that so creep
Reluctant onward; till, with voiceless cry
Enduring, thou hadst willing been to fly
     From Life itself, and in oblivion steep
     Thy tortured senses? To such longed-for sleep
Death is a way; and dost thou fear to die?

Nay, were it this, just this, and naught beside—
     Merely the calm that we have anguished for,
The wayfarer might still be glad to hide
     From grief and suffering!—but how much more
Is Death—Life's servitor and friend—the guide
     That safely ferries us from shore to shore!
"Sleep" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Athenaeum (26 December 1914) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Monday, December 25, 2017

On Mary, Mother of Jesus

The Sleep of the Infant Jesus
by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

MOTHER MARY

METHINKS the Blessèd was content, her journey overpast,
     Amid the drowsy, wondering kine on lowly bed to lie:
To dream in pensive thankfulness, and happy days forecast,
     While over her the Star of Hope waxed brighter in the sky.

And yet, methinks in Bethlehem her spirit had been lone
     But for the tender new-born joy that in her arms she bore,—
Ay, even though with gifts of gold and many a precious stone
     Great kings had knelt with shepherd-folk about her stable door.

But every mortal mother's heart knows its Gethsemane—
     That lonelier spot whereto no star the light of hope may bring—
Yet even in the darkest hour, amidst her agony,
     Each still remembers Bethlehem, and hears the angels sing.
"Mother Mary" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Literary Digest (7 December 1912), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

WHEN CHRIST WAS BORN

ON that divine all-hallowed morn
When Christ in Bethlehem was born,
How lone did Mary seem to be,
The kindly beasts for company!

But when she saw her infant's face—
Fair with the soul's unfading grace,
Softly she wept for love's excess,
For painless ease and happiness.

She pressed her treasure to her heart—
A lowly mother, set apart
In the dear way that mothers are,
And heaven seemed nigh, and earth afar:

And when grave kings in sumptuous guise
Adored her babe, she knew them wise;
For at his touch her sense grew dim—
So all her being worshiped him.

A nimbus seemed to crown the head
Low-nestled in that manger-bed,
And Mary's forehead, to our sight,
Wears ever something of its light;

And still the heart—poor pensioner!
In its affliction turns to her—
Best loved of all, best understood,
The type of selfless motherhood!
"When Christ Was Born" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Scribner's Monthly Magazine (January 1902), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

On this day in 1912

Inscription in a volume of The Unconquered Air and Other Poems (1912) by Mrs. Coates to her brother George H. Earle, Jr. on Christmas Day, 1912.


Pasted into the front board of the same volume is a picture of Florence Earle Coates dated ca. pre-1905.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

CHRISTMAS EVE, a poem

Girl Eating Porridge (1874)
by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
WOULD Jesus come to me, Mither,
     The morrow's Christmas morn,
Wearin' the bonny smile he had
     That day that he was born,
Around his head a wreath o' light,
     And not a twig o' thorn,—

I'd open wide the doore, Mither,
     The way that he'd come in;
And not to gi' him pain at all,
     I'd keep my heart from sin;
And all I could to pleasure him
     I'd right at once begin.

Not in a stall should he be laid,
     But on me own fine bed;
And half me porridge wi' me own
     Small spoon should he be fed,
The while his Mither smiled, and shared
     Wi' you the bit o' bread.

'T would be a time o' joy, Mither!
     But thinkin' o' they things,
'T is may-be well he should be there,
     Wi' ward o' angel-wings;
I doubt they'd miss him so!—the kine,
     The shepherds, and the kings!
"Christmas Eve" by Florence Earle Coates." Published in The Bellman (25 December 1915) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

"High thought seated in a heart of courtesy"

Edward Hornor Coates (1846-1921)
Portrait by John McLure Hamilton (1912)

Edward Hornor Coates, husband of Florence Earle Coates, died on this day in 1921. The funeral service was held at the Coates' 2024 Spruce St. home on 26 December at 10:30am. On 31 March, 1922, an auction of his book collection and other items was held at a Stan V. Henkels sale at 1304 Walnut St., Philadelphia. Mrs. Coates presented The Edward H. Coates Memorial Collection to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1923. Mr. Coates is buried at the Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal) churchyard in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The inscription on his headstone, "High thought seated in a heart of courtesy," was Sir Philip Sidney's description of an honorable man and gentleman.

Coates was president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1890 to 1906. According to his death certificate, he had suffered from "diabetes mellitus" for a span of ten years, but the primary cause of death was "acute cardiac dilatation."

THE VIOLIN, a poem

HE gave me all, and then he laid me by.
     Straining my strings to breaking with his pain,
He voiced an anguish, through my wailing cry,
     Never to speak again.

He pressed his cheek against me, and he wept—
     Had we been glad together over much?—
Emotions that within me deep had slept
     Grew vibrant at his touch,

And I who could not ask whence sprung his sorrow,
     Responsive to a grief I might not know,
Sobbed as the infant that each mood doth borrow
     Sobs for the mother's woe.

Wild grew my voice and stormy with his passion,
     Lifted at last unto a tragic might;
Then swift it changed in sad and subtile fashion
     To pathos infinite,

Swooning away beneath his faltering fingers
     Till the grieved plaint seemed, echoless, to die;
When, calm, he rose, and with a touch that lingers,
     Laid me forever by.

Forever! Ah, he comes no more—my lover!
     And all my spirit wrapped in trance-like sleep,
Darkling I dream that such a night doth cover
     His grief with hush as deep.
"The Violin" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909), Poems (1916) Volume I and Scribner's Magazine (February 1921).

Friday, December 22, 2017

"To him who found me sleeping, all my soul", a dedicatory poem

TO him who found me sleeping, all my soul
Locked in the dark enchantment of a dream
Of suffering and death: who broke the spell,
And led my faltering steps through twilight paths
Unto the fair, forgotten fields of life,—
To him I dedicate, with timid trust,
Whate'er of worthiest in thought or phrase
May mirror here the visions lent me since.
"To him who found me sleeping, all my soul" by Florence Earle Coates. Dedicatory poem from Poems (1916) in 2 volumes.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

MARS, a poem

IN the blue, cloudless heaven
     A single star,
Lone torch and lamp of even,
     Burning afar;

Not with the radiance tender
     Of other stars,
But with insistent splendor,—
     Celestial Mars!

Above the summits hoary
     Of ancient hills,
It yet pours out a glory
     On lakes and rills,

As when Selene passes
     Across the night
And her fair image glasses,
     Leaving its light.

Strange planet! Thou dost awe me,
     As by a spell;
Thou dost uplift and draw me
     Where thou dost dwell!

Thy mysteries to capture
     Let others guess;
Mine—mine to feel with rapture
     Thy beauteousness.
"Mars" by Florence Earle Coates. Published as "Mars—1907" in Lyrics of Life (1909), and as "Mars" in Poems (1916) Volume I.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

CRIPPLED, a poem

WHY hast Thou bound my feet,
Then bade me toil ceaselessly after Thee?
How should a thing so broken, incomplete—
Ah, how should I, Lord! plant these faltering feet
Where shifting sands of Earth so baffle me?

Have I not set thy limits? Who should know,
Better than I, what sloughs I lead thee through?
Mine is the power to hinder—and make free:
               Walk thou with me! 
"Crippled" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Reader Magazine (December 1903), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

from 18th century drawing by
unknown artist

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

ALMS, a poem

A  beggar, bent beneath the weight of years,—
     To wretchedness inured, half reconciled,—
Entreated help, and I could give but tears;
     Yet grateful looked the man on me, and smiled.
"Alms" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (April 1904), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume II.


To Miss Susanna Stern, in Mine and Thine (1904)

Monday, December 18, 2017

VEILED, a poem

IS the promise of day merely darkness,
     Is sleep full fruition for strife,
Is the grave compensation for sorrow,
     Is Nirvana the answer to life?

Is there no unobscured revelation
     The evil of Earth to explain,—
No word of compassion to soften
     The terrible riddle of pain?

In cold, imperturbable silence
     The planets revolve in their course,
And Nature is deaf to entreaty,
     Untroubled by doubt or remorse;

The snows, far outspread on her mountains,
     Dissolve, nor her mandate gainsay,
And the cloud is consumed at her bidding,
     And vanisheth quickly away.

And man?—shall he fade like the cloud-wreath,
     And waste, unresisting, like snow,
Nor learn of the place whence he journeyed,
     Nor guess whereunto he must go?

Alas! after nights spent in searching,
     After days and years, what can he tell,—
What imagine of mysteries higher
     Than heaven, and deeper than hell?

At end of the difficult journey,
     With restless inquiries so rife,
He knows what his spirit discovered
     At the shadowy threshold of life;

He feels what the tenderness beaming
     From eyes bending, wistful, above,
Revealed to his heart when an infant,—
     The care, unforgetting, of love!

The hawk toward the south her wings stretcheth,
     The eagle ascendeth the sky;
They know not the guide who conducts them,
     Yet onward, unerring, they fly:

In the desert the dew falleth gently,—
     In the desert where no man is;
And the herb wisteth not who hath sent it,
     But the herb and the dew,—both are His!
"Veiled" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (December 1889), Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Shade and Darkness – The Evening of the Deluge (1843)
by J. M. W. Turner (William Turner)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"THE SENSE OF TEARS IN MORTAL THINGS", a poem

WHY does great beauty waken in the soul,
     Together with the pleasure it inspires,
     Sadness and inaccessible desires?—
Why, in our joy anticipating dole,
Ask we for lovely things a lasting goal,
     Though knowing well their destiny requires
     That, wasted and consumed by their own fires,
They pay on earth, full soon, Death's heavy toll?

Nay, love! The seed may fail within the sod,
     But beauty fails not; though it seem to die,
     It lights a quenchless torch in Hades' portal:
A gift benignant as a smile of God,
     Through myriad fading forms it mounts on high,
     And at the last creates beauty that is immortal!
"The Sense of Tears in Mortal Things" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A LOVER'S "LITANY TO PAN", a poem

BY the germinating seed
And the blossoming of the weed,
By the fruitage that doth feed,—
          Oh, hear!

By the light's reviving kiss,
By the law that wakes to bliss
Butterfly from chrysalis,
          Oh, hear!

By the raptures of the Spring,
And the myriad flowers that bring
Incense at her feet to fling,
          Oh, hear!

By the water-lily shrine
And the syrinx that is thine,
By its melodies divine,
          Oh, hear!

By the fragrance of the glade,
By thy slumber in the shade
And thy bed, of mosses made,
          Oh, hear!

By the budding mysteries
And leafy glory of the trees,—
By the human eye that sees,
          Oh, hear!

By the wistful hopes that throng
To thy chantry of sweet song,
By our power to love and long,
          Oh, hear!

By the dawning's tender beam,
By the twilight's westering gleam,
By the soul's enduring dream,
          Oh, hear!

By the summer's ardent quest,
And the balm of winter rest,—
By the calm of Nature's breast,
          Oh, hear!

By the wonder of thy plan,
By thy boundless gifts to man,—
By thy deathless self, great Pan!
          Oh, hear!
"A Lover's 'Litany to Pan'" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The North American Review (December 1911), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Friday, December 15, 2017

VESTAL, a poem

SHE dwelt apart, as one whom love passed by,
     Yet in her heart love glowed with steadfast beam;
     And as the moonlight on a wintry stream
With paly radiance doth glorify
All barren things that in its circle lie,
     So, from within, love shed so fair a gleam
     About her, that it made her desert seem
A paradise, abloom immortally.

Some rashly pitied her; but, to atone,
     If one perchance gazed long upon her face,
He grew to feel himself more strangely lone—
     Love lent her look such amplitude of grace;
Yet who that would have made that love his own
     Aught worthy had to offer in its place?
"Vestal" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Reader (December 1907), Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.


Nun contemplating a cross in a garden courtyard
by Ferdinand Wagner

Thursday, December 14, 2017

LOVE IS PASSING, a poem

LOVE is passing through the street.
Love, imperishably sweet,
On his silver-sandaled feet
     Draweth near.

Suppliant he came of yore,—
Comes he now as conqueror?
Will he, pausing at my door,
     Enter here?

Once his lips were ruby-red,
And his wings like gold, outspread,
And the roses crowned his head,
     As in story;

And though these he now disguise,
Ever a lost paradise
In the azure of his eyes
     Keeps its glory.

Love is passing through the street—
Love, imperishably sweet,
And were death our way to meet,
     I would dare it.

Come he suppliant, as before,
Come he as a conqueror,—
So he turn not from my door,
     I can bear it!
"Love is Passing" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (December 1911), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"POOR LOVE!" SAID LIFE, a poem

"POOR love!" said Life, "that hast nor gold,
     Nor lands, nor other store, I ween;
Thy very shelter from the cold
     Is oft but lowly built and mean."
"Nay: though of rushes be my bed,
     Yet am I rich," Love said.

"But," argued Life, "thrice fond art thou
     To yield the sovereign gifts of Earth—
The victor sword, the laureled brow—
     For visioned things of little worth!"
Love gazed afar with dreamt-lit eyes,
And answered, "Nay: but wise."

"Yet, Love," said Life, "what can atone
     For all the travail of thy years—
The yearnings vain, the vigils lone,
     The pain, the sacrifice, the tears?"
Soft as the breath breathed from a rose,
The answer came: "Love knows."
"'Poor Love!' said Life" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (December 1902), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"GO NOT TOO FAR", a poem

GO not too far—too far beyond my gaze,
     Thou who canst never pass beyond the yearning
Which, even as the dark for dawning stays,
     Awaits thy loved returning!
Go not too far! Howe'er thy fancies roam,
     Let them come back, wide-circling like the swallow,
Lest I, for very need, should try to come—
     And find I could not follow!
"Go Not Too Far" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Atlantic Monthly (December 1903), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Monday, December 11, 2017

IN LONELINESS, a poem

ISEULT OF BRITTANY

THEY are at rest.
How still it is—and cold!
The morrow comes; the night is growing old.
They are at rest. Why then, unresting, keep
In vigil lone, a pain that will not sleep—
An anguish, only to itself confessed,
That hushed a moment lies,
Then wakes to sudden eager life, and cries?

At rest?

Ah, me! The wind wails by,
Like to a grief that would but cannot die.
How sore the heart can ache,
Yet beat and beat and beat, and never break!

(Hearken!—Was that a child's awaking cry?)

It was the sea—the ever troubled sea!
My little ones, it was the sea,
That moans unceasingly
One dear refrain repeating o'er and o'er:—
"Tristram returns no more—
Tristram returns, returns—ah, never more!"

Ashen the fire,—
Ashen: like dead desire.
The dawn breaks chill,
The children, sleeping, think their father here.
O Tristram! might I, also, dream you near!—
Mine—mine without regret!
As when I nursed your wound, and taught you to forget
The cruel torment of your love for her,—
The poisoned wine, the still avenging hate,
The ship, the pain, the unrepenting Fate,
The yearning that is death, yet doth not kill!

(Sleep, little ones! your mother guards you still.)

They are at rest,
Their sorrows over.
Forgetful of the tortured past,
They are at rest at last,
Sad lover by sad lover.
Oh, drear to me
The voices of the sea-birds, and the sea—
The sea that moans against the shore,
Repeating ceaselessly:—
"Tristram returns no more,
Returns—ah, never, never more!"
"In Loneliness" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Joyce Kilmer and godlessness in poetry

Kilmer in 1908 and ca. 1917
Visiting England in 1914, upon seeing the long lines of men waiting to enlist, Joyce Kilmer—American poet and journalist—exclaimed, "My God, if I look at these boys much longer I'll have to hook on at the tail of this queue and join up with them!" He enlisted on 23 April 1917, shortly after America entered WWI. Just a few short months before enlisting, however, Kilmer would interview Florence Earle Coates on godlessness in poetry, where we glean the following gems from Mrs. Coates:

"The business of art is to enlarge and correct the heart and to lift our ideals out of the ugly and the mean through love of the ideal. ... The business of art is to appeal to the soul."
"...poetry needed no renascence. It was not young, it is not old."
"Beauty is eternal and ugliness, thank God, is ephemeral.  Can there be any question as to which should attract the poet?"

Kilmer was killed in action on 30 July 1918, but not before he sang—reportedly—his last song:
THE PEACEMAKER
UPON his will he binds a radiant chain,
     For Freedom's sake he is no longer free.
     It is his task, the slave of Liberty,
With his own blood to wipe away a stain.
That pain may cease, he yields his flesh to pain
     To banish war, he must a warrior be.
     He dwells in Night, eternal Dawn to see,
And gladly dies, abundant life to gain.
What matters Death, if Freedom be not dead?
     No flags are fair, if Freedom's flag be furled.
Who fights for Freedom, goes with joyful tread
     To meet the fires of Hell against him hurled,
And has for captain Him whose thorn-wreathed head
     Smiles from the Cross upon a conquered world.
The Saturday Evening Post cover (12 October 1918)
in which appears Kilmer's "The Peacemaker"
"Godlessness Mars Most Contemporary Poetry" was published in The New York Times Magazine (10 December 1916).

Saturday, December 9, 2017

LOVE, REPROACHFUL, a poem

WHEN Love, reproachful, sighed: "Art thou become
     Voiceless, who in my praise wast eloquent?
     To wound my name unto high heaven is sent
A vain lamenting,—the exordium
Of fruitless plaint and chiding wearisome,—
     While they to whom my chiefest joys are lent,
     To worship me in silence are content!"
Love, even so: whom thou dost bless are dumb.

Listen! That strain of ecstasy and pain!
Far-echoing from Thrace, it breathes again,
     Lost Philomela's passion to prolong;
Yet nested near in solitude, the dove—
Beneath thy very pinions, gracious Love!
     Coos to her mate, but sings the world no song!
"Love, Reproachful" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Friday, December 8, 2017

FRIENDS TO VIRTUE, a poem

"The gods whom we all belong to are the gods we belong to whether we will or no."
INTO the theatre they came—
     "Motley's the only wear!"
Children of poverty, of shame,
     Of folly, of despair.

Elbowing rudely, Jill and Jack,
     A nearer view to win,
Youths, men, and women, white and black,
     Pell-mell, they jostled in.

A wretched place of poor resort,
     Far from the world polite,
Few pennies bought the meagre sport
     So fruitful of delight,

And gazing there, each brutish face,
     The godlike stamp resigned,
A tablet seemed whereon disgrace
     Had written thoughts unkind.

"And what," I mused, "will now be fed
     To cater to their mood
Who, as their looks bespeak, have said,—
     'Evil, be thou my good'?

"Order will surely be reversed,
     Judgement will disappear,
The tricks of knaves will be rehearsed
     To catch the plaudits here!"

Yet as I watched the varied throng,
     My theories took flight,
For, lo, they still condemned the wrong,
     They still approved the right!

The "villain" by his better art
     Surprised from them no praise;
They frankly took the hero's part,
     Awarding him the bays;

For they, unlike the wise of earth,
     Slight tribute paid to skill,—
Anhungered for a higher worth,
     Lovers of virtue still!
"Friends to Virtue" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"HONOR, NOT HONORS", a poem

HAST thou for honor laid ambition down?
     Honor, itself, shall be thy sure reward,
     A guard more certain than a flaming sword,—
A crown above a crown.

Since it is honor stays thy lofty quest,
     Welcome the high defeat thy spirit dares!
     Aye, wear it proudly as a victor wears
The star upon his breast!
"Honor, not Honors" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

"Honor, not Honors" is the motto of Sir Richard Burton.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Educated by Theodore Dwight Weld

Florence Earle Coates was educated "chiefly" [1] at the school of abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895) in New England.  It is unknown as to what years she received this education.  From 1854 to 1861, Mr. Weld was Principal of Eagleswood School in New Jersey.  This school admitted both boys and girls, black and white.  From 1864 to 1867, Mr. Weld taught at a school for young ladies in Lexington, Massachusetts, also admitting both black and white students, where he gave "familiar lectures or conversations upon mental and moral training, and [took] charge of the departments of composition and declamation, with the critical reading and analysis of Shakespeare and other masters of thought and speech." [2]

Weld was "one of the architects of the American abolitionist movement during its formative years, from 1830 to 1844 ... [and] remained dedicated to the ... movement until slavery was ended by the Thirteenth Amendment ... in 1865." [3]



MAN

I WAS born as free as the silvery light
     That laughs in a Southern fountain;
Free as the sea-fed bird that nests
     On a Scandinavian mountain,
Free as the wind that mocks at the sway
     And pinioning clasp of another,
Yet in the slave they scourged to-day
     I saw and knew—my brother!

Vested in purple I sat apart,
     But the cord that smote him bruised me;
I closed my ears, but the sob that broke
     From his savage breast accused me;
No phrase of reasoning judgement just
     The plaint of my soul could smother,
A creature vile, abased to the dust,
     I knew him still—my brother.

And the autumn day that had smiled so fair
     Seemed suddenly overclouded;
A gloom, more dreadful than Nature owns,
     My human mind enshrouded;
I thought of the power benign that made
     And bound men one to the other,
And I felt in my brother's fear afraid
     And ashamed in the shame of my brother.
"Man" by Florence Earle Coates.  As published in Poems (1916) Volume I.  Also published in The Century Magazine (June 1890) and Poems (1898).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

TO HOPE, a poem

GIVER and Gift!
Immortal one whom all unite to praise:
The young, who question not that clouds will lift,
Joy treading upon joy through all their days,—
The old, who cling the more tenaciously
To thy bright promises when most unblest,
Living from hour to hour debtors to thee,
Even for their dream of rest,—

Persuasive vision, wraithlike, pale!
Man's trust adoring ever doth caress
Thy insubstantial loveliness;
For even although
None may thy viewless habitation know,
Fondly the heart still follows from afar
The soft, alluring radiance of thy star,—
The light on earth that is the last to fail!

O wise enchantress who
Regret and disappointment dost redee
And brave forecast,
Binding the future to atone the past,—
Thine are the ministries whereby we live,
Inheritors of the Immortal Dream;
And though inconstant still thou seem,
Baffling and fugitive,
For these all thy betrayals we forgive.
"To Hope" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Poems (1916) Volume II.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

On Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

THE BURIAL OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AT SAMOA

John Luther Long, author of Madame Butterfly (1898) once said of Mrs. Coates that the last two lines of this poem "are enough to make her immortal."
WHERE shall we lay you down to rest?
Where will you sleep the very best?
Mirthful and tender, dear and true—
Where shall we find a grave for you?
They thought of a spirit as brave as light
And they bore him up to a lonely height,
And they laid him there, where he loved to be,
On a mountain gazing o'er the sea!
They thought of a soul aflood with song,
And they buried him where the summer long
Myriad birds his requiem sing,
And the echoing woods about him ring!
They thought of a love that life redeems,
Of a heart the home of perfect dreams,
And they left him there, where the worlds aspire
In the sunrise glow and the sunset fire!
"The Burial of Robert Louis Stevenson at Samoa" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Outlook (14 September 1901), Mine and Thine (1904), and Poems (1916) Volume I.

THE DIFFERENCE
HAD Henley died, his course half run—
Had Henley died, and Stevenson
     Been left on earth, of him to write,
     He would have chosen to indite
His name in generous phrase—or none.

No envious humor, cold and dun,
Had marred the vesture he had spun,
     All luminous, to clothe his knight—
          Had Henley died!

Ah, well! at rest—poor Stevenson!—
Safe in our hearts his place is won.
     There love shall still his love requite,
     His faults divinely veiled from sight,
Whose tears had fallen in benison,
          Had Henley died!
"The Difference" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Century Magazine (April 1902) and Mine and Thine (1904).

A CATHEDRAL

ALL SAINTS' DAY IN THE GREAT NORTH WOODS

IT rises by a frozen mere,
With nave and transepts of the pines
That towering 'mid the snows appear
Majestic and sublime;
While, with a myriad fair designs
Of feathery-tufted tracery,
Their tops adorn with silver rime
The azure vault's immensity.

Rock-piled, the altar to the East
Lies argent-spread; on either hand—
Meek servers at the lonely feast—
Surpliced and tall the birches stand,
Like ghostly acolytes,
And through ice-mailèd branches pass,
Prismatic from celestial heights,
The tints of mediæval glass.

Awed, as in no cathedral raised
By human thought, alone, and still,
I muse on one who dying praised
The God of Being, here:
On him who welcomed with a will
The gift of life, the boon of death,—
The while he heard, deep-toned and near,
The solemn forest's organ-breath.*
*Robert Louis Stevenson at Saranac.
"A Cathedral" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume I.


From October 1887 to April 1888, Robert Louis Stevenson and his family occupied what is now referred to as "Stevenson Cottage" while recovering from a lung ailment.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

VICTORY, a poem

PEACE! for the silver bugles play,
     And the glad fifes, with shriller sound;
The drum beats fast, and, far away,
     Awakens joy profound.

From dawn unto the setting sun
     We battled, and our foes have lost;
O heart, my heart, the day is won,—
     Break thou, and pay the cost!
"Victory" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (December 1894), Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Friday, December 1, 2017

THE UNCONQUERED AIR, a poem

OTHERS endure Man's rule: he therefore deems
     I shall endure it—I, the unconquered Air!
     Imagines this triumphant strength may bear
His paltry sway! yea, ignorantly dreams,
Because proud Rhea now his vassal seems,
     And Neptune him obeys in billowy lair,
     That he a more sublime assault may dare,
Where blown by tempest wild the vulture screams!

Presumptuous, he mounts: I toss his bones
     Back from the height supernal he has braved:
Ay, as his vessel nears my perilous zones,
I blow the cockle-shell away like chaff,
     And give him to the Sea he has enslaved.
He founders in its depths; and then I laugh!

II

Impregnable I held myself, secure
     Against intrusion.  Who can measure Man?
     How should I guess his mortal will outran
Defeat so far that danger could allure
For its own sake?—that he would all endure,
     All sacrifice, all suffer, rather than
     Forego the daring dreams Olympian
That prophesy to him of victory sure?

Ah, tameless courage!—dominating power
That, all attempting, in a deathless hour
     Made earth-born Titans godlike, in revolt!—
Fear is the fire that melts Icarian wings:
Who fears nor Fate, nor Time, nor what Time brings,
     May drive Apollo's steeds, or wield the thunder bolt!
"The Unconquered Air" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (December 1911), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

LOVE SAILED AT MORN, a poem

LOVE sailed at morn in a fragile bark,
     With broidered pennants flying:
His skies with sudden storm grew dark,
          Yet gallant Love, with courage gay,
          Rode jocund on his conquering way,
     The winds and the waves defying.

But when, all peril overpast,
     In tranquil harbor lying,
He felt no more the billowing blast
          Oppose his sails, Love, joy-becalmed,
          Each foe subdued, each effort balmed,
     Without a wound lay dying.
"Love Sailed at Morn" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume I.


Sunset Shoreline (1877) by Warren Sheppard
Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THE EMPTY HOUSE, a poem

I SEEMED to see thy spirit leave the clay
     That was its mortal tenement of late;
     I seemed to see it falter at the gate
Of the New Life, as seeking to obey
Some inner law, yet doubtful of the way
     Provided for its passage, by that fate
     Which makes birth pain, and gives to death such state
And dignity, when soul withdraws its sway.

A tremor of the pale and noble brow,
     A tightening of the lips, and thou wast gone—
Gone?—whither? Ah, the hush of death's abyss!
All tenantless thy beauteous form lay now
     As the cicada's fragile shell outgrown,
Or as the long-forsaken, lonely chrysalis.
"The Empty House" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Atlantic Monthly (November 1908), Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Edward H. Coates Memorial Collection

The Edward H. Coates Memorial Collection (1923)
Florence Earle Coates presented The Edward H. Coates Memorial Collection to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1923. The exhibition, representing French and American schools, included 27 paintings and 3 pieces of sculpture, and was displayed between 4 November 1923 and 10 January 1924. Edward Hornor Coates was Academy president from 1890 to 1906, and died on 23 December 1921.

A portrait bust of Edward H. Coates
by Charles Grafly (1903)
was included in the collection
Also included in the collection is William Trost Richard's Old Ocean's Gray and Melancholy Waste (1885). I long thought that this painting was the inspiration for Mrs. Coates' "Mid-Ocean" until I stumbled upon Richards’ painting entitled Mid-Ocean (1869). Mid-Ocean is similar to that of Old Ocean’s Gray, except the latter contains no sign of a sailing vessel in the distance.

A WASTE of heaving waters to the far horizon's rim,
     And over them a vault of leaden gray;
No warmer tint or shading to relieve the aspect dim,
     Save where the riven billows break away,
Revealing as we part them to the left hand and the right,
Beneath each curling crest of foam, the marvellous green light.
Here midst the heaving billows—this unending stretch of sea
     Where scarce an ocean-bird has strength to fly,
Unnumbered leagues from any strand where habitations be,
     Alone, no comrade vessel sailing nigh,
The deep unplumbed beneath us, and, above, a frowning dome,
I do but turn my eyes on thee, and straightway it is home!
"Mid-Ocean" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume I.


Old Ocean's Gray and Melancholy Waste (1885)
by William Trost Richards
still part of the permanent collection at the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)

COURAGE, a poem

'TIS the front toward life that matters most—
     The tone, the point of view,
The constancy that in defeat
     Remains untouched and true;
For death in patriot fight may be
     Less gallant than a smile,
And high endeavor, to the Gods,
     Seems in itself worth while!
"Courage" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Outlook (28 November 1908), Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Monday, November 27, 2017

LOVE THAT FALTERED, a poem

     LOVE that faltered for an hour
Had not felt the awful power
Of the god whom gods adore;
     Of the god before whose portal
     Kneel the deathless and the mortal,—
Suppliant forever more.

     Love that faltered had not heard
Love's divine, compelling word,
Or it instant had obeyed;
     Giving with the glad devotion
     Of the river for the ocean,—
Doubting not, and unafraid.

     For with Love alone is joy
Free from shadow of alloy;
And before his sacred shrine,
     Sorrow in her deepest sadness
     Guards a hope more blest than gladness,
And through worship grows divine!
"Love that Faltered" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Reader Magazine (November 1904), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

TWO BROTHERS, a poem

MY brother's face is turned from me;
He sees a thing I must not see,—
Alas! what may the vision be?

His form is wasted as with pain;
A fever feeds upon his brain
Whose fire, extinguished, burns again.

Sometimes he seems to hear a cry,—
And the ravens croak on the turrets nigh,
And the echoes shudder as they die.

Sometimes a cloud o'er his sight is cast,
And something viewless, whirling past,
Is borne away on the moaning blast.

And still his face is turned from me,
To hide the thing I must not see,—
Alas! what may the vision be?
·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·
Her lips apart, her blue eyes wide,
My mother lay in her state and pride,—
The fairest thing that yet had died!

Like a royal rose,—the story saith,—
Peerless and pale, with a rose's breath
At her parted lips, she lay in death.

Her braids were held by a jewelled dart,—
Her jewelled bodice fell apart,
A jewelled dagger pierced her heart.

To find her foe, men strove in vain;
Again they sought, and yet again,—
But no one mourned with my brother's pain.

For he had loved her from the hour
His father won her with that dower
Of beauty, rare as an aloe's flower.

And she loved him till our father died;
Then something—was it grief or pride?—
Made her as marble at his side.

They say—the vassals of our race—
She wore thenceforth a wintry grace,
Like the frozen scorn on her fair dead face;

And though my brother strove at morn
And eve to comfort her, forlorn,
She met him still with that cruel scorn.

O poor, my Mother! Soon, they say,
She hid herself with her child away,
And looked no longer on the day.

But sometimes, when our towers were white,—
Bathed in the moon's celestial light,—
Her casement opened on the night

All tremulous with mystery,
And, motionless, without a sigh,
She stood there, gazing on the sky;

And they who saw her then, declare
There was nor pride nor passion there,—
Only a tearless, mute despair.

I knew her not,—or if I knew,
Forgot her quickly, as children do,—
Alas! as little children do.

But when she died, men say that I
So plaintive wailed in the chamber nigh,
That summoned thither by the cry,

They brought my brother! In that hour,
He bore me to this lonely tower—
This fortress of our ancient power,

Where ever near me, night and day,—
And happiest with me to stay,—
He kept the vexing world away. . . .

But then, he did not seem to see
The haunting thing so constantly!—
Dear God! what may the riddle be?
·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·
Mother! I scarce have grieved for you,—
So close to me my brother drew—
So gave me all the joys I knew,—

But I am frightened now, and cry,
Stretching my arms out to the sky.
Without my brother's love, I die!

And though I may not understand
Where lies yon far fair Heavenly Land,
I think that soon, hand locked in hand,

We two will find you where you dwell—
Will see the face he loved so well,
And, weeping, all our sorrows tell!

And then,—ah, then, through me beguiled,
You'll smile on him,—as once you smiled,—
On him—so good to your lonely child!
"Two Brothers" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

George H. Earle, Jr. on this day in 1879

George Howard Earle, Jr. (1856-1928)
Brother of Florence Earle Coates
dated 11-26-1879 (the year he graduated from Harvard)
Image courtesy of Florence Earle Morrisey

Friday, November 24, 2017

FREDERICK, a poem

"RESPECT the Future, which belongs to me!"
     So speak thy yearning and imperious will,
     Making the Present distant faiths fulfil,
And raised from falling kingdoms—Germany.

No idle name, no doubtful dream to thee
     That Future: actual, its clasp grown chill,
     It led thee, and thy soul sublimed it still,—
Heir of a more than earthly dynasty!

O didst thou think, untimely called to rest,
     The preparation of a life o'erthrown—
To lose what thou so bravely didst resign?

Forevermore the Fatherland shall own
     Her nobler liberties thy dear bequest:
     The future thy great spirit saw—was thine!
"Frederick" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The American (24 November 1888).

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Poems on Thanksgiving

GIVING THANKS

Thou that dost save through pain,
     And dost, afflicting, bless,
We offer Thee from prostrate hearts
     The Greater Thankfulness!
Lord, Thou hast humbled pride—
     Hast shown the world at length
What ruthlessness may dwell with Power,
     What bankruptcy with Strength;
And teaching us the scorn
     Of trifles that beguile,
Hast given us, dear God, to live
     When life is most worth while!
We thank Thee for the dream
     That heroes dreamed of yore,
For the desire of good, the will
     Earth's freedom to restore;
Spoiled children of the Past,
     To-day, more nobly blest,
We thank Thee who hast wakened us,
     And asked of us our best!
God of the young and brave
     Who nothing know of fear,
Who hold the things that life outlast
     Than life itself more dear,
We thank Thee that our souls
     Are strong as theirs to give—
All, all we cherish most on earth,
     That Liberty may live!
That we, O Good supreme!
     Still through our tears can see
On the brow of Death an aureole
     Of Immortality!
"Giving Thanks" by Florence Earle Coates, as published in The Unitarian Ledger (27 December 1917. Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger.


THANKSGIVING 

NOW gracious plenty rules the board,
     And in the purse is gold;
By multitudes in glad accord
     Thy giving is extolled.
Ah, suffer me to thank Thee, Lord,
     For what thou dost withhold!
I thank Thee that howe'er we climb
     There yet is something higher;
That though through all our reach of time
     We to the stars aspire,
Still, still beyond us burns sublime
     The pure sidereal fire!
I thank Thee for the unexplained,
     The hope that lies before,
The victory that is not gained,—
     O Father, more and more
I thank Thee for the unattained,
     The good we hunger for!
I thank Thee for the voice that sings
     To inner depths of being;
For all the spread and sweep of wings,
     From earthly bondage freeing;
For mystery—the dream of things
     Beyond our power of seeing!
"Thanksgiving" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Scribner's Magazine (November 1905), Lyrics of Life and Poems (1916) Volume II.

NOCTURNE, a poem

Flock of Sheep by
Ferdinand Chaigneau (1830-1906)

THE houseless wind has gone to rest
     In some rude cavern-bed of ocean,
And Neptune smooths his foamy crest,
     At Dian's will, with meek devotion;
The shepherd, gathering his sheep,
          Has brought them safely to the fold,—
          And in my arms my world I hold!
                         Sleep!

Forespent with hunting on the hill,
     My truant, in the dusk returning,
Finds the lone heart, he left at will,
     With the one worship burning.
The moonlight pales—the shade grows deep—
          The nightingale doth silence break!
          Ah, love, until the lark shall wake,
                         Sleep!

No homeless wanderer art thou!
     Here, pillowed safe, thy head is lying.
The nightingale! Ah, listen now!
     What passion—death itself defying!
Peace! Stars above us vigil keep,
          While breathes for thee each mystic flower
          A-bloom to-night in Dreamland bower:
                         Sleep!
"Nocturne" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (November 1907), Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

The Coates' owned Ferdinand Chaigneau's Guarding the Flock, and it was gifted to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) by Mrs. Coates in 1923.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

SONG OF LIFE, a poem

MAIDEN of the laughing eyes,
     Primrose-kirtled, wingèd, free,
Virgin daughter of the skies—
Joy!—whom gods and mortals prize,
     Share thy smiles with me!

Yet—lest I, unheeding, borrow
     Pleasure that to-day endears,
And benumbs the heart to-morrow,
Turn not wholly from me, Sorrow!
     Let me share thy tears!

Give me of thy fullness, Life!
     Pulse and passion, power, breath,
Vision pure, heroic strife,—
Give me of thy fullness, Life!—
     Nor deny me death!
"Song of Life" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (November 1901), Mine and Thine (1904) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Monday, November 20, 2017

REPROACH NOT DEATH, a poem

REPROACH not Death, nor charge to him, in wonder,
     The lives that he doth separate awhile,
But think how many hearts that ache, asunder,
     Death, pitying Death, doth join and reconcile!
"Reproach Not Death" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Lyrics of Life (1909), Scribner's Magazine (November 1911) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

DEATHLESS DEATH, a poem

Richard Watson Gilder
1844-1909

IN MEMORY OF RICHARD WATSON GILDER

WE who have seen the seed fall without sound
          Into the lifeless ground,
Through wintry days are tempted to forget
How Spring will come with the first violet
          In her dark hair,
          Fresh and more fair
Than we remembered her, a glad surprise
In the veiled azure of her shadowy eyes.

     Fear doth the heart deceive,
          And still we grieve
     Where we should lift the voice
     In triumph, and rejoice
          Amid our sorrow,
     Because of what the past
Has given that is beauteous and shall last—
A heritage of blessing for the morrow.

     Lo, in what perfect trust
Nature confides her darlings to the dust!
The rose, the crocus, the narcissus sweet,
She lays to rest, undoubting, at her feet
     Who from the meadows bright
Was snatched away to rule in the sad light
     Of Hades, and to learn
          Its lessons stern.
     For Nature's faith is deep
That, waking from the dark and dreamless sleep,
Her flowers toward the sun shall wistful yearn,
And in the fragrant breast of Proserpine return.

     Ah, lover true of men,
     Forgive, forgive us, then,
If choked by tears we falter in our praise,
Remembering that we no more again
Shall hold glad converse with your spirit brave,
Nor from your lips hear words that lift and save,
Through all the lengthening number of our days!

By the great Silence you are set apart
From all the restless travail of the heart
          That beats in us
     So passionate and strong—
Are passed beyond the evening angelus
     And Memnon's morning song.
     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •
Man's life on earth—how brief!
Yet we with Nature hold the high belief,
     E'en when our hearts are breaking,
That death is but the vital way,
Darkness the shadow of the day,
     And sleep the door to waking!

     And shall we still with tears
Pay tribute sad to one whose soul endears
Even the dark, dark river it hath crossed?
     Shall we in grief forget
The sweetness and the glory of our debt,
And that no good, once given, can be lost?

     Distant your dwelling seems,
Poet and patriot!—but, ah, your dreams
Are living as the flame of sacrifice!
     Therefore love's roses now
We lay amidst the laurel for thy brow,
Grateful that souls like yours our earth emparadise.
"Deathless Death" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Outlook (1 January 1910), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

SONG, a poem

IF love were not, the wilding rose
Would in its leafy heart inclose
       No chalice of perfume;

By mossy bank, in glen or grot,
No bird would build, if love were not,
       No flower complacent bloom.

The sunset clouds would lose their dyes,
The light would fade from beauty's eyes,
       The stars their fires consume;

And something missed from hall and cot
Would leave the world, if love were not,
       A wilderness of gloom.
"Song" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Atlantic Monthly (November 1896), Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume I.


Rosa virginiana, wild rose species native to the United States.
Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Amos N. Wilder on Hope and Mrs. Coates

In the Winter (1951-1952) issue of Religion in Life, Amos Niven WilderAmerican poet, minister, theology professor, WWI veteran, and older brother to playwright and novelist Thornton Wilderwrites:

"A man's wisdom is measured by his hope." I used to puzzle over this aphorism cited to me years ago by a choice poet of the last generation, Florence Earle Coates, then in an advanced age, recently widowed, and going blind...


Birch Island, Upper St. Regis Lake
Mrs. Coates' husband Edward died in 1921, and Mrs. Coates would eventually contract and suffer from a form of nephritis—perhaps a contributing factor to her blindness. In a letter from Mrs. Coates to Mr. Wilder dated 22 January 1924, Mrs. Coates states, "your book [Battle Retrospect and Other Poems (1923)] has been before me, and though I can read little at a time, owing to my blindness, I have constantly been charmed by new and eloquent lines." A little more digging led me to a poem by Mr. Wilder written and dedicated to Mrs. Coates and entitled "The Vision of Purgatory." The poem appears in Wilder's collection of verse, Arachne (1928), and is signed, "Birch Island, Upper St. Regis Lake, N. Y. 1923." The Coates' had a summer camp ("Camp Elsinore") also located at Upper St. Regis Lake (in the Adirondacks), and according to a 1923 summer Social Register, Mrs. Coates summered there—along with her granddaughters—that very summer. "The Vision of Purgatory" addresses the theme of hope, and of finding convalescence and absolution:

...I learned how hope could conquer circumstance
And vault the phantom barriers of time,
I learned to mock the incidence of chance

And wait each true conjunction at its prime...

...And through the somber western copses driven
The fires of sunset pierced that nether grove
Where loitering spirits, chastened and new shriven,

Won absolution by a lake of love...

...And after purgatorial pains and trial

Took convalescence in that dim asyle.
"Camp Elsinore," Upper St. Regis Lake.
In Religion and Life, Wilder continues,
The saying ["A man's wisdom is measured by his hope"], affirmed out of adversity, suggested a triumphant insight directed against shallow wisdoms characterized by "realism" or cynicism. It seemed to say: the greater the hope, the greater the wisdom. The man with little hope or fluctuating hope was the fool, no doubt because he was blind to the true character of a situation, blind to the dynamic processes of good at work. As Jesus said to the Sadducees: "Ye know not....the power of God." Hopelessness is ignorance.
Letter to Mr. Wilder where Coates speaks of "a man's wisdom."

The aphorism spoken of by Mrs. Coates to Mr. Wilder likely springs from a sentiment expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson; for in a tribute piece to Matthew Arnold in the April 1894 issue of The Century Magazine, Mrs. Coates cites Arnold citing Emerson:
[Emerson] says himself: "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope, knowing that the perception of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth". . . His abiding word for us, the word by which being dead he yet speaks to us, is this: "That which befits us, embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, is cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspirations." One can scarcely overrate the importance of thus holding fast to happiness and hope. It gives to Emerson's work an invaluable virtue. . . . Carlyle's perverse attitude toward happiness cuts him off from hope. He fiercely attacks the desire for happiness. He is wrong; "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope." . . . Wise men everywhere know that we must keep up our courage and hope...
Also see: Amos N. Wilder on the "revisioning of the world" after WWI  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

DAWN, a poem

IN Orient mystery
Thou veilest thee,
Pale daughter of the never-quenchèd Light,
Who from the couch of Night
By swift-ascending steeds to heaven art borne
Ere yet thy sister, Morn,
Awaking, dons her wondrous vesture bright.

Like to a handmaid lowly, day by day
Thou dost prepare her way;
But when soft-trailing saffron and warm rose
Half hide and half disclose
Her glowing beauty rare,—
When living things her sweet breath quaff,
And lift their heads for joy of her, and laugh,
Thou art no longer there.

Yet, hours there be,
Child of Hyperion, sacred to thee,
That dearer gifts confer;
When mortals lay before thy dim-lit shrine
A thankfulness of worship more divine
Than any offered her:

When, after night distressful spent—
Night sleepless and intolerably long,
Comes—unexpected, eloquent—
A tentative, faint note of song!
And the o'erwearied watcher sighs,
And lying still, with tear-wet eyes,
Hearkens the most celestial lays
Earth knows; and sees Night's curtains drawn
Slowly aside, and whispers: "Dawn!"—
Yearning beholds the tender gleam
Of Hope's pale star, where it doth beam
Eternal on thy brow,
And in its ray composed and blest,
Sinks into rest.
"Dawn" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The North American Review (November 1912), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.