The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notices/Frances Fuller Barritt

FRANCES FULLER BARRITT.


Frances Fuller Barritt was born at Rome, New York, in May, 1826. When she was four years old her parents removed to the "pinery" of northern Pennsylvania, and there, for several years, she enjoyed nature in its most notable moods, receiving impressions which, at a later day, coined themselves into expression. In 1839 the family removed to Wooster, Ohio, where, under the influences of good schools and good social relations, Frances developed rapidly. To such a nature as hers, authorship is a necessity; hence we are not surprised to learn that, at the age of fourteen, she became an acceptable contributor to the press. Besides poems to the local papers, she wrote a story "Seventy Times Seven" for the Philadelphia Saturday Courier—then a highly popular journal of light literature—all of which, for a girl of fourteen, proved her mind to be one of no ordinary character. She had for a companion, besides her sister Metta, a girl of singular endowments of mind, Emeline H. Brown, who, in her brief life, made her mark as a poet. Together, these three read and talked and wrote; and out of their young dreams came the resolves which both Frances and Metta have since so entirely fulfilled, namely, to make a name and fame for themselves.

Frances early became a contributor to the leading journals of belle-lettre literature in this country. In 1848 she especially succeeded in arresting attention through the columns of the New York Home Journal, whose editors, N. P. Willis and G. P. Morris, did not hesitate to give her a foremost position among current female authors. "The Post-Boy's Song," "Revolution," "Kate," "The Old Man's Favorite," "Keats," "The Deserted City," "The Country Road," "The Midnight Banner," "Vision of the Poor," "Song of the Age," were poems which served to arrest the attention of the press of England as well as of America. Edgar A. Poe, in his somewhat noted paper on Mr. Griswold's volume of "Female Poets," took occasion to refer to Miss Fuller as among the "most imaginative" of our lady poets. The poems above named are characterized by a power of diction and individuality in conception which give them the force of imaginative creations; but we are disposed to think her genius is not representatively "imaginative" according to Poe's definition of that word. She has that self-reliant spirit and clearness of perception which betray power and practicality—if we may be permitted the use of such a word in speaking of true poetry; hence, her poems, full of fine imagery and originality of conception as they are, still are marked with the correctness of the real rather than with the indefinitiveness of the ideal. This applies more particularly to the productions of her earlier years—to those named above; her poems of later years have grown more introspective, show a more intense love of nature in her quiet moods, and may, perhaps, be regarded as more imaginative than her compositions previous to 1854.

Miss Fuller's first volume was given to the public in 1851, under the editorial supervision of the late Rufus W. Griswold. It embraced most of the compositions named above, and others of very decided merit. "Azlea, a Tragedy," the most lengthy of her productions, is a composition marked by the true dramatic instinct, which, while it carries along the thread of the story, with a firm hand, weaves in, with a subtle perception of the fitness of position and scene, the lights and shades of character, which awaken a living personal interest in the drama. It was written in 1846.

In the year 1853 Miss Fuller was married to Jackson Barritt, of Pontiac, Michigan, to which State she had removed in 1852. In 1855 Mrs. Barritt removed to the far West, in quest of that "New Atlantis" which speculators would fain have us believe lies west of the Missouri. In the excitement and hardships of a pioneer life the poet had little incentive to write; yet she was maturing in those experiences through which all must pass who truly and fully penetrate the great mysteries of character and life. We find in her later poems—among which we may mention "Passing by Helicon," "The Palace of Imagination," "Autumnalia," "Moonlight Memories"—a profound sense of circumstances and realities of existence, which shows how her mind has labored with itself.

Mrs. Barritt has been drawn into the great literary, as it is the great commercial, metropolis of the Union, New York City, like other leading writers, of whom the West has reason to be proud. Mrs. Barritt is engaged upon various literary labors, contributes to our leading magazines both prose and poetry, and, should her life be spared, will prove one of our most successful and serviceable authors.


THE POST-BOY'S SONG.

The night is dark and the way is long,
And the clouds are flying fast;
The night-wind sings a dreary song,
And the trees creak in the blast:
The moon is down in the tossing sea,
And the stars shed not a ray;
The lightning flashes frightfully,
But I must on my way.


Full many a hundred times have I
Gone o'er it in the dark,
Till my faithful steeds can well descry
Each long familiar mark:
Withal, should peril come to-night,
God have us in his care!
For without help, and without light,
The boldest well beware.


Like a shuttle thrown by the hand of fate,
Forward and back I go:
Bearing a thread to the desolate
To darken their web of woe;
And a brighter thread to the glad of heart,
And a mingled one to all;
But the dark and the light I cannot part,
Nor alter their hues at all.


Now on, my steeds! the lightning's flash
An instant gilds our way;
But steady! by that dreadful crash
The heavens seemed rent away.
Soho! here comes the blast anew,
And a pelting flood of rain;
Steady! a sea seems bursting through
A rift in some upper main.


'Tis a terrible night, a dreary hour,
But who will remember to pray
That the care of the storm-controlling power
May be over the post-boy's way?
The wayward wanderer from his home,
The sailor upon the sea,
Have prayers to bless them where they roam—
Who thinketh to pray for me?


But the scene is changed! up rides the moon
Like a ship upon the sea;
Now on my steeds! this glorious noon
Of a night so dark shall be
A scene for us; toss high your heads
And cheerily speed away;
We shall startle the sleepers in their beds
Before the dawn of day.


Like a shuttle thrown by the hand of fate
Forward and back I go:
Bearing a thread to the desolate
To darken their web of woe:
And a brighter thread to the glad of heart,
And a mingled one for all;
But the dark and the light I cannot part,
Nor alter their hues at all.

SONG OF THE AGE.

Men talk of the iron age—
Of the golden age they prate,
And with sigh on lips so sage
Discourse of our fallen state.
They tell of the stalwart frames
Our gallant grandsires bore;
But, honor to their good names,
This century asks for more:
It asks for men with the toiling brains,
Whose words can undo the captive's chains,
For men of right and men of might,
Whose heads, not hands, decide the fight!


And a mighty band they come,
More strong than the hosts of old;
Nor by clarion blast nor drum
Is their onward march foretold.
But with firm and silent tread,
And with true hearts heaving high,
On, on where the wrong hath led—
They will vanquish it or die!
And they heard the lion in his den,
With the fearless souls of honest men,
Like men of right and men of might,
Whose heads, not hands, decide the fight.


Tell not of the ages past,
There is darkness on their brow;
For truth has only come at last,
And the only time is now!
Away with your empty love,
And your cant of other times,
For mind is the spell of power—
Ye will learn its might betimes!
For this is the age of toiling brains,
Of liberties won, and broken chains,
Of men of right and men of might,
Whose heads, not hands, decide the fight.

RESOLUTION.

Room, room for the freed spirit! Let it fling
Its pinions worn with bondage once more wide,
And if in earth or air there is a thing
To stay its soaring, let the heavens chide!
Away, the silken bondage of young dreams;
No more in gentle dalliance I'll lay
My hand upon my lute, like one who seems
In half unconscious idleness to play.


But all there is in me of living soul,
Of high, proud daring, or of untried trust,
Shall not be subject longer to control;
For my desire is upward, and I must
Spurn back the fetters of the slothful past
As the loosed captive tramples on his chain;
From now, henceforth, my destiny is cast,
And what I will, I surely shall attain.


Onward and upward! strengthening in their flight,
My thoughts must "all be eagle thoughts," nor bend
Their pinions downward, until on the height
That nurses Helicon's pure fount I stand.
Onward my soul! nor either shrink nor turn,
Be cold to pleasure and be calm to pain;
However much the yielding heart may yearn,
Listen not, listen not, it is in vain!


Upward! "a feeling like the sense of wings,"
A proud, triumphant feeling buoys me up,
And my soul drinks refreshment from the springs
That fill forever joy's enchanted cup.
A glorious sense of power within me lies,
A knowledge of my yet untested strength,
And my impatient spirit only sighs
For the far goal to attain at length.

THE PALACE OF IMAGINATION.

Full of beauty, full of art and treasure,
Is that palace where my soul was bound;
Filled harmoniously with every pleasure
Sweet to sense, or exquisite of sound.


Light whose softness rival summer shadows—
Shadows only softer than the light,
Like those clouds that dapple the June meadows,
Make its chambers rarely dark and bright.


Nightingales are nested in its bowers;
Unseen singers stir the fragrant air;
Fountains drop their musical, cool shadows
Into basins alabaster fair.


Ancient myths are storied here in marble,
Busts of poets people every nook—
Forms so like the living, that the warble
Of their voices thrills you as you look.


Rare creations of all times and ages,
Wrought by inspiration of high art,
Live in sculpture, speak from gilded pages,
Throng with beauty its remotest part.


In this Palace did my soul awaken,
From what Past it thirsted not to know;
With the bright existence it had taken
Wandering, tranced—like Cherubim a-glow.


Till, from dreaming, rose unquiet fancies—
Frightful phantoms glided in and out:
Gnomes and ghouls read of in old romances,
Haunted all its shadowy halls about!


Then my soul sat with averted vision,
Cold and pallid in a nameless fear,
Seeing with inward eyes a new elysian
Dream of pleasure, inaccessible here.


And she uttered, sighing deep and sadly,
"Here, though all is fair, yet all is cold;
I would change my matchless palace gladly,
For one hour of life in love's warm fold."


This she said, and straight the sapphire air
In the palace, rosy grew, and gold;
Statues pale, and pictures heavenly fair,
Blushed and breathed like forms of earthly mould.


Happy laughter with the zephyrs mingled,
Sweet young voices murmured Love's soft words;
Lightning rays along my soul-nerves tingled,
Till it fluttered like its young brood birds.


Now my soul no longer pale or pining,
With sweet mirth makes its rare palace sound;
Golden light through every shadow shining,
Shows the beauty lying waste around.

PASSING BY HELICON.

My steps are turned away;
Yet my eyes linger still,
On their beloved hill,
In one long, last survey:
Gazing through tears, that multiply the view,
Their passionate adieu.


O, joy-unclouded height,
Down whose enchanted sides,
The rosy mist now glides,
How can I lose thy sight?—
How can my eyes turn where my feet must go,
Trailing their way in woe?


Gone is my strength of heart;—
The roses that I brought,
From thy dear bowers, and thought
To keep, since we must part—
Thy thornless roses, sweeter until now,
Than 'round Hymettus' brow,


The golden-vested bees,
Find sweetest sweetness in;—
Such odors dwelt within
The moist red hearts of these—
Alas, no longer give out blissful breath,
But odors rank with death.


Their dewiness is dank;
It chills my pallid arms,
Once blushing 'neath their charms;
And their green stems hang lank,
Stricken with leprosy, and fair no more,
But withered to the core.


Vain thought! to bear along
Into this torrid track,
Whence no one turneth back,
With his first wanderer's song
Yet on his lips, thy odors and thy dews,
To deck these dwarfed yews.


No more within thy vales,
Beside thy plashing wells,
Where sweet Euterpe dwells,
With songs of nightingales,
And sounds of flutes that make pale silence glow,
Shall I their rapture know.


Farewell, ye stately palms!
Clashing your cymbal tones,
In through the mystic moans
Of pines at solemn psalms;—
Ye myrtles, singing Love's inspired song.
We part, and part for long!


Farewell, majestic peaks!
Whereon my list'ning soul
Hath trembled to the roll
Of thunders which Jove wreaks,—
And calm Minerva's oracles hath heard,
All more than now unstirred!


Adieu, ye beds of bloom!
No more shall zephyr bring
To me, upon his wing,
Your loveliest perfume;
No more upon your pure, immortal dyes,
Shall rest my happy eyes.


I pass by: at thy foot
O, mount of my delight!
Ere yet from out thy sight
I drop my voiceless lute;
It is in vain to strive to carry hence
Its olden eloquence.


Your sacred groves no more
My singing shall prolong,
With echoes of my song
Doubling it o'er and o'er.
Haunt of the muses, lost to wistful eyes
What dreams of thee shall rise!


Rise but to be dispelled,—
For here where I am cast,
Such visions may not last,
By sterner fancies quelled:—
Relentless Nemesis my doom hath sent,
This cruel banishment!

CHILDHOOD.

A child of scarcely seven years—
Light-haired, and fair as any lily;
With pure eyes ready in their tears
At chiding words or glances chilly:
And sudden smiles as inly bright
As lamps through alabaster shining,
With ready mirth and fancies light,
Dashed with strange dreams of child-divining:
A child in all infantile grace,
Yet with the angel lingering in her face.


A curious, eager, questioning child,
Whose logic leads to naive conclusions
Her little knowledge reconciled
To truth, amid some odd confusions:
Yet credulous, and loving much,
The problems hardest for her reason;
Placing her lovely faith on such,
And deeming disbelief a treason;—
Doubting that which she can disprove,
And wisely trusting all the rest to love.


Such graces dwell beside your hearth,
And bless you in a priceless pleasure;
Leaving no sweeter spot on earth
Than that which holds your household treasure.
No entertainment ever yet
Had half the exquisite completeness—
The gladness without one regret,
You gather from your darling's sweetness:
An angel sits beside the hearth,
Where'er an innocent child is found on earth.

AUTUMNALIA.

The crimson color lays
As bright as beauty's blush along the West:
And a warm, golden haze,
Promising sheafs of ripe autumnal days
To crown the old year's crest,
Hangs in mid-air, a half-pellucid maze,
Through which the sun, at set,
Grown round and rosy, looks with Bacchian blush,
For an old wine-god meet,
Whose brows are dripping with the grape-blood sweet,
As if his Southern flush
Rejoiced him in his Northern-zoned retreat.


The amber-colored air,
Musical is with hum of tiny things
Held idly struggling there,—
As if the golden mist untangled were
About the viewless wings
That beat out music on the gilded snare.
If but a leaf, all gay
With autumn's gorgeous coloring, doth fall,
Along its fluttering way
A shrill alarum wakes a sharp dismay,
And, answering to the call,
The insect chorus swells and dies away,
With a fine, piping noise,
As if some younger singing mote cried out;
As do mischievous boys,
Startling their playmates with a pained voice,
Or sudden, thrilling shout,
Followed by laughter, full of little joys.


Perchance a lurking breeze
Springs, just awakened, to its wayward play,
Tossing the sober trees
Into a thousand graceful vagaries;
And snatching at the gay
Banners of autumn, strews them where it please.


The sunset colors glow
A second time in flame from out the wood,
As bright and warm as though
The vanished clouds had fallen and lodged below
Among the tree-tops, hued
With all the colors of heaven's signal bow.


The fitful breezes die
Into a gentle whisper, and then sleep;
And sweetly, mournfully,
Starting to sight in the transparent sky—
Lone in the "upper deep,"
Sad Hesper pours its beams upon the eye,
And for one little hour
Holds audience with the lesser lights of heaven;
Then, to its Western bower
Descends in sudden darkness, as the flower
That at the fall of even
Shuts its bright eye, and yields to sorrow's power.


Soon, with a dusky face,
Pensive and proud as some East-Indian queen,
And with a solemn grace,
The moon ascends, and takes her royal place
In the fair evening scene,
And Night sits crowned in Beauty's sweet embrace.


My soul, filled to the brim,
And half intoxicate with loveliness,
Sighs out its happy hymn;
And in the overflow my eyes grow dim
With a still happiness;
Till, voiceless with the rapture of my dream,
I yield my spirit up unto the bliss
Of perfect peace, sad by its sweet excess.

A LITTLE BIRD THAT EVERY ONE KNOWS.

There is a bird, with a wond'rous song,
A little bird that every one knows
(Though it sings for the most part under the rose),
That is petted and pampered wherever it goes,
And nourished in bosoms gentle and strong.


This petted bird has a crooked beak,
And eyes like live coals set in its head,
And a gray breast, dappled with glowing red—
Dabbled, not dappled, it should be said—
From a fancy it has of which I may speak.


This eccentricity that I name
Is, that whatever the bird would sing,
It dips its black head under its wing,
And moistens its beak in—darling thing!—
A human heart that is broken with shame.


Then this cherished bird its song begins—
Always begins its song one way—
With two little dulcet words—"They say"—
Carroled in such a charming way
That the listener's heart it surely wins.


This sweetest of songsters, sits beside
Every hearth in this Christian land,
Never so humble or never so grand,
Gloating o'er crumbs, which many a hand
Gathers to nourish it, far and wide.


O'er each crumb that it gathers up
It winningly carols those two soft words,
In the winning voice of the sweetest of birds—
Darting its black head under its wing,
As it might in a ruby drinking-cup.


A delicate thing is this bird withal,
And owns but a fickle appetite,
And old and young take a keen delight
In serving it ever, day and night
With the last gay heart, now turned to gall.


Thus, though a dainty dear, it sings,
In a very well-conditioned way,
A truly wonderful sort of lay,
While its burden is ever the same—They say,"
Darting its crooked beak under its wings.

WAITING.

No fairer eve e'er blessed a poet's vision,
No softer airs e'er kissed a fevered brow,
No scene more truly could be called elysian,
Than this which holds my gaze enchanted now.


Lonely I sit, and watch the fitful burning
Of prairie fires far off, through gathering gloom,
While the young moon and one bright star returning
Down the blue solitude, leave night their room.


Gone is the glimmer of the eternal river,
Hushed is the wind that ope'd the leaves to-day;
Alone through silence falls the crystal shiver
Of the calm starlight on its earthward way,


And yet I wait, how vainly! for a token—
A sigh, a touch, a whisper from the past;
Alas, I listen for a word unspoken,
And wail for arms that have embraced their last.


I wish no more, as once I wished, each feeling
To grow immortal in my happy breast;
Since not to feel, will leave no wounds for healing;
The pulse that thrills not has no need of rest.


As the conviction sinks into my spirit
That my quick heart is doomed to death in life;
Or that these pangs shall wound and never sear it,
I am abandoned to despairing strife.


To the lost life, alas! no more returning—
In this to come no semblance of the past—
Only to wait!—hoping this ceaseless yearning
May ere long end—and rest may come at last.