Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Toad's Favourite Poem (Margaret)

"Cutting the Rice" by Alice R. Huger Smith, early 1930's
It is my turn, Margaret Bednar, to share a favorite poem and what a challenge this is for me as I am fairly new to poetry.  So instead of selecting an old favorite I go to time and again, I will share a poet who has currently captured my attention and heart.  (FYI:  A "modern" poet I have enjoyed getting to know is Linda Pastan - her style couldn't be more different than the three men I mention below)

The paintings on this post were done by a Charleston artist, Alice R. Huger Smith (1876-1958).  Her artwork can be viewed at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, SC.   I believe painting and poetry are closely linked, and upon researching for this post I found a blog sharing a poem written by Alice R. Huger Smith entitled "Piscatorial Sport".  

The watercolor paintings I have posted here are on display at the Charleston Museum.  Photography is allowed and I think this means it is OK to post them here.  

Recently I have visited numerous southern plantations and have the Civil War, the South, and slavery on my mind.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Walt Whitman all wrote poetry on the unjustness of slavery.  Whitman wrote beautifully on Lincoln and the Civil War,  Longfellow wrote many as well and one I particularly like is "The Slave's Dream", which I almost chose. 

I did choose Whittier's "The Farewell" - of a Virginia slave mother to her daughters sold into southern bondage.
Slave cabin from Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC
The Farewell
John Greenleaf Whittier - 1838

    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings,
Where the noisome insect stings,
Where the fever demon strews
Poison with the falling dews,
Where the sickly sunbeams glare
Through the hot and misty air;
    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
    From Virginia's hills and waters;
    Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

    Gone, gone -- sold and gone
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
There no mother's eye is near them,
There no mother's ear can hear them;
Never, when the torturing lash
Seams their back with many a gash,
Shall a mother's kindness bless them,
Or a mother's arms caress them.
    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
    From Virginia's hills and waters;
    Woe is me, my stolen daughters!


    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
Oh, when weary, sad, and slow,
From the fields at night they go,
Faint with toil, and racked with pain,
To their cheerless homes again,
There no brother's voice shall greet them,
There no father's welcome meet them.
    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
    From Virginia's hills and waters;
    Woe is me, my stolen daughters!


    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
 From the tree whose shadow lay
On their childhood's place of play;
From the cool spring where they drank;
Rock, and hill, and rivulet bank;
From the solemn house of prayer,
And the holy counsels there;
    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
    From Virginia's hills and waters;
    Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
Toiling through the weary day,
And at night the spoiler's prey.
Oh, that they had earlier died,
Sleeping calmly, side by side,
Where the tyrant's power is o'er,
And the fetter galls no more!
    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
    From Virginia's hills and waters;
    Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
By the holy love He beareth;
By the bruised reed He spareth;
Oh, may He, to whom alone
All their cruel wrongs are known,
Still their hope and refuge prove,
With a more than mother's love.
    Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
    To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
    From Virginia's hills and waters;
    Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

"Fields Prepared for the Planting" by Alice R. Huger Smith, early 1930's

14 comments:

Mary said...

Margaret, I enjoyed both the paintings and the poem you shared. How sad it must have been for a mother to have her daughter stolen, knowing her fate. "Gone, gone, gone" -- such heartbreaking words.

Susan said...

Very powerful choice. I am a fan of Whittier from way back, as many of his poems describe Quaker worship. I did nor know this poem, its vividness, its bold statement about death being better, its prayer for help! I've got to go back and read more of his work. In this posting, the pictures and poem enhance each other. I am leaving with a stirred heart! Thank you, Margaret

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Margaret, thank you for this wonderful post, which takes us back to earlier days. I cant imagine the pain those in slavery suffered, families ripped apart. Horrible. Thanks for reminding us. Very powerful poem.

hedgewitch said...

Like your earlier post at your place, Margaret, this both informs and tears at the heart. The striking and utterly human thing about this poem, as that though the mother herself is a slave, and subject to every wrong she lists for her daughters, she never thinks of her own pain and suffering, only her daughters'. That makes it very real. Very evocative art-work as well. Thanks for sharing with us--too many have turned their backs on this dark time in our history.

hedgewitch said...

ARrr! sorry for the typo!

'"IS" that the mother,' not 'as that the mother.' Way early and fingers not functioning.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I can only echo what others have said. The voice of slaves affects me very deeply, the voice of a mother who has had her children taken from her, equally so. The poet has used the lament to enlighten the reader about human atrocity, and the impact is felt all these many years later. The watercolours are the perfect accompaniment, and I thank you for sharing them.

Now I'm off to follow the links you gave us to the other poems you have mentioned here.

Thank you, Margaret.

Mama Zen said...

Gorgeous selection, Margaret!

Susie Clevenger said...

Margaret, the paintings, your photo and the poem work so powerfully together to show the pain of slavery. I can't imagine how horrible it was for a mother to lose her children to such a human atrocity that she knows all too well. Thank you for sharing this with us.

grapeling said...

How words can both darken and lighten. Thank you for sharing the selection.

Ella said...

This is profoundly moving~ I can't imagine! I love the painting and how you aligned this post!

Yes, I need to go visit these links!
Thank you Margaret!

Grace said...

What a lovely share Margaret, both pictures and words ~ As a mom, my heart broke with her opening and closing words ~ Thank you for this selection ~

gabrielle said...

Such a powerful poem. And such a significant part of our national narrative and collective identity.
Heart wrenching to read the mother’s plea, knowing well her daughter’s fate.

What you are doing is so important and brave. Visiting the sites, bearing witness, remembering.
I thought your Beneath the Moon piece was deeply felt and beautifully crafted.

sharplittlepencil.com said...

Margaret, the choice of art married with the pictures, perfect. The shame of slavery will forever be a blot on our country's history. And still, it continues today, overseas, and even here, girl children sold to mercenary men.

The poem brought tears to my eyes. How blithely they "sold them down river." Like cattle. Amy

aprille said...

What a beautifully presented post, Margaret.
Thank you for showing us this poem, getting on for 200 years old and still so powerful and humbling. Man's inhumanity to man, will it ever change?

Thanks also for your referral to Mrs. Pastan's poetry with such universal appeal.