Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

July 28, 2006

The Poetry Selections in The Atlantic Monthly (July 1867)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 1:36 am



A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.


Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by Ticknor and Fields, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.

~ ~ ~

The following three poems:

“Mona’s Mother” by Alice Cary (p. 22, 23 & 24)

“Freedom in Brazil” by John G. Whittier (p. 62)

“An Ember-Picture” by James Russell Lowell (p. 99 & 100)

are the poetry selections in the July 1867 Atlantic Monthly.

(Candidates for a hypothetical BAP that year, maybe?)

~ ~ ~

by Alice Cary

Mona’s Mother

In the porch that brier-vines smother,
At her wheel, sits Mona’s mother.
        O, the day is dying bright!
Roseate shadows, silver dimming,
Ruby lights through amber swimming,
        Bring the still and starry night.

Sudden she is ‘ware of shadows
Going out across the meadows
        From the slowly sinking sun,–
Going through the misty spaces
That the rippling ruby laces,
Shadows, like the violets tangled,
Like the soft light, softly mingled,
        Till the two seem just as one!

Every tell-tale wind doth waft her
Little breaths of maiden laughter.
        O, divinely dies the day!
And the swallow, on the rafter,
        In her nest of sticks and clay,–
On the rafter, up above her,
With her patience doth reprove her,
        Twittering soft the time away;
Never stopping, never stopping,
With her wings so warmly dropping
        Round her nest of sticks and clay.

“Take, my bird, O take some other
        Eve than this to twitter gay!”
Sayeth, prayeth Mona’s mother,
To the slender-throated swallow
        On her nest of sticks and clay;
For her sad eyes needs must follow
Down the misty, mint-sweet hollow,
        Where the ruby colors play
        With the gold, and with the gray.
“Yet, my little Lady-feather,
        You do well to sit and sing,”
Crieth, sigheth Mona’s mother.
“If you would, you could no other.
        Can the leaf fail with the spring?
Can the tendril stay from twining
        When the sap begins to run?
Or the dew-drop keep from shining
        With her body full o’ the sun?
Nor can you, from gladness, either;
        Therefore, you do well to sing.
Up and o’er the downy lining
        Of your bird-bed I can see
Two round little heads together,
Pushed out softly through your wing.
        But alas! my bird, for me!”

In the porch with roses burning
        All across, she sitteth lonely.
        O, her soul is dark with dread!
Round and round her slow wheel turning,
Lady brow down-dropped serenely,
Lady hand uplifted queenly,
Pausing in the spinning only
        To rejoin the broken thread,–
Pausing only for the winding,
With the carded silken binding
        Of the flax, the distaff-head.

All along the branches creeping,
To their leafy beds of sleeping
        Go the blue-birds and the brown;
Blackbird stoppeth now his clamor,
And the little yellowhammer
        Droppeth head in winglet down.
Now the rocks rise bleak and barren
        Through the twilight, gray and still;
In the marsh-land now the heron
        Clappeth close his horny bill.
Death-watch now begins his drumming
And the fire-fly, going, coming,
        Weaveth zigzag lines of light,–
Lines of zigzag, golden-threaded,
Up the marshy valley, shaded
        O’er and o’er with vapors white.
Now the lily, open-hearted,
Of her dragon-fly deserted,
        Swinging on the wind so low,
Gives herself, with trust audacious,
To the wild warm wave that washes
        Through her fingers, soft and slow.

O the eyes of Mona’s mother!
        Dim they grow with tears unshed;
For no longer may they follow
Down the misty mint-sweet hollow,
Down along the yellow mosses
That the brook with silver crosses.
        Ah! the day is dead, is dead;
And the cold and curdling shadows,
Stretching from the long, low meadows,
Darker, deeper, nearer spread,
Till she cannot see the twining
Of the briers, nor see the lining
Round the porch of roses red,–
Till she cannot see the hollow,
Nor the little steel-winged swallow,
        On her clay-built nest o’erhead.

Mona’s mother falleth mourning:
        O, ‘t is hard, so hard, to see
Prattling child to woman turning,
        As to grander company!
Little heart she lulled with hushes
Beating, burning up with blushes,
All with meditative dreaming
On the dear delicious gleaming
Of the bridal veil and ring;
Finding in the sweet ovations
Of its new, untried relations
        Better joys than she can bring.

In her hand her wheel she keepeth,
And her heart within her leapeth,
With a burdened, bashful yearning,
        For the babe’s weight on her knee,
        For the loving lisp of glee,
Sweet as larks’ throats in the morning,
        Sweet as hum of honey-bee.

“O my child!” cries Mona’s mother,
“Will you, can you take another
        Name ere mine upon your lips?
Can you, only for the asking,
Give to other hands the clasping
        Of your rosy finger-tips?”

Fear on fear her sad soul borrows,–
        O the dews are falling fair!
But no fair thing now can move her;
Vainly walks the moon above her,
Turning out her golden furrows
        On the cloudy fields of air.

Sudden she is ‘ware of shadows,
Coming in across the meadows,
        And of murmurs, low as love,–
Murmurs mingled like the meeting
Of the winds, or like the beating
        Of the wings of dove with dove.

In her hand the slow wheel stoppeth,
Silken flax from distaff droppeth,
And a cruel, killing pain
Striketh up from heart to brain;
And she knoweth by that token
        That the spinning all is vain,
That the troth-plight has been spoken,
And the thread of life thus broken
        Never can be joined again.

~ ~ ~

by John G. Whittier

Freedom in Brazil

With clearer light, Cross of the South, shine forth
        In blue Brazilian skies;
And thou, O river, cleaving half the earth
        From sunset to sunrise,
From the great mountains to the Atlantic waves
        Thy joy’s long anthem pour.
Yet a few days (God make them less!) and slaves
        Shall shame thy pride no more.
No fettered feet thy shaded margins press;
        But all men shall walk free
Where thou, the high-priest of the wilderness,
        Hast wedded sea to sea.

And thou, great-hearted ruler, through whose mouth
        The word of God is said,
Once more, “Let there be light!”—Son of the South,
        Lift up thy honored head,
Wear unashamed a crown by thy desert
        More than by birth thy own,
Careless of watch and ward; thou art begirt
        By grateful hearts alone.
The moated wall and battle-ship may fail,
        But safe shall justice prove;
Stronger than greaves of brass or iron mail
        The panoply of love.

Crowned doubly by man’s blessing and God’s grace,
        Thy future is secure;
Who frees a people makes his statue’s place
        In Time’s Valhalla sure.
Lo! from his Neva’s banks the Scythian Czar
        Stretches to thee his hand
Who, with the pencil of the Northern star,
        Wrote freedom on his land.
And he whose grave is holy by our calm
        And prairied Sangamon,
From his gaunt hand shall drop the martyr’s palm
        To greet thee with “Well done!”

And thou, O Earth, with smiles thy face make sweet,
        And let thy wail be stilled,
To hear the Muse of prophecy repeat
        Her promise half fulfilled.
The Voice that spake at Nazareth speaks still,
        No sound thereof hath died;
Alike thy hope and Heaven’s eternal will
        Shall yet be satisfied.
The years are slow, the vision tarrieth long,
        And far the end may be;
But, one by one, the fiends of ancient wrong
        Go out and leave thee free.

~ ~ ~

by James Russell Lowell

An Ember-Picture

How strange are the freaks of memory!
        The lessons of life we forget,
While a trifle, a trick of color,
        In the wonderful web is set,–

Set by some mordant of fancy,
        And, despite the wear and tear
Of time or distance or trouble,
        Insists on its right to be there.

A chance had brought us together;
        Our talk was of matters of course;
We were nothing, one to the other,
        But a short half-hour’s resource.

We spoke of French acting and actors,
        And their easy, natural way,–
Of the weather, for it was raining
        As we drove home from the play.

We debated the social nothings
        Men take such pains to discuss;
The thunderous rumors of battle
        Were silent the while for us.

Arrived at her door, we left her
        With a drippingly hurried adieu,
And our wheels went crunching the gravel
        Of the oak-darkened avenue.

As we drove away through the shadow,
        The candle she held in the door,
From rain-varnished tree-trunk to tree-trunk
        Flashed fainter, and flashed no more,–

Flashed fainter and wholly faded
        Before we had passed the wood;
But the light of the face behind it
        Went with me and stayed for good.

The vision of scarce a moment,
        And hardly marked at the time,
It comes unbidden to haunt me,
        Like a scrap of ballad-rhyme.

Had she beauty? Well, not what they call so:
        You may find a thousand as fair,
And yet there’s her face in my memory,
        With no special right to be there.

As I sit sometimes in the twilight,
        And call back to life in the coals
Old faces and hopes and fancies
        Long buried,–good rest to their souls!–

Her face shines out of the embers;
        I see her holding the light,
And hear the crunch of the gravel
        And the sweep of the rain that night.

‘Tis a face that can never grow older,
        That never can part with its gleam;
‘Tis a gracious possession forever,
        For what is it all but a dream?


  1. God, I’d forgotten how awful poets of that snooty enlightened Unitarian gushing were.

    The poems come in the inverse order of their worth, but that only makes Lowell’s the best of the bad. Think: Tennyson was their contemporary. I’m not Tennyson’s biggest fan, but compared to these facile and sentimental American poets he’s a friggin genius!


    How do I really feel?

    Comment by C. E. Chaffin — July 28, 2006 @ 2:59 am

  2. Hi C.E.,

    It is interesting to see how poems do in their time. What was encountered when flipping through a magazine? What was it like? And, somehow holding time as a constant, is then comparable to today? On the other hand, sociocentrically speaking, maybe today’s is an age when a selection of the best poetry published in periodicals makes for a great amount of great stuff.

    I agree with your assessment for the most part, although I would put the Whittier poem last, for such phrasings as “The panoply of love.” At some point in time, I want to read through his works, and list those poems I enjoy. The resulting collection just might be quite good. Here we have him as an activist, which doesn’t tend to bring out the poet in most poets, but the soap box.

    Holding constant that poets were messing with the meter and style of the shores of Gitchee Gumee, Cary’s poem is an off-shoot, probably not intended to compete, but compliment and complement Longfellow, simply be a good one that would follow in a long line (that would be cut short by our time). Their ears for such meter were different, more admiring. I wove the first two lines of Cary’s poem with the Owl’s Song below, just for kicks, to make a villanelle. It works to a degree, and I didn not resequence or rewrite the lines, but used them in order.

    I found the Lowell poem enjoyable, and in that sense not to be rated, other than to say in this case tops of the three.

    Great blog response, CE. Thanks.



    Mona’s Mother Meets Nokomis

    In the porch that brier-vines smother,
    By the shores of Gitchee Gumee,
    At her wheel, sits Mona’s mother.

    By the shining big-sea water,
    Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
    In the porch that brier-vines smother,

    Daughter of the moon Nokomis.
    Dark behind it rose the forest,
    At her wheel, sits Mona’s mother.

    Rose the black and gloomy pine trees,
    Rose the firs with cones upon them.
    In the porch that brier-vines smother,

    Bright before it beat the water,
    Beat the clear and sunny water,
    At her wheel, sits Mona’s mother.

    Beat the shining big-sea water.
    There the wrinkled old Nokomis,
    In the porch that brier-vines smother,
    At her wheel, sits Mona’s mother.


    Comment by Bud Bloom — July 28, 2006 @ 10:59 am

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