Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lucy Larcom

by Lucy Larcom, 1826–1893

Hannah Binding Shoes

Poor lone Hannah,
Sitting at the window, binding shoes:
Faded, wrinkled,
Sitting, stitching, in a mournful muse.
Bright-eyed beauty once was she,
When the bloom was on the tree:
Spring and winter,
Hannah 's at the window, binding shoes.

Not a neighbor,
Passing nod or answer will refuse,
To her whisper,
"Is there from the fishers any news?"
Oh, her heart 's adrift, with one
On an endless voyage gone!
Night and morning,
Hannah 's at the window, binding shoes.

Fair young Hannah,
Ben, the sunburnt fisher, gayly woos:
Hale and clever,
For a willing heart and hand he sues.
May-day skies are all aglow,
And the waves are laughing so!
For her wedding
Hannah leaves her window and her shoes.

May is passing:
'Mid the apple boughs a pigeon cooes.
Hannah shudders,
For the mild southwester mischief brews.
Round the rocks of Marblehead,
Outward bound, a schooner sped:
Silent, lonesome
Hannah 's at the window, binding shoes.

'T is November,
Now no tear her wasted cheek bedews.
From Newfoundland
Not a sail returning will she lose,
Whispering hoarsely, "Fishermen,
Have you, have you heard of Ben?"
Old with watching,
Hannah 's at the window, binding shoes.

Twenty winters
Bleach and tear the ragged shore she views.
Twenty seasons:--
Never one has brought her any news.
Still her dim eyes silently
Chase the white sails o'er the sea:
Hopeless, faithful,
Hannah 's at the window, binding shoes.


Lucy Larcom was born in Beverly Massachusetts in 1826, the second-youngest of ten children. When she was 11, shortly after her sea captain father died, her family moved to Lowell, where she became a "mill girl", eventually working 70 or so hours per week, alongside the older young women who had come south from mostly New Hampshire.

I went back to my work, but now without enthusiasm. I had looked through an open door that I was not willing to see shut upon me. I began to reflect upon life rather seriously for a girl of twelve or thirteen. What was I here for? What could I make of myself? Must I submit to be carried along with the current, and do just what everybody else did? --Lucy Larcom

These were textile mills powered by the Pawtucket Falls of the Merrimack River during the American Industrial Revolution. She worked in the mills for ten years.

I defied the machinery to make me its slave. Its incessant discords could not drown the music of my thoughts if I would let them fly high enough. --LL

Larcom had been writing poetry since she was seven. While in Lowell, she became associated with John Greenleaf Whittier, who inspired her writing and further schooling. At 20, she left Lowell, and move to Illinois, where she taught for three years, and then attended seminary for another three. She then re­turned to Bev­er­ly, where she paint­ed, stu­died French, and taught lit­er­a­ture.

I regard a love for poetry as one of the most needful and helpful elements in the life-outfit of a human being. It was the greatest of blessings to me, in the long days of toil to which I was shut in much earlier than most young girls are, that the poetry I held in my memory breathed its enchanted atmosphere through me and around me, and touched even dull drudgery with its sunshine. --LL

On one hand, Lucy Larcom rose out of the mills of Lowell, which could have been her destiny. She became a teacher and a poet. In this sense we have a woman rising over drudgery and machinery, who was a poet of social, even political bent. But she could also be a marvelous nature poet, as with this poem, which presaged Joyce Kilmer's Trees:


Plant a Tree

He who plants a tree
Plants a hope.
Rootlets up through fibres blindly grope;
Leaves unfold into horizons free.
So man's life must climb
From the clods of time
Unto heavens sublime.
Canst thou prophesy, thou little tree,
What the glory of thy boughs shall be?

He who plants a tree
Plants a joy;
Plants a comfort that will never cloy;
Every day a fresh reality,
Beautiful and strong,
To whose shelter throng
Creatures blithe with song.
If thou couldst but know, thou happy tree,
Of the bliss that shall inhabit thee!

He who plants a tree,--
He plants peace.
Under its green curtains jargons cease.
Leaf and zephyr murmur soothingly;
Shadows soft with sleep
Down tired eyelids creep,
Balm of slumber deep.
Never hast thou dreamed, thou blessed tree,
Of the benediction thou shalt be.

He who plants a tree,--
He plants youth;
Vigor won for centuries in sooth;
Life of time, that hints eternity!
Boughs their strength uprear;
New shoots, every year,
On old growths appear;
Thou shalt teach the ages, sturdy tree,
Youth of soul is immortality.

He who plants a tree,--
He plants love,
Tents of coolness spreading out above
Wayfarers he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow are best;
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! life does the rest!
Heaven and earth help him who plants a tree,
And his work its own reward shall be.


More than any other genre of poetry, however, Lucy Larcom wrote what would be categorized as Christian spiritual verse. More than this, though, her spiritual verse categorizes her as a mystic, a mystic who was communicating the heightened spiritual presence for others to witness, raising consciousness at the mystic level. And I do not find these words used to describe her poetry: Lucy Larcom, the great mystic poet. In this sense, she predated Gerard Manley Hopkins ("The world is charged with the grandeur of God").



Yes, heaven has come down to meet us;
It hangs in our atmosphere;
Its beautiful open secret
Is whispered in every ear.
And everywhere, here and always,
If we would but open our eyes,
We should find, through these beaten footpaths,
Our way into Paradise.
We should walk there with one another;
Nor halting, disheartened, wait
To enter a dreamed-of City
By a far-off, shadowy Gate.
Dull earth would be dull no longer;
The clod would sparkle a gem;
And our hands, at their commonest labor,
Would be building Jerusalem.
For the clear, cool river of Eden
Flows fresh through our dusty streets;
We may feel its spray on our foreheads
Amid wearisome noontide heats.
We may share the joy of God's angels,
On the errands that He has given;
We may live in a world transfigured,
And sweet with the air of heaven.


The following poem illustrates Lucy Larcom being both the nature poet, and the Western mystic at once.


A White World

I never knew the world in white
So beautiful could be
As I have seen it here to-day,
Beside the wintry sea;
A new earth, bride of a new heaven,
Has been revealed to me.

The sunrise blended wave and cloud
In one broad flood of gold,
But touched with rose the world's white robes
In every curve and fold;
While the blue air did over all
Its breath in wonder hold.

Earth was a statue half awake
Beneath her Sculptor's hand:
How the Great Master bends with love
Above the work He planned,
Easy it is, on such a day,
To feel and understand.

The virgin-birth of Bethlehem,
That snow-pure infancy,
Warm with the rose-bloom of the skies,--
Life's holiest mystery,--
God's utter tenderness to man,
Seems written on all I see.

For earth, this vast humanity,
The Lord's own body is;
To this our life He entereth in,
Shares all its destinies;
And we shall put His whiteness on
When we are wholly His.

And so the day dies like a dream,
A prophecy divine:
Dear Master, through us perfectly
Shape Thou Thy white design,
Nor let one life be left a blot
On this fair world of Thine!


For those interested in her poetry specifically as she represents or appeals to women of the nineteenth century, here are some of the poems' titles at her Old Poetry pages:

Woman's Christmas
Woman’s Easter
A Loyal Woman's No

She also wrote hymns. Here is a link to one (have speakers on): O God, Thy world is sweet with prayer.

One more, just to show she has more breadth as a poet than I could display in a blog entry.


Spring Whistles

Down by the gate of the orchard
This Saturday afternoon,
Harry and Arthur and Robin
Are getting their whistles in tune.
Different notes they are playing;
Different echoes they hear;--
Always the best of the music
Is in the musician's ear.

Harry says, "Hark! when I whistle,
March winds are wind on the hills;
Waterfalls break from the snow-drifts;
Their thunder the forest fills.
Thousands of bluebirds and sparrows,
Sing on the branches bare;
Oceans of musical murmurs
Ripple and stir in the air."

Arthur is whispering, "Listen!
Dropping of April showers,--
Dripping of rainy rosebuds,--
Flight of the rustling hours;--
And a speckled lark in the meadow,
That utters one long sad note,
As if the sorrow of gladness
Were hid in his little throat."

"Whistle, O whistle!" cries Robin.
"Never such echoes could be
Coaxed from a twig of the willow
As wait in my whistle for me.
When I shape at last the mouthpiece
And let the rich music out,
You will think that Pan or Apollo
Is wandering hereabout:

"You will dream of orchards in blossom;
Of lambs in the grass at play;
And of birds that warble all summer
The wonderful songs of May."
No doubt of it, Rob! in the whistle
That nobody yet has played,
Is sleeping a melody sweeter
Than ever on earth was made.


The below image is added a day later for the response to Micky's comment:


At 6:16 PM, Blogger Micky said...

Thanks so much for this information on Lucy Larcom. I knew she had written poetry, but had not read any as yet. We learned of her in school, but I believe mostly as a writer of social comment in "The Lowell Offering."

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Bud Bloom said...

Hi Mic,

You're welcome. Thanks for the insight from Lowell.

I have just added a picture to the bottom of the original post, of Lucy Larcom Park in Lowell. There is the old Gate House to the left of the canal. To the right of the canal is the parkway, which runs the length of the rear of Lowell High School in downtown Lowell.

The words "Lucy Larcom Park" came out of most of the students' mouths each day the weather was permitting, to go out there on break or recess. And yet, most only knew she was some poet from the city from way back when.


At 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information on Lucy Larcom. My mother's maiden name is Larcom and I myself was raised in Beverly, MA. I am a young poet living in Amherst and I also had never read any of Lucy, but reading some of her work was really nice. My mother was the youngest of six and I couldn't help but notice the resemblance between her and Lucy Larcom. I know you posted this four years prior but I hope you can read this at some point.

A Young Poet & Relative of Lucy

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Julia said...

A quote of Lucy's was on my devotional calendar today. It struck me...

"Like a plant that starts up in showers and sunshine and does not know which has best helped it to grow, it is difficult to say whether the hard things or the pleasant things did me the most good".

Thank you for sharing some of Lucy Larcum's history!



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