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Take Heart

Take Heart


Your side lost the election. The weather is getting cold. The wind is high. The flowers are gone and winter is heading your way with a vengeance. To those New Englanders hunkering down, we offer some comfort by NH poet Edna Dean Proctor. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and there’s always Heaven.



Edna Dean Proctor’s Seacoast Poem

After seeing my poem about a prehistoric Indian couple, reader Jack Murphy of Eliot, Maine sent along a piece by Edna Dean Proctor (1829-1923). She is the semi-famous poet of Henniker, New Hampshire who wrote a number of pieces on Native Americans. Jack said in a note that he was introduced to Proctor’s work by historian Joe Frost over at the old Book Guild in Portsmouth. She is best known as a super-patriot for the North during the Civil War. Her best remembered verse is an 1861 rewrite of the classic "John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave…" sung to the same tune as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".

Edna Dean ProctorI Googled Edna and found surprisingly little. Many of the best known female poets of the 19th century have gained ground on the Web, but not poor Ms. Proctor, one of the earliest graduates of Mount Holyoke College for women. Although she once had enough clout to review books by Bret Harte and Nathaniel Hawthorne in Atlantic Monthly, her verse has not made a comeback.

I found a half dozen of Proctor’s poems online, including the inspirational little "Take Heart" . I’ve included that piece below because it is about the seacoast in early fall. Her collected works includes 21 poems about New Hampshire, mostly focused on her beloved North Country. The list includes a piece called "The Portsmouth Sailor". I actually went all the way to the library to transcribe this one – but Edna was not on the shelf there nor at the Athenaeum.

So I called Jack Murphy who apparently has the only copy of the complete works (Houghton Mifflin, 1925) of Edna Dean Proctor around town. That volume used to reside on the shelf of the Portsmouth Public Library, but apparently was only taken out twice – once in 1940, once in 1941. The library passed it on to Joe Frost, who passed it on to Jack. "A Portsmouth Sailor", it turns out, is a 120-line ballad. Jack read it to me over the phone. In the poem, a grandmother -- "who knew the lore of the fisher folk and every beach bird’s call" – tells the tale. She regales a group of children with the story of their seafaring uncle who was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Algeria for three years. It is a good poem, but hopelessly out of fashion.

So, instead, here is Edna’s uplifting Seacoast poem. -- JDR

by: Edna Dean Proctor

ALL day the stormy wind has blown
From off the dark and rainy sea;
No bird has past the window flown,
The only song has been the moan
The wind made in the willow-tree.
This is the summer's burial-time:
She died when dropped the earliest leaves;
And, cold upon her rosy prime,
Fell direful autumn's frosty rime;
Yet I am not as one that grieves,--
For well I know o'er sunny seas
The bluebird waits for April skies;
And at the root of forest trees
The May-flowers sleep in fragrant ease,
The violets hide their azure eyes.
O thou, by winds of grief o'erblown,
Beside some golden summer's bier,--
Take heart! Thy birds are only flown,
Thy blossoms sleeping, tearful sown,
To greet thee in the immortal year!

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