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The Second Love of Annie Fields

 

Annie Adams FieldsSEACOAST POETRY

She was married to one of Portsmouth’s most famous men of letters. Together they linked the arts scene of our Seacoast with the Boston literati and the English poets and writers. But when James T. Fields died, Annie found what some believe was a new kind of love.

 

 

 

 

When we left off with our last poem it was 1881. Portsmouth-born editor and poet James T. Fields had just died, making a widow of Annie Fields (1834-1915), a popular writer in her own right. Anonymously, Mrs. Fields immediately produced a book in honor of her husband, and kindled a different kind of love.

It is her relationship with South Berwick writer Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) that has become the focus of scholarly articles. Jewett had lost her father two years before Fields lost her husband, and what began as shared grief evolved into a lifelong partnership. Their live-in relationship has been described as a milestone in the history of lesbianism. They were the very definition of a "Boston marriage", the connection of two financially independent Victorian women, active in the arts and feminists at heart – yet strictly constrained by their times.

The impact of their affection is evident. Soon after they became close, both launched prolific and successful and long-lasting periods of writing. Despite their reputations as poets, it is their prose that is today most accessible. Jewett is best known for her poignant short stories, and Fields for her biographical sketches of New England authors. Annie Fields, who often referred to herself as "the widow of Mr. Fields" and published poetry as Mrs. James T. Fields, also outlived her second love. She survived to edit the works of Sarah Orne Jewett too.

Much of her poetry is lost to us in ornate stilted constructions, over-rich with "thy" and "thou" and exclamation points. But the two following pieces still have a heart and a pulse, one to an unnamed lover, the second in honor of Portsmouth-born author Celia Thaxter.

SEE:  Lot Skinner's Elegy

Portrait of Annie Adams Fields by John Singer Sargent
courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum

Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett

TO -----, SLEEPING
By Annie Fields

BELOVËD, when I saw thee sleeping there,
And watched the tender curving of thy mouth,
The cheek, our home of kisses, the soft hair,
And over all a languor of the south;
And marked thy house of thought, thy forehead, where
All trouble of the earth was then at rest;
And thy dear eyes, a blessing to the blest,
Their ivory gates closed on this world of care, --

Then, then I prayed that never wrong of mine,
That never pain which haunts these earth-built bowers,
If I could hinder, or could aught relieve,
Should ever more make sad this heart of thine;
And yet, dear love, how oft thou leav'st thy flowers,
Here in the rain to walk with me and grieve!

 

C. T.
By Annie Fields

BELOVËD, on the shore of this gray world
Thy little bird, the sandpiper, and I
Now stand alone;
And when mine eye
Returned from following thy upward flight,
And found him here, and heard his tone,
And saw the tiny wing unfurled,
(As oft for thee,)
I knew thy messenger, --'t was he!

His little cry
Is meek and full of joy in things that lie
Close to our feet;
He speeds along the sands, bidding my sight
Grow keen as thine.
He cries, "O love complete,
Thou hast become the leaf and flower
That whisper now companionship;
Oh follow, follow,
Traveller mine!

Thou, too, shalt slip
Into the hand's-breadth hollow
Thy dust shall claim!
And no fair fame
Shall stead thee when the winds of life shall fall;
Only my call
To the unknown, untried, whither these wings
Now vanish: the fading bower
Can hold and soothe thee not!
Oh follow, follow,
"T is Love who sings!
Love, Love is here and beckons thee away;
My song leads on, thou canst not go astray!

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