Saturday, April 25, 2009

National Poetry Month, Day 26

Today was Earth Jam, and I came home so cold I thought I was going to die. Hence, one of my favourite death poems, by a little-known poet. Here you go...

Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson was born on October 18, 1831 as Helen Maria Fiske. She was born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts. Helen Maria Fiske. Helen grew up in a literary atmosphere and she was herself a poet and writer of children’s stories, novels, and essays. She published her work under the pen name of H.H.H. Her poetry was the outflow of deep sympathetic thought on the problem of life’s trials and temptations. Her verses were strong and noble, never giving attention to mere prettiness of verse. One of her early works, “Bits of Travel”, revealed the humorous side of her nature. With friendly merriment she describes human nature.

Soon, Helen’s interests turned to the plight of the American Indian. As a keen and sympathetic observer, her attention was attracted by the unfair treatment our American Indians received at the hands of government agents. Her interest in the American Indians began in Boston in 1879 at a lecture by Chief Standing Bear, who described the ill-treatment of the Ponca Indians in Nebraska. Helen was furious by what she heard, but being well balanced by nature, she made a painstaking study of the situation. She kept her feelings in check and searched for facts. When she was at last fully equipped for her work, she took up the pen in defense of the wronged Indian.

Because she was in poor health at the time, she wrote with desperate haste. “A Century of Dishonor” appeared calling for change from the base, selfish policy to a treatment characterized by humanity and justice.

Her next step was to cast her material in the form of fiction to reach a wider circle of readers. She wrote “Ramona”, which was her supreme effort. it was in every way a noble book and gave Helen lasting fame. “Ramona” first appeared as a serial in the “Christian Union”, because she was anxious to get the story out.

Helen died in San Francisco on August 12, 1885, while she was examining the condition of the California Indians as a special government commissioner.


My body, eh? Friend Death, how now?
Why all this tedious pomp of writ?
Thou hast reclaimed it sure and slow
For half a century bit by bit.

In faith thou knowest more to-day
Than I do, where it can be found!
This shrivelled lump of suffering clay,
To which I am now chained and bound,

Has not of kith or kin a trace
To the good body once I bore;
Look at this shrunken, ghastly face:
Didst ever see that face before?

Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
Thy only fault thy lagging gait,
Mistaken pity in thy heart
For timorous ones that bid thee wait.

Do quickly all thou hast to do,
Nor I nor mine will hindrance make;
I shall be free when thou art through;
I grudge thee nought that thou must take!

Stay! I have lied; I grudge thee one,
Yes, two I grudge thee at this last,--
Two members which have faithful done
My will and bidding in the past.

I grudge thee this right hand of mine;
I grudge thee this quick-beating heart;
They never gave me coward sign,
Nor played me once the traitor's part.

I see now why in olden days
Men in barbaric love or hate
Nailed enemies' hands at wild crossways,
Shrined leaders' hearts in costly state:

The symbol, sign and instrument
Of each soul's purpose, passion, strife,
Of fires in which are poured and spent
Their all of love, their all of life.

O feeble, mighty human hand!
O fragile, dauntless human heart!
The universe holds nothing planned
With such sublime, transcendent art!

Yes, Death, I own I grudge thee mine
Poor little hand, so feeble now;
Its wrinkled palm, its altered line,
Its veins so pallid and so slow --

Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
I shall be free when thou art through.
Take all there is -- take hand and heart;
There must be somewhere work to do

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