Poetry from the Past – March 2016 Edition of History & Heritage

Welcome to the March edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.

We are located in our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street as of August. We officially opened our doors to the public on November 1st. We are still a work in progress but it was time for us to show you what your volunteer efforts or monetary gifts have accomplished. For the present time, the Center will be open Monday through Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; please stop and see us. As we build our volunteer base and spring nears, we will open more days. This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Our current goals for 2016 are the moving of the collections from the Museum; reception area installation; opening the carriage barn showcasing horse drawn vehicles; and the installation of a permanent platform wagon scale. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer Street, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

Poetry From the Past

PoemTown St. Johnsbury 2016 returns to St. Johnsbury for the month of April, celebrating National Poetry Month. Look for the posting of poems on business windows throughout town. When asked for more poetry from the past, my thoughts returned to Franklin Benjamin Gage. I first wrote of him in 2011 as perhaps the first photographer in St. Johnsbury. He opened his gallery in Emerson Hall which is now where the Athenaeum is. His talents and knowledge in photography were remarkable and images of his give us an early view of St. Johnsbury.


Gage

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Another talent of his was that of a poet, and his whimsical poems were often used in advertisements:

“For twenty-five cents Is all the expense Of an Ambrotype made of your face And for double that sum If you presently come, ‘Twill be made and put in a case”

His death notice appeared in the Caledonian of August 28, 1874. “The death of Mr. F. B. Gage removes from our place a long time resident and an eccentric and in some respects a remarkable character. He was eccentric in his dress, looks, and manner of life.” The notice further referenced his poems saying they had “merit in both sentiment and wit” and many had appeared in this paper over the years. The paper thought the following work of Gage appropriate to appear with this death notice:

I have a treasure in the blue Beyond! And since my brow is wrinkled o’er with time, And all my dearest hopes have passed away Seeking my treasures in that viewless clime, I shall lay by my staff some Autumn day, And pass into the blue Beyond!”

His works of poetry and stories not only appeared in the Caledonian but in “Youth’s Companion,” books that were printed in this time period.

By happenstance I was looking at an old book of “Famous Poems” compiled by Marjorie Barrows and happened on the Poem “To—–“ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The first two lines read-

“Music, when soft voices die, Vibrates in the memory—“

Why were these lines so familiar to me? After pondering a bit, I realized that they were on a gravestone in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. This stone is to the memory of Mr. & Mrs. French, who had both been very musical! This reminded me of other verses on gravestones that I have read and shared with many students over the years.

The next two remind us of our final destination: one is subtle and the other to the point! On the stone of John Spaulding – 1864:

Oh can it be that thou art gone That thou art numbered with the dead And must we lay thy lovely form To slumber in the narrow bed.

Weep not for me loved ones dear I am not gone but sleeping near Where I am gone you soon will be Renewed by prayers will follow me.

Charlotte Fuller, 1818, stone reads: Behold all you that pass by, As you are now, so once was I, As I am now, so you must be Prepare for death & follow me.


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I leave you with a verse pointed out to me by my father many years ago on the back of a monument belonging to a Smith family up under the pines. The poem is “Life! I Know Not What Thou Art” by Anna Laetitia Barbauld. It is the second and last verse of the poem:

Life! we’ve been long together Through pleasant and through cloudy weather, “Tis hard to part when friends are dear,- Perhaps ‘t will cost a sigh, a tear: -Then steal away, give little warning, Choose thine own time; Say not Good Night, – but in some brighter clime Bid me Good Morning.

I hope these lead to another reason to walk through Mt. Pleasant Cemetery and to check both the back and front of stones for additional verses!

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