earlyamericanwomenpoets



1708-1735

Jane Colman was born in Boston to the wife of the well-known minister Dr. Benjamin Colman. A child prodigy, she allegedly learned to speak, read, and memorize Bible stories before she was two years old. Before she was four, she had memorized most of a catechism, several psalms, and about one hundred lines of poetry. Her father instructed her in English literature, and she devoured most of the works in his library by the time she was eighteen. In a letter to his daughter, Dr. Colman writes, “With the Advantages of my liberal Education at School and College I have no reason to think but that your Genius in Writing would have excelled mine.” This was high praise indeed. “But,” he continues, “as to a Poetical Flight now and then, let it be with you only a thing by the by. At your leisure and spare Hours you may indulge your Inclinations […] But let them not break in either upon the daily Hours of secret Reading or Devotion.” After her marriage in 1726, Jane Turell only found the time to write only once every few months. She died of an illness at the age of twenty-seven.

To My Muse

December 29, 1732.

Come, gentle muse, and once more lend thine aid,
O bring thy succor to a humble maid!
How often does thou liberally dispense
To our dull breast thy quick’ning influence!
By thee inspired, I’ll cheerful tune my voice,
And love and sacred friendship make my choice.
In my pleased bosom you can freely pour
A greater treasure than Jove’s golden shower.
Come now, fair muse, and fill my empty mind,
With rich ideas, great and unconfined.
Instruct me in those secret arts that lie
Unseen to all but to a poet’s eye.
O let me burn with Sappho’s noble fire,
But not like her for faithless man expire.
And let me rival great Orinda’s fame,
Or like sweet Philomela’s be my name.
Go lead the way, my muse, nor must you stop,
‘Till we have gained Parnassus’ shady top:
‘Till I have viewed those fragrant soft retreats,
Those fields of bliss, the muses’ sacred seats.
I’ll then devote thee to fair virtue’s fame,
And so be worthy of a poet’s name.

Lines on Childbirth

Phoebus has thrice his yearly circuit run,
The winter’s over, and the summer’s done;
Since that bright day on which our hands were join’d,
And to Philander I my all resign’d.

Thrice in my womb I’ve found the pleasing strife,
In the first struggles of my infant’s life:
But O how soon by Heaven I’m call’d to mourn,
While from my womb a lifeless babe is torn?
Born to the grave ‘ere it had seen the light,
Or with one smile had cheer’d my longing sight.

Again in travail pains my nerves are wreck’d,
My eye balls start, my heart strings almost crack’d,
Now I forget my pains, and now I press
Philander’s image to my panting breast.
Ten days I hold him in my joyful arms,
And feast my eyes upon his infant charms.

But then the King of Terrors does advance
To piece its bosom with his iron lance.
Its soul releas’d, upward it takes its flight,
Oh never more below to bless my sight!
Farewell sweet babes I hope to meet above,
And there with you sing the Redeemer’s love.

And now O gracious Savior lend thine ear,
To this my earnest cry and humble prayer,
That when the hour arrives with painful throes,
Which shall my burden to the world disclose;
I may deliverance have, and joy to see
A living child, to dedicate to thee.

Lines on her Mother’s Death
She’s gone! she’s gone! I saw her rise
And quickly gain the distant skies.
Sudden from Heaven a sacred mandate came,
Brought by a convoy of celestial flame.
She was prepar’d, the summons did obey,
And joyful left her tottering house of clay.
Her pains, her tears, her fears, are all now past
In joys unspeakable which ever last.
Her soul in Jesus’ arms remain,
The grave her body does detain.
Parted a while, her joys will be complete,
When in the resurrection morn they’ll meet.
Ah dearest, tenderest parent! must I mourn,
My heavy loss, and bathe with tears your urn!
Since now no more to me you must return.
O quickening spirit! Now perform thy part,
Set up thy glorious kingdom in my heart;
That when those sands which in my glass do run
Are spent and all my work below is done,
I the dear saint may then in glory meet
Where sin and death lie vanquish’d at our feet:
Where Jesus ever will improve
Our souls with heavenly grace and love.

Sources

Cowell, Pattie Lee. Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary America, 1650-1775. University of Massachusetts, 1977.

Morss, Myra Brayton. “Mrs. Jane Turell.” The Medford Historical Register 5.1 (Jan. 1902) 1-12.

Stedman, Edmund Clarence and Ellen MacKay Hutchinson, eds. A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. Vol. 2. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co., 1889.

Turell, Jane. Memoirs of the Life and Death of the Pious and Ingenious Mrs. Jane Turell, Who Died at Medford, March 26th 1735. ed. Ebenezer Turell. Oswald, 1741.