earlyamericanwomenpoets



1829-1913

pic - Doten Lizzie.jpeg


Elizabeth Doten, who had supported herself since adolescence, became financially independent as a Spiritualist trance-speaker during the two decades before the Civil War. Her lectures and writings address various issues of women’s rights, especially economic inequality and the double standard of morality between men and women. She claimed to have spoken several of her poems under the “direct spirit influence” of writers such as Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mrs. Hemans.

The Cradle or Coffin
[Given under the inspiration of Poe.]
The Cradle or Coffin, the robe or the shroud,Of which shall a mortal most truly be proud?The cradle rocks light as a boat on the billow,The child lies asleep on his soft, downy pillow,And the mother sits near with her love-lighted eyes, —Sits watching her treasure, and dreamily singing,While the cradle keeps time, like a pendulum swinging,And notes every moment of bliss as it flies.
Lullaby baby — watch o'er his rest!The dear little fledgling asleep in his nest.How blest is that slumber — how calm he reposes,With his sweet, pouting lips, and his cheeks flushed with roses!O, God of the Innocent, would it might last!But know, thou fond mother, beyond thy perceiving,The Parcae are near him, and steadily weavingThe meshes of Fate which around him they cast!
Lullaby baby — let him not wake!Soon shall the bubble of infancy break;Life, with its terrors and fears, shall surround him,Evil and Good with strange problems confound him,And, as the charmed bird ot the serpent is dawn,The demons of hell, from his proudest position,Shall drag down his soul to the depths of perdition,Till he bitterly curses the day he was born!
The Cradle or Coffin, the blanket or pall —O, which brings a blessing of peace unto all?How still is the Coffin! No undulant motion;Becalmed like a boat on the breast of the ocean.And there lies the child, with his half-curtained eyes,While his mother stands near him, her love-watch still keeping,And kisses his pale lips with wailing and weeping,Till her anguish is dumb, or can speak but in sighs.
He needs not a lullaby now for his rest;The fledgling has fluttered, and flown from his nest.He starts not, he breathes not, he knows no awaking,Though sad eyes are weeping and fond hearts are break.O, God of all mercy, how strange are thy ways!Yet know, thou fond mother, beyond thy perceiving,The angels who took him are tenderly weavingHis vestments of beauty, his garments of praise.
O, call him not back to earth's weariness now,For blossoms unfading encircle his brow;From glory to gloryforever ascending,His soul with the soul of the Infinite blending,Great luminous truths on his being shall dawn.With no doubts to distract him, or stay his endeavor,He shall bless in his progress, forever and ever,The day that his soul to the Kingdom was born.
The Cradle or Coffin, the robe or the shroud,Of which shall a mortal most truly be proud?The Cradle or Coffin, the blanket or pall,O, which brings a blessing of peace unto all?The Cradle or Coffin, both places of rest —Tell us, O mortals, which like ye the best?

Resurrexi
"A remarkable poem. — The following striking poem was recited by Miss Lizzie Doten, a Spiritual trance-speaker, at the close of a recent lecture in Boston. She professed to give it impromtu, as far as she was concerned, and to speak under the direct influence of Edgar A. Poe. Whatever may be the truth about its production, the poem is, in several respects, a remarkable one. Miss Doten is, apparently, incapable of originating such a poem. If it was written for her by some one else, and merely committed to memory and recited by her, the poem is, nevertheless, wonderful as a reproduction of the singular music and alliteration of Poe's style, and as manifesting the same intensity of feeling. Whoever wrote the poem must have been exceedingly familiar with Poe, and deeply in sympathy with his spirit. But if Miss Doten is honest, and the poem originated as she said it did, it is unquestionably the most astonishing thing that Spiritualism has produced. It does not follow, necessarily, that Poe himself made the poem, — although we are asked to believe a great many spiritual things on less cogent evidence, — but it is, in any oview of it that may be taken, a very singular and mysterious production. There is, in the second verse, an allusion to a previous poem that purported to come from the spirit of Poe, which was published several years since, and attracted much attention, but the following poem is of a higher order, and much more like Poe than the other." — Springfield Republican.
From the throne of LIfe Eternal,From the home of love supernal,Where the angel feet make music over all the starry floor —Mortals, I have come to meet you,Come with words of peace to greet you,And to tell you of the glory that is mine forevermore.
Once before I found a mortalWaiting at the heavenly portal —Waiting but to catch some echo from that ever-opening door;Then I seized his quickened being,And through all his inward seeing,Caused my burning inspiration in a fiery flood to pour!
Now I come more meekly human,And the weak lips of a womanTouch wih fire from off teh altar, not with burnings as of yore,But in holy love descending,With her chastened being blending,I would fill your souls with music from the bright celestial shore.
As one heart yearns for another,As a child turns to its other,From the golden gates of glory turn I to the earth once more,Where I drained the cup of sadness,Where my soul was stung to madness,And life's bitter, burning billows swept my burdened being o'er.
Here the harpies and the ravens, —Human vampyres, sordid cravens, —Preyed upon my soul and substance till I writhed in anguish sore;Life and I then seemed mismated,For I felt accursed and fated,Like a restless, wrathful spirit, wandering on the Stygian shore.
Tortured by a nameless yearning,Like a frost-fire, freezing, burning,Did the purple, pulsing life-tide through its fevered channels pour,Till the golden bowl — Life's token —Into shining shards was broken,And my chained and chafing spirit leaped from out its prison door.
But while living, striving, dying,Never did my soul cease crying,"Ye who guide the Fates and Furies, give, O give me, I implore,From the myriad hosts of nations,From the countless constellations,One pure spirit that can love me — one that I, too, can adore!"
Through this fervent aspirationFound my fainting soul salvation,For from out its blackened fire-crypts did my quickened spirit soar;And my beautiful ideal —Not too saintly to be real —Burst more brightly on my vision than the loved and lost Lenore.
'Mid the surging seas she found me,With the billows breaking round me,And my saddened, sinking spirit in her arms of love upbore;Like a lone one, weak and weary,Wandering in the midnight dreary,On her sinless, saintly bosom, brought me to the heavenly shore.
Like the breath of blossoms blending,Like the prayers of saints ascending,Like the rainbow's seven-hued glory, blend our souls forevermore;Earthly love and lust enslaved me,
But divinest love hath saved me,And I know now, first and only, how to love and to adore.O, my mortal friends and brothers!We are each and all another's,And the soul that gives most freely from its treasure hath the more;Would you lose your life, you find it,And in giving love, you bind itLike an amulet of safety, to your heart forevermore.

The Streets of Baltimore
"Edgar A. Poe. — As the circumstances attendant upon the death of Poe are not generally known, it may be well to present the facts in connection with the following poem. Having occasion to pass through Baltimore a few days before his intended marriage with a lady of family and fortune in Virginia, Poe met with some of his old associates, who induced him to drink with them, although, as we are informed, he had entirely abstained for a year. This aroused the appetite which had so long slumbered within him, and in a short time he wandered forth into the street in a state of drunken delirium, and was found next morning literally dying from exposure. He was taken to a hospital, and on the 7th of October, 1849, a the age of thirty-eight, he closed his troubled life. The tortures and sorrows of that night of suffering are vividly portrayed in the following poem, composed in spirit-life, and given by him through the mediumship of Miss Lizzie Doten, at the conclusion of her lecture in Baltimore, on Sunday evening, January 11, 1863." — Banner of Light.

Woman weak, and woman mortal,
Through thy spirit's open portal,
I would read the Runic record
Of mine earthly being o'er —
I would feel that ire returning,
Which within my soul was burning,
When my star was quenched in darkness,
Set, to rise on earth no more,
When I sank beneath life's burden
In the streets of Baltimore!

O, those memories, sor and saddening!
O, that night of anguish maddening!
When my lone heart suffered shipwreck
On a demon-haunted shore —
When the fiends grew wild with laughter,
And the silence following after,
Was more awful and appalling
Than the canon's deadly roar —
Than the tramp of mighty armies
Through the streets of Baltimore!

Like a fiery serpent coiling,
Like a Maelstrom madly boiling,
Did this Phlegethon of fury
Sweep my shuddering spirit o'er!
Rushing onward, blindly reeling,
Tortured by intensest feeling —
Like Prometheus, when the vultures
Through his quivering vitals tore —
Swift I fled from death and darkness,
Through the streets of Baltimore!

No one near to save or love me!
No kind face to watch above me!
Though I heard the sound of footsteps,
Like the waves upon the shore,
Beating, beating, beating, beating!
Now advancing, now retreating —
With a dully and dreamy rhythm —
With a long, continuous roar —
Heard the sound of human footsteps,
In the streets of Baltimore!

There at length they found me lying,
Weak and 'wildered, sick and dying,
And my shattered wreck of being
To a kindly refuge bore!
But my woe was past enduring,
And my soul cast off its mooring,
Crying, as I floated outward,
"I am of the earth no more!
I have forfeited life's blessing
In the streets of Baltimore!"

Where was thou, O Power Eternal!
When the fiery fiend, infernal,
Beat me with his burning fasces,
Till I sank to rise no more?
O, was all my life-long error
Crowded in that night of terror?
Did my sin find expiation,
Which to judgment went before,
Summoned to a dead tribunal,
In the streets of Baltimore?

Nay, with deep, delirious pleasure,
I had drained my life's full measure,
Till that fatal, fiery serpent,
Fed upon my being's core!
Then with force and fire volcanic,
Summoning a strength Titanic,
Did I burst the bonds that bound me —
Battered down my being's door;
Fled, and left my shattered dwelling
To the dust of Baltimore!

Gazing back without lamenting,
With no sorrowful repenting,
I can read my life's sad story
In a light unknown before!
For there is no woe so dismal,
Not an evil so abysmal,
But a rainbow arch of glory
Spans the yawning chasm o'er!
And across that Bridge of Beauty
Did I pass from Baltimore!

In that grand, Eternal City,
Where the angel-hearts take pity
On the sin which men forgive not,
Or inactively deplore,
Earth has lost the power to harm me!
Death can never more alarm me,
And I drink fresh inspiration
From the Source which I adore —
Through my Spirit's apothéosis —
That new birth in Baltimore!

Now no longer sadly yearning —
Love for love finds sweet returning —
And there comes no ghostly raven,
Tapping at my chamber door!
Calmly, in the golden glory,
I can sit and read life's story,
For my soul from out that shadow
Hath been lifted evermore —
From that deep and dismal shadow,
In the streets of Baltimore!

Mistress Glenare
By "Marian."

A virtuous woman is Mistress Glenare —
Or, at least, so the world in its judgment would say; —
With an orderly walk and a circumspect air,
She never departs fromt the popular way.
Every word that she speaks is well measured and weighed;
Her friends are selected with scrupulous care;
And in all that she does is her prudence displayed,
For a virtuous woman is Mistress Glenare!

Her youth has departed, and with it has fled
The impulse which gives to the blood a new start,
Which oftentimes turns from the reasoning head,
To trust to the wisdom of God in the heart.
Thus the robes of her purity never are stained,
And her feet are withheld from the pitfall and snare;
Where nothing is ventured, there nothing is gained:
O, a virtuous woman is Mistress Glenare!

She makes no distinction of sinners from sin;
Her words are like arrows, her tongue is a rod;
She sees no excuse for the evil within,
But condemns with the zeal of a partialist God!
On a background of darkness, of sorrow and shame,
Her own reputation looks stainless and fair;
So she builds up her fame, through her neighbors' bad name:
O, a virtuous woman is Mistress Glenare!

She peeps and she listens, she watches and waits,
Nor Satan himself is more active than she
To expose in poor sinners the faults and bad traits,
Which she fears that the Lord might not happen to see.
When the father of Spirits looks down from above
On the good and the evil, the frail and the fair,
How must he regard, with particular love,
This virtuous woman — good Mistress Glenare!

O, Mistress Glenare! in the drama of life
You are acting a very respectable part;
You have known just enough of its envious strife
To deceive both the world and your own foolish heart.
But say, in some moment of clear common sense,
Did you never in truth and sincerity dare
To ask the plain question, aside from pretence,
Have you looked to the angels, dear Mistress Glenare?

The glory of God has enlightened their eyes:
No longer, through darkness, they see but in part,
And the robes of your righteousness do not suffice
To cover the lack of true love in your heart.
You look shabby, and filthy, and ragged, and mean —
E'en with those you condemn, you but poorly compare!
Go! wash you in Charity till you are clean:
You will change for the better, dear Mistress Glenare.

Your thoughts have been run in the popular mould,
Like wax that is plastic and easily melts;
Till now, like a nondescript, lo, and behold!
You are neither yourself, nor yet any one else.
Of tender compassion, forgiveness, and love,
Your nature has not a respectable share;
You are three parts of serpent, and one of the dove —
Very badly proportioned, dear Mistress Glenare.

Your noblest and purest affections have died,
Like summer-dried roses, your spirit within;
Your heart has grown arid, and scarce is supplied
With sufficient vitality even to sin.
But would you be true to your virtuous name,
There is one we commend to your tenderest care;
To deal with her wisely will add to your fame:
That poor sinful woman is — Mistress Glenare.

Life
[Given under an influence purporting to be that of Shakespeare.]
"To be, or not to be," is not "the question;"
There is no choice of Life. Ay, mark it well! —
For Death is but another name for Change.
The weary shuffle off their mortal coil,
And think to slumber in eternal night.
But, lo! the man, though dead, is living still;
Unclothed, is clothed upon, and his Mortality
Is swallowed up of Life.

"He babbles o' green fields, then falls asleep,"
And straight awakes amid eternal verdure.
Fairer than "dreams of a Midsummer's Night,"
The fields Elysian stretch before him.
No "Tempest" rends the ever peaceful bowers
Of asphodel, and fadeless amaranth;
No hot sirocco blows with poisonous breath;
No midnight frights him with its goblins grim,
Presaging sudden death. No Macbeth there,
Mad with ambition, plotteth damning deeds;
No Hamlet, haunted by his father's ghost,
Stalks wildly forth intent on vengeance dire.
The curse of Cain on earth is consummate,
And knows no resurrection. Spirits learn
That spirit is immortal, and no poisoned cup,
Or dagger's thrust, or sting of deadly asp,
Can rob it of its Godlike attribute.
This mortal garb may be as full of wounds
And bloody rents as royal Caesar's mantle;
Yet that which made it man or Caesar liveth still.

Man learns, in this Valhalla of his soul,
To love, nor ever finds "Love's Labor Lost."
No two-faced Falstaff proffers double suit;
No Desdemona mourns Iago's art;
And every Romeo finds his Juliet.
The stroke of Death is but a kindly frost,
Which cracks the shell, and leaves the kernel room
To germinate. What most consummate fools
This fear of death doth make us! Reason plays
The craven unto sense, and in her fear
Chooses the slow and slavish death of life,
Rather than freedom in the life of death.
"Thus Ignorance makes cowards of us all,"
And blinds us to our being's best estate.
Madly we cling to life through nameless ills,
Pinched by necessity, and scourged by fate,
Fainting in heat and freezing in the cold,
While war, and pestilence, and sore distress,
Fever and famine, fire and flood, combine
To drive the spirit from its wreck of clay.

O, poor Humanity! How full of blots,
And stains, and pains, and miseries thou art!
Here let me be thine Antony, and plead
Thy cause against the slayers of thy peace.
Though wounded, yet thou art not dead, thou child
Of Immortality — thou heir of God!
He who would slay thee, be he brute or Brutus,
Plunges the dagger in his own vile heart.
And yet thy wounds are piteous. I could weep
That aught so fair from the Creator's hand
Should be so marred and mangled, like a lamb
Torn by the ravening wolves. Here, let me take
Thy mantle, pierced with gaping, ghastly wounds,
From daggers clutched by ingrate hands. O Truth!
How many, in thy sacred name, have slain
Humanity, thinking they did God service!
Rome, and not Caesar — Doctrines, and not Men.

I cannot count the wounds which lust for power,
And wealth, and place, and precedence have made.
But, O! the keenest, deepest, deadliest stabs
Of all, were made by false Philosophy
And false Theology combined —
Philosophy, that knew not what it did;
Theology, that did not what it knew.
See here! This rent made by the fear of God,
That gracious God, whose "mercy seasons justice,"
Who feeds the raven, clothes the lilies, heeds
The sparrow when it falls, and sends his rain
Alike upon the evil and the good.
And yet they were all "honorable men"
Who taught this doctrine — "honorable men!"
Whose failing was a lack of common sense.

And, lo! here is another — Fear of Truth —
Blind Superstition made this horrid rent,
And Bigotry quick followed up the thrust.
O, 'tis an eye weeping great tears of blood!
An eagle eye, that dared to love the light
Which Bigotry and Superstition feared,
Lest in should make their deeds of evil plain.
Thus is it, he who dares to see a Truth
Not recognized in creeds, must die the death.
But noon-day never stayed for bats and owls,
And Truth's clear light shall yet arise and shine.

See here: another wound — The fear of Death —
That blesséd consummation of this life,
Which soothes all pain, makes good all loss, revives
The weak, gives rest and peace, makes free the slave,
Levels all past distinctions, and doth place
The beggar on a footing with the king.
O, poor Humanity! those who conspired
To slay thee, through exceeding love of God,
And for the glory of His mighty name,
Smote at the very centre of thy peace,
And damning doubts, like daggers' thrust, attest
How zealously they aimed each cruel blow.

And yet, this rent and bloody mantle is not thee.
Slain, but not dead — thy spirit shall arise
And face thy startled enemies again,
As royal Caesar's ghost appeared to Brutus,
In Sardis' and Philippi's tented plains.
Thou royal heir to kingdoms yet unknown!
A mightier than Caesar is thy Friend.
He stays the hand of Cassius, Brutus, all
Who aime their weapons at thy life, and dulls
Their daggers' points against thy deathless soul.
From every gaping wound of fear or doubt,
Murder or malice, sorrow or despair,
Thy spirit leaps as from a prison door.
It laughs at death and daggers, as it flies
To hold companionship with spirits blest;
And having thus informed itself of life,
The question then, — "To be, or not to be?" —
Is swallowed up in Immortality.


Sources

Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. 2nd edition. Indiana University Press, 2001.
Doten, Elizabeth. Poems from the Inner Life. 10th edition. Boston: William White & Co., 1873.
Doten, Elizabeth. Poems of Progress. Boston: William White & Co., 1871.
Martin, Joel and William J. Birnes. The Haunting of America: From the Salem Witch Trials to Harry Houdini. Macmillan, 2009.
McDannell, Colleen, ed. Religions of the United States in Practice. Vol. 1. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.