earlyamericanwomenpoets



1818-1870


Lois Bryan Adams began to publish her writing in her early twenties, during her marriage to James Adams, a small-town newspaper editor. In 1863, she received an appointment as clerk in the newly established United States Department of Agriculture. One of the first women to enter federal civil service, Adams chronicled life in Washington, D.C. as a special correspondent for the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune. Her newspaper columns and her poetry were published under the initial "L," which would have easily identified her to residents of Michigan.

Estelle


How motionless, how pale she stands,
A statue cold with icy hands
Clasped tightly o'er a breast of snow;
And but that oft her dark eyes glow
With the strange fire that fills them now,
And wreathes with living light her brow,
She might be what at times she seems —
A thing to haunt your midnight dreams,
An iceberg worn by wind and storm
Till moulded to a woman's form,
Then left, a monument of rest,
On some lone isle in ocean's breast.

But words are on her parting lips;
Her soul seems waking from eclipse:
For name and fame! The words are said,
And the deep thoughts unto them wed,
Are burning in her eye's dark flame,
And on her brow — for name and fame!

Back to her cheek with quivering start
The life blood rushes from her heart —
So cold, so beautiful, it glows
Like sunlight on the polar snows.
That blush becomes thee passing well,
O gifted, proud, and cold Estelle!
Yet those who know what passion wrings
The heart from whence such beauty springs,
May well the glorious boon forego,
And lose its charm to shun its woe.
Thy pallid lips so closely pressed,
Thy still hands folded o'er thy breast,
Thine eye unblessed by feeling's tear,
Thy brow so cold, so calm and clear,
Show that no thoughts of pleasure came
With those wild words, for name and fame!

What hope is thine of earthly joy
That time can blight or death destroy?
For thou hast bowed in dust to mourn
The idol from thy bosom torn;
The cheerless grave has closed above
Each object of thine earthly love.
Behind, each path that promised bloom
Hath led thee by an open tomb;
Life's troubled ocean spreads before,
And thou upon its lonely shore
Hast listened to its moans so long
Thy lips would echo back its song!

Now Fame her brightest wreath may twine
Around that marble brow of thine,
And worshippers on bended knee
Their flattering homage pay to thee;
But laurel crowns could never press
A brow more cold and passionless,
Nor shrinéd idol calmer stand
Amid her kneeling, votive band.
No word of praise, nor passion glance,
Can wake thee from that statue-trance;
And but the waves that round thee moan
In echo to thy answering tone,
Can quench in death thine eyes' dark flame,
And still thy song for name and fame.


An April Day


Children leave your careless play
And bring your sweet wild flowers to me,
For all too sad my heart has grown
To mingle in your revelry.
Come where the young spring sunlight falls
So softly on this bank of green,
Where pale blue violets gem the grass
Half hid beneath its emerald sheen.

Come pile your fragrant blossoms here,
And here your own fair forms recline —
The good beside the beautiful;
And while I thus your garlands twine,
I'll tell you why so strangely fell
This sadness on my heart to day,
And why I sighed amid your mirth,
And could not join your thoughtless play.

And yet, why should I speak my grief,
Since hearts like yours, so light and young,
Have not the power of sympathy
With those by deepest sorrow wrung.
Nay, Fanny, dry those violet eyes,
And check your sweet reproaches too;
But late you bade me spare a bud,
Nor from it brush the morning dew:

And shall I now the calyx break,
And rudely force a flower to bloom,
When well I know the passing cloud
Will shroud its tender heart with gloom?
Your heart is like that folded bud
So gently opening hour by hour,
A sudden storm might wake to life
A premature and drooping flower.

But seest thou down this grassy slope,
Yon rippling streamlet wind along,
And dost thou hear in murmurs sweet
Its low, but never-ceasing song?
I know a stream far, far away,
As like to this as stream may be,
And sweeter blossoms gemmed its banks
Than these I twine for thee.

More sweet because beheld by one
Who ever wandered by my side,
And loved with me each flower that grew
Along that streamlet's sparkling tide.
O many an April day like this
We've roamed among those blooming trees,
The boxwood and the hawthorn fair,
Whose honeyed fragrance filled the breeze.

And still when comes the balmy spring,
The scented hawthorn blooms as fair,
And year by year that nameless stream
Will chant its own low music there.
But I shall wander there no more,
Nor clasp that once beloved hand,
Cold, cold it dust it moulders now,
And I am in a stranger's land.

This grassy bank, these budding trees,
Familiar flowers and flowing stream,
With hallowed memories filled my heart,
And made the past the present seem.
But when your cheerful laugh rang out,
The charm was broke, the vision flown;
I saw you loving and beloved,
I felt a stranger, and alone.

And this was why I turned aside
And smiled not on your mirthful glee;
And this was why I could not bear
To mingle in your revelry.
But now I see o'er each young face
The light of pure friendship play,
So take the garlands I have twined,
I'll make you sad no more to-day.



My Prisoned Bird


I listen to each bird that sings
Among these budding trees of May,
And weep for one whose weary wings
Are folded in its cage today.
A dreamy, drooping, silent bird,
Nor note of joy nor plaint of woe
Are from its lonely prison heard —
Ah me, it was not always so!

Poor bird! my pet, my idol too,
In those bright years when life was joy;
When ‘mid the flowers in May’s sweet dew
Thou sang’st of bliss without alloy!
Of bliss that would be thine and mine
Beyond those far unfolding gates,
Where by her radiant noonday shrine
The ever-glorious Future waits.

Ah me; how wild the pathway grew
As toward life’s noontide gates we came!
Hot winds drank up the sweet May dew,
And crisped the flowers as with a flame.
Strange murmurs in the air were heard,
Of toil and strife and wild unrest;
Strange voices mocked my timid bird,
And drove it shrinking to my breast.

I clasped it, trembling, shrinking too;
Yet onward urged by life’s rude throng,
I did as strong ones bade me do,
And stilled for aye its voice of song.
I closed it in my darkened heart,
Shut out the light of love’s sweet day,
And there it sadly droops apart,
Uncheered by all this bloom of May.




Kitty’s Choice


A wealthy old farmer was Absalom Lee,
He had but one daughter, the mischievous Kitty
So fair and so good and so gentle was she,
That lovers came wooing from country and city.
The first and the boldest to ask for her hand
Was a trimly dressed dandy who worshiped her —“tin;”
She replied with a smile he could well understand,
“That she’d marry no Ape for the sake of his skin!”

The next was a merchant from business retired,
Rich, gouty and gruff, a presuming old sinner; —
Young Kitty’s fair form and sweet face he admired,
And thought to himself, “I can easily win her.”
So he showed her his palace, and made a bluff bow,
And said she might live there, but wickedly then,
Kitty told him she long ago made a rash vow,
“Not to marry a bear for the sake of his den!”

A miser came next; he was fearless and bold
In claiming his right to Miss Kitty’s affection;
He said she’d not want for a home while his gold
Could pay for a cabin to give her protection!
Half vexed at his boldness, but calm in a trice,
She curtseyed, and thanked him, and blushingly then,
Demurely repeated her sage aunt’s advice,
“Not to marry a hog for the sake of his pen!”

The next was a farmer; young, bashful and shy,
He feared the bold wooers who came from the city;
But the blush on his cheek, and the light in his eye,
Soon kindled a flame in the bosom of Kitty.
“My life will be one of hard labor,” he said;
“But, darling, come share it with me if you can.”
“I suppose,” she replied, gaily tossing her head,
“I must marry the farm for the sake of the man!”



Sources

Adams, Lois Bryan. Letters from Washington, 1863-1865. ed. Evelyn Leasher. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999.

Coggeshall, William Turner. The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notices. Columbus: Follett, Foster, & Co., 1860.

Collins, Lewis and Richard Henry Collins. History of Kentucky. Vol. 1. Covington: Collins & Co., 1878.

“L.” Sybelle and Other Poems. New York: Carleton, 1862.

Leasher, Evelyn. “ ‘L’ Was a Woman: Lois B. Adams, Special Correspondent to the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune.” ed. David B. Sachsman. Seeking a Voice: Images of Race and Gender in the 19th Century Press.