MIAMI WOODS (excerpt)
Sage monitors of youth are wont to say
The eye grows early dim to nature’s charms,
And commerce with the world soon dulls the ear
To heavenliest sounds. It may be so; but I,
Whose feet were on the hills from earliest life,
And in the vales, and by the flashing brooks,
Have not so found it: ---deeper in my heart,
Deeper and deeper year by year, has sunk
The love of nature, in my close, and long,
And fond companionship with woods and waves,
With birds and breezes, with the starry sky,
The mountain-height, the rocky gorge, the slope
Mantled with flow’rs, and the far-reaching plain
That mingles with the heavens. It is not so –
It is not so save where the ear grows dull
To God’s own voice, and the averted eye
Thick filmed with sin, is darkened thus, and lost
To all his visible glory. The green fields
Are studded with their golden buttons still
And living with their gilded butterflies,
That pass not unobserved. The rocky pool,
In which the robin bathes his dusky plumes,
The tufted flow’rs that smile beyond, the slope
That from its margin greenly steals away
To bordering woodlands fill’d with airy tongues
Still lure us from the hot and dusty road
As in the years gone by…..
…..Years change us not so much,
Nor commerce with the world; but groveling thoughts,
Vaulting ambitions, unrepressed desires,
Whose oft-indulgence blunts the edge of youth:
These early dim the eye to nature’s charms,
And early dull the ear to heavenliest sounds.
Child of my love!
Oh, count it fortunate thou art the child
Of Nature also. To this double bond
Be faithful. Coming years will tempt thee sore –
But in the trials and the triumphs Life
May have in store for thee, forget thou not
The haunts wherein thy childhood met with love,
And peace, and beauty; where in tranquil ways
Thy chafing spirit thou didst often soothe;
And where, as thy young heart has felt, God walked
With Nature and with thee.
This is an excerpt from a long poem (roughly 1500 lines) by William Davis Gallagher (1808-1894), Miami Woods, published in 1881. I came across this poet quite by accident, while looking up another author in the Oxford Companion to American Literature. This poem was apparently quite popular in its day, and although its style is both imitative and dated, the Companion says that Gallagher’s original descriptions of nature are “among the region’s best,” the region here being the American Midwest (the “Miami” referred to is at the western edge of Ohio, north of Cincinnati, an area still known for its beauty).
The thing that struck me most, however, and something I was not expecting, was the poem's theological vision. I have no idea of Gallagher's religious background, but the occasional theological bits in the poem are reminiscent of Hopkins. They show a belief in God as present in Creation, not pantheistically as in Wordsworth, and not as a transcendent Being of whom Nature is a mere sign, as in Emerson, Whittier, etc., but as a God who is both immanent and transcendent. This comes through quite directly and unapologetically, although the poem is not "religious" verse.
The other thing that’s striking is the thread of sadness that runs through the poem. It seems that Gallagher lost a teenage daughter to a lengthy illness of some sort, one symptom of which affected her reason. The poem, written over a number of years, reflects on this loss quite movingly.
--Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies, which he's put to good use working for a medical laboratory for the past 15 years. He's published a number of book and music reviews and occasionally has gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa