This final week of April and National Poetry month I want to write about Helen Hunt Jackson and not only how she, but also her poetry have made an impression on my life.
As most of you know, I perform as Mrs. Jackson. This woman, her work and personality have become a passion of mine. What most remember about Helen and her work are the last five years of her life and the dedication she gave to her cause of Indian rights. In the years prior to that time she made her living after the death of both her husband and two sons as a writer of poetry and essays. It is her poetry I want to share with you the reader.
A number of her earlier poems were infused with the grief she was feeling over the death of her last remaining son who passed away at the age of nine. (She had lost her first son at the age of eleven months and her husband to an accident while he was working on an underwater project for the Army during the Civil War) Her work grew from that point and to many people she was one of the premier poets of her time.
In the the book Poems by Helen Jackson, Little Brown and Co copywrite 1906, the following verse is indicative of some of her work.
Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revellers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.
As you read these words the picture becomes clear in your mind. You can hear the sounds of fall and glory in the wonderful use of language. I enjoy not only reading her works to myself, but sharing, reading aloud so that others can hear the music also.
Many people cite her poem Cheyenne Mountain as one that holds the key to her thoughts of the area around Colorado Springs. This is true, but by far the one that I think describes Helen herself is her poem Last Words.
Dear hearts, whose love has been so sweet to know,
That I am looking backward as I go,
Am lingering while I haste, and in this rain
Of tears of joy am mingling tears of pain;
Do not adorn with costly shrub, or tree,
Or flower, the little grave which shelters me.
Let the wild wind-sown seeds grow up unharmed,
And back and forth all summer, unalarmed,
Let all the tiny, busy creatures creep;
Let the sweet grass its last year's tangles keep;
And when, remembering me, you come some day
And stand there, speak no praise, but only say,
"How she loved us! 'Twas that which made her dear!"
Those are the words that I shall joy to hear.
I consider Helen a classic poet, but it does not change the depth and joy of her words for today's readers. As the above works show, the skill with which she 'painted' her thoughts is truly amazing. Yes, I am partial to this woman and her work, but I would encourage everyone to take a step back in time and see what so many of her generation knew, Helen Hunt Jackson was a woman of considerable talent that continues to inspire people today.