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Aaron Novick 04-18-2020 09:55 PM

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman
Absolutely criminal that—with the exception of one friend who recommended him long enough ago that I forgot his recommendation completely until, when I excitedly texted him about my new discovery, he gently reminded me—no one told me about this American master of the sonnet.

Four favorites below.

"Dank fens of cedar; hemlock-branches gray"

Dank fens of cedar; hemlock-branches gray
With trees and trail of mosses, wringing-wet;
Beds of the black pitch-pine in dead leaves set
Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;
Remnants of rain and droppings of decay, —
Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let
Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday,
The faded glimmer of a sunshine set?
Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,
The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?
Far from the roar of day, beneath your boughs
Fresh griefs beat tranquilly, and loves and vows
Grow green in your gray shadows, dearer far
Even than all lovely lights and roses are?

"An upper chamber in a darkened house"

An upper chamber in a darkened house,
Where, ere his footsteps reached ripe manhood’s brink,
Terror and anguish were his cup to drink,—
I cannot rid the thought, nor hold it close;
But dimly dream upon that man alone;—
Now though the autumn clouds most softly pass;
The cricket chides beneath the doorstep stone,
And greener than the season grows the grass.
Nor can I drop my lids, nor shade my brows,
But there he stands beside the lifted sash;
And with a swooning of the heart, I think
Where the black shingles slope to meet the boughs,
And–scattered on the roof like smallest snows—
The tiny petals of the mountain-ash.

"And Change, with hurried hand, has swept these scenes"

And Change, with hurried hand, has swept these scenes:
The woods have fallen; across the meadow-lot
The hunter’s trail and trap-path is forgot;
And fire has drunk the swamps of evergreens!
Yet for a moment let my fancy plant
These autumn hills again,—the wild dove’s haunt,
The wild deer’s walk. In golden umbrage shut,
The Indian river runs, Quonecktacut!
Here, but a lifetime back, where falls to-night
Behind the curtained pane a sheltered light
On buds of rose, or vase of violet
Aloft upon the marble mantel set,—
Here, in the forest-heart, hung blackening
The wolf-bait on the bush beside the spring.

"Sometimes I walk where the deep water dips"

Sometimes I walk where the deep water dips
Against the land. Or on where fancy drives
I walk and muse aloud, like one who strives
To tell his half-shaped thought with stumbling lips,
And view the ocean sea, the ocean ships,
With joyless heart: still but myself I find
And restless phantoms of my restless mind:
Only the moaning of my wandering words,
Only the wailing of the wheeling plover,
And this high rock beneath whose base the sea
Has wormed long caverns, like my tears in me:
And hard like this I stand, and beaten and blind,
This desolate rock with lichens rusted over,
Hoar with salt-sleet and chalkings of the birds.

Roger Slater 04-19-2020 10:56 AM

I never heard of this guy before. I agree that there's a high level of craft in his writing, but there's nothing here that moves me or entertains me. Your mileage may vary. But this strikes me as rather stilted and free of genuine emotion. Different strokes for different folks.

Aaron Novick 04-20-2020 09:26 AM

Unsurprisingly, given that I started the thread, I could not disagree more. (Well, I agree about the high level of craft.)

In "Dank fens of cedar," the poem itself is dank and dark and lush, and it's so sensuous I can almost feel myself there, feeling my loves and vows "grow green in your gray shadows." Likewise, the last poem captures perfectly a mood I know only too well: it's an inverted Emersonian rapture ("still but myself I find").

On a purely technical level, I enjoy his varied rhyme schemes, which splash across the expected octet/sestet division (as well as the quatrain/quatrain/quatrain/couplet division) in effective ways. I wish his experimentation on this front had become the "American" sonnet, as recognizable as the Petrarchan and Shakespearian.

Julia Griffin 04-20-2020 11:47 AM

"An Upper Chamber ..."
Good morning! -

I think that second sonnet is very striking. Who is the man - the narrator himself, as a man, remembering himself as a child? It reminds me a bit of the famous verses from In Memoriam ("Dark house, where once again I stand ..."), but it's different and very distinctive ...

R. Nemo Hill 07-06-2020 02:31 PM

I was just reading an appreciation of him by Edmund Wilson in his Civil War book, Patriotic Gore, and ordered a copy (which hasn't arrived yet).


W T Clark 07-06-2020 05:33 PM

The nineteenth century was a difficult time for American poets. Faced by the pervasive influence of England and Romanticism in general, and the force of Emerson and Twain to make a new American idiom, many poets had a tough job. Maybe then, it's a little unfair to longfellow, when faced with such geniuses as Dickinson and Whitman, to destroy much of his critical regard. I mean, he couldn't of known that free verse would become all the range, or that there was a woman with a talent level comparable to a world-class poet busily and quietly drawing up a vast oeuvre. Much American verse — apart from Whitman and Dickinson — from that time comes across as somewhat stilted because the British influence lay heavily on it. I feel sorry for Longfellow, but I'd rather read Dickinson in a flash.
This new poet probably has the same problems. There is for me definitely some stilted language, I agree with as much as that. But the two first sonnets are quite good. Yes, the first is pretty sensual, and the second has hints of Dickinson and Stevens, along with its own distinctive voice.
He seems to me one of the gems among the mostly stagnant American versifiers. A nineteenth century Bradstreet?


Aaron Novick 07-06-2020 06:44 PM

I fully agree that, after Dickinson and Whitman, 19th century American poetry is largely a wasteland. I found Tuckerman while reading the Library of America's 2-volume collection of that century, and he stood out as pretty clearly the best of the rest.

I can see where "stilted" comes from, but I don't really share the sense. He's writing dense, thick poetry from a dense, thick fog of mind—the language suits his purposes. One man's judgment, of course.

Trumbull Stickney was quite fine as well—Stickney and Tuckerman both clearly outclass Longfellow, Poe, and all the other 19th century Americans I'd heard of going into the anthology.

Mark McDonnell 09-10-2020 04:17 PM

I think these are great, Aaron. I agree, they seem not so much stilted as knotty and tangled and searching in a way that seems utterly sincere to the mind that created them. From Wikipedia:


After Harvard, he entered the law school, graduating in 1842, and was admitted to the Suffolk Bar, reading with Edward D. Sohier (1810–1888). He later abandoned the practice of law, saying that it was distasteful. He then devoted himself to the pursuit of his favorite studies, literature, botany and astronomy.

In 1847, he moved to Greenfield, in western Massachusetts due to his love of nature and began a living a life of relative seclusion and retirement, which was considered strange one for a man in his middle twenties.
I like him even more now

Bill Carpenter 09-11-2020 12:00 PM

I like these too. With the predominance of imagery, the poet seems to be making his way, in part, to a "no ideas but in things" kind or art, or a more existential witnessing. Notwithstanding the historic and emotional meanings he finds in things, they seem to preserve an opaque life of their own.

I'm afraid I have to take exception to the disparaging remarks about Longfellow in this thread, and I hope I will be able to deliver on the exception at some point.

Jim Moonan 10-16-2020 09:01 AM

Yikes! These are astoundingly beautiful! He's Frost on steroids (no offense meant to either).
I will make every effort to preserve his name (and these four sonnets) for future reading. I've been looking and looking and looking for a way into the sonnet and I think I've found it. Thanks for that.

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