Friday, March 5, 2010

More Voices Found: Lucy Larcom

Lucy Larcom (March 5, 1824 - April 17, 1893) was born in the seaside town of Beverly, Massachusetts into a family of eight daughters. Her father, a retired sea captain, died when the girls were young, and her mother moved the family to the town of Lowell, where she opened a boarding house for workers at the local cotton mills.

Lucy, like her sisters, worked in the mills herself for ten years, starting at age 11. A brief description of life in the mill can be
found here, but she wrote a far more lasting account in the autobiographical A New England Girlhood (1889) her most well-known book, which is still in print today.

During the time Lucy worked at the mill, the girls there formed a kind of literary club called the Improvement Circle, where they read books and wrote poems and stories, which they published in a magazine, the Lowell Offering, said to be the first American magazine written solely by women. The Offering came to the attention of the poet
John Greenleaf Whittier, who took an interest in Lucy's work and became a lifelong friend.

After her employment at the mill, Larcom attended the Monticello Ladies' Seminary in Illinois, earning her tuition by also teaching some of the younger classes. She returned to Massachusetts where she taught at the Wheaton Female Seminary (now
Wheaton College) in Norton. Poor health caused her to give up teaching, and she became the editor of Our Young Folks, a magazine for children.

Larcom published several volumes of poetry during her life, and edited some collections by her friend Whittier. Several of her verses on religious themes have been used as hymns. Probably the most widely-known of these was Draw thou my soul, O Christ, but this one caught my eye for today. It first appeared in her book Wild Roses of Cape Ann (1880), and may have been first used as a hymn in the Song-Hymnal of Praise and Joy (1924), a collection edited by Pluma Brown which included twelve hymns by Larcom, perhaps more than any other hymnal.

Into the ocean of thy peace,
Almighty One, my thoughts would flow;
Bid their unrestful murmurings cease,
And thy great calmness let me know.

The world is bright and glad in thee!
No hopeless gloom its face enshrouds;
Joy lights the mountains, thrills the sea,
And weaves bright tints through all the clouds.

O God, how beautiful is life,
Since thou its soul and sweetness art!
How dims its trifling fret and strife
In thy all-harmonizing heart!

One soul with thee forevermore,
Borne high beyond the gulfs of death --
A joy that ripples on thy shore --
With life's vast hymn I blend my breath.

Lucy Larcom, 1880
Thomas Tallis, 1560

By the time she wrote this text Larcom was living once more in Beverly; its title in Wild Roses of Cape Ann was "A Sea-Side Hymn." In Pluma Brown's hymnal it is matched to the tune ERNAN by Lowell Mason, but I chose the older tune by Tallis for its somewhat gentler mood (and because it's more likely to be sung again with a better-known tune).

P.S. I know there are several new readers here in recent months, and you might be curious about the More Voices Found heading used on the last two days. It's an ongoing theme at CWS and I've written about it in two previous entries: here and here. And if you click on the tag below you can find several of the reclaimed works by women.

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