Sunday, October 30, 2016

Adelaide Anne Procter

In her day, the poet Adelaide Anne Procter (1825-1864) was second in popularity only to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and was a favorite of Queen Victoria. One of her poems, The Lost Chord, became even more well-known after her death when it was set to music as a parlor song by Sir Arthur Sullivan and its sheet music became a Victorian bestseller. 

She reportedly wrote poetry from an early age (her father was also a poet), and her first published poem came out in 1843, in the magazine Heath's Book of Beauty. Ten years later her poems began to appear in Charles Dickens' periodical Household Words. Since Dickens was a family friend, she had used the pseudonym of "Mary Berwick" to avoid any hint of favoritism, and he didn't discover her true identity for nearly two years. Eventually, her poems would make up about one-sixth of the verse that was published in Household Words throughout its lifetime.

In 1851 Adelaide and her sister joined the Roman Catholic Church and her poems start to reflect Catholic themes and theology, with a particular interest in the Virgin Mary. Her third book of poetry, A Chaplet of Verses (1862), was published to benefit the Providence Row Night Refuge for homeless women and children, the first such shelter in England to be sponsored by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. Many of the poems in this book deal with Christian responsibility toward the poor. In the introduction to the book, she recounts the origin of the shelter two years earlier, describes its workings, solicits additional donations to support its work, and prays for its continued success:

May the Mother who wandered homeless through inhospitable Bethlehem, and the Saint who was a beggar and an outcast upon the face of the earth, watch over this Refuge for the poor and desolate, and obtain from the charity of the faithful the aid which it so sorely needs.

She did not, perhaps, intend for her poetry to be sung, but hymnal editors started to include some of her poems in their collections. Today's lesser-known Eucharistic hymn also comes from A Chaplet of Verses.

Give us our daily Bread,
O God, the bread of strength!
For we have come to know
The needs we have at length.
We need your Presence here,
Your people must be fed;
Give us your grace, O God,
To be our daily Bread.

Give us our daily Bread
To cheer our fainting soul;
The feast of comfort, God,
And peace, to make us whole:
For we are sick of tears,
The useless tears we shed;
Now give us comfort, God,
To be our daily Bread.

Give us our daily Bread,
The bread of angels, Lord,
By us, so many times,
Broken, betrayed, adored:
From grace and comfort comes
The feast that Jesus spread:
Give him — our life, our all —
To be our daily Bread!

Adelaide Ann Procter, 1862; alt.
Tune: DENBY (
Charles J. Dale, 1904

Procter considered her philanthropic deeds to be much more important than her poetic words. The "useless tears we shed" in the second stanza above may reflect her own preference for action over contemplation or regret. A long and interesting poem in A Chaplet of Verses titled The Homeless Poor lays out the conflict between words and deeds in a dialogue between two angels talking about how best to meet the needs of the destitute. That one is called the Angel of Prayers and the other the Angel of Deeds may give you a clue to the final determination.

She fully demonstrated her own commitment to deeds over words, contracting tuberculosis during her work with the poor of London.  She suffered with the disease for fifteen months before her death on February 2, 1864 (coincidentally, the Feast of the Purification, which she called Mary's "first feast" of the year in her poem Christmas Flowers).

Eight Years Ago: Christopher Wordsworth 

Seven Years Ago: Adelaide Anne Procter 

Six Years Ago: Adelaide Anne Procter

Two Years Ago: Christopher Wordsworth

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