By Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co, 1890.
|Click Here to see all Editions and Covers|
Oh, you who read some song that I have sung,
What know you of the soul from when it sprung?
Dost dream the poet ever speaks aloud
His secret thought unto the listening crowd?
Go take the murmuring sea-shell from the shore.
You have its shape, it's color -- and no more.
It tells not one of those vast mysteries
That lie beneath the surface of the seas.
Our songs are shells, cast out by waves of thought;
Here, take them at your pleasure; but think not
You've seen beneath the surface of the waves,
Where lie our shipwrecks and our coral caves.
Among the twelve hundred poems which have emanated from my too prolific pen there are some forty or fifty which treat entirely of that emotion which has been denominated "the grand passion" -- love. A few of those are of an extremely fiery character.
When I had issued my collection known as "Maurine, and Other Poems," I purposely omitted all save two or three of these. I had been frequently accused of writing only sentimental verses; and I took pleasure and pride in presenting to the public a volume which contained more than one hundred poems upon other than sentimental topics. But no sooner was the book published than letters of regret came to me from friends and strangers, and from all quarters of the globe, asking why this or that love poem had been omitted. These regrets were repeated to me by so many people that I decided to collect and issue these poems in a small volume to be called "Poems of Passion." By the word "Passion" I meant the "grand passion" of love. To those who take exception to the title of the book I would suggest an early reference to Webster's definitions of the word.
Since this volume has caused so much agitation throughout the entire country, and even sent a tremor across the Atlantic into the Old World, I beg leave to make a few statements concerning some of the poems.
The excitement of mingled horror and amaze seems to center
upon four poems, namely: "Delilah," "Ad Finem," "Conversion," and Communism.
"Delilah" was written and first published in 1877. I had been reading history, and became stirred by the power of such women as Aspasia and Cleopatra over such grand men as Antony, Socrates, and Pericles. Under the influence of this feeling I dashed off "Delilah," which I meant to be an expression of the powerful fascination of such a woman upon the memory of a man, even as he neared the hour of death. If the poem is immoral, then the history which inspired it is immoral. I consider it my finest effort.
"Ad Finem" was written in 1878. I think there are few women of strong character and affections who cannot, from either experience or observation, understand the violent intensity of regret and despair which sometimes takes possession of the human heart after the loss by death, fate, or the force of circumstances, of some one very dear.
In "Ad Finem" I intended to give voice to this very common experience of almost every heart. Many noble women have since told me that the poem was true to life. It is not, as many people have wilfully or stupidly construed it, a bit of poetical advice to womankind to "barter the joys of Paradise" for "just one kiss." it is simply an illustration of a moment of turbulent anguish and vehement despair, such moments of unreasoning and overwhelming sorrow as the most moral people may experience during a lifetime.
In "Communism" I endeavored to use a new simile in illustrating
that somewhat hackneyed theme of the supremacy of Love over Reason; and
simply to carry out my idea I represented the violent uprising of the Communist
emotions against King Reason.
"Conversion" was suggested to me by the remark of a gentleman friend. In speaking to me of the woman he loved, he said: "I have always been a skeptic regarding the existence of heaven, but I am so much happier in my love for this woman than I ever supposed it possible for me to be on earth that I begin to believe that the tales of heavenly raptures may be true."
I embodied his idea in the poem which has brought, with a few others, so much censure and criticism upon this volume, although it contains nearly seventy-five other selections quite irreproachable in character, however faulty they may be in construction.
It is impossible to pursue a successful literary career and follow the advice of all one's "best friends." I have received severe censure from my orthodox friends for writing liberal verses. My liberal friends condemn my devout and religious poems as "aiding superstition." My early temperance verses were pronounced "fanatical trash" by others.
With all due thanks and appreciation for the kind motives which interest so many dear friends in my career, I yet feel compelled to follow the light which my own intellect and judgment cast upon my way, rather than any one of the many conflicting rays which other minds would lend me.
Poems of Passion