Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mother - by Willa Van Every (1890-1916)

Here's a poem I discovered in a box of my maternal grandmother's. A poem written by a sister of hers. Willa only lived to the age of 26.

Mother - by Willa Ann Van Every (1890-1916)

When Sammie cuts his fingers with a case-knife in the shed
'Tis mother wraps a bandage on and puts her boy to bed.

And when Evva dons her gown to visit in the town
The same deft hands arrange the lace and smooth the ruffles down;

When Pa comes home most tired to death and takes his easy chair,
'Tis mother brings his slippers and pats him on the hair;

It's mother here and mother there: "Where is that book I brought?"
"The hanger on my coat is off!" "Where are those pens I bought?"

Now Myrtle cannot find her hat -- she left it on the floor --
And grandpa wants the liniment; the butcher's at the door.

Poor Mrs. Means is sick a bed; Miss Newwed needs advice
About the way to boil an egg -- she never could cook rice!

The sociable is shy a cake; the church bazaar is short --
Will mother help to run a booth or serve with Mrs. Bort?

From morn til night she moves about, precision is her tread --
No wonder mother sometimes faints, and goes worn out to bed!

Her days are marked by kindred ills and putting things to right;
And close, at last, with counsel wise, and "tucking in" at night.

Ah, mother, purest of the pure; unselfish in her love,
May God reward and comfort thee with blessings from above,

And may thy ministrations fall on hearts that knowing worth,
And praise thee: "Mother, queen of home and angel of the earth!"

And when thy sun of life has set, below the western crest,
May angels crown thee with the days, of everlasting rest!"

"From Willa"


Willa mentions three of her siblings in the poem: Samuel, Myrtle, and Evelyn -- Myrtle being my grandmother. On the 1900 census a few homes away I found a family that might have the surname Bort, and another the surname Mien (Means?). I can't find a Newwed. (Is this a description as opposed to a name?)

There's no date on the poem, but I believe it was probably written about 1905. Willa would have been 15 in 1905, 'Sammie' would have been 19, and 'Evva' 13. Myrtle was born in 1900, so it has to be after then.

How reliable is the poem? Did her mother help out with sociables and church bazaars? Did they have an easy chair - or did that just rhyme well with 'hair'? A poem isn't the same as an official record, and it's not uncommon for young poets to 'stretch' for rhymes.

The most confusing part of the poem is the reference to her 'grandpa.' Both her grandfathers (Ebenezer Denyer and Samuel Van Every) died before she was born. Her grandmother, Sarah Hartley Denyer did remarry, and it's possible the grandfather referenced is her step-grandfather George Foster.

There are a few lines in the poem that strike a chord of memory suggesting she's borrowed a few phrases from other sources. The lines that reverberate the most for me are "It's mother here and mother there." (though I'm pretty sure the original had a different word than 'mother' which makes it very hard to Google) And "Grandpa wants the liniment; the Butcher's at the door." Once again, there's been some word replacement.

The rhythm of the poem is very similar to Edgar Guest, though I'm not sure how well-known he was prior to 1916 (which is when his collection, Heap o' Livin' was published.) I think his popularity came later. Someone I showed the poem to suggested it sounded a bit like James Whitcomb Riley, which better fits the dates, though I still can't find the originals that are causing this sense of poetic deja vu.

note: I am interested in finding the original poem(s) because that would indicate the poets that Willa had read, and patterned her poem after, revealing more about her. It's certainly not a question about originality, as there is a lot of personal detail.


Terry Thornton said...

John, What a nice little poem --- and so full of history and family. I do hope it is in the hand of Willa rather than typed or set. What a treasure --- but if in her own handwriting even the more so.

I wouldn't worry much about the poetic deja vu you seem concerned about. Of course there are echos of other poems throughout Willa's --- but hers is about your family and she names names. So if she patterned her lines on the lines of others? --- they are priceless.

Thanks for sharing this excellent example of family history in the words of a creative writer from the past.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, MS

Anonymous said...

Yes, the above is a transcription. The original is in her handwriting. I suspect it was originally written as a Mother's Day gift, which ended up with my grandmother when their mother died.