Friday, January 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: What is Dying - Luther F Beecher

The below poem is read at many funerals. It has been attributed to several sources, but more about that below.

What is Dying?

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze, and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to meet and mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says: “ There! She's gone!” Gone where? Gone from my slght—that is all. She is just as large in mast and bull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to hear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me. and not in her.

And just at that moment when someone at my side says: " There! She's gone!” there are other eyes that are watching for her coming; and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “ There she comes!"

And that is—" dying."

Who wrote this?

This poem, and slight variataions, have been attributed to: Victor Hugo, Col. David Marcus, Margaret M. Stevens, Dr. Harold Blake Walker, Henry Van Dyke, and Bishop Charles Henry Brent. Due to the alleged attribution to Victor Hugo, and my obsession with the French author, I have been researching the origin of the quote for about ten years. In March of 2012 Google Books finally digitized a book from the early 1900s that gives credit where credit is due. 

(Over the years I have conducted some limited research in libraries at a nearby university and a nearby seminary browsing works of Herny Van Dyke and Bishop Brent searching for the poem. However, my research has mostly been restricted to online sources.)

The Northwestern Christian Advocate, July 13, 1904, credits the poem to a Luther F. Beecher. And the text of the poem is as given above.

Who was Luther F. Beecher?

Is he a retired Brookline Massachusetts minister who died in 1903?
A Reverend in South Nyack, NY in 1873?
The Principal of Saratoga Female Seminary in Saratoga, NY in 1858?
(There's no reason these can't be the same individual; They probably are.)

Is it possible that the source above credits the poem incorrectly?

Yes. The Northwestern Christian Advocate does pre-date all the above alleged sources except: Victor Hugo, Bishop Brent, and Henry Van Dyke. If Bishop Brent is the original source, he was young when he composed it, as he was only 42 in 1904. Henry Van Dyke was 52.


Anonymous said...

An interesting little poem. I was unfamiliar with it.

Patricia (Pat) Hartman said...

Luther F Beecher
Is he a retired Brookline Massachusetts minister who died in 1903? Yes

Was he a leader at the Saratoga Female Seminary? Yes
The Principal of Saratoga Female Seminary in Saratoga, NY in 1858?
The Reverend Luther F. Beecher is pictured in a photograph of a newspaper illistration. He was principal of Nyack's Liberty Street School for a short time in 1873-74. In 1872 he was listed as teaching 'Mental and Moral Philosophy' at the Rockland Female Institute in South Nyack.
Luther F Beecher a cousin of Henry Ward Beecher
In 1854, Mr. Carter opened a school for young ladies, in a building now a part of Dr. Strong's establishment.
Soon after, Rev. Luther F. Beecher was associated with him, and in 1856 they built the institution at Temple Grove. It was conducted by Mr. Beecher until 1865, when it was sold to parties from New York for hotel and school purposes combined.
Luther Fitch Beecher
Birthdate: February 25, 1813
Birthplace: Goshen, New Haven, CT
Death: Died 1903
Immediate Family: Son of David Samuel Beecher and Prudence Scammel Beecher
Brother of Charles Morris Beecher; William Augustus Beecher; John Fabian Beecher; Amelia Platt Beecher; Mary Eliza Beecher and 7 others

Occupation: Baptist Clergyman
Establishing a school for young women in Saratoga. In 1855 the Rev. Luther F. Beecher went into business with Mr. Carter, principal of the Saratoga Female Seminary, to establish a school for young women. They constructed a new building designed to house a boarding school during the winter and a hotel in the summer and called it the Saratoga Female Seminary at Temple Grove. By 1860 Mr. Carter was no longer with the school. Beecher continued as its principal for a few years, changing the name to Temple Grove Institute but the school closed. Dr. Charles F. Dowd (1825 – 1904), principal 1868 to 1898
Charles F. Dowd Dowd came to Saratoga Springs to purchase and re-open the Temple Grove school in 1868. Dowd improved the Temple Grove building with new plumbing, steam heat (an innovation in its time for the city), a gymnasium and laboratories. Dowd was a graduate of Yale College (1853). He later completed a Ph.D. in theology from the University of New York. He is known for having originated and promoted the System of Standard Time. Dowd was principal from 1868 to 1898 with his wife. Harriet M. Dowd, (Mount Holyoke, class of 1851). The charter was made permanent in 1879. Dowd retired in 1898. The school continued under his son Franklin D. Dowd until 1900. In 1903 the Seminary building and grounds were purchased by Mrs. Lucy Scribner.
Site of the downtown campus of Skidmore College
Lucy Skidmore Scribner purchased the building and grounds of Temple Grove in April, 1903 for the newly formed Young Women's Industrial Club. In 1911 the Club was re-named the Skidmore School of Arts and in 1922 was chartered as a four-year liberal arts college known from 1922 as Skidmore College. By 1922 the site of Temple Grove had evolved into the center of the downtown campus of Skidmore College. The Temple Grove Seminary building still exists in Saratoga Springs on the corner of Circular and Spring Street.