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.

1 comment:

poemblaze said...

An interesting little poem. I was unfamiliar with it.