Estimated reading time: 24 minute(s)
For today’s post, I will examine the poetic works of Charlotte Becker, a poet who was very active in the early twentieth century. I had originally planned to use one of her poems for a short article during the week, but I decided to work on a longer piece after learning a bit more about her. Due to the volume of her content published in newspapers, I may follow up with subsequent articles on her writing.
- Who Was Charlotte Becker?
- Charlotte Becker’s Poems
- “Lincoln” (1915)
- “Progress” (1909)
- “Arden” (1904)
- “Alchemy” (reprinted in 1929)
- “A Child of the Woods” (1904)
- “The Lindens” (reprinted in 1919)
- “The Cost” (1903)
- “The Balance” (1924)
- “Camaraderie” (1904)
- “Pierrot Goes” (re-published in 1922)
- “Pierrot” (1904)
- “The Cobbler of Passy” (1918)
- “Afterwards” (1902)
- “Echo” (June 1916)
- “The Shadows” (1906)
- “Sympathy” (1904)
- “The Difference” (1909)
- “Love’s Fetters” (1930)
- “The Reckoning” (1904)
- “Wisdom” (1912)
- “Enchantment” (1904)
- “The Lost Dream” (1909)
- “Requital” (1907)
- “The Singer” (1909)
- “A Street Song” (1904)
- “An Old French Garden” (1926)
- “A Young Girl” (1921)
- “A Changeling” (1913)
- “A Garden in Greece” (1904)
- “Imagination” (re-published in 1904)
- “Life” (1911)
- “The Failures” (1908)
- “Envoy” (1904)
- Final Thoughts
Who Was Charlotte Becker?
I had little trouble finding Charlotte Becker’s work, but great difficulty discovering anything about Charlotte Becker the person. From my surveying of Project Gutenberg and some basic web searches, I ascertained that she was very active in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately for my research, her poems were usually published without any introduction to the poet.
Short Biography in The Poets’ Lincoln
There was, however, one exception. Becker was published in a 1915 book titled The Poets’ Lincoln: Tributes in Verse to the Martyred President. Before printing her poem, aptly titled “Lincoln,” the book included a short introduction:
Charlotte Becker was born and has always lived in Buffalo, New York. She was educated in private schools and in Europe, and has written poems for Harper’s Magazine, The Metropolitan, The American, Life, etc., besides a number of songs which have been set to music by Amy Woodfords-Finden, C.B. Hawley, Whitney Coombs and others.
Although the biography does not say where she was educated in Europe, her poems give me strong reason to believe that some of her education took place in France.
1946 Obituary in The New York Times
On February 5, 1946, the New York Times published a short Associated Press obituary for Charlotte Becker, who had died earlier that day. The similarity of the text to the biography of her in The Poets’ Lincoln three decades earlier confirms that it is the same Charlotte Becker. The post is available to New York Times subscribers.
According to the obituary, Becker was 73 at the time of her death, meaning that she was born either in 1872 or early 1873. Becker lived in Buffalo at the time of her death, just as she had for her entire life through 1915.
The obituary notes that Becker was a poet, amateur playwright, and book reviewer for the Buffalo Evening News, the latter role she served in for a quarter-century.
According to the AP, Becker wrote more than 300 poems, and some of her poems were set to music (consistent with the 1915 account). Becker wrote more than 40 plays, “most of which were produced by local dramatic groups.”
Charlotte Becker’s Poems
Charlotte Becker wrote more than 300 poems. After executing a search on Elephind, a powerful search engine for old newspapers – much of Becker’s work remains discoverable with a bit of effort.
In this article, I will examine and reprint 34 of Becker’s poems – all drawn from anthologies and newspapers. The list is not intended to be comprehensive, but in light of my finding that Becker had a particular interest in a few select recurring themes, I think that my selection provides a broadly representative sample of her poetic work. The article is not, however, entirely comprehensive, and I may follow up with another article in the future if I discover additional poems of particular interest or learn more about the poet.
I will note that despite Becker’s long career, most of her poems appear to have been published between 1901-1910, with a good number more between 1911-1920. It appears to me that she did not write many poems after 1920 – perhaps due to her focus on other work.
The poems are organized in such a manner as to make reading through them feel coherent. It is impossible to order them chronologically because it is not certain when many of the poems were first published, I tried to sort them generally by topic and theme in order to show how Becker approached the same ideas in different ways. A small number of the poems were unique in that they were not markedly thematically similar to other poems in the Becker corpus.
A Note on “The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo”
Several of the poems that I am including in this article come from a poetry anthology titled The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. The collection was published in 1904, and the poems therein thus represent some of Becker’s early work.
A Note on Transcriptions
WordPress’s block editor is not friendly to transcribing poetry. Nevertheless, I did my best to replicate the formatting of the poem whence I retrieved it – although I generally changed the spacing for semicolons. In all cases, my rules for setting indents to match the original are constant. However, our site still does not display every poem as it originally appeared. With each poem, you will find a link to the original that I attempted to copy.
A Note on Photos and Pictures
All photos and pictures in this post are for illustrative purposes only. Nne of the Becker’s poems were published with illustrations, and I found no photo of the author herself.
I begin our examination of Charlotte Becker’s poetry career with “Lincoln.” As I noted above, this poem appeared in the 1915 Lincoln poetry anthology, The Poets’ Lincoln. Becker’s poem was one of the fifteen in the anthology named “Lincoln.”
“Lincoln” by Charlotte Becker
Gaunt, rough-hewn face, that bore the furrowed signs Of days of conflict, nights of agony, And still could soften to gentler lines Of one whose tenderness and truth went free Beyond the pale of any small confines To understand and help humanity. Wise, steadfast mind, that grasped a people's need, Counting nor pain nor sacrifice too great To keep the noble purpose of his creed Strong against all buffeting of Fate, Though no least solace sprang of work or deed For him, since triumph came at last—too late Brave, weary heart, that beat uncomforted Beneath its heavy load of grief and care; That tears of blood for every battle shed, Yet called on mirth to help his comrades bear The waiting hours of anguish, and that sped With loyal haste each breath of balm to share Only his people's griefs were his; no part Had he within their joy; nor his the toll To know the love that made rebellion start, Spurred hosts unnumbered to a higher goal; That his great soul should cleanse a nation's heart His martyred heart awake a nation's soul
Charlotte Becker’s Progress was published in the 1909 issue of Harper’s Magazine. While it is available on Harper’s website, only subscribers can download it. I am not a subscriber and I do not know any subscribers. However, the poem was not only published in Harper’s. Progress was re-published in the 1918 poetry anthology, The Melody of Earth: An Anthology of Garden and Nature Poems From Present-Day Poets. Fortunately for us, The Melody of Earth is available on Project Gutenberg. You will find Progress below.
“Progress” by Charlotte Becker
There seems no difference between To-day and yesterday— The forest glimmers just as green, The garden's just as gay. Yet, something came and something went Within the night's chill gloom: An old rose fell, her fragrance spent, A new rose burst in bloom.
Charlotte Becker’s springtime, May-specific poem Arden, was published in Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. Instead of focusing on change like Progress, Arden keys in on something eternal in the annual commencement of springtime. Its vivid descriptions of nature and spring in particular are second to none in the Becker poems I have reviewed – if only I had known about it when I wrote my spring content compendium. The conclusion of the first stanza about the wind and the anemone – clever since “anemone” means “wind-flower” – is one of the prettier sequences you will find in this article.
“Arden” by Charlotte Becker
There is a wood wherein the thrushes fling Their very hearts away in melody; Where dryads have a home in every tree, And wood-gods haunt the shadow, murmuring Fantastic lures; where tawny lilies swing Their fragrant bells, and bees hum drowsily; And breezes woo the pale anemone With tenderness that breathes the soul of Spring. Here Summer may not pass, nor Autumn rest His blighting hand, nor harsh winds wend their way; Beneath those boughs the wonder of May Shall never fade, nor Love deny his quest Of happiness, nor beauty lose its truth; For Arden's forest is immortal youth!
“Alchemy” (reprinted in 1929)
Alchemy was originally published in Harper’s Bazar. Among the shortest of the poems in this sample – it serves as an autumnal complement to the earlier Arden. Short as it is, it reads as well as any poem in the collection. I found it reprinted in the October 15, 1929, Daily Illini.
“Alchemy” by Charlotte Becker
October clambers up the hills, And, as her light feet touch the sod, From every crack and crevice spills A magic wreath of golden-rod
“A Child of the Woods” (1904)
A Child of the Woods has a similar seasonal motif to Progress and Arden, but with a focus on spring. Yet another poem that may have to be reserved for a 2022 spring content round-up (see 2021). In a separate post, I covered a poem titled “May” that, like A Child of the Woods, referenced the bobolink as a sign of the beginning of spring (scroll down to find May).
“A Child of the Woods” by Charlotte Becker
HE knew the first sweet wood-note of the thrush, The first pale wind-flower hidden in the grass; The little shrines where fire-flies saying mass Swing low their censers through the marsh-land's bush; The quickened sound before the poignant bush Which preludes charges at old earth's cuirass— That magic moment when the seasons pass And all live things to newer promise rush. He loved the bob-o-link's familiar call, The friendly clover nodding to the bees; The tiger-lilies flaunting, gay and tall, Their motley coats of spotted harmonies; And when the night lay on the forests grim, He heard the tree-tops croon a song for him.
“The Lindens” (reprinted in 1919)
The Lindens was first published in the New York Sun. It is one of the poems that stands out as a bit unique from the others – but its description of the moonlight reminded me of A Child of the Woods. I found it re-printed in The Evening Public Ledger – April 8, 1919.
“The Lindens” by Charlotte Becker
The lindens step so gently up the hill, Like leisured, stately dames of long ago. Waving their fan-leaved branches to and fro, They gossip of the rushes and the rill Whether the breeze has paid the rose's bill. For perfumes which he lavished on a bee. And if the linnet in the locust tree Trills love songs to the pink or daffodil. And when the silver moon slips slowly by To keep her tryst with some awaiting cloud Their green procession heaves an envious sigh And vows she isn't maidenly or proud. * * * * * * And when it grows too dark to spy or peep The lindens softly yawn and go to sleep
“The Cost” (1903)
The Cost was published in the February 1903 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Similarly to Progress, Harper’s only allows subscribers to view the poem. Fortunately, also similarly to Progress, The Cost found a home in an anthology that is not subject to paywall. Becker’s poem about trade-offs in life was re-published in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo.
There are some thematic similarities between The Cost and Progress for discerning readers to take note of.
“The Cost” by Charlotte Becker
TO-DAY is only won from yesterday; The flower must lose its sweet to dower the bee; The breeze is gathered in the great wind's way; The river bears its largess to the sea. And we must pay for laughter with our tears; Mint coin of sorrow for each cherished breath Of happiness; buy knowledge with the years; And give our lives to know the peace of death!
“The Balance” (1924)
The Balance is a later take from Becker on the central idea of The Cost. I found it in the April 25, 1924, Southern Mail.
“The Balance by Charlotte Becker”
If the world were always gay, Mirth to-morrow, jest to-day; All delight without alloy— What would be the use of joy? If the world were always sad, Care and grief the meed we had, Doubt and fear the only gain— What would be the use of pain? If the world were always fair, Ever on each street and square, Bloom below and song above— What would be the use of love?
Camaraderie is one of the shortest poems included in my survey – but it features an interesting juxtaposition similar to some of those presented in The Cost, albeit with a different focus. Its insight is one of the keenest of the bunch, despite its brevity.
“Camaraderie” by Charlotte Becker
To share what eyes have seen and ears have heard, To know each other's language; and to feel The larger meaning of the spoken word, The subtler nearness silences reveal.
“Pierrot Goes” (re-published in 1922)
Pierrot Goes was re-published in a 1922 anthology of World War I poems titled Great Poems of the World War. The anthology notes that it was re-printed with permission after having been originally published in Everybody’s Magazine. I did not find the original magazine.
Additional reading: I found a similarly named poem about World War I with a different emphasis titled Pierrot Goes to War by Gabrielle Elliot.
“Pierrot Goes” by Charlotte Becker
UP among the chimneys tall Lay the garret of Pierrot. Here came trooping to his call Fancies no one else might know; Here he bade the spiders spin Webs to hide his treasure in. Here he heard the night wind croon Slumber-songs for sleepyheads; Here he spied the spendthrift moon Strew her silver on the leads; Here he wove a coronet Of quaint lyrics for Pierrette. But the bugles blew him down To the fields with war beset; Marched him past the quiet town, Past the window of Pierrette; Comrade now of sword and lance, Pierrot gave his dreams to France.
Pierrot was published in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. The mime in Pierrot, unlike the mime in Pierrot Goes, did not have to brave the trenches of the First World War. The melancholy mime in Pierrot received the dearest welcome from those who loved nothing more than to see his act.
I am curious if Becker’s interest in Pierrot stems from her having been educated in Europe, but I did not find any direct connection in my brief research.
“Pierrot” by Charlotte Becker
The Muse, his foster-mother, bids him wear A merry face—although the skies are gray, And night should bring him but a nest of hay Within the new-mown fields. "For earth is fair," Laughs she, "and hearts lie open wide as air To him who cheers them." So, from day to day, In gay grotesques he sings upon his way! Alike at peasant hearth or palace stair. All through the sun-stained countries of the South The people know and love this white-frocked mime Whose eyes speak sadness, but whose laughing mouth Brings only maddest whimsy or glad rhyme As plea for shelter—yet, from high or low, None meets a dearer welcome than Peirrot!
“The Cobbler of Passy” (1918)
Becker’s interest in France revealed itself again in The Cobbler of Passy. The piece describes the day in the life of a cobbler and his daughter in Passy, France (part of Paris). Nothing extraordinary happens – a short piece on a day in a life. I found in in the September 28, 1918 Sausalito News. Careful readers will note a reference to the still-ongoing war in the poem.
“The Cobbler of Passy” by Charlotte Becker
He warms his hands above the tiny blaze His daughter kindles; knots his nimble thread, And greets each customer with nodding head And lively question, "Heels of Louis Seize?— 'Tis not for me to judge your mis- tress' ways. Finish, dull black? At Vaux the Due fell dead Leading a charge? Stage pumps of vivid read, Monsieur?—a curious order now- adays. "Mon capitaine, a military boot, Stanch soled, the winter trenches to withstand? Yes, yes, madame, brown tops to match your suit? Mimi, a silver slipper you demand? Death, makeshift, honor, use and vanity— A day's work ended, pull the shades, Marie."
As you will find, Charlotte Becker wrote often about love – usually in a melancholy way. I am not entirely sure if Afterwards is her earliest extant love poem, but having found it published in The Capricornian on April 19, 1902, it is the poem with the earliest definitive publication date in this article. It offers the most concrete descriptions of all of Becker’s poems about love.
“Afterwards” by Charlotte Becker
I thought I had forgotten— buried deep— Old joys, old memories, and never pain; I thought that I should never feel again Wild heart-throbs nor my startled pulses leap To hear your step, nor wake from hard- won sleep, To knowledge of your look and voice as plain As in the hours they doled me loss or gain— I thought love died when trust I could not keep But when once more I chanced to see your face I know I reckoned falsely ; everything That I thought done with hurried back to rout My fancied peace. Ah, fate! are time and space And broken with no barriers? Must I bring My very life to blot this loving out?
“Echo” (June 1916)
“Echo,” a poem about love’s farewell, was published in the June 2016 issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.
“Echo” by Charlotte Becker
LOVE said farewell, yet not with moan or tears Did he recall the gladness of the years We walked together. With a little laugh— Ah, but no weeping ever could be half So sad!—out from my open door he went, His bowed wings torn, his breathing slow and spent. And, though I know not whither he is gone, I hear his laughter from the dusk till dawn!
“The Shadows” (1906)
The “wing” motif in love poems pre-dated Echo – as we find in the 1906 poem, The Shadows. I found this poem in the August 7, 1906 Los Angeles Herald.
“The Shadows” by Charlotte Becker
A joy danced gaily down the way, Light as a wind blown leaf. Ah! strange, that as she passed, there fell The shadow of a grief. A Grief crept sadly down the way, Scorned as Love's broken toy. Yet, from her drooping wings, she cast The shadow of a joy.
Sympathy was published in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. Therein, Becker’s narrator describes only learning how fair and beautiful the world is when the world is gray.
“Sympathy” by Charlotte Becker
We laughed together, love and I, When all the world was bright; We mocked at pain, and thought we spanned The measure of delight. We wept together, love and I, When all the world was gray; And yet, we had not known how fair The world was—till that day!
“The Difference” (1909)
The Difference was originally published in the September 1909 edition of Cosmopolitan. Here, Becker states perhaps most expressly that sharing in one’s sorrow and defeat is love. I found this poem republished in the May 3, 1910, Durham and Gloucester Advertiser.
“The Difference” by Charlotte Becker
With one, he only shared what joy He had to spend In hours of jest and merriment— That was his friend. But unto one, he brought, to share The gain theirof, His hours of sorrow and defeat— That was his love!
“Love’s Fetters” (1930)
Written after Sympathy, Love’s Fetters engages with the same ideas about love showing its value when times are difficult – but with more concrete imagery. I found it reprinted in the July 10, 1930 edition of The Albany Advertiser.
“Love’s Fetters” by Charlotte Becker
When two have tasted joy together Their gain shall be their loss; Love only binds them with a tether As light as wreathed moss When two have tasted grief to- gether Their loss shall be their gain; Love binds them so, nor wind nor wheather Has power to break the chain.
“The Reckoning” (1904)
Love was personified again in The Reckoning, a poem published in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. Becker continued with her interest in costs and trade-offs, noting the suffering that Love brought, but also what it taught.
“The Reckoning” by Charlotte Becker
Love taught me all I knew of bliss, Love taught me all I knew of pain— Lured me with laughter and disdain, Then made me captive with his kiss. He vowed no pleasure I should miss, Then swift he wounded me again— Love taught me all I knew of bliss; Love taught me all I knew of pain. So deep we sounded grief's abyss My heart to beg release was fain; Ah, would my pleading had been in vain, For now I but remember this: Love taught me all I know of bliss!
Wisdom appears to be one of Becker’s (relatively) later love poems – I found it in the March 28, 1912, The Worker. Listed in the “Verses for Women” section of the paper, Becker listed the three lessons that women learn from love.
“Wisdom” by Charlotte Becker
Three tasks Love set me ere he went away, And, though he should return nor soon nor late, Yet, must I learn his lesson day by day— These three: To dream, to suffer, and to wait.
Enchantment takes a different path than most of Becker’s love poems. Becker typically focuses on love after the fact or the things that one learns while in love. Enchantment, conversely, describes falling in love – with the motif of an ambrosial potion. I found it in the January 6, 1904, The Lamar Register.
“Enchantment” by Charlotte Becker
Love brewed a potion for my lips to drink, Compounded of strange spices, subtly blent. And poppy-seeds, whereon the sun had spent His lavish gold; pomegranates from the brink Of Southern streams; and roses, dewy pink As early sunset. Wistfully, he bent And bade me not refuse his sacrament, Nor from the wonder of its fragrance shrink. I drank and broke the goblet at Love's shrine To conscecrate my service. Unafraid I leaned to take his kiss in fee for mine. And met his eyes . . . One some far world are laid Shadows and dull despair and misery, I know them not—Love brewed a drink for me!
“The Lost Dream” (1909)
The Lost Dream reads more whimsically than most of Becker’s poems – despite the subject matter. Searching in vain for something lost that she cannot describe, love reveals that what she’s looking for is in his eyes. The poem was originally published in Puck, but I found it re-published in the September 27, 1909 Herald Democrat.
“The Lost Dream” by Charlotte Becker
I searched through all the garden close, I questioned ev'ry budded rose, Asked of each buzzing bumblebee Plead with the silver willow tree. But where it vanished none could say— The dream that I lost yesterday— Till, when he heard my wistful sighs, Love showed it me within his eyes!
One of Becker’s most down-to-Earth poems on the subject of love – wherein the narrator discovers something ineffably sad as she looks upon the grave of her lover under a wind-swept tree. I found the poem published in the September 19, 1907, Canon City Record.
“Requital” by Charlotte Becker
There was a time I thought, dear, That you gave all to me— Thy dawns and tender twilights, And days of melody. But now that you are lying Beneath the wind-swept rue, My lonely heart discovers That I gave all to you.
“The Singer” (1909)
Becker’s The Singer, like Peirrot, is an example of when doing something with apparent joy can be a mask for internal sadness. I found this poem in the August 28, 1909 Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal.
“The Singer” by Charlotte Becker
I shelter me behind my song From grief and care and pain That all unlovely things may throng Across my way in vain. Gay tunes I sing for those who weep, Sad tunes for passers by; And ever on the road I keep, Be rough or smooth the way. What matter if no hearth be laid To warm my weary feet And if there be no wistful maid To give me welcome sweet? Since ne'er so lonely are the hours Nor paths so steep and long But what I find through sun or showers A shelter in my song!
“A Street Song” (1904)
A Street Song found a home in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. An elderly mountebank attracts a crowd with a song about a lost love. He likely did not expect that his song would find an answer, but the poem offers a surprise at the end.
“A Street Song” by Charlotte Becker
He knew no call of hearth or home— A strolling piper, old and gray, Who cheered his fellow mountebanks With tune and jest the livelong day; And often one sad little song With this refrain they heard him play— "Ah Colinette, Do not forget!" One noon, within a dusty street, They spread their cloth of scarlet down, Where harlequins should leap and dance Betwixt the antics of the clown; And all the while the piper played As if a spell rose from the town— "Ah Colinette, Do not forget!" The village folk drew close about, And on the outskirt of the throng A work old woman bent her head And dreamt of words unuttered long; Then, scarce more loud than passing wind, She breathed an answer to the song— "Ah Colinette Could not forget!"
“An Old French Garden” (1926)
Like A Street Song before it, An Old French Garden references past love. Here, instead of the refrain of a lover finding an answer, the whispers of lovers past – in their joy and woe – lovingly haunt an old French Garden that was once haunted by the lovers themselves. I found it reprinted in the April 10, 1926 edition of Australia’s Queensland Figaro.
“An Old French Garden” by Charlotte Becker
It comforts one like some old lilting air— This garden, where each tree and bloom seems set In lyric cadence, like a triolet Or rondeau or ballade debonair; The fountain on the formal, grassy square Accompanies with tinkles sweet and faint; And that they, too, join in some measure quaint, Even the pleached alleys seem aware. In seems a place where loves of long ago Must creep back through the dusk and linger in— Perchance their ghostly voices, wistful; thin, Told to the leaves and flowers their joy and woe, And that the garden's haunting melody Repeats once more these lovers' litany.
“A Young Girl” (1921)
Many of Becker’s poems describe the tension between the pleasant and painful experiences in life, and the idea that things come with trade-offs. Far from those takes which come with experience and adulthood, A Young Girl describes a young girl timidly coming into her own with a distinctly spring motif. It was originally published in the New York Herald, but the version I am using was re-published in the May 30, 1921 edition of Colorado’s Herald Democrat.
“A Young Girl” by Charlotte Becker
Her mind is like a fragrant garden where Tulips and hyacinths and jonquils grow, And mignonette and pansies row on row, And bluebells play a little tinkling air That columbines may caper; and proud, fair Camellias guard a marble-bordered pool Of golden-hearted lilies, pale and cool, That float deep hidden from noonday's glare. Her dreams along the garden pathways dance— Strays birds and bees in search of scent and sweet, Timid as frail, awakening romance That flutters like a moth about her feet— And her faint smile holds all the won- ders of Spring's first libation unto life and love.
“A Changeling” (1913)
Published in the January 19, 1913 San Francisco Call, A Changeling reads something like the poem of the young girl from Becker’s later poem, A Young Girl – if the young girl had lost her life as she reached spring. However, the language of this particular poem suggests that the girl in question died very shortly after being born.
“A Changeling” by Charlotte Becker
ABOVE a lonely grave, there grew A slender rose-tree, white and fair, And only birds and breezes knew A little maiden slumbered there. So short her joyful space of hours, So few, so sweep her simple woes, Earth felt her kinship with the flowers. And changed her heart into a rose.
“A Garden in Greece” (1904)
A Garden in Greece was published in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. While the chorus of ancient Greece rests forevermore, the gods of Greece watch over their place of eternal rest.
“A Garden in Greece” by Charlotte Becker
BENEATH these ilex boughs the air is still As some deserted shrine whence life has fled, Some tomb that holds the ashes of the dead Deep hid from living eyes; dank grasses fill The silenced fountain's bowl, where once at will The water sprites held sway now in their stead, An ancient satyr nods his drowsy head. Unhindered, Spring by Spring, prim daffodil And pale narcissus people as their own The dusky paths, which echo nevermore To pipes of Pan, nor strains of Phoebus' lore, Nor naiad's laugh; for years have turned to stone The gods of eld — and solitude shall keep A world-long vigil o'er their place of sleep.
“Imagination” (re-published in 1904)
Imagination, the story of the flame of inspiration, brings together Egypt, Merlin, and more in an interesting poem. It was originally published on a date uncertain in The New England Magazine before being re-published with permission in The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo.
“Imagination” by Charlotte Becker
I AM the flame that springs from ev'ry fire Of youth, or skill, or genius, or of strength; I am the wind that smote Apollo's lyre, And made sweet music through Eola's length. I am the sands of ancient Egypt, where Strange caravans pass through the warm, still gloom; I am the phanton isles, the mirage fair That lured forgotten races to their doom. I am the waves that beat upon the shore Of Camelot and harked to Merlin's call. I am the cloak of darkness Siegfried bore; The talisman that loosed Brunhilde's thrall. I am the fragrance of the forest trail, The whispered voices of the trees above. I am the heart of romance; and the veil That hides with tender touch the faults of love. I steal through cities and I haunt the moor, I draw my scarlet thread through time, unfurled ; Though rich in gold, who knows me not is poor— Who knows me holds in fief the whole wide world!
Life is a bit of a “practical wisdom” poem. In it, Becker reminds her audience that life is short, and it should not be wasted with fixating on minor slights. I found it published in the Women’s Column section of the March 30, 1911 Watchman (an Australian paper).
“Life” by Charlotte Becker
Life is too short to fuss and fret, To waste the hours in vain regret, To fancy slights, to bother why This listener gave a vague reply, Or that one made some jesting threat. And though dull cares or ways beset, To court indifference, and let Each proffered bit of joy slip by— Life is too short; But, put this world for mirth in debt, And strive that odds be gaily met; Humour in every cross espy And no least plea for cheer deny— Then, for the happiness we get, Life is too short!
“The Failures” (1908)
Becker’s The Failures is about the countless books and literary works that are published only to be met with little reception – and all the things that are found on their pages. I found it published in the July 28, 1908 New York Sun.
“The Failures” by Charlotte Becker
Discarded on the bookshop shelves they lie— Uncut, untouched, unwanted, and un- read— Yet each one holds the ashes of some dead. Close cherished dream, some hope that once beat high With wistful wonder; some sweet mys- tery Of mingled joy and grief. What springs have shed Their meed of beauty, and what hearts have bled O'er leaves that stir no reader's smile or sigh! Still, here and there upon a faded page Dream, hope, and labor were not spent in vain If peace came in the doing to assuage Despair and doubt and heart's con- tent attain— And though they won no tithe of world success These failed not since they brought forgetfulness!
Envoy, one of the sharpest poems in the Becker collection, was published in The Poets of Poetry of Buffalo. It sums up an un-extraordinary life. A British woman by the name of May Hill copied the poem in a diary entry about her own late husband. Aptly describing it, she had this to say:
An envoy from the French word envoi, means the verses at the end of a poem in which some general idea of the poem is summed up and emphasized. The envoy is thus the message which the poem has carried to the reader. Here it is a way of saying that the life to which this is the envoy had been of itself a poem.May Hill writing about Charlotte Becker’s “Envoy”
A clever idea and poem indeed – and poignant as well. May Hill’s reading of Envoy makes it a fitting poem with which to conclude my survey.
I offer special thanks to the website run by May Hill’s estate for having pointed me to the Buffalo anthology in which I found many of the poems I used in this article.
“Envoy” by Charlotte Becker
Say not, because he did no wondrous deed, Amassed no worldly gain, Wrote no great book, revealed no hidden truth— Perchance he lived in vain. For there was grief within a thousand hearts The hour he ceased to live; He held the love of women, and of men— Life has no more to give!
Becker was a good, oft-published poet who wrote prolifically between, at least, 1900 and 1920. Her poems varied in quality – moments of inspiration shone in the better works. Most of the corpus falls within what John Ruskin called “books of the hour” – which he described as “the useful or pleasant talk of some person whom you cannot otherwise converse with, printed for you.” A fitting description with respect to a number of poems that doubled as pseudo-advice columns. Of course, thanks to the internet, we can readily converse with Becker more than 70 years after her death.
Becker’s favorite themes appear to have been spring, the melancholy of love, the duality of joy and sadness, and the lives and sentiments of ordinary, long-forgotten people. Love appears to have been her most significant poetic focus, with many poems about the same ideas – but approaching them in different ways.
Now that you have read the poems, I will conclude by selecting some of my favorites from the collection.
Progress is one of Becker’s finer works – and I am not surprised that it was one of her most-published, making it into Harper’s and at least one anthology. But in my estimation, Arden, for its striking imagery, was the best of Becker’s season poems.
Camaraderie, short as it was, provided a sharp and poetic description of sound and silence between friends and companions.
Both of the Pierrot poems are memorable. The former for its haunting wartime conclusion, and the latter for its astute observation that the jovial mime can mask his own melancholy.
Becker expressed the view in numerous poems that lovers share sadness – and that in so doing they can discover the beauty of things. Sympathy was the best of that group of poems – and her line about discovering the beauty of the world when skies are gray was one of her finest.
An Old French Garden reminded me greatly of Takasago, which I wrote about in February – so much so that I ought to write a comparison piece.
A Young Girl was a unique poem in Becker’s corpus, bringing some of her seasonal writing to bear in describing a young girl with a delicate sensibility. A Changeling reads hauntingly in conjunction with A Young Girl.
Becker was at her best writing about her most common themes, but A Garden in Greece is a striking work that diverges from her norm.
Envoy was a beautiful poem, and a fitting one to wrap up this article.