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?

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.

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!

Charlotte Becker (“Sympathy”)

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.

“Lincoln” (1915)

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

“Progress” (1909)

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.
A photograph of a tea rose in Brooklyn Heights on a May 2018 evening by Nicholas A. Ferrell.
A photograph of a rose that I took in May 2018. Originally featured in its own article.

“Arden” (1904)

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
Photo of a golden maple leaf placed on a petrified wood coaster, against a white backdrop - taken by Nicholas A. Ferrell on November 6, 2018.
A photograph of a golden leaf that I took in November 2018. Originally featured in its own article.

“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).

Poem

“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!
A bee collects nectar from a daisy patch in October 2020.
My photograph of a bee hard at work collecting nectar in October 2020. This photo originally featured in its own article.

“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” (1904)

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” (1904)

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."

“Afterwards” (1902)

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.

Poem

“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!
A photo of a dry brown leaf floating in the water of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's rock garden - taken by Nicholas A. Ferrell on May 3, 2021.
My photo of a dead leaf at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It originally featured in its own article.

“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” (1904)

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!
A pigeon in a puddle - photographed by Nicholas A. Ferrell in 2020.
My photo of a pigeon in a puddle on a rainy day. It originally featured in its own article.

“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” (1912)

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” (1904)

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!

“Requital” (1907)

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.
Cover of the Secret Garden (1912) featuring Mary Lennox opening the door to the secret garden.
Cover of The Secret Garden (1912) featuring Mary Lennox opening the door to the secret garden.

“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.
Photo of red and yellow flowers taken by N.A. Ferrell at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on April 26, 2007.
My photo of spring flowers – taken in 2007 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

“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” (1911)

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” (1904)

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!

Final Thoughts

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.

Favorite Poems

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.