A “two-fer” – Poetry and Genealogy

One of the best $25 I spent last year was to get a Washington DC library card.  If I lived in DC it would be free of course, but the DC public library offers library privileges to out-of-area people for an annual fee. In addition to accessing the electronic lending sources, my main reason for getting it was to access the on-line genealogy sources, notably the DC historic newspapers.  It has more than paid for itself in the amount of detail I’ve discovered about my Preston and Bryant ancestors – both families long-time Washington DC residents.

For my post this week for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks I was writing about Annie McNabb Preston,  my great great grandmother who was born in Baltimore in 1841 but moved to Washington DC some time in the 1860s and married Herbert Augustus Preston on October 19, 1869 – at 7:30 AM on a Tuesday (but that is another story in itself.)

As I was checking one last time, to try to find more than just a three line “notice of death” obituary for her (she died on November 3, 1930) I happened to find this wonderful poem that she wrote. It was published in the Washington Post on March 25, 1894.

Love’s Resurrection

Butterflies on wing, up-soaring in mellow June,

And worn on hilltops, sun-kissed with hope of day –

Moonlight upon waves with rhythm of tender tune –

A rainbow in evening sky, tinted by sunset ray,

Or rose with heart of light and pink of opening leaf;

Or fields of waving grain, or wheat in golden sheaf;

Or ships in sail, to prosperous havens sent –

These are life, with love and heart’s content.

Butterflies with broken wing, in autumn, prone,

And moon on hills, clouded and banked in gray;

Silence of water, where neither star nor moon

On dancing wavelets in silver luster play –

Or storms at eventide, without rift of sky;

Or fields upturned, where failing harvests die;

Or ships gone down, in pebbly shallows led-

These are life without love, when hearts are dead.

Oh love! oh, deathless love! oh, love beyond the grave!

Live you where flowers smile through the enshrouding sod;

Comes there from pulse-less breast, to death a slave,

A language of light and joy and peace and God!

I greet you, budding rose, in faith’s dear sunshine grown,

And hear in thee a voice that speaks to soul alone,

Saying, “I love thee, heart of my heart; bear on, mine own,

Till love hath joined us twain, up there, as one!”

Annie’s husband (who I like to call HAP for some reason, though I have no indication that anyone else ever called him that) died suddenly in his early 50s on May 2, 1893.  His funeral is described in the Washington Evening Star on Thursday May 4, 1893 and one line stands out – “During their progress (referring to the funeral services) the widow of the deceased was so overcome by her grief, that it was necessary for her to be assisted from the church.” She wrote this poem in the year following his death.

Annie lived 37 years after HAP died and never remarried.  She was still working as a government clerk in the Treasury Department when she was 69 years old. She lived with her youngest daughter, Theodora, who never married.  I wonder how many other poems Annie wrote and what became of them?

Perhaps tonight I will get around to the post about Annie McNabb, but this was such a delightful discovery that I wanted to share it immediately. And now I must get back to my wonderful job that today, on Earth Day, which also happens to be my son’s 23rd birthday, includes attending a poetry reading by a local poet who will discuss how her work is inspired by nature.

Not a bad life – not bad at all!!!


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