A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
My heart, I cannot still it,
Nest that had song-birds in it;
And when the last shall go,
The dreary days to fill it,
Instead of lark or linnet,
Shall whirl dead leaves and snow.
Had they been swallows only,
Without the passion stronger
That skyward longs and sings,–
Woe’s me, I shall be lonely
When I can feel no longer
The impatience of their wings!
A moment, sweet delusion,
Like birds the brown leaves hover;
But it will not be long
Before their wild confusion
Fall wavering down to cover
The poet and his song.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was an American poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets. He came from a Boston family which has produced many prominent writers and intellectuals including the poets Amy Lowell and Robert Lowell. As John Collins Bossily said in a toast at a Holy Cross College alumni dinner in 1910:
And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod.
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.
James Russell Lowell, circa 1855
[ed. note: thanks to John Lewis, my favorite professor from 40 years ago, who recently reminded me of this poem, as well as the ditty about Boston Brahmans.]