Ellen Sturgis Hooper (1812-1848)

A Biographical Note: Born in Boston, February 17, 1812, and died there, November 3, 1848. She married Robert William Hooper, a Boston physician, her maiden name having been Sturgis. She was a frequent contributor to “The Dial,” and an intimate friend of Margaret Fuller, Emerson, and other transcendentalists. No collection of her poems has been published, but they have been printed on sheets, inclosed in a portfolio, and given to her friends. Most of the poems selected appeared in “The Dial,” and the others were printed in “The Disciples’ Hymn Book,” compiled by Rev. James Freeman Clarke for his church, and in Miss E. P. Peabody’s “Æsthetic Papers.” Emerson encouraged Mrs. Hooper to write, and had large expectations of her genius. Colonel T. W. Higginson described her as “a woman of genius,” and Margaret Fuller wrote of her from Rome: “I have seen in Europe no woman more gifted by nature than she.” — George Willis Cooke

1890 Portrait of Ellen Sturgis Hooper by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

    Contributions to The Dial

 Poems from
The Poets of Transcendentalism: An Anthology edited by George Willis Cooke


BEAUTY AND DUTYI slept, and dreamed that life was beauty;
I woke, and found that life was duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?
Toil on, sad heart, courageously,
And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee.

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Beauty may be the path to highest good,
And some successfully have it pursued.
Thou, who wouldst follow, be well warned to see
That way prove not a curved road to thee.
The straightest path perhaps which may be sought,
Lies through the great highway men call “I ought.”

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     “Heart, heart, lie still!
Life is fleeting fast,
Strife will soon be past.”
“I cannot lie still,
Beat strong I will.”

“Heart, heart, lie still!
Joy ‘s but joy, and pain‘s but pain,
Either, little loss or gain.”
“I cannot lie still,
Beat strong I will.”

“Heart, heart, lie still!
Heaven is over all,
Rules this earthly ball.”
“I cannot lie still,
Beat strong I will.”

“Heart, heart, lie still!
Heaven’s sweet grace alone
Can keep in peace its own.”
“Let that me fill,
And I am still.”

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He touched the earth, a soul of flame,
His bearing proud, his spirit high,
Filled with the heavens from whence he came,
He smiled upon man’s destiny.

Yet smiled as one who knew no fear,
And felt a secret strength within,
Who wondered at the pitying tear
Shed over human loss and sin.

Lit by an inward brighter light,
Than aught that round about him shone,
He walked erect through shades of night,
Clear was his pathway, but how lone!

Men gaze in wonder and in awe
Upon a form so like to theirs,
Worship the presence, yet withdraw,
And carry elsewhere warmer prayers.

Yet when the glorious pilgrim guest,
Forgetting once his strange estate,
Unloosed the lyre from off his breast
And strung its chords to human fate;

And gaily snatching some rude air,
Carolled by idle passing tongue,
Gave back the notes that lingered there,
And in heaven’s tones earth’s low lay sung;

Then warmly grasped the hand that sought
To thank him with a brother’s soul,
And when the generous wine was brought,
Shared in the feast and quaffed the bowl;

Men kid their hearts low at his feet,
And sunned their being in his light,
Pressed on his way his steps to greet,
And in his love forgot his might.

And when, a wanderer long on earth,
On him its shadow also fell,
And dimmed the lustre of a birth,
Whose day-spring was from heaven’s own well,

They cherished even the tears he shed,
Their woes were hallowed by his woe,
Humanity, half cold and dead,
Had been revived in genius’ glow.

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Who counts himself as nobly born
Is noble in despite of place,
And honors are but brands to one
Who wears them not with nature’s grace.

The prince may sit with clown or churl,
Nor feel his state disgraced thereby;
But he who has but small esteem
Husbands that little carefully.

Then, be thou peasant, be thou peer,
Count it still more thou art thine own;
Stand on a larger heraldry
Than that of nation or of zone.

What though not bid to knightly halls?
Those halls have missed a courtly guest;
That mansion is not privileged,
Which is not open to the best.

Give honor due when custom asks,
Nor wrangle for this lesser claim;
It is not to be destitute,
To have the thing without the name.

Then dost thou come of gentle blood,
Disgrace not thy good company;
If lowly born, so bear thyself
That gentle blood may come of thee.

Strive not with pain to scale the height
Of some fair garden’s petty wall,
But scale the open mountain side,
Whose summit rises over all.

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I sprang on life’s free course, I tasked myself,
And questioned what and how I meant to be;
And leaving far behind me power and pelf,
I fixed a goal,?nor farther could I see.

For this I toiled, for this I ran and bled,
And proudly thought upon my laurels there.
Lo, here I stand! all childlike to be led.
My goal, self-fixed, has vanished into air.
I run, I toil, but see not all my way;
Ever more pure it shines into a perfect day.

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How they go by?those strange and dreamlike men!
One glance on each, one gleam from out each eye,
And that I never looked upon till now,
Has vanished out of sight as instantly.

Yet in it passed there a whole heart and life,
The only key it gave that transient look;
But for this key its great event in time
Of peace or strife to me a sealèd book.

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         Sweep ho! Sweep ho!
He trudges on through sleet and snow.
Tired and hungry both is he,
And he whistles vacantly.
Sooty black his rags and skin,
But the child is fair within.
Ice and cold are better far
Than his master’s curses are.
Mother of this little one,
Couldst thou see thy little son!

Sweep ho! Sweep ho!
He trudges on through sleet and snow.
At the great man’s door he knocks,
Which the servant maid unlocks.
Now let in with laugh and jeer,
In his eye there stands a tear.
He is young, but soon will know
How to bear both word and blow.

Sweep ho! Sweep ho!
In the chimney sleet and snow.
Gladly should his task be done,
Were ‘t the last beneath the sun.
Faithfully it now shall be,
But, soon spent, down droppeth he.
Gazes round as in a dream,
Very strange, but true, things seem.
Led by a fantastic power
Which sets by the present hour,
Creeps he to a little bed,
Pillows there his aching head,
Falls into a sudden sleep
Like his childhood’s sweet and deep;
But, poor thing! he does not know
Here he lay long years ago!

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O God, who, in thy dear still heaven,
Dost sit, and wait to see
The errors, sufferings, and crimes
Of our humanity,
How deep must be thy causal love!
How whole thy final care!
Since Thou, who rulest over all,
Canst see, and yet canst bear.

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Oh, melancholy liberty
Of one about to die?
When friends, with a sad smile,
And aching heart the while,
Every caprice allow,
Nor deem it worth while now
To check the restless will
Which death so soon shall still.

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Dry lighted soul, the ray that shines in thee,
Shot without reflex from primeval sun,
We twine the laurel for the victories
Which thou on thought’s broad, bloodless field hast won.

Thou art the mountain where we climb to see
The land our feet have trod this many a year.
Thou art the deep and crystal winter sky,
Where noiseless, one by one, bright stars appear.

It may be Bacchus, at thy birth, forgot
That drop from out the purple grape to press
Which is his gift to man, and so thy blood
Doth miss the heat which ofttimes breeds excess.

But, all more surely do we turn to thee
When the day’s heat and blinding dust are o’er,
And cool our souls in thy refreshing air,
And find the peace which we had lost before.

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          This bright wood-fire
So like to that which warmed and lit
My youthful days how doth it flit
Back on the periods nigher,
Relighting and rewarming with its glow
The bright scenes of my youth — all gone out now.
How eagerly its nickering blaze doth catch
On every point now wrapped in time’s deep shade,
Into what wild grotesqueness by its flash
And fitful checquering is the picture made!
When I am glad or gay,
Let me walk forth into the brilliant sun,
And with congenial rays be shone upon;
When I am sad, or thought-bewitched would be,
Let me glide forth in moonlight’s mystery,
But never, while I live this changeful life,
This past and future with all wonders rife,
Never, bright flame, may be denied to me
Thy dear, life-imaging, close sympathy.
What but my hopes shot upward e’er so bright?
What but my fortunes sank so low in night?

Why art thou banished from our hearth and hall,
Thou who art welcomed and beloved by all?
Was thy existence then too fanciful
For our life’s common light, who are so dull?
Did thy bright gleam mysterious converse hold
With our congenial souls? secrets too bold?
Well, we are safe and strong, for now we sit
Beside a hearth where no dim shadows flit,
Where nothing cheers nor saddens, but a fire
Warms feet and hands — nor does to more aspire;
By whose compact, utilitarian heap,
The present may sit down and go to sleep,
Nor fear the ghosts who from the dim past walked,
And with us by the unequal light of the old wood-fire talked.

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Ah! what avails it thus to dream of thee,
Thou life above me, and aspire to be
A dweller in thy air serene and pure;
I wake, and must this lower life endure.

Look no more on me with sun-radiant eyes,
Mine droop so dimmed, in vain my weak sense tries
To find the color of this world of clay, —
Its hue has faded, its light died away.

In charity with life, how can I live?
What most I want, does it refuse to give.
Thou, who hast laid this spell upon my soul,
Must be to me henceforth a hope and goal.

Away, thou vision! Now must there be wrought
Armor from life in which may yet be fought
A way to thee, — thy memory shall inspire,
Although thy presence is consuming fire.

As one who may not linger in the halls,
And fair domains of this ancestral home,
Goes forth to labor, yet resolves those walls,
Redeemed, shall see his old age cease to roam, —

So exile I myself, thou dream of youth,
Thou castle where my wild thoughts wandered free,
Yet, bear a heart, which, through its love and truth,
Shall earn a right to throb its last with thee.

To work! with heart resigned, and spirit strong,
Subdued by patient toil Time’s heavy wrong;
Through nature’s dullest, as her brightest ways
We will march onward, singing to thy praise.

Yet when our souls are in new forms arrayed,
Like thine, immortal, by immortal aid,
And with forgiving blessing stand beside
The clay in which they toiled and long were tried.

When comes that solemn “undetermined” hour,
Light of the soul’s light! present be thy power ;
And welcome be thou, as a friend who waits
With joy, a soul unsphered at heaven’s gates.

Poems from
The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion


And memories so blessed bore she hence
Of all she knew in those few earthly years
As were to her the lovely models, whence
To shape the hopes she formed for unknown spheres.

And gently then the spirit stole away,
Leaving the body in a quiet sleep,
As if ‘t were too much pain with living sense
To break a tie such precious years did keep,
As if it feared to trust the waking hour,
When that form, lovely as an angel’s need,
Should question why the soul left such abode,
Or why with it to heaven it might not speed.

Still lies thy child with an unspotted brow,
Earth’s dust is shaken from her young feet now,
And raying light, she stands in Heaven’s clear day,
Girt for an onward and victorious way;
Whom God hath housed wilt thou call back to brave
Anew those storms from which thou canst not save?

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Upon a precious shrine one day
I placed a gay and sweet bouquet,
The brightest flowers of my young thought
Were with its finest perfumes wrought,
And with a riband bound, whose hue,
Emblemed a heart forever true.

Upon that shrine there also lay
A gorgeous, many-hued bouquet,
And every flower that told a thought
Was with a golden thread inwrought;
O, not so beauteous to mine eye,
As the love-knot which mine did tie.

I lingered what seemed ages there,
In hope that, answering to my prayer,
The cloud might ope, and show revealed
The form of her to whom I kneeled,
Then from that pure and jealous cloud
A lily hand its lustre showed,
And drew within the envious veil
The gift where gold made yellow pale.

I left my flowers to wither there —
That must they soon with my despair,
No more the pathway to that shrine
Shall know these wonted feet of mine;
I scorn my love’s bet gifts to bring
For an unworthy bargaining.

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How long in my youth I longed and prayed to have
Communion with a wise and perfect soul,
And flung away the things that fortune gave,
And over which she claimed to have control.
How my heart stiffened to the world of sense,
And, dying, sought a life far more intense.

And how the treasure I so dearly won,
And spent my life to seek, in riper age,
I long to pour out on some needy son
Of time, that he may have fair heritage.
Alas, that once I languished to be fed,
And now have none to whom to give my bread!


Source:  from The Poets of Transcendentalism: An Anthology edited by George Willis Cooke, with an introductory essay and bibliographical notes (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903) 128-140, 315-316, and from The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion,  April 1841 pp. 544, 519 & October 1840, p. 187