Felicia Hemans (1793-1835)


Life
[Felicia Dorothea Browne]; b. Liverpool; dg. of a man who walked out on his family and went to Canada; m. Capt. Alfred Hemans, an Irishman who served in the Kings’ Own Foot, who was wounded in retreat to Corunna, making an imperfect recovery; retired without pay; walked out on his family in 1818, apparently shamed by her success as a poet; her best-known work was Records of Woman (1828), incl. “Gertrude, or Fidelity till Death”, and “Indian Woman’s Death Song”;
 
her celebrated poem “Casabianca” (‘The boy stood on the burning deck ... [&c.’; as infra]), appearing in The Forest Sanctuary (1829); other works incl. Translations from Camoens and Other Poets (1818); many innocuous volumes of verse; Mrs. Hemans lived mostly at St Asaph, N. Wales, but spent her last five years in Dublin, and is buried in St. Anne’s Church [Dawson St.]. ODQ OCEL ODNB

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Works
See rep. edition, The Domestic Affections (1812) [Revolution and Romanticism 1782-1834] (Spelsbury: Woodstock Bks. 1995), 172pp.

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Commentary
George Saintsbury, Short History of English Literature (1922 edn.), p.717, writes that Mrs. Hemans (1793-1835) was a native of Liverpool who wrote ‘a great quantity of fluent and not unmelodious verse of a strongly sentimental kind.’

Benedict Kiely, Drink to the Bird ( London: Methuen 1991), quotes her lines at the grave of Mary Tighe of “Psyche” fame: ‘I stood beside thy lowly grave / Spring odours breathed around, / And music, in the river wave, / Passed with a lulling sound.’ (Kiely, op. cit., p.40.)

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Quotations
Keening?: ‘Darkly the could of night comes rolling on; / Darker is they repose, my fair-haired son. / Silent and dark. / There is blood upon the threshold / Whence thy step went forth at morn, / Like a dancer’s in its fleetness, / Oh, my bright first-born.’ [End stanza]. Extract given in W. G. Wood-Martin, on “Keening”, in Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland; quoted in Justin McCarthy, Irish Literature (1904), with the introductory remark: ‘The following keen of an Irish mother over her dead son was written by Mrs Hemans, in imitation of this peculiar style of lamentation.’

“Casabianca”

The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud though childlike form.

The flames rolled on; he would not go
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud, “Say, Father, say,
If yet my task is done!”
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

“Speak, Father!”once again he cried,
“If I may yet be gone!” -
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair;
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair;

And shouted but once more aloud,
“My Father! must I stay?’’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendor wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound;
The boy - Oh! where was he? -
Ask of the winds, that far around
With fragments strewed the sea; -

With shroud, and mast, and pennon fair
That well had borne their part, -
But the noblest thing that perished there
Was that young, faithful heart.

   

Note: Casabianca, the 13-yr old. son of the Admiral of the Orient, stayed at his post after the ship which his father commanded during the Battle of the Nile had taken fire and all guns had been abandoned, dying when the vessel exploded.

 

“Bring Flowers, Young Flowers”

Bring flower, young flowers, for the festal
  board,
To wreathe the cup ere the wine is poured;
Bring flowers! they are springing in wood and
  vale:
Their breath floats on the southern gale,
And the touch of the sun-beam hath waked the
  rose,
To deck the hall where the bright wine flows -
Bring flowers to stew in the conqueror’s path,
He hath shaken thrones with his stormy wrath;
He comes with the spoils of nations back -
The wine be crushed in his chariot’s track -
The turf looks red where he won the day -
Bring flowers to strew in the conqueror’s way.
Bring flowerws, for the bride to wear;
They were born to blush in her shining hair;
She is leaving the hosue of her childish mirth,
She has bid farewell to her father’s hearth,
Her place is now by another’s side -

Bring flowers for the locks of the fair young
 bride.
Bring flowers, place flowers, o’er the bier to
  shed,
A crown for the brown of the early dead!
For this, through the eaves has the white rose
  burst;
For this, in the weeks was the violent nurs’t;
Though they smile in vain for hwat once was
  ours,
The are love’s last gift - bring flowers, bring
  flowers.
Bring flowers to the shrine where we kneel to
  prayer;
They are Nature’s offering, their place is there;
They speak of hope to the fainting heart;
With a voice of promise they come and part -
They sleep in dust through the winter hours;
They break forth in glory - bring flowers, bring
  flowers.

 

The New-York Mirror, and Ladies Literary Gazette (Sat., 5 August, 1826) - The Minstrel [end sect.] (p.16.)Also given here, along with several with poems by unnamed writers): "Lines" - on the painting of "Pharoah’s Submssion by Haydon. In the Gallery of the British Institution. (... Exodus Chap. xxii, ver. 31.) [Available at Google Books - online; accessed 24.03.2012.]

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References
Arthur Quiller Couch, ed., Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918 (new ed. 1929) incls. selection.

Oxford Dict. of Quotations, gives extracts from “The Better Land’, “Casabianca”, “The Child’s First Grief” [‘Oh call my brother back to me/I cannot play alone’]; “The Graves of a Household”, [title] The Homes of England” [‘The stately homes of England / How beautful they stand / Amid their tall ancestral trees / O’er all the pleasant land ... The cottage homes of England! / By thousands on her plains’], and “The Hour of Death, and Tale of the Secret Tribunal” [‘In the busy haunts of men ... ’].

Margaret Drabble, ed., Oxford Companion of English Literature (OUP: 1985), incls. incidental reference under Thomas Davis, ‘The Young Irishman of the Middle Classes’, lecture to the TCD Historical Society, 1839; reprinted in three installments in The Nation, 1848, and quotes ‘passing away, passing away’ (from “Passing Away”) [FDA1]. See also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 4.

University of Ulster Library (Morris Collection) holds Felicia Dorothy Brown Hemans, Poems (1880).

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