Friday, November 26, 2021

"In February" by Hugh McCulloch Jr.

In gratitude for spending Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with my family at my childhood home, here is a lovely poem by my great-great uncle, Hugh McCulloch (1869-1902), one of a generation of Harvard fin de siecle poets who died young and who was notable enough to be mentioned by fellow Harvardian Wallace Stevens in "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." Taken from his final volume, Written in Florence, this early spring lyric touches on the alienations of forbidden gay love, the weight of history on reincarnated souls, and the spiritual values of despair the Decadents cultivated.

The trees, all dripping since the tardy dawn
     With dewy raindrops fathered in the night,
Half shuddered, shedding on the mossy lawn
     Their drops of light.

The many branches seen against the sky 
     (That rain-dark grey against the unclouding blue!),
That forest multitude which stretched on high,
     Made earth seem new.

And we two wandering 'midst the craven trees,
     Together close, my arm about you thrown,
Our eyes made dreamy by the rain-wet breeze —
     We felt alone.

The world was maddened by some subtile sting;
     Some last resistance to supreme despair
Crushing to life each gently slumbering thing
     Which languished there.

Our spirits, drowsy in their fleshly tomb,
     Half rose to life, and half they seemed to know 
The wonders which from Nature's mighty womb
     Were soon to grow;

Half knew where, in the vast abyss of time,
     Their past had been, and what their name and place;
Their monstrous deeds; — where sung in buried rhyme
     Their primal grace.

The naked boughs which hung a-quivering there,
     Which shrank with fear through all their vague delight,
Were yet compelled to yield, compelled to bear, 
     By Nature's might.

Our souls, however, seemed like things apart;
     They turned again, for not yet was the dawn.
Desire, the Spring sent quivering through the heart, —
     The soul slept on.