Lament Of The Captive by Richard Henry Wilde

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"My Life Is Like The Summer Rose"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: To the Honorable Richard Henry Wilde, poetry writing was an avocation. Born in Dublin, the son of an Irish hardware dealer and a Tory refugee mother from America, he was brought to Baltimore at the age of eight. Upon the death of his father, his mother moved to Augusta, Georgia, and opened a store. Wilde was completely self-taught, yet he was admitted to the Georgia bar at the age of twenty, and had a career as State Attorney General and U.S. Congressman, until ill health sent him to Italy. In Florence he completed a study of the poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595) including translation of eighteen of his sonnets which Longfellow later reprinted. Wilde never finished his research into Dante, but the Tasso book was published in 1842 upon his return to the United States. Stories told by his brother James, an officer in a military expedition against the Seminoles in Florida, so interested Richard that for the amusement of the family he started an epic poem about them. The death of his brother in a duel took the pleasure out of the project after the completion of several fragments, including narration and description. Wilde did not believe that great poetry could be composed in the United States because life was too commonplace. Though its scenery was beautiful, it lacked historical and literary associations to humanize it. However, the fourth fragment included a three-stanza unit, quoted by the Seminole chief in describing the sorrows of a white captive of the tribe "many moons ago." This person was probably intended to be the Spaniard Juan Ortiz who, in 1542, was to guide Hernando De Soto to the Mississippi River. This "Lament of the Captive" is the only Wilde poem much remembered. It was published anonymously in the Analectic Magazine, for April, 1819, set to music by Charles Thibault, Sydney Lanier, and others, and not claimed by Wilde until 1834. Here are two of its stanzas, with the middle one omitted.

My life is like the summer rose
That opens to the morning sky,
And, ere the shades of evening close,
Is scattered on the ground to die!
Yet on that rose's humble bed
The softest dews of night are shed;
As if she wept the waste to see–
But none shall weep a tear for me!
. . .
My life is like the print, which feet
Have left on Tampa's desert strand;
Soon as the rising tide shall beat,
Their track will vanish from the sand;
Yet, as if grieving to efface
All vestige of the human race,
On that lone shore loud moans the sea,
But none shall thus lament for me!