Atlantic Monthly (review date 1861)

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SOURCE: Review of Poems. Atlantic Monthly VII, no. XLI (March 1861): 382.

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[In the following review, the critic concedes that although readers are accustomed to reading prose by Cooke, her poetry also elicits a favorable response.]

We forget who it was that once charitably christened one of his volumes “Prose by a Poet,” in order that the public might be put on their guard as to the difference between it and the others,—inexperienced critics are so apt to make mistakes! The example seems to us worth following, and, were this dangerous frankness made a point of honor in title-pages, we should be able at a glance to distinguish the books that must be bought from those that may be read. We should then see advertised “The Ten-Inch Bore, or Sermons by Rev. Canon So-and-so,”—“Essays to do Good, by a Victim of Original Sin,”—“Poems by a Proser,”—“Political Economy, by a Bankrupt,” and the like. We should know, at least, what we had to expect.

We do not mean to apply this to Miss Terry; but her volume reminded us, by the association of opposites, of the title to which we have referred. We had long known her as a writer of picturesque and vigorous prose, as one of the most successful sketchers of New England character, abounding in humor and pathos; but we had never conceived her as a writer of verse. The readers of the Atlantic remember too well her “Maya, the Princess,” “Metempsychosis,” and “The Sphinx's Children,” to need reminding that she has qualities of fancy as remarkable as her faculty for observing real life. Miss Terry seems in this volume to have sought refuge from the real in the ideal, from the jar and bustle of the outward world in the silent and shadowy interior of thought and being. Her poems have the fault of nearly all modern poetry, inasmuch as they are over-informed with thought and sadness. By far the greater number of her themes are abstract and melancholy. It appears to us that her mind moves more naturally and finds readier expression in the picturesque than in the metaphysical; and in saying this we mean to say that she is really a poet, and not a rhymer of thoughts. “Midnight” is a poem full of originality and vigor, with that suggestion of deepest meaning which is so much more effective than definite statement. “December XXXI.” gives us a new and delightful treatment of a subject which the poets have made us rather shy of by their iteration. We would signalize also, as an especial favorite of ours, “The Two Villages,” and still more the very striking poem “At Last.” But, after all, we are not sure that the Ballads are not the best pieces in the volume. The “Frontier Ballads,” in particular, quiver with strength and spirit, and have the true game-flavor of the border.

Harriet Prescott Spofford (essay date 1888)

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SOURCE: Spofford, Harriet Prescott. “Rose Terry Cooke.” In Our Famous Women: An Authorized Record of Their Lives and Deeds, pp. 174-206. Hartford: A. D. Worthington & Co., 1888.

[In the following essay, Spofford, a friend of Cooke, discusses the fictional and autobiographical writings of the author.]

A quarter of a century ago, most of us can recall the joyous pride with which the birth of the Atlantic Monthly was hailed, and the eagerness with which each number was anticipated. Into what charming company it took us! There the Autocrat of the Breakfast-table held his genial sway; Motley fought over the “Battle of Lepanto”; Colonel Higginson led us into the woods of “April Days” and among the “Water-Lilies” of August in his series of wondrous out-door studies; Anne Whitney came with poems of a loftier reach and fuller grasp than any other woman has ever given the world; the “Minister's Wooing” took up its placid way; that brilliant tale, the “Queen of the Red Chessmen,”...

(The entire section contains 66076 words.)

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