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Monday, February 24, 2014

Acrostic Poems, Colonial Valentines

Susan F.  Craft

        As part of a fad that was called “the lovers’ literary campaign of 1768,” the Virginia Gazette featured acrostic poems where the first letter, syllable, or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring featured in the text spelled out a word or a message.
        Several love struck swains of Williamsburg and its neighboring plantations honored their beloveds during the month on February, beginning three days before Valentine’s Day.
        One unknown admirer sang the praises of Miss Frances Lewis of a prominent Gloucester County family. Notice that the first letter of each line of his poem spells out Miss Lewis’ name.  
        Minerva's choice;—Apollo's fond delight,
        In whom fine sense and music's charms unite:
        Sweet lovely maid; dear fav'rite of the nine.
        Say, will you be my constant VALENTINE?
        For you the Muse expands her lapsid wings,
        Rears her fall'n pow'rs, and strikes the trembling strings.
        At thy dear feet she pays the tribute due:
        Nor thinks she bends too low to wait on you:
        Charm'd with thy lovely form;—thy music fine:
        Extatic raptures all my heart entwine.
        So my once lov'd Celinda touch'd the keys:
        Lovely like you—like you was form'd to please!
        Early in life the fatal summons came,
        Wither'd my joys and snatched the beauteous dame!
        In you dear nymph, the reparation lies,
        Say you'll be kind, or youthful Strephon dies.

        For the young men and women of Williamsburg, this romantic wordplay was the equivalent of pop songs and Hallmark cards.
        Here’s another sample written by David Mead of Nansemond County singing the virtues of his fiancée, Sally Waters:
        Most praise the gaudy tulips streak'd with red.
        I praise the virgin lilly's bending head:
        Some the jonquil in shining yellow drest;
        Some love the fring'd carnation's varied vest;
        Whilst others, pleas'd that fabled youth to trace,
        As o'er the stream he bends to view his face.
        The exulting florist views their varied dyes;
        E'n thus fares beauty in each lover's eyes.
        Read o'er these lines, you'll see the nymph with ease,
       She like the rose was made, all eyes to please.
       Mr. Mead’s valentine must have succeeded in winning Sally’s heart, for three months later, on May 19, the Virginia Gazette announced, “on Thursday last David Mead, Esq., of Nansemond, was married to Miss Sally Waters, of this city, an agreeable young Lady."
         Another acrostic was written by I. E. who praised Lucy Cocke, the daughter of the mayor of Williamsburg.
        Lovely dear maid, my gen'rous tale approve,
        Untaught in verse to sign the fair I love;
        Could you but know the dictates of my heart,
        Your gentle soul wou'd healing balm impart.
        Conquer'd by you, what raptures seize my breast,
        O say dear charmer, will you make me blest?
        Constant I'll prove as light to early day,
        Kind as bright Phoebus to his darling May,
        Each hour, each moment, shall my love display.

        As with all fads, the lovers' literary campaign of 1768 faded away as quickly as it started, but cropped up sporadically with one poem appearing in 1769, and other tributes between March 1773 and December 1776.
        The final acrostic published in the Gazette in 1776 honored Sally Cary. A subsequent notice in 1768 provided a happy ending to that poem with this marriage announcement, "Thomas Nelson, jun. Esq; captain in the first Virginia regiment, to Miss Sally Cary, eldest daughter of Wilson Miles Cary, Esq; of the county of Fluvanna."

        Here’s one more example written for Alice Corbin, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent planter-statesman:
        Accept, fair Nymph, dear Friendship's Tribute due:
        Lo, here she pays her kind Respects to you;
        In this first Di'ry, as on Wings of Fame,
        Constrains the Muse to sing thy dear-lov'd Name,
        Echo through Woods and Groves resounds the same.
        Charming as is the royal Queen of Love;
        Obedient as the rolling Orbs above;
        Religious too, in ev'ry chearful Strain;
        Blest with good Sense;—engaging, yet not vain; Ingenious, virtuous, delicate and true;
        No more my bounded Theme admits!—Adieu.

5 comments:

  1. That is rally neat. Might have to try that. I use to write poems a lot to put in my occasion cards, but haven't in a very long time. I enjoyed this post Susan. Thanks, Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Thanks, Maxie. It's fascinating to me how, without social media, radio, TV, etc., the young people during Colonial times found such creative ways to express themselves.

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  2. Lovely post and a neat glimpse into life in a different age. Thank you, Susan.

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    1. The colonials had such creative and fun ways to entertain themselves -- parlor games like charades, palindromes, drawing each other's silhouettes. It's interesting to note how many of their pastimes included word games.

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  3. Love those poems! Think I may have to try my hand at writing a few again.

    Blessings~

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