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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Glimpses: Helen Hunt Jackson

Glimpses, a poem by Helen Hunt Jackson

commentary by Doris McCraw



As when on some great mountain-peak we stand,

In breathless awe beneath its dome of sky,

Whose multiplied horizons seem to lie

Beyond the bounds of earthly sea and land,

We find the circles space to vast, too grand,

And soothe our thoughts with restful memory

Of sudden sunlit glimpses we passed by

Too quickly, in our feverish demand

To reach the height,--

So darling, when the brink

Of highest heaven we reach at last, I think

Even that great gladness will grow yet more glad,

As we, with eyes that are no longer sad,

Look back, while Life's horizons slowly sink,

To some swift moments which on earth we had.

From the book Poems by Helen Jackson

Little Brown and Company 1908

First appearance in publication September 19, 1872, New York Independent

One thing I love about the poetry of Helen Hunt Jackson is the musicality it has when read aloud. Not read as one usually reads poetry, with the breaks and breaths at the end of the line, but read as prose. If you read this poem aloud, pausing at commas or reading through the complete thoughts the true beauty of this piece comes through. When you read this piece, read it through more than once to get the feel for what Helen is trying to say. Try different combinations of breathes and thought combining. The beauty is, each time something different arises out of the different combinations. I believe that true poetry never has the same story, same meaning twice. You can read it at different times and it will touch a different chord each time you go through the poem.

Sometimes when I am reading, I try to hear the voice of favorite actor or singer saying the words. Then of course I try using different voices or even singing the words. It is a way to keep learning, hearing and understanding.

As you read this or any poetry, keep and open mind and heart. Helen was favorably compared to many of the poets of her time. According to stories, she was actually considered the best, male or female. I always found it interesting that Helen was so popular during her lifetime. It was so much so that she able to make a living as a writer. Emily Dickinson, from her childhood in Amherst, on the other hand, did not become popular until her death. Now the tables have turned and Emily is the more well know of the two. Each had their own style, and each wrote beautiful pieces of work.

There is a story that Helen wanted Emily to publish her work. Emily did not want to do so. Helen persisted and there is an anonymous poem written by Emily that Helen had a hand in getting published. (According to the story.) It is even said that Helen suggested that Emily make her the executor of the poems so that she could make sure they were published in case of Emily’s death. Unfortunately Helen preceded Emily in death.

The next time you are looking for something do to, search online for some of Helen's poetry, or better yet, find a book of her poems, and start reading. To me the gift of the poet, and for me that is Helen, is the joy of finding something new every time I read their work. The real gift is finding something new each time you read the poem. Give poetry, especially Helen’s, a try. It never hurts to give something new and different a chance. Reading the older writers doesn’t make it good or bad, it is what you receive from the gift of the author. To me that is why poetry will never grow old.


7:11 pm est

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Many Names of Helen Hunt Jackson

The Many Names of Helen Hunt Jackson

by Doris A McCraw

The author that most of us know as Helen Hunt Jackson was a combination of names that she never used in her lifetime. She was born Helen Maria Fiske in 1830. She carried this name until her marriage to Edward Bissell Hunt on October 28, 1852. At that time, as was the custom, she assumed her husbands surname. It was not until after Edward’s death and Helen started writing that we begin to see use of the many names now associated with Helen Hunt Jackson.

One of the first pseudonyms that Helen used was the name Marah. According to her bibliography in the book Helen Hunt Jackson by Ruth Odell, the name Marah was used starting in 1865 with the first poems published by Helen and continued during that year. Also in 1865 H.H. appeared.

H.H. was probably the ‘name’ used most frequently by Helen. In all of her works H. H. is the one that appears most frequently. Still not one to sit by Helen also used others.

In 1867 and again in 1868 Helen made use of the name Rip Van Winkle for a couple of her prose works.

Helen briefly used Helen Hunt and Mrs. Helen Hunt in 1868 and Marah showed up again in 1870. If you were to track Helen’s poems, and prose the majority are under the ‘name’ H. H. There is also one instance where she used the name 'Justice'.

After her marriage to William S. Jackson in 1875, Helen then used the name Helen Jackson in her correspondence but continued using H. H. in her writings.

For her novels Helen used H. H., No Name, and Saxe Holm. If you were to read her ‘romance’ stories they would probably be written by Saxe Holm. For many years there was a question as to who the author really was, for Helen had made her publisher swear to tell no one.

In her autobiography Francis Wolcott (Mrs. Francis Bass when Helen knew her) states that she figured out who Saxe Holm was from the various things Helen had said, and Helen did not deny the assumption.

After 1879, when Helen heard Standing Bear of the Ponca tribe speak, her focus became the plight of the Ponca Indians and from there the plight of all Native peoples. She was still using H.H., which her non-fiction work a "Century of Dishonor", was published. There is some discussion that she may have used her real name Helen Jackson on "Century of Dishonor", but instead it seems that is was used for her "Reports on the Conditions of the Mission Indians". This was a report for the Bureau of Indian Affairs that appears to also have been published for the public.

The only work other than the above mentioned report that seems to have been published under her real name, Helen Jackson is "Ramona".

It seems that the use of Helen Hunt Jackson for Helen’s works occurred after her husband William married her niece, also named Helen. This change may have been done to avoid confusion between Helen Jackson the author and Helen Jackson the niece.

During Helen’s lifetime, it was normal for female authors to use pseudonyms which Helen did. Still with the use of H.H. it was obvious to those who followed her work, who this really was. According to the same biography by Ruth Odell, it is indicated that Helen wanted people to know who she was. If you look at the body of work with all the 'names' used by Helen you will find an incredible body of work. Helen excelled not only at poetry, but also essays, novels and short stories. She wrote for children and adults, both with equal skill.

If you get the chance, check out the works of Helen by any of her names. You will not be disappointed.

All rights reserved; Doris A McCraw
8:58 pm est

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Doris McCraw

Doris McCraw
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