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Fitz-Greene Halleck and Me 菲茨-格林哈勒克與我
Encounter with a poet1
 
 
William Bartlett: View of New York from Weehawken (ca. 1839) 2      
Recently a friend,
3 having just visited Weehawken, was inspired to send me this well-known (at least locally) old poem:

Weehawken and the New York Bay
Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790–1867; Wikipedia)
From "Fanny"
Descriptive Poems: III. Places

WEEHAWKEN! In thy mountain scenery yet,
    All we adore of Nature in her wild
And frolic hour of infancy is met;
    And never has a summer’s morning smiled
Upon a lovelier scene than the full eye                             5
Of the enthusiast revels on,—when high

Amid thy forest solitudes he climbs
    O’er crags that proudly tower above the deep,
And knows that sense of danger which sublimes
    The breathless moment,—when his daring step         10
Is on the verge of the cliff, and he can hear
The low dash of the wave with startled ear,

Like the death-music of his coming doom,
    And clings to the green turf with desperate force,
As the heart clings to life; and when resume                 15
    The currents in his veins their wonted course,
There lingers a deep feeling,—like the moan
Of wearied ocean when the storm is gone.

In such an hour he turns, and on his view
    Ocean and earth and heaven burst before him;         20
Clouds slumbering at his feet, and the clear blue
    Of summer’s sky in beauty bending o’er him,—
The city bright below; and far away,
Sparkling in golden light, his own romantic bay.

Tall spire, and glittering roof, and battlement,             25
    And banners floating in the sunny air;
And white sails o’er the calm blue waters bent,
    Green isle, and circling shore, are blended there
In wild reality. When life is old,
And many a scene forgot, the heart will hold               30

Its memory of this; nor lives there one
    Whose infant breath was drawn, or boyhood’s days
Of happiness were passed beneath that sun,
    That in his manhood’s prime can calmly gaze
Upon that bay, or on that mountain stand,                     35
Nor feel the prouder of his native land.

After I wrote back with some comments on the poetic style - not exactly negative comments but mentioning my English professor father who had certain opinions about Romanticism and what he considered to be overblown sentimentality - the following mysteriously appeared in my inbox:

Fitz-Greene Halleck to John Thompson

My dear Weehawken resident, Mr. John
Thompson, I address you from beyond,
In hopes that we may cross the mighty pond
And other lines as well. It is foregone,
Says Kipling, that the East is East, the West
The West and that the twain shall never meet.
I take it you would disagree. Your treat
Of Chinese music lays all that to rest.

And yet I wonder—East and West may touch,
But what about the West and West? The poem
On your Weehawken from the aging tome
Of my collected works may be too much
For you to stomach! I beg you, confess!
I am American, and so are you:
I wrote those words in 1819; now,
Almost 200 years have passed, and how
Would you and your contemporaries view

Such phrases as, “thy forest solitudes?”
"Death-music of his coming doom?" Pray tell!
I fear that you’d consign to deepest Hell
A writer who could conjure such dire moods!
What irony is this? Have you drawn closer
To Chinese authors of the distant past
Than to one who sails before the mast
Of this great ship, America? Said, "Grosser

"Is this Romantic vision than the pure
And crystalline serenity the chin—"
Is that the name?—"Holds spiritually within
Its mystic wood?" If so, dear sir, endure
A word of caution from one who is more
Like you than you might realize. Embrace
The spectrum whole of beauty! Subtle lace
Of
Wang Wei’s "hidden bamboo grove," the core

Of his fine vision does comport, I feel,
With “forest solitudes” that I have known
Above Weehawken, yes! And then the tone
Of "coming doom" with Su Shi, whose appeal
To ashes as an omen of his death
Well resonates with "death-music" that sounds
From Weehawken’s dashing waves. Where lie the bounds
Indeed between us? We draw the same breath.

Of course, I am now a big fan of Fitz-Greene Halleck

 
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Encounter with a poet
Or: A Vicarious Dream
(Return)

2. William Bartlett: View of New York from Weehawken (1839) ca. 1839
An engraving (further detail). Compare paintings such as View of the Bay and City of New York by Robert Havell, Jr. (Wikipedia)
(
Return)

3. Jonathan Chaves (Wikipedia)
(Return)

Return to the Guqin ToC.