Here are three poems by a neglected (some would say deservedly so) Wisconsin born and raised American poet– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, whose late 19th and early 20th Century verse is full of rhyme and meter and “sentimental” Victorian optimism, the very thing the Modernists rebelled against. And yet many of her poems have a witty, whimsical forthrightness about them. Even the strident activism of her feminist and pacifist poems is not without a musical moral force that is bracing when compared to, say, Whitman’s paternal, prosy patriotism and Dickinson’s slanted inner obsessions. Let’s not disparage and discard what is best in Victorian verse.

Ella_Wheeler_Wilcox,_Custer,_1896,_frontispiece

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox (text), photographer unknown, 1896, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A short autobiography of Wheeler Wilcox can be found here, courtesy of the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society. And though the NY Times has recently been trying to make amends for failing to publish obituaries of many prominent women, here is the NY Times’s obituary for the “prolific versifier” dated Oct. 31, 1919.

 

How Like the Sea by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

How like the sea, the myriad-minded sea,
Is this large love of ours: so vast, so deep,
So full of myseries! it, too, can keep
Its secrets, like the ocean; and is free,
Free, as the boundless main. Now it may be
Calm like the brow of some sweet child asleep;
Again its seething billows surge and leap
And break in fulness of their ecstasy.

Each wave so like the wave which came before,
Yet never two the same! Imperative
And then persuasive as the cooing dove,
Encroaching ever on the yielding shore—
Ready to take; yet readier still to give—
How like the myriad-minded sea, is love.

 

Camouflage by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Camouflage is all the rage.
Ladies in their fight with age–
Soldiers in their fight with foes–
Demagogues who mask and pose
In the guise of statesmen–girls
Black of eyes with golden curls–
Politicians, votes in mind,
Smiling, affable and kind,
All use camouflage to-day.
As you go upon your way,
Walk with caution, move with care;
Camouflage is everywhere!

 

Disarmament by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We have outgrown the helmet and cuirass,
The spear, the arrow, and the javelin.
These crude inventions of a cruder age,
When men killed men to show their love of God,
And he who slaughtered most was greatest king.
We have outgrown the need of war! Should men
Unite in this one thought, all war would end.
Disarm the world; and let all Nations meet
Like Men, not monsters, when disputes arise.
When crossed opinions tangle into snarls,
Let Courts untie them, and not armies cut.
When State discussions breed dissentions, let
Union and Arbitration supersede
The hell-created implements of War.
Disarm the world! and bid destructive thought
Slip like a serpent from the mortal mind
Down through the marshes of oblivion and soon
A race of gods shall rise!. Disarm! Disarm!

 

[poems obtained from poets.org and the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society]

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