Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Poem for Hill County: "To Mrs. Eleanor Potts" by Francis Scott Key

by Terry Thornton

Every school child remembers Francis Scott Key (1779 - 1843) as the author of the words to the American national anthem. But Key also accomplished much more than just having some of the words his poem, Defence of Fort McHenry, set to the music of an English drinking song. Key's words and the music they were set to became known as The Star Spangled Banner --- and in 1931 formally adopted as our national anthem --- and most individuals forgot that Keys wrote other verses. See general article about Keys at Wikipedia (click here) and see the article about the national anthem at Wikipedia by clicking here.

From a collection of Key's poems, I've selected the following because it paints a lovely word picture and because it adds, in my opinion, to the historical understanding of times past.

To Mrs. Eleanor Potts,
For many years afflicted with blindness, on hearing her play on the guitar

Francis Scott Key

I sat beside an aged saint;
It was a pleasure there to be,
Her kind and gentle words to hear,
The calm contented face to see.

She sat in darkness --- day's fair light
Had often come and gone,
Gilding the scenes she long had loved:
No more for her they shone.

And fond, familiar voices paid
Affection's homage there;
And as their words of love and truth
Fell on her charmed ear,

She could but think how great the bliss
If she again could ever trace
The looks of love she knew were there
Upon each well-remembered face.

But she had long since felt and said
Of all this --- "It is well;"
And the bowed spirit rose, sustained,
Its peace and hope to tell.

She sat in darkness; but the gloom
Was only in the body's eye,
And covered with the clouds of night
Only the objects that were nigh.

But the mind's eye that cloud could pierce,
And things far off descry,
Beyond the bounds of this dull earth
And its encircling sky.

She sat in darkness; but a light
Was hers of heavenly ray,
Shining upon a home on high,
And lighting all her way.

The "light of other days' was hers,
Of happy days now past and gone;
It called up friends long loved and mourned,
And sweetly round her shone.

'Twas then, as by her side I sat,
She softly touched the light guitar,
And tones, that had my childhood charmed,
Fell, in sweet sadness, on my ear.

I had not heard them since; the sounds
Thrilled through my guiv'ring frame,
And scenes, and friends, and joys long past,
Quick at their bidding came.

Those sounds called up a mother's form,
Her voice, her love, and care,
When at her feet, a happy child,
I drank with greedy ear

The songs she loved, of power to charm
And to exalt the heart,
That thoughts and feelings like her own
They might to me impart.

And if the magic power of song
Its influence o'er me ever threw,
And haply some small meed of fame
To lay of mine be ever due,

These early teachings at her knee,
To these, the high-prized boon I owe,
With all the blessings I have known,
And all I ever hope to know.

I could but thank her for the strain
That called up these forgotten lays,
And kindly bade me share with her
"The light of other days."

And I prayed that the light of the days to come
Might brighter and brighter prove,
And the gloom of this darkened world be lost
In the light of the world above.

Pipe Creek, October 22nd, 1840

Key, Francis Scott, To Mrs. Eleanor Potts, From Poems of the Late Francis S. Key, Esq. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.1857, pages 89 - 93. Available at Google Fullview Books.

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