Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Blossoming of the Aloe

The Aldine: The Art Journal of America - July 1876
During the centennial year 1876 poets liked to imagine America at 100 as the Century Plant or "American Aloe" that flowers only once in a hundred years. In Melville's Clarel (3.27) fragments of monastic graffiti cryptically picture a nation scarred by Civil War as an Aloe that can't blossom.
What's here
Half faded: '. . . teen . . six,
The hundred summers run,
Except it be in cicatrix
The aloeflowersnone.' —
In "The Blossoming of the Aloe" Augusta von Bubna recalls the fratricidal strife and its horrors as "a fierce south wind that scorched the leaves" of the metaphorical century plant. More hopefully though, this poet represents the Civil War as a pruning-knife instead of the "blighting breeze" it seemed to pessimists. Transcribed from The Aldine: The Art Journal of America (July 1876): 208; HathiTrust Digital Library does not have volume 8, but JSTOR and Melvilliana do.

July 4th, 1876.

The seed was sown one hundred years ago to-day;
A little band of men stood on their ground
Of noble independence, and looked round
Defiant on the whole wide world. Dismay
Shone on the pallid faces of the crowd,
But not within the stalwart hearts of those
Who, smarting 'neath the tyranny of foes,
Threw off the yoke, and in brave voices loud,
Cried boldly: "Liberty or Death!" And then
The seed took root. 'Twas watered, true, by tears,
And oft with blood: the storms of many years'
Hard struggles told upon its growth; but men
Watched vigilant its slender, tender root,
And when it 'gan to put forth branch on branch,
And grew each year more firm, and free, and stanch,
They whispered hopefully of its first fruit.
   Then came a fierce south wind that scorched the leaves
And turned them angry red, as brother's blood;
And all the mighty tree swayed with the feud
Of the great tempest. "'Tis a blighting breeze!"
Cried some. "The century plant is doomed, for ay,
A young Republic's life is that of men
Who fail and falter at three score and ten,
Then shamble feebly, totter on, and — die!"
The nations, watchful, stood afar and cried,
"The ax is at the roots; it can not live!"
When  — 'twas the pruning-knife that made it thrive
And knit the roots still closer! Has it died?
Ah, no!  The aloe blooms! and here to-day
A great Republic wears its starry crown
More proudly than a monarch on his throne,
While nations come to praise its grand array!

Augusta von Bubna.
Von Bubna, Augusta. “The Blossoming of the Aloe. July 4th, 1876.” The Aldine, vol. 8, no. 7, 1877, pp. 208–208. JSTOR, JSTOR,
"The Blossoming of the Aloe" was reprinted from "Aldine for July" in Every Evening (Wilmington, Delaware) on September 7, 1876.

Joel Munsell, Annals of Albany v. 10
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