Thursday, January 10, 2019

More centennial poems and one Centennial Counterblast

The fable of the physical world becomes the fact of the political; and after alternate sunshine and storm, after heavings of the earth which only deepened its roots, and ineffectual blasts of lightning whose lurid threat died in the air, under a sky now raining on it benignant influence, the century-plant of American Independence and popular Government bursts into this magnificent blossom, of a joyful celebration illuminating the land!  --Oration by Rev. Richard S. Storrs, here from The Centennial Celebration of American Independence.
Like The Blossoming of the Aloe, the 1876 poems transcribed below all feature The Century Plant or American Aloe (Agave, actually) as a figure of America and American independence. The conceit is developed straightforwardly in the first two, satirically in the third.
  1. The Century Plant by John Cruikshank
  2. The Century Plant by Mrs. Frances L. Mace 
  3. A Centennial Counterblast by Frank Cowan, attributed to "a wretched western poet, in the city of brotherly love." 
Among other things, Frank Cowan's "Counterblast" shows that Melville was not the only poet in America to offer a contrarian perspective on the centennial hoopla.

Washington, D. C. Capital - May 28, 1876
For The Capital


O, sad is the life of the Century Plant!
It blooms but once in a hundred years.
'Though long and wearily we wait,
Still but for a night its flower appears;
Yes, wearily wait for a hundred years,
And but for a night the flower appears.

"O long expectance; short-lived joy,"
This was our sires' despairing cry.
As through the ages the flower they watched,
They saw it bloom and they saw it die;
They watched the flower as the years went by;
They saw it bloom and they saw it die.

But we have taken the Century Plant
And fixed it firmly in chosen ground,
We have brought the food it loves the best,
The secret of its life have found;
As it firmly stands on chosen ground,
The mystery of its life is found.

We have called the four great winds to blow
And breathe on the plant with tempered air,
And round it rich commingled soils
We've placed with labor and with care:
As it grows in the free and tempered air,
Rich mingled soils its glory share.

The time approaches--nay 'tis now,
In which the flowers should appear,
And thirteen buds are opening wide
Our hopes to fill, our hearts to cheer;
Watch, brothers, watch, the time draws near,
In which the century flowers appear.

We have watched all night, and soon will come
The crisis of the century flower,
And very soon we will know its fate,
And whether this is its dying hour;
Pray, brothers, pray, for the century flower,
May it escape its dying hour!

O, long expected glorious day,
The hour of death is safely past:
Away forever with transient bloom,
The century flower lives at last;
Shout, brothers, shout, for the hour is past,
The century flower lives at last.

'Twas living then, and is living still,
And now has bloomed for a hundred years,
And at times from the fruitful parent stem
A flowret new its head uprears;
Yes, once in a while, in a hundred years,
A bright new flower its head uprears.

And ever will live our century plant,
So wondrous is its rich new birth;
It still will breathe the tempered air
And firmly stand on the mingled earth;
And this is the secret of its birth,
The free, pure air and the mingled earth.


Daily Albany Argus - June 10, 1876

The Centennial.

[From New York Journal of Commerce.]

Most of the Centennial poetry that we have seen has been beneath criticism: but the following from a fair contributor to our paper is full of exquisite beauty:


               In days of old,
In solitude and silence grew the hour
When God and Nature first beheld unfold
               The solitary flower.

               Purple as night
Its petals opened in the forest gloom,
And the winds, pausing in the seaward flight,
               Inhaled the strange perfume.

               The hoary oak
Felt in its branches a responsive thrill,
The eagle from his lonely eyrie spoke,
               And all again was still.

               Unwritten ages rolled
Into the past, and as each century's bell
Struck the full hour, the blossom would unfold,
               With none its tale to tell.
               At last the silence ceased.
The desert wilderness a voice had found.
Strange wanderers from the overflowing East,
               Sought here a hunting-ground.

               The shadow-haunted glades
Echoed the savage song--the warrior cry--
And wild, barbaric worship filled the shades
               With awful mystery.

               Life warm and new
Through the dull fibres of the tree was shed;
The swelling buds revealed a living hue--
               Tinge of the morning red.
               Not unblest
The thousand years of silence and of night;
Unto the hidden gardens of the west,
               God said, "Let there be light!"

               And behold
It blooms again, the latest flower of Time!
In the dark ages who could have foretold
               The glory of its prime!

               Palmiest days
Of Grecian grandeur or of Roman pride
Saw not their century bloom in such a blaze
               Of fame, full-orbed, world-wide.

               Heaven, bend low!
From the last lingering gloom our land release!
Let the perfection of the ages blow
               White as the plume of Peace!

--Mrs. Frances L. Mace.
BANGOR, May, 1876.  --as reprinted in the Albany Argus, June 10, 1876.
Century Plant - Floral Hall (1876)
The Library Company of Philadelphia

Portland Oregonian - August 24, 1876
via GenealogyBank

— 1876 —



   After three and a half years' service in the treadmill of a newspaper office, involving — ad nauseam — the thousand and one odes of the day, the brass bands and flag displays, the slang of the period, and the general conviviality of the Centennial Year of the Republic: involving, as it were, by imbibition.

I say, damn this clatter! —
That's what's the matter ( hic )
    With Hannah!  
'Nough to make a man cuss —
This ( hic ) confounded fuss!
This ( hic ) ridiculous muss! —
Gettin' ( hic ) wuss and wuss!

Singin' hosanna!
Wipin' your chin with a flag ( hic ) of bandana!
Shoot the whole caboodle —
The 'Merican eagle — the Fourth of July—
The Little Hatchet that couldn't lie —
John Hancock and ( hic ) Yankee Doodle!
Shoot the whole Centennial biz ( hic )
From the Big that was to the Little that is!


Bombs bustin' in air ! —
   I wish I was deef! —
An' the rockete' red glare ! —
    Or blind, I'd as lief! —
An' this sulphurous smell
Would stifle all ( hic ) — Well,
Even the beer
Tastes confoundedly queer!
An' a man cannot touch,
But he's all over ouch!
A man has no sense,
    But it's outraged outright! —
No sense? A ( hic ) suggestion — No cents!
             Ne'er a red!
             Broke — dead!
Busted higher 'an a kite!
Lit out for that Kingdom Come
Where the Rag-baby's eye-teeth are cut ( hic ) chewin' gum!


And what for?
O ( hic ) lor'!
Give us room! give us room!
The American Century Plant's in full bloom!


The American Century Plant!
    I'd like to meet it! —
I've seen the Centennial elephant —
   I wonder if he ( hic ) could have eat it!


Where is it? — There's room for conjecture!
What is it? — That's food for a lecture!
Some pumpkins for independence pie? —
An' ( hic ) sass?
Or small potatoes for equality?
Or beans ( hic ) for gas?
Or that buncombe bosh
The reformer's squash?
Or this ( hic ) dead beet? —
I'd like to see't —
This wonderful century plant,
But ( hic ) can't!
However, let's have, if you please,
Some Centennial ( hic ) peas.

Pull down your vest!— ( hic )
Young man, go west! —
And ( hic ) give us a rest! —
This whole Centennial fuss
Isn't worth a ( hic ) Continental cuss!
And that's the blizzard,
From a to izard,
Of my Centennial ( hic ) blunderbuss!
--"A Centennial Counterblast" in Frank Cowan, Southwestern Pennsylvania in Song and Story (Greensburg, PA, 1878).
In 1865, Mary Kellogg Johnson (aka Mrs. M. O. Johnson or M. O. J.) movingly eulogized Abraham Lincoln as The Century-Plant that flowers and dies:
Yes: we who loved thee, watched the blossoming
     Of thy life's earnest hour,
Forgetting that is ripening were its fall,—
     Lincoln, our Aloe-Flower!

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