Two Poems by George Washington
Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation
This volume is a replica of an original publication.
A teenaged George Washington has been credited with penning several love poems. The examples offered here exhibit a youthful enthusiasm as well as an immature command of language.
The poems also offer a unique glimpse into the state of mind of one of America's most important statesmen.
"From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone"
The young lady's name was Frances Alexander, and after she captured the heart of the young George Washington, he wrote the following twelve-line acrostic—spelling out her name vertically; it is not clear why he did not complete her last name:
From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find
Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.
Washington's speaker first gushes about the brightness of his love's "sparkling Eyes," which have "undone" him. Typical to those verses that glorify through exaggeration, he finds that no one can equal her "bright array."
She is calm, has an "unspotted Mind," but sorrowfully, she has not been kind to the lovesick speaker. He suffers the pains of love. But he reports that even the great hero Xerxes "was't free from Cupids Dart."
Musical rendition of Washington's poem "From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone"
"Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart"
The love interest of the second poem, also a twelve-line offering, has not been identified, but the relationship is quite similar to that portrayed in the acrostic. The speaker again is suffering the pain of not having his love returned by the lady whose charms have smitten him:
Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupids feather'd Dart
And now lays Bleeding every Hour
For her that's Pityless of my grief and Woes
And will not on me Pity take
Ill sleep amongst my most Inviterate Foes
And with gladness never with to Wake
In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close
That in an enraptured Dream I may
In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose
Possess those joys denied by Day.
In the first quatrain, the speaker addresses the "gods" asking why he has not been able to fight off the arrows of that god, Cupid. Because he has failed to achieve victory over Cupid, his poor heart now "lays (sic: lies) Bleeding every Hour."
(Today, the word "God" as used here would be not be capitalized, just as "Poor Resistless Heart" would not be capped. English and early America writers used to capitalize much more freely than now—likely influenced in part by the fact that in German, a cousin language to English, all nouns are always capitalized.)
The second quatrain announces somewhat dramatically that the speaker, because his lady will not take pity on him and yield to his love, will volunteer to go off to war and gladly die "amongst [his] most Inviterate Foes." Of course, he means "inveterate."
In the final quatrain, he suggests that he might be able to settle for dreaming about the woman; thus, he asks that be allowed to just close his eyes and drift off into "a soft lulling sleep" so he can "Possess those joys denied by Day." He can fulfill his wishes by simply dreaming about the target of his desire.
The First President as Poet and Man of Manners
Apparently, the first US president's journeys into poetry creation occurred only twice, and it is uncertain that he actually composed those pieces. No later efforts in poetry have been uncovered.
George Washington did leave a book of rules for etiquette, titled Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. He likely copied out these rules, perhaps summarizing or simplifying them for his own purpose. He likely felt them important enough to study and apply.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes