I was excited to see that my friend, distant cousin, and blogger extraordinaire, Bill West, has announced his 11th annual “Great Genealogy Poetry” challenge. The challenge is open to anyone who will post a poem on their blog or web site by November 21st. They will be posted on Thanksgiving Day. (Send him your link on November 21st to be sure it is included). Rules and details can be found at this link.
According to (part of) the rules, “Find a poem by a poet, famous or obscure, about the region one of your ancestors lived in.” In this particular case the ancestors referred to are my parents and grandparents (and of course I must include myself and my son too) who lived and raised their families in view of the Uncanoonuc Mountains–the title of the submitted poem. An explanation of why I chose this poem, and a bit about the author will follow.
MOONLIGHT ON THE UNCANOONUCS.
by Moses Gage Shirley.
How soft the moonlight falls upon each crest
Of our loved mountains! In a limpid sheen
Of silvered gold they lie, at peace, serene,
Like tired children on their mother’s breast,
The kingly pines stand tall and emerald-crowned;
The beech leaves rustle faintly in the breeze,
And gently sway the branches of the trees.
A fox’s shrill bark, the while I muse, doth sound
Within the woods, and slowly die away.
Ah, this is night! and such a night as this,
Thrilled by the rapture of the moon’s soft kiss,
Doth almost seem as glorious as day.
Dream, mountains, till the moonlight’s mellow bliss
Fades out, and morning streaks the sky with gray!
–Why this poem?–
I was born and raised in southeast Manchester NH, up on one of the city’s few hills that had a wonderful vista to the west, that included a perfect view of the Uncanoonuc Mountains of Goffstown, the neighboring town. Four generations of my family looked to that mountain every day. Often our intent was to guess what sort of weather we might have for the day, as most of the storms “blew in” over that mountain. Haze or dark clouds in the west meant we should carry an umbrella or wear a raincoat. The Uncanoonuc Mountains were as much a part of the landscape of my family’s home as the great elm that grew in the yard. How precious are these memories.
As for the poem’s author, Moses Gage Shirley was born 15 May 1865 in Goffstown, NH, son of William & Margarett Ann (Shirley) Shirley. According to his obituary on Find-A-Grave, he was a poet from an early age and published his own books of poetry (such as “A Book of Poems” and “Shirley’s Everyday Rhymes”) in addition to being published in collections such as “From A Summer in New Hampshire.” On 17 November 1894 a brief story about him is found in the New Albany Evening Tribune (Albany NY) where he promoted Dr. Greene’s Nervura Blood and Nerve Remedy.
On 14 June 1916 The Boston Post newspaper published his obituary. “Moses Gage Shirley, known as the ‘Poet of the Uncanoonuc Mountains,’ died at his home on the Bedford road here [Goffstown NH] this morning, following an illness of two weeks. He was in his 51st year. A picturesque character, he contributed to American literature over 100 poems, mostly about the hills among which he passed his entire life.
BUT LITTLE SCHOOLING
His education consisted of his schooling in the country school house located on Shirley Hill and the reading which he did after he had completed the brief course it offered. Always more or less of an invalid, he was unable to join in the agricultural pursuits of which most of his companions turned their attention, in this region of verdant farm land and rich valleys. Shirley began writing poetry in his school days. At 20 he had composed verses which were accepted for sale. At 30 he had collected enough to have them published in book form, and later had a second volume ready for the market.
LOVED BY NEIGHBORS
Slender of form, mild in manner, he was a familiar figure. He loved books and devoted the greater part of his time in reading .He never married. When a boy he used to retort to the taunts of his playmates in rhyme, and was generally loved among his fellow townsmen.
His home was directly under the shadow of the Uncanoonuc mountain. With him lived his mother, who survives him. She is 84 years of age. A brother, William, and a widowed sister, Mrs. Annie Hill, are also occupants of the big farmhouse. Funeral services will be held form the home Thursday. Death was due to diabetes.
Among his better known poems are “The Uncanoonucs,” “The Evening Train,” “The Woman of the Future,” “The WOmen of the Past,” “The Women of the Present,” and “A Song of Home.”
[Poem from A Summer in New Hampshire Out-of-Door Songs for All Who Love the Granite State. compiled by Mary M. Currier]