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Henrietta Cordelia Ray

1849–1916

Henrietta Cordelia Ray was born in New York City in 1849. She published a collection of sonnets in 1893 and another collection of poetry in 1910. In 1876 Ray’s poem “Lincoln” was read at the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. Ray died in 1917.

By This Poet

4

Life

Life! Ay, what is it? E’en a moment spun
    From cycles of eternity. And yet,
    What wrestling ’mid the fever and the fret
Of tangled purposes and hopes undone!
What affluence of love! What vict’ries won
    In agonies of silence, ere trust met
    A manifold fulfillment, and the wet,
Beseeching eyes saw splendors past the sun!
What struggle in the web of circumstance,
    And yearning in the wingèd music! All,
        One restless strife from fetters to be free;
Till, gathered to eternity’s expanse,
    Is that brief moment at the Father’s call.
        Life! Ay, at best, ’tis but a mystery!

Limitations

The subtlest strain a great musician weaves,
Cannot attain in rhythmic harmony
To music in his soul. May it not be
Celestial lyres send hints to him? He grieves
That half the sweetness of the song, he leaves
Unheard in the transition. Thus do we
Yearn to translate the wondrous majesty
Of some rare mood, when the rapt soul receives
A vision exquisite. Yet who can match
The sunset’s iridescent hues? Who sing
The skylark’s ecstasy so seraph-fine?
We struggle vainly, still we fain would catch
Such rifts amid life’s shadows, for they bring
Glimpses ineffable of things divine.

Niobe

O mother-heart! when fast the arrows flew,
   Like blinding lightning, smiting as they fell,
   One after one, one after one, what knell
Could fitly voice thy anguish! Sorrow grew 
To throes intensest, when thy sad soul knew
   Thy youngest, too, must go. Was it not well,
   Avengers wroth, just one to spare? Ay, tell
The ages of soul-struggle sterner? Through
The flinty stone, O image of despair,
   Sad Niobe, thy maddened grief did flow
In bitt’rest tears, when all thy wailing prayer
   Was so denied. Alas! what weight of woe
Is prisoned in thy melancholy eyes!
What mother-love beneath the Stoic lies!