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Jones Very


Jones Very was born on August 28, 1813, in Salem, Massachusetts. He enrolled in Harvard University as a sophomore in 1834, where he was praised for his prose work, winning the Bowdoin Prize for his essays two years in a row—the first Harvard student to ever do so. He also published a number of poems in the Salem Observer, Knickerbocker, and Harvard’s student literary magazine, Harvardiana.

After graduating in 1836, Very became a Greek tutor at Harvard and continued to study at the Divinity School. Very’s critical essays caught the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1838, which sparked a close but difficult friendship between the two, with Emerson encouraging Very’s literary pursuits and Very attempting to convert Emerson to his religious beliefs.

Very, through Emerson, became involved with the Transcendentalists, and his increasing fixation on mysticism and spirituality began to attract notice among his peers. By the fall of 1838, Very’s students began noticing his lessons becoming more and more directed toward matters of morality. In September of that year, Very proclaimed to his students that they should “flee to the mountains, for the end of all things is at hand,” and made speeches to various groups at the college claiming that the Holy Spirit was speaking through him. The following day Very was sent to the McLean Asylum in Charlestown, where he would be kept for one month.

Emerson, who was initially only aware of Very’s prose work, became a champion of Very’s poetry, helping him to publish more of it and editing poems for Very’s Essays and Poems (C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1839).

Very’s early work reflected the influence of English romantic poets like William Wordsworth and was often written in long blank verse. However, his later work was primarily written in the form of the Shakespearean sonnet. His poems frequently return to the theme of spirituality and sometimes assume the voice of God or the Holy Spirit.

In 1840, no longer suffering from his religious fervor, Very returned to his family home in Salem. He became licensed as a Unitarian minister three years later and continued to preach and write in the subsequent years, though the quality and quantity of his work had waned. He died on May 8, 1880, in Salem.


Essays and Poems (C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1839)


By This Poet


The Clouded Morning

The morning comes, and thickening clouds prevail,
    Hanging like curtains all the horizon round,
Or overhead in heavy stillness sail;
    So still is day, it seems like night profound;
Scarce by the city’s din the air is stirred,
    And dull and deadened comes its every sound;
The cock’s shrill, piercing voice subdued is heard,
    By the thick folds of muffling vapors drowned.
Dissolved in mists the hills and trees appear,
    Their outlines lost and blended with the sky;
And well-known objects, that to all are near,
    No longer seem familiar to the eye,
But with fantastic forms they mock the sight,
As when we grope amid the gloom of night.

The Winter Bird

Thou sing’st alone on the bare wintry bough,
As if Spring with its leaves were around thee now;
And its voice that was heard in the laughing rill,
And the breeze as it whispered o’er meadow and hill,
Still fell on thine ear, as it murmured along
To join the sweet tide of thine own gushing song.
Sing on—though its sweetness was lost on the blast,
And the storm has not heeded thy song as it passed,
Yet its music awoke in a heart that was near,
A thought whose remembrance will ever prove dear;
Though the brook may be frozen, though silent its voice,
And the gales through the meadows no longer rejoice,
Still I felt, as my ear caught thy glad note of glee,
That my heart in life’s winter might carol like thee.