Lived reclusively following wife’s death.
I’m reading the paragraph on Frederick Goddard Tuckerman at the end of the Library of America’s American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Volume 2. Only book (Poems) self-published in 1860. “[R]ecognised as authority on local flora.”
Tuckerman wrote five sonnet sequences, unpublished until 1931, that I liked quite a bit more than the greatest poem of the nineteenth century, “The Cricket.” They were all written in the 1850s and 1860s, and are grief-ridden. To what extent they are “genuine” expressions of grief, I would not want to say. The formality of the sonnet sequence seems like a poor choice for a spontaneous outpouring of emotion, but Tuckerman may have thought otherwise.
The sonnets are packed with extraordinary images drawn from nature. Tuckerman does not write sonnets describing bird nests and eggs like John Clare, but he seems more interested in nature for its own sake than, say, William Wordsworth. Thus:
[Sins] That hedge me in and press about my path
Like purple-poison flowers of stramony
With their dull opiate breath and dragon wings. (I.iv.)
And hard like this I stand, and beaten and blind,
This desolate rock with lichens rusted over,
Hoar with salt-sleet and chalkings of the birds. (III.x.)
Or, one I find amazing:
Nor can I drop my lids nor shade my brows,
But there he stands beside the lifted sash;
And with a swooning of the heart, I think
Where the black shingles slope to meet the boughs
And, shattered on the roof like smallest snows,
The tiny petals of the mountain ash. (I.x.)
The sonnets are full of crickets, too. The cricket had some personal meaning to Tuckerman that his poems only partly communicate. One might fairly ask what any of these passages mean. The perfectly observed detail gives us – what? Yvor Winters suggests that the “general intention” is all that is really knowable: “somehow the sensory details express the sickness of the man; the tiny details are the items on which he can concentrate; but that is all we know.” (xiii)
So this is how Winters links Tuckerman to his French contemporaries, to Verlaine and Rimbaud and, I would say, Tristan Corbière (joyous where Tuckerman is melancholy), poets who are actively, deliberately exploring the poetic uses of obscurity. These French poets were all, more or less, working in public. Tuckerman’s obscurities, like Emily Dickinson’s, may be perfectly clear to the poem’s author. Who knows. Tuckerman’s little 1860 book of poems is more clear, more conventional, and more dull than his unpublished poems.
What did he see in the tiny, shattered petals of the mountain ash?