19th Century Women's Poetry

Winifred Howells (1863-1889)

Winifred's father, the realist novelist William Dean Howells, was one of the most influential editors of the day. He edited The Atlantic Monthly after James Fields died. Thus Winifred and her younger sister Mildred, also a poet, grew up in the heart of literary Boston. But Winifred was actually born in Venice, Italy, during one of her parents' visits to that city. Her promise as a poet is suggested in the following poems, but her short life left her talents not fully developed.

I tripped along a narrow way,
Plucking the same flowers, day by day;
The sun which round about me lay
Had never seemed to sink.
But now at once the path divides;
I see new flowers bloom on all sides;
I stop, while doubt the sun half hides:
I have begun to think.

The Poet and The Child
"And you, Sir Poet, shall you make, I pray,
This child a poet with that insight rare
They tell me poets have, that everywhere
He sees new beauties lost to common clay?"
"Nay," said the poet, "rather lend the boy
Your scarf of gauze, to veil his questioning eye,
Lest in his pleasure he should aught descry
But what is fair; so shall he much enjoy."

She lightly laughed as she regained the band
Now strolling on (to her it seemed a jest
Turned for her pleasure); but behind the rest
The poet and the child walked hand in hand.


There, as she sewed, came floating through her head
Odd bits of poems, learned in other days
And long forgotten in the noisier ways
Through which the fortunes of her life now led;
And looking up, she saw upon the shelf
In dusty rank her favorite poets stand,
All uncaressed by her fond eye or hand;
And her heart smote her, thinking how herself
Had loved them once and found in them all good
As well as beauty, filling every need;
But now they could not fill the emptiness
Of heart she felt ev'n in her gayest mood.
She wanted once no work her heart to feed,
And to be idle once was no distress.

A Mood
The wind exultant swept
Through the new leaves overhead,
Till at once my pulses leapt
With a life I thought long dead,
And I woke, as one who has slept,
To my childhood,--that had not fled.
On the wind my spirit flew;
Its freedom was mine as well.
For a moment the world was new;
What came there to break the spell?
The wind still freshly blew;
My spirit it was that fell.