Friday, December 11, 2009

CLARA TAYLOR HENRY: 1855-1904, By Pat Kinsella Herdeg

Clara Elizabeth Rockwell Taylor Henry was another of our amazing relatives; how I wish I could have known her! She was a writer and a poet, as well as a mother, but both her literary and actual life were shorter than would have been hoped.

Clara was Aunt CB’s great-aunt, big sister to Bryant (Aunt CB’s grandfather, also known as B.W.), Carlton and Orrin. She was born to Cordelia and Daniel Taylor at Woodlawn, the family farm in Oakfield, NY on August 19th, 1855. Clara died at age 48, leaving her husband William, and her only son, Arnon.

Clara went to Cary Seminary School in Oakfield, and then Eastern University, graduating at the age of 21. She married William Arnon Henry in 1881 at age 25; the following year, they had an only son, Arnon Taylor Henry.

Her husband, William, a graduate of Cornell, took a job at the University of Wisconsin; he became instrumental in changing Wisconsin’s troubled farm economy towards dairy farming. The book “Fifty Famous Farmers” (published in 1924) highlighted Henry as one of the fifty American farmers worth noting. To honor William, the University of Wisconsin named the main entrance to the campus of the College of Agriculture--The Henry Quadrangle. It is known today as the Henry Mall.

Clara’s mother, Cordelia, kept a diary most of her adult life, so we can follow parts of Clara’s life through her mother’s writings. Clara had troubles with her eyes for much of her life, and her mother often wrote of her fears for Clara.

On one journey home from Wisconsin, in the summer of 1892, with Clara and young son Arnon at Woodlawn, Cordelia writes:

“Aug. 20th: A lovely day. Daniel takes Clara into Oakfield to arrange for going to New York on Monday. Patient child. May the Lord send healing to the poor dear eyes…..comes back with no news from doctor….”
Even Aunt CB, our medical detective in the family, is not sure what was wrong with her eyes. Clara often had to be in darkened rooms as she was in intense pain from her eyes.

Somewhere in these years, Clara found time to continue her poetry, for “The Magazine of Poetry” in 1894 includes Clara--

In this magazine, as a prelude to her poems, fellow writer and poet, Amelia M. Starkweather writes of Clara:
“Mrs. Henry’s intense nature, her love of poetry and ability to express the same in words were inherited from her mother and early manifested. Although she has written but little, her poems display marked ability. Had Mrs. Henry continued exercising her gift as a writer, she would have no doubt ranked high as a poet. But serious trouble with her eyes has compelled her to lay down her pen and remain at home in great seclusion, which is the only shadow that falls the household to mar the happiness of the trio, herself, her devoted husband and lovely little boy.”

Two of Clara’s poems are—


Filled with sweetness, rich completeness,
Flowing wine of ruby days,
June the matchless, June the peerless,
Crowns the year with diamond rays.

Rarest gem in nature’s setting,
Pure as pearl in ocean hold,
Golden rim of sunlight falling
Girds thee close in fretted mold.

Fancy lingers near the portal
Where the changing months appear,
Touching each with magic pencil,
Witching priestess of the year.

Yet the June month is her darling,
And a robe of fairy sheen
Folds the dainty, graceful being
With the halo of a queen.

Glowing gifts and shining treasure
Doth the royal hand bestow;
Boons unstinted, without measure,
In a thousand channels flow.

Wealth of bloom and leafing perfect
Now the waiting world endow;
Sounds in tone of every insect,
“Summer’s crown in on her brow.”

Roses blush with hearts of crimson;
Tintings rare that shells illume
Blend with purest buds that whiten;
Censers sweet the air perfume.

And another of Clara’s poems:


A flight of birds to the southward,
And a moaning wind from the northward,
The wheeling sun is quick to run
His appointed way and the day is done.

A brighter gleam in the starlight,
And a cooler glow in the noonlight,
A longer tend in the shadow’s trend
Where the larches nod and the willows bend.

A breath of flowers going skyward,
And a cloud of leaves falling earthward,
With sunset tint in richest print,
Bright mosaic rare, with a golden glint.

A crisping sound on the roadside,
And a dreamy haze on the hillside.
With golden sweep of sunlight deep
O’er the bosky dell and the rocky steep.

From twilight dim to the sunrise,
And through all the day to the star-rise,
A shifting play of color gay,
Or a somber thread of shading gray.

Beth Kinsella Sakanishi, our resident poet, writes about Mutations from her home in Japan:

“I think ‘Mutation’ and ‘June’ are the most accessible of her poems, and she has some lovely images and sounds in both.

From ‘Mutation’ I like the middle stanzas the best:

A brighter gleam in the starlight,
And a cooler glow in the noonlight,
A longer tend in shadow’s trend
Where the larches nod and the willows bend.

A breath of flowers going skyward,
And a cloud of leaves falling earthward,
With sunset tint in richest print,
Bright mosaic rare, with a golden glint.

She has all sorts of interesting echoing sounds and internal rhymes that make the poem musical. In the first stanza above, the ‘gleam’ and ‘glow’ and the double ‘oo’s in ‘cooler’ and ‘noonlight’ in the first two lines, and the ‘l’s and ‘s’s in the last two (longer, shadow’s, larches, willows) echo off each other. Also, she has a neat habit of internal rhyme: the ‘tend’ of the second line, rhyming with the end ‘trend’ and the end rhyme ‘bend’ in the next line, with a near rhyme of ‘nod’ in the middle of the line, just where ‘tend’ is above. This ties together words and sounds more closely and gives the poem a nice lilt.

I also really like some of her phrasing, here, in the second stanza above. She is painting a picture, as an artist would, showing you in words what she sees in all directions: the ‘breath’ of flowers skyward, while the leaves fall downward (yet, in a nice reversal, she uses a sky word, ‘cloud’ to describe the leaves). Lastly, the sunset is the background of her picture, and she uses beautiful imagery here to give it texture: colors as vivid and sharp and elegant as something done in a ‘richest print’, and the layers and rich array of shades she conveys with the phrase ‘mosaic rare’.

Finally, she does here, in the last two lines, what she did in the previous stanza, using that internal rhyme again: ‘tint’ and ‘print’ picking up the ‘glint’ at the end. All three are words for color as well as texture and they add a nice complexity to the picture she’s given us.

She has a sensitive ear and is good at ‘coloring’ her poem with imagery and movement.”—

Thank you, Beth!

When Our Clara dies in Wisconsin of heart trouble at age 48, it is difficult to read Cordelia’s emotional diary account as she relates her daughter’s death. Cordelia, who all her life expected to die young, had outlived her daughter.

But, Cordelia’s faith in God was very personal and strong, so she must have taken comfort in her daughter’s last words; Clara’s husband, William, said that as Clara lay dying, she opened her eyes and said to him “It is so beautiful.”

On July 8th in 1904, Cordelia writes: “As she desired, the burial will be in our Oakfield cemetery today. We all go down and lay her to rest with flowers and ferns in abundance. Our dear boys and Carson brothers as bearers. She was the sunshine of her home and wherever she was. Sweet heavenly rest is thine, dear daughter and how beautiful that you will be there to welcome father and mother and the separation will not be long.”

Per Clara’s wishes, her beloved piano was shipped east to her niece, Clara Taylor (sister to Lloyd and Floyd). And, William Henry ever after, when he found himself in New York State, as he was often to speak or confer at Cornell, always came and visited Clara’s parents, Cordelia and Daniel.

Clara—Great Great Aunt to me, glad to know at least a bit about you and your life! Thank you.


CB said...

I think this is a wonderful way to use this blog! Informing us all of our previous relatives who are a part of us! Thanks , Pat , for ALL you do!! CB

Tim Kinsella said...

Pat, this is great - very interesting.

Pat said...

Thank you, Mom and Tim!

I have been astounded at how much information is on the web, if you just keep looking. The strangest things....

Looking for various names in the google 'free book' section--thank you again Dan for suggesting this-- I found this magazine with four of Clara's poems. Who knew until then that she even wrote poetry!

Of course, that made me think of Beth, so I thank her again for taking the time and energy to give us her take on Clara's poems.

While Clara's husband is apparently well known, I felt that not only should we get to know her better, but now our Clara is 'out there on the web' for any and all relatives of young Arnon Henry to find.

And, if you do find this piece and are related to Clara through her son, email me!