Frances Theodora Parsons

Parsons was an American naturalist and author, remembered most for her book on American wildflowers. Frances or “Fanny" Smith was born in 1861 in New York City. She developed a lifelong love of nature and especially wildflowers. When she was 23, Fanny happily married William Starr. After they married, they lost their first baby and five years later, William died in a flu epidemic in Paris. A few years later, her friend Marion Satterlee managed to get her to take nature walks which rekindled her love for wildflowers. In 1893, Fanny published her popular book, "How to Know the Wildflowers." It sold out in five days and was a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling. Three years later, in 1896, Fanny married a childhood friend; professor, politician, and diplomat James Russell Parsons. Fanny wrote "How to Know the Ferns"; this time, using her own name Frances Theodora Parsons.  A year after Ferns, Fanny gave birth to their only daughter, Dorothea who tragically died at two and a half years old. Three years later, James was  killed when his carriage collided with a  trolley car.  
 
A widow once again, Fanny published this poem in Scribner’s Magazine in 1911: "When Laughter is Sadder than Tears".
 
The marshes stretch to the dunes and the dunes sweep down to the sea,
And the sea is wooing the meadow which waits with an open door;
Then a melody sweet to the hearer floats up from the murmuring lea
Till the sea slips seaward again and the land is athirst as before.
And athirst is the heart whose worship is not the worship of yore,
Whose visions no magic can conjure, whose plenty is suddenly dearth;
And parched as the desert the soul whose tears no grief can restore,
Whose laughter is sadder than tears and whose grief is as barren as mirth.
 
The days are alive with music, the nights their pleasures decree;
The vision the morning fulfills is the dream that the evening wore,
And life is as sweet to the living as the flower is sweet to the bee,
As the breath of the woods is sweet to the mariner far from shore.
But singing and sweetness and laughter must vanish forevermore,
As the petals fall from the flower, as the waters recede from the firth,
When hopes no longer spring upward as larks in the morning soar,
Then laughter is sadder than tears and grief is as barren as mirth.
 
Friend, if shaken and shattered the shrine in the heart that is fain to adore,
Then forsake the false gods that have held you and lay your pale lips to the Earth,
That in her great arms she may take you and croon you her melodies o'er,
When laughter is sadder than tears and grief is as barren as mirth.
 


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Frances Theodora Parsons
Frances Theodora Parsons