May 1st is the birthday of the poet Phoebe Hinsdale Brown, poet, who was born at Canaan, New York, in 1783, of New England parentage.
A religious woman, she was the first notable American female hymn-writer.
The story of how she came to compose the lines, " I love to steal awhile away from every cumbering care," will pierce your gardener's heart.
She'd developed a ritual of going to the edge of the neighbor's garden for meditation and prayer. When her well-worn path along her neighbor's garden was discovered, she was ridiculed. In tears later that evening, Brown wrote "Twilight Hymn," and she recalled,
"After my children were all in bed, except my baby, I sat down in the kitchen, with my daughter in my arms, when the grief of my heart burst forth in a flood of tears. I took pen and paper, and gave vent to my oppressed heart... In the original, the first stanza was: 'I love to steal awhile away from little ones and care.' This was strictly true.
I had four little children; a small, unfinished house; a sick sister in the only finished room; and there was not a place, above or below, where I could retire for devotion, without [being] interrupted...
But there was no dwelling be
tween our house and the one where that lady lived. Her garden extended down a good way below her house, which stood on a beautiful eminence...
I used to steal away... going out of our gate, [strolling] along under the elms that were planted for shade on each side of the road. And, as there was seldom anyone passing that way after dark, I felt quite retired and alone with God.
I often walked quite up to that beautiful garden and sniffed the fragrance of the peach, the grape, and the ripening apple, if not the flowers. I never saw anyone in the garden, and felt that I could have the privilege of that walk and those few moments of uninterrupted communion with God without encroaching upon anyone; but, after once knowing that my steps were watched and made the subject of remark and censure, I never could enjoy it as I had done. I have often thought Satan had tried his best to prevent me from prayer, by depriving me of a place to pray."
Here is the original version of her poem:
Yes, when the toilsome day is gone,
And night, with banners gray,
Steals silently the glade along
In twilight's soft array.
I love to steal awhile away
From little ones and care,
And spend the hours of setting day
In gratitude and prayer.
I love to feast on Nature's scenes
When falls the evening dew,
And dwell upon her silent themes.
Forever rich and new.
I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear,
And all God's promises to plead
Where none can see or hear.
I love to think on mercies past.
And future ones implore,
And all my cares and sorrows cast
On Him whom I adore.
I love to meditate on death!
When shall his message come
With friendly smiles to steal my breath
And take an exile home?