I am lucky enough to have in my personal library a book entitled ‘The Mourner’s Friend or Sighs of Sympathy For Those Who Sorrow’. It is a collection of prose and verse compiled to give comfort to the grieving. Edited by J.B. Syme, published in 1852 by S.A. Howland in Worcester, Mass, USA; its contents are by American and European authors and some surprising famous names. My copy of the book has some water damage, ageing paper, and precarious binding, so before it deteriorates my project to preserve the words of the authors will find its way here on the MOLAM blog.
When I started this humble blog in April of 2012 my first post was this poem because it encapsulated my interest in collecting literally in terms of objects, but also the sentiment and history that makes my personal collection so satisfying. I am transcribing this piece again, as I am following the sequence of the poems within the publication. Now I have a few more interesting things to note. Firstly, the author remains anonymous but the piece was published many times, so I do wonder if it is in fact older than when it first seems to appear in 1829. What this does reveal is the significance of the symbolism, the lock of hair as a potent memorial is obvious when you see how far reaching this poem was – even appearing in colonial New Zealand! It does not lose its potency for me now in the 21st Century. The power of a lock of hair to evoke memory, curiosity, empathy, emotion, loss – no wonder it was such a popular material in jewellery, art and religious mementos. The voice of the author rings sincere with personal experience; an authentic voice which carries through the centuries.
The piece appears in The New York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette in 1829 (p. 312, Volume VI). In 1830 it was published numerous times. It was titled ‘Keepsakes’ in the publication New York Amulet and Ladies’ Chronicle (June 15, p. 86) which was edited by Theophilus Fisk and in The Schenertady Cabinet (April 21). However, in the same year it was published as ‘A Lock of Hair’ in The Monthly Traveller or Spirit of the Periodical Press (Boston, January 1830 on page 119). Later in 1834 it appears in the Philadelphia Scrap Book and Gallery of Comicalities edited by John C Barger. Again it appears as ‘A Lock of Hair’ in the Geneva Gazette published in New York also in 1834. Much later on the 25th September 1886 it appears in the New Zealand newspaper The Waikato Times entitled ‘Keepsakes’.
A Lock Of Hair.
FEW things in this weary world are so delightful as keepsakes. Nor do they ever, to my heart at least, nor to my eye, lose their tender, their powerful charm ! How slight, how small, how tiny a memorial saves a beloved one from oblivion ! Worn on the finger, or close to the heart, especially if they be dead. No thought is so insupportable as entire, total, blank forgetfulness, — when the creature that once laughed and sung and wept with us, close to our side, in our arms, is as if her smiles, her voice, her tears, her kisses, had never been. She and they all swallowed up in the nothingness of the dust.
Of all keepsakes, memorials, relics,– most dearly, most devotedly, do I love a little lock of hair ; and oh, when the head it beautified has long mouldered in the dust, how spiritual seems the undying glossiness of the sad memento ! all else gone to nothing, save and except that soft, smooth, burnished, and glorious fragment of the apparelling that once hung in clouds and sunshine over an angel’s brow.
Ay, a lock of hair is far better than any picture, — it is part of the beloved object herself; it belongs to the tresses that often, long ago, may have been dishevelled, like a shower of sunbeams, over your beating breast. But now, solemn thoughts sadden the beauty once so bright, so refulgent, the longer you gaze on it; the more and more it seems to say, almost upbraidingly, ” Weep’st thou no more for me ? ” and, indeed, a tear, true to the imperishable affections in which all nature seemed to rejoice, bears witness, that the object to which we yearned, is no more forgotten, now that she has been dead for so many long, weary days, months, years, than she was forgotten during an hour of absence, that came like a passing cloud between us and the sunshine of our living in her loving smiles.