I recently came across some writings by a person I’d never heard of, Benjamin Franklin Taylor (1819–1887), who was a journalist, essayist, and poet. Though he’s largely forgotten in the modern era, he was popular in his own age, and his best known poem seems to have been “The Isle of Long Ago”:
Oh, a wonderful stream is the river of Time,
As it runs through the realm of tears,
With a faultless rhythm and a musical rhyme,
And a boundless sweep and a surge sublime,
As it blends with the ocean of Years.
How the winters are drifting, like flakes of snow,
And the summers, like buds between;
And the year in the sheaf—so they come and they go,
On the river’s breast, with its ebb and flow,
As it glides in the shadow and sheen.
There’s a magical isle up the river of Time,
Where the softest of airs are playing;
There’s a cloudless sky and a tropical clime,
And a song as sweet as a vesper chime,
And the Junes with the roses are staying.
And the name of that isle is the Long Ago,
And we bury our treasures there;
There are brows of beauty and bosoms of snow—
There are heaps of dust—but we love them so!—
There are trinkets and tresses of hair;
There are fragments of song that nobody sings,
And a part of an infant’s prayer,
There’s a lute unswept, and a harp without strings;
There are broken vows and pieces of rings,
And the garments that she used to wear.
There are hands that are waved, when the fairy shore
By the mirage is lifted in air;
And we sometimes hear, through the turbulent roar,
Sweet voices we heard in the days gone before,
When the wind down the river is fair.
Oh, remembered for aye be the blessed Isle,
All the day of our life till night—
When the evening comes with its beautiful smile,
And our eyes are closing to slumber awhile,
May that “Greenwood” of Soul be in sight!
Some (many? most?) modern readers will find the poem sentimental or at least old-fashioned, and there’s an expression in the last stanza that’s archaic, for aye, which means ‘forever.’ Aye (which is pronounced the same as the name of the first letter of the alphabet), came into English from Old Norse ei. That word was a descendant of the Indo-European root *aiw-, which conveyed the notions ‘vital force, long life, eternity.’ The root also gave rise to the Latin noun aetas, with stem aetat-, that has evolved to Spanish edad ‘age.’ Although sound changes have obscured the connection, English age likewise traces back, via Old French aage and Vulgar Latin *aetticum, to Latin aetat-, so that the age-old ay turns out to be a relative of modern English age as well as Spanish edad.
© 2013 Steven Schwartzman