aye

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

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cecilia
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 08:42:14

    Actually i think it is a beautiful poem, this person must have lived out in the country. Someone who truly understood ‘forever’.. c

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 02, 2013 @ 08:59:12

      I like the poem, too; I often find myself in tune with sentiments—and ways of expressing them—from other times. Because this writer lived in the 1800s, his life was necessarily a lot more rural than most people’s today. From the things that I read about Benjamin Franklin Taylor, I can tell you that he had a child who died young, as was often the case back then.

      Reply

      • cecilia
        Jan 02, 2013 @ 09:41:36

        Poor fellow. It kind of shows in his work too, that ability to see what is really important and the longevity of our environment. Though he expressed that much better than I ever could.. c

        Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 11:09:52

    When I first arrived here, I had to go do some exploring about that “aye, aye” business, and I got distracted. One thing led to another, but it tickled me to find a use for the expression “for aye” on your post about the four-nerve daisy.

    The poem’s interesting, too. I stumbled over the fourth line in each stanza, until I read it aloud. Then, it felt fine. It’s like rhythmic parentheses – very interesting. There’s one line I’d change – “And the garments that she used to wear…” I’d take out “that”. But it’s a nice poem, with one line that should appeal to anyone who’d rather mess with words than clean: “There are heaps of dust—but we love them so!”

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 03, 2013 @ 12:58:56

      Thanks for working in the “for aye” over there in flower land. As for the line you’d change, I assume he wrote that line the way he did to preserve the uniformity of the nine syllables in the last line of each stanza (but then notice how you have to pronounce staying as one syllable to keep the count to nine).

      In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed the poem—and the heaps of dust that have largely become the poem’s fate.

      Reply

  3. shoreacres
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 19:15:50

    Just a note – I went to see the film “Lincoln” this afternoon. At one point, while Lincoln is beginning to press his cabinet on the matter of the 13th amendment, he uses the phrase “for aye”. I suspect were it not for this post I wouldn’t have heard it, but it was there, a very nice bit of authentic language.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 05, 2013 @ 19:26:04

      Thanks for your report. I’m glad to hear that the filmmakers used authentic language from the period, because from time to time in other historical films I’ve caught characters using expressions that I know didn’t exist at the time or that hadn’t yet acquired the sense that the screenwriters assumed they had.

      Reply

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