Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shaker Poetry for the New Year

When one thinks of the Shakers, poetry rarely comes to mind. Yet some Shakers did write rhymed verses in the journals they kept for the communities. One of the most prolific was Phoebe Ann Buckingham of the Church Family of the Watervliet Shaker Community.
The journals offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Shakers and Sister Ann (she most often went by her middle name), included many wonderful details.

Some of her rhymes were positive and hopeful, even humorous in nature.

January 1, 1867
The New Year comes with quickened pace
and greets us with a smiling face
O may he keep the same in view
As he onward moves his journey through

Showing that we have more in common with our predecessors than we realize, she occasionally bemoans the fact that she is not ready for the New Year.

1 January, 1857
The New Year has commenced without waiting to see if we were prepared.

On other occasions, she reflects on the more negative aspects of the passage of time.

1 January 1856
Behold the New Year now has come
O may it prove a prosperous one.
May everyone that now is here
Remain to greet another year.
How many changes time does bring
Some painful and some happy things.
Within the year that now is past
Many to us have breathed their last.
Some to a happier land have fled,
Others in thorns have made their bed.
Left home and friends and all for what--
The lowest pleasures the earth has got.

It is interesting that in the above passage she mentions the two ways that the Shakers lost followers. Naturally, some were lost through physical death, as suggested in "Many to us have breathed their last, some to a happier land have fled." However, many "absconded," or left the Shaker faith. The last three lines discuss this kind of loss.

Showing dedication to her faith, Sister Ann seems to make a New Year's resolution in this passage from 1837.

1 January 1837
I am determined to be more faithful
In this year which is now begun.
That I may gain a heavenly treasure
Which will fit me for the world to come.

Ann Buckingham continued to live in the Watervliet Shaker community for the rest of her life and was laid to rest in the Shaker Cemetery. She died at the age of 88 in December of 1892, just four days short of the New Year.