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American Annals of the Deaf

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Mrs. Sigourney of Hartford: Poems and Prose on the Early American Deaf Community
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  For Alice

Hartford, Tuesday, March 6th, 1815


Dear little girl:—whose brow portrays
     The fairest seal by Nature set;
Whose quick, expressive glance displays
     The bosom’s rapture or regret,—


What though thy sealed lip must still
No thought of tenderness convey,
Well canst thou wake its warmest thrill
And well that warmest thrill repay.


Preserved from folly’s mad control
Perchance more pure to you is given
The secret utterance of the soul
Which incense best perpetuates heaven.


And if at last thy gentle mind
Whe[n] shades of mortal difference cease
Still more exalted, more refined
Shall join the white rob’d train of peace.


Then to what sweet seraphic voice
Shall brighter tone of praise be given
And Oh what ear shall more rejoice
To drink the harmony of Heaven


“To Alice” (1826)

Like the 1815 “For Alice,” “To Alice” was never published or titled, the phrase “To Alice” being the opening inscription. The only known copy is in Alice’s autograph album, held by the Archives of the American School for the Deaf, West Hartford. This “Album” also contains a second hitherto unpublished poem by Sigourney, the untitled poem reprinted later in this section and beginning “You ask ‘how music melts away.’” “To Alice” is written out on both sides of a leaf that has crumbled at its bottom edges and has allowed the ink on each side to bleed through, making it difficult and, in some passages, impossible to read. Sigourney used most of the lines of stanzas 1–3 in a poem she published the following year, “Opinions of the Uneducated Deaf and Dumb” (in part 2), whose subject is an unidentified pupil of the Asylum. Using this published poem to fill in illegible lines in stanza 3 leaves us with only two lacunae in stanza 4.

Alice Cogswell was twenty-one, had finished her schooling, and was living at home with her parents when Sigourney composed this poem, yet the focus is on the remembered little girl just past her tenth birthday that Alice was when she became Sigourney’s pupil. According to this poem (and many other accounts), she was a happy child, though ignorant of Christian beliefs, and Sigourney begins by trying to account for that contradiction: Alice has the natural “bliss” of childhood and the “innocent sensibility” that causes her family to love her, so she is happy as long as she does not consider the “eternal question, fathomless and dread” of who made the transient world, a world that, to a deaf child, must be a nightmarish “maze”—or so Sigourney imagines it. Since these lines are also employed to describe the unnamed child of “Opinions,” it is not certain which child Sigourney had in mind.

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