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of Hartford: Poems and Prose on the Early American Deaf Community|
“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 This “Album” also contains a second hitherto unpublished poem by Sigourney, the untitled poem reprinted later in this section and beginning “You ask ‘how music melts away.’”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.