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Sign Language Studies

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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Sigourney takes up Alice’s sign-language education in the third stanza, which, being the most damaged section of the poem, is heavily restored from “Opinions.” The “hands that burst the chain” would apparently have been Gallaudet’s. Here we have the conventional conceit, which Sigourney will use again, most poignantly in “Prayers of the Deaf and Dumb,” that God understands the deaf child’s prayers, though other people cannot.

The final stanza, which does not appear in “Opinions,” provides another instance in Sigourney’s work of the notion that deaf people become hearing in heaven. Here, she imagines the bliss Alice will feel when the first thing she will hear, after death, is praises for Jesus’ love sung to the accompaniment of harps.

       
  To Alice

[1]

Sweet friend, with silent lips—The world to thee
Was first a maze and all things moving on
In darkness and mystery. And He
Who made these beauteous things which fade anon
What was He? From thy brow the roses fled,
At that eternal question, fathomless and dread

[2]

     True, childhood’s bliss was in thine eye,
And o’er thy features gay would rove
     That innocent sensibility
          Which wakens love
     A mother’s fond caress
     A sister’s tenderness
Bade through the breast the tides of pleasure run,
     A father’s smile would bless
          His dear and voiceless one,
     Yet sometimes bending o’er thy sleeping bed
Their mingled tears for thee in sympathy were shed.

[3]

Oh! snatched from ignorance and pain
     And taught with seraph eye
At yon unmeasured orbs to gaze
And trace amid their quenchless blaze
     Thy own high destiny.
Forever bless the hands that burst thy chain
[And] led thy gentle steps to Learning’s hallow’d fane*
     Though from thy guarded portal press
     No word of tuneful tenderness,
     In the starting tear, the glowing cheek
     The soul with emphasis doth speak,
          Her tone is in the sigh
          Her language in the eye,
     Her voice of harmony, a life of praise,
Best understood by Him,—who notes our secret ways.

[4]

The tomb shall burst these fetters—Death sublime
     Shall bear away the ills which life entail’d,
Eternity shall rend that seal which Time
          So long bewail’d.
Thou who no melody of earth hast known
Nor chirp of birds, their wind-rock’d cells that rear,
          Nor waters murmuring lone
     The organ’s solemn peal, nor viol clear
Nor warbling breath of man that joins the hymning [tone?]
          Can speech of mortals tell
          What tides of bliss shall swell
          If the first summons to they waken’d ear
     Should be the plaudit of thy Savior’s love,
     The golden harps that through the immortal g[rove?]
     Breathe the enraptur’d strains of the redeem’d.

Lydia Sigourney

[Hartfo]rd, Thursday, August 4, 1826

   

 

 *temple

       
       

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