My last dance

My last dance is a poem written by Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). This American poem is remembered for the poem The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She is also remembered as one of the fighters for equal rights for women.

About the poet

Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe in 1908. Source: Library of Congress

Howe was born in New Your City as one of the seven children of a upper middle class family. She was introduced to poetry by her mother, Julia Rush Cutler. When Howe was five years old, her mother died of tuberculosis. After that she was tutored at private schools and it turned out she was an intelligent girl.

Thanks to the influence of her father, Samuel Ward III – succesful broker at Walstreet, she was introduced to people as Charles Dickens, Charles Sumner and Margaret Fuller.

Howe became a social activist after writing the poem The Battle Hymn of the Republic. This poem was inspired by her meeting Abraham Lincoln in 1861. She became active as a fighter of equal rights for women starting from 1867.

In 1908 she was the first woman who was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She died at the age of 91. During her funeral at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge Massachusetss over 4.000 people sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Her biography that came out in 1916 won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

 

 

 

My last dance

My last dance

The shell of objects inwardly consumed
Will stand, till some convulsive wind awakes;
Such sense hath Fire to waste the heart of things,
Nature, such love to hold the form she makes.
Thus, wasted joys will show their early bloom,
Yet crumble at the breath of a caress;
The golden fruitage hides the scathèd bough,
Snatch it, thou scatterest wide its emptiness.
For pleasure bidden, I went forth last night
To where, thick hung, the festal torches gleamed;
Here were the flowers, the music, as of old,
Almost the very olden time it seemed.
For one with cheek unfaded, (though he brings
My buried brothers to me, in his look,)
Said, `Will you dance?’ At the accustomed words
I gave my hand, the old position took.
Sound, gladsome measure! at whose bidding once
I felt the flush of pleasure to my brow,
While my soul shook the burthen of the flesh,
And in its young pride said, `Lie lightly thou!’Then, like a gallant swimmer, flinging high
My breast against the golden waves of sound,
I rode the madd’ning tumult of the dance,
Mocking fatigue, that never could be found.Chide not,–it was not vanity, nor sense,
(The brutish scorn such vaporous delight,)
But Nature, cadencing her joy of strength
To the harmonious limits of her right.She gave her impulse to the dancing Hours,
To winds that sweep, to stars that noiseless turn;
She marked the measure rapid hearts must keep
Devised each pace that glancing feet should learn.And sure, that prodigal o’erflow of life,
Unvow’d as yet to family or state,
Sweet sounds, white garments, flowery coronals
Make holy, in the pageant of our fate.Sound, measure! but to stir my heart no more–
For, as I moved to join the dizzy race,
My youth fell from me; all its blooms were gone,
And others showed them, smiling, in my face.

Faintly I met the shock of circling forms
Linked each to other, Fashion’s galley-slaves,
Dream-wondering, like an unaccustomed ghost
That starts, surprised, to stumble over graves.

For graves were ‘neath my feet, whose placid masks
Smiled out upon my folly mournfully,
While all the host of the departed said,
`Tread lightly–thou art ashes, even as we.’

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