The Keepsake

In the summer of 1974 I came across a handwritten Album belonging to Elizabeth Garrett Atwood (1800-1833).  It was nestled in a box of books, which I bought for a dollar at a farm auction, in Emerald, Wisconsin. Elizabeth acquired this object in October of 1828, indicated by her signature on the opening page. Uniquely, it served as a place for her to transcribe verses reflective of her inner feelings. She also carried the Album when she traveled to see friends in neighboring towns of Ohio, where she shared her Album with her social circle to record their favorite lines.[1] On these visits Elizabeth’s book functioned as a literary space, facilitating communication of friendship, empathy and sympathy among her friends, and sometimes family.  In its entirety, the collection of verses acted as a metaphor for the events, and tragedies in her life e.g. marriage, in 1829, human loss, especially the death of her brother John,[2] and that of her two-years old daughter Ellen, in 1832. And finally, for her own death in 1833. 

A few months after having the Album Elizabeth inserted a poem of an unknown author, called “The Keepsake.”[3] I came to realize that “The Keepsake” represented the Album itself.  The Album was, and still is the keepsake mentioned in the poem, as follows.

Oh! Know it thou why, to distance driven

When friendship weeps the parting hour

The simplest gift that moment given

Long, long retains a magic power.

Still when it meets the musing view

Can half the theft of time retrieve.

The scenes of former bliss renew

and bid each dear idea live.

It boots not if the pencil’d rose

Or severed ringlet meet the eye.

On India’s spark’ling gems enclose

The talisman of sympathy.

Keep it, yes keep it for my sake

On fancy’s ear still breathes the sound

Nor time the potent charm shall break

Nor lose the spell by nature bound.

New Lisbon Feb. 8th 1829                    Elizabeth Y. Garrett

“A small memento left behind – Recalls an absent friend to mind.”

As the quote at the foot of the poem suggests, the purpose of her Album was to remember absent friend(s). The irony of Elizabeth’s choice to include “The Keepsake” in her Album lies in the idea that her Album blossomed into ‘a talisman of sympathy,’ even after her own death.

The powerful tone of this very old poem, probably of British origin, is in my estimation, the reason why the Album survived.  Someone close to Elizabeth brought her book halfway across the country from Ohio, to Wisconsin.  By surprise it ended up in a box of books at an auction for me to buy, for a dollar, when it could have ended up out in the rain. (I was the only person to bid on the box.)  I knew when I unearthed the book from the box that it was special if not a little too gloomy for a nineteen-years old. I kept it anyway and preserved it in memory of Elizabeth and her long-gone community of friends, who live on in 2023. I guarded Elizabeth’s Album, her keepsake, as the words in the poem suggested, “Keep it, keep it for my sake.” I still have it today, almost 200 years after her writing. 

Elizabeth brilliantly, if not unknowingly, reshaped aspects of her own life in the totality of her book.  The Album, probably a gift of friendship as the first verse of poem states, remained as a ‘charm that time would not break,’ and ‘its spell was bound by nature.’  Its impermeable quality calls into question whether or not our objects hold a ‘magic power’ long after we are gone. but not just magic for magic’s sake.  For Elizabeth, the value of her book lay in the power of a gift given out of friendship. Elizabeth, a religious Baptist was also exposed to a variety of secular literature of Asian influence, suggested by the idea that a keepsake was akin to the mystery hidden within ‘India’s sparkling gems.’ If we don’t believe in gems and magic, we might concur that our possessions can at least hold memories that live on in the minds of others, if others choose to keep them, making clear that our possessions outlive our own fragile existence.  The Album honors Elizabeth and the people in her life, but it also honors the writers and poets whose work they chose to transcribe, ‘to bid each dear idea live.’  These poems help us today to understand the universal complexity of grief and sorrow that our ancestors felt.  As an object, the Album sustains its impact primarily because of the written words put down inside it, by curious minds of people long gone, with the ability to express feelings and thoughts. Elizabeth truthfully spoke about the importance of feelings at the beginning of her book:

“The feelings of the heart leave traces on the memory more sweet as well as more indelible,

than any action of the Mind _ and a glance of the eye which awakens one chord of affection,

will be remembered, when the brightest sallies of intellect-the happiest strokes of wit, are banished forever- EYG”

Words are put down to preserve our everlasting feelings, a testimony to our existence. No one felt this more deeply than Elizabeth.   

Brokenhearted Elizabeth wrote her final transcription “Is it well with the child?” on the evening of Dec. 31st, 1832, interestingly on the last day of the year.  This poem reflected Elizabeth’s desire to communicate with her dead child, baby Ellen.  The importance of the Album lived on for her friends, even after this entry. On January 20th, and 23rd, 1833, a mysterious friend named O Stoughton wrote three separate verses within. These were called, “oh still as the circle of social affection,” “Oh if there is no human tear,” and “The flower is not whithered, it is only transplanted.” All written in honor of Elizabeth’s loss, and losses.

Elizabeth died from consumption on November 3, 1833, 15 months after the death of Ellen.   Four months after her death, on April 20th, 1834, the book’s final verse, “The close of life,” was inserted by E. A. Wardlane, Nelson.  The initials E.A. likely stand for her husband Edwin Atwood, and Wardlane may have been a place name in Nelson, unless it is the person’s last name. Not totally clear, but it’s my sense that the Album remained in the home of her husband Edwin Atwood and from there made its way west. One final time, the ‘talisman of sympathy’ served as a mouthpiece for Elizabeth, and for her society.   

Elizabeth is a legitimate author, and editor of this small meaningful book.[4]  In the first quarter of the 19th century illness and death were the norm, and grieving was ever present in people’s lives. The keeping and creation of her Album was an extension of her grieving, the importance of relationships in her life, and of her need to share her feelings with her friends through literature. She had a natural, and uncensored tendency to express herself freely and the Album was a vehicle for her to engage her friends, in joy and in grief. Relationships mattered to Elizabeth.  They were the breath of her existence and she gave them relevance in her Album. In modern times, the Album is a magnificent example of a 19th century process of social media. 

In the words of her Death Notice, ‘Elizabeth was a woman of uncommon intelligence.’ This could not be further from the truth.  She had a magnetic personality, which followed her wherever she went, and continues to emanate from her Album to this day.   She was an ingenious and creative writer, an editor, promoter and preserver of literature, as witnessed in her keepsake, the Album. She should be remembered for her contributions.

[1] Of interest is how Elizabeth and her friends gained access to a variety of literature in Nelson, Ohio, in 1833.  Her early handwriting samples from 1815-1816 contained a wide variety of transcriptions of English poetry.  These were done in Mercer, which was part of Ohio at the time.  But in Nelson, did the family library have books and magazines?  When she traveled to the homes of friends, where she would stay for several days or even weeks, it appears they shared selections from their own library, in her Album.  How this literature reached the frontier of Ohio is another point of research.

[2]  She mourned John’s death for an entire year, but the sorrow over his loss never left her.     

[3] In my internet search, I found “The Keepsake” with an unknown author, published in “A Lover’s Dictionary; A Poetical Treasury,” 1867, thirty-eight years after Elizabeth chose it for her book.    I believe the author was British, rather than American, evidenced by the use of the expression in the third stanza, first line, ‘It boots not…’ meaning ‘it serves not, or isn’t useful.  This phrase was spoken by William Shakespeare’s King Richard to Mowbray in the following: “It boots thee not to be compassionate.” By the same token, it’s not impossible that an early American poet re-coined the words to fit his or her poem, but that would mean the expression, in use since before the 17th century, reached the pen of a colonial writer.

[4] Elizabeth, coinciding with her Album, kept a personal journal during the last seven years of her life. It’s hard to believe that Elizabeth didn’t keep a journal as a young girl, though no surviving papers exist to my knowledge.

The Time Will Come

The time will come when, with elation

You will greet yourself arriving 

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the others welcome,

And say, sit here. 


You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

By Derek Walcott

     My friend Sally sent me this poem several month ago.  I take it as a message to make peace with oneself. Before we forgive others, we must forgive ourselves.  

     Another version of this theme is found in a jingle my mom taught to me when I left her house one day.  It goes like this:

I’ve gone out to look for myself, if I should return before I get back, keep me here.

     And finally a quote by David Bowie:

Aging is an extraordinary process whereby

You become the person you always should have been.”

I like David’s quote because we race through life trying to figure out what we want to be and do when we grow up, only to realize that our true selves were within us all the time.  I like to relive the idyllic aspects of my childhood and re-create them whenever I can.  Things like chasing butterflies and collecting crickets for that much loathed science project you had to do at the beginning of every school year.  I hated jabbing those pins into the thoraces of those poor insects and sticking them on cardboard poster board.  Egads! then you had to label them.  I went back to chasing butterflies instead and looking at wildflowers in the field, and consequently failed the school assignment.   I’m happy I failed, because to this day I can come back to myself and the child that lives within, and say:

This is who I was, this is who I am. GRB

A Day at the Beach

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

I love the beach
It’s a special place for me
I take naps
Listen to waves
And walk along the sandy edge of the ocean,
Watching children make castles in the sand.

Dreams of the inhabitants flood the beach
My dreams, their dreams, everyone’s dreams.
The salty water of the tide moves in and out
And sweeps up all these dreams
and moves them back out to the sea.
Back and forth, back and forth, 
dreams tumble like shells with the riptide.
Dreams that may never come true
Dreams unseen in real life
Except in the minds of those who dare to ponder 
that which is possible.

A small girl with blonde hair to her shoulders
Builds pyramids by the seashore with her dad.
Chichén Itzá comes to mind.
The re-creation of a place they never heard of before.
Maybe shown in a picture, at some time,
By some teacher, from who knows where. 
And it stuck in their mind.
As the tide moves in at about 4 o’clock,
Most pack their bags to go.
Begrudging the work that lies ahead
Their feet kick up their dreams in the sand.
The lifeguard stays on,
Talking away with an older female friend sitting down below. 
She keeps him company for the day.
He talks about the sea, the wild sea so ‘bravo’ from the full moon rising in the sky.
Gentle souls were he, and she.

And the small blond girl stood before her pyramids
Arms extended from East to West
Absorbing the current through her veins, eager to gulp her up like a whale.
But she stood strong, and firm, 
Impermeable and invincible against the steady gust of wind,
As she overlooked the sea with its fierce and raucous waves. 
When her father said “Aria, it’s time to go,”
A loud and thunderous “No” came from her tiny back turned body,
Resistant to a thief who would dare to steal her dream.
But she acquiesced leaving her castles behind, like the friendly couple
Sitting nearby, she too packed up her things to return to her camp at Burlingame Park.

A single colored, sleeping woman, with a indigo bandana, tied like a crown on her head, was awoken from her dream.  Startled to find her dry little island in the sand 
Surrounded by the water, the encroaching tide told her she must flee -
To save herself from getting totally drenched.  Her dream clung at the edge of consciousness
As she raised herself from the ground.
The small girl was still standing in the distance with her parents.
We caught her eye and waved, she waved back.
Then they were gone. Disappeared as if they had never been there before.
Their effervescent dreams dissipating like mist into the air.

The beach was empty.
Only the friendly lifeguard high in his chair was left chatting away,
With his older female companion sitting below.
Relating his stories of the sea.

We too thought it time to go,
Reluctantly, we gathered our things.
As we stepped away, I searched my pocket filled with two white rocks
To see if I had room to take everyone, and their dreams home with me.
But no, I too, like Aria had to leave my dreams in the sand.
At least for another day.

By Georgianna Rivard

In the dark forest…

…the moon is the guiding light.  The air is crisp, birds are none to be found. Autumn hangs on, like the last leaves to fall. Muted green of olive bushes, alone reflect golden beams.  The clock has spent its time. Alas! the days are longer, the light is stronger, and winter won’t be far.  Sleep deeply under the evening stars.26930768309_bb2b393c95_o

“Credo” by Virginia Small

Summer's Secrets
“Black Eyed Susan”  Photo Georgianna Rivard Bravo

Just get to the point,
he said.
But which point,
she wondered.
Is there just one
and how do we decide
which one it is,
or should be?

Just make your point
and let’s be done with it,
he stated.

And her mind wandered
from that room,
to another point-
a rock at the edge of a finger
of land jutting into an ocean.
Watching water merge with sky,
she rested on that point
as waves dashed around her.

Okay, she said,
after what seemed to him
too long a time,
this is my point:
We choose our beauty,
be it jagged and dark
or smooth or gleaming.

But what makes something
We must have a standard,
he pressed.

Yes, she agreed,
and then imagined
another point,
a clearing near the top
of a wooded mountain
reached only by foot
after a five hour hike.

I want to tell you about a place
I once visited, she said.
Let me pull the threads of
a picture-memory
and then
let’s sort
for words
that point
like beauty.

“Credo” By Virginia Small

Connecticut Review 2006 Vol. XXVII No. 2

Featured Image “Abandoned Farm” by Dave Dreimiller

David and His Violin


The decision is made! The drive to move on in search of a new horizon will happen.   New land with predictable contours, for plowing, planting and cultivating, will be had.  The last winter in Wisconsin had settled in for the Garland’s. On a visit to Grandad McClintock’s, in the dead of winter, where family gathers round the fire and the romantic Uncle David plays the violin with his Celtic fervor, and mother sings along, dissent is heard by the news that the Garland family will be settling in Winneshiek on the edge of Looking Glass Prairie. Going to Iowa!

Grandpa McClintock doesn’t want to see his daughter go. He says, to Mr. Garland,

Ye’d better stick to the old coulee, ‘…a touch of sadness in his voice.’  Ye’ll find no better here. …ye belong here. It’s the curse of our country, -this constant moving, moving. I’d have been better off had I stayed in Ohio, though this valley seemed very beautiful to me the first time I saw it.

The conflict between staying and leaving continues, as the mother in singing, “O’er the Hills in Legions Boy,” is subdued by the prospects of separation, and her husband, the ‘explorer, pioneer’ can only see the opportunities ahead, in a new land. Hamlin says, “life is a struggle, love a torment,” as the mind set for preparations is formed.  Even Grandpa  knows deep down the heart wrenching feeling of leaving your loved ones behind.

Hamlin’s autobiography is beautifully rendered in a poetic language, imbued with contrasting tones of light and dark, reminiscent of the true romantic spirit of the author and the times.   His descriptions of the land, and the mood they cast are indelibly etched in his memory. It is in his darkest poetic thoughts, where true meaning is found.

The reader is constantly reminded of the perspective of the author of “A Son of a Middle Border,” looking back in time. Remembering the bittersweet experience of being torn from the land of his blood, and his undying search of his childhood roots.

It all lies in the unchanging realm of the past-this land of my childhood. Its charm, its strange dominion cannot return save in the poet’s reminiscent dream. No money, no railway train can take us back to it. It did not in truth exist-it was a magical world, born of moaning winds-a union which can never come again to you or me, father, uncle, brother, till the coulee meadows bloom again unscarred of spade or plow.

Isn’t it what we all yearn for, to return to the ‘impossible past’ and relive the sweet magical scent of the fragile dreams that never really were?

“A Day In The Life of Luna” ~ Revised

Luna, at the Sea

Made a journey down a winding road, to see an old friend and a dog named Luna. Near the coast we stayed.  We listened to the not so distant waves come and go, in a rhythmic way.  The smell of salt was in the air.

The next morning, on a walk at the beach, the tilting fence post glistened in the sun, with sand at its feet. Budding rose bushes, splattered bits of red color upon the dunes.  The dynamic sea awaited the hustle and bustle of beachgoers, after Luna and her friends had their play.

In the afternoon, the sun beat down. Children frolicked at the shore with mother and father at their sides, building castles in the sand.  They felt unfettered, by the rough canine play, of the early morn.

What did Luna think, as she lay at home sleeping, mid-day?  There, she was dreaming of her four-legged pals, from whom she would steal balls and sticks, as they raucously rolled in the sand.  Then, swim!

In the hours, when the night had fallen, and twilight awoke, daybreak returned to summon Luna out to play.  Alone, she could not go. She rose, wagged her tail, and sniffed and licked the face of my sleepy friend.  She was begging to go to the ocean, where she would find her friends again; and so they did.

With every journey, there is something to be learned. On this one, it was knowing a day in the life of Luna, and the simple pleasures it brings.



If you come back someday.

I am the forest
I am the forest.

The day is waiting!  Dawn passed before I awoke, and the sun is getting too bright for comfort.  Alas, one mustn’t begrudge the sunshine, though there is nothing like a rainy day to set thoughts in motion.

Having awakened with a clean slate, alongside one of many chores, and things to do, I ask, “Which will prevail?  Meandering my way through unprescribed discovery, or following the rule of accomplishment, and purpose?”  Balance is the prudent course.

To open the day, here is a poem by a Finnish artist, named Eeva Lisa Manner (1921-1995).  The title, “ASSIMILATION”

Assimilation that I have travelled. I will show you a way that I have travelled. If you come If you come back some day searching for me do you see how everything shifts a little every moment and becomes less pretentious and more primitive (like pictures drawn by children or early forms of life: the soul’s alphabet) you will come to a warm region it is soft and hazy but then I will no longer be me, but the forest.