To my old parish­ioners

A po­etic trib­ute


To­day the Amer­i­can, Robert Traill Spence Low­ell (1816-91), is re­mem­bered as the author of the first novel ever to be based on first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of New­found­land life. New Priest in Con­cep­tion Bay, pub­lished in 1858, re­volves around the un­ex­plained dis­ap­pear­ance of the young girl, Lucy Bar­bury.

Per­haps less well known is Low­ell’s po­etry. Born in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, Low­ell trained for min­istry in the Protes­tant Epis­co­pal Church. In 1842, he was ad­mit­ted for or­di­na­tion.

That fall, Low­ell met Aubrey Ge­orge Spencer (1785-1872), New­found­land’s first Church of Eng­land Bishop, later fol­low­ing him to Ber­muda. Low­ell was dea­coned in De­cem­ber and priested in March 1843. He served as do­mes­tic chap­lain to Bishop Spencer and school in­spec­tor. Low­ell re­quested to be trans­ferred to Bay Roberts, New­found­land.

Ar­riv­ing on the is­land in May 1843, he be­came the third res­i­dent min­is­ter of St. Matthew’s. His re­spon­si­bil­i­ties also in­cluded the spir­i­tual over­sight of the Angli­cans in the Con­cep­tion Bay com­mu­nity of Spa­niard’s Bay and New Har­bour, Trin­ity Bay.

Ex­cept for a three-month stint in the States in 1845, when he mar­ried Mary Ann ( known as Mar­i­anna) Duane of Duanes­burg, New York, Low­ell lived in New­found­land un­til July 1847. The Low­ells had three daugh­ters and four sons. Their first child was born in Bay Roberts in 1847.

In Fe­bru­ary 1848, not long af­ter leav­ing New­found­land, Low­ell wrote a po­etic trib­ute to his old parish­ioners. An ex­cerpt fol­lows:

The parish priest that hath his charge Be­side the stormy sea, Where howl­ing tem­pests stalk at large,

And many an ice­berg, as a barge, Moores where the shal­lows be; Where win­ter’s sky, with sud­den gust, Is tra­versed to and fro, And storm clouds, bro­ken up as dust, Fill earth all deep with snow. Hath much to speak of hardy men That face the wild sea gale, And lov­ing hearts made dreary, when The wait­ing eyes must fail, That from the cliffs their far search strain To see, slow toil­ing home again, The long fa­mil­iar sail That shall not come; for it is tost

Like drift­ing weed above the lost,

Who down and down, through sound­less deep,

Have found a path­way, sheer and steep,

And at the foot shall lie and sleep, While long the ham­let’s tale Lingers upon their un­known fate,

And, night by night, the fire burns late In one sad, silent cot, Where wife and chil­dren spread their hands

And cower above the wast­ing brands,

And the poor house dog un­der­stands, Why they that went come not.... Such are full-fre­quent things with those That dwell be­side the sea: Whose sails feel ev­ery wind that blows, If fair or foul it be. Dear pa­tient fish­er­men! for you Whom late I lived among, My heart, that loved you, yearns anew, And of­ten pass be­fore my view The forms of old and young. For love of you this tale I tell Of things now long agone; And as the dark and heavy swell Of me­mory heaves on, With wrecks of loved ones builded well As if to life for aye, Ye may shed tears like those which fell From him that wrote this lay, And who again now says farewell!

As he will al­ways pray.

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