EMILY SHAW FORMAN   (1827 – 1908)   was born on Nantucket and moved to Lynn in 1870, where she lived until 1887, before moving to Brookline. Her book Wildflower Sonnets, collected from poems appearing in Scribner’s magazine and published in 1895, establishes her as the most accomplished female Lynn poet of the 19th century. In the book, Forman’s sonnets are arranged chronologically by month from spring through winter. Masterfully written and highly evocative, the sonnets achieve more than a description of beauty. They capture in words the quality of wildflowers that Cyrus Tracy names in the ending to his Studies of the Essex Flora (Lynn: Thos. P. Nichols, 1858): the ability to “tell a higher tale… a tale of life, death, a golden hope, and a sanctified immortality.”

Cyrus Tracy’s book focuses on the trees, bushes, and wildflowers of Lynn, primarily those he observes in the Lynn Woods. While writing about the “most remarkable” valley of Blood’s Swamp, near the Stone Tower, in the same paragraph, he mentions both the blue hepatica that “now and then look up from the damp leaves and give us a quiet welcome,” and the “lithe Golden-Rods [that] nod and beckon to each other.” Paying full attention to the goldenrods, Tracy senses, “Perhaps they will whisper: I can not tell.” Below, in Forman’s sonnets about the hepatica of March and the goldenrods of September, she captures the wildflowers’ ineffable qualities.




BRAVE, blue-eyed herald of the tardy Spring,
    Who, while thy laggard followers still sleep,
Courageously thy steadfast watch dost keep,
Glad tidings of her first approach to bring,—
I wonder thy sweet patience never fails,
Though wintry snows lie deep on field and hill,
And from the sea the bitter blast blows chill,
That no weak doubt thy trusting heart assails.
I marvel at thy subtile chemistry,
Which can from the cold earth such faith distil,
And from gray skies such azure as doth fill
Thy gentle, upturned eyes. Oh, lesson me,
Fair sage!  Courage and hope I’d learn of thee,
And faith that fails not in adversity.




A PATIENT, pensive silence fills the wood,
     Broken by muffled droppings, sad as tears :
On the far hills a purple haze appears,
That veils and yet reveals their mournful mood :
Soft mists along the lowlands creep, and brood
On lake and river. Through the hush one hears
The tuneless drone of insects, lulling fears
And hopes alike. A sense half understood,
Of something sweet that was and is no more,
Stirs in the heart.  “Summer is gone,” we say.
But see, as dreamily she went her way,
She dropped the golden scepter that she bore :
Ah, precious symbol of her gracious sway,
Bright incarnation of the smile she wore!



from:  Wildflower Sonnets (Boston: Joseph Knight Co.) 1895.