Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not
By Ann Plato

When in the morning’s misty hour,
When the sun beams gently o’er each flower;
When thou dost cease to smile benign,
And think each heart responds with thine,
When seeking rest among divine,
                        Forget me not.

When the last rays of twilight fall,
And thou art pacing yonder hall;
When mists are gathering on the hill,
Nor sound is heard save mountain rill,
When all around bids peace be still,
                        Forget me not.

When the first star with brilliance bright,
Gleams lonely o’er the arch of night;
When the bright moon dispels the gloom,
And various are the stars that bloom,
And brighten as the sun at noon,
                        Forget me not.

When solemn sighs the hollow wind,
And deepen’d thought enraps the mind;
If e’er thou doest in mournful tone,
E’er sigh because thou feel alone,
Or wrapt in melancholy prone,
                        Forget me not.

When bird does wait thy absence long,
Nor tend unto its morning song;
While thou art searching stoic page,
Or listening to an ancient sage,
Whose spirit curbs a mournful rage,
                        Forget me not.

Then when in silence thou doest walk,
Nor being round with whom to talk;
When thou art on the mighty deep,
And do in quiet action sleep;
If we no more on earth do meet,
                        Forget me not.

When brightness round thee long shall bloom,
And knelt remembering those in gloom;
And when in deep oblivion’s shade,
This breathless, mouldering form is laid,
And thy terrestrial body staid,
                        Forget me not.

“Should sorrow cloud thy coming years,
And bathe thy happiness in tears,
Remember, though we’re doom’d to part,
There lives one fond and faithful heart,
                        That will forget thee not.”

Little is known about the life of Ann Plato. Apparently, she was a free black in Hartford, Connecticut, at a time when the city’s free black residents outnumbered the town’s slave population. She was also a member of Hartford’s Colored Congregational Church. Knowledge about her is limited to the one book that she published, most likely when she was 16. Entitled Essays: Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces of Prose and Poetry (1841), it contains four biographical compositions, sixteen very short essays, and twenty poems. She was one of the earliest African American women to publish a collection of poems and essays. 

Not a lot is known about Ann Plato. Her minister, the Reverend James W. C. Pennington, wrote an introductory notice, “To the Reader.” After identifying Ann Plato as one of his parishioners, he repeatedly says she is young but does not make clear exactly how old she is. He says nothing about her family except to indicate that she is “of modest worth.” Neither does he tell how long she had been a member of his church, but he does record she is “of pleasing piety.”

We get even less information from her. There is some evidence that she was either a young teacher or preparing to be one. Her essays are conventional. Designed as instructive interpretations of issues she found important, they focus primarily on religious and educational matters. Her attitude toward Africa appears in an essay entitled “Education,” in which she commends those Christian missionaries who were willing to forsake the comforts of home in order to take “a message of love to the burning clime of Africa.” In keeping with an eighteenth-century tendency to eulogize one’s friends, Plato mourns—in the four biographies—the early deaths of some friends, one of whom was apparently a slave.

Although Plato’s poetry seldom deals with racial issues, she apparently was not totally oblivious to the concerns of her day. She occasionally emphasized the equality of people, regardless of race, a few times in the Essays. One of her poems, “To the First of August,” celebrates the ending of slavery in the British West Indies and may have been written shortly after that law went into effect on 1 August 1838. At the time, there were a number of poems written by a variety of poets on the subject, and she presumably joined this contemporaneous group. “The Natives of America” is a dramatic poem that relates her consideration of the plight of Native Americans in the United States. But for the most part, her subjects seem to have little to do with the specific problems faced by African Americans in everyday life.

Some scholars might dismiss her merely as a link between Phillis Wheatley (the first African-American author of a published book of poetry), whose work she apparently knew, and later women writers. On the other hand, Plato shows in Essays some tendencies toward a lyricism not associated with Phillis Wheatley. For example, her “Reflections, Written on Visiting the Grave of a Venerated Friend” goes beyond the expected neoclassical tradition and shows real feelings about death. Her love poem “Forget Me Not” is another example of a stylized lyric that conveys a sense of emotion. In the essay “Benevolence,” Plato wrote, “Although there are many nations, and many stations in life, yet He watches over us, He has given us immortal souls. Some have white complexions, some are red, like our wandering natives, others have sable or olive complexions. But God hath made of one blood all who dwell upon the face of the earth.”

Following neoclassical conventions, she did not write about herself. As a result, much about Ann Plato has—so far—been lost to history. Though her poems “On Examination for a Teacher,” “I Have No Brother,” or “The Residence of My Fathers” may be autobiographical. Nothing is known about Plato’s life after her book was published in 1841. 

I was looking for a poem about nostalgia, which is what the picture above brought to mind when I saw it. I can see the man at the window thinking, “Forget Me Not,” as he watches a lover walk away. This poem touched my heart. Most of us will not leave a great legacy after we are gone. We will not be written in history books. We will only be remembered by those who knew us, and that may not last past their lifetime. Our gravestones will tell when we were born when we died, and may even give a clue about our family. The poem above is sentimental and, while long, is also simple. Its style, rhyming scheme, and lack of cynical sarcasm are out of fashion with most modern poetry as I said last week is “mostly nonsense, the type of poems that the title claims are about one thing, and while it may start out following what you expect from the title, it just goes off into leftfield.” Often there is no “rhyme or (apparent) reason,” nor does it have any structure or lyricism to it.

Near Middlebury in the town of Ripton, in Addison Country, Vermont, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service maintains the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. This National Recreation Trail commemorates Robert Frost’s poetry, and several of his poems are mounted along the trail in the woods and fields. The trail is said to be an easy walk along the Middlebury. I had considered going this last weekend, but I wasn’t feeling great mentally, just a case of the blahs, nothing major. Also, Addison County is not the easiest place to get to from where I live. At best, it’s an hour and a half away, even if you brave going over the mountain pass, which I have done before, and it scared the ever-loving hell out of me. The road is basically a somewhat maintained dirt path with just enough width for two cars to pass, with the mountain on one side and a drop-off of trees on the other. My point is I was not up for it last weekend. Maybe this weekend will be different. Saturday is looking like nice weather.

I got a little sidetracked. I was thinking of poems that fit the bill of the type I like, and Robert Frost’s poems usually do. In turn, that had me thinking of the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, how I’d like to visit it, and how far away and inconvenient it is. There are several places in that part of the state I like to visit, Manchester and Middlebury being two of them. I’d also like to see Bennington. I’m getting off track and babbling again, so let’s just leave it there….

I hope you enjoyed this week’s poem.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

2 responses to “Forget Me Not

  • J Craig

    I liked both the poem and your reflection on it . I also like Frost’s poetry and it’s pastoral style can be quite pleasurable on its own but often quite serious themes underlying the natural imagery.

    • Joe

      Frost was often deceptive in his poetry. On the service they seem so beautiful and sometimes inspirational or, like you said, pastoral, but most have a much deeper meaning that adds so much depth to his poetry.

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