Washington, Our Poet-in-Chief

George Washington is known for his military and political achievements, but the  Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut offers evidence of his prowess as a poet.

Washington’s poetry is included in an exhibit titled Sound & Sense: Poetic Musings in American Art (November 14, 2015 – April 17, 2016):

“The exhibition presents a diverse landscape of masterpieces from the museum’s collection that incorporate poetic inscriptions in their composition or have direct relationships to America’s rich poetic traditions….”

On one wall, the portraits of Martha (left) and George Washington (right) are placed so they appear to be gazing at each other. Moreover, at first glance, the poem appears to be a a expression of George’s love for Martha. However, the note above Washington’s verse explains the sentiment was taken from a personal letter 1749-50, nine years before he married Martha. IMG_0028

 

The verse placed on the wall reads:

From your sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays you have, more powerful than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array

The text next to the portraits -painted by James Sharples (1798)- explains that at the time the letter was written, Washington was a “lovesick teenager” who “penned a passionate sentimental verse to an unknown maiden” before he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.

Historians suggest that young Washington had crushed on several young women, and the the evidence that he had dabbled in romantic poetry in addition to the genres of letter-writing and speeches, speaks to his early comfort with expressing himself with the written word.

 

On this extended weekend (2/13-2/15/16) , one that combines Valentine’s Day with President’s Day, we have yet one more reason to celebrate George Washington, our first President, and our first Poet-in-Chief.

Extended version of this post on: http://usedbooksinclass.com/2016/02/14/george-washington-hearts-a-maiden/

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