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George Washington: Love Poet

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From the Catbird Seat decided to combine our celebrations of Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day—not an easy thing to do!—by highlighting the youthful poetic efforts of George Washington. Yes, well before Washington was Commander in Chief of the Continental Army or President of the United States, he was just another teenage boy who turned to verse to ease the burdens of his lovelorn heart.

Of the two poems by Washington that survive, [1] my favorite is the poem he wrote about a young lady named Frances Alexander. The poem can be found, on two pages, in the Library’s online collection of George Washington Papers:

George Washington's Love Poem about Frances Alexander, Page 2

George Washington's Love Poem about Frances Alexander, Page 2
George Washington, Diary, March 11 – April 13, 1748 (“Journal of my Journey over the Mountains”), George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, pages 38 and 39.

We know this is a poem about Frances Alexander because it is an acrostic poem—the first letter of each line spells out her name. This is easier to see when reading a transcript of the poem:

From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you’l Find
Ah! woe’s me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish’d, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was’t free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

What readers should notice when looking at this transcript is that the poem is incomplete; Washington still had four lines to write in order to spell out Frances Alexander’s full name. Perhaps the effort of figuring out a way to end the poem overwhelmed young George; or perhaps his adolescent eye became distracted by another, more worthy object of his attention. Whatever the case, Washington demonstrates that love and desire can reduce anyone—even future presidents [2]—to self-flagellating poetic outbursts about the agony of “Cupids Dart.” Happy Valentine’s Day!


Notes

1. Some scholars believe Washington did not write the poems commonly attributed to him, and that he copied them from a now unknown book.

2. For a detailed review of U.S. presidents who have written poetry, see the Library’s Presidents as Poets Web guide.

Comments

  1. i wonder if it is missing a few lines.
    the first letter of each line spells
    frances alexa..
    so the word is ‘and’
    does that give use the A.N,D ? so then” where is the D,E,R?
    (or the N,D,E,R?)
    (for FRANCES ALEXANDER)

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