This month’s poem, October, was written by poet Belle Bush. The poem itself is nice, but nothing compared to the story of the woman herself.
One of the things I find most intriguing about these poetry posts is delving into the lives of the poets themselves. Sometimes, I find nothing. Other searches send me down rabbit trails, piecing together a jigsaw of facts that almost creates a complete picture. This is one of those situations. Once in a while I find a poem by someone like Wordsworth, who we’ve all heard of and most of us studied.
Belle Bush, however, started as an enigma. Her actual name was Annabelle, and I believe she never married. She was born somewhere in New York State in February, 1828. She had at least two sisters: Eliza, born in 1818, and Harriet, born in 1837.
A look at the Belvidere Seminary
We first meet the sisters as they head a school they call the Belvidere Seminary. Located in Belvidere, New Jersey, the school accepted both male and female students. Eliza and Belle appear listed as Principals of the school, while Harriet teaches music. In an imposing building not too far from the Delaware River, other instructors teach classes in mathematics, gymnastics, English, German, and French.
A visitor writes of the place:
Each day for an hour the students break into work tasks. The girls learn cooking and housekeeping, since they will probably have to manage a household at some point in their lives. The boys engage in some type of outdoor or mechanical work.
This school is unsectarian, to use the word of one of its reviewers. In other words, Belvidere Seminary teaches no classes in Christianity, Judaism, the Bible, or Christian denominational doctrine –– somewhat unusual for the time.
A school with a twist
Why this freedom and departure from the customary school discipline and religious instruction of the day? Because this was a Spiritualist school. Belle Bush was a Spiritualist. She and her sisters believed they could communicate with the dead.
Here’s a recommendation from a parent:
In addition to running a school, Belle wrote poetry for Spiritualist publications and songs for the Spiritualist songbooks. She was truly a leader in the movement: discussed at the National conventions, quoted in books. She published a book of poetry. For many years the Spiritualists bantered the idea of endowing her school, turning it into a Spiritualist university. Unfortunately, that dream never became a reality and the school seemed to close sometime around 1905.
After the school closing, Belle, her sister Harriet, and Harriet’s husband traveled to New York. There they lived with the Shaker community in Mount Lebanon. Once there, even in her seventies, Belle continued to contribute. She wrote poetry for the Shaker periodicals and assisted with celebrations. The Shakers welcomed her as a poetess and fellow traveler, and she stayed with them until her death on May 5, 1914.
And now… the poem October by Belle Bush
I located a publication of this poem in 1874, and again in 1921. However, as I researched Belle’s life I saw that she sold this poem over and over to various periodicals through the years. The 1921 version is abridged; the original poem as published contains a full dozen stanzas.
October by Belle Bush Now comes autumn's fairest moon, And the royal purple noon Of all the earthly glory; Now let cares drift far away, While each wonder-working day Tells to us its story. Scarfs of gold and crimson rest On each mountain's plumed crest In a dewy splendor; While o'er all earth's dainty things Nature spreads her gentle wings, As of each most tender. And there is a glory born, With our life's empurpled morn, Stronger than all grieving; Aye, and brighter than the days Scarfed in gold and crimson haze -- All of faith's fair weaving. Leaves may fall and quick winds sigh, Summer's beauties fade and die; Still faith, to us replying, Mounts upward singing to2wards love's gate, And bids us calmly work and wait, All cause fo grief denying. Ah, if the autumn of our days Finds but the soft and mellow haze, Our fading joys concealing, Then will our hearts be full of peace, And every hour bring rich increase, A life of use revealing.
If you’d like to read Belle’s book of poems, it’s called Voices of the Morning. Published in 1865, you can find it on Google Books.
Belle’s sister Harriet was also a poet, though not as prolific as Belle. I hope to cover a bit of her story, along with one of her poems, a bit later.
For a very different poem about nature, take a look at A Song in June.