Poem #4: Early Affection by George Moses Horton

Estimated Reading Time:  3.5 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

Title: Early Affection

Author: George Moses Horton

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


I lov’d thee from the earliest dawn,
     When first I saw thy beauty’s ray,
And will, until life’s eve comes on,
     And beauty’s blossom fades away;
And when all things go well with thee,
With smiles and tears remember me.

I’ll love thee when thy morn is past,

     And wheedling gallantry is o’er,
When youth is lost in age’s blast,
     And beauty can ascend no more,
And when life’s journey ends with thee,
O, then look back and think of me.

I’ll love thee with a smile or frown,

     ’Mid sorrow’s gloom or pleasure’s light,
And when the chain of life runs down,
     Pursue thy last eternal flight,
When thou hast spread thy wing to flee,
Still, still, a moment wait for me.

I’ll love thee for those sparkling eyes,

     To which my fondness was betray’d,
Bearing the tincture of the skies,
     To glow when other beauties fade,
And when they sink too low to see,
Reflect an azure beam on me.


I really enjoy the rhythm, metaphors, and emotion of this poem. It is a love poem that can, at times, evoke something like Anne Bradstreet's To My Dear and Loving Husband.  Yet, it is love professed, assumedly, by a male author to a female love; hence the emphasis on beauty.  What I find interesting is that it is not entirely clear that this love is returned.  There seems a desire for the speaker to be remembered but there still doesn't seem to be a sense that the love goes in both directions.  So it makes me wonder the nature of this relationship and whom the speaker is, and whether he is speaking to or about the poem's focus.  

So how or why do I get there?  It's the final stanza the raises some interesting questions about the woman the speaker is longing for.  The woman's "sparkling eyes" are an "azure beam" to which she must direct downward ("they sink too low").  Now, in the poem, this runs as her beauty is held in such high regard, but what if there is a different "low" working here.  It could be a "low" that speaks to social position and difference between the two.  

The author of the poem is African American and I am making an assumption that the speaker of the poem is also African American.  If so, he is speaking of someone who has blue eyes, which is a rarity among African Americans; thus, the object of the poem might be a white woman or a woman of African descent but who also has European ancestors. (It's important to acknowledge for those not realizing it that there's a strong possibility that if this was an African American woman with blue eyes, she is likely the product of rape by a white slave-owner). And then, of course, in that final stanza, there is a line "to which my fondness was betray'd" which again might have larger racial implications between the speaker and the subject.  In that context, it seems like this poem may also be commenting a complex relationship that is not just about romantic love but navigating love for someone to which it is hard to actually maintain a relationship with.

Those are my thoughts.  How do you interpret the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciate and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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