Jane Austen is, of course, best-known for her six full-length novels rather than for her poems, but she did also write poetry – such as this fine verse. ‘To the Memory of Mrs Lefroy who Died Dec:r 16 – My Birthday’ was written to commemorate her friend, Anne Lefroy, who died on, of all days, Austen’s own birthday, 16 December.
To the Memory of Mrs Lefroy who Died Dec:r 16 – My Birthday
The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes. –
The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory! –
Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace! –
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind! –
At Johnson’s death by Hamilton ’twas said,
‘Seek we a substitute – Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead –
None can remind us even of the Man.’
So we of thee – unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we wearch around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.
Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgant Power, –
– Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee! –
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.
I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine! –
Expression, Harmony, alike complete. –
I listen – ’tis not sound alone – ’tis sense,
’Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
’Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.
She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely! – Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.
Hers is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain. –
Can ought enhance such Goodness? – Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all. – Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love. – the Vision disappears.
’Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home! –
Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness – Reason, spare. –
If you enjoyed ‘To the Memory of Mrs Lefroy who Died Dec:r 16 – My Birthday’, you can discover more about Jane Austen’s life with our curious facts about her.