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In America: A Prophecy, William Blake envisions the American revolutionaries inspired to rebellion by the flaming spirit of Orc:

Let the slave grinding at the mill, run out into the field:

Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;

Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,

Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years;

Rise and look out, his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.

And let his wife and children return from the opressors scourge;

They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream.

Singing. The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning

And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;

For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.

6:6-14, E 53

Blake might have been surprised to discover that one of the first Americans inspired by his voice to write “a song of liberty” was the Romantic-era woman poet Lucy Hooper (1816-1841), whose 1833 poem “The Fairy’s Funeral” transforms the anecdote about Blake’s witnessing a fairy funeral into a visionary lyric. Hooper is one of a number of American poetesses whose work is still on the verge of rediscovery, and is interesting for more reasons than being inspired by Blake, but the fact that she was, that she was one of the handful of his near contemporaries who wrote a poem in response to him–and that she appears to be the first American to publish a poem in response to him–makes her an intriguing figure.[1] This essay provides a little background on who Lucy Hooper was, on how she came to know about Blake, and how Blake aroused her poetic imagination to write “The Fairy’s Funeral,” a poem that rather audaciously turns Blake into her muse and offers an implicit critique of Blake’s often violent representation of fairies and flowers.

I. Who Was Lucy Hooper?

Hooper was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on February 4, 1816. Her father Joseph was a successful merchant who encouraged her education and writing; she studied literature, history, botany, chemistry, Latin, French, and Spanish. The family moved to Brooklyn, Long Island when Lucy was 15, and she began publishing poetry and prose under the initials “L.H.” in the New-Yorker and the Long-Island Star (where, coincidentally, her fellow Brooklyn poet and Blake admirer Walt Whitman worked as a compositor from 1832 to 1835).[2] In addition to magazine publication she published her prize-winning “Essay on Domestic Happiness” in 1840 as well as a volume of short fiction entitled Scenes from Real Life; and Other American Tales. A few weeks before she died she prepared an edition of poetry for publication, The Lady’s Book of Flowers and Poetry; to Which Are Added, a Botanical Introduction, a Complete Floral Dictionary; and a Chapter on Plants in Rooms; this encyclopedia included her own poetry and prose as well as work by Felicia Hemans, Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Mary Russell Mitford, William Wordsworth, John Clare, Lord Byron, Bernard Barton, and other male and female British and American Romantic-era poets. She died of pulmonary consumption on August 1, 1841 when she was 24 years old. Eleven days later the Quaker abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier paid tribute to her life and work in his famous (and frequently reprinted) 108-line elegy "On the Death of Lucy Hooper":

They tell me, Lucy, thou art dead–

That all of thee we loved and cherished

Has with thy summer roses perished;

And left, as its young beauty fled,

An ashen memory in its stead!–


Whittier had been a frequent visitor to her family’s house and may have been in love with her, or at least with her abolitionist stance: she contributed her poem “Lines (A student mused at night)” to Whittier’s 1840 collection The North Star, which was produced for the December 1839 anti-slavery fair hosted by the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia.[3] Whittier’s tribute is one of several published in The Poetical Remains of the Late Lucy Hooper which was edited by John Keese in 1842 (including a lyric by H. T. Tuckerman composed on August 5, 1841). Her Complete Poetical Works appeared in 1848, and contained more tributes and more of the abolitionist poems that had been printed in local newspapers and magazines, including “The Negro at Prayer,” “The Dying Slave,” “The Death of an Infant Slave,” and “Lines, written upon being unable to attend the meeting held in New York, by the friends of the slave” (which also appeared in her 1842 Poetical Remains).

Hooper’s poems were featured in all three of the American female poets anthologies that appeared in 1848 and 1849 (the American corollaries to the two 1848 British female poets anthologies edited by Frederic Rowton and George Bethune). Caroline May printed four poems in American Female Poets (“Time, Faith, Energy,” “It Is Well,” “The Old Days We Remember,” “Give Me Armor of Proof”); Thomas Buchanan Read printed four poems in Female Poets of America (“The Daughter of Herodias,” “Last Hours of a Young Poetess,” “Osceola,” “To a Boy Flying His Kite”), and Rufus Wilmot Griswold printed fifteen poems in Female Poets of America (“Lines Written After Visiting Newburyport, August 23, 1839,” “The Summons of Death,” “Time, Faith, Energy,” “Last Hours of a Young Poetess,” “The Turquoise Ring,” “Give Me Armor of Proof,” “The Cavalier’s Last Hours,” “The Daughter of Herodias,” “Evening Thoughts,” “Lines [Say, have I left thee, wild but gentle lyre],” “The Old Days We Remember,” “Lines Suggested by a Scene in ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock,’” “Life and Death,” “Legends of Flowers,” “Osceola”). When Edgar Allen Poe reviewed Griswold’s anthology in the 1849 Southern Literary Messenger, he named Hooper as one of the three most popular of the 95 poets in the anthology, and he ranked her the ninth most accomplished.[4] Her work appears in anthologies and literary annuals from the 1840s through the early 1900s, but then suffers the usual decline documented for so many women poets before the archival work of literary historians in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.[5] By 1904 Granger’s Index to Poetry attributed Hooper’s “Daughter of Herodias” to “unknown” (105).

While it’s not unusual that there was little attention to Hooper’s work in the first two thirds of the twentieth century, it is surprising that she is not mentioned in any of the great recovery projects of American women poets that have been published during the last thirty years (by Emily Watts, Janet Gray, Paula Bennett, Elizabeth Petrino, Eliza Richards, Mary Loeffelholz, or Angela Sorby). The one exception is Cheryl Walker, whose landmark 1982 The Nightingale’s Burden calls brief attention to the irony of Hooper’s “Last Hours of a Young Poetess” in teasing out the theme of “secret sorrow” that so frequently epitomized “the female poetic temperament” (89):

Lucy Hooper, in her “Last Hours of a Young Poetess,” reveals in startling and rather amusing terms, one attraction of the secret sorrow. “Oh, how much / The world will envy those whose hearts are filled / With secret and unchanging grief, if fame / Or outward splendour gilds them!” The secret sorrow was, for many women, poetic capital”


Hooper’s poem describes a dying poetess named Estelle who suffers from the same conflicts as Landon’s Eulalie or Hemans’s Properzia Rossi and begins with the following pointed epigraph from Byron’s Childe Harold (4:1072-80) which demonstrates her poetic affiliation with Landon and Hemans (who uses the first two lines as her epigraph to “The Peasant Girl of the Rhone”):

 Alas! our young affections run to waste

 Or water but the desert, whence arise

 But weeds of dark luxuriance, tares of haste

 Rank at the core, but tempting to the eyes,

 Flowers whose wild odors breathe but agonies,

 And trees whose gums are poison, such the fruits

 Which spring beneath her steps, as Passion flies

 O’er the wild wilderness, and vainly pants

For some celestial fruit, forbidden to our wants! –


More recently Hooper has acquired notice from ecofeminists for her nature writing; she is also cited for her views on abolition and Native American rights.[7]

Indeed Hooper’s sympathetic poem on the betrayed Seminole leader Osceola is one of the most frequently anthologized of her lyrics to appear in nineteenth-century collections, and is characteristic in its use of strategic irony to redress political or social injustice. Both the New-York Mirror and The New-Yorker published Hooper’s “Oseola, Lines written after seeing a picture of Oseola, drawn by Capt. J. R. Vinton of the U.S. Army, representing that Indian Chief as he appeared while in the American camp” in 1838. Osceola famously rejected a treaty that sought to relocate the Seminoles from Florida to unoccupied territory west of the Mississippi by plunging his knife into the line where he was supposed to sign. War ensued. When the United States offered to begin peace talks Osceola agreed to a truce and was captured while waving a white flag. He was immediately imprisoned and died three months later of malaria in South Carolina. Before he died three painters visited him in prison and completed his portrait: George Caitlin, Robert Curtis, and the military topographer John Rogers Vinton, whose pencil sketch was engraved by William V. Hooper of New York. In the sixth stanza of the 50-line poem Hooper tellingly calls Osceola a “patriot”:

 Wo for the trusting hour!

Oh! kingly stag! No hand hath brought thee down;

 ’T was with a patriot's heart,

 Where fear usurped no part,

Thou camest, a noble offering, and alone!

 * * * * * * *

 Wo for the bitter stain

That from our country's banner may not part;

 Wo for the captive, wo!

 For burning pains, and slow,

Are his who dieth of the fevered heart.

 Oh! in that spirit-land,

Where never yet the oppressor's foot hath past,

 Chief by those sparkling streams

 Whose beauty mocks our dreams,

May that high heart have won its rest at last.

26-50, my emphasis

That Hooper situates the poem as an ekphrastic response to John Vinton’s portrait of Osceola furthers her affiliation with Hemans and Landon.

While Hooper’s poems acknowledge the impact of numerous British Romantic-era writers through epigraphs, citations, and metonymic invocations, her greatest influences were Felicia Hemans, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, and Charlotte Smith. She implements a Hemans-like twist in her treatment of historical or mythical female figures such as Queen Esther, Queen Maria Theresa of Hungary, Lady Arabella Johnson, Theodosia Allston (the daughter of Aaron Burr), Salome, the Empress of Austria, and Queen Isabella (in “The Jewels of Castille” she reworks the story of the queen pledging her jewels to finance Columbus). She deploys a Landonesque irony to describe the failure of romantic love for women or poetesses in lyrics like “The Last Interview,” “Korner’s Love,” “Fidelity,” “The Last Hours of a Young Poetess,” or “The Cavalier’s Last Hours” (which is based on Landon’s Francesca Carrara). And she forges a Smithian sense of female self-identity through poems that invoke memories, landscapes, and loss. She refers to Harriet Martineau (the turquoise ring in Deerbrook), Anna Jameson (the songstress in The Diary of an Ennuyée), and Anna Maria Fielding as well as Byron, Moore, Dickens, and others. The “other” most significant to this essay is William Blake.

II. How Did Hooper Come to Know about Blake

Like more than a few Americans, Hooper probably first read about Blake in one of the obituaries or memoirs that appeared shortly after his death in 1827. The explicit reference she makes to him is from the fairy funeral episode reported in Allen Cunningham’s 1830 memoir, which was widely reviewed and often quite generously extracted in newspapers and journals on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Philadelphia Casket (May 1830), the Hartford New-England Weekly Review (May 1830), the Philadelphia Literary Port Folio (May 1830), the American Monthly Magazine (June 1831), and the New Jerusalem Magazine (January 1832).[8] Cunningham’s memoir formed the basis of Lydia Maria Child’s 1833 biography of Catherine Blake, which also describes the fairy’s funeral (verbatim from Cunningham).[9] A number of women writers responded powerfully to these memorial depictions of William and Catherine Blake, including Caroline Bowles, who wrote the following to future husband Robert Southey in 1830 after she read Cunningham:

I am longing to see some of Blake's engravings from his own extraordinary designs, of which I first heard from yourself. . . . Mad though he might be, he was gifted and good, and a most happy being. I should have delighted in him, and would fain know how it fares with the faithful, affectionate partner of his honourable life. I hope she is not in indigence.

Bentley 530

Bowles obviously had her own good reasons to feel empathy for the wife of a purported madman. So too Felicia Hemans, who noted that her poem “The Painter’s Last Work.–A Scene” was “Suggested by the closing scene in the life of the painter Blake as beautifully related by Allan Cunningham” (Bentley 549). Hemans’s poem depicts the dying painter “Francesco” producing a final portrait of his angelic wife “Teresa,” and in typical Hemans fashion, half the poem verbalizes the process of painting the portrait, so that Hemans as well as Francesco produces the portrait in words (like the ekphrasis of “Properzia Rossi”).[10] Hemans’s poem was published in Blackwoods, the Philadelphia Album, and Godey’s Lady Book in 1832 (Bentley 874). It’s entirely possible that Hemans’s poem prompted Hooper to compose her own response to Cunningham’s memoir.[11]

It’s also feasible, however, that Hooper actually knew Blake’s work firsthand–and not simply the Cunningham memoir–through her abolitionist connections. Andrew Stauffer dates the earliest publication of Blake’s poems in the United States to March 1842, when various lyrics from Songs of Innocence and of Experience began to appear in the National Anti-Slavery Standard (a weekly abolitionist newspaper then edited by Lydia Maria Child). He argues that the attributions of the poems indicate “that the editors were working directly from Blake’s work, not from previously published material” (41). Given the notorious difficulty of tracking the actual circulation of Blake’s texts, one can only speculate as to whether it’s conceivable that a young woman in Brooklyn might have seen Blake’s work in the 1830s. Based on G. E. Bentley’s list of “Blake’s Poems Reprinted, 1806-1849," Hooper could have read at least six lyrics from Poetical Sketches (“Gwin King of Norway,” “King Edward the Third,” “Song [How sweet I roam’d],” “Song [I love the jocund dance],” “Song [My silks and fine array],” “To the Muses”), eight Songs of Innocence (“The Chimney Sweeper,” “A Cradle Song,” “The Divine Image,” “Holy Thursday,” “Introduction,” “The Lamb,” “Laughing Song,” “On Anothers Sorrow”), four Songs of Experience (“The Garden of Love,” “Introduction,” “A Poison Tree,” “The Tyger”), and very small bits and pieces of America, The Book of Thel, Europe, and Jerusalem (Bentley 825-28). If, however, Hooper saw illuminated editions of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Book of Thel, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, or Europe, her response to Blake in “The Fairy’s Funeral” resonates even more deeply.

III. Hooper, Blake, and “The Fairy’s Funeral”

Like Hemans, Hooper makes her reference to Blake clear in the epigraph to her 1833 poem “The Fairy’s Funeral”: “It was one among the many visionary fancies of the painter Blake, that he once saw a fairy's funeral, as here described.” And like Hemans she refers to Blake as a painter rather than a poet, but both Hooper and Hemans follow Cunningham’s lead in this designation. According to Cunningham’s Lives of the Painters, Blake shared his vision of the fairy's funeral with “a lady, who happened to sit by him in company”:

“Did you ever see a fairy's funeral, madam?” he once said to a lady, who happened to sit by him in company. “Never, sir!” was the answer. “I have,” said Blake, “but not before last night. I was walking alone in my garden, there was great stillness among the branches and flowers and more than common sweetness in the air; I heard a low and pleasant sound, and I knew not whence it came. At last I saw the broad leaf of a flower move, and underneath I saw a procession of creatures of the size and colour of green and gray grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared. It was a fairy funeral.”

Cunningham 640-1

In deliberate contrast to that proper lady, Hooper expresses imaginative empathy and poetic affiliation with Blake: she not only lets herself envision the fairy funeral vicariously, but she boldly transforms Blake into a visionary interlocutor who enables her to script his unwritten poem (and she uses some wonderful metrical innovation to effect a mimetic recreation of the unheard sound of the funeral dirge). Hooper casts Blake as a “dreamer” who walks in the garden at sunset, hears thrilling music, and witnesses a throng of fairies burying not just any body but, tellingly, their fairy queen. However this Blakean dreamer does not simply witness the broad leaf move (as Cunningham reports); he actively engages in exposing the fairy funeral by “unclos[ing] a flower” that had already “folded”:

 The dreamer walked, at closing day,

 Among the folding flowers,

 While yet its last and brilliant ray

 Lingered midst summer bowers;

 No bitter care, no jarring tone

 Disturbed him–he was there alone,

 His thoughts were hushed in sweetest rest,

 Nature was bright–her votary blest!

 A strain of music filled

 The quiet sunset air,

 The listener's ear was thrilled–

 Who were the players there?

 No step was near, no voice to greet,

 But when was minstrelsy so sweet?

 So low, so soft, so sad the sound,

 He paused–the leaves were stirred around;

 He bent to earth, unclosed a flower,

 Its azure bell proved fairy bower,

 And first to mortal eye were shown

 The wonders of a world unknown!

 Beneath that folded leaf,

 He saw a moving throng,

 And listened to their music's breath,

 As the fairies stole along;

 A bright and sparkling crowd, I ween,

 But where in that array, the queen?

 On a rose leaf bed

 Reposed the dead,

 The tone of song

 From her lips has gone,

 And the crown from her lovely head;

 But those who wept her, by her side

 Had placed her fairy wand of pride.

 Entranced the dreamer heard,

 As the bright throng glittered by,

 That sweet, low fairy dirge,

 And its sad melody,

 As with many songs, and fairy grace,

 They chose the greenest resting place,

 Where summer flowers bloomed bright and fair,

 And sunbeams melted in the air,

 And gently laid the burden down,

 And then the radiant scene was done,

 The melody was heard no more,

 The listner paused–the spell was o'er;

 But gentle memories and song

 Clung to his heart and lingered long.

Sweet dreamer! Would such thoughts could come

To soothe me when I muse alone.


When the funeral ends, “the dreamer” walks away with “gentle memories and song” (46), but not Hooper’s persona, the suddenly-inserted weening “I” of line 25 (the dead center of the poem), neither proper lady nor proud fairy queen, just the poetess who poignantly concludes “Sweet dreamer! Would such thoughts could come / To soothe me when I muse alone” (48-9). Set out as an imperfect couplet (and committing the poetic misdemeanor of rhyming an “m” with an “n”), these last two lines speak volumes as they align Hooper with and yet distinguish her from Blake. Although she uses his imagination to open the doors of perception and provide the locus for her poem, she positions herself as the visionary observer who can only watch Blake walking in the garden. She is inspired by Blake’s prophetic imagination, but hers is a complex expression of affinity: she indicates her capacity to connect with Blake as a fellow outsider, but she clearly adverts to the crucial difference his insider status as privileged male visionary artist effects. Like the Wordsworth who memorializes Lucy as a “Violet” whose passing brings significance to his understanding of himself–“She lived unknown, and few could know / When Lucy ceased to be; / But she is in her Grave, and Oh! / The difference to me” (9-12)–this Blakean dreamer’s foray into the garden will undoubtedly provide the blessings Wordsworth anticipates in “Tintern Abbey”: “here I stand, not only with the sense / Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts / That in this moment there is life and food / For future years” (63-66).

There’s a fine irony that the poetess who achieves fame for writing the “Legends of Flowers” requires a male interlocutor to gain entrance to the garden. There’s another fine irony in Hooper calling Blake a “Sweet dreamer!” (my emphasis), an adjective that seems all too asymmetrical coming from a woman poet. That sweetness may be called into question by her characterization of the dreamer as someone who physically uncloses the folded flower so that his is the first “mortal eye” to train a voyeuristic gaze on “the wonders of a world unknown” (20). Here the question of whether Hooper had access to Blake’s work and knew of his sometimes violent representations of flowers and fairies is key. One can only conjecture that her lyric critiques the disturbing poetic and pictorial depictions in the Songs (the sobbing robin of “The Blossom,” the unnamed child of “Infant Joy,” the dark secret love of “The Sick Rose”), The Book of Thel (the frontispiece’s echo of “The Sick Rose,” Thel’s cautionary dialogue with the sacrificing Lilly), Visions of the Daughters of Albion (the aftermath of Oothoon’s embracing the Marygold-nymph), and, most especially, the preface to Europe, where a Blakean dreamer captures a fairy who promises to “write a book on leaves of flowers” if he is fed on “love-thoughts” and “sparkling poetic fancies” (14-16) :

Five windows light the cavern'd Man; thro' one he breathes the air;

Thro' one, hears music of the spheres; thro' one, the eternal vine

Flourishes, that he may recieve the grapes; thro' one can look,

And see small portions of the eternal world that ever groweth;

Thro' one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;

For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.

So sang a Fairy mocking as he sat on a streak'd Tulip,

Thinking none saw him: when he ceas'd I started from the trees!

And caught him in my hat as boys knock down a butterfly.

How know you this said I small Sir? where did you learn this song?

Seeing himself in my possession thus he answered me:

My master, I am yours. command me, for I must obey.

Then tell me, what is the material world, and is it dead?

He laughing answer'd: I will write a book on leaves of flowers,

If you will feed me on love-thoughts, & give me now and then

A cup of sparkling poetic fancies; so when I am tipsie,

I'll sing to you to this soft lute; and shew you all alive

The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.

I took him home in my warm bosom: as we went along

Wild flowers I gatherd; & he shew'd me each eternal flower:

He laugh'd aloud to see them whimper because they were pluck'd,

They hover'd round me like a cloud of incense: when I came

Into my parlour and sat down, and took my pen to write;

My Fairy sat upon the table, and dictated EUROPE.

iii:1-24, E 60

In a few more years Hooper will set out to do precisely what the fairy promises: she will compose a Book of Flowers that identifies the symbolic nature of “each eternal flower” (20). But unlike the mocking fairy of Europe, who laughs to see the plucked flowers whimper, or the Blakean dreamer of “The Fairy’s Funeral,” who forces open an azure bell to disclose a fairy bower, Hooper’s introductory lyric, “Legends of Flowers,” presents her flowers opening in the cloistered safety of a female space:

Oh! gorgeous tales in days of old,

 Were linked with opening flowers,

As if in their fairy urns of gold

 Beat human hearts like ours;

The nuns in their cloister, sad and pale,

 As they watched soft buds expand,

On their glowing petals traced a tale

 Or legend of holy land.

Brightly to them did thy snowy leaves

 For the sainted Mary shine,

As they twined for her forehead vestal wreaths

 Of thy white buds, Cardamine!


Despite the assertion of purity in this cloistered female space, or the absence of a Satan vibrating in its immensity (Milton 10:6-8, E 104), Hooper’s nuns do more than passively watch the “soft buds expand”: not unlike the fairy they too trace tales on those snowy leaves and pluck them to shape vestal wreaths.

While the overtly chaste sensibility of “Legends of Flowers” serves to chastise the cruelty or thoughtlessness of laughing fairies and voyeuristic dreamers, it’s a thoughtlessness that Hooper clearly envies and even enacts as she performs her own complex voyeurism in “The Fairy’s Funeral” and gazes upon the gazer who is free to walk in the garden at sunset. The frustration she confesses in the closing couplet of “The Fairy’s Funeral”--“Sweet dreamer! Would such thoughts could come / To soothe me when I muse alone”–manifests again in the strangely ambivalent identity constructions of “Lines, to a Little Wild Flower,” where she conveys her desire to be the plucked flower:

I wish I was this simple flower,

 Born ’neath the sky of May,

Brightly to bloom my little hour,

 Then quickly pass away.

* * * * * * *

I wish that I could change my form,

 And blossom on the plain,

Live wild and happy though not long,

 Then die ere Autumn came.

Or still more blest be plucked to cheer

 Some heart in lonely hour,

That sick of human strife and fear,

 Would wish to be a flower!


In expressing that wish to “change my form” (21), and die before the advent of autumn, this Hooper persona understands all too well the comfort Blake’s Lilly offers Thel as she repeats the words of “he who smiles on all”: “thou new-born lilly flower, / Thou gentle maid of silent valleys. And of modest brooks; / For thou shalt be clothed in light, and fed with morning manna: / Till summers heat melts thee beside the fountains and the springs” (1:21-24, E 4). But in articulating the oddly recursive wish to “be plucked to cheer / Some heart in lonely hour, / That sick of human strife and fear, / Would wish to be a flower!” (25-28) this speaker indicates that she might prefer the more dangerous advice of Oothoon’s Marygold: “pluck thou my flower Oothoon the mild / Another flower shall spring, because the soul of sweet delight / Can never pass away” (1:8-10, E 46). Neither Thel nor Oothoon, neither Lilly nor Marygold, the Lucy Hooper who writes “The Fairy’s Funeral” channels her desire vicariously, operating within a gendered continuum that positions the unimaginative proper lady at one end and the magical but dead fairy queen at the other (rather nicely buried without her crown but with her fairy wand of pride). Hovering somewhere between these two polarized positions Hooper projects her poetic imagination with self-conscious irony through a Blakean proxy constructed as having greater access to visionary scenes. But even finer than the irony of the voyeur critiquing the voyeur is Hooper’s daring to invoke William Blake as her muse: “Sweet dreamer! Would such thoughts could come / To soothe me when I muse alone.”