Died: October 8, 1914
Adelaide Crapsey was a teacher and a poet; she wrote some of her best poems in Saranac Lake.
She grew up in Rochester, New York, the daughter of Adelaide T. and Algernon Sidney Crapsey, an Episcopal minister who had been transferred to Rochester. She attended public school in Rochester, an Episcopal girls' preparatory school in Wisconsin, Kemper Hall, and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. At Vassar she was class poet for three years and, in her senior year, editor of the Vassarion, graduating in 1901.
She taught at Kemper Hall from 1902 until 1904, and then spent a year at the School of Classical Studies at the American Academy in Rome. She resumed her teaching career at Miss Lowe's School in Stamford, Connecticut from 1906 to 1908, after which she taught at Smith College for two years.
Her sister died in 1901, and her eldest brother in May 1907, and her own health started failing in 1908 after her father's trial for heresy in 1906, which resulted in his dismissal from the ministry. In 1911 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but withheld the news from her family. She continued teaching at Smith until the summer of 1913, when she collapsed. She then moved to a cure cottage at 71 Clinton Avenue in Saranac Lake, where she stayed for a year in a room overlooking Pine Ridge Cemetery, where she wrote perhaps her best-known poem, "To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window." In August, 1914, she returned to Rochester where she died on October 8, 1914, at the age of 36.
Crapsey created a variation on the cinquain, a 5-line form of 22 syllables that was influenced by the Japanese haiku and tanka; an example is her poem, "Niagara". She also developed a new form of couplet, with two rhyming lines of ten syllables. An example of this grammatical poem is her 'On Seeing Weather-Beaten Trees'.
The year following her death, a posthumous selection of her cinquains and other poems was published. Carl Sandburg's poem, "Adelaide Crapsey," brought her work to wider attention.
TO THE DEAD IN THE GRAVEYARD UNDERNEATH MY WINDOW
Written in a Moment of Exasperation
How can you lie so still? All day I watch
And never a blade of all the green sod moves
To show where restlessly you turn and toss,
Or fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
A pallid, mouldering, acquiescent folk,
Meek habitants of unresented graves.
Why are you there in your straight row on row
Where I must ever see you from my bed
That in your mere dumb presence iterate
The text so weary in my ears: "Lie still
And rest; be patient and lie still and rest."
I'll not be patient! I will not lie still!
There is a brown road runs between the pines,
And further on the purple woodlands lie,
And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom;
And I would walk the road and I would be
Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach
The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds.
My eyes may follow but my feet are held.
Recumbent as you others must I too
Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness
With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod?
And if the many sayings of the wise
Teach of submission I will not submit
But with a spirit all unreconciled
Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars.
Better it is to walk, to run, to dance,
Better it is to laugh and leap and sing,
To know the open skies of dawn and night,
To move untrammeled down the flaming noon,
And I will clamour it through weary days
Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp,
Nor with the pliant speaking of my lips
Of resignation, sister to defeat. I'll not be patient. I will not lie still.
And in ironic quietude who is
The despot of our days and lord of dust
Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop
Grim casual comment on rebellion's end;
"Yes, yes . . Wilful and petulant but now
As dead and quiet as the others are."
And this each body and ghost of you hath heard
That in your graves do therefore lie so still.
Curiously Adirondack produced a reading of this poem in 2018. It is available on YouTube.
- Adelaide Crapsey biography at the University of Rochester, where her papers are archived
- Wikipedia: Adelaide Crapsey
- Adelaide Crapsey's Cinquains
See other: TB Patients