1910 - 1986
Hilda Conkling does not necessarily fit the theme of these pages, as she was not a "woman" poet. Hilda recited her poetry as a child between the ages of 4 and 14. I say "recited", because her mother, Grace Hazard Conkling, who was herself a poet, wrote down what the little girl would recite to her. Hilda never wrote the poems down herself, and appears never to have written poems as an adult.
Since I find her story so fascinating, and her poems so delightful, however, I am including her among my "obscure poetesses". She was also not so obscure! Three collections of her poetry were published, and her poems appeared in a number of periodicals and magazines. But, she is not well recognized today, so that qualifies her to take her place here on these web pages.
River and Woods, Northampton, Massachusetts
Hilda was born 8 October 1910 in Easthampton, Massachusetts, but did not live there long. The family moved to Northampton, where her mother was assistant professor of English at Smith College. Hilda had a sister, Elsa, two years older than her, but her father (Roscoe Platt Conkling) and mother separated when she was four years old. The two girls and their mother led a happy, tranquil life on the banks of the Connecticut river in Northampton, where they loved to walk in the woods and enjoy nature together. It was on one of these walks that 4 year old Hilda first recited a poem to her mother that she'd thought of in her head. Her mother was astonished at the quality of the verse, and wrote it down as soon as they returned to the house. Thus began a ten year special relationship between Grace and her daughter, a bond which would comprise the themes of many of Hilda's poems.
When Hilda was about 10 years old, her mother decided that she would encourage Hilda to write down her own poems, and gradually stopped doing so for her. The result was that, by the time Hilda entered high school, she was no longer composing poems at all. It is a complete mystery as to why she did not continue writing poetry as an adult (read about why here), but as it turned out, her adulthood was rather unremarkable for someone who had been so precocious as a child. She never married, but lived with her mother until her mother's death in 1958, and she worked managing bookstores in Northampton and then in Boston. She died 26 June 1986 at the age of 76. Her sister Elsa, who had married (Elsa Kruuse), outlived her by six years.
In addition to the volumes below that I have, which were her first and second, she published a compilation of her first two books entitled Silverhorn, the Hilda Conkling Book for Other Children in 1924.
Poems by a Little Girl
by Hilda Conkling
Shoes of the Wind: A Book of Poems
by Hilda Conkling
Tree-toad is a small gray person
With a silver voice.
Tree-toad is a leaf-gray shadow
Tree-toad is never seen
Unless a star squeezes through the leaves,
Or a moth looks sharply at a gray branch.
How would it be, I wonder,
To sing patiently all night,
Never thinking that people are asleep?
Raindrops and mist, starriness over the trees,
The moon, the dew, and other little singers,
cricket ... toad ... leaf rustling ...
They would listen:
It would be music like weather
That gets into all the corners
Every night I see little shadows
I never saw before.
Every night I hear little voices
I never heard before.
When night comes, trailing her starry cloak,
I start out for slumberland
With tree-toads calling along the roadside.
Good-night I say to one, Good-bye I say to another:
I hope to find you on the way
We have traveled before!
I hope to hear you singing on the Road of Dreams!
The hills are going somewhere;
They have been on the way a long time.
They are like camels in a line
But they move more slowly.
Sometimes at sunset they carry silks,
But most of the time silver birch trees,
Heavy rocks, heavy trees, gold leaves
On heavy branches till they are aching...
Birches like silver bars they can hardly lift
With grass so thick about their feet to hinder...
They have not gone far
In the time I've watched them.
If I am happy, and you,
And there are things to do,
It seems to be the reason
Of this world!
I know how poems come;
They have wings.
When you are not thinking of it
I suddenly say
"Mother, a poem!"
Somehow I hear it
Poems come like boats
With sails for wings;
Crossing the sky swiftly
They slip under tall bridges
The golden waves of sunset
Stays long... does not
Red-rose color and pearl
Above the amber twilight,
Gleaming like dew
On the leaves of the forest:
As though a great pitcher
Were pouring out light
I see the golden wave
Cover the world.
The Key to My Mind
Old People Singing
A little stone door in my mind
Opens and shuts with a musical sound.
There is a gold key
Locks the door;
The door is carved like lace
Spirits fly in and out,
Of love and things I ought to know.
Through the lace-work of stone
Comes a sweet melody saying
Hapiness... purity... strangeness.
I love to listen to old people singing.
I love the way they have of humming to themselves.
It makes me think of the sun of past days
That is the present... when it shines again...
It makes me think of lonely trees
Strayed away from their forest...
It is like a thick soft curtain hiding the view from me
Of a country I have never seen.