-Hilda Conkling

1910 - 1986

Biography:

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.

Hilda Conkling

Northampton, Massachusetts

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

1920

by Hilda Conkling

Shoes of the Wind: A Book of Poems

1922

by Hilda Conkling

Tree Toad

The Hills

Tree-toad is a small gray person

With a silver voice.

Tree-toad is a leaf-gray shadow

that sings.

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

Of out-of-doors.

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.

***


Enjoy

If I am happy, and you,

And there are things to do,

It seems to be the reason

Of this world!

Poems

Golden Waves

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

Rustling.

Poems come like boats

With sails for wings;

Crossing the sky swiftly

They slip under tall bridges

Of cloud.

The golden waves of sunset

Stays long... does not

flow away...

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,

Messages

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.

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