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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Thomas William Parsons (1819–1892)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE POETRY of Thomas W. Parsons has in its best examples a classic perfection conjoined with a deep feeling, which gives it distinction. He was a scholar who worked with a certain austerity and aloofness, yet with an underlying perception of humor which saved his work from flatness or turgidity even when it did not appear on the surface. Dr. Parsons was thoroughly impregnated with Dante and the influence of Italian literature. Literature indeed, in this aspect of it, was to him a vocation and a passion. He served the Muse with a full sense of the sacredness of song.  1
  He was born in Boston, August 18th, 1819; was the son of a physician of that city, and was destined for the same profession,—taking a degree at the Harvard Medical School, and for some time practicing dentistry. Boston was his home when he was in the United States; but he traveled and resided much abroad. In his leisure hours he wrote his verses and worked on his English renderings of the master poet of Italy. So early as 1843 he published a translation of the first ten cantos of the ‘Inferno,’ and a revision with seven more cantos followed in 1867. He made a version of the great epic a life labor, the translation in its final form appearing in 1893.  2
  Dr. Parsons was never eager for publication, and some of his volumes of verse were printed privately for circulation among friends. Several collections of his poems were published: one entitled ‘Ghetto di Roma’ in 1854, ‘The Magnolia’ in 1867, ‘The Shadow of the Obelisk’ in 1872, ‘Circum Præcorda’ in 1892; and a final selection in 1893, after his death. This last book contains—excepting his translation of Dante—the bulk of the work his admirers would wish to see preserved. There are lyrics in this volume as perfect in their kind as anything done by a contemporaneous poet. The opening poem, ‘On a Bust of Dante,’ is as noble a tribute as the Italian has received in our tongue. Many lines and passages in the different lyrics have a quotableness which means fine thought married to fit expression. In the tribute to Daniel Webster, for example, occurs the stanza:—
  “Kings have their dynasties, but not the mind:
  Cæsars leave other Cæsars to succeed;
But Wisdom dying, leaves no heir behind.”
And the poem closes with these lovely words:—
  “We have no high cathedral for his rest,
  Dim with proud banners and the dust of years;
All we can give him is New England’s breast
  To lay his head on—and his country’s tears.”
  3
  There is something inevitable in the perfection of this, from ‘The Birthday of Robert Burns’:—
  “For flowers will grow, and showers will fall,
  And clouds will travel o’er the sky;
And the great God who cares for all,
  He will not let his darlings die.”
  4
  The man who can strike out things like these—and he wrote whole poems which keep this level—deserves, and doubtless will get, permanent recognition as a lyric singer. Parsons’s range is not wide, nor is his accomplishment varied. But in his individual way and within his compass, he struck a very pure, fine note, which will give lasting pleasure.  5
  Dr. Parsons died at Scituate, Massachusetts, September 3d, 1892.  6
 
 
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