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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Jones Very (1813–1880)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IF a parallel were sought from nature in describing a poet like Jones Very, the hermit-thrush might well be named. His life had the seclusion of that withdrawn chanter in the woods, his song had the shy removed quality and the spiritual note of that most ethereal of bird-musicians. A New-Englander, a transcendentalism naturally affiliating with men like Channing and Emerson, Very walked by the inner light, and obeyed the vision. His unworldliness had in it something almost uncanny. He made a unique impression upon observant souls. “American soil,” says James Freeman Clarke, “has produced no other man like Jones Very.”  1
  In the case of one with whom the life of the spirit is all-important, the outward events of his career seem of little moment: they were uneventful with Very. He was born August 28th, 1813, at Salem, Massachusetts; and his father was a sea-captain, at a time when men of that ancient profession were among the most respected citizens of the community, possessed of character and culture. He made several voyages with his father; attended school in Salem, and in New Orleans, Louisiana; and by teaching, saved money enough to go to Harvard, where he was graduated in 1836, remaining as a tutor of Greek for two years more. He then studied theology, and was licensed a Unitarian preacher of the Cambridge Association in 1843. But he never took a pastorate; he returned to his native town and led a retired life, contributing occasionally to the Salem Gazette, the Christian Register, and other papers representing his denomination. He read literature, ancient and modern; but his main interest was always in religious and ethical themes. When he felt a call to do so, he accepted an invitation to preach. If he deemed that God wished him to go to Boston for converse with Dr. Channing, thither he went. His smallest acts were in response to heavenly guidance.  2
  In 1839 appeared the volume of Very’s essays and poems. The former are scholarly and thoughtful; but the chief interest centers in the verse, posthumous editions of which were published in 1883 and 1886. In few books by an American poet has the note been more distinctive. Very’s sonnets and lyrics are the musings of a mystic. The sonnets in particular express the history of the poet’s religious nature. In the lyrics there is less subjectivity, more variety of form, and a wider range of theme; so that this portion of his work, as a whole, will have stronger attraction for the general reader. But in the irregular Shakespearean sonnet, with an extra syllable in the final line, Very has made his most intimate revelation of himself. He seems to have found this form peculiarly suited to the expression of his inmost ideals. Such verses—introspective, subtle, delicate, dealing with the loftiest aspirations of the human soul—cannot be expected to make a wide appeal. But they embody a remarkable poetic sentiment of the life of the spirit, and will always be precious to those for whom they were written. Lowell admired and loved Very’s poetry; it has always found critical appreciation. Few poets had a deeper feeling for nature—nature as the garment of God—than this Salem recluse. He is at his happiest when breathing out his spiritual thought in descriptions which note affectionately, with a lover’s constant eye, the grass, the tree, and the flower, and interpret the insect on the earth, and the clouds of the sky, as symbols of the One, maker of them all. When he died in his native town on May 8th, 1880, there were those who felt that one of the choicest of that noteworthy group of New England idealists had been removed.  3
 
 
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