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About this poet

Eliza Cook was born on December 24, 1818, in London, England. Self-educated as a child, she began writing poems at the age of fifteen and published her first poetry collection, Lays of a Wild Harp: A Collection of Metrical Pieces (John Bennett, 1835), two years later. Cook also published poems in magazines such as Metropolitan Magazine, New Monthly Magazine, and Weekly Dispatch, which published her most popular poem, “The Old Arm-Chair.”

In 1838, Cook published her second collection, Melaia and Other Poems, which was well received in both England and America, where an edition was reissued in 1844, and followed by Poems, Second Series (Simpkin, Marshall, 1845) and New Echoes, and Other Poems (Routledge, Warne & Routledge, 1864). Known as a poet of the working class, Cook wrote poems that advocated for political freedom for women and addressed questions of class and social justice. Despite her popularity, she was criticized for the ways in which she bucked gender conventions in both her writing and her life; Cook wore male clothing and had a relationship with American actress Charlotte Cushman, to whom she addressed a number of her poems.

In 1949, Cook started a penny-biweekly called Eliza Cook’s Journal, which contained poems, reviews, and social essays written mostly by her for a female audience. She continued the publication until 1854. Plagued by bad health in the last years of her life, Cook published little; she died on September 23, 1889, in Wimbledon, England.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

New Echoes, and Other Poems (Routledge, Warne & Routledge, 1864)
Poems, Second Series (Simpkin, Marshall, 1845)
Melaia and Other Poems (J. and H. G. Langley, 1844)
Lays of a Wild Harp: A Collection of Metrical Pieces (John Bennett, 1835)

 

The Old Arm-Chair

I love it, I love it; and who shall dare
To chide me for loving that old arm-chair?
I’ve treasured it long as a sainted prize,
I’ve bedew’d it with tears, and embalmed it with sighs;
’Tis bound by a thousand bands to my heart;
Not a tie will break, not a link will start.
Would ye learn the spell? a mother sat there,
And a sacred thing is that old arm-chair.

In childhood’s hour I linger’d near
The hallow’d seat with list’ning ear;
And gentle words that mother would give,
To fit me to die and teach me to live.
She told me shame would never betide,
With truth for my creed and God for my guide;
She taught me to lisp my earliest prayer,
As I knelt beside that old arm-chair.

I sat and watch’d her many a day,
When her eye grew dim, and her locks were grey;
And I almost worshipp’d her when she smil’d
And turn’d from her Bible to bless her child.
Years roll’d on, but the last one sped—
My idol was shatter’d, my earth-star fled;
I learnt how much the heart can bear,
When I saw her die in that old arm-chair.

’Tis past! ’tis past! but I gaze on it now
With quivering breath and throbbing brow:
’Twas there she nursed me, ’twas there she died;
And memory flows with lava tide.
Say it is folly, and deem me weak,
While the scalding drops start down my cheek;
But I love it, I love it, and cannot tear
My soul from a mother’s old arm-chair.

This poem appeared in Melaia and Other Poems (Charles Tilt, 1840). It is in the public domain.

This poem appeared in Melaia and Other Poems (Charles Tilt, 1840). It is in the public domain.

Eliza Cook

Eliza Cook

Eliza Cook was born on December 24, 1818, in London, England. Self-educated as a child, she began writing poems at the age of fifteen and published her first poetry collection, Lays of a Wild Harp: A Collection of Metrical Pieces (John Bennett, 1835), two years later. Cook also published poems in magazines such as Metropolitan Magazine, New Monthly Magazine, and Weekly Dispatch, which published her most popular poem, “The Old Arm-Chair.”

by this poet

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The holly! the holly! oh, twine it with bay—
   Come give the holly a song;
For it helps to drive stern winter away,
   With his garment so sombre and long.
It peeps through the trees with its berries of red,
   And its leaves of burnish’d green,
When the flowers and fruits have long been dead,
   And not even
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Brave Winter and I shall ever agree,
Though a stern and frowning gaffer is he.
I like to hear him, with hail and rain,
Come tapping against the window pane;
I joy to see him come marching forth
Begirt with the icicle gems of the north;
But I like him best when he comes bedight
In

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Bring forth the harp, and let us sweep its fullest, loudest string.
The bee below, the bird above, are teaching us to sing
A song for merry harvest; and the one who will not bear
His grateful part partakes a boon he ill deserves to share.
The grasshopper is pouring forth his quick and trembling