Allen, Elizabeth (Ann Chase) Akers
ALLEN, Elizabeth (Ann Chase) Akers
Born 19 October 1832, Strong, Maine; died 7 August 1911, Tuckahoe, New York
Wrote under: Elizabeth Akers, Florence Percy
Daughter of John and Mary Barton Chase; married MarshallTaylor, 1851 (divorced); (Benjamin) Paul Akers, 1860; E. M. Allen, 1865
Elizabeth Akers Allen was the daughter of a carpenter and circuit preacher. "Feeling unwelcome at home" after her mother's death and father's remarriage, she sought independence at the age of thirteen through a job in a bookbindery and later as a teacher. In 1856 she became an assistant editor for the Portland Transcript and published verse and essays in various magazines. It was during this time that she was "forced to divorce her husband [Marshall Taylor] or starve," since he was legally entitled to her earnings and had already misappropriated payment due her. Her first volume of poetry Forest Buds From the Woods of Maine (1856) was well received. After her second marriage, to Paul Akers, her many volumes of poetry dating from 1866 to 1902 were published under the name Elizabeth Akers.
The poem that assures Allen of immortality is "Rock Me to Sleep," which appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post in May 1860 under her pseudonym. It caught the popular imagination and was set to music by 30 different composers; it was also issued as an illustrated Christmas giftbook and incorporated into novels, plays, and various collections. Until Allen reprinted it in her Poems (1866) and The Sunset Song, and Other Verses (1902), her sole remuneration was the $5 she had received from the newspaper. Unfortunately, authorship of the poem was contested by Alexander M. W. Ball, a New Jersey legislator, who presented sufficient evidence and witnesses to raise serious questions about the poem's authorship. The poem, which "during the Civil War… was printed on leaflets and scattered by thousands in the army," is a plaintive cry to a departed mother for relief and solace. The first stanza displays the intensity of the verses which received public acclaim:
Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for to-night!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother,—rock me to sleep!
Most of Allen's poetry is flawed by sentimentality and a rigid metrical arrangement that often degenerates into a singsong bathos. One narrative voice permeates most of her work, which is best described by a contemporary as "sweet, sad sick-room poetry." The lamentations on death and effusive responses to nature contain little philosophical import or melodic composition. Her concept of the poet as one "who pours the wine of his life for bread" evidently prompted her to try to wring her own most heartfelt emotions for literary use. However, the lack of control and poetic grace is evidenced in the pat rhymes and similarity of structure and meter throughout her canon.
Allen is at her best when she manages to dissociate herself from her personas. Then her poetic narratives, light verse, and fables are well handled metrically and display a felicity of expression not found in the bulk of her work. Many of these poems are worthy of collection for their artistic illumination of the plight of the 19th-century woman.
Queen Catherine's Rose (1885). The Silver Bridge (1886). The Triangular Society (1886). "Gold Nails" to Hang Memories On (1890). The High-Top Sweeting (1891). The Proud Lady of Stavoren (1897). The Ballad of the Bronx (1901).
Cary, R., "The Misted Prism: Paul Akers and Elizabeth Akers Allen," in CLQ 7 (1966). Leavenworth, E. W., ed., Who Wrote "Rock Me To Sleep"? (1870). Morse, O. A., A Vindication of the Claim of Alexander M. W. Ball (1867).
A Woman of the Century, F. E. Willard and M. A. Livermore (1893).
Colophon (4 Oct. 1933). Northern Monthly (March 1868).
—FRANCINE SHAPIRO PUK