Gould, Hannah Flagg

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GOULD, Hannah Flagg

Born 3 September 1789, Lancaster, Massachusetts; died 5 September 1865, Newburyport, Massachusetts

Daughter of Benjamin and Griselda A. Flagg Gould

Hannah Flagg Gould lived most of her life in Newburyport, as the housekeeper and companion of her widowed father. A quiet and retiring person, she was nevertheless a central figure in the intellectual life of the community. She contributed poems to periodicals which her friends collected and published as Poems (1832). After the unexpected success of this book, she published several more volumes of poetry. Although her poems were fairly popular, her reputation did not endure.

Gould was best known for her short, simple poems about the child's world. She wrote about children because she saw them as closest to the spirit of God. In her poems, children express moral truth, and their innocence makes them receptive to the Divine Will. Gould's interest in the child's spiritual sensibility may have been stimulated by the work of William Blake. She copied into her commonplace book his poems about children, most notably "The Chimney Sweeper" and "The Tyger." She quoted admiringly Blake's remark that "my business is not to gather gold, but to make glorious shapes expressing God-like sentiments." But where Blake's children show "A world in a grain of sand / Heaven in a wild flower," Gould's children express conventional pieties. She lacked Blake's imagination, power, and skill, and so the children in her poems are often merely pathetic rather than visionary—their insights sentimental and didactic rather than profound.

Gould also wrote about the American past, contemporary manners, and nature. The historical poems are mostly about the American Revolution or America's religious and ethnic minorities—the Quakers, the Native Americans, and others. The most famous was The Rising Monument (1840), a poem commemorating the battle of Bunker Hill, which in dignified iambic pentameter tells of the "Patriot souls / That from thy native spot arose to God… / This last high place by freedom's martyrs trod."

The poems about the contemporary scene focus on manners and morals. While the patriots of the historical poems were virtuous and valued honor, Gould's contemporaries, she thought, were caught up with "progress" and preoccupied with wealth. As with most of her works, those poems about American history and contemporary manners are marred by excessive sentiment and didacticism.

The best of Gould's poems are the nature poems, many of which were written for the "entertainment and instruction" of children. The most attractive are "The Frost," "The Pebble and the Acorn," "The Ground Laurel," and "A Name in the Sand." The latter illustrates the quiet gentleness which marks the best of Gould's work: "Alone I walked the ocean strand; / A pearly shell was in my hand: / I stooped and wrote upon the sand / My name—the year—the day. / As onward from the spot I passed. / One lingering look behind I cast; / A wave came rolling high and fast, / And washed my lines away." Simple and moral, these poems have a gentle charm in which the didacticism is mellowed by the author's unassuming tone.

Other Works:

The Golden Vase: A Gift for the Young (1843). Gathered Leaves (1846). New Poems (1850). The Diosma (1851). The Youth's Coronal (1851). The Mother's Dream, and Other Poems (1853). Hymns, and Other Poems for Children (1854). Poems for Little Ones (1863). Poems for Children (1870).


Gould, B. A., The Family of Zaccheus Gould of Topsfield (1895).

Reference works:

Career Women of America, 1776-1840 (1972). Daughters of America (1883). NCAB. Oxford Companion of Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Poets of Essex County, Mass. (1889). Woman's Record (1853).

Other references:

Baltimore Literary Monument (Nov. 1838). New England Historical and Genealogical Register (Jan. 1866). North American Review (Oct. 1835). Southern Literary Messenger (Jan. 1836).