O'donnell, Jessie Fremont

views updated

O'DONNELL, Jessie Fremont

Born 1860, Lowville, New York; died 1897

Daughter of John O'Donnell

Jessie Fremont O'Donnell was educated at the Lowville Academy and at Temple Grove Seminary in Saratoga Springs, where she graduated with highest honors and with the designation of class poet and orator. Her first poems were published in the Boston Transcript; her first volume of poetry, Heart Lyrics, was published in New York in 1887. She edited Love Poems of Three Centuries in 1890; and was also a prose writer. "A Soul from Pudge's Corners" was issued serially in the Ladies' Home Journal, and "Horseback Sketches" appeared in Outing in 1891-92 and enjoyed an enthusiastic reception.

The nature poems in Heart Lyrics reveal a gift for imagery. "A White Easter" uses the metaphor of an ice storm on Easter morning to represent the purity of the Resurrection. The theme of the romantic "Night Blooming Cereus" is the manifestation of God in nature. O'Donnell uses conventional nature symbolism: hills press in on the poet in "Shut In," spring is renewal in "An Easter Hymn," and autumn is death in "When His Heart Died."

The poems in Heart Lyrics frequently have death as their theme. The pantheistic "A Sister's Thought in March" pictures O'Donnell's dead younger sister in the flowers of the following spring. Death appears suddenly in "The Smitten Riviera" to break the idyllic tranquility with an earthquake; "The New Year's Gift" is, ironically, death. O'Donnell offers two consolations to death: In "The Sweetest Joy of Heaven" the poet imagines that in death she can help those she loved on earth, and art transcends death in "Immortality." O'Donnell's religious poems suggest a traditional Catholic sensibility.

"Two Women" deals with the important theme of a woman's choice between domestic life and intellectual life; the woman who "chose valley's shelter, safe retreat / life centered in home" is contrasted with the woman who "chose the weary heights, her soul too true /to yield her life into a lesser one." The poem may be autobiographical.

O'Donnell wrote best of the world around her; her nature lyrics and "Horseback Sketches" are the work of a modest talent, but reveal a sense of craft and a skill with figurative language.


Reference works:



About this article

O'donnell, Jessie Fremont

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article