This issue features a poem by Sarah Morgan Bryant Piatt before she married John James Piatt in 1861 and took his surname. The New York Ledger published many of Piatt’s poems between 1858 and 1861. In addition to printing Piatt’s “A Moon-Rise by the Sea,” this issue includes an installment of Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.’s serial, Rosalind Huber; or, the Hillside Tragedy, a poem by Alice Cary titled “Mabel, Spinning,” a poem by Willie E. Pabor called “She Came in Tears,” and Fanny Fern’s weekly column “Fresh Fern Leaves” which covers the “‘perils of young women in boarding-houses, and the traps and snares which are there laid for them’.” When studying Ledger issues, I usually pay attention solely to the poets and poems featured. In the future, reading more of the poetry's potential intertextuality with serials, news, and advice columns will provide new ways of understanding non-canonical writers and verses, as well as what they might’ve meant for readers at the time. In this issue, however, I focus on Piatt’s poem because of the relatively recent scholarly interest in her later poetry. Her appearance in the Ledger marks a still unexplored area in Piatt’s literary career which I feel deserves more critical attention.
“A Moon-Rise by the Sea” is a dramatic monologue made up of six octaves in a dominant meter of iambic tetrameter. The poem is about the precarity of love and nature. The first octave describes a scene where the speaker and her lover are on a beach, looking at the moonrise. The lover’s “cold blue eyes” are captivated by the beauty of the “moon-rise by the sea." He does not, or refuses, to notice the speaker nearby looking at him. The speaker accuses the winds of mocking her as they “flung [her lover’s] dark brown curls aside, / [a]nd kissed [him]” (9, 18-19). In the fourth octave, the persona of the lover finally speaks, telling the speaker of “‘…a palace in the deep, / In whose vast halls there’s not a light, / [s]ave from the burning gems [he] keep[s]’” (26-28). The lover continues and claims that in this castle his “‘sea-nymphs guard a casket there / [t]hat shines the bridal-pearl for’” the speaker (30-31). The speaker, titillated by this implied marriage proposal, seemingly sinks into the ocean "[a]lone, without reproach or scream” (47). Romance quickly turns to tragedy as the speaker claims, “Now life is haunted by a dream, / That dream a Moon-rise by the Sea” (53-54).
In other Ledger poems by Piatt like “Fly Through the Sunset, Dove,” “The Haunted Lover,” and “Dreamings,” the “sea” functions as metaphor for “Fairy-land,” and/or a celestial plain, where the speaker can express nostalgia, the feeling of absence, and lonesomeness. In the case of “A Moon-Rise by the Sea,” the sea functions as hypnotizing background connecting the speaker to the vastness of nature and the awe-inspiring and dangerous sublime. The imagery of “A Moon-Rise by the Sea” goes from Romantic to gothic in a matter of a few stanzas. By the end of the poem, the speaker associates the Romantic setting of “A Moon-Rise by the Sea” with the gothic haunting of lost love. I call the generic chasm between Romantic and Gothic in the poem a type of sublime as well, as it feeds a tension in the poem’s exalted representation of love and betrayal. The sublime is a realm of not only awe but also terror; one might recall the sublime pantheism that almost costs Ishmael his life in Moby Dick's seminal chapter, “The Mast-Head.” Captivated by the immensity and rhythm of the ocean, Ishmael nearly falls in. The speaker in Piatt’s poem, like Ishmael, is captivated by the sublimeness of her lover’s “cold blue eyes” and “the burning gems [he] keep[s]’” (9, 28). In an Ishmaelian-like trance, the speaker in the poem is led by the deceitful lover “—o’er the waters— . . . [where] without reproach or scream [she] sank for aye from light and—thee” (44-46).