Sunday, September 14, 2014

Happy poetess Melcena Burns Denny

The Book of Baby Mine was an advertisement-based baby record and advice book first published in 1915, continuing until 1981. It was published by the Baby Mine Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan and the Denny-White Advertising Company of Chicago, Illinois. American companies were offered full-page advertisement space on the first page, and further advertisements could be added to a pocket in the back of the book. They were then distributed to new mothers in that business’ local community, and the publishing and distribution company would supply the advertiser with a certified list of the names and addresses of those who received the book.

The verses and artwork in The Book of Baby Mine were by Melcena Burns Denny (1876–1974). Mrs. Denny was a writer and a happy mother and grandmother. Born in California, she was a graduate of San José State Teachers College and later moved to Seattle with her husband Robert Roy Denny, the first Vice President of Rotary International, who passed away in 1954. She wrote short stories, poems, song lyrics, and plays. Before marriage she wrote under the name L.M. Burns and sold her first story at age 22.

Below is a photo of Mrs. Denny and a few pages from the 1915 version of The Book of Baby Mine, including a poem titled “The Sleepsin Garden” and an illustration of birth stones and birth flowers by month. I am so pleased to revive this poem after its publication a century ago because I’ve searched mightily, and although a single verse of it is quoted (pictorially only) on two websites, in the text of a book from the 1990s and an old 1940s newspaper archived online, in none of those four places is it properly attributed to Melcena Burns Denny. As well, there is scattered and extremely sparse biographical information on the Web. I am honored to now provide the full poem as well as give the proper credit and a more complete bio, in her memory.

Melcena Burns Denny, The Rotarian, June 1973
Melcena Burns Denny, age 96
Photo credit: The Rotarian, June 1973, p.4
 The Book of Baby Mine, 1915

 The Sleepsin Garden, page 1

 The Sleepsin Garden, page 2

 The Sleepsin Garden, page 3

 The Sleepsin Garden, page 4

 The Sleepsin Garden, page 5

“The Sleepsin Garden”
by Melcena Burns Denny
The Book of Baby Mine, 1915

“What fragrant garden of far away,”
I heard the ones who love me say,
“What garden gave its blooms to you?
O blossom-baby, tell us true!”

In the Sleepsin Garden behind the Moon,
That drowsy garden with poppies strewn,
We babies wait till we come to earth,
And the moon flowers shape us for our birth.

The tulip molds our cheek so round,
The sweetpea gives us an ear for sound.
The lily smoothes our forehead fair,
And the milkweed silk is our baby hair.

And long I dreamed in the leafy bower,
My pillow a sweet magnolia flower.
That’s why my neck is waxy and white,
And fragrant and pure for your delight.

I found a bud on a small rose tree,
And loved it so much that it grew to me.
This sweet little trifle you call a nose,
Is really the bud of a little pink rose.

I’ve never really found out yet
Whether brown heart’s-ease or violet
Gave these bright eyes to your little tot,
Or was it the sweet forget-me-not?

I drank my dew in little sips
From wild rose petals: they gave me lips.
Some dew spilled over into my eyes,
And I’m saving it up for future cries.

I wonder what wonderful beautiful flower
Gave me my fingers? I think by the hour.
But my soft little comical playful toes
Are pussy willows, I suppose.

Of course I laugh at “tick-tick, tick-tock,”
For it makes me think of my four-o’clock.
She loved to hold her wee watch to my ear,
In the Sleepsin Garden, for me to hear.

I slept so long in an apple tree,
That the buds made dents all over me.
Dimples, you call them, so pink and small,
If you counted an hour, you couldn’t count all.

One day, laughing, I hid my head
In lily-of-the-valley’s bed.
She whispered, “Not a toothie yet!
I’ll have to blossom for the pet!”

And once I woke from a pansy nap,
And put on a bud for a thinking cap.
The sweet little thoughts that come to me,
The pansies whispered them, you see.

The poppy taught me how to sleep,
The violet taught me how to creep.
The stately lily took my hand,
And breathed, “Come, darling, try to stand!”

But none of the flowers knew how to walk,
And none of them could really talk.
And I longed so much for parents dear,
God gave me a soul and sent me here.

Melcena Burns Denny, 1915, birth stones and birth flowers

As is the generation of leaves

Apparently quotation collecting is genetic. In 2004 (eighteen years after I had already become obsessed with quotes), I found out that my great-grandmother Amy kept a notebook of inspirational quotations. She was born in 1896 and died before I was born. My grandmother found the book and that is how it came to me. Based on the dates of the first items, it appears to be about 100 years old. The first item that is dated is from June 1919, and the last entry with a date is from 1969. I’ve held onto it during these ten years with my old books, but now I’m going to start photographing some of the pages and adding a few of the entries to blog posts, Flickr, and Tumblr. Below is a picture of the notebook as well as one of the handwritten quotes.

My great-grandmother Amy's notebook of inspirational quotations, c.1919
John Ruskin quotation in Amy's notebook

This excerpt is from John Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture, “The Lamp of Life,” 1849. The extended quotation is: “But, at all events, one thing we have in our power — the doing without machine ornament and cast-iron work. All the stamped metals, and artificial stones, and imitation woods and bronzes, over the invention of which we hear daily exultation — all the short, and cheap, and easy ways of doing that whose difficulty is its honour — are just so many new obstacles in our already encumbered road. They will not make one of us happier or wiser — they will extend neither the pride of judgment nor the privilege of enjoyment. They will only make us shallower in our understandings, colder in our hearts, and feebler in our wits. And most justly. For we are not sent into this world to do any thing into which we cannot put our hearts. We have certain work to do for our bread, and that is to be done strenuously; other work to do for our delight, and that is to be done heartily: neither is to be done by halves and shifts, but with a will; and what is not worth this effort is not to be done at all.”

Stay tuned for further entries and photographs from Amy’s notebook.

“It is one of natures ways that we often feel closer to distant generations than to the generation immediately preceding us. ~Igor Stravinsky

“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.”

“Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents’ pots and pans, the used things, warm with generations of human touch, essential to a human landscape.  Instead, we have our paper phantoms, transistorized landscapes.  A featherweight portable museum.” ~Susan Sontag

“Some men so dislike the dust kicked up by the generation they belong to, that, being unable to pass, they lag behind it.” ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare