Mary Elizabeth McGrath Blake

(September 1, 1840 – February 26, 1907 / Dungarvan, Ireland)

Biography of Mary Elizabeth McGrath Blake

Mary Elizabeth McGrath Blake (September 1, 1840 – February 26, 1907) was an American poet.

She was born in Dungarvan, Ireland, the oldest daughter of Patrick McGrath, a marble worker, and Mary Murphy McGrath. In 1849, her family emigrated to the United States and settled in Quincy, Massachusetts. Her father was well-read and opened a successful marble works, thus, following her graduation from Quincy High School, was able to send his daughter to George Barrell Emerson's Private School in Boston from 1859 to 1861 and Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, New York from 1861 to 1863. She worked as a schoolteacher prior to her June 1865 marriage to Dr. John G. Blake, a graduate of Harvard Medical School who had admired her published poems before they met in person. They had eleven children; of the six that survived into adulthood, five boys graduated from Harvard University and one daughter graduated from Radcliffe College.

As a teenager, her poetry was published in The Pilot under the name Marie. She became widely published in other in Boston publications, including the Boston Gazette, the Boston Transcript, and the Boston Journal, the latter of which featured her popular series of "Rambling Talks". A devout Catholic, she was also frequently published in religious publications like Catholic World and the Protestant The Congregationalist and in national publications like Scribner's. She wrote poetry to commemorate Boston memorials and events, including the deaths of abolitionist Wendell Phillips and Admiral David Dixon Porter, the Silver Jubilee of Archbishop John Joseph Williams, and the 150th anniversary of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. Her admirers included Theodore Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes, the latter of whom wrote of her "You are one of the birds that must sing." Though widely admired in her day, the critical reputation of her work does not equal the esteem of her admirers.

Her first collection of poetry, Poems, was not published until 1882. She later published the collections Verses along the Way (1890) and In the Harbour of Hope (1907) and two volumes of children's verse, The Merry Months All (1885) and Youth in Twelve Centuries (1886). She published three volumes of travel writing: On the Wing (1883), about her trip to the western United States, serialized in the Boston Journal; Mexico: Picturesque, Political, Progressive (1888), a collaboration with Margaret F. Sullivan; and A Summer Holiday in Europe (1890), about her five trips to Europe. Her criticism of militarism, The Coming Reform: A Woman's Word (1887), was popular during the Spanish–American War.

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The Master's Hand

THE scroll was old and gray;
The dust of time had gathered white and chill
Above the touches of the worker's skill,
And hid their charm away.

The many passed it by;
For no sweet curve of dainty face or form,
No gleam of light, or flash of color warm,
Held back the careless eye.

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