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John Howard Payne


An excerpt

Like thee, I love the stars. In distant climes
I’ve stood alone and watch’d them; and have thought
I saw the spirits of departed friends
Smile in their loveliness; and then would dream
That some, not yet departed but far off,
Gazed with me on them; and that I could feel
Their glance of kindness in the gentle light
Which cast its sweet spell round me. Then there seem’d
A music in the sphere, to charm away
The serpent sorrows gnawing at my heart,
Till, one by one, they dropp’d their demon hold,
And left me, all alone with contemplation,
Like thee, to love the stars.

This poem is in the public domain.


John Howard Payne (1791-1852) was born in New York City where, despite his father's disapproval, he established himself as a gifted stage actor. In his early twenties, John moved to London, garnering great acclaim, if not great fortune, as a performer, writer, and translator. He was the first American actor to appear on a London stage, and the first American actor to portray the character of Hamlet. This poem, set to music for an opera John wrote, brought him instant fame and recognition, though not much money, due to a royalty infringement. Audiences in Europe and America fell in love with the poignant lyrics (it was said to be one of President Lincoln's favorite songs) and "Home, Sweet Home" is considered today as one of the most beloved songs of all times. John returned to America in 1832 and devoted several years to researching the heritage and rights of the Cherokee Indians before accepting a presidential appointment as the U.S. consul in Tunisia. He died in service to his country. At one point, John had a serious crush on Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein; unfortunately, she had no romantic interest whatsoever in poor John, preferring his best friend, Washington Irving.



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