Saturday, April 10, 2010

Aunt Maggie and the Dying Nun

As I was rummaging through an old genealogy folder, I came across a small Daniels family stash that I had neglected to move into their respective surname files several years ago. The file consisted of the original family Bible records which I have available on the main site, as well as hand written family odds and ends. Mainly items completed by the school age children of my great great grandparents household (Madison and Mary Daniels of Gallia County Ohio).

In time I may feature a few more of these charming little odds and ends, but today, Maggie's full page of writing caught my attention. One side of the page is crammed full of a poem about a dying woman named Clare. When I tried to Google a phrase or two, I had a few entries pop up from a popular song called "The Dying Nun". According to a few of these publications, not much is known about this popular parlor song. One source listed the earliest record of this song as 1928, but the earliest I can find from web postings is 1907. Another curious note about this song is the variation of lyrics. Most of the later copies from the 1940s and 50s have replaced a few lines entirely.

The lines as written by Aunt Maggie Daniels are as follows:

Let the air blow in upon me
Let me see the midnight sky,
Stand back, sister, from around me
Oh, it is so hard to die.

Raise my pillow up oh Martha
Sister Martha, you are kind
Come and stand close here beside me
E'er I leave you all behind

Hold my hand, so cold and frozen,
Once it was so soft and white,
And the ring that fell down from it
Clasped my finger round so tight

Little ring they thought so motherless
That they let me keep it there
Only one plain golden circle
With a braid of Douglas's hair.

Oh, my father, Oh my mother
Will you not forgive the past
When you hear some stranger tell you
How your stray lamb died at last.

And of all who used to love me
Who will weep when I am dead?
Sister Martha, sister Martha
Keep the death watch by my bed.

Sister Martha, sister Martha
You are kinder than the rest,
Raise my head and let me lean it
While I live upon my breast.

I was thinking of some music
I had heard long, long ago
O, how sweet the nuns are singing
In the chapel soft and low.

But a strain of music stealing
Drowns my holy midnight dream
Hark! I hear that wild waltz pealing
As I float away to him.

I am coming Douglas, Douglas
Where you are I'll soon be there.
Oh! I come at last my dearest
Death gives back your little Clare.

Sister Martha, are you near me,
Has the moon gone down so soon?
O, the cell seems cold as winter
Though I know that it is June.

Sister, your white bed lying
Dreaming in the June moonlight.
Though your dreams there comes no message
Clare dies alone tonight.

Ironically, the lyrics aren't full of references to nuns, which makes the origins of this song all the more intriguing. Obviously, little Clare is dying and longs to be reunited with Douglas.....and she is a lamb that has strayed. Was she placed in a nunnery after her fall with dearest Douglas? Conjecture only as we may never know the origins of this song. I did happen to search for a dying nun Clare, but all I could come up with was a Saint Clare from the 12th century who was named the patron saint of the Television in 1958. Why was she named the patron saint of the Television? Because as she lay dying and too ill to attend mass, she was able to see it happening on the wall of her room, apparently the first flat screen!

As to the year of this piece, Maggie's copy would appear to be older than the copies placed online. On the flip side of the paper, Maggie has written a poem that lists the Presidents of the United States. According to Maggie, the current President was Rutherford B. Hayes who was President from 1877-1881. Maggie Daniels was born in 1870 and even if the year was 1881, she was only in the range of 10 or eleven years old. Quite a heavy verse for a 10 year old, but then, children did seem much more mature in the past generations. For those of you who are curious, Maggie grew up to marry George Wagner, had three children and died in 1955 at the age of 85.

One thing I learned about dear Aunt Maggie, she had lovely penmanship!



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