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Featured Poem: If All The Skies by Henry Van Dyke

Written by The Reader, 11th November 2016
featured poem - wisteria

Our poetic offering this week comes from American poet Henry Van Dyke with the poem If All The Skies.

The poet Henry Van Dyke was born in 1852, in Germanstown, Pennsylvania. Graduating from Princeton University in 1873 and Princeton Theological Seminary in 1877, Van Dyke served as a professor of English Literature at the university for 24 years.

After spending a year lecturing in Paris in 1908, Van Dyke was appointed the Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Shortly after his appointment, World War I threw Europe into chaos and Americans living across the continent rushed to Holland as a place of refuge. Van Dyke, though inexperienced, was commended for maintaining the rights of Americans in Europe and for his conduct throughout the tumultuous time. He later wrote a book about his experience called Pro Patria in 1922. He was later elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

As a clergyman, Van Dyke chaired the committee that wrote the first Presbyterian printed liturgy, The Book of Common Worship. Religious themes are present throughout much of his poetry, hymns and essays collected in Little Rivers, 1895, and Fisherman's Luck, 1899.

The author and political activist Helen Keller was a friend of Henry Van Dyke and said of him in her 1929 memoir Midstream:

henry-van-dyke"Dr. van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.

'I'm not an optimist,' says Dr. van Dyke, 'there's too much evil in the world and in me. Nor am I a pessimist; there is too much good in the world and in God. So I am just a meliorist, believing that He wills to make the world better, and trying to do my bit to help and wishing that it were more.'" [5]

Henry Van Dyke died on April 10, 1933 and was is buried in Princeton Cemetery.

If All The Skies

If all the skies were sunshine,
Our faces would be fain
To feel once more upon them
The cooling splash of rain.

If all the world were music,
Our hearts would often long
For one sweet strain of silence,
To break the endless song.

If life were always merry,
Our souls would seek relief,
And rest from weary laughter
In the quiet arms of grief.

Henry Van Dyke

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