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Delmarva Heritage Series

* Amanda Elizabeth Dennis, Poet Of Eastern Shore

Salisbury Times - September 7, 1960

Some weeks ago George Cordry, principal of Wicomico Senior High School, called to the author's attention "Asphodels and Pansies," the collection of poems by Amanda Elizabeth Dennis.

Although Miss Dennis has been called an amateur versifier, anyone interested

in the cultural heritage of the Delmarva Peninsula should at least become acquainted with her and some of the more than 200 poems that she wrote and published.

Miss Dennis was born near Powellville, in what was formerly part of Worcester County, on Nov. 15, 1841. She was but a young girl her parents moved to Baltimore, where she attended private school. It was during this period of her education that she developed a decided literary talent, which found expression in numerous beautiful songs and poems.

ABOUT 1861, at the beginning of the Civil war, her parents returned to the old homestead near Powellville. Miss Dennis accompanied them and took a teaching position at what was known as the St. Johns' house midway between Whiton and Powellville. For more than a quarter of a century she taught the boys and girls of that neighborhood. At the time of her death the Democratic Messenger of Worcester County said; "Her Christian example and sweet noble life was a powerful factor in shaping the character of her pupils and directing their lives in the right channels. The name of 'Miss Amanda' was a household word, and of all the many hundreds of pupils who came under her influence there is, we venture to say, not one who does not love and cherish her memory, and not one who will not feel a pang of sorrow at the passing away of this sweet lovable woman."

The first year she taught on the shore she had among her pupils two married men, one of whom had been teaching several years. The teacher wanted to teach in Delaware and desired to study Smith's grammar then used in that state. He also wanted from the school board permission to chew tobacco while in school. He was told that he would have to use the textbooks prescribed by his own country, and permission to chew tobacco in school was denied.

An article, which appeared at the time of Miss Amanda's death in 1923, shows something of her character and also an insight into the poems that she wrote. The article stated: "The life of Miss Dennis was a shining example of spiritual and material love and service. Spiritual in the sense of being a faithful follower of Christ and a diligent worker in His vineyard; and material as exhibited in her attitude toward her pupils and friends, and in her ministrations, first to an invalid mother, and later to an invalid brother, both of whom she lavished the most tender care out of an abundance and wealth of her love and devotion."

MISS DENNIS was a "beauty lover." Everything beautiful to the eye and ear, appealed to her so that it permeated her whole being. One man said, "The golden sunshine, the glorious sunsets, the moon, the stars, the splendors of autumn, singing birds, whispering winds-in fact everything so filled her mind and heart that there had to be and outlet and verse-writing seemed to be her only relief, the natural outlet."

While her poems were published in the Baltimore Weekly Sun and other newspapers she wrote only one volume, and that was "Asphodels and Pansies." However, this collection of poems, published in 1888, contained more than 200 selections. Miss Dennis said that she did not know what led her to write poetry, only that it seemed necessary for her to express the fancies, thoughts, and dreams that always crowded her brain, heart, and soul. David Wilson, post chaplain, United States Army, wrote in the Introductions to the poems: "The reader will discover a shyness and reticence, showing how the tide of human suffering has flowed secretly over her spirit, shutting in her personality even from the knowledge of confidential friends. It is not the weird melancholy of Edgar Allen Poe, but a gloom begotten of intense sympathy with expressionless sorrow, the nearness of her relationship to others' disappointments."

TYPICAL OF the women poets of the 19th century, Miss Dennis wrote of sentimental and emotional topics. Most of her poems are of general subjects that could just as well have been written by a native of any other section of the country. In other words she did not capture the way of life that existed on the peninsula in the way Gilbert Byron has done and is still doing. However, some of the poems definitely do tell about life and events of this region of the shore. For example her poem, "Poor Salisbury, or Wings of Fire," is a touching and beautiful verse about Salisbury, when it was devastated by a terrible fire on the night of Oct. 17, 1886. The fire broke out about 6:30, and raged furiously through the night. If I am not mistaken, Miss Dennis wrote this poem either the night of the fire or the following day. Other poems deal somewhat with the religious life of her community, teaching of school, and certain local personalities.

Most unfortunately, in 1904, while Miss Dennis was living with a brother in Berlin, a fire destroyed all of her books together with her papers and manuscripts. She died at the home of a niece, near St. Martins on March 1, 1923. She is buried in the Buckingham Cemetery, Berlin.

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