Beacon Street Diary blog

The Tuft of Flowers

Longtime friend of the library Rick Taylor sent us a wonderful story in response to the latest issue of our Bulletin, which focused on poetry.

When I was a youngster growing up in an old city church in Paterson, NJ, I couldn't help but notice the 320-foot-high stained glass windows of Jesus in the building. Jesus and the children, Jesus knocking at the door, Jesus, the good shepherd. Beautiful, colorful. The first two were given by families. But the good shepherd window was in memory of a former pastor. He was also the only former pastor whose picture hung in the Church. What was so special about him? As I contemplated becoming a pastor, I wondered what would cause a congregation to honor a pastor with a good shepherd window? What was there about him?

His name was Charles Loveland Merriam (Congregational Yearbook, 1914). What I found out then was not much. In Paterson in the 1880s and 1890s, he helped get the local YMCA started. Then he went to another urban church in the Merrimack Valley, then Derry, New Hampshire, then Newton. In 1913 the Paterson church recalled him as pastor. But that pastorate was short. He died in an auto accident the next year. Auto accidents were probably so rare then, that is was quite a shock. I attributed the memorial to the shock of the sudden death, and left it at that.

Years later I ran into some information about his time in Derry. While there (1903-1910), Merriam, like many other Congregational ministers, was chair of the school board. He also ran into a young couple on a farm in town. They had several children, and the husband, a college drop out was – to say the least – totally unprepared to be a farmer. Merriam, as a good pastor should be was concerned about the children and family and getting them some money for food and necessities. He found that the husband wrote a few poems, so he invited him to speak at the church women's group and men's group, and paid him a bit to read some poems. Finally he got the young man a part time job as an English teacher in the local schools. In thanks the young man wrote a poem of thanks, "The Tuft of Flowers", that was so good he was able to get it published in 1906. Merriam left town in 1910, and was dead by 1914. Between Newton and Paterson, I wonder if he forgot about the young man. The same year that Merriam died, the poet took a trip to Britain, and then came back as the war broken, and got a book published. Merriam never would have known much of what happened next.

Have you guessed it? The young man was Robert Frost. I ran into this when reading a biography of Frost years ago. I hope I remember the details correctly. I've used Merriam's life to illustrate the text "Cast your bread upon the waters…" Read "The Tuft of Flowers", and you will find what it means for a lonely hard working farm hand to discover that someone else recognizes beauty.

So maybe this is another of our Congregational poet stories.

-Rick Taylor


Red chrysanthemums drawn by William Clarke for the Transactions of the Horticultural Society, London courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art