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Oakes, Urian (1631-1681)

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Urian Oakes

The second Harvard Seal

Biographical Introduction

Another of the poets of Cambridge is Urian Oakes. Born in England, he came to America as a child. After graduating from Harvard College in 1649, he returned to England, where he was a chaplain and minister until the nonconformists were silenced in 1662. After then becoming the minister of the First Parish in Cambridge, he served simultaneously for six years as President of Harvard College. His colleague, Cotton Mather, spoke of him as one of the greatest lights that ever shone in this part of the world, or that is ever like to arise in this horizon.

In A History of American Literature, dated 1878, Moses Coit Tyler of the University of Michigan declared that Oakes’s English is perhaps the richest prose style, as well as the most brilliant example of originality, breadth, and force of thought to be met with in our sermon literature from the settlement of the country down to the American Revolution. Below are a few lines expressing his contribution to American poetry, from his elegy on the death of Thomas Shepard, minister of the church in Charlestown.

The Poetry of Urian Oakes

… Great and good Shepard’s dead! Ah! this alone
Will set our eyes abroach, dissolve a stone
. . .
If to have solid judgment, pregnant parts,
A piercing wit, and comprehensive brain;
If to have gone the round of all the arts,
Immunity from death could gain;
Shepard would have been death-proof, and secure
From that all-conquering hand, I’m very sure.
. . .
My dearest, inmost, bosom-friend is gone!
Gone is my sweet companion, soul’s delight!
Now in an huddling crowd I’m all alone,
And almost could bid all the world –good-night.