What is it I do seek, what thing I lack?

Margaret FullerWhy do we travel? What are we missing that we hope to find so far from home? Margaret Fuller, the first female American journalist to work as a foreign correspondent, has some thoughts on the matter.

Fuller wrote from England and Italy for The New York Tribune from 1846 to 1850, when she died with her family in a shipwreck on her way back to the States. This partial poem is from Summer on the Lakes, an earlier, hard-to-classify work about her time exploring the Great Lakes, then considered the American frontier:

TRAVELLER

What is it I do seek, what thing I lack?
These many days I’ve left my father’s hall,
Forth driven by insatiable desire,
That, like the wind, now gently murmuring,
Enticed me forward with its own sweet voice
Through many-leaved woods, and valleys deep,
Yet ever fled before me. Then with sound
Stronger than hurrying tempest, seizing me,
Forced me to fly its power. Forward still,
Bound by enchanted ties, I seek its source.

Sometimes it is a something I have lost,
Known long since, before I bent my steps
Toward this beautiful broad plane of earth.
Sometimes it is a spirit yet unknown,
In whose dim-imaged features seem to smile
The dear delight of these high-mansioned thoughts,
That sometimes visit me. Like unto mine
Her lineaments appear, but beautiful,
As of a sister in a far-off world,
Waiting to welcome me. And when I think
To reach and clasp the figure, it is gone,
And some ill-omened ghastly vision comes
To bid beware, and not too curiously
Demand the secrets of that distant world,
Whose shadow haunts me.—On the waves below

But now I gazed, warmed with the setting sun,
Who sent his golden streamers to my feet,
It seemed a pathway to a world beyond,
And I looked round, if that my spirit beckoned
That I might follow it.

–Margaret Fuller

Reading List

P.S. Featured image is “Log Cabin at Rock River,” an illustration from Summer on the Lakes.

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