Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

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Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt
Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt from American Women, 1897 - cropped.jpg
"A woman of the century"
BornSarah Morgan Bryan
August 11, 1836
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedDecember 22, 1919(1919-12-22) (aged 83)
Caldwell, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting placeSpring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Alma materNew Castle Female Seminary, Henry Female College
Notable worksA Woman's Poems
John James Piatt
(m. 1861;death 1917)

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (Sallie M. Bryan; August 11, 1836 – December 22, 1919) was an American poet. Sometimes publishing under "Sallie M. Bryan", she was a prolific and popular poet during her lifetime, associating with prominent literary figures in the United States and abroad. [1] During her career, she published some 450 poems across eighteen volumes and in leading periodicals of the day.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Poet person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.


Piatt spent much of her life in Ohio, Washington DC, and Ireland. [2] George D. Prentice, the editor of the Louisville Journal , was an intimate friend of the family, and through his paper, Piatt's poems first received recognition. [3] In 1861, she married John James Piatt, who was a journalist, litterateur, and poet, as well as a federal employee who eventually served as an American Consul in Ireland. Her husband had been her chief critic, and was responsible for the publication of her work in book form. [4]

Ohio State of the United States of America

Ohio is a Midwestern state in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Of the fifty states, it is the 34th largest by area, the seventh most populous, and the tenth most densely populated. The state's capital and largest city is Columbus.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

George D. Prentice American newspaper editor

George Dennison Prentice was a newspaper editor, writer and poet who built the Louisville Journal into a major newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, in part by the virulence and satire in its editorials, which some blamed for a bloody election day riot in 1855. A slaveholder, Prentice initially supported Unionist candidate John Bell in the 1860 U.S. Presidential election, and after the American Civil War began urged Kentucky to remain neutral. Both of his sons joined the Confederate States Army, one dying in 1862, and Prentice's editorials lampooned Kentucky's military governor, Union General Stephen G. Burbridge. Prentice later opposed Congressional Reconstruction. He wrote a biography of Henry Clay published in 1831, an 1836 poem published in the McGuffey Readers, and a collection of his humorous essays was published in 1859 and revised after his death.

Though her work was cordially commended by many other well-known and capable critics in the U.S. and Europe, Piatt's foreign critics were, perhaps, more generous in their appreciation than even those of the U.S. Her name was often linked with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti by English reviewers, and in Great Britain, she had a greater following than in the U.S.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning English poet, author

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet of the Victorian era, popular in Britain and the United States during her lifetime.

Christina Rossetti English poet

Christina Georgina Rossetti was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems. She is famous for writing "Goblin Market" and "Remember". She also wrote the words of two Christmas carols well known in the British Isles: "In the Bleak Midwinter", later set to music by Gustav Holst and by Harold Darke, and "Love Came Down at Christmas", also set by Harold Darke and other composers.

Early years and education

Sarah Morgan Bryan was born on her grandmother's plantation, [5] in Lexington, Kentucky, August 11, 1836. [6] Her parents, Talbot Nelson Bryan and Mary Spiers Bryan, both descended from slaveholding families. Further research needs to be done to determine whether they themselves owned human property. [7] Her paternal grandfather, Morgan Bryan, was one of the pioneer settlers of that State, a proprietor of "Bryan's Station," and a brother-in-law of Daniel Boone, whom the Bryans accompanied from North Carolina into Kentucky. [8] [9] [3]

Lexington, Kentucky Consolidated city-county in Kentucky, United States

Lexington, consolidated with Fayette County and often denoted as Lexington-Fayette, is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 60th-largest city in the United States. By land area, Lexington is the 28th largest city in the United States. Known as the "Horse Capital of the World," it is the heart of the state's Bluegrass region. It has a nonpartisan mayor-council form of government, with 12 council districts and three members elected at large, with the highest vote-getter designated vice mayor. In the 2017 U.S. Census Estimate, the city's population was 321,959, anchoring a metropolitan area of 512,650 people and a combined statistical area of 856,849 people.

Kentucky State of the United States of America

Kentucky, officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state located in the east south-central region of the United States. Although styled as the "State of Kentucky" in the law creating it, (because in Kentucky's first constitution, the name state was used) Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth. Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th most extensive and the 26th most populous of the 50 United States.

Daniel Boone American settler

Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, explorer, woodsman, and frontiersman, whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky. It was still considered part of Virginia but was on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains from most European-American settlements. As a young adult, Boone supplemented his farm income by hunting and trapping game, and selling their pelts in the fur market. Through this occupational interest, Boone first learned the easy routes to the area. Despite some resistance from American Indian tribes such as the Shawnee, in 1775, Boone blazed his Wilderness Road from North Carolina and Tennessee through Cumberland Gap in the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky. There, he founded the village of Boonesborough, Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachians. Before the end of the 18th century, more than 200,000 Americans migrated to Kentucky/Virginia by following the route marked by Boone.

At the age of three, the parents and three children [10] moved near Versailles, Kentucky. [4] Here, her mother, Mary, who was related to the Stocktons, Simpsons and other early Kentucky families, died at a young age, when Piatt, the older of two daughters, [11] was eight years of age. [9] [3]

Versailles, Kentucky City in Kentucky, United States

Versailles is a home rule-class city in Woodford County, Kentucky, United States and is located near Lexington. It is part of the Lexington-Fayette Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 8,568 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Woodford County. The city's name is pronounced vər-SAYLZ, not like the French city of the same name.

She then lived on various Kentucky plantations with Kentucky relatives, accompanied by her mother's nurse, a black slave. [12] For a time, this was with her grandmother, before she lived with her father again at the home of his wealthy new wife. [10] Eventually, Piatt's father placed her and a younger sister in the care of their aunt, Mrs. Annie Boone, who lived at New Castle, Kentucky. [9]

New Castle, Kentucky City in Kentucky, United States

New Castle is a home rule-class city in Henry County, Kentucky, in the United States. It is the seat of its county. As of the 2010 census the population was 912.

In New Castle, Piatt received her school education, the classical and literary schooling afforded to upper-class girls. [13] She became an eager reader of books, and had especial fondness for Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron, among British romantic poets of the day, though she also read Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, Felicia Hemans, and the others of that period. [9] While a student at New Castle Female Seminary, Piatt started publishing her poetical works in the local newspaper. [14] In 1854, in New Castle, [15] she graduated from Henry Female College, an institution then under the directorship of a cousin of Charles Sumner. [3] [8] [9]



The sadness at the loss of her mother, was not easy to outgrow, and was observable in her early and late writings, though often in company with playful and humorous elements. It was in her young girlhood, in New Castle, her poetic temperament first manifested itself in the composition of verse. [9] Robert Browning was an inspiration. [16]

Some of her early verses, which often recalled and suggested such models, were shown by intimate friends to George D. Prentice, then editor of the Louisville Journal , and he praised them highly, recognizing what seemed to him extraordinary poetic genius and confidently predicting the highest distinction for their author as an American poet. He wrote to her: "I now say emphatically to you again . . . that, if you are entirely true to yourself, and if your life be spared, you will, in the maturity of your powers, be the first poet of your sex in the United States. I say this not as what I think, but what I know." Her early published poems, appearing in the Louisville Journal and the New York Ledger , were widely read and appreciated, and were perhaps more popular than her later and far better and more individual work. [9]

Washington, D. C.

On June 18, 1861, she married John James Piatt, who went by "J.J.", and went with him to reside in Washington, D. C. They remained in that city, where Mr. Piatt was in governmental employment, until 1867, seeing somewhat of the great events of the time. where he held a patronage position as a clerk in the Treasury. It was the first of many such positions he would receive and lose. [7]


In July, 1867, they removed to Ohio, where, soon after, they made their home on a part of the old estate of William Henry Harrison, in North Bend, Ohio, a few miles south of Cincinnati, on the Ohio River. That home they left only for brief periods, until they went to reside abroad. It is the place most endeared to Mrs. Piatt, for there, several of her children were born and two of them were buried. [9] The family shuttled back and forth to Washington D.C. on a few occasions, [12] such as when J.J. worked for the postal service. Also, during the period of 1870–76, Piatt and the children joined J.J. in Washington D.C. in the winters where he was serving as librarian of the United States House of Representatives. [17]

It was after her marriage that Piatt's more individual characteristics as a poet distinctly manifested themselves, especially the quick dramatic element seen in so many of her best poems, and the remarkable sympathy with and knowledge of child life, which Prof. Eric Sutherland Robertson recognized in his volume entitled The Children of the Poets (London, 1886). The first volume in which her poems appeared was a joint volume by herself and husband, entitled, The Nests at Washington, and Other Poems (New York City, 1864). Her next volume, the first one which was independent, was A Woman's Poems (Boston, 1871), appearing without the author's name on the title page. This was her best known work, made famous by Bayard Taylor in his book, The Echo Club. [4] That was followed by A Voyage to the Fortunate Isles, etc. (1874); That New World, etc. (1876); Poems in Company with Children (1877); and Dramatic Persons and Moods (1878). All the last-mentioned volumes were published in Boston. At the same time, Piatt contributed to the various American magazines, the Atlantic Monthly , Scribner's Monthly , The Century Magazine , Harper's Magazine , St. Nicholas Magazine , [9] Irish Monthly , and The Independent.


In 1882, Piatt accompanied her husband to Ireland, where he went as Consul of the U.S. to Cork, and thereafter, resided in Queenstown (now Cobh). He served in the position for eleven years, [7] Since going to Ireland, Piatt, who perhaps had some remote Irish ancestry, as her maiden name might be held to indicate, published An Irish Garland (Edinburgh, 18S4); a volume of her Selected Poems (London, 1885), In Primrose Time: a New Irish Garland (London, 1886), The Witch in the Glass, and Other Poems (London, 1889), and An Irish Wild-Flower (London, 1891). The first, third and last of the volumes just mentioned contained pieces suggested by her experiences in Ireland. A little joint volume by herself and husband, The Children Out-of-Doors: a Book of Verses by Two in One House, was also published (Edinburgh, 1884), and all of those later volumes were issued simultaneously in the U.S. [18]

Personal life

Piatt was the mother of Marian (b 1862); Victor (1864); Donn (1867); Fred (1869); Guy (1871); Louis (1875); and Cecil (1878) as well as at least one infant child and possibly others in infancy or through miscarriage. Victor died in a tragic fireworks accident in 1874, and Louis drowned in a boating accident in 1884 while the Piatts were living in Ireland. [19]

After J.J.'s death in 1917, Piatt removed to her son Cecil's home in Caldwell, New Jersey, where she died of pneumonia December 22, 1919. [6] [20] She and J.J. are buried at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio. [17]

Themes and reception

Children were a common theme in Piatt's poems. [5]

Her work was cordially commended by Bayard Taylor, William Dean Howells, John Burroughs, Hamilton Wright Mabie, and many other well-known and capable critics in the U.S. and Europe, [4] including England and Ireland. [3] Piatt's foreign critics were, perhaps, more generous in their appreciation than even those of the U.S. [18] English reviewers often linked her name with Elizabeth Barrett Browning's and Christina Rossetti's. [4]

Her biographer, in Richard Henry Stoddard's Poets' Homes, stated:— [8]

"It is since her marriage, in June, 1861," says Mrs. "that her more individual characteristics of style have manifested themselves, especially the dramatic element, so delicate, subtle and strong, which asserts her intellectual kinship with Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning."

Piatt's poems were characterized as introspective and personal to the last degree. They depict the essential life of woman, in its various phases, voicing her ambitions, longings, joys, disappointments, doubts, anguish, prayer. The tone of the verse is often sorrowful, sometimes deeply tragic. Writes William Dean Howells:— [21]

"In the rush of these hopeless tears, this heart-broken scorn of comfort, this unreconcilable patience of grief, is the drama of the race's affliction; in the utter desolation of one woman's sorrow, the universal anguish of mortality is expressed. It is not pessimism; it does not assume to be any sort of philosophy or system; it is simply the bitter truth, to a phrase, of human experience through which all men must pass, and the reader need not be told that such poems were lived before they were written."

Another admirer of Piatt's verse, in a critical survey of the literature of Ohio, (1903) said of the author and her work:— [21]

"Mrs. Piatt is a woman of original and exceptional genius — a poet whose name shines in American literature, 'Like some great jewel full of fire.' She is unrivaled, in her province of song, by any living writer of her sex, whether native to this country or of foreign birth. . . . She is inimitable in her own vivid, bold, and suggestive invention and manner. Whatever she writes has meaning — and the significance is often deep — sometimes strange and elusive — never commonplace. . . . Mrs. Piatt's rare artistic skill has been admired by many who appreciate the technical difficulties of the poetic craft."

Equally emphatic is the praise accorded by a contemporary English critic, who, in an article contributed to the London Saturday Review , commenting on the volume of select verse entitled A Voyage to the Fortunate Isles, and Other Poems, said:— [21]

"Of all the concourse of women singers Mrs. Piatt is the most racy and, in a word, the most American. . . . The new selections of her poems should be most welcome to all who seek in American poetry something more than a pale reflex of the British commodity. . . . Her poems, with all their whim and inconstancy of mood, are charmingly sincere, artless, piquant, and full of quaint surprise."

In like commendatory strain, another English critic, reviewing the same book in the Pictorial World (London), pronounced her verse, "not easy to equal, much less to surpass, on either side of the Atlantic," and characterized her poetical achievement in the following words:— [22]

"Mrs. Piatt studies no model, and takes no pattern for her work; she simply expresses herself; hence her verse is just the transparent mantle of her individuality. The natural refinement, the ready sympathy, the tender sentiment, the quiet grace of a thoroughly womanly woman reveal themselves quite unconsciously in every poem; and the musical quality of the verse increases the impression that the reader is listening to the heartutterances of one of the Imogens or Mirandas to be met with now seldom outside the radiant land where Shakespeare's imagination reigns supreme. . . . Mrs. Piatt will, we doubt not, as her poems become known to English readers, become popular, or, we should rather say, dear to a wide circle mainly composed of members of her own sex, for she supplies the adequate expression for women whose hearts are tender and true like her own."

Selected works


With her husband:

With her husband and William Dean Howells:

Further reading

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  1. Wheelan, Bernadette. "Poets in Exile: The Piatts in the Queenstown Consulate, 1882-93". New Hiberia Review. 17 (1): 81–97.
  2. Roberts, Jess. "Sarah Piatt". Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Logan 1912, p. 840.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Townsend & Townsend 1913, p. 303.
  5. 1 2 Frank 2007, p. 134.
  6. 1 2 Stevenson 1922, p. 3893.
  7. 1 2 3 Lauter, Alberti & Yarborough 2009, p. 741.
  8. 1 2 3 Venable 1909, p. 183.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 569.
  10. 1 2 Haralson 2014, p. 328.
  11. Radcliffe College 1971, p. 63.
  12. 1 2 Barrett & Miller 2005, p. 331.
  13. Gray 2004, p. 103.
  14. Larson 2011, p. 189.
  15. Ridpath 1906, p. 289.
  16. Renker 2016, p. 236.
  17. 1 2 James, James & Boyer 1971, p. 64.
  18. 1 2 Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 570.
  19. Michaels 1999, p. 11-12.
  20. McHenry 1980, p. 327.
  21. 1 2 3 Venable 1909, p. 184.
  22. Venable 1909, p. 185.