Strangers to Us All
Lawyers and Poetry

John Marchborn Cooley


The following biographical sketch of William Pinkney Ewing, and a selection of his poetry, is excerpted from George Johnston, The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland (Elkton, Maryland: The editor, 1887):

John Marchborn Cooley, the eldest son of the late Corbin Cooley, was born at the Cooley homestead, on the Susquehanna river, in Cecil county, a short distance below the junction of that stream and the Octoraro creek, on the first of March, 1827; and died at Darlington, Harford county, Maryland, April 13th, 1878.

In childhood he showed a taste for learning, and in early youth was sent to West Nottingham Academy, where he received his education. While at the Academy he is said to have been always willing to write the compositions of his fellow students, and to help them with any literary work in which they were engaged.

Mr. Cooley studied law in the office of the late Col. John C. Groome, and was admitted to the Elkton bar on the 4th of April, 1850. He practiced his profession in Elkton for a short time, during a part of which he was counsel to the County Commissioners, but removed to Warsaw, Illinois, where he continued to practice his profession for six years, after which he came to Harford county, where he resided until the outbreaking of the war of the rebellion, when he joined the Union army and continued to serve his country until the close of the war. In 1866,
he married Miss Hattie Lord, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and settled in Darlington, Harford county, Maryland, where he was engaged in teaching a classical school until the time of his death.

. . . .

Mr. Cooley was a born poet, a voluminous and beautiful writer, and the author of several poems of considerable length and great merit.

Mr. Cooley's widow and son, Marvin L. Cooley, still survive, and at present reside in Darlington.


One ev'ning, as some children play'd
Beneath an oak tree's summer shade,
A stranger, travel-stained and gray,
Beside them halted on his way.
As if a spell, upon them thrown,
Had changed their agile limbs to stone,
Each in the spot where it first view'd
Th' approaching wand'rer mutely stood.
Ere silence had oppressive grown
The old man's voice thus found a tone;
"I too was once as blithe and gay--
My days as lightly flew away
As if I counted all their hours
Upon a dial-plate of flowers;
And gentle slumber oft renew'd
The joyance of my waking mood,
As if my soul in slumber caught
The radiance of expiring thought;
As if perception's farewell beam
Could tinge my bosom with a dream--
That twilight of the mind which throws
Such mystic splendor o'er repose.
Contrasted with a youth so bright
My manhood seems one dreary night,
A chilling, cheerless night, like those
Which over Arctic regions close.
I married one, to my fond eyes
An angel draped in human guise.
Alas! she had one failing;
No secret could she keep
In spite of all my railing,
And curses loud and deep.
No matter what the danger
Of gossiping might be,
She'd gossip with a stranger
As quickly as with me.
One can't be always serious,
And talking just for show,
For that is deleterious
To fellowship, and so
I oft with her would chatter,
Just as I felt inclined,
Of any little matter
I chanced to call to mind.
Alas! on one ill-fated day,
I heard an angry neighbor say,
'Don't tell John Jones of your affairs,
Don't tell him for your life,
Without you wish the world to know,
For he will tell his wife.'
'For he will tell his wife' did ring
All day through heart and brain;
In sleep a nightmare stole his voice,
And shouted it again.
I spent whole days in meditating
How I should break the spell,
Which made my wife keep prating
Of things she shouldn't tell.
Some awful crime I'll improvise,
Which I'll to her confide,
Upon the instant home I rushed,
My hands in blood were dyed.
'Now, Catharine, by your love for me,
My secret closely hide.'
Her quiet tongue, for full three days,
The secret kept so well,
I almost grew to hope that she
This secret wouldn't tell.
Alas! upon the following day
She had revealed it, for I found
Some surly men with warrants arm'd
Were slyly lurking round.
They took me to the county jail
My tristful Kate pursuing,
And all the way she sobb'd and cried
'Oh! what have I been doing?'
Before the judge I was arraigned,
Who sternly frowning gazed on me,
And by his clerk straightway inquired,
What was the felon's plea.
May't please your honor, I exclaim'd
This case you may dismiss--
Now hearken all assembled here,
My whole defence is this:
I killed a dog--a thievish wretch--
His body may be found,
Beneath an apple tree of mine,
A few feet under ground,
This simple plot I laid in hope
To cure my tattling wife;
I find, alas! that she must talk,
Though talking risk my life.
So from her presence then I fled,
In spite of all the tears she shed,
And since, a wand'ring life I've led,
And told the tale where'er I sped."


For twenty guests the feast is laid
With luscious wines and viands rare,
And perfumes such as might persuade
The very gods to revel there.

A youthful company gathered here,
Just two score years ago to-day,
Agreed to meet once ev'ry year
Until the last one passed away.

And when the group might fewer grow
The vacant chairs should still be placed
Around the board whereon should glow
The glories of the earliest feast.

One guest was there, with sunken eye
And mem'ry busy with the past--
Could he have chosen the time to die,
Some earlier feast had been his last.

"But thrice we met" the old man said,
But thrice in youthful joy and pride,
When all for whom this board was spread
Were seated gaily at my side.

Then first we placed an empty chair
And ev'ry breast was filled with gloom,
For he we knew, who should be there,
That hour was absent in the tomb.

The jest and song were check'd awhile,
But quickly we forgot the dead,
And o'er each face th' arrested smile
In all its former freedom spread.

For still our circle seem'd intact.
The lofty chorus rose as well
As when our numbers had not lack'd
That voice the more in mirth to swell.

But we parted with a sadder mien
And hands were clasped more kindly then,
For each one knew where death had been
We might expect him o'er again.

Ah! wondrous soon our feast before
A lessening group was yearly spread,
And all our joys were ruffled o'er
With somber mem'ries of the dead.

The song and jest less rude became,
Our voices low and looks more kind,
Each toast recall'd some cherish'd name
Or brought a buried friend to mind.

At length, alas! we were but two
With features shrivel'd, shrunk, and changed,
Whose faded eyes could scarcely view
The vacant seats around us ranged.

But fancy, as we passed the bowl,
Fill'd ev'ry empty chair again.
Inform'd the silent air with soul
And shaped the shadowy void to men.

The breezy air around us stirr'd
With snatches of familiar song,
Nor cared we then how fancy err'd
Since her delusion made us strong.

But now, I am the only guest,
The grave--the grave now covers all
Who joined me at the annual feast
We kept in this deserted hall.

He paused and then his goblet fill'd,
But never touch'd his lips the brim,
His arm was stay'd, his pulses still'd,
And ah! his glazing eyes grew dim.

The farther objects in the room
Have vanish'd from his failing sight;
One broad horizon spreads in gloom
Around a lessening disc of light.

And then he seem'd like one who kept
A vigil with suspended breath--
So kindly to his breast had crept
Some gentlest messenger of death.


Still--still the Earth each primal grace renews,
And blooms, or brightens with Creation's hues:
Repeats the sun the glories of the sky,
Which upward lured the earliest watcher's eye;
Yet bids his beams the glowing clouds adorn
With all the charms of Earth's initial morn,
And duplicates at eve the splendors yet
That fixed the glance, that first beheld him set.


Love cannot call her back again,
But oh! it may presume
With ceaseless accents to complain,
All wildly near her tomb.

A madd'ning mirage of the mind
Still bids her image rise,
That form my heart can never find
Yet haunts my wearied eyes.

Since Earth received its earliest dead,
Man's sorrow has been vain;
Though useless were the tears they shed,
Still I will weep again.

The breast, that may its pangs conceal,
Is not from torture freed,
For still the wound, that will not heal,
Alas! must inly bleed.

Vain Sophist! ask no reason why
The love that cannot save,
Will hover with despairing cry
Around the dear ones grave.

Mine is not frenzy's sudden gust,
The passion of an hour,
Which sprinkles o'er beloved dust
Its brief though burning shower.

Then bid not me my tears to check,
The effort would but fail,
The face, I hid at custom's beck,
Would weep behind its veil.

The tree its blighted trunk will rear,
With sap and verdure gone,
And hearts may break, yet many a year
All brokenly live on.

Earth has no terror like the tomb
Which hides my darling's head,
Yet seeking her amid its gloom,
I grope among the dead.

And oh! could love restore that form
To its recovered grace,
How soon would it again grow warm
Within my wild embrace.



Fierce as the sword upon his thigh,
Doth gleam the panting soldier's eye,
But nerveless hangs the arm that swayed
So proudly that terrific blade.
The feeble bosom scarce can give
A throb to show he yet doth live,
And in his eye the light which glows,
Is but the stare, that death bestows.
The filmy veins that circling thread
The cooling balls are turning red;
And every pang that racks him now,
Starts the cold sweat up to his brow,
But yet his smile not even death
Could from his boyish face unwreath,
Or in convulsive writhing show
The pangs, that wring the brain below.

To the far fight he seeks to gaze,
Where battling arms yet madly blaze,
And with a gush of manly pride,
Weeps as his banner is descried
Above the piling smoke-clouds borne,
Like the first dubious streaks of morn
That o'er the mountains misty height
Will kindle in a lovely sight.

"A foreign soil my blood doth stain,
And the few drops that yet remain
Add but still longer to my pain.
Land of my birth! thy hills no more
May these fast glazing eyes explore,
Yet oh! may not my body rest
Beneath that sod my heart loves best?
My father--home! Joys most adored
Dwell in that simple English word--
Go, comrades! Till your field is won
Forget me--father, I die thy son."

Hark the wild cry rolls on his ear!
The foe approach who hovered near;
Rings the harsh clang of bick'ring steel
In blows his arm no more may deal.

"Beside me now no longer be,
Ye need not seek to die with me;
Go, friends"--his manly bosom swell'd
With life the stiff'ning wounds withheld;
And struggling to his knees, he shook
The sword his hand had not forsook,
But to his arm it was denied
To slay the foe his heart defied.
The faintly wielded steel was left
In the slight wound it barely cleft.
Borne to the earth by the same thrust,
That smote his en'my to the dust,
His breast receiv'd their cowardly blows--
The fluttering eye-lids slowly close,
Then parting, show the eye beneath
White with the searching touch of Death.
The last thick drops congeal around
The jagged edge of many a wound;
See breaking through the marble skin
The clammy dews that lurk within,
The lip still quivers, but no breath
Seeks the unmoving heart beneath.

Thou gallant Clay--thy name doth cast
A halo o'er the glorious past;
For in the brightness of such blaze
Even Alexander fame decays,
Yes--yes, Columbia's noble son
Died! Monarchs could no more have done.


Oh! for a brief poetic mood
In which to write a merry line--
A line, which might, could, would or should
Do duty as a Valentine.
Then to the woods the birds repair
In pairs, prepared to woo
A mate whose breast shall fondly share
This world's huge load of ceaseless care
Which grows so light when borne by two.
But ah! such language will not suit,
I'd better far have still been mute.
My mate is dead or else she's flown
And I am left to brood alone,
To think of joys of vanish'd years
And banish thus some present tears;
But then our life is but a dream
And things are not what they seem.



Like him who mourns a jewel lost
In some unfathomable sea,
The precious gem he cherish'd most--
So, dearest, do I mourn for thee.

For oh! the future is as dark
As is the ocean's barren plain,
Whose restless waters wear no mark
To guide his eyes, who seeks in vain.

True, reckless Fancy dares invade
The realm of time's uncounted hours,
As fondly gay, as if she stray'd
In safety through a land of flowers.

And still doth hope shine bright and warm--
But oh! the light with which it cheers,
My darling one, but glows to form
A rainbow o'er a vale of tears.