The Deaf Poet

The following is excerpted from

Works by James O’Connor, The Deaf Poet, with a Sketch of His Life by A. B. Douglas, Jan. 4, 1879

James O’Connor, the subject of this sketch, was born in Andes, New York, January 26, 1835. He was always an apt scholar, full of study and full of fun, with a smattering of mischief, which occasionally created, as it is said of our late war, “a slight unpleasantness” between the teacher and the taught. . . Notwithstanding these occasional misunderstandings with the autocrat of the rod, he became what may justly be called a first-class common-school scholar.

Few persons that have not made war the profession of their lives have encountered greater dangers, or had more hair-breadth escapes. A few of them will only be mentioned. While engaged in “bark-peeling” in the hemlock woods, he was completely covered from sight by the top of a large tree which some choppers had fallen upon him. He found himself between two of its largest limbs, his body being but a few inches from each; if either had struck him he would have been instantly killed. Providence preserved him, and he came out from that tree-top unhurt.

At another time, a large log came rolling down a hill toward him. It was so near that it was impossible to get out of its way, near by was a small hollow in the side hill, and, with remarkable presence of mind, he rushed to it, and threw himself down into it. The log passed directly over him and he was unhurt.

Upon two occasions he was nearly drowned. He has been run over three times with wagons. Upon one occasion he fell before a loaded wagon, which passed over him, fracturing both of his legs. When he was fourteen years of age, upon a very cold night in winter, as he was returning from school, he ventured upon a pond to have a slide; the ice was too thin, the consequence was he caught a fearful ducking and a fearful cold, which resulted in inflammation of the brain. His hearing became impaired. This affliction continued to increase, until for a number of years he has been entirely deaf.

Mr. O’Connor was a close student all his life. The improvement of his mind was the chief object of his life. He was not satisfied with the education to be acquired in the common schools. He prepared himself, and entered Union College, and graduated honorable in the Class of 1858. He chose the Law for a professlon, and began its study; but, on account of his growing deafness, he was forced to abandon his long-cherished hopes. He then turned his attention to the art of printing, which he learned in Oswego, New York. He followed the occupation of printer for some years.

On the 15th of October, 1863, he married Miss Mary J. Dickson, of Lumberville, New York. He then turned his attention from the printer’s to the more busy and stirring life of a farmer. Of late years he has suffered so much from disease of the heart that he has been compelled to abandon almost entirely the independent life of the tiller of the soil.

For several years he has devoted a large share of his leisure time to the composition of poetry; his thoughts seem to flow as freely under the direction of the muses as they do in the sterner vein of prose. His poems, as far as they have frequently appeared in the public press, have been very favorably received by an appreciative public. . .

Though bright is the sunshine of boyhood,
Yet all is not pleasant to him,
For the smallest of clouds that arises,
His brightest of moments may dim.
I know that the rambling school-boy
Has innocent joy in his heart,
While he plays with his ball in the meadow,
Or shoots with his cross-gun, or dart.
To wade in the mud, and the water,
To him, is a source of delight,
He loves to be fishing, and sporting,
He loves to be flying the kite.

His spool-tops, his wagons and horses,
His play-house, his hoop, and his cart.
His water-wheel; wind-mill; and hand-sleigh;
Can moments of pleasure impart.
He loves to be skating, and sliding,
He loves to be rolling in snow,
To see him, in all his amusements,
You’d think him a stranger to woe,
And now, we have looked on the bright side,
As people most commonly do;
But, let us turn over the picture,
The dark side is present to view.
The school-house, to him, is a prison,
That weighs down his spirits with care,
He considers his teacher a turnkey,
For guarding, and keeping him there.
He sits on the bench in the corner.
And fumbles the leaves of his book.
For which he receives, from the teacher,
A perfectly barbarous look.
Or, perhaps on his slate he draws pictures,
Or whispers, or laughs, through mistake.
And, as a reward for so doing,
He gets but a cuff, and a shake.
Or, should he, at times, be rebellious,
Or, any ways caught in the lurch,
He receives, from the hands of the teacher,
A smart application of birch.
Though forced to submit, yet, in silence
He curses the despot who stands.
In the shape of a teacher, before him
With rod of correction in hands.
0, how I can sympathize with him,
Yet, sympathy here is all vain;
Though he fears neither man, or the devil,
He trembles at sight of the cane.
In limb, and in joint he is shaking,
His eyes are but fountains of tears;
No promise for future will save him
A cuff, or a pull at the ears.
I have many times thought, as Old Nick
Has oceans of sulphur to spare,
In the gloomiest regions of Tophet,
The teacher was sure of a share.
He deals out his vengeance unsparing,
The school-boy, with visage forlorn.
Beholds his last moments approaching,
And has to ”acknowledge the corn.”
Poor martyr, his woes they are many,
His pleasures are fleeting, and few,
0, Wisdom! behold what the school-boy
Is destined to suffer for you.
And thus you will find, in all pictures,
The bright side presented to view;
But be sure that you turn the leaf over.
That nought shall be hidden from you.

James O’Connor
The “Deaf Poet”