The Cocoa Palm Poem

The Cocoa Palm Poem

Uncle Charlie quotes, knowing his wife will recognize the poem:

             The Palm!  The Palm! The cocoa Palm!  
            In the  [illegible]  Seas by the isles of Palm!

The easiest way, usually, to identify a quotation, is to Google it.

In the case of Uncle Charley’s quotation, a simple Google search turns up:

  • The Coco Palm Restaurant (Cuban, in Pomona California).
  • The Coco Palm Resort, St. Lucia Island in the Caribbean.
  • California’s Coconut Palm tree in Newport Beach, California: One of the only known surviving Coconut Palm trees in the entire state of California.
  • The Coco Palms Resort, currently under restoration, on Kauai, Hawaii, formerly visited by movie stars and used in scenes of Elvis Presley.
  • Coconut Palm Club Apartments at Coconut Creek, Florida.
  • Hans Coco Palms Hotel, Puri, India.

When I add “poem” to my search, I have better luck.

Is it the palm, the cocoa-palm,
On the Indian Sea, by the isles of balm?
Or is it a ship in the breezeless calm?
A ship whose keel is of palm beneath,
Whose ribs of palm have a palm-bark sheath,
And a rudder of palm it steereth with.

Branches of palm are its spars and rails,
Fibres of palm are its woven sails,
And the rope is of palm that idly trails!

What does the good ship bear so well?
The cocoa-nut with its stony shell,
And the milky sap of its inner cell.
John Greenleaf Whittier

I can hardly fault Uncle Charlie for not remembering the words exactly, but with his handwriting, it is quite possible he wrote “balm” when I deciphered it as “palm.”

The detective work ends on my own bookshelf.   Among books from the Potter’s extensive library I discover I have not one, but two copies of “Whittier’s Poems, Household Edition” (one with a brown cover, one with blue, most recent copyright date 1891.)   Whether Mabel, as a college student purchased this set of Whittier, Bryant, and Longfellow, or her parents owned them earlier, I don’t know.  Those poets would have been read, and some memorized, by Ellen and her sister Mary in their school days, in earlier editions or selections in their textbooks.  I wonder if Ellen and Charles read poetry to their daughter as Mabel, some 50 years later, read to me?  What a marvelous legacy!

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