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Stoddard, Asa H.

The Farmer Poet

Like so many 19th century residents who moved into Kalamazoo County, Asa Harding Stoddard’s origins began in the state of New York, near Lake Ontario. Born near the small city of Williamson, New York in 1814, Stoddard found his way to Cooper Township in 1863. Both farmer and amateur poet, Stoddard’s literary ruminations expressed the hardscrabble existence of a 19th century farmer, providing later historians with important insights about rural life in southwest Michigan. Historian Larry Massie summed up the historical value in reading even the worst of poetry, stating “Whether it’s good or bad is not the key. The verses may be poorly written and not very well thought out, but those stanzas can tell us some things about the area’s past. They are sources of history.” (Encore, April 1984, p.16)

“For he has been an earnest advocate of every means of grace to the best and most wholesome development of the community, and being highly endowed by nature with physical strength and daring and intellectual qualities that have enabled him to twine the club of Hercules with the flowers of rhetoric, his personal achievements in mere bodily labor and his advocacy of moral, educational and spiritual forces for the advancement of his section of the country have been potential, important and of lasting effect.”–Biographical History of Kalamazoo County, p.150

After a life of farming in the summer months so that he could afford to educate himself during the winter months, Stoddard eventually packed up with his wife Laura Jane Sanford, a school teacher like Stoddard, and departed from New York, and headed for Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County. Little has been written about Stoddard’s creative motivations, but whatever the source that drew him to take pen to paper and chronicle farm life, posterity has been left with descriptions of late 19th century life around Kalamazoo. For example, Stoddard laments the cruelties of poor health brought about by midwestern weather in his poem The Ague (a version of the flu), wherein which he references “the plank”, a colloquial term for the north/south trail between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo that would one day make up U.S. 131 freeway.

What is it like the demon
whitches
Wrenches my joints with awful stretches,
Bursts buttons off my coat and
breeches?
The ague.
Then again, what is the matter
That my teeth go chatter,
chatter,
And shakes me till the windows clatter?
The ague.
There’s naught this side of
Greenlan’s bank,
Except the road they call the
Plank,
Could shake me so from head to
shank.
But ague.
Shaking, I to bed retire,
Wife piles the useless bedding
higher
No warmth from thence can I
acquire,
For ague.
At length the freezing tide is turned,
Bedding and fire in wrath are
spurned,
My shrinking flesh is scorched
and burned
With fever.
My blood seems burning in my
veins,
Strange fancies fill my tortured
brains,
And in my back, what awful
pains
From fever.
Oh, Thou unseen yet dreaded
power
That sends the evils we endure
Give Union’s foes a twelve
month tour
Of ague.

Stoddard was apparently a prolific writer, who when called upon by his community to compose verse for a particular occasion, delivered a work that summoned the appropriate tone and subject. In 1880, he published the collection Miscellaneous Poems. The Stoddard’s stately mansion still remains today in Cooper Township at 6055 North Westnedge Avenue.

Copy of “Miscellaneous Poems” by Asa H. Stoddard, 1880

Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, June 2022

Sources
Articles

“Poets Don’t Know It, But They’ve Shed Light”, Encore Magazine, April 1984, p.16

“The Ague: Misery in Kalamazoo”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 March 1964

Books

Miscellaneous Poems, Asa H. Stoddard, (H 811 S 86) (In storage)

Local History Room Files

Name File: Stoddard, Asa H.

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