Poetry was a conspicuous part of public life in antebellum America. Politicians quoted poems, often at length,in speeches. Newspaper journalists routinely included references to Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and Lord Byron among many others. Ministers included poetry in their sermons. School children memorized poems and recited them. And uncounted Americans wrote poetry.
We do not know who wrote "Go Feel What I Have Felt" or when. We do know that it served as a kind of anthem for temperance advocates, male and female alike. Temperance orators frequently recited it, including Lucy Stone at the meeting to organize the Whole World Temperance Convention on May 12, 1853.
Why did the author of so popular and influential a work not come forward? We do not know the answer. But, the deeply personal nature of the poem may be part of the reason. The poem speaks not only of the pain family members experienced at the hands of a drunken husband and father but also of the disgrace attached to those he abuses. This shame by association, the scorn family members faced, was one of the consequences of domestic abuse that women temperance reformers most wished to eradicate.
Elisha Albright Hoffman, who authored many hymns, put the poem to music. It first appeared in Melodies for the Temperance Ship, edited and published by Phineas Stowe in 1854. Stowe also published it in Melodies for the Temperance Band (Boston, Mass.: Nathaniel Noyes, 1856). Hoffman included it in Temperance Jewels, which he edited with J.H. Tenney (Boston, Mass: Oliver Ditson & Co., 1879). In this work Hoffman and Tenney attribute the poem to a "young lady of New York" whose writings on temperance were "so full of pathos, and evinced such deep emotion of soul" that a friend accused her "of being a maniac on the subject of Temperance." She then wrote this poem as a response.
Go Feel What I Have Felt
"Go feel what I have felt,
Go bear what I have borne—
Sink 'neath a blow a father dealt,
And the cold world's proud scorn;
Then suffer on, from year to year,
Thy sole relief, the scalding tear.
Go kneel as I have knelt,
Implore, beseech, and pray—
Strive the besotted heart to melt,
The downward course to stay,
Be dashed with bitter curse aside,
Your prayers burlesqued, your tears defied.
"Go weep as I have wept,
O' era loved father's fall,
See every promised blessing swept—
Youth's sweetness turned to gall—
Life's fading flowers strewed all the way
That brought me up to woman's day.
Go see what I have seen,
Behold the strong man bow,
With gnashing teeth, lips bathed in blood,
And cold and livid brow;
Go catch his withering glance, and see
There pictured his soul's misery.
"Go to thy mother's side,
And her crushed bosom cheer;
Thine own deep anguish hide,
Wipe from her cheek the bitter tear,
Mark her worn frame and withering brow,
The gray that streaks her dark hair now—
With fading frame and trembling limb;
And trace the ruin back to him,
Whose plighted faith in early youth
Promised eternal love and truth,
But who, foresworn, hath yielded up,
That promise to the cursed cup;
That led her down through love and light,
And all that made her prospects bright,
And chained her there, 'mid want and strife,
That lowly thing, a drunkard's wife—
And stamped on childhood's brow so mild,
That withering blight, the drunkard's child.
"Go bear, and see, and know,
All that my soul hath felt and known,
Then look upon the wine-cup's glow,
See if its beauty can atone—
Think if its flavor you will try:
When all proclaim, 'tis drink and die!
Tell me I HATE the bowl—
Hate is a feeble word,
I loath—ABHOR—my very soul
With strong disgust is stirred
When I see, or hear, or tell,
Of the dark BEVERAGE OF HELL."