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George Washington (President of the United States, 1789-1797)

Washington as Poet

George Washington
George Washington, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left
Pencil drawing.
[between 1850 and 1900?]

Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
Library of Congress.

Two poems written by Washington are known to survive.1 Both are creations of a teenage boy frustrated in love. The poems appear in a 6 x 3¼ inch notebook Washington used as a diary during his time as part of a surveying expedition for Lord Thomas Fairfax in Virginia's Northern Neck. The poems are separate from the diary, which Washington titled "A Journal of my Journey over the Mountains began Fryday the 11th of March 1747/8," and appear under the date 1749-1750. The first poem is an unfinished acrostic to a young lady named Frances Alexander, with whom Washington was at the time infatuated:

[click thumbnail for larger image]
George Washington, Diary, March 11 - April 13, 1748 , image 39 George Washington, Diary, March 11 - April 13, 1748 , image 38

From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;2
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find
Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

The inspiration for Washington's second poem is unknown:

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George Washington, Diary, March 11 - April 13, 1748 , image 41

Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupids feather'd Dart
And now lays Bleeding every Hour
For her that's Pityless of my grief and Woes
And will not on me Pity take
Ill sleep amongst my most Inviterate Foes
And with gladness never with to Wake
In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close
That in an enraptured Dream I may
In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose
Possess those joys denied by Day

Washington's foray into the world of poetry apparently ended with these youthful efforts; he is not known to have written any poems during his later years.


1. Some scholars believe Washington did not write the poems commonly attributed to him, and that he copied them from a now unknown book. See the annotations to "From your bright sparkling Eyes" and "Oh Ye Gods" on the Founders Online Web site.

2. The text of both poems is taken from John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, vol. 1, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931), 46-47. Catalog Record

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  March 16, 2022
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