Ethel Veva King: A Belvidere Poet


Ah, Valentine’s Day. You may love it or you may hate it but you can’t deny it is everywhere. At this time of year, it seems the world is full of flowers, candy, hearts, and poetry. Whether it’s a Shakespearean sonnet or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?,” good poetry is one of my favorite parts of the holiday. There are so many great poets out there: e.e. cummings, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allen Poe. But did you know that Belvidere was also the home of a poetess during the early 1900s? Her name was Ethel Veva King and her poems were published in the 1920s in a small volume titled “Selected Poems.” Deep, melancholic, and lyrical, her poems often dwelt on lost love and vanished youth and give us a rare look into the mind and heart of an early 20th-century woman.

Ethel (or Veva, as she was often known) was born in Belvidere on January 7, 1888, the daughter of Frank and Anna R. King. She graduated from Belvidere schools and went on to major in English and Latin at Northwestern University. She first started publishing her writing while in college in “The Daily Northwestern” school newspaper. As an adult, Veva was involved in many literary and educational organizations in town, including the Belvidere Woman’s Club. According to her obituary, she was a “woman of brilliant intellectual attainments.” Veva died on December 24, 1929 at the age of 53 and is buried in the Belvidere Cemetery alongside her parents.

Although she was never married, many of Veva’s poems focus on love- particularly the pain of lost love. In a poem entitled “Presence,” she muses:

There is no night can bring to me your touch/ There is no day can bring a sight of you/ No bursting spring, no leaden fall, no turn/ Of changing seasons all the ages through/ Can bring you back, can lay your hand in mine.

Her poems also shed light on the thoughts, emotions, and hopes of a middle-aged woman in the early 1900s. In another poem, she writes:

Through the sunlight all the day/ I can keep from shadows gray/ But in nighttimes full of longing/ Through my heart old ghosts come thronging./ In the silence dead things start/ Locked within our inmost heart./ Fire but sleeps within the ember/ Days forget, but nights remember.

Reading her poems, it isn’t hard to see that the ways in which we experience life and love haven’t really changed at all.

So if you want to read some good poetry, you could always pick up Tennyson or Emily Dickinson. Or you can read the poems of Ethel Veva King, whose book is part of the permanent Local History collection at the Ida Public Library in Belvidere. Stop on in and discover her poetry for yourself!