Ira Sayles was born in Burrillville, Rhode Island on March 30, 1817. He learned his letters by the age of three and as a child on the family’s Tioga County, Pennsylvania farm Ira spent every available moment reading. After apprenticing with a Genesse Valley, New York cloth dresser for several years, Ira had saved enough money to continue his formal education at what became Alfred Academy, Alfred, New York. This voracious reader became a determined teacher and life-long learner, as well as an impassioned writer — of essays, articles, observations, and poetry. There was no remedy for this urge to write; it was “constitutional, and eradication is death! You know, sir, ‘Poeta nascitur, – no fit.'” [Poets are born, not made.]*
Ira included poems in letters to friends and siblings; submitted a poem to be published with his daughter’s obituary; and while visiting his old stomping ground, had various selections published in the Alfred University paper. Throughout his long career as principal, teacher, geologist, and paleontologist, Ira kept up his art. On March 30, 1891, Ira wrote My Seventy-Fourth Birthday, which he self-published in Washington, D.C. in between his work sessions with the United States Geological Survey. The first stanza reads:
In the changeful days of Spring,
When the birds begin to sing,
When the sunshine and the storm
Chase each other, cold and warm,
When the lambs are shivering,
When the calves are quivering,
And anon the sunny ray
Brings a pleasure to the day,
From rosy morn to evening gray. —
At such a changeful time as this
My gentle mother’s loving kiss
Welcomed then her baby boy
To this varying Life’s alloy.
*Ira Sayles, Letter to H. W. Longfellow, (1880); Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge.