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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition, 1998
LC Subject Headings:
THESE POEMS ARE AFFECTIONATELY
MOST of these poems about God were complete a year ago, that is at about the time when the great upheaval going on in God's world engulfed our country too. Since then I have added a little only, and my experience has led me so wide that I can actually look back upon those antebellum accomplishments with the eye of the impartial spectator, or at most with a fatherly tenderness, no more. In this reviewing act I find myself thinking sometimes that the case about God may not be quite so desperate as the young poet chooses to believe. But it is not for that reason that I shall ever think of suppressing a single one of his poems. For I am deeply engaged by the downright evident honesty of the young man, though I may wonder at the source of his excitement; esteeming honesty more highly than those amiable Southern accents into which he seems detertermined not to lapse, and indeed more highly
than anything else in the world. So that it is altogether as his apologist that I undertake this introduction.
"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform," says the poet in an effort to render our hearts properly humble before him. And we remember the story of how a certain Samaritan woman was rebuked once for thinking that God was to be worshiped only in that mountain where her fathers had always worshiped him; the point of the story being that he can be found just as readily on one mountain as on another.
The first three or four poems that I ever wrote (that was two years ago) were done in three or four different moods and with no systematic design. I was therefore duly surprised to notice that each of them made considerable use of the term God. I studied the matter a little, and came to the conclusion that this was the most poetic of all terms possible; was a term always being called into requisition during the great moments of the soul, now in tones of love, and now indignantly; and was the very last word that a man might say when standing in the presence
of that ultimate mystery to which all our great experiences reduce.
Wishing to make my poems as poetic as possible, I simply likened myself to a diligent apprentice and went to work to treat rather systematically a number of the occasions on which this term was in use with common American men. And since these occasions fairly crowded into mind even at the most casual inventory, I also likened myself to a sovereign and a chooser; and I very quickly ruled that I should consider only those situations as suitable in which I could imagine myself pronouncing the name God sincerely and spontaneously, never by that way of routine which is death to the aesthetic and religious emotions.
I anticipate the objection that the name of God is frequently taken here in ways that are not the ways of the fathers. I reply in advance, There are many mountains; and probably every one of them is worthy of being charted on the true Chart of God's world.
JOHN CROWE RANSOM.FRANCE,
SOME of these poems were originally published in The Independent, The Liberator, Contemporary Verse, and the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. The author wishes to express his thanks to these periodicals for permission to reprint.
IN dog-days plowmen quit their toil,
And frog-ponds in the meadow boil,
And grasses on the upland broil,
And all the coiling things uncoil,
And eggs and meats and Christians spoil.
A mile away the valley breaks
(So all good valleys do) and makes
A cool green water for hot heads' sakes,
And sundry sullen dog-days' aches.
The swimmer's body is white and clean,
It is washed by a water of deepest green
The color of leaves in a starlight scene,
And it is as white as the stars between.
But the swimmer's soul is a thing possessed,
His soul is naked as his breast,
Remembers not its east and west,
And ponders this way, I have guessed:
I have no home in the cruel heat
On alien soil that blisters feet.
This water is my native seat,
And more than ever cool and sweet,
So long by forfeiture escheat.
O my forgiving element!
I gash you to my heart's content
And never need be penitent,
So light you float me when breath is spent
And close again where my rude way went.
And now you close above my head,
And I lie low in a soft green bed
That dog-days never have visited.
"By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread:"
The garden's curse is at last unsaid
What do I need of senses five?
Why eat, or drink, or sweat, or wive?
What do we strive for when we strive?
What do we live for when alive?
And what if I do not rise again,
Never to goad a heated brain
To hotter excesses of joy and pain?
Why should it be against the grain
To lie so cold and still and sane?
Water-bugs play shimmer-shimmer,
Naked body's just a glimmer,
Watch ticks every second grimmer:
Come to the top, O wicked swimmer!
MY good old father tucked his head,
(His face the color of gingerbread)
Over the table my mother had spread,
And folded his leathery hands and said:
"We thank thee, Lord, for this thy grace,
And all thy bounties to the race;
Turn not away from us thy face
Till we come to our final resting-place."
These were the words of the old elect,
Or others to the same effect.
I love my father's piety,
I know he's grateful as can be,
A man that's nearly seventy
And past his taste for cookery.
But I am not so old as he,
And when I see in front of me
Things that I like uncommonly,
(Cornfield beans my specialty,
When every pod spills two or three),
Then I forget the thou and thee
And pray with total fervency:
Thank you, good Lord, for dinner-time!
Gladly I come from the sweat and grime
To play in your Christian pantomime.
I wash the black dust from my face,
I sit again in a Christian's place,
I hear the ancient Christian's grace.
My thanks for clean fresh napkin first,
With faint red stain where the fruit-jar burst.
Thanks for a platter with kind blue roses,
For mother's centerpiece and posies,
A touch of art right under our noses.
Mother, I'll thank you for tumbler now
Of morning's milk from our Jersey cow.
And father, thanks for a generous yam,
And a helping of home-cured country ham,
(He knows how fond of it I am.)
For none can cure them as can he,
And he won't tell his recipe,
But God was behind it, it seems to me.
Thank God who made the garden grow,
Who took upon himself to know
That we loved vegetables so.
I served his plan with rake and hoe,
And mother, boiling, baking, slow
To her favorite tune of Old Black Joe,
Predestined many an age ago.
Pearly corn still on the cob,
My teeth are aching for that job.
Tomatoes, one would fill a dish,
Potatoes, mealy as one could wish.
Cornfield beans and cucumbers,
And yellow yams for sweeteners.
Pickles between for stepping-stones,
And plenty of cornmeal bread in pones.
Sunday the preacher droned a lot
About a certain whether or not:
Is God the universal friend,
And if men pray can he attend
To each man's individual end?
They pray for individual things,
Give thanks for little happenings,
But isn't his sweep of mighty wings
Meant more for businesses of kings
Than pulling small men's petty strings?
He's infinite, and all of that,
The setting sun his habitat,
The heavens they hold by his fiat,
The glorious year that God begat;
And what is creeping man to that,
O preacher, valiant democrat?
"The greatest of all, his sympathy,
His kindness, reaching down to me."
Like mother, he finds it his greatest joy
To have big dinners for his boy.
She understands him like a book,
In fact, he helps my mother cook,
And slips to the dining-room door to look;
And when we are at our noon-day meal,
He laughs to think how fine we feel.
An extra fork is by my plate,
I nearly noticed it too late!
Mother, you're keeping a secret back!
I see the pie-pan through the crack,
Incrusted thick in gold and black.
There's no telling what that secret pair
Have cooked for me in the kitchen there,
There's no telling what that pie can be,
But tell me that it's blackberry!
As long as I keep topside the sod,
I'll love you always, mother and God.
BY night we looked across my field,
The tasseled corn was fine to see,
The moon was yellow on the rows
And seemed so wonderful to me,
That with an old provincial pride
I praised my moonlit Tennessee,
And thought my poor befriended man
Would never dare to disagree.
He was a frosty Russian man
And wore a bushy Russian beard;
He had two furtive faded eyes
That some old horror once had seared;
I wondered if they ever would
Forget the horrors they had feared;
Yet when I praised my pleasant field
This stupid fellow almost jeered.
"Your moon shines very well, my friend,
Your fields are good enough, I know;
At home our fields in the winter-time
Were always white, and shining so!
Our nights went beautiful like day,
And bitter cold our winds would blow;
And I remember how it looked,
Dear God, my country of the snow!"
I KNOW you are not cruel,
And you would not willingly hurt anything in the world.
There is kindness in your eyes,
There could not very well be more of it in eyes
Already brimful of the sky.
I thought you would some day begin to love me,
But now I doubt it badly;
It is no man-rival I am afraid of,
It is God.
The meadows are very wide and green,
And the big field of wheat is solid gold,
Or a little darker than gold.
Two people never sat like us by a fence of cedar rails
On a still evening
And looked at such fat fields.
To me it is beautiful enough,
I am stirred,
I say grand and wonderful, and grow adjectival,
But to you
It is God.
Cropping the clover are several spotted cows.
They too are kind and gentle,
And they stop and look round at me now and then
As if they would say:
"How good of you to come to see us!
Please pardon us if we seem indifferent,
But we have not much time to talk with you now,
And really nothing to say."
Then they make their bow,
Still kind and calm,
And go their way again
Towards the sunset.
I suppose they are going to God.
Your eyes are not regarding me,
Nor the four-leaf clovers I picked for you,
(With a prayer and a gentle squeeze for each of them),
Nor are they fretting over dress, and shoes,
And image in the little glass,
Like the eyes of other girls.
You are looking away over yonder
To where the crooked rail-fence gets to the top
Of the yellow hill
And drops out of sight
Is that infinity that catches it?
And do you catch it too in your thoughts?
I know that look;
I have not seen it on another girl;
And it terrifies me,
For I cannot tell what it means,
But I think
It has something to do with God.
We are a mile from home,
And soon it will be getting dark,
And the big farm-bell will be ringing out for supper.
We had better start for the house.
O here he is, waiting.
He has chased the rabbits and run after the birds
A thousand miles or so,
And now he is hungry and tired.
But he is a southern gentleman
And will not whimper once
Though you kept him waiting forever.
He knows his mistress' eyes as well as I,
And when to be silent and respectful.
I will try to be as patient as Rover,
And we will be comrades and wait,
Till this lady we love
And her strange eyes
Come home from God.
THERE'S farmers and there's farmers,
There's many a field and field,
But none of the farmers round about
Can haul such harvest-wagons out
As I from an acre's yield.
There's plenty and plenty of farmers
That leave the ground by the fence,
Thinking it's nice if a patch of roses
Should scratch out the hay and tickle their noses
With nice little wild-rose scents.
I'm not like other farmers,
I make my farming pay;
I never go in for sentiment,
And seeing that roses yield no rent
I cut the stuff away.
A very good thing for farmers
If they would learn my way;
For crops are all that a good field grows,
And nothing is worse than a sniff of rose
In the good strong smell of hay.
WHO is it beams the merriest
At killing a man, the laughing one?
You are the one I nominate,
God of the rivers of Babylon.
A hundred times I've taken the mules
And started early through the lane,
And come to the broken gate and looked,
And there my partner was again,
Sitting on top of a sorrel horse
And picking the burrs from its matted mane,
Saying he thought he'd help me work
That field of corn before the rain;
And I never spoke of the dollar a day,
It's no use causing hired men pain,
But slipped it into his hand at dark
While he undid the coupling chain;
And whistled a gospel tune, and knew
He'd join in strong on the refrain.
For I would pitch the treble high,
"Down at the cross where my Savior died,"
And then he rolled along the bass,
"There did I bury my sin and pride."
Sinful pride of a hired man!
Out of a hired woman born!
I'm thinking now how he was saved
One day while plowing in the corn.
We plowed that steamy morning through,
I with the mule whose side was torn,
And keeping an eye on the mule I saw
That the sun looked high and the man looked worn;
I would take him home to dinner with me,
And there! my father's dinner horn.
The sun blazed after dinner so
We sat a while by the maple trees,
Thinking of mother's pickles and pies
And smoking a friendly pipe at ease.
I broached a point of piety,
For pious men are quick to tease:
Was it really true John dipped his crowd
Down in the muddy Jordan's lees?
And couldn't the Baptists backslide too
If only they went on Methodist sprees?
And finally back to the field we went,
The corn was well above my knees,
The weeds were more than ankle high,
And dangerous customers were these.
We went to work in the heat again,
I hoped we'd get a bit of breeze
And thought the hired man was used
To God's most blazing cruelties.
Sundays, the hired man would pray
To live in the sunshine of his face;
Now here was answer come complete,
Rather an overdose of grace!
He fell in the furrow, an honest place
And an easy place for a man to fall.
His horse went marching blindly on
In a beautiful dream of a great fat stall.
And God shone on in merry mood,
For it was a foolish kind of sprawl,
And I found a hulk of heaving meat
That wouldn't answer me at all
And a fresh breeze made the young corn dance
To a bright green, glorious carnival.
And really, is it not a gift
To smile and be divinely gay,
To rise above a circumstance
And smile distressing scenes away?
But this was a thing that I had said,
I was so forward and untamed:
"I will not worship wickedness
Though it be God's--I am ashamed!
For all his mercies God be thanked
But for his tyrannies be blamed!
He shall not have my love alone,
With loathing too his name is named."
I caught him up with all my strength
And with a silly stumbling tread
I dragged him over the soft brown dirt
And dumped him down beside the shed.
I thought of the prayers the fool had prayed
To his God, and I was seeing red,
When all of a sudden he gave a heave
And then with shuddering--vomited!
And God, who had just received full thanks
For all his kindly daily bread,
Now called it back again--perhaps
To see that his birds of the air were fed.
Not mother's dainty dinner now,
A rather horrible mess instead,
Yet all of it God required of him
Before the fool was duly dead.
Even of deaths there is a choice,
I've seen you give a good one, God,
But he in his vomit laid him down,
Denied the decency of blood.
If silence from the dead, I swore,
There shall be cursing from the quick!
But I began to vomit too,
Cursing and vomit ever so thick;
The dead lay down, and I did too,
Two ashy idiots: take your pick!
A little lower than angels he made us,
(Hear his excellent rhetoric),
A credit we were to him, half of us dead,
The other half of us lying sick.
The little clouds came Sunday-dressed
To do a holy reverence,
The young corn smelled its sweetest too,
And made him goodly frankincense,
The thrushes offered music up,
Choired in the wood beyond the fence.
And while his praises filled the earth
A solitary crow sailed by,
And while the whole creation sang
He cawed--not knowing how to sigh.
HE feigned a fine indifference
To be so prodigal of light,
Knowing his piteous twisted things
Would lose the crooked marks of spite
When only moonbeams fit the dusk
And made his wicked world seem right.
But we forget so soon the shame,
Conceiving sweetness if we can
Heaven the citadel itself
Illumined on the lunar plan;
And I the chief of sinners, I
The middlemost Victorian!
Now I shall ride the misty lake
With my own love, and speak so low
That not a fishy thing shall hear
The secrets passing to and fro
Amid the moonlight poetries.
O moonshine, how unman us so?
THE shine of many city streets
Confuses any countryman;
It flickers here and flashes there,
It goes as soon as it began,
It beckons many ways at once
For him to follow if he can.
Under the lamp a woman stands,
The lamps are shining equal well,
But in her eyes are other lights,
And lights plus other lights will tell:
He loves the brightness of that street
Which is the shining street to hell.
There's light enough, and strong enough,
To lighten every pleasant park;
I'm sorry lights are held so cheap,
I'd rather there were not a spark
Than choose those shining ways for joy
And have them lead me into dark.
WHEN hurrying home on a rainy night
And hearing tree-tops rubbed and tossed,
And seeing never a friendly star
And feeling your way when paths are crossed:
Stop fast and turn three times around
And try the logic of the lost.
Where is the heavenly light you dreamed?
Where is your hearth and glowing ash?
Where is your love by the mellow moon?
Here is not even a lightning-flash,
And in a place no worse than this
Lost men shall wail and teeth shall gnash.
Lightning is quick and perilous,
The dawn comes on too slow and pale,
Your love brings only a yellow lamp,
Yet of these lights one shall avail:
The dark shall break for one of these,
I've never known this thing to fail.
My window looks upon a wood
That stands as tangled as it stood
When God was centuries too young
To care how right he worked, or wrong,
His patterns in obedient trees,
Unprofited by the centuries
He still plants on as crazily
As in his drivelling infancy.
Poor little elms beneath the oak!
They thrash their arms around and poke
At tyrant throats, and try to stand
Straight up, like owners of the land;
For they expect the vainest things,
And even the boniest have their flings.
Hickory shoots unnumbered rise,
Sallow and wasting themselves in sighs,
Children begot at a criminal rate
In the sight of a God that is profligate.
The oak-trees tower over all,
They seem to rise above the brawl,
They seem--but just observe the hoax,
They are obscured by other oaks!
They laugh the weaklings out of mind,
And fight forever with their kind.
For oaks are spindling too, and bent,
And only strong by accident;
And if there is a single tree
Of half the size it ought to be,
It need not give him thanks for that,
He did not plan its habitat.
When tree-tops go to pushing so,
There's every evil thing below;
There's clammy fungus everywhere,
And poison waving on the air,
A plague of insects from the pool
To sting some ever-trusting fool,
Serpents issuing from the foot
Of oak-trees rotten at the root,
Owls and frogs and whippoorwills,
Cackling of all sorts of ills.
Imagine what a pretty thing
The slightest landscape-gardening
Had made of God's neglected wood!
I'm glad man has the hardihood
To tamper with creation's plan
And shape it worthier of man.
Imagine woods and sun-swept spaces,
Shadows and lights in proper places,
Trees just touching friendly-wise,
Bees and flowers and butterflies.
An easy thing to improve on God,
Simply the knowing of even from odd,
Simply to count and then dispose
In patterns everybody knows,
Simply to follow curve and line
In geometrical design.
Gardeners only cut their trees
For nobler regularities.
But from my window I have seen
The noblest patch of quivering green
Lashed till it never quivered again.
God had a fit of temper then,
And spat shrill wind and lightning out
At twinges of some godly gout.
But as for me, I keep indoors
Whenever he starts his awful roars.
What can one hope of a crazy God
But lashings from an aimless rod?
I SAT in a friendly company
And wagged my wicked tongue so well,
My friends were listening close to hear
The wickedest tales that I could tell.
For many a fond youth waits, I said,
On many a worthless damozel;
But every trusting fool shall learn
To wish them heartily in hell.
And when your name was spoken too,
I did not change, I did not start,
And when they only praised and loved,
I still could play my secret part,
Cursing and lies upon my tongue,
And songs and shouting in my heart.
But when you came and looked at me,
You tried my poor pretence too much.
O love, do you know the secret now
Of one who would not tell nor touch?
Must I confess before the pack
Of babblers, idiots, and such?
Do they not hear the burst of bells,
Pealing at every step you make?
Are not their eyelids winking too,
Feeling your sudden brightness break?
O too much glory shut with us!
O walls too narrow and opaque!
O come into the night with me
And let me speak, for Jesus' sake.
DUMB-BELLS left, dumb-bells right,
Swing them hard, grip them tight!
Thirty fat men of the town
Must sweat their filthy paunches down.
Dripping sweat and pumping blood
They try to make themselves like God.
One and two, three and four,
Cleave the air and smite the floor!
Five and six, seven and eight,
Legs apart, shoulders straight!
Thirty fat men grunt and puff,
Thirty bellies plead, Enough!
Dumb-bells up, dumb-bells down,
Dumb-bells front, dumb-bells ground!
Thirty's God has just the girth
To pull the levers of the earth,
They made him sinewy and lean
And washed him glittering white and clean.
Dumb-bells in, dumb-bells out,
Count by fours and face about!
Put by dumb-bells for to-day,
Wash the stinking sweat away
And go out clean. But come again;
Worship's every night at ten.
My dear and I, we disagreed
When we had been much time together.
For when will lovers learn to sail
From sailing always in good weather?
She said a hateful little word
Between the pages of the book.
I bubbled with a noble rage,
I bruised her with a dreadful look,
And thanked her kindly for the word
Of such a little silly thing;
Indeed I loved my poet then
Beyond my dear, or anything.
And she, the proud girl, swept away,
How swift and scornfully she went!
And I the frightened lover stayed,
And have not had one hour's content
Until to-day; until I knew
That I was loved again, again;
Then hazard how this thing befel,
Brother of women and of men?
"Perhaps a gallant gentleman
Accomplished it, who saw you bleed;
Perhaps she wrote upon the book
A riddling thing that you could read;
"Perhaps she crept to you, and cried,
And took upon her all the blame."
O no, do proud girls creep and cry?
"Perhaps she whispered you your name."
O no, she walked alone, and I
Was walking in the rainy wood,
And saw her drooping by the tree,
And saw my work of widowhood.
WHAT do the old men say,
Sitting out of the sun?
Many strange and common things,
And so would any one.
Locust trees are sorry shade,
They are good enough;
Locust trees are sweet in spring
For trees so old and tough.
Dick's a sturdy little lad
Yonder throwing stones;
Agues and rheumatic pains
Will fiddle on his bones.
Grinny Bob is out again
Begging for a dime;
Niggers haven't any souls,
Grinning all the time.
Jenny and Will go arm in arm.
He's a lucky fellow;
Jenny's checks are pink as rose,
Her mother's cheeks are yellow.
War is on, the paper says,
Wounds and enemies;
Now young gallivanting bucks
Will know what trouble is.
Parson's coming up the hill,
Meaning mighty well;
Thinks he's preached the doubters down.
And old men never tell.
I KNOW a quite religious man
Who utters praises when he can.
Now I find God in bard and book,
In school and temple, bird and brook.
But he says God is sweetest of all
Discovered in a drinking-hall.
For God requires no costly wine
But comes on the foam of a crockery stein.
And when that foam is on the lips,
Begin then God's good fellowships.
Cathedrals, synagogues, and kirks
May go to the devil, and all their works.
And as for Christian charity,
It's made out of hilarity.
He gives the beggar all his dimes,
Forgives his brother seven times.
"I love the rain," says thirsty clod;
So this religious man of God.
For God has come, and is it odd
He praises all the works of God?
"For God has come, and there's no sorrow,"
He sings all night--will he sing to-morrow?
"My son," the stranger thus began,
And drew me to the window side,
"Now here are beauties better than
You ever have dreamed, or ever can.
But yet beware!" he cried.
A tidy citizen was he
Although a dismal daffy one.
"See this one pose and pout for me
And march around magnificently.
But I'm immune, my son.
"Observe how ripe the lady's lips,
How Titianesque the mop of hair,
And where the great white shoulder dips
Beneath its gauzy half-eclipse,
You well may stare and stare.
"When I was young I said as you
Are saying in your sapphic youth,
That ah! such lips were certain cue,
And look! her bosom's rhythm too,
It signified her truth;
"Her broad brow meant intelligence
And something better than a bone,
Her body's curves were spirit's tents,
Her fresh young skin was innocence
Instead of meat that shone.
"I wish the moralists would thresh
(Indeed the thing is very droll)
God's oldest joke, forever fresh:
The fact that in the finest flesh
There isn't any soul."
A GREAT green spread of meadow land,
(Must rest his weight on an ample base),
A secret water moving on,
A clean blue air for his breathing-space,
A pair of willows bending down
In double witness to his grace,
And on the rock his sinner sprawls
And looks the Strong One face to face.
The sinner's mocking tongue is dry,
Wonder is on that mighty jeerer,
He loves, and he never loved before,
He wants the glowing sky no nearer,
He likes the willows to be two,
He would not have the water clearer,
He thinks that God is perfect once:
Heaven, rejoice! a new God-fearer.
And now each quiet thing awakes
And dances madly, wavers, dips;
These are God's motions on the air,
His Pulse for the sinner's finger-tips,
His arrows shot across the blue,
His love-words dropping from his lips,
And who ever heard such whisperings,
Who ever saw such fellowships?
THE wind went cold as the day went old,
And I went very sad,
Till I saw something by the road
That brought me round and glad.
The keen wind nipped me northerly
And bent me back almost,
And I was the worst discouraged man
Abroad on any boast,
The road was rocks and wilderness
And never a sign of a town,
It tapered up a wicked hill,
I tried to curse it down,
But like an undefeated man
I mounted, slow and hard:
And round the top was a little house
With a woman in the yard.
She was a housewife in her yard,
Tending her husband's place;
The broom was busy in her hand,
The goodness in her face.
She brushed the yard, she brushed the step,
She made the leaves to spin,
Tidying up her husband's place
Outside as well as in.
I knew no woman and no house
And night was just ahead;
Yet I went cheerful down the hill
Rested and warmed and fed.
For some man had a woman there
To keep his board and bed;
"I have seen women by these bad roads,
Thank God for that," I said.
I ENTERED dutiful, God knows,
The room in which I was to sit
With dreary unbelieving books.
It was surprising, I suppose,
To find such happy change in it:
There stood a most celestial rose
And looked the flower that my love looks
Who, where she turns her smiling face
Makes heavy earth a hopeful place.
I blessed the heart that wished me well
When I had been bereft of much,
And brought such word of beauty back.
I went like one escaping hell
To drink its fragrance and to touch,
And stroked, O ludicrous to tell!
A horrid thing of bric-a-brac,
A make-believe, a mockery,
And nothing that a rose should be.
Red real roses keep a thorn,
And save their loveliness a while
And in their perfect date unfold.
But you, beyond all women born,
Have spent so easily your smile,
That I am not the less forlorn
Nor these ironic walls less cold,
Because it smiles, the chilly rose,
As you are smiling, I suppose.
THERE'S a patch of trees at the edge of the field,
And a brown little house that is kept so warm,
And a woman waiting by the hearth
Who still keeps most of a woman's charm.
She traffics in her woman's goods
And is my woman of affairs.
Yet not so fast, my moral men,
November's most poetic airs
Are heavy with old lovers' tales,
How hearths are holy with their prayers,
How women give their fragrance up
And give their love to the man that dares.
Now who goes heedless hearing that?
At last we trade, we laissez-faires.
O moralizers, it is hard
When I am not a candidate
For holy wedlock's offices,
That mother has picked me out a mate,
And couldn't have made a sorrier choice
Than that same Smiley's daughter Kate,
Who prays for the sinners of the town
And never comes to meeting late,
Who sings soprano in the choir
And swallows Christian doctrine straight.
Of all the girls deliver me
From the girl you haven't the heart to hate!
Piety: O what a hideous thing!
And thirty-odd pounds she's underweight.
The winds of late November droop
(Poor little failures) very low,
As up and down the farm they pass,
Pass up and down, and to and fro,
And look for a home they are not to find,
For they were homeless years ago..
But years ago I knew a girl,
Beautiful, fit for a Grand Vizier's,
A girl with laughing on her lips
And in her eyes the quickest tears,
And low of speech, as when one finds
A mother cooing to her dears.
I took the note into my heart,
And so did other cavaliers.
If God had heard my prayer then,
The good folk couldn't point and say
As mother says they're pointing now:
Behold, one stands in the sinners' way!
The stiffest sceptic bends his neck
And stands on no more vain parley
If such as she would have him come,
Worship with her in the Baptist way,
Accept the fables as he can,
A Jewish God, a Passion Play;
And such a lover never comes
To fondling dirty drabs for pay.
But God had another man for her,
He cannot answer all that pray.
November winds are weak and cold,
They lie at last beneath the blue
And sleep in the fields as cold as they.
I know but one good thing to do,
So hearken, all ye mutineers:
Every man to his rendezvous!
My woman waits by the hearth, I say,
And what is a scarlet woman to you?
Her sins are scarlet if you will,
Her lips are hardly of that hue,
And many a time I've seen her sit
Beside the hearth an hour or two,
And set the pot upon the fire
And wait until she's spoken to.
A hateful owl is roosting near
Who mocks my woman, Hoo, Hoo, Hoo,
But the pot sings back just as shrill as it can,
And the angry fire-log crashes through;
And there the woman waits and I,
ponder the ways of God--and rue!
THE country farmer has his joys
Of little city girls and boys
When brother Thomas brings his brood
Of motherless brats in Christmas mood
To try our country air and food.
And O what splendid pies and cakes
Their pleased and pretty grandma makes!
And O what squeals and stomach-aches!
Poor Thomas shepherds him a flock
Of city souls as hard as rock,
And though they will not fill his larder
He only preaches Christ the harder.
But Ann, though seven years my niece,
Is still a pagan little piece,
And as she often hints to me
She hates the sound of piety.
Fair Inez is my ancient setter
Who lies by the fire when we will let her:
Alas, this amiable dog
Heard all the bitter dialogue
That passed between my niece and brother
Misunderstanding one another.
Father, what will there be for me
To-morrow on the Christmas tree?
Have you told Santa what to bring,
My pony, my doll, and everything?
My daughter, Santa will know best
What to bring you, and what the rest.
But father and his little girl
And everybody in the world
Should dwell to-night on higher things,
For hark! the herald angel sings,
And in a manger poor and lowly
Lies little Jesus, high and holy.
Father, don't talk of little Jesus,
You're only doing it to tease us,
It isn't nearly time for bed,
And I want to know what Santa said.
Jesus is better than any toys
For little sinning girls and boys,
For Jesus saves, but sin destroys.
And O, it gives him sad surprise,
There must be tears in Jesus' eyes,
When little girls with bad behavior
Forget to own their Lord and Savior.
I didn't, you know it isn't true!
I say my prayers, I always do,
I know about Jesus very well,
And God the Father, Heaven, and Hell.
O please don't say it any more,
You've said it so many times before,
But tell me all about Santa instead,
And about the horns on his reindeer's head,
And what he will bring me on his sled.
This night he was born on earth for us,
And can my daughter mock him thus,
And care more for her worldly pleasures
Than Jesus' love and heavenly treasures?
For Jesus didn't like to be
So crowned with thorns and nailed to tree,
But there was a sinful world to free,
And out he went to Gethsemane--
And left the twelve and went apart--
O father, I know it off by heart,
Please, father, please don't finish it out,
There's so much else to talk about!
I ask about Santa, and there you go,
And now you're spoiling my Christmas so,
And you are the wickedest man I know!
Disgraceful scenes require the curtain,
But lest the moral be uncertain,
I briefly bring the good report
That valiant Thomas held the fort,
And wicked Ann was quite defeated,
In vain denied, in vain entreated,
In vain she wailed, in vain she wept,
And said a briny prayer, and slept.
While Inez, who had been perplexed
To see good kinsfolk so much vexed,
When peace descended on the twain,
Lay down beside the fire again.
IF the power of God were mine, and the ample turn,
I never could dwell in my law, which is 'stablished and stern,
But my pity would plague me still! In the fare of my state
I would summon my ministers often to reprobate:
"Do ye see them walk on the unwaked streets of the town?
Are they not of my handmaidens, burdened and bending down?
"It is not yet day, and my tale of the stars not told,
But already they bear of their burdens, and tremble of cold.
"Do ye heed not her, ye stony and reconciled,
One gathering sticks for a fire, who is heavy with child?
"And one was so heavy with sleep that she watched not, and slept
Till it nearly was dawn, and then she arose and wept.
"Previsal I made, and the burning of quenchless gold,
Yet still they bedevil my kingdom, the dark and the cold.
"There is labor appointed, I know not if it shall cease,
Yet anon cometh night, and my daughters shall lie in peace.
"What avoideth my glory of firmaments keeping the way,
If the poor soft flesh must trouble before the day?
"Or spectacular stars, as they race to encircuit the deep,
If my littlest people is driven, and needeth sleep?
"For my absolute heaven is high, and nothing dependeth,
Yet it twitcheth my heart, when weeping of women ascendeth.
"Then arrange ye again how the people's task be done,
There shall no woman toil till they see my sign of the sun."
LONG, long before men die I sometimes read
Their stoic backs as plain as graveyard stones,
An epitaph of poor dead men indeed.
I never pass those old and crooked bones,
Ridden far down with burden and with age,
Stopping the headlong highway till they lean
Aside in honor of my equipage,
But I am sick and shamed that Heaven has been
So clumsy with the inelastic clay!
"What pretty piece of hope then have you spun,
My old defeated traveler," I say,
"That keeps you marching on? For I have none.
I have looked often and I have not found
Old men bowed low who ever rose up sound."
"How many goodly creatures are there here!"
Miranda doted on the sight of seamen,
The very casual adventurers
Who took a flood as quickly as a calm,
And kept their blue eyes blue to any weather.
This was the famous manliness of men;
And when she saw it on the dirty strangers,
She clapped her pretty hands in sudden joy:
"O brave new world!"
I HEARD a story of a sailing man.
He was a surly sort of mariner,
He used to swear at all the seven seas,
And rode them dauntless up and down the earth.
But when he sickened of the windy wash,
He took to wife a proper village woman
And put her in a precious little house;
And there he weathered many winter seasons,
Knocking the ashes neatly from his pipe
Upon the tended hearth.
And only when he went upon the moors,
And felt the sting and censure of the winds,
And tasted of the salt blown in from sea,
Then only would he curse the marriage morning,
And swear he'd not go skulking back again
To sit that hearth like any broken bitch
Whose running time was over.
THE skies were jaded, while the famous sun
Slack of his office to confute the fogs
Lay sick abed; but I, inured to duty,
Sat for my food. Three hours each day we souls,
Who might be angels but are fastened down
With bodies, most infuriating freight,
Sit fattening these frames and skeletons
With filthy food, which they must cast away
Before they feed again.
SAVOR of love is thick on the April air,
The blunted boughs dispose their lacy bloom,
And many sorry steeds dismissed to pasture
Toss their old forelocks, flourish heavy heels.
Where is there any unpersuaded poet
So angry still against the wrongs of winter
Which caused the dainty earth to droop and die,
So vengeant for his vine and summer song,
As to decline the good releasing thaw?
Poets have temperature and follow seasons,
And covenants go out at equinox.
The champions! For Heaven, riding high
Above the icy death, considered truly;
"My agate icy work, I thought it fair;
Yet I have lacked that pretty lift of praise
That mounted once from these emaciate minstrels.
They will not sing, and duty drops away
And I must turn and make a soft amend!"
At once he showered April down, until
The bleak twigs bloom again; and soon, I swear,
He shall receive his praise.
AT last came threshing-time, the manly season.
We kept the thresher thundering by daylight,
And rested all the sweeter after dark,
Telling of tales, and washing in the river.
But one there was, some twenty miles a stranger,
Who boasted that he was a mighty wrestler
And had not met that valiant pair of shoulders
That he could not put down.
We had a champion there. He looked and listened,
He measured off his man, he made his mind up,
And thus he brought great honor to his county:
"My friend, I've heard you bragging, heard you braying,
And now I say, for God's sake come and wrestle."
And thus appealed, the other came, for God's sake,
And they did wrestle.
They sprang, they gripped, they strained and rocked and twisted,
They pounded much good sod to dust and powder,
They ripped the garments off each other vainly
And showed us many naked bulging muscles,
And still were even.
But while the tide of battle ran so equal,
I heard a sound, I took it for a voice,
I almost saw it, spitting out a passage
Between the haggard jaws of my poor hero,
The voice as of a man almost despairing,
Hoping again though all his hopes had failed:
"By God, I'll have you down in one more minute!"
And it was as he said; for in a minute
He had him down, by God.
SHE would not keep at home, the foolish woman,
She would not mind her precious girls and boys,
She had to go, for it was Sunday morning,
Down the hot road and to the barren pew
And there abuse her superannuate knees
To make a prayer.
She had a huge petition on her bosom--
A heavy weight for such a lean old thing--
Her youngest boy made merry in the village
And had not entered into the communion;
And having labored with him long for nothing
She meant to ask of God to save him yet.
Thank God she asked that favor!
The manner of it echoes still in Heaven.
Before she dared to utter her desire
The strange old woman made approach to God
With many a low obeisance and abasement,
As having done so many things she ought not,
And left undone so many things she ought,
And being altogether very wicked;
She testified she had not kept his temple,
Which was her heart, all swept and white and ready;
She testified it--O the shameless woman,
The spotless housekeeper!
Now God sat beaming on his burnished throne
And swept creation with appraising eye,
Finding, I fear, not all was free from blemish,
Yet keeping his magnificent composure;
But wearing certain necessary airs,
To suit with such incumbency of court,
He still at heart was quite a gentleman;
For when he saw that aged lady drooping
And wearying her bones with genuflections
For her unworthiness, he fell ashamed
To think how hard it went with holy women
To ease their poor predicaments by prayer:
There on his heaven, and heard of all the hosts,
He groaned, he made a mighty face so wry
That several seraphin forgot their harping
And scolded thus: "O what a wicked woman,
To shrew his splendid features out of shape!"
I VIEWED him well, the visible fat fool,
And yet I took him in; for I contended,
Friends are not sent in order of our choosing,
They come unsuited like the gifts of God.
I would not do a perfidy to friendship,
I let him past the private inner gate
And made him be at home among my treasures
Like my true friend.
Now I am ground with a grim torture daily
That I have been befriended by a fool.
He forages at will upon my garden,
He noses all its pretty secrets out,
And still the fool finds nothing to his liking.
Meeting a modest velveteen affair,
Peevish he hangs his sad and silly head:
"Alas! such unsubstantial gaudy goods!"
Thus he meets pansies; meeting zinnias,
He nearly faints at such a rioting:
"Alas! what fruit will these red wantons bear?"
And not a perfume spills upon the air
But his malicious nose suspects a poison,
As he goes browsing like an ancient ass,
An old distempered ass.
I'd almost rather be a friendless man
And have my house my own. The prying fool
Asks me the queerest idiotic questions:
"O friend, is this the harvest of your hands?
How will you stand before the lord of harvests?
These are the gardens of your idleness;
Where is the vineyard, friend?"
FOUR sisters sitting in one house,
I said, these roses on a stem
With bosoms bare. But wayfaring
I went and ravished one of them.
So one was taken. But the three,
They spread their petals just the same,
They turned no decent pale for grief,
They drew no fragrance back for shame.
The canker is on roses too!
I cried, and lifted up the rod
And scourged them bleeding to the ground.
All, all are sinners unto God.
I WAS not drowsy though the scholars droned.
Hearing the music that they made of Greek,
Whenever Helen's unforgotten face
Sent other young men whisking off to war;
Hearing much mention of the hecatombs,
And Pericles, and fishes that were purple,
Temples in white, and trees that they named olive;
And thinking always of proud Athens shining
Upon her hill, that slanted to her sea:
Equipped with Grecian thoughts, how could I live
Among my father's folk? My father's house
Was narrow and his fields were nauseous.
I kicked his clods for being common dirt,
Worthy a world which never could be Greek;
Cursed the paternity that planted me
One green leaf in a wilderness of autumn;
And wept, as fitting such a fruitful spirit
Sealed in a yellow tomb.
The Lord preserves his saints for Christian uses.
He sent a pair of providential eyes.
They would have sat in any witless head,
Although I deemed them deep as classic seas,
As strange as any woman written smiling,
And much more near; the merest modern eyes,
The first my Athens faced; and yet her lamp,
It flickered rather low.
Then he commanded me to scrutiny
As to a fingered thing of no great matter,
A circumstantial sorry little coin.
A friendly thing, I owned, to lie so warm
Against the side of any friendless man;
And in the hand--O if the happy hand
Accommodate the cunning rounded scepter,
Then is dominion seated in that palm,
And coveting is seated in men's eyes.
Make haste, my hands, about your own inclosures!
And what were dead Greek empires to me then?
Dishonored, by Apollo, and forgot.
THE toughest carcass in the town
Fell sick at last and took to bed,
And on that bed God waited him
With cool, cool hands for his frantic head,
And while the fever did its dance
They talked, and a good thing was said:
"See, I am not that Scriptural!
A lesser, kinder God instead."
Fever must run its course, and God
Could not do much for the countryman.
At least he saved him certain dreams:
"I die! O save me if you can,
I am a bruised, a beaten slave,
I march in a blistering caravan,
They dash a stone upon my head--
Ah no, but that is God's white hand."
God plucked him back, and plucked him back,
And did his best to smoothe the pain.
The sick man said it was good to know
That God was true, if prayer was vain.
"O God, I weary of this night,
When will you bring the dawn again?"
The night must run its course, but God
Was weary too with watching-strain.
A cluck of tuneless silly birds,
A guilty gray, and it was dawn.
The sick man thumped across the floor
And slid the curtain that was drawn:
"O pale wet dawn! O let it shine
Lustrous and gold on the good green lawn!
The lustre, Lord!" Alas, God knows
When sad conclusions are foregone.
The sick man leant upon his Lord,
On that imperfect break of day,
"Now, Lord, I die: is there no word,
No countervail that God can say?"
No word. But tight upon his arm,
Was God, and drew not once away
Until his punctual destiny.
To whom could God repair to pray?
Now God be thanked by dying men
Who comrades them in times like these,
Who dreads to see the doom come down
On these black midnight canopies
And on this poisonous glare of dawns.
The whole world crumples in disease,
But God is pitying to the end,
And gives an office to my knees.