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AO Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay AmblesideOnline.org

AmblesideOnline: Sixty Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay

American, 1892-1950



List of Selected Poems

Renascence
God's World
Blight
Sonnets:
     Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
     If I should learn, in some quite casual way
Baccalaureate Hymn, Vassar College, 1917
City Trees
Journey
Travel
Elaine
The Little Hill
Exiled
Sonnets:
     When I too long have looked upon your face
     Once more into my arid days like dew
Portrait By a Neighbor
The Philosopher
My Heart, Being Hungry
Departure
The Spring and The Fall
The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver
Spring Song
Sonnets:
     When you, that at this moment are to me
     Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
     Here is a wound that never will heal, I know
     I shall go back again to the bleak shore
     Loving you less than life, a little less
     What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
     How healthily their feet upon the floor
     One way there was of muting in the mind
     It came into her mind, seeing how the snow

To the Wife of a Sick Friend
To a Friend Estranged From Me
The Buck In The Snow
Hangman's Oak
The Cameo
To A Young Girl
Sonnets:
     For this, your mother sweated in the cold ("To Jesus on His Birthday")
     Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
   -- Hearing your words, and not a word among them
     Now by the path I climbed, I journey back.
Autumn Daybreak
The Oak-Leaves
The Fawn
Sonnet
The Leaf and The Tree
On the Wide Heath
Plaid Dress
Sonnet:
     Upon this age, that never speaks its mind
To the Maid of Orleans
The courage that my mother had (untitled)
Here in a Rocky Cup
The Agnostic
Cave Canem
An Ancient Gesture
To a Snake
Sometimes, oh, often, indeed (untitled)
Sonnets:
     And is indeed truth beauty?--at the cost
     It is the fashion now to wave aside
     Read history: so learn your place in Time
     Read history: thus learn how small a space

                    
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Poems

from Renascence, 1917

Renascence

All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I'd started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.

Over these things I could not see;
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.

But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
Miles and miles above my head;
So here upon my back I'll lie
And look my fill into the sky.
And so I looked, and, after all,
The sky was not so very tall.
The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
And--sure enough!--I see the top!
The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
I 'most could touch it with my hand!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.

I screamed, and-- lo!--Infinity
Came down and settled over me;
Forced back my scream into my chest,
Bent back my arm upon my breast,
And, pressing of the Undefined
The definition on my mind,
Held up before my eyes a glass
Through which my shrinking sight did pass
Until it seemed I must behold
Immensity made manifold;
Whispered to me a word whose sound
Deafened the air for worlds around,
And brought unmuffled to my ears
The gossiping of friendly spheres,
The creaking of the tented sky,
The ticking of Eternity.

I saw and heard, and knew at last
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core,
Lay open to my probing sense
That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence
But could not,-- nay! But needs must suck
At the great wound, and could not pluck
My lips away till I had drawn
All venom out.-- Ah, fearful pawn!
For my omniscience paid I toll
In infinite remorse of soul.

All sin was of my sinning, all
Atoning mine, and mine the gall
Of all regret. Mine was the weight
Of every brooded wrong, the hate
That stood behind each envious thrust,
Mine every greed, mine every lust.

And all the while for every grief,
Each suffering, I craved relief
With individual desire,--
Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire
About a thousand people crawl;
Perished with each,--then mourned for all!

A man was starving in Capri;
He moved his eyes and looked at me;
I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
And knew his hunger as my own.
I saw at sea a great fog bank
Between two ships that struck and sank;
A thousand screams the heavens smote;
And every scream tore through my throat.

No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I.
All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
Mine, pity like the pity of God.

Ah, awful weight! Infinity
Pressed down upon the finite Me!
My anguished spirit, like a bird,
Beating against my lips I heard;
Yet lay the weight so close about
There was no room for it without.
And so beneath the weight lay I
And suffered death, but could not die.

Long had I lain thus, craving death,
When quietly the earth beneath
Gave way, and inch by inch, so great
At last had grown the crushing weight,
Into the earth I sank till I
Full six feet under ground did lie,
And sank no more, --there is no weight
Can follow here, however great.
From off my breast I felt it roll,
And as it went my tortured soul
Burst forth and fled in such a gust
That all about me swirled the dust.

Deep in the earth I rested now;
Cool is its hand upon the brow
And soft its breast beneath the head
Of one who is so gladly dead.
And all at once, and over all
The pitying rain began to fall;
I lay and heard each pattering hoof
Upon my lowly, thatched roof,
And seemed to love the sound far more
Than ever I had done before.
For rain it hath a friendly sound
To one who's six feet underground;
And scarce the friendly voice or face:
A grave is such a quiet place.

The rain, I said, is kind to come
And speak to me in my new home.
I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain,
To drink into my eyes the shine
Of every slanting silver line,
To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze
From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
For soon the shower will be done,
And then the broad face of the sun
Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth
Until the world with answering mirth
Shakes joyously, and each round drop
Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top.

How can I bear it; buried here,
While overhead the sky grows clear
And blue again after the storm?
O, multi-colored, multiform,
Beloved beauty over me,
That I shall never, never see
Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold,
That I shall never more behold!
Sleeping your myriad magics through,
Close-sepulchred away from you!
O God, I cried, give me new birth,
And put me back upon the earth!
Upset each cloud's gigantic gourd
And let the heavy rain, down-poured
In one big torrent, set me free,
Washing my grave away from me!

I ceased; and through the breathless hush
That answered me, the far-off rush
Of herald wings came whispering
Like music down the vibrant string
Of my ascending prayer, and--crash!
Before the wild wind's whistling lash
The startled storm-clouds reared on high
And plunged in terror down the sky,
And the big rain in one black wave
Fell from the sky and struck my grave.

I know not how such things can be;
I only know there came to me
A fragrance such as never clings
To aught save happy living things;
A sound as of some joyous elf
Singing sweet songs to please himself,
And, through and over everything,
A sense of glad awakening.
The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear,
Whispering to me I could hear;
I felt the rain's cool finger-tips
Brushed tenderly across my lips,
Laid gently on my sealed sight,
And all at once the heavy night
Fell from my eyes and I could see,--
A drenched and dripping apple-tree,
A last long line of silver rain,
A sky grown clear and blue again.
And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,--
I know not how such things can be!--
I breathed my soul back into me.

Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I
And hailed the earth with such a cry
As is not heard save from a man
Who has been dead, and lives again.
About the trees my arms I wound;

Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;
I raised my quivering arms on high;
I laughed and laughed into the sky,
Till at my throat a strangling sob
Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb
Sent instant tears into my eyes;
O God, I cried, no dark disguise
Can e'er hereafter hide from me
Thy radiant identity!

Thou canst not move across the grass
But my quick eyes will see Thee pass,
Nor speak, however silently,
But my hushed voice will answer Thee.
I know the path that tells Thy way
Through the cool eve of every day;
God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart!

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,--
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat--the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.
                              

God's World

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
          Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
          Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
          But never knew I this;
          Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,--Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,--let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.


Blight

Hard seeds of hate I planted
  That should by now be grown,--
Rough stalks, and from thick stamens
  A poisonous pollen blown,
And odors rank, unbreathable,
  From dark corollas thrown!

At dawn from my damp garden
  I shook the chilly dew;
The thin boughs locked behind me
  That sprang to let me through;
The blossoms slept,--I sought a place
  Where nothing lovely grew.

And there, when day was breaking,
  I knelt and looked around:
The light was near, the silence
  Was palpitant with sound;
I drew my hate from out my breast
  And thrust it in the ground.
Oh, ye so fiercely tended,
  Ye little seeds of hate!
I bent above your growing
  Early and noon and late,
Yet are ye drooped and pitiful,--
  I cannot rear ye straight!
The sun seeks out my garden,
  No nook is left in shade,
No mist nor mold nor mildew
  Endures on any blade,
Sweet rain slants under every bough:
  Ye falter, and ye fade.


Sonnet:

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--  so with his memory they brim!
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!


Sonnet:

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
  That you were gone, not to return again--
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
  Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
  And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man--who happened to be you--
  At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud--I could not cry
  Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place--
I should but watch the station lights rush by
  With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
  Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.


***********************************
          
Baccalaureate Hymn
(Vassar College, 1917)

Thou great offended God of love and kindness,
  We have denied, we have forgotten Thee!
With deafer sense endow, enlighten us with blindness,
  Who, having ears and eyes, nor hear nor see,

Bright are the banners on the tents of laughter;
  Shunned is Thy temple, weeds are on the path;
Yet if Thou leave us, Lord, what help is ours thereafter?-
  Be with us still,-Light not today Thy wrath!

Dark were the ways where of ourselves we sought Thee,
  Anguish, Derision, Doubt, Desire and Mirth;
Twisted, obscure, unlovely, Lord, the gifts we brought Thee,
  Teach us what ways have light, what gifts have worth.

Since we are dust, how shall we not betray Thee?
  Still blows about the world the ancient wind-
Nor yet for lives untried and tearless would we pray Thee:
  Lord let us suffer that we may grow kind!

"Lord, Lord!" we cried of old, who now before Thee,
  Stricken with prayer, shaken with praise, are dumb;
Father, accept our worship when we least adore Thee,
  And when we call Thee not, oh, hear and come!


***********************************

from Second April, 1921


City Trees

The trees along this city street,
  Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
  As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
  Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
  Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
  Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,--
  I know what sound is there.


Journey

Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.

                        Yet onward!
                                    Cat birds call

Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.

Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,--sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs--
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road;
A gateless garden, and an open path;
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.


Travel

The railroad track is miles away,
  And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day
  But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by,
  Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
  And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
  And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
  No matter where it's going.


Elaine

Oh, come again to Astolat!
  I will not ask you to be kind.
And you may go when you will go,
  And I will stay behind.

I will not say how dear you are,
  Or ask you if you hold me dear,
Or trouble you with things for you
  The way I did last year.

So still the orchard, Lancelot,
  So very still the lake shall be,
You could not guess--though you should guess--
  What is become of me.

So wide shall be the garden-walk,
  The garden-seat so very wide,
You needs must think--if you should think--
  The lily maid had died.

Save that, a little way away,
  I'd watch you for a little while,
To see you speak, the way you speak,
  And smile, --  if you should smile.


The Little Hill

Oh, here the air is sweet and still,
  And soft's the grass to lie on;
And far away's the little hill
  They took for Christ to die on.

And there's a hill across the brook,
  And down the brook's another;
But, oh, the little hill they took,--
  I think I am its mother!

The moon that saw Gethsemane,
  I watch it rise and set:
It has so many things to see,
  They help it to forget.

But little hills that sit at home
  So many hundred years,
Remember Greece, remember Rome,
  Remember Mary's tears.

And far away in Palestine,
  Sadder than any other,
Grieves still the hill that I call mine,--
  I think I am its mother!


Exiled

Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
  This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
  Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
  Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
  Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
  Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
  Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea;

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
  Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
  Stricken with noise, confused with light.

If I could hear the green piles groaning
  Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
  And the black sticks that fence the weirs,

If I could see the weedy mussels
  Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
  Overhead, of the wheeling gulls,

Feel once again the shanty straining
  Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
  Dread the bell in the fog outside,-- 

I should be happy,--that was happy
  All day long on the coast of Maine!
I have a need to hold and handle
  Shells and anchors and ships again!

I should be happy, that am happy
  Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
  I have a need of water near.


Sonnet:

When I too long have looked upon your face,
Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
And terrible beauty not to be endured,
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
Then is my daily life a narrow room
In which a little while, uncertainly,
Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
Among familiar things grown strange to me
Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark,
Till I become accustomed to the dark.
          

Sonnet:

Once more into my arid days like dew,
Like wind from an oasis, or the sound
Of cold sweet water bubbling underground,
A treacherous messenger, the thought of you
Comes to destroy me; once more I renew
Firm faith in your abundance, whom I found
Long since to be but just one other mound
Of sand, whereon no green thing ever grew.
And once again, and wiser in no wise,
I chase your colored phantom on the air,
And sob and curse and fall and weep and rise
And stumble pitifully on to where,
Miserable and lost, with stinging eyes,
Once more I clasp, --and there is nothing there.


*************

from A Few Figs From Thistles, 1922


Portrait By a Neighbor

Before she has her floor swept
  Or her dishes done,
Any day you'll find her
  A-sunning in the sun!

It's long after midnight
  Her key's in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
  Till past ten o'clock!

She digs in her garden
  With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
  By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk
  Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
  And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
  And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
  And the Queen Anne's lace!


The Philosopher

And what are you that, missing you,
  I should be kept awake
As many nights as there are days
  With weeping for your sake?

And what are you that, missing you,
  As many days as crawl
I should be listening to the wind
  And looking at the wall?

I know a man that's a braver man
  And twenty men as kind,
And what are you, that you should be
  The one man in my mind?

Yet women's ways are witless ways,
  As any sage will tell,--
And what am I, that I should love
  So wisely and so well?


*************

from The Harp Weaver and Other Poems, 1922
(Pulitzer Prize, 1923)
                              

My Heart, Being Hungry
My heart, being hungry, feeds on food
  The fat of heart despise.
Beauty where beauty never stood,
  And sweet where no sweet lies
I gather to my querulous need,
Having a growing heart to feed.

It may be, when my heart is dull,
  Having attained its girth,
I shall not find so beautiful
  The meagre shapes of earth,
Nor linger in the rain to mark
The smell of tansy through the dark.


Departure

It's little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it's little I care;
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere.

It's little I know what's in my heart,
What's in my mind it's little I know,
But there's that in me must up and start,
And it's little I care where my feet go.

I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Nor the roof of a house, nor the eyes of a face.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it's little enough I care:
And it's little I'd mind the fuss they'll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.

   "Is something the matter, dear," she said,
    "That you sit at your work so silently?"
    "No, mother, no, 'twas a knot in my thread.
     There goes the kettle, I'll make the tea."


The Spring and the Fall

In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.

In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.                                         
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways.


The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

"Son," said my mother,
  When I was knee-high,
"You've need of clothes to cover you,
  And not a rag have I.

"There's nothing in the house
  To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
  Nor thread to take stitches.

"There's nothing in the house
  But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman's head
  Nobody will buy,"
  And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
  When came the late fall,
"Son," she said, "the sight of you
  Makes your mother's blood crawl,--

"Little skinny shoulder-blades
  Sticking through your clothes!
And where you'll get a jacket from
  God above knows.

"It's lucky for me, lad,
  Your daddy's in the ground,
And can't see the way I let
  His son go around!"
  And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
  When the winter came,
I'd not a pair of breeches
  Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn't go to school,
  Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
  Passed our way.

"Son," said my mother,
  "Come, climb into my lap,
And I'll chafe your little bones
  While you take a nap."

And, oh, but we were silly
  For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
  Dragging on the floor,

A-rock-rock-rocking
  To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
  For half an hour's time!

But there was I, a great boy,
  And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
  To sleep all day,
  In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
  Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
  And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf's head
  Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
  And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
  Was a chair we couldn't break,
And the harp with a woman's head
  Nobody would take,
  For song or pity's sake.

The night before Christmas
  I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
  Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
  I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
  With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
  On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
  From I couldn't tell where,

Looking nineteen,
  And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman's head
  Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
  In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
  Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
  From where I couldn't see,
Were running through the harp-strings
  Rapidly,

And gold threads whistling
  Through my mother's hand.
I saw the web grow,
  And the pattern expand.

She wove a child's jacket,
  And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
  And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
  So regal to see,
"She's made it for a king's son,"
  I said, "and not for me."
  But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
  Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
  And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
  She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
  In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
  And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
  And the thread never broke.
  And when I awoke,--

There sat my mother
  With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
  And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
  And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
  Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
  And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king's son,
  Just my size.
                              

Spring Song

I know why the yellow forsythia
Holds its breath and will not bloom,
And the robin thrusts his beak in his wing.

Want me to tell you?  Think you can bear it?
Cover your eyes with your hand and hear it.
You know how cold the days are still? 
And everybody saying how late the Spring is?
Well---cover your eyes with your hand--  the thing is,
There isn't going to be any Spring.

No parking here!   No parking here!
They said to Spring:  No parking here!

Spring came on as she always does,
Laid her hand on the yellow forsythia,--
Little boys turned in their sleep and smiled,
Dreaming of marbles, dreaming of agates;
Little girls leapt from their bed to see
Spring come by with her painted wagons,
Coloured wagons creaking with wonder--
Laid her hand on the robin's throat;
When up comes you-know-who, my dear,
You-know-who in a fine blue coat,
And says to Spring:  No parking here!

No parking here!   No parking here!
Move on!  Move on!  No parking here!

Come walk with me in the city gardens.
(Better keep an eye out for you-know-who)

Did you ever see such a sickly showing?--
Middle of June, and nothing growing;
The gardeners peer and scratch their heads
And drop their sweat on the tulip-beds,
But not a blade thrusts through.

Come, move on!  Don't you know how to walk?
No parking here!   And no back-talk!

Oh, well,--- hell, it's all for the best.
She certainly made a lot of clutter,
Dropping petals under the trees,
Taking your mind off your bread and butter.
Anyhow, it's nothing to me.
I can remember, and so can you.
(Though we'd better watch out for you-know-who,
When we sit around remembering Spring).

We shall hardly notice in a year or two.
You can get accustomed to anything.


Sonnet:

When you, that at this moment are to me
Dearer than words on paper, shall depart,
And be no more the warder of my heart,
Whereof again myself shall hold the key;
And be no more, what now you seem to be,
The sun, from which all excellencies start
In a round nimbus, nor a broken dart
Of moonlight, even, splintered on the sea;

I shall remember only of this hour
And weep somewhat, as now you see me weep
The pathos of your love, that, like a flower,
Fearful of death yet amorous of sleep,
Droops for a moment and beholds, dismayed,
The wind whereon its petals shall be laid.


Sonnet:

Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give me back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard,
"What a big book for such a little head!"
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink!
Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more:
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

          
Sonnet:

Here is a wound that never will heal, I know
Being wrought not of a dearness and a death
But of a love turned ashes and the breath
Gone out of beauty; never again will grow
The grass on that scarred acre, though I sow
Young seed there yearly and the sky bequeath
Its friendly weathers down, far underneath
Shall be such bitterness of an old woe.           
That April should be shattered by a gust,
That August should be leveled by a rain,
I can endure, and that the lifted dust
Of man should settle to the earth again;
But that a dream can die, will be a thrust
Between my ribs forever of hot pain.


Sonnet:

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed shall escape my door
But by a yard or two; and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand.
I shall be gone to what I understand,
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung.
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.


Sonnet:

Loving you less than life, a little less
Than bitter-sweet upon a broken wall
Or bush-wood smoke in autumn, I confess
I cannot swear I love you not at all.
For there is that about you in this light-- 
A yellow darkness, sinister of rain-- 
Which sturdily recalls my stubborn sight
To dwell on you, and dwell on you again.
And I am made aware of many a week
I shall consume, remembering in what way
Your brown hair grows about your brow and cheek,
And what divine absurdities you say:
Till all the world, and I, and surely you,
Will know I love you, whether or not I do.
          

Sonnet:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

                                                  
Sonnet:

How healthily their feet upon the floor
Strike down! These are no spirits, but a band
Of children, surely, leaping hand in hand
Into the air in groups of three and four,
Wearing their silken rags as if they wore
Leaves only and light grasses, or a strand
Of black elusive seaweed oozing sand,
And running hard as if along a shore.
I know how lost forever, and at length
How still these lovely tossing limbs shall lie,
And the bright laughter and the panting breath;
And yet, before such beauty and such strength,
Once more, as always when the dance is high,
I am rebuked that I believe in death.
                                                            

Sonnet:
(from "Songs From an Ungrafted Tree")

One way there was of muting in the mind
A little while the ever-clamorous care;
And there was rapture, of a decent kind,
In making mean and ugly objects fair:
Soft-sooted kettle-bottoms, that had been
Time after time set in above the fire,
Faucets, and candlesticks, corroded green,
To mine again from quarry; to attire
The shelves in paper petticoats, and tack
New oilcloth in the ringed-and-rotten's place,
Polish the stove till you could see your face,
And after nightfall rear an aching back
In a changed kitchen, bright as a new pin,
An advertisement, far too fine to cook a supper in.


Sonnet:
(from "Songs From an Ungrafted Tree")

It came into her mind, seeing how the snow
Was gone, and the brown grass exposed again,
And clothespins, and an apron  long ago,
In some white storm that sifted through the pane
And sent her forth reluctantly at last
To gather in, before the line gave way,
Garments, board stiff, that galloped on the blast
Clashing like angel armies in a fray,
An apron long ago in such a night
Blown down and buried in the deepening drift,
To lie till April thawed it back to sight,
Forgotten, quaint and novel as a gift--
It struck her, as she pulled and pried and tore,
That here was Spring, and the whole year to be lived through once more.

                                                            
*****************

from The Buck in the Snow, 1928


To the Wife of a Sick Friend

Shelter this candle from the wind.
Hold it steady. In its light
The cave wherein we wonder lost
Glitters with frosty stalactite,
Blossoms with mineral rose and lotus,
Sparkles with crystal moon and star,
Till a man would rather be lost than found:
We have forgotten where we are.

Shelter this candle. Shrewdly blowing
Down the cave from a secret door
Enters our only foe, the wind.
Hold it steady. Lest we stand,
Each in a sudden, separate dark,
The hot wax spattered upon your hand,
The smoking wick in my nostrils strong,
The inner eyelid red and green
For a moment yet with moons and roses,--
Then the unmitigated dark.

Alone, alone, in a terrible place,
In utter dark without a face,
With only the dripping of the water on the stone,
And the sound of your tears, and the taste of my own.

                    
To A Friend Estranged From Me

Now goes under, and I watch go under, the sun
That will not rise again.
Today has seen the setting, in your eyes, cold and senseless as the sea,
Of friendship better that bread, and of bright charity
That lifts a man a little above the beasts that run.
That this could be!
That I should live to see
Most vulgar Pride, that stale obstreperous clown,
So fitted out with purple robe and crown
To stand among his betters! Face to face
With outraged me in this once holy place,
Where Wisdom was a favoured guest and hunted
Truth was harbored out of danger,
He bulks enthroned, a lewd, an insupportable stranger!

I would have sworn, indeed I swore it:
The hills may shift, the waters may decline,
Winter may twist the stem from the twig that bore it,
But never your love from me, your hand from mine.

Now goes under the sun, and I watch it go under.
Farewell, sweet light, great wonder!
You, too, farewell,--but fare not well enough to dream
You have done wisely to invite the night before the darkness came.


The Buck in the Snow

White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow,
Saw you not at the beginning of evening the antlered buck and his doe
Standing in the apple-orchard? I saw them. I saw them suddenly go,
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed with snow.

Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding the snow.

How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing,--a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow--
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.


Hangman's Oak

Before the cock in the barnyard spoke,
   Before it well was day,
Horror like a serpent from about the Hangman's Oak
   Uncoiled and slid away.

Pity and Peace were on the limb
   That bore such bitter fruit.
Deep he lies, and the desperate blood of him
   Befriends the innocent root.

Brother, I said to the air beneath the bough
   Whence he had swung,
It will not be long for any of us now;
   We do not grow young.

It will not be long for the knotter of ropes, not long
   For the sheriff or for me,
Or for any of them that came five hundred strong
   To see you swing from a tree.

Side by side together in the belly of Death
   We sit without hope,
You, and I, and the mother that gave you breath,
   And the tree, and the rope.


The Cameo

Forever over now, forever, forever gone
That day. Clear and diminished like a scene
Carven in Cameo, the lighthouse, and the cove between
The sandy cliffs, and the boat drawn up on the beach;
And the long skirt of a lady innocent and young,
Her hand resting on her bosom, her head hung;
And the figure of a man in earnest speech.

Clear and diminished like a scene cut in cameo
The lighthouse, and the boat on the beach, and the two shapes
Of the woman and the man; lost like the lost day
Are the words that passed, and the pain,-discarded, cut away
From the stone, as from the memory the heat of the tears escapes.

O troubled forms, O early love unfortunate and hard,
Time has estranged you into a jewel cold and pure;
From the action of the waves and from the action of sorrow forever secure,
White against a ruddy cliff you stand, chalcedony on sard.

To a Young Girl

Shall I despise you that your colourless tears
Made rainbows in your lashes, and you forgot to weep?
Would we were half so wise, that eke a grief out
By sitting in the dark, until we fall asleep.

I only fear lest, being by nature sunny,
By and by you will weep no more at all,
And fall asleep in the light, having lost with the tears
The colour in the lashes that comes as tears fall.

I would not have you darken your lids with weeping
Beautiful eyes, but I would have you weep enough
To wet the fingers of the hand held over the eye-lids
And stain a little the light frock's delicate stuff.

For there came to mind, as I watched you winking the tears down,
Laughing faces, blown from the west and the east,
Faces lovely and proud that I have prized and cherished,
Nor were the loveliest among them those that had wept the least.


Sonnet:
(To Jesus on His Birthday)

For this your mother sweated in the cold,
For this you bled upon the bitter tree:
A yard of tinsel ribbon bought and sold;
A paper wreath; a day at home for me.
The merry bells ring out, the people kneel;
Up goes the man of God before the crowd;
With voice of honey and eyes of steel
He drones your humble gospel to the proud.
Nobody listens. Less than the wind that blows
Are all your words to us you died to save.
O prince of Peace! O Sharon's dewy Rose!
How mute you lie within your vaulted grave.
The stone the angel rolled away with tears
Is back upon your mouth these thousand years.


**************

from Fatal Interview, 1931

Sonnet:

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.           


Sonnet:          

Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running through the Gut
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered, and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.


Sonnet:

Now by the path I climbed, I journey back.
The oaks have grown; I have been long away.
Talking with me your memory and your lack
I now descend into a milder day;
Stripped of your love, unburdened of my hope,
Descend the path I mounted from the plain;
Yet steeper than I fancied seems the slope
And stonier, now that I go down again.
Warm falls the dusk; the clanking of a bell
Faintly ascends upon this heavier air;
I do recall those grassy pastures well:
In early spring they drove the cattle there.
And close at hand should be a shelter, too,
From which the mountain peaks are not in view.

-------------------------------------

from Fatal Interview, 1931

Sonnet:

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.           


Sonnet:          

Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running through the Gut
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered, and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.


Sonnet:

Now by the path I climbed, I journey back.
The oaks have grown; I have been long away.
Talking with me your memory and your lack
I now descend into a milder day;
Stripped of your love, unburdened of my hope,
Descend the path I mounted from the plain;
Yet steeper than I fancied seems the slope
And stonier, now that I go down again.
Warm falls the dusk; the clanking of a bell
Faintly ascends upon this heavier air;
I do recall those grassy pastures well:
In early spring they drove the cattle there.
And close at hand should be a shelter, too,
From which the mountain peaks are not in view.


**************

from Wine From These Grapes, 1934


Autumn Daybreak

Cold wind of autumn, blowing loud
At dawn, a fortnight overdue,
Jostling the doors, and tearing  through
My bedroom to rejoin the cloud,

I know--for I can hear the hiss
And scrape of leaves along the floor--
How may boughs, lashed bare by this,
Will rake the cluttered sky once more.

Tardy, and somewhat south of east,
The sun will rise at length, made known
More by the meagre light increased
Than by  a disk in splendour shown;

When, having but to turn my head,
Through the stripped maple I shall see,
Bleak and remembered, patched with red,
The hill all summer hid from me.


The Oak Leaves

Yet in the end, defeated too, worn out and ready to fall,
Hangs from the drowsy tree with cramped and desperate stem
          above the ditch the last leaf of all.

There is something to be learned, I guess, from looking at the
          dead leaves under the living tree;
Something to be set to a lusty tune and learned and sung, it well
          might be;
Something to be learned--though I was ever a ten-o'clock scholar
          at this school--
Even perhaps by me.

But my heart goes out to the oak-leaves that are the last to sigh
"Enough," and lose their hold;
They have boasted to the nudging frost and to the two-and-thirty
          winds that they would never die,
Never even grow old.
(These are those russet leaves that cling
All winter, even into the spring,
To the dormant bough, in the wood knee-deep in the snow the only
          coloured thing.


The Fawn

There it was I saw what I shall never forget
And never retrieve.
Monstrous and beautiful to human eyes, hard to believe,
He lay, yet there he lay,
Asleep on the moss, his head on his polished cleft
          small ebony hooves,
The child of the doe, the dappled child of the deer.

Surely his mother had never said, "Lie here
Till I return," so spotty and plain to see
On the green moss lay he.
His eyes had opened; he considered me.

I would have given more than I care to say
To thrifty ears, might I have had him for my friend
One moment only of that forest day:


Might I have had the acceptance, not the love
Of those clear eyes;
Might I have been for him in the bough above
Or the root beneath his forest bed,
A part of the forest, seen without surprise.

Was it alarm, or was it the wind of my fear lest he depart
That jerked him to his jointy knees,
And sent him crashing off, leaping and stumbling
On his new legs, between the stems of the white trees?
          

Sonnet

Time, that renews the tissues of this frame,
That built the child and hardened the soft bone,
Taught him to wail, to blink, to walk alone,
Stare, question, wonder, give the world a name,
Forget the watery darkness whence he came,
Attends no less the boy to manhood grown,
Brings him new raiment, strips him of his own:
All skins are shed at length, remorse, even shame.
Such hope is mine, if this indeed be true,
I dread no more the first white in my hair,
Or even age itself, the easy shoe,
The cane, the wrinkled hands, the special chair:
Time, doing this to me, may alter too
My anguish, into something I can bear.
                                        

The Leaf and the Tree

When will you learn, myself, to be
a dying leaf on a living tree?
Budding, swelling, growing strong,
Wearing green, but not for long,
Drawing sustenance from air,
That other leaves, and you not there,
May bud, and at the autumn's call
Wearing russet, ready to fall?
Has not this trunk a deed to do
Unguessed by small and tremulous you?
Shall not these branches in the end
To wisdom and the truth ascend?
And the great lightning plunging by
Look sidewise with a golden eye
To glimpse a tree so tall and proud
It sheds its leaves upon a cloud?

Here, I think, is the heart's grief:
The tree, no mightier than the leaf,
Makes firm its root and spreads it crown
And stands; but in the end comes down.
That airy top no boy could climb

Is trodden in a little time
By cattle on their way to drink.
The fluttering thoughts a leaf can think,
That hears the wind and waits its turn,
Have taught it all a tree can learn.
Time can make soft that iron wood.
The tallest trunk that ever stood,
In time, without a dream to keep,
Crawls in beside the root to sleep.


On the Wide Heath

On the wide heath at evening overtaken,
   When the fast-reddening sun
Drops, and against the sky the looming bracken
   Waves, and the day is done,

Though no unfriendly nostril snuffs his bone,
   Though English wolves be dead,
The fox abroad on errands of his own,
   The adder gone to bed,

The weary traveler from his aching hip
   Lengthens his long stride;
Though Home be but humming on his lip,
   No happiness, no pride,

He does not drop him under the yellow whin
   To sleep the darkness through;
Home to the yellow light that shines within
   The kitchen of a loud shrew,

Home over stones and sand, through stagnant water
   He goes, mile after mile
Home to a wordless poaching son and a daughter
   With a disdainful smile,

Home to the worn reproach, the disagreeing,
   The shelter, the stale air; content to be
Pecked at, confined, encroached upon,--it being
   Too lonely, to be free.


**************

From Huntsman, What Quarry?,1939


Plaid Dress

Strong sun, that bleach
The curtains of my room, can you not render
Colourless this dress I wear?-- 
This violent plaid
Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe
Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done
Through indolence high judgments given here in haste;
The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?

No more uncoloured than unmade,
I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;
Confession does not strip it off,
To send me homeward eased and bare;

All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean
Bright hair,
Lining the subtle gown... it is not seen,
But it is there.
          

Sonnet:
          
Upon this age, that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind--
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric; undefiled
Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still
Upon this world from the collective womb
Is spewed all day the red triumphant child.


**************          
                              
from Make Bright the Arrows, 1940


To the Maid of Orleans

Joan, Joan, can you be
Tending sheep in Domremy?
Have no voices spoken plain:
France has need of you again?--

You, so many years ago
Welcomed into Heaven, we know
Maiden without spot or taint,
First as foundling, then as saint.

Or do faggot, stake and torch
In your memory roar and scorch
Till no sound of voice come through
Saying France has need of you?

Joan, Joan, hearken still,
Hearken, child, against your will:
Saint thou art, but at the price
Of recurring sacrifice;

Martyred many times must be
Who would keep his country free.


**************

from Mine the Harvest, published posthumously 1954


(untitled)

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she'd left to me
The thing she took into the grave!--
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.
          

Here in a Rocky Cup

Here in a rocky cup of earth
The simple acorn brought to birth
What has in ages grown to be
A very oak, a mighty tree.
The granite of the rock is split
And crumbled by the girth of it.

Incautious was the rock to feed
The acorn's mouth; unwise indeed
Am I, upon whose stony heart
Fell softly down, sits quietly,
The seed of love's imperial tree
That soon may force my breast apart.

"I fear you not. I have no doubt
My meagre soil shall starve you out!"

Unless indeed you prove to be
The kernel of a kingly tree;
Which if you be I am content
To go the way the granite went,
And be myself no more at all,
So you but prosper and grow tall.


The Agnostic

The tired agnostic longs for prayer
More than the blessed can ever do:
Between the chinks in his despair,
From out his forest he peeps through
Upon a clearing sunned so bright
He cups his eyeballs from its light.

He for himself who would decide
What thing is black, what thing is white,
Whirls with the whirling spectrum wide,
Runs with the running spectrum through
Red, orange, yellow, green and blue
And purple,-- turns and stays his stride
Abruptly, reaching left and right
To catch all colours into light--
But light evades him: still he stands
With rainbows streaming through his hands.

He knows how half his hours are spent
In blue or purple discontent,
In red or yellow hate or fright,
And fresh young green whereon a blight
Sits down in orange overnight.

Yet worships still the ardent sod
For every ripped and ribboned hue,
For warmth of sun and breath of air,
And beauty met with everywhere;
Not knowing why, not knowing who
Pumps in his breath and sucks it out,
Nor unto whom his praise is due.

Yet naught or nobody obeys
But his own heart, which bids him, "Praise!"
This, knowing that doubled were his days
Could he but rid his mind of doubt--
Yet will not rid him, in such ways
Of awful dalliance with despair--
And, though denying, not betrays.


Cave Canem

Importuned through the mails, accosted over the telephone,
          overtaken by running footsteps, caught by the sleeve,
          the servant of strangers,
While amidst the haste and confusion lover and friend quietly
          step into the unreachable past,
I throw bright time to chickens in an untidy yard.

Through foul timidity, through gross indisposition to excite
          the ill-will of even the most negligible,
Disliking voices raised in anger, faces with no love in them,
I avoid the looming visitor,
Flee him adroitly around corners,
Hating him, wishing him well;

Lest if he confront me I be forced to say what is in no wise true:
That he is welcome; that I am unoccupied;
And forced to sit while the potted roses wilt in the crate
          or the sonnet cools
Bending a respectful nose above such dried philosophies
As have hung in wreaths from the rafters of my house since
          I was a child.

Some trace of kindliness in this, no doubt,
There may be.
But not enough to keep a bird alive.

There is a flaw amounting to a fissure
In such behaviour.


An Ancient Gesture

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,--a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope...
Penelope, who really cried.


To a Snake

Poor dying thing; it was my dog, not I
That did for you.
I gave you a wide arc, and moved to pass.

And yet, I was not sad that you should die;
You jarred me so; you were too motionless
And sudden, coiled there in the grass.

Now, you are coiled no longer.  Now
Your splendid, streaked back is to the ground.
Your beautiful, light-scarlet blood is spattered,
And shines in dreadful dew-drops all around.

And that white, ugly belly you have not confessed,--
So naked, so unscrolled with patterns--is at last exposed.

Oh--oh--I do not like to see
A fellow-mortal's final agony!
We shared this world all summer until now!
Now,--off you go.

All upside-down you lie, less looped than flung.
And all but done for.
And yet,--with head still raised; and that red, flickering tongue.


(untitled)

Sometimes, oh, often, indeed, in the midst of ugly adversity, beautiful
Memories return.
You awake in wonder, you awake at half-past four,
Wondering what wonder is in store.
You reach for your clothes in the dark and pull them on, you
          have no time
Even to wash your face, you have to climb Megunticook.

You run through the sleeping town; you do not arouse
Even a dog, you are so young and so light on your feet.
What a way to live, what a way...
No breakfast, not even hungry.  An apple, though,
In the pocket.
And the only people you meet are store-windows.

The path up the mountain is stony and in places steep,
And here it is really dark--wonderful, wonderful,
Wonderful--the smell of bark
And rotten leaves and dew!  And nobody awake
In all the world but you!--
Who lie on a high cliff until your elbow ache,
To see the sun come up over Penobscot Bay.


Sonnet in Dialectic

And is indeed truth beauty?--at the cost
Of all that we cared for, can this be?--
To see the coarse triumphant, and to see
Honour and pity ridiculed, and tossed
Upon a poked-at fire; all courage lost
Save what is whelped and fattened by decree
To move among the unsuspecting free
And trap the thoughtful, with their thoughts engrossed?
Drag yet that stream for Beauty, if you will;
And find her, if you can; finding her drowned
Will not dismay your ethics,--and you will still
To one and all insist she has been found...
And haggard men will smile your praise, until,
Some day, they stumble on her burial mound.


Sonnet:

It is fashion now to wave aside
As tedious, obvious, vacuous, trivial, trite,
All things which do not tickle, tease, excite
To some subversion, or in verbiage hide
Intent, or mock, or with hot sauce provide
A dish to prick the thickened appetite;
Straightforwardness is wrong, evasion right;
It is correct, de riguere, to deride.
What fumy wits these modern wags expose,
For all thir versatility: Voltaire,
Who wore to bed a night cap, and would close,
In fears of drafts, all windows, could declare
In antique stuffiness, a phrase that blows
Still through men's smoky minds, and clears the air.


Sonnet:

Read history; so learn your place in Time;
And go to sleep: all this was done before;
We do it better, fouling every shore;
We disinfect, we do not probe, the crime.
Our engines plunge into the seas, they climb
Above our atmosphere: we grow not more
Profound as we approach the ocean's floor;
Our flight is lofty; it is not sublime.
Yet long ago this Earth by struggling men
Was scuffed, was scraped by mouths that bubbled mud;
And will be so again, and yet again;
Until we trace our poison to its bud
And root, and there uproot it: until then,
Earth will be warmed each winter by man's blood.


Sonnet:

Read history: thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos--in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round and, make warm you nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face,--
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow--yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

Poems selected by Lynn Bruce