It is a huge curtain,
stretched at a distance around me.
Aimless gypsies crawl up and over the curtain.
They are my days.
They neither sing nor laugh
but hop over the top of my sadness.
Here and there one wears a gay shirt.
He is faster than the rest.
Even in my sleep with closed eyes
I cannot pierce this drapery.
Some day I will wind a child's smile around my face
and thus disguised
Slip through the curtain and jump...
Where?
Ah, yes, where?

This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Others for 1919; An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920). 

In a dark hour, tasting the Earth.

As I lay on my couch in the muffled night, and the rain lashed at my window,
And my forsaken heart would give me no rest, no pause and no peace,
Though I turned my face far from the wailing of my bereavement...
Then I said: I will eat of this sorrow to its last shred,
I will take it unto me utterly,
I will see if I be not strong enough to contain it...
What do I fear? Discomfort?
How can it hurt me, this bitterness?

The miracle, then!
Turning toward it, and giving up to it,
I found it deeper than my own self...
O dark great mother-globe so close beneath me...
It was she with her inexhaustable grief,
Ages of blood-drenched jungles, and the smoking of craters, and the roar of tempests,
And moan of the forsaken seas,
It was she with the hills beginning to walk in the shapes of the dark-hearted animals,
It was she risen, dashing away tears and praying to dumb skies, in the pomp-crumbling tragedy of man...
It was she, container of all griefs, and the buried dust of broken hearts,
Cry of the christs and the lovers and the child-stripped mothers,
And ambition gone down to defeat, and the battle overborne,
And the dreams that have no waking...

My heart became her ancient heart:
On the food of the strong I fed, on dark strange life itself:
Wisdom-giving and sombre with the unremitting love of ages...

There was dank soil in my mouth,
And bitter sea on my lips,
In a dark hour, tasting the Earth.

This poem is in the public domain

Farewell, sweetheart, and again farewell;
To day we part, and who can tell
     If we shall e’er again
Meet, and with clasped hands
Renew our vows of love, and forget
     The sad, dull pain.

Dear heart, ’tis bitter thus to lose thee
And think mayhap, you will forget me;
     And yet, I thrill
As I remember long and happy days
Fraught with sweet love and pleasant memories
     That linger still

You go to loved ones who will smile
And clasp you in their arms, and all the while
     I stay and moan
For you, my love, my heart and strive
To gather up life’s dull, gray thread
     And walk alone.

Aye, with you love the red and gold
Goes from my life, and leaves it cold
     And dull and bare,
Why should I strive to live and learn
And smile and jest, and daily try
     You from my heart to tare?

Nay, sweetheart, rather would I lie
Me down, and sleep for aye; or fly
      To regions far
Where cruel Fate is not and lovers live
Nor feel the grim, cold hand of Destiny
      Their way to bar.

I murmur not, dear love, I only say
Again farewell. God bless the day
      On which we met,
And bless you too, my love, and be with you
In sorrow or in happiness, nor let you
      E’er me forget.
 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I cannot sing, because when a child, 
   My mother often hushed me. 
The others she allowed to sing, 
   No matter what their melody. 

And since I’ve grown to manhood
   All music I applaud, 
But have no voice for singing, 
   So I write my songs to God. 

I have ears and know the measures, 
   And I’ll write a song for you, 
But the world must do the singing 
   Of my sonnets old and new. 

Now tell me, world of music, 
   Why I cannot sing one song? 
Is it because my mother hushed me
   And laughed when I was wrong?

Although I can write music, 
   And tell when harmony’s right, 
I will never sing better than when 
   My song was hushed one night. 

Fond mothers, always be careful; 
   Let the songs be poorly sung. 
To hush the child is cruel; 
   Let it sing while it is young. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Though I was dwelling in a prison house, 
My soul was wandering by the carefree stream
Through fields of green with gold eyed daisies strewn, 
And daffodils and sunflower cavaliers. 
And near me played a little browneyed child, 
A winsome creature God alone conceived, 
“Oh, little friend,” I begged. “Give me a flower
That I might bear it to my lonely cell.” 
He plucked a dandelion, an ugly bloom, 
But tenderly he placed it in my hand, 
And in his eyes I saw the sign of love. 
‘Twas then the dandelion became a rose. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

Before the ice is in the pools,
      Before the skaters go,
Or any cheek at nightfall
      Is tarnished by the snow,

Before the fields have finished,
      Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
      Will arrive to me!

What we touch the hems of
      On a summer’s day;
What is only walking
      Just a bridge away;

That which sings so, speaks so,
      When there’s no one here,—
Will the frock I wept in
      Answer me to wear?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets. 

The day is done, and the darkness
   Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
   From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
   Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
   That my soul cannot resist:
  
A feeling of sadness and longing,
   That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
   As the mist resembles the rain.
  
Come, read to me some poem,
   Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
   And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
   Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
   Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
   Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
   And to-night I long for rest.
  
Read from some humbler poet,
   Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
   Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
   And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
   Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
   The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
   That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
   The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
   The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
   And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
   And as silently steal away.

This poem is in the public domain.

In Memory of Frederick Douglass 

In mem’ry of your truly noble life;
        In mem’ry of the cause for which you fought; 
In mem’ry of your fierce and bitter strife;
        In mem’ry of the lasting good you wrought; 

In mem’ry of the talents, really great, 
       That found a home within your massive brains
And swayed the thousands of each town and State
        Who heard your forceful oratory strains;

I offer now these simple words of praise—
      This chord I touch to sound your honor’s due—
The pathway of your truly useful days
    Shines now a grand and brilliant light for you. 

 

This poem is in the public domain. 

Always the same, when on a fated night
At last the gathered snow lets down as white
As may be in dark woods, and with a song
It shall not make again all winter long
Of hissing on the yet uncovered ground,
I almost stumble looking up and round,
As one who overtaken by the end
Gives up his errand, and lets death descend
Upon him where he is, with nothing done
To evil, no important triumph won,
More than if life had never been begun.

Yet all the precedent is on my side:
I know that winter death has never tried
The earth but it has failed: the snow may heap
In long storms an undrifted four feet deep
As measured against maple, birch, and oak,
It cannot check the peeper’s silver croak;
And I shall see the snow all go down hill
In water of a slender April rill
That flashes tail through last year’s withered brake
And dead weeds, like a disappearing snake.
Nothing will be left white but here a birch,
And there a clump of houses with a church.

This poem is in the public domain.

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Oh let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air
Breathe o’er each burning vein.

I long once more to see
My home among the distant hills,
To breathe amid the melody
Of murmering brooks and rills.

My home is where eternal snow
Round threat’ning craters sleep,
Where streamlets murmer soft and low
And playful cascades leap.

Tis where glad scenes shall meet
My weary, longing eye;
Where rocks and Alpine forests greet
The bright cerulean sky.

Your scenes are bright I know,
But there my mother pray’d,
Her cot is lowly, but I go
To die beneath its shade.

For, Oh I know she’ll cling
‘Round me her treasur’d long,
My sisters too will sing
Each lov’d familiar song.

They’ll soothe my fever’d brow,
As in departed hours,
And spread around my dying couch
The brightest, fairest flowers.

Then let me go I’m weary here
And fevers scorch my brain,
I long to feel my native air,
Breathe o’er each burning vein.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Why does the thin grey strand
Floating up from the forgotten
Cigarette between my fingers,
Why does it trouble me?

Ah, you will understand;
When I carried my mother downstairs,
A few times only, at the beginning
Of her soft-foot malady,

I should find, for a reprimand
To my gaiety, a few long grey hairs
On the breast of my coat; and one by one
I let them float up the dark chimney.

This poem is in the public doman. 

O Rose, thou art sick:
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

This poem is in the public domain.

CHILD.
O Mother, lay your hand on my brow!
O mother, mother, where am I now?
Why is the room so gaunt and great? 
Why am I lying awake so late?

MOTHER.
Fear not at all: the night is still.
Nothing is here that means you ill -
Nothing but lamps the whole town through,
And never a child awake but you.

CHILD.
Mother, mother, speak low in my ear,
Some of the things are so great and near,
Some are so small and far away,
I have a fear that I cannot say,
What have I done, and what do I fear,
And why are you crying, mother dear?

MOTHER.
Out in the city, sounds begin
Thank the kind God, the carts come in!
An hour or two more, and God is so kind,
The day shall be blue in the window-blind,
Then shall my child go sweetly asleep,
And dream of the birds and the hills of sheep.

This poem is in the public domain.

Like crawling black monsters
the big clouds tap at my window,
their shooting liquid fingers slide
over the staring panes
and merge on the red wall.
Some of the fingers pull at the hinges
and whisper insistently: “Let us come in,
the cruel wind whips and drives us
till we are sore and in despair.”
But I cannot harbor the big crawling black clouds,
I cannot save them from the angry wind.
In a tiny crevice of my aching heart
there is a big storm brewing
and loud clamour and constant prayer
for the reflection of snow-capped mountains
on a distant lake.
Tires and dazed I sit on a bear skin
and timidly listen to the concert of storms.

This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Others for 1919; An Anthology of the New Verse (Nicholas L. Brown, 1920). 

                     1.
We are marching, truly marching 
   Can’t you hear the sound of feet? 
We are fearing no impediment 
   We have never known defeat. 

                     2. 
Like Job of old we have had patience, 
  Like Joshua, dangerous roads we’ve trod 
Like Solomon we have built out temples. 
   Like Abraham we’ve had faith in God. 

                     3. 
Up the streets of wealth and commerce, 
   We are marching one by one
We are marching, making history, 
  For ourselves and those to come. 

                     4. 
We have planted schools and churches,
   We have answered duty’s call. 
We have marched from slavery’s cabin 
   To the legislative hall. 

                     5. 
Brethren can’t you catch the spirit? 
  You who are out just get in line
Because we are marching, yes we are marching 
   To the music of the time. 

                     6.
We are marching, steady marching 
   Bridging chasms, crossing streams 
Marching up the hill of progress 
  Realizing our fondest dreams. 

                       7. 
We are marching, truly marching 
   Can’t you hear the sound of feet? 
We are fearing no impediment
   We shall never know defeat. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

We have flowed out of ourselves	
Beginning on the outside	
That shrivvable skin	
Where you leave off	
 
Of infinite elastic	        
Walking the ceiling	
Our eyelashes polish stars	
 
Curled close in the youngest corpuscle	
Of a descendant	
We spit up our passions in our grand-dams	        
 
Fixing the extension of your reactions	
Our shadow lengthens	
In your fear	

You are so old	
Born in our immortality	        
Stuck fast as Life	
In one impalpable	
Omniprevalent Dimension	
 
We are turned inside out	
Your cities lie digesting in our stomachs	        
Street lights footle in our ocular darkness	
 
Having swallowed your irate hungers	
Satisfied before bread-breaking	
To your dissolution	
We splinter into Wholes	        
Stirring the remorses of your tomorrow	
Among the refuse of your unborn centuries	
In our busy ashbins	
Stink the melodies	
Of your	        
So easily reducible	
Adolescences	
 
Our tissue is of that which escapes you	
Birth-Breaths and orgasms	
The shattering tremor of the static	        
The far-shore of an instant	
The unsurpassable openness of the circle	
Legerdemain of God	
 
Only in the segregated angles of Lunatic Asylums	
Do those who have strained to exceeding themselves	        
Break on our edgeless contours	
 
The mouthed echoes of what	
has exuded to our companionship	
Is horrible to the ear	
Of the half that is left inside them.

This poem is in the public domain.

Le Belgique ne regrette rien

Not with her ruined silver spires,
Not with her cities shamed and rent,
Perish the imperishable fires
That shape the homestead from the tent.

Wherever men are staunch and free,
There shall she keep her fearless state,
And homeless, to great nations be
The home of all that makes them great.

This poem is in the public domain.

With music strong I come, with my cornets and my drums,
I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer'd and slain persons.

Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.

I beat and pound for the dead,
I blow through my embouchures my loudest and gayest for them.

Vivas to those who have fail'd!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known!

This poem is in the public domain.

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;  
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:  
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run  
Or bring more or more blazon man's distress.  
And I not help. Nor word now of success:       
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—  
Work which to see scarce so much as begun  
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.  
  
Or what is else? There is your world within.  
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.   
Your will is law in that small commonweal...

This poem is in the public domain.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see 
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse. 

This poem is in the public domain.

Poor, impious Soul! that fixes its high hopes
    In the dim distance, on a throne of clouds,
And from the morning's mist would make the ropes
    To draw it up amid acclaim of crowds—
Beware! That soaring path is lined with shrouds;
    And he who braves it, though of sturdy breath,
May meet, half way, the avalanche and death!

O poor young Soul!—whose year-devouring glance
    Fixes in ecstasy upon a star,
Whose feverish brilliance looks a part of earth,
    Yet quivers where the feet of angels are,
And seems the future crown in realms afar—
    Beware! A spark thou art, and dost but see
Thine own reflection in Eternity!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten.
When we awoke, wagons were passing on the warm summer pavements,
The window-sills were wet from rain in the night,
Birds scattered and settled over chimneypots
As among grotesque trees.

Nothing was accepted, nothing looked beyond.
Slight-voiced bells separated hour from hour,
The afternoon sifted coolness
And people drew together in streets becoming deserted.
There was a moon, and light in a shop-front,
And dusk falling like precipitous water.

Hand clasped hand,
Forehead still bowed to forehead—
Nothing was lost, nothing possessed,
There was no gift nor denial.

2.

I have remembered you.
You were not the town visited once,
Nor the road falling behind running feet.

You were as awkward as flesh
And lighter than frost or ashes.

You were the rind,
And the white-juiced apple,
The song, and the words waiting for music.

3.

You have learned the beginning;
Go from mine to the other.

Be together; eat, dance, despair,
Sleep, be threatened, endure.
You will know the way of that.

But at the end, be insolent;
Be absurd—strike the thing short off;
Be mad—only do not let talk
Wear the bloom from silence.

And go away without fire or lantern.
Let there be some uncertainty about your departure.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

Love is a flame that burns with sacred fire, 
And fills the being up with sweet desire;
Yet, once the altar feels love’s fiery breath,
The heart must be a crucible till death.

Say love is life; and say it not amiss, 
That love is but a synonym for bliss.
Say what you will of love—in what refrain, 
But knows the heart, ‘tis but a word for pain.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.