Christmas is here;
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we;
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter’d about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night birds are we;
Here we carouse,
Singing, like them,
Perch’d round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit—
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short—
When we are gone,
Let them sing on,
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we’ll be!
Drink every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree.

Drain we the cup.—
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

This poem is in the public domain.

In the grey summer garden I shall find you   
With day-break and the morning hills behind you.   
There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;   
And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.   
Not from the past you'll come, but from that deep
Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep:   
And I shall know the sense of life re-born   
From dreams into the mystery of morn   
Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there   
Till that calm song is done, at last we'll share
The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are   
Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.

This poem is in the public domain.

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

This poem is in the public domain.

When I go back to earth
And all my joyous body
Puts off the red and white
That once had been so proud,

If men should pass above
With false and feeble pity,
My dust will find a voice
To answer them aloud:
“Be still, I am content,

Take back your poor compassion,
Joy was a flame in me
Too steady to destroy;
Lithe as a bending reed
Loving the storm that sways her—

I found more joy in sorrow
Than you could find in joy.”

This poem is in the public domain. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2014.

It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
but you
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?

Cedar and white ash,
rock-cedar and sand plants
and tamarisk
red cedar and white cedar
and black cedar from the inmost forest,
fragrance upon fragrance
and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

It was easy enough—
a thought called them
from the sharp edges of the earth;
they prayed for a touch,
they cried for the sight of my face,
they entreated me
till in pity
I turned each to his own self.

Panther and panther,
then a black leopard
follows close—
black panther and red
and a great hound,
a god-like beast,
cut the sand in a clear ring
and shut me from the earth,
and cover the sea-sound
with their throats,
and the sea-roar with their own barks
and bellowing and snarls,
and the sea-stars
and the swirl of the sand,
and the rock-tamarisk
and the wind resonance—
but not your voice.

It is easy enough to call men
from the edges of the earth.
It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
with a thought—
it is beautiful to see the tall panther
and the sleek deer-hounds
circle in the dark.

It is easy enough
to make cedar and white ash fumes
into palaces
and to cover the sea-caves
with ivory and onyx.

But I would give up
rock-fringes of coral
and the inmost chamber
of my island palace
and my own gifts
and the whole region
of my power and magic
for your glance.

This poem is in the public domain.

          Goaded and harassed in the factory
           That tears our life up into bits of days
           Ticked off upon a clock which never stays,
          Shredding our portion of Eternity,
          We break away at last, and steal the key
           Which hides a world empty of hours; ways
           Of space unroll, and Heaven overlays
          The leafy, sun-lit earth of Fantasy.
           Beyond the ilex shadow glares the sun,
           Scorching against the blue flame of the sky.
          Brown lily-pads lie heavy and supine
           Within a granite basin, under one
           The bronze-gold glimmer of a carp; and I
          Reach out my hand and pluck a nectarine.

This poem is in the public domain. 

          Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
           Sing me a song, O Please!
          A song of ships, and sailor men,
           And parrots, and tropical trees,

          Of islands lost in the Spanish Main
          Which no man ever may find again,
          Of fishes and corals under the waves,
          And seahorses stabled in great green caves.

          Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
          Sing of the things you know so well.

This poem is in the public domain.

“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.

This poem is in the public domain.

Love, if I weep it will not matter,
   And if you laugh I shall not care;
Foolish am I to think about it,
   But it is good to feel you there.

Love, in my sleep I dreamed of waking, —
   White and awful the moonlight reached
Over the floor, and somewhere, somewhere,
   There was a shutter loose, —it screeched!

Swung in the wind, — and no wind blowing! —
   I was afraid, and turned to you,
Put out my hand to you for comfort, —
   And you were gone!  Cold, cold as dew,

Under my hand the moonlight lay!
   Love, if you laugh I shall not care,
But if I weep it will not matter, —
   Ah, it is good to feel you there!

This poem is in the public domain.

People that build their houses inland,
   People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
   Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
   Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
   One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
   Spanking the boats at the harbour's head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
   Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
   Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
   One salt taste of the sea once more?

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. 
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, 
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; 
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. 

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; 
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, 
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; 
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, 
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold. 

We were very tired, we were very merry, 
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. 
We hailed "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head, 
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; 
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears, 
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

This poem is in the public domain.

O my songs,
Why do you look so eagerly and so curiously into people's faces,
Will you find your lost dead among them?

This poem is in the public domain.

(The fantasia of a fallen gentleman on a cold, bitter night.)

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In the flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

This poem is in the public domain.

*Tulwa Thlocco—A large settlement of people. This settlement lies on the north side of the Oktahatchee.

Thro’ the vine-embowered portal blows 
   The fragrant breath of summer-time; 
Far, the river, brightly winding, goes  
    With murmurs falling into rhyme.  
 
It is spring in Tulwa Thlocco now;  
   The fresher hue of grass and tree  
All but hides upon the mountain’s brow  
   The green haunts of the chickadee.  
 
There are drifts of plum blooms, snowy white,  
   Along the lane and greening hedge;  
And the dogwood blossoms cast a light  
    Upon the forest’s dusky edge.  
 
Crocus, earliest flower of the year,  
   Hangs out its starry petals where  
The spring beauties in their hiding peer, 
   And the red-buds crimson all the air.  

This poem is in the public domain. 

I said a thoughtless word one day,
A loved one heard and went away;
I cried: “Forgive me, I was blind;
I would not wound or be unkind.”
I waited long, but all in vain,
To win my loved one back again.
Too late, alas! to weep and pray,
Death came; my loved one passed away.
Then, what a bitter fate was mine;
No language could my grief define;
Tears of deep regret could not unsay
The thoughtless word I spoke that day.

This poem is in the public domain.

Flaming wonderer! that dost leave vaunting, proud
Ambition boasting its lightning fringed
Immensity—cleaving wings, gaudy dipp’d
In sunset’s blossoming splendors bright and
Tinsel fire, with puny flight fluttering
Far behind! Thou that art cloth’d in mistery
More startling and more glorious than thine own
Encircling fires—profound as the oceans
Of shoreless space through which now thou flyest!
Art thou some erring world now deep engulph’d
In hellish, Judgement fires, with phrenzied ire
And fury hot, like some dread sky rocket
Of Eternity, flaming, vast, plunging
Thro’ immensity, scatt’ring in thy track
The wrathful fires of thine own damnation
Or wingest thou with direful speed, the ear
Of some flaming god of far off systems
Within these skies unheard of and unknown?
Ye Gods! How proud the thought to mount this orb
Of fire—boom thro’ the breathless oceans vast
Of big immensity—quickly leaving
Far behind all that for long ages gone
Dull, gray headed dames have prated of—
Travel far off mystic eternities—
Then proudly, on this little twisting ball
Returning once more set foot, glowing with
The splendors of a vast intelligence—
Frizzling little, puny humanity
Into icy horrors—bursting the big
Wide-spread eyeball of dismay—to recount
Direful regions travers’d and wonders seen!
Why I’d be as great a man as Fremont
Who cross’d the Rocky Mountains, didn’t freeze
And’s got a gold mine!

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

Of all my verses, say that one is good,
So shalt thou give more praise than Hope might claim;
And from my poet-grave, to vex thy soul,
No ghost shall rise, whose deeds demand a name.

A thousand loves, and only one shall stand
To show us what its counterfeits should be;
The blossoms of a spring-tide, and but one
Bears the world’s fruit,—the seed of History.

A thousand rhymes shall pass, and only one
Show, crystal-shod, the Muse’s twinkling feet;
A thousand pearls the haughty Ethiop spurned
Ere one could make her luxury complete.

In goodliest places, some meanest room
The owner’s smallness shields contentedly.
Nay, further: of the manifold we are,
But one pin’s point shall pass eternity.

Exalt, then, to the greatness of the throne
One only of these beggarlings of mine;
I with the rest will dwell in modest bounds:
The chosen one shall glorify the line.

This poem is in the public domain.

I

Living is no laughing matter:
	you must live with great seriousness
		like a squirrel, for example—
   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
		I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
	you must take it seriously,
	so much so and to such a degree
   that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                            your back to the wall,
   or else in a laboratory
	in your white coat and safety glasses,
	you can die for people—
   even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
   even though you know living
	is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
   that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
   and not for your children, either,
   but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
   because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
			from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
			about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
		for the latest newscast. . . 
Let’s say we’re at the front—
	for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
	we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
        but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
        about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                        before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                                I  mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
        we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
               and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
	  I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even 
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
	  in pitch-black space . . . 
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                               if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.

 

Lovely Antiques, breathing in every line
The perfume of an age long passed away,
Wafting us back to 1829,
Museum pieces of a by-gone day,
You should not languish in the public press
Where modern thought might reach and do you harm,
And vulgar youth insult your hoariness,
Missing the flavor of your old world charm;
You should be locked, where rust cannot corrode
In some old rosewood cabinet, dimmed by age,
With silver-lustre, tortoise shell and Spode;
And all would cry, who read your yellowing page:
            “Yes, that’s the sort of thing that men believed
            Before the First Reform Bill was conceived!”

This poem is in the public domain.

With apologies to Lord Tennyson.

(“The grant of suffrage to women is repugnant to instincts that strike their roots deep in the order of nature. It runs counter to human reason, it flouts the teachings of experience and the admonitions of common sense.”—N.Y. Times, Feb. 7, 1915.)

Oh, that ‘twere possible
   After those words inane
For me to read The Times
   Ever again!

When I was wont to read it
   In the early morning hours,
In a mood ‘twixt wrath and mirth,
   I exclaimed: “Alas, Ye Powers,
These ideas are fainter, quainter
   Than anything on earth!”

A paper’s laid before me.
   Not thou, not like to thee.
Dear me, if it were possible
   The Times should ever see
How very far the times have moved
   (Spelt with a little “t”). 

This poem is in the public domain. 

(“I hate a woman who is not a mystery to herself, as well as to me.”—The Phoenix.)

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery
            Known to the world as a Woman of Charm,
Take all the conspicuous ladies of history,
            Mix them all up without doing them harm.
The beauty of Helen, the warmth of Cleopatra,
            Salome’s notorious skill in the dance,
The dusky allure of the belles of Sumatra
            The fashion and finish of ladies from France.
The youth of Susanna, beloved by an elder,
            The wit of a Chambers’ incomparable minx,
The conjugal views of the patient Griselda,
            The fire of Sappho, the calm of the Sphinx,
The eyes of La Vallière, the voice of Cordelia,
The musical gifts of the sainted Cecelia,
Trillby and Carmen and Ruth and Ophelia,
Madame de Staël and the matron Cornelia,
Iseult, Hypatia and naughty Nell Gwynn,
Una, Titania and Elinor Glyn.
            Take of these elements all that is fusible,
            Melt ‘em all down in a pipkin or crucible,
            Set ‘em to simmer and take off the scum,
            And a Woman of Charm is the residuum!
                        (Slightly adapted from W.S. Gilbert.)

This poem is in the public domain. 

(“No brass bands. No speeches. Instead a still, silent, effective influence.”—Anti-suffrage speech.)

We are waging—can you doubt it?
   A campaign so calm and still
No one knows a thing about it
   And we hope they never will.
          No one knows
          What we oppose,
   And we hope they never will.

We are ladylike and quiet,
   Here a whisper—there a hint;
Never speeches, bands or riot,
   Nothing suitable for print.
          No one knows
          What we oppose,
   For we never speak for print.

Sometimes in profound seclusion,
   In some far (but homelike) spot,
We will make a dark allusion:
   “We’re opposed to you-know-what.”
          No one knows
          What we oppose,
For we call it “You-Know-What.”

This poem is in the public domain. 

(The law compels a married woman to take the nationality of her husband.)

I.

In Time of War

Help us. Your country needs you;
   Show that you love her,
Give her your men to fight,
   Ay, even to fall;
The fair, free land of your birth,
   Set nothing above her,
Not husband nor son,
   She must come first of all.

II.

In Time of Peace

What’s this? You’ve wed an alien,
   Yet you ask for legislation
To guard your nationality?
   We’re shocked at your demand.
A woman when she marries
   Takes her husband’s name and nation:
She should love her husband only.
   What’s a woman’s native land?
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

(“Three bills known as the Thompson-Bewley cannery bills have been advanced to third reading in the Senate and Assembly at Albany. One permits the canners to work their employés seven days a week, a second allows them to work women after 9 p.m. and a third removes every restriction upon the hours of labor of women and minors.”—Zenas L. Potter, former chief cannery investigator for New York State Factory Investigating Commission.)

Let us not to an unrestricted day
Impediments admit. Work is not work
To our employés, but a merry play;
They do not ask the law’s excuse to shirk.
Ah, no, the canning season is at hand,
When summer scents are on the air distilled,
When golden fruits are ripening in the land,
And silvery tins are gaping to be filled.
Now to the cannery with jocund mien
Before the dawn come women, girls and boys,
Whose weekly hours (a hundred and nineteen)
Seem all too short for their industrious joys.
If this be error and be proved, alas
The Thompson-Bewley bills may fail to pass!

This poem is in the public domain.

(“Every true woman feels——”—Speech of almost any Congressman.)

I am old-fashioned, and I think it right
   That man should know, by Nature’s laws eternal,
The proper way to rule, to earn, to fight,
   And exercise those functions called paternal;
But even I a little bit rebel
At finding that he knows my job as well.

At least he’s always ready to expound it,
   Especially in legislative hall,
The joys, the cares, the halos that surround it,
   “How women feel”—he knows that best of all.
In fact his thesis is that no one can
Know what is womanly except a man.

I am old-fashioned, and I am content
   When he explains the world of art and science
And government—to him divinely sent—
   I drink it in with ladylike compliance.
But cannot listen—no, I’m only human—
While he instructs me how to be a woman.

This poem is in the public domain.

(“The women of this smart capital are beautiful. Their beauty is disturbing to business; their feet are beautiful, their ankles are beautiful, but here I must pause.”—Mr. Bowdle’s anti-suffrage speech in Congress, January 12, 1915.)

You, who despise the so-called fairer sex,
    Be brave.    There really isn’t any reason
You should not, if you wish, oppose and vex
    And scold us in, and even out of season;
But don’t regard it as your bounden duty
To open with a tribute to our beauty.

Say if you like that women have no sense,
    No self-control, no power of concentration;
Say that hysterics is our one defence
    Our virtue but an absence of temptation;
These I can bear, but, oh, I own it rankles
To hear you maundering on about our ankles.

Tell those old stories, which have now and then
    Been from the Record thoughtfully deleted,
Repeat that favorite one about the hen,
    Repeat the ones that cannot be repeated;
But in the midst of such enjoymens, smother
The impulse to extol your “sainted mother.”

This poem is in the public domain.

I buried you deeper last night
You with your tears
And your tangled hair
You with your lips
That kissed so fair
I buried you deeper last night.

I buried you deeper last night
With fuller breasts
And stronger arms
With softer lips
And newer charms
I buried you deeper last night.

Deeper . . . . . . aye, deeper
And again tonight
Till that gay spirit
That once was you
Will tear its soul
In climbing through . . .
Deeper . . . . . . aye, deeper
I buried you deeper last night.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

It is fitting that you be here
Little brown boys
With Christ-like eyes
And curling hair.

Look you on yon crucifix
Where He hangs nailed and pierced
With head hung low
And eyes a’blind with blood that drips
From a thorny crown . . .
Look you well,
You shall know this thing.

Judas’ kiss will burn your cheek
And you shall be denied
By your Peter—
And Gethsemane . . .
You shall know full well
Gethsemane . . .

You, too, will suffer under Pontius Pilate
And feel the rugged cut of rough hewn cross
Upon your surging shoulder—
They will spit in your face
And laugh . . .
They will nail you up twixt thieves
And gamble for your little garments.

And in this you will exceed God
For on this earth
You shall know Hell—

O little brown boys
With Christ-like eyes
And curling hair
It is fitting that you be here.

 

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.”

For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

           Frisch weht der Wind
           Der Heimat zu,            
           Mein Irisch Kind,
           Wo weilest du?

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Öd’ und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

 

II. A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished thone,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed.
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Clawed into words, then would be savagely still.

“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is the noise?”
                                 The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
                                        Nothing again nothing.
                                                              “Do
“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
“Nothing?”
                    I remember
                                        Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”
                                                            But
O  O  O  O  that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
                                    The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said—
I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there's others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said,
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be alright, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

 

III. The Fire Sermon

The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix denfants, chantant dans la coupole!

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.
Tereu

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire,
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

“This music crept by me upon the waters”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City City, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
Wide
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
                       Weialala leia
                       Wallala leialala
Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
                       Weialala leia
                       Wallala leialala

“Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”

“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised ‘a new start.’
I made no comment. What should I resent?”

“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing.”
                       la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

burning

 

IV. Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
                                       A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
                                       Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

 

V. What the Thunder Said

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
                                              If there were water
      And no rock
      If there were rock
      And also water
      And water
      A spring
      A pool among the rock
      If there were the sound of water only
      Not the cicada
      And dry grass singing
      But sound of water over a rock
      Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
      Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
      But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that one on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home,
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
DA
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
DA
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
DA
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

                                    I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
em>Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince dAquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

          Shantih     shantih     shantih

 


Notes

Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston’s book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.

 

I. The Burial of the Dead

Line 20. Cf. Ezekiel II, i.
23. Cf. Ecclesiastes XII, v.
31. V. Tristan und Isolde, I, verses 5–8.
42. Id. III, verse 24.
46. I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples of Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the “crowds of people,” and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself.
60. Cf. Baudelaire:

“Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves
“Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.”

63. Cf. Inferno III, 55–57:

                          “si lunga tratta
“di gente, ch’io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”

64. Cf. Inferno IV, 25–27:

“Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
“non avea pianto ma’ che de sospiri,
“che l’aura eterna facevan tremare.”

68. A phenomenon which I have often noticed.
74. Cf. The Dirge in Webster’s White Devil.
76. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.

 

II. A Game of Chess

77. Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II, ii, I. 190.
92. Laquearia. V. Aeneid, I, 726:

                          “dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et noctem flammis funalia vincunt.”

98. Sylvan scene. V. Milton, Paradise Lost, IV, 140.
99. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, Philomela.
100. Cf. Part III 1. 204.
115. Cf. Part III 1. 195.
118. Cf. Webster: “Is the wind in that door still?”
126. Cf. Part I, ll. 37, 48.
138. Cf. the game of chess in Middleton’s Women Beware Women.

 

III. The Fire Sermon

176. V. Spenser, Prothalamion.
192. Cf. The Tempest, I, ii.
196. Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.
197. Cf. Day, Parliament of Bees:

“When of the sudden, listening, you shall hear,
“A noise of horns and hunting, which shall bring
“Actaeon to Diana in the spring,
“Where all shall see her naked skin. . .”

199. I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines are taken; it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia.
202. V. Verlaine, “Parsifal.”
210. The currants were quoted at a price “carriage and insurance free to London”; and the Bill of Lading etc. were to be handed to the buyer upon payment of the sight draft.
218. Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a “character,” is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. The whole passage from Ovid is of great anthropological interest:

. . . Cum Iunone iocos et “maior vestra profecto est
Quam, quae contingit maribus,” dixisse, “voluptas.”
Illa negat; placuit quae sit sententia docti
Quaerere Tiresiae: venus huic erat utraque nota.
Nam duo magnorum viridi coeuntia silva
Corpora serpentum baculi violaverat ictu
Deque viro factus, mirabile, femina septem
Egerat autumnos; octavo rursus eosdem
Vidit et “est vestrae si tanta potentia plagae,”
Dixit “ut auctoris sortem in contraria mutet,
Nunc quoque vos feriam!” percussis anguibus isdem
Forma prior rediit genetivaque venit imago.
Arbiter hic igitur sumptus de lite iocosa
Dicta Iovis firmat; gravius Saturnia iusto
Nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique
Iudicis aeterna damnavit lumina nocte,
At pater omnipotens (neque enim licet inrita cuiquam
Facta dei fecisse deo) pro lumine adempto
Scire future dedit poenamque levavit honore.

221. This may not appear as exact as Sappho’s lines, but I had in mind the “longshore” or “dory” fisherman, who returns at nightfall.
253. V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield.
257. V. The Tempest, as above.
264. The interior of St. Magnus Martyr is to my mind one of the finest among Wren’s interiors. See The Proposed Demolition of Nineteen City Churches: (P.S. King & Son Ltd.).
266. The Song of the (three) Thames-daughters begins here. From line 292 to 306 inclusive they speak in turn. V. Götterdämmerung, III, i: the Rhine-daughters.
279. V. Froude, Elizabeth Vol. I, ch. iv, letter of De Quadra to Philip of Spain: “In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river. (The queen) was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop, when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far that Lord Robert at last said, as I was on the spot there was no reason why they should not be married if the queen pleased.”
293. Cf. Purgatorio, V. 133:

“Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
“Siena mi fe’, disfecemi Maremma.”

307. V. St. Augustine’s Confessions: “to Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears.”
308. The complete text of the Buddha’s Fire Sermon (which corresponds in importance to the Sermon on the Mount) from which these words are taken, will be found translated in the late Henry Clarke Warren’s Buddhism in Translation (Harvard Oriental Series). Mr. Warren was one of the great pioneers of Buddhist studies in the occident.
312. From St. Augustine’s Confessions again. The collocation of these two representatives of eastern and western asceticism, as the culmination of this part of the poem, is not an accident.

 

V. What the Thunder Said

In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston’s book) and the present decay of eastern Europe.

357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec Country. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America) “it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats. . . . Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequaled.” Its “water-dripping song” is justly celebrated.
360. The following lines were stimulated by the account of one of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one of Shackleton’s): it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted.
366-76. Cf. Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos: “Schon ist halb Europa, schon ist zumindest der halbe Osten Europas auf dem Wege zum Chaos, fährt betrunken im heiligem Wahn am Abgrund entlang und singt dazu, singt betrunken und hymnisch wie Dmitri Karamasoff sang. Ueber diese Lieder lacht der Bürger beleidigt, der Heilige und Seher hört sie mit Tränen.”
401. “Datta, dayadhvam, damyata” (Give, sympathise, control). The fable of the meaning of the Thunder is found in the BrihadaranyakaUpanishad, 5, I. A translation is found in Deussen’s Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, p. 489.
407. Cf. Webster, The White Devil, V. vi:

                          “. . . they’ll remarry
“Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.”

411. Cf. Inferno, XXXIII, 46:

“ed io seniti chiavar l’uscio di sotto
all’orribile torre.”

Also F. H, Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 346.
“My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it. . . . In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.”
424. V. Weston: From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King.
427. V. Purgatorio, XXVI, 148.

“‘Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
‘que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
‘sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.’
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.”

428. V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.
429. V. Gérard de Nerval, Sonnet “El Desdichado.”
431. V. Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy.
433. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. “The Peace which passeth understanding” is a feeble transition of the content of this word.

From The Waste Land (Boni & Liveright, 1922) by T.S. Eliot. This poem is in the public domain.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves 
And Immortality.

We slowly droveHe knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recessin the Ring
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain
We passed the Setting Sun

Or ratherHe passed us
The Dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my Gown
My Tippetonly Tulle

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground
The Roof was scarcely visible
The Cornicein the Ground

Since then’tis Centuriesand yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

I am the Dark Cavalier; I am the Last Lover:
My arms shall welcome you when other arms are tired;
I stand to wait for you, patient in the darkness,
Offering forgetfulness of all that you desired.

I ask no merriment, no pretense of gladness,
I can love heavy lids and lips without their rose;
Though you are sorrowful you will not weary me;
I will not go from you when all the tired world goes.

I am the Dark Cavalier; I am the Last Lover;
I promise faithfulness no other lips may keep;
Safe in my bridal place, comforted by darkness,
You shall lie happily, smiling in your sleep.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ghosts of all my lovely sins,
     Who attend too well my pillow,
Gay the wanton rain begins;
     Hide the limp and tearful willow.

Turn aside your eyes and ears,
     Trail away your robes of sorrow,
You shall have my further years,—
     You shall walk with me tomorrow.

I am sister to the rain;
     Fey and sudden and unholy,
Petulant at the windowpane,
     Quickly lost, remembered slowly.

I have lived with shades, a shade;
     I am hung with graveyard flowers.
Let me be tonight arrayed
     In the silver of the showers.

Every fragile thing shall rust;
     When another April passes
I may be a furry dust,
     Sifting through the brittle grasses.

All sweet sins shall be forgot;
     Who will live to tell their siring?
Hear me now, nor let me rot
     Wistful still, and still aspiring.

Ghosts of dear temptations, heed;
     I am frail, be you forgiving.
See you not that I have need
     To be living with the living?

Sail, tonight, the Styx’s breast;
     Glide among the dim processions
Of the exquisite unblest,
     Spirits of my shared transgressions. 

Roam with young Persephone,
     Plucking poppies for your slumber …
With the morrow, there shall be
     One more wraith among your number.

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

Here in my heart I am Helen;
     I'm Aspasia and Hero, at least.
I'm Judith, and Jael, and Madame de Staël;
     I'm Salomé, moon of the East.

Here in my soul I am Sappho;
     Lady Hamilton am I, as well.
In me Récamier vies with Kitty O'Shea,
     With Dido, and Eve, and poor Nell.

I'm one of the glamorous ladies
     At whose beckoning history shook.
But you are a man, and see only my pan,
     So I stay home with a book.

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

They hurried here, as soon as you had died, 
Their faces damp with haste and sympathy, 
And pressed my hand in theirs, and smoothed my knee, 
And clicked their tongues, and watched me, mournful-eyed. 
Gently they told me of that Other Side—
How, even then, you waited there for me, 
And what ecstatic meeting ours would be. 
Moved by the lovely tale, they broke, and cried. 

And when I smiled, they told me I was brave, 
And they rejoiced that I was comforted, 
And left, to tell of all the help they gave. 
But I had smiled to think how you, the dead, 
So curiously preoccupied and grave, 
Would laugh, could you have heard the things they said. 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

I know I have been happiest at your side; 
But what is done, is done, and all’s to be. 
And small the good, to linger dolefully,—
Gaily it lived, and gallantly it died.
I will not make you songs of hearts denied, 
And you, being man, would have no tears of me, 
And should I offer you fidelity, 
You’d be, I think, a little terrified. 

Yet this the need of woman, this her curse:
To range her little gifts, and give, and give, 
Because the throb of giving’s sweet to bear. 
To you, who never begged me vows or verse, 
My gift shall be my absence, while I live; 
But after that, my dear, I cannot swear. 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

When my eyes are weeds, 
And my lips are petals, spinning 
Down the wind that has beginning 
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds; 
When my arms are elder-bushes, 
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart; 

Summer, do your worst!
Light your tinsel moon, and call on 
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky; 
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern, 
With her dusty laces’ pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by. 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

If I should labor through daylight and dark,
     Consecrate, valorous, serious, true, 
Then on the world I may blazon my mark;
     And what if I don't, and what if I do?

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

IN April, in April,
   My one love came along,
And I ran the slope of my high hill
To follow a thread of song.

His eyes were hard as porphyry
With looking on cruel lands;
His voice went slipping over me
Like terrible silver hands.

Together we trod the secret lane
And walked the muttering town.
I wore my heart like a wet, red stain
On the breast of a velvet gown.

In April, in April,
My love went whistling by,
And I stumbled here to my high hill
Along the way of a lie.

Now what should I do in this place
But sit and count the chimes,
And splash cold water on my face
And spoil a page with rhymes. 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

ONCE, when I was young and true,
        Someone left me sad—
Broke my brittle heart in two;
     And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
     Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
     And that, I think, is worse.
 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

DEATH’S the lover that I’d be taking;
      Wild and fickle and fierce is he.
Small’s his care if my heart be breaking—
   Gay young Death would have none of me.

Hear them clack of my haste to greet him!
   No one other my mouth had kissed.
I had dressed me in silk to meet him—
   False young Death would not hold the tryst.

Slow’s the blood that was quick and stormy,
   Smooth and cold is the bridal bed;
I must wait till he whistles for me—
   Proud young Death would not turn his head.

I must wait till my breast is wilted,
   I must wait till my back is bowed,
I must rock in the corner, jilted,—
   Death went galloping down the road.

Gone’s my heart with a trifling rover.
    Fine he was in the game he played—
Kissed, and promised, and threw me over,
    And rode away with a prettier maid.
 
 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

THEY laid their hands upon my head,
They stroked my cheek and brow;
And time could heal a hurt, they said,
And time could dim a vow.

And they were pitiful and mild
Who whispered to me then,
“The heart that breaks in April, child,
Will mend in May again.”

Oh, many a mended heart they knew,
So old they were, and wise.
And little did they have to do
To come to me with lies!

Who flings me silly talk of May
Shall meet a bitter soul;
For June was nearly spent away
Before my heart was whole.
 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

LILACS blossom just as sweet
Now my heart is shattered.
If I bowled it down the street,
Who’s to say it mattered?
If there’s one that rode away
What would I be missing?
Lips that taste of tears, they say,
Are the best for kissing.

Eyes that watch the morning star
Seem a little brighter;
Arms held out to darkness are
Usually whiter.
Shall I bar the strolling guest,
Bind my brow with willow,
When, they say, the empty breast
Is softer than the pillow?

That a heart falls tinkling down,
Never think it ceases.
Every likely lad in town
Gathers up the pieces.
If there’s one gone whistling by
Would I let it grieve me?
Let him wonder if I lie;
Let him half believe me.

 

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

Secrets, you said, would hold us two apart;
    You’d have me know of you your least transgression
And so the intimate places of your heart,
    Kneeling, you bared to me, as in confession.
Softly you told of loves that went before,
    Of clinging arms, of kisses gladly given;
Luxuriously clean of heart once more,
    You rose up, then, and stood before me, shriven.

When this, my day of happiness, is through,
    And love, that bloomed so fair, turns brown and brittle,
There is a thing that I shall ask of you
    I, who have given so much, and asked so little.
Some day, when there’s another in my stead;
    Again you’ll feel the need of absolution,
And you will go to her, and bow your head,
    And offer her your past, as contribution.

When with your list of loves you overcome her,
For Heaven’s sake, keep this one secret from her!

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

Consider a lady gone reckless in love,
     In novels and plays:
You watch her proceed in a drapery of
     A roseate haze.
Acclaimed as a riot, a wow, and a scream,
She flies with her beau to les Alpes Maritimes,
And moves in a mist of a mutual dream
     The rest of her days.

In life, if you’ll listen to one who has been
     Observant of such,
A lady in love is more frequently in
     Decidedly Dutch.
The thorn, so to say, is revealed by the rose.
The best that she gets is a sock in the nose.
These authors and playwrights, I’m forced to suppose,
     Don’t get around much.

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

THERE’S a place I know where the birds swing low,
       And wayward vines go roaming,
Where the lilacs nod, and a marble god
    Is pale, in scented gloaming.
And at sunset there comes a lady fair
    Whose eyes are deep with yearning.
By an old, old gate does the lady wait
    Her own true love’s returning.

But the days go by, and the lilacs die,
    And trembling birds seek cover;
Yet the lady stands, with her long white hands
    Held out to greet her lover.
And it’s there she’ll stay till the shadowy day
    A monument they grave her.
She will always wait by the same old gate,––
    The gate her true love gave her.

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

DAILY dawns another day;
I must up, to make my way.
Though I dress and drink and eat,
Move my fingers and my feet,
Learn a little, here and there,
Weep and laugh and sweat and swear,
Hear a song, or watch a stage,
Leave some words upon a page,
Claim a foe, or hail a friend––
Bed awaits me at the end.

Though I go in pride and strength,
I’ll come back to bed at length.
Though I walk in blinded woe,
Back to bed I’m bound to go.
High my heart, or bowed my head,
All my days but lead to bed.
Up, and out, and on; and then
Ever back to bed again,
Summer, Winter, Spring, and Fall––
I’m a fool to rise at all!

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

HE’D have given me rolling lands,
       Houses of marble, and billowing farms,
Pearls, to trickle between my hands,
   Smoldering rubies, to circle my arms.
You––you’d only a lilting song,
   Only a melody, happy and high,
You were sudden and swift and strong,––
   Never a thought for another had I.

He’d have given me laces rare,
   Dresses that glimmered with frosty sheen,
Shining ribbons to wrap my hair,
   Horses to draw me, as fine as a queen.
You––you’d only to whistle low,
   Gaily I followed wherever you led.
I took you, and I let him go,––
   Somebody ought to examine my head!

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

(AND SCARCELY WORTH THE TROUBLE, AT THAT)

THE same to me are sombre days and gay.
      Though joyous dawns the rosy morn, and bright,
Because my dearest love is gone away
    Within my heart is melancholy night.

My heart beats low in loneliness, despite
    That riotous Summer holds the earth in sway.
In cerements my spirit is bedight;
    The same to me are sombre days and gay.

Though breezes in the rippling grasses play,
    And waves dash high and far in glorious might,
I thrill no longer to the sparkling day,
    Though joyous dawns the rosy morn, and bright.

Ungraceful seems to me the swallow’s flight;
    As well might Heaven’s blue be sullen gray;
My soul discerns no beauty in their sight
    Because my dearest love is gone away.

Let roses fling afar their crimson spray,
    And virgin daisies splash the fields with white,
Let bloom the poppy hotly as it may,
    Within my heart is melancholy night.

And this, oh love, my pitiable plight
    Whenever from my circling arms you stray;
This little world of mine has lost its light. . . .
    I hope to God, my dear, that you can say
                                                    The same to me.

From Enough Rope (Boni & Liveright, 1926) by Dorothy Parker. This poem is in the public domain.

We shall have our little day.
Take my hand and travel still
Round and round the little way,
Up and down the little hill.

It is good to love again;
Scan the renovated skies,
Dip and drive the idling pen,
Sweetly tint the paling lies.

Trace the dripping, piercèd heart,
Speak the fair, insistent verse,
Vow to God, and slip apart,
Little better, little worse.

Would we need not know before
How shall end this prettiness;
One of us must love the more,
One of us shall love the less.

Thus it is, and so it goes;
We shall have our day, my dear.
Where, unwilling, dies the rose
Buds the new, another year.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I hate Parties;
They bring out the worst in me.

There is the Novelty Affair,
Given by the woman
Who is awfully clever at that sort of thing.
Everybody must come in fancy dress;
They are always eleven Old-Fashioned Girls,
And fourteen Hawaiian gentlemen
Wearing the native costume
Of last season's tennis clothes, with a wreath around the neck.

The hostess introduces a series of clean, home games:
Each participant is given a fair chance
To guess the number of seeds in a cucumber,
Or thread a needle against time,
Or see how many names of wild flowers he knows.
Ice cream in trick formations,
And punch like Volstead used to make
Buoy up the players after the mental strain.
You have to tell the hostess that it's a riot,
And she says she'll just die if you don't come to her next party—
If only a guarantee went with that!

Then there is the Bridge Festival.
The winner is awarded an arts-and-crafts hearth-brush,
And all the rest get garlands of hothouse raspberries.
You cut for partners
And draw the man who wrote the game.
He won't let bygones be bygones;
After each hand
He starts getting personal about your motives in leading clubs,
And one word frequently leads to another.

At the next table
You have one of those partners
Who says it is nothing but a game, after all.
He trumps your ace
And tries to laugh it off.
And yet they shoot men like Elwell.

There is the Day in the Country;
It seems more like a week.
All the contestants are wedged into automobiles,
And you are allotted the space between two ladies
Who close in on you.
The party gets a nice early start,
Because everybody wants to make a long day of it—
They get their wish.
Everyone contributes a basket of lunch;
Each person has it all figured out
That no one else will think of bringing hard-boiled eggs.

There is intensive picking of dogwood,
And no one is quite sure what poison ivy is like;
They find out the next day.
Things start off with a rush.
Everybody joins in the old songs,
And points out cloud effects,
And puts in a good word for the colour of the grass.

But after the first fifty miles,
Nature doesn't go over so big,
And singing belongs to the lost arts.
There is a slight spurt on the homestretch,
And everyone exclaims over how beautiful the lights of the city look—
I'll say they do.

And there is the informal little Dinner Party;
The lowest form of taking nourishment.
The man on your left draws diagrams with a fork,
Illustrating the way he is going to have a new sun-parlour built on;
And the one on your right
Explains how soon business conditions will better, and why.

When the more material part of the evening is over,
You have your choice of listening to the Harry Lauder records,
Or having the hostess hem you in
And show you the snapshots of the baby they took last summer.

Just before you break away,
You mutter something to the host and hostess
About sometime soon you must have them over—
Over your dead body.

I hate Parties;
They bring out the worst in me.

 This poem is in the public domain.

Only name the day, and we'll fly away
	In the face of old traditions,
To a sheltered spot, by the world forgot,
	Where we'll park our inhibitions.
Come and gaze in eyes where the lovelight lies
	As it psychoanalyzes,
And when once you glean what your fantasies mean
	Life will hold no more surprises.
When you've told your love what you're thinking of
	Things will be much more informal;
Through a sunlit land we'll go hand-in-hand,
	Drifting gently back to normal.

While the pale moon gleams, we will dream sweet dreams,
	And I'll win your admiration,
For it's only fair to admit I'm there
	With a mean interpretation.
In the sunrise glow we will whisper low
	Of the scenes our dreams have painted,
And when you're advised what they symbolized
	We'll begin to feel acquainted.
So we'll gaily float in a slumber boat
	Where subconscious waves dash wildly;
In the stars' soft light, we will say good-night—
	And “good-night!” will put it mildly.

Our desires shall be from repressions free—
	As it's only right to treat them.
To your ego's whims I will sing sweet hymns,
	And ad libido repeat them.
With your hand in mine, idly we'll recline
	Amid bowers of neuroses,
While the sun seeks rest in the great red west
	We will sit and match psychoses.
So come dwell a while on that distant isle
	In the brilliant tropic weather;
Where a Freud in need is a Freud indeed,
	We'll always be Jung together.

From Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker published by Scribner. Used by permission of the publisher.

Place this bunch of mignonette
    In her cold, dead hand;
When the golden sun is set,
    Where the poplars stand,
Bury her from sun and day,
Lay my little love away
    From my sight.

She was like a modest flower
    Blown in sunny June,
Warm as sun at noon's high hour,
    Chaster than the moon.
Ah, her day was brief and bright,
Earth has lost a star of light;
    She is dead.

Softly breathe her name to me,—
    Ah, I loved her so.
Gentle let your tribute be;
None may better know
    Her true worth than I who weep
O'er her as she lies asleep—
    Soft asleep.

Lay these lilies on her breast,
    They are not more white
Than the soul of her, at rest
    'Neath their petals bright.
Chant your aves soft and low,
Solemn be your tread and slow,—
    She is dead.

Lay her here beneath the grass,
    Cool and green and sweet,
Where the gentle brook may pass
    Crooning at her feet.
Nature's bards shall come and sing,
And the fairest flowers shall spring
    Where she lies.

Safe above the water's swirl,
    She has crossed the bar;
Earth has lost a precious pearl,
    Heaven has gained a star,
That shall ever sing and shine,
Till it quells this grief of mine
    For my love.

This poem is in the public domain.

The lark is silent in his nest,
    The breeze is sighing in its flight,
Sleep, Love, and peaceful be thy rest.
    Good-night, my love, good-night, good-night.

Sweet dreams attend thee in thy sleep,
    To soothe thy rest till morning's light,
And angels round thee vigil keep.
    Good-night, my love, good-night, good-night.

Sleep well, my love, on night's dark breast,
    And ease thy soul with slumber bright;
Be joy but thine and I am blest.
    Good-night, my love, good-night, good-night.

This poem is in the public domain. 

The sky of brightest gray seems dark
    To one whose sky was ever white.
To one who never knew a spark,
    Thro' all his life, of love or light,
    The grayest cloud seems over-bright.

The robin sounds a beggar's note
    Where one the nightingale has heard,
But he for whom no silver throat
    Its liquid music ever stirred,
    Deems robin still the sweetest bird.

This poem is in the public domain.

The change has come, and Helen sleeps—
Not sleeps; but wakes to greater deeps
    Of wisdom, glory, truth, and light,
    Than ever blessed her seeking sight,
    In this low, long, lethargic night,
        Worn out with strife
        Which men call life.

The change has come, and who would say
"I would it were not come to-day?"
    What were the respite till to-morrow?
    Postponement of a certain sorrow,
    From which each passing day would borrow!
        Let grief be dumb,
        The change has come.

This poem is in the public domain. 

A Youth went faring up and down,
    Alack and well-a-day.
He fared him to the market town,
    Alack and well-a-day.
And there he met a maiden fair,
With hazel eyes and auburn hair;
His heart went from him then and there,
    Alack and well-a-day.

She posies sold right merrily,
    Alack and well-a-day;
But not a flower was fair as she,
    Alack and well-a-day.
He bought a rose and sighed a sigh,
“Ah, dearest maiden, would that I
Might dare the seller too to buy!”
    Alack and well-a-day.

She tossed her head, the coy coquette,
    Alack and well-a-day.
“I'm not, sir, in the market yet,”
    Alack and well-a-day.
“Your love must cool upon a shelf;
Tho' much I sell for gold and pelf,
I'm yet too young to sell myself,”
    Alack and well-a-day.

The youth was filled with sorrow sore,
    Alack and well-a-day;
And looked he at the maid once more,
    Alack and well-a-day.
Then loud he cried, “Fair maiden, if
Too young to sell, now as I live,
You're not too young yourself to give,”
    Alack and well-a-day.

The little maid cast down her eyes,
    Alack and well-a-day,
And many a flush began to rise,
    Alack and well-a-day.
“Why, since you are so bold,' she said,
“I doubt not you are highly bred,
So take me!" and the twain were wed,
    Alack and well-a-day.

This poem is in the public domain. 

To My Friend Charles Booth Nettleton

I

The young queen Nature, ever sweet and fair,
    Once on a time fell upon evil days.
    From hearing oft herself discussed with praise,
There grew within her heart the longing rare
To see herself; and every passing air
    The warm desire fanned into lusty blaze.
    Full oft she sought this end by devious ways,
But sought in vain, so fell she in despair,
For none within her train nor by her side
    Could solve the task or give the envied boon.
    So day and night, beneath the sun and moon,
She wandered to and fro unsatisfied,
    Till Art came by, a blithe inventive elf,
    And made a glass wherein she saw herself.

II

Enrapt, the queen gazed on her glorious self,
    Then trembling with the thrill of sudden thought,
    Commanded that the skilful wight be brought
That she might dower him with lands and pelf.
Then out upon the silent sea-lapt shelf
    And up the hills and on the downs they sought
    Him who so well and wondrously had wrought;
And with much search found and brought home the elf.
    But he put by all gifts with sad replies,
And from his lips these words flowed forth like wine:
    "O queen, I want no gift but thee," he said.
She heard and looked on him with love-lit eyes,
Gave him her hand, low murmuring, "I am thine,"
    And at the morrow's dawning they were wed.

This poem is in the public domain. 

I Know my love is true,
    And oh the day is fair.
The sky is dear and blue,
The flowers are rich of hue,
    The air I breathe is rare,
    I have no grief or care;
For my own love is true,
    And oh the day is fair.

My love is false I find,
    And oh the day is dark.
Blows sadly down the wind,
While sorrow holds my mind;
    I do not hear the lark,
    For quenched is life's dear spark,—
My love is false I find,
    And oh the day is dark!

For love doth make the day
    Or dark or doubly bright;
Her beams along the way
Dispel the gloom and gray.
    She lives and all is bright,
    She dies and life is night.
For love doth make the day,
    Or dark or doubly bright. 

This poem is in the public domain.

The moon has left the sky, love,
    The stars are hiding now,
And frowning on the world, love,
    Night bares her sable brow.
The snow is on the ground, love,
    And cold and keen the air is.
I'm singing here to you, love;
    You're dreaming there in Paris.

But this is Nature's law, love,
    Though just it may not seem,
That men should wake to sing, love;
    While maidens sleep and dream.
Them care may not molest, love,
    Nor stir them from their slumbers,
Though midnight find the swain, love.
    Still halting o'er his numbers.

I watch the rosy dawn, love,
    Come stealing up the east,
While all things round rejoice, love,
    That Night her reign has ceased.
The lark will soon be heard, love,
    And on his way be winging;
When Nature's poets wake, love,
    Why should a man be singing?

This poem is in the public domain.

Villain shows his indiscretion,
Villain's partner makes confession.
Juvenile, with golden tresses,
Finds her pa and dons long dresses.
Scapegrace comes home money-laden,
Hero comforts tearful maiden,
Soubrette marries loyal chappie,
Villain skips, and all are happy.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Know you, winds that blow your course
    Down the verdant valleys,
That somewhere you must, perforce,
    Kiss the brow of Alice?
When her gentle face you find,
Kiss it softly, naughty wind.

Roses waving fair and sweet
    Thro' the garden alleys,
Grow into a glory meet
    For the eye of Alice;
Let the wind your offering bear
Of sweet perfume, faint and rare.

Lily holding crystal dew
    In your pure white chalice,
Nature kind hath fashioned you
    Like the soul of Alice;
It of purest white is wrought,
Filled with gems of crystal thought.

This poem is in the public domain. 

I.

Ah, yes, 't is sweet still to remember,
    Though 't were less painful to forget;
For while my heart glows like an ember,
    Mine eyes with sorrow's drops are wet,
    And, oh, my heart is aching yet.
It is a law of mortal pain
    That old wounds, long accounted well,
    Beneath the memory's potent spell,
Will wake to life and bleed again.

So 't is with me; it might be better
    If I should turn no look behind,—
If I could curb my heart, and fetter
    From reminiscent gaze my mind,
    Or let my soul go blind—go blind!
But would I do it if I could?
    Nay! ease at such a price were spurned;
    For, since my love was once returned,
All that I suffer seemeth good.

I know, I know it is the fashion,
    When love has left some heart distressed,
To weight the air with wordful passion;
    But I am glad that in my breast
    I ever held so dear a guest.
Love does not come at every nod,
    Or every voice that calleth "hasten;"
    He seeketh out some heart to chasten,
And whips it, wailing, up to God!

Love is no random road wayfarer
    Who Where he may must sip his glass.
Love is the King, the Purple-Wearer,
    Whose guard recks not of tree or grass
    To blaze the way that he may pass.
What if my heart be in the blast
    That heralds his triumphant way;
    Shall I repine, shall I not say:
"Rejoice, my heart, the King has passed!"

In life, each heart holds some sad story—
    The saddest ones are never told.
I, too, have dreamed of fame and glory,
    And viewed the future bright with gold;
    But that is as a tale long told.
Mine eyes have lost their youthful flash,
    My cunning hand has lost its art;
    I am not old, but in my heart
The ember lies beneath the ash.

I loved! Why not? My heart was youthful,
    My mind was filled with healthy thought.
He doubts not whose own self is truthful,
    Doubt by dishonesty is taught;
    So loved I boldly, fearing naught.
I did not walk this lowly earth;
    Mine was a newer, higher sphere,
    Where youth was long and life was dear,
And all save love was little worth.

Her likeness! Would that I might limn it,
    As Love did, with enduring art;
Nor dust of days nor death may dim it,
    Where it lies graven on my heart,
    Of this sad fabric of my life a part.
I would that I might paint her now
    As I beheld her in that day,
    Ere her first bloom had passed away,
And left the lines upon her brow.

A face serene that, beaming brightly,
    Disarmed the hot sun's glances bold.
A foot that kissed the ground so lightly,
    He frowned in wrath and deemed her cold,
    But loved her still though he was old.
A form where every maiden grace
    Bloomed to perfection's richest flower,—
    The statued pose of conscious power,
Like lithe-limbed Dian's of the chase.

Beneath a brow too fair for frowning,
    Like moon-lit deeps that glass the skies
Till all the hosts above seem drowning,
    Looked forth her steadfast hazel eyes,
    With gaze serene and purely wise.
And over all, her tresses rare,
    Which, when, with his desire grown weak,
    The Night bent down to kiss her cheek,
Entrapped and held him captive there.

This was Ione; a spirit finer
    Ne'er burned to ash its house of clay;
A soul instinct with fire diviner
    Ne'er fled athwart the face of day,
    And tempted Time with earthly stay.
Her loveliness was not alone
    Of face and form and tresses' hue;
    For aye a pure, high soul shone through
Her every act: this was Ione.

II.

'T was in the radiant summer weather,
    When God looked, smiling, from the sky;
And we went wand'ring much together
    By wood and lane, Ione and I,
    Attracted by the subtle tie
Of common thoughts and common tastes,
    Of eyes whose vision saw the same,
    And freely granted beauty's claim
Where others found but worthless wastes.

We paused to hear the far bells ringing
    Across the distance, sweet and clear.
We listened to the wild bird's singing
    The song he meant for his mate's ear,
    And deemed our chance to do so dear.
We loved to watch the warrior Sun,
    With flaming shield and flaunting crest,
    Go striding down the gory West,
When Day's long fight was fought and won.

And life became a different story;
    Where'er I looked, I saw new light.
Earth's self assumed a greater glory,
    Mine eyes were cleared to fuller sight.
    Then first I saw the need and might
Of that fair band, the singing throng,
    Who, gifted with the skill divine,
    Take up the threads of life, spun fine,
And weave them into soulful song.

They sung for me, whose passion pressing
    My soul, found vent in song nor line.
They bore the burden of expressing
    All that I felt, with art's design,
    And every word of theirs was mine.
I read them to Ione, ofttimes,
    By hill and shore, beneath fair skies,
    And she looked deeply in mine eyes,
And knew my love spoke through their rhymes.

Her life was like the stream that floweth,
    And mine was like the waiting sea;
Her love was like the flower that bloweth,
    And mine was like the searching bee—
    I found her sweetness all for me.
God plied him in the mint of time,
    And coined for us a golden day,
    And rolled it ringing down life's way
With love's sweet music in its chime.

And God unclasped the Book of Ages,
    And laid it open to our sight;
Upon the dimness of its pages,
    So long consigned to rayless night,
    He shed the glory of his light.
We read them well, we read them long,
    And ever thrilling did we see
    That love ruled all humanity,—
The master passion, pure and strong.

III.

To-day my skies are bare and ashen,
    And bend on me without a beam.
Since love is held the master-passion,
    Its loss must be the pain supreme—
    And grinning Fate has wrecked my dream.
But pardon, dear departed Guest,
    I will not rant, I will not rail;
    For good the grain must feel the flail;
There are whom love has never blessed.

I had and have a younger brother,
    One whom I loved and love to-day
As never fond and doting mother
    Adored the babe who found its way
    From heavenly scenes into her day.
Oh, he was full of youth's new wine,—
    A man on life's ascending slope,
    Flushed with ambition, full of hope;
And every wish of his was mine.

A kingly youth; the way before him
    Was thronged with victories to be won;
So joyous, too, the heavens o'er him
    Were bright with an unchanging sun,—
    His days with rhyme were overrun.
Toil had not taught him Nature's prose,
    Tears had not dimmed his brilliant eyes,
    And sorrow had not made him wise;
His life was in the budding rose.

I know not how I came to waken,
    Some instinct pricked my soul to sight;
My heart by some vague thrill was shaken,—
    A thrill so true and yet so slight,
    I hardly deemed I read aright.
As when a sleeper, ign'rant why,
    Not knowing what mysterious hand
    Has called him out of slumberland,
Starts up to find some danger nigh.

Love is a guest that comes, unbidden,
    But, having come, asserts his right;
He will not be repressed nor hidden.
    And so my brother's dawning plight
    Became uncovered to my sight.
Some sound-mote in his passing tone
    Caught in the meshes of my ear;
    Some little glance, a shade too dear,
Betrayed the love he bore Ione.

What could I do? He was my brother,
    And young, and full of hope and trust;
I could not, dared not try to smother
    His flame, and turn his heart to dust.
    I knew how oft life gives a crust
To starving men who cry for bread;
    But he was young, so few his days,
    He had not learned the great world's ways,
Nor Disappointment's volumes read.

However fair and rich the booty,
    I could not make his loss my gain.
For love is dear, but dearer, duty,
    And here my way was clear and plain.
    I saw how I could save him pain.
And so, with all my day grown dim,
    That this loved brother's sun might shine,
    I joined his suit, gave over mine,
And sought Ione, to plead for him.

I found her in an eastern bower,
    Where all day long the am'rous sun
Lay by to woo a timid flower.
    This day his course was well-nigh run,
    But still with lingering art he spun
Gold fancies on the shadowed wall.
    The vines waved soft and green above,
    And there where one might tell his love,
I told my griefs—I told her all!

I told her all, and as she hearkened,
    A tear-drop fell upon her dress.
With grief her flushing brow was darkened;
    One sob that she could not repress
    Betrayed the depths of her distress.
Upon her grief my sorrow fed,
    And I was bowed with unlived years,
    My heart swelled with a sea of tears,
The tears my manhood could not shed.

The world is Rome, and Fate is Nero,
    Disporting in the hour of doom.
God made us men; times make the hero—
    But in that awful space of gloom
    I gave no thought but sorrow's room.
All—all was dim within that bower,
    What time the sun divorced the day;
    And all the shadows, glooming gray,
Proclaimed the sadness of the hour.

She could not speak—no word was needed;
    Her look, half strength and half despair,
Told me I had not vainly pleaded,
    That she would not ignore my prayer.
    And so she turned and left me there,
And as she went, so passed my bliss;
    She loved me, I could not mistake—
    But for her own and my love's sake,
Her womanhood could rise to this!

My wounded heart fled swift to cover,
    And life at times seemed very drear.
My brother proved an ardent lover—
    What had so young a man to fear?
    He wed Ione within the year.
No shadow clouds her tranquil brow,
    Men speak her husband's name with pride,
    While she sits honored at his side—
She is—she must be happy now!

I doubt the course I took no longer,
    Since those I love seem satisfied.
The bond between them will grow stronger
    As they go forward side by side;
    Then will my pains be justified.
Their joy is mine, and that is best—
    I am not totally bereft,
    For I have still the mem'ry left—
Love stopped with me—a Royal Guest!

This poem is in the public domain. 

A lover whom duty called over the wave,
With himself communed: "Will my love be true
If left to herself? Had I better not sue
Some friend to watch over her, good and grave?
But my friend might fail in my need," he said,
"And I return to find love dead.
Since friendships fade like the flow'rs of June,
I will leave her in charge of the stable moon."

Then he said to the moon: "O dear old moon,
Who for years and years from thy throne above
Hast nurtured and guarded young lovers and love,
My heart has but come to its waiting June,
And the promise time of the budding vine;
Oh, guard thee well this love of mine."
And he harked him then while all was still,
And the pale moon answered and said, 'I will.'

And he sailed in his ship o'er many seas,
And he wandered wide o'er strange far strands:
in isles of the south and in Orient lands,
Where pestilence lurks in the breath of the breeze.
But his star was high, so he braved the main,
And sailed him blithely home again;
And with joy he bended his footsteps soon
To learn of his love from the matron moon.

She sat as of yore, in her olden place,
Serene as death, in her silver chair.
A white rose gleamed in her whiter hair,
And the tint of a blush was on her face.
At sight of the youth she sadly bowed
And hid her face 'neath a gracious cloud.
She faltered faint on the night's dim marge,
But "How," spoke the youth, "have you kept your charge?"

The moon was sad at a trust ill-kept;
The blush went out in her blanching cheek,
And her voice was timid and low and weak,
As she made her plea and sighed and wept.
'Oh, another prayed and another plead,
And I couldn't resist," she answering said;
"But love still grows in the hearts of men:
Go forth, dear youth, and love again."

But he turned him away from her proffered grace.
"Thou art false, O moon, as the hearts of men,
I will not, will not love again."
And he turned sheer 'round with a soul-sick face
To the sea, and cried: "Sea, curse the moon,
Who makes her vows and forgets so soon."
And the awful sea with anger stirred,
And his breast heaved hard as he lay and heard.

And ever the moon wept down in rain,
And ever her sighs rose high in wind;
But the earth and sea were deaf and blind,
And she wept and sighed her griefs in vain.
And ever at night, when the storm is fierce,
The cries of a wraith through the thunders pierce;
And the waves strain their awful hands on high
To tear the false moon from the sky.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Oh, the poets may sing of their Lady Irenes,
And may rave in their rhymes about wonderful queens;
But I throw my poetical wings to the breeze,
And soar in a song to my Lady Louise.
A sweet little maid, who is dearer, I ween,
Than any fair duchess, or even a queen.
When speaking of her I can't plod in my prose,
For she's the wee lassie who gave me a rose.

Since poets, from seeing a lady's lip curled,
Have written fair verse that has sweetened the world;
Why, then, should not I give the space of an hour
To making a song in return for a flower?
I have found in my life—it has not been so long—
There are too few of flowers—too little of song.
So out of that blossom, this lay of mine grows,
For the dear little lady who gave me the rose.

I thank God for innocence, dearer than Art,
That lights on a by-way which leads to the heart,
And led by an impulse no less than divine,
Walks into the temple and sits at the shrine.
I would rather pluck daisies that grow in the wild,
Or take one simple rose from the hand of a child,
Than to breathe the rich fragrance of flowers that bide
In the gardens of luxury, passion, and pride.

I know not, my wee one, how came you to know
Which way to my heart was the right way to go;
Unless in your purity, soul-clean and clear,
God whispers his messages into your ear.
You have now had my song, let me end with a prayer
That your life may be always sweet, happy, and fair;
That your joys may be many, and absent your woes,
O dear little lady who gave me the rose!

This poem is in the public domain. 

        Dear heart, good-night!
Nay, list awhile that sweet voice singing
    When the world is all so bright,
And the sound of song sets the heart a-ringing,
    Oh, love, it is not right—
    Not then to say, "Good-night."

        Dear heart, good-night!
The late winds in the lake weeds shiver,
    And the spray flies cold and white.
And the voice that sings gives a telltale quiver—
    "Ah, yes, the world is bright,
     But, dearest heart, good-night!"

        Dear heart, good-night!
And do not longer seek to hold me!
    For my soul is in affright
As the fearful glooms in their pall enfold me.
    See him who sang how white
    And still; so, dear, good-night.

        Dear heart, good-night!
Thy hand I'll press no more forever,
    And mine eyes shall lose the light;
For the great white wraith by the winding river
    Shall check my steps with might.
    So, dear, good-night, good-night!

This poem is in the public domain. 

An old worn harp that had been played
Till all its strings were loose and frayed,
Joy, Hate and Fear, each one essayed,
To play. But each in turn had found
No sweet responsiveness of sound

Then Love the Master-Player came
With heaving breast and eyes aflame;
The Harp he took all undismayed,
Smote on its strings, still strange to song,
And brought forth music sweet and strong.

This poem is in the public domain. 

When the corn's all cut and the bright stalks shine
    Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
    And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
Then it's heigh-ho! fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
    For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.

And you take a stalk that is straight and long,
    With an expert eye to its worthy points,
And you think of the bubbling strains of song
    That are bound between its pithy joints —
Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,
    With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.

Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow
    O'er the yielding strings with a practised hand!
And the music's flow never loud but low
    Is the concert note of a fairy band.
Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle
    To the simple sweets of a corn-stalk fiddle.

When the eve comes on, and our work is done,
    And the sun drops down with a tender glance,
With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,
    Come the neighbor girls for the evening's dance,
And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle—
    More time than tune—from the corn-stalk fiddle.

Then brother Jabez takes the bow,
    While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,
Then Henry stops by Milly Snow,
    And John takes Nellie Jones's hand,
While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,
    And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.

"Salute your partners," comes the call,
    "All join hands and circle round,"
"Grand train back," and "Balance all,"
    Footsteps lightly spurn the ground.
"Take your lady and balance down the middle"
    To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.

So the night goes on and the dance is o'er,
    And the merry girls are homeward gone,
But I see it all in my sleep once more,
    And I dream till the very break of dawn
Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle
    To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.

This poem is in the public domain. 

My heart to thy heart,
   My hand to thine;
My lips to thy lips,
   Kisses are wine
Brewed for the lover in sunshine and shade;
Let me drink deep, then, my African maid.
Lily to lily,
    Rose unto rose;
My love to thy love
    Tenderly grows.
Rend not the oak and the ivy in twain,
Nor the swart maid from her swarthier swain.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Night is for sorrow and dawn is for joy,
Chasing the troubles that fret and annoy;
Darkness for sighing and daylight for song,—
Cheery and chaste the strain, heartfelt and strong.
All the night through, though I moan in the dark,
I wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

Deep in the midnight the rain whips the leaves,
Softly and sadly the wood-spirit grieves.
But when the first hue of dawn tints the sky,
I shall shake out my wings like the birds and be dry;
And though, like the rain-drops, I grieved through the dark,
I shall wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

On the high hills of heaven, some morning to be,
Where the rain shall not grieve thro’ the leaves of the tree,
There my heart will be glad for the pain I have known,
For my hand will be clasped in the hand of mine own;
And though life has been hard and death’s pathway been dark,
I shall wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
Which all the day with ceaseless care have sought
The magic gold which from the seeker flies;
Ere dreams put on the gown and cap of thought,
And make the waking world a world of lies,—
Of lies most palpable, uncouth, forlorn,
That say life’s full of aches and tears and sighs,—
Oh, how with more than dreams the soul is torn,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
How all the griefs and heart–aches we have known
Come up like pois’nous vapors that arise
From some base witch’s caldron, when the crone,
To work some potent spell, her magic plies.
The past which held its share of bitter pain,
Whose ghost we prayed that Time might exorcise,
Comes up, is lived and suffered o’er again,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
What phantoms fill the dimly lighted room;
What ghostly shades in awe–creating guise
Are bodied forth within the teeming gloom.
What echoes faint of sad and soul–sick cries,
And pangs of vague inexplicable pain
That pay the spirit’s ceaseless enterprise,
Come thronging through the chambers of the brain,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
Where ranges forth the spirit far and free?
Through what strange realms and unfamiliar skies
Tends her far course to lands of mystery?
To lands unspeakable—beyond surmise,
Where shapes unknowable to being spring,
Till, faint of wing, the Fancy fails and dies
Much wearied with the spirit’s journeying,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
How questioneth the soul that other soul,—
The inner sense which neither cheats nor lies,
But self exposes unto self, a scroll
Full writ with all life’s acts unwise or wise,
In characters indelible and known;
So, trembling with the shock of sad surprise,
The soul doth view its awful self alone,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes,
The last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm,
And whom sad sorrow teaches us to prize
For kissing all our passions into calm,
Ah, then, no more we heed the sad world’s cries,
Or seek to probe th’ eternal mystery,
Or fret our souls at long–withheld replies,
At glooms through which our visions cannot see,
When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922) edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

Yesterday I held your hand,
Reverently I pressed it,
And its gentle yieldingness
From my soul I blessed it.

But to-day I sit alone,
Sad and sore repining;
Must our gold forever know
Flames for the refining?

Yesterday I walked with you,
Could a day be sweeter?
Life was all a lyric song
Set to tricksy meter.

Ah, to-day is like a dirge,—
Place my arms around you,
Let me feel the same dear joy
As when first I found you.

Let me once retrace my steps,
From these roads unpleasant,
Let my heart and mind and soul
All ignore the present.

Yesterday the iron seared
And to-day means sorrow.
Pause, my soul, arise, arise,
Look where gleams the morrow.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

There are no beaten paths to Glory’s height,
There are no rules to compass greatness known;
Each for himself must cleave a path alone,
And press his own way forward in the fight.
Smooth is the way to ease and calm delight,
And soft the road Sloth chooseth for her own;
But he who craves the flower of life full–blown,
Must struggle up in all his armor dight!
What though the burden bear him sorely down
And crush to dust the mountain of his pride,
Oh, then, with strong heart let him still abide;
For rugged is the roadway to renown,
Nor may he hope to gain the envied crown,
Till he hath thrust the looming rocks aside.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Good-night, my love, for I have dreamed of thee
In waking dreams, until my soul is lost—
Is lost in passion’s wide and shoreless sea,
Where, like a ship, unruddered, it is tost
Hither and thither at the wild waves’ will.
There is no potent Master’s voice to still
This newer, more tempestuous Galilee!

The stormy petrels of my fancy fly
In warning course across the darkening green,
And, like a frightened bird, my heart doth cry
And seek to find some rock of rest between
The threatening sky and the relentless wave.
It is not length of life that grief doth crave,
But only calm and peace in which to die.

Here let me rest upon this single hope,
For oh, my wings are weary of the wind,
And with its stress no more may strive or cope.
One cry has dulled mine ears, mine eyes are blind,—
Would that o’er all the intervening space,
I might fly forth and see thee face to face.
I fly; I search, but, love, in gloom I grope.

Fly home, far bird, unto thy waiting nest;
Spread thy strong wings above the wind-swept sea.
Beat the grim breeze with thy unruffled breast
Until thou sittest wing to wing with me.
Then, let the past bring up its tales of wrong;
We shall chant low our sweet connubial song,
Till storm and doubt and past no more shall be!
 

This poem is in the public domain. 

I had not known before
    Forever was so long a word.
The slow stroke of the clock of time
    I had not heard.

‘Tis hard to learn so late;
    It seems no sad heart really learns,
But hopes and trusts and doubts and fears,
    And bleeds and burns.

The night is not all dark,
    Nor is the day all it seems,
But each may bring me this relief—
    My dreams and dreams.

I had not known before
    That Never was so sad a word,
So wrap me in forgetfulness—
     I have not heard.
 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Come when the nights are bright with stars
    Or when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
    Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
    And you are welcome, welcome.

You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it rest
As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.

Come when my heart is full of grief
    Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
    Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows,
Come when the summer gleams and glows,
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
    And you are welcome, welcome.

From The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1913) by Paul Laurence Dunbar. This poem is in the public domain.

The band of Gideon roam the sky,
The howling wind is their war-cry,
The thunder’s roll is their trump’s peal,
And the lightning’s flash their vengeful steel.
        Each black cloud
        Is a fiery steed.
        And they cry aloud
        With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”

And men below rear temples high
And mock their God with reasons why,
And live in arrogance, sin and shame,
And rape their souls for the world’s good name.
        Each black cloud
        Is a fiery steed.
        And they cry aloud
        With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”

The band of Gideon roam the sky
And view the earth with baleful eye;
In holy wrath they scourge the land
With earthquake, storm and burning brand.
        Each black cloud
        Is a fiery steed.
        And they cry aloud
        With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”

The lightnings flash and the thunders roll,
And “Lord have mercy on my soul,”
Cry men as they fall on the stricken sod,
In agony searching for their God.
        Each black cloud
        Is a fiery steed.
        And they cry aloud
        With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”

And men repent and then forget
That heavenly wrath they ever met,
The band of Gideon yet will come
And strike their tongues of blasphemy dumb.
        Each black cloud
        Is a fiery steed.
        And they cry aloud
        With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

I went to ma daddy,
Says Daddy I have got de blues.
Went to ma daddy,
Says Daddy I have got de blues.
Ma daddy says. Honey,
Can’t you bring no better news?

I cried on his shoulder but
He turned his back on me.
Cried on his shoulder but
He turned his back on me.
He said a woman’s cryin’s
Never gonna bother me.

I wish I had wings to
Fly like de eagle flies.
Wish I had wings to
Fly like de eagle flies.
I’d fly on ma man an’
I’d scratch out both his eyes.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

 

Think you I am not fiend and savage too?
Think you I could nor arm me with a gun
And shoot down ten of you for every one
Of my black brothers murdered, burnt by you?
Be not deceived, for every deed you do
I could match—out-match: am I not Africa’s son,
Black of that black land where black deeds are done?

But the Almighty from the darkness drew
My soul and said: Even thou shalt be a light
Awhile to burn on the benighted earth,
Thy dusky face I set among the white
For thee to prove thyself of highest worth;
Before the world is swallowed up in night,
To show thy little lamp: go forth, go forth!

This poem is in the public domain.

I wonder 
how it would be here with you,
where the wind 
that has shaken off its dust in low valleys
touches one cleanly, 
as with a new-washed hand, 
and pain
is as the remote hunger of droning things,
and anger 
but a little silence 
sinking into the great silence.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

O Me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

This poem is in the public domain.

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair—
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs;
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

From Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Copyright © 1939 by T. S. Eliot, renewed © 1967 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Used with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Beyond the fence she hesitates, 
     And drops a paw, and tries the dust. 
It is a clearing—but she waits
      No longer minute than she must.

Though a dozen foes may dart
      From out the grass, she crouches by;
Then runs to where the silos start
      To heave their shadows far and high. 

Here she folds herself and sleeps;
      But in a moment she has put
The dream aside; and now she creeps
      Across the open, foot by foot,

Till at the threshold of a shed
      She smells the water and the corn
Where a sow is on her bed
      And little pigs are being born.

Silently she leaps, and walks
      All night upon a narrow rafter;
Whence at intervals she talks
      Wise to them she watches after. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

This poem is in the public domain.

“White folks is white,” says Uncle Jim;
“A platitude,” I sneer;
And then I tell him so is milk,
And the froth upon his beer.

His heart walled up with bitterness,
He smokes his pungent pipe,
And nods at me as if to say,
“Young fool, you’ll soon be ripe!”

I have a friend who eats his heart
Away with grief of mine,
Who drinks my joy as tipplers drain
Deep goblets filled with wine.

I wonder why here at his side,
Face-in-the-grass with him,
My mind should stray the Grecian urn
To muse on Uncle Jim.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

So oft our hearts, belovèd lute,
In blossomy haunts of song are mute;
So long we pore, ’mid murmurings dull,
O’er loveliness unutterable.
So vain is all our passion strong!
The dream is lovelier than the song.

The rose thought, touched by words, doth turn
Wan ashes. Still, from memory’s urn,
The lingering blossoms tenderly
Refute our wilding minstrelsy.
Alas! We work but beauty’s wrong!
The dream is lovelier than the song.

Yearned Shelley o’er the golden flame?
Left Keats for beauty’s lure, a name
But “writ in water”? Woe is me!
To grieve o’er flowerful faëry.
My Phasian doves are flown so long—
The dream is lovelier than the song!

Ah, though we build a bower of dawn,
The golden-wingèd bird is gone,
And morn may gild, through shimmering leaves,
Only the swallow-twittering eaves.
What art may house or gold prolong
A dream far lovelier than a song?

The lilting witchery, the unrest
Of wingèd dreams, is in our breast;
But ever dear Fulfilment’s eyes
Gaze otherward. The long-sought prize,
My lute, must to the gods belong.
The dream is lovelier than the song.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is a music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

First published in 1914.

I hear an army charging upon the land,   
  And the thunder of horses plunging, foam about their knees:   
Arrogant, in black armour, behind them stand,   
  Disdaining the reins, with fluttering whips, the charioteers.   
   
They cry unto the night their battle-name:        
  I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling laughter.   
They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame,   
  Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.   
   
They come shaking in triumph their long, green hair:   
  They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore. 
My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?   
  My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?

This poem is in the public domain.

“Few words are best.”
        Not here. Discretion has been abandoned in this part
        of the world too lately
        For it to be admired. Disgust for it is like the
Equinox—all things in

One. Disgust is
        No psychologist and has not opportunity to be a hypocrite.
        It says to the saw-toothed bayonet and to the cue
Of blood behind the sub-

Marine—to the
        Poisoned comb, to the Kaiser of Germany and to the
        intolerant gateman at the exit from the eastbound ex-
        press: “I hate
You less than you must hate

Yourselves: You have
        Accoutred me. ‘Without enemies one’s courage flags.’
        Your error has been timed
        To aid me, I am in debt to you for you have primed 
Me against subterfuge.”

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

This poem is in the public domain.

O transient voyager of heaven!
   O silent sign of winter skies!
What adverse wind thy sail has driven
   To dungeons where a prisoner lies?

Methinks the hands that shut the sun
   So sternly from this morning’s brow
Might still their rebel task have done
   And checked a thing so frail as thou.

They would have done it had they known
   The talisman that dwelt in thee,
For all the suns that ever shone
   Have never been so kind to me!

For many a week, and many a day
   My heart was weighed with sinking gloom
When morning rose in mourning grey
   And faintly lit my prison room

But angel like, when I awoke,
   Thy silvery form so soft and fair
Shining through darkness, sweetly spoke
   Of cloudy skies and mountains bare;

The dearest to a mountaineer
   Who, all life long has loved the snow
That crowned her native summits drear,
   Better, than greenest plains below.

And voiceless, soulless, messenger
   Thy presence waked a thrilling tone
That comforts me while thou art here
   And will sustain when thou art gone

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The boughs, the boughs are bare enough,
But earth has not yet felt the snow.
Frost-fringed our ivies are, and rough

With spiked rime the brambles show,
The hoarse leaves crawl on hissing ground,
What time the sighing wind is low.

But if the rain-blasts be unbound,
And from dank feathers wring the drops,
The clogg’d brook runs with choking sound,

Kneading the mounded mire that stops
His channel under clammy coats
Of foliage fallen in the copse.

A single passage of weak notes
Is all the winter bird dare try.
The moon, half-orb’d, ere sunset floats

So glassy-white about the sky,
So like a berg of hyaline,
Pencill’d with blue so daintily—

I never saw her so divine.
But thro’ black branches—rarely drest
In streaming scarfs that smoothly shine,

Shot o’er with lights—the emblazon’d west,
Where yonder crimson fire-ball sets,
Trails forth a purfled-silken vest.

Long beds I see of violets
In beryl lakes which they reef o’er:
A Pactolean river frets

Against its tawny-golden shore:
All ways the molten colours run:
Till, sinking ever more and more

Into an azure mist, the sun
Drops down engulf’d, his journey done.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Here shall my heart find its haven of calm,
By rush-fringed rivers and rain-fed streams
That glimmer thro’ meadows of lily and palm.
Here shall my soul find its true repose
Under a sunset sky of dreams
Diaphanous, amber and rose.
The air is aglow with the glint and whirl
Of swift wild wings in their homeward flight,
Sapphire, emerald, topaz, and pearl.
Afloat in the evening light.

A brown quail cries from the tamarisk bushes,
A bulbul calls from the cassia-plume,
And thro’ the wet earth the gentian pushes
Her spikes of silvery bloom.
Where’er the foot of the bright shower passes
Fragrant and fresh delights unfold;
The wild fawns feed on the scented grasses,
Wild bees on the cactus-gold.

An ox-cart stumbles upon the rocks,
And a wistful music pursues the breeze
From a shepherd’s pipe as he gathers his flocks
Under the pipal-trees.
And a young Banjara driving her cattle
Lifts up her voice as she glitters by
In an ancient ballad of love and battle
Set to the beat of a mystic tune,
And the faint stars gleam in the eastern sky
To herald a rising moon.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated by Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell

The heavy clouds are broken and blowing,
And once more I can see the wide common stretching beyond the four sides of the city.
Open the door. Half of the moon-toad is already up,
The glimmer of it is like smooth hoar-frost spreading over ten thousand li.
The river is a flat, shining chain. 
The moon, rising, is a white eye to the hills;
After it has risen, it is the bright heart of the sea.
Because I love it—so—round as a fan,
I hum songs until the dawn.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

From Second April (J. J. Little and Ives Company, 1921) by Edna St. Vincent Millay. This poem is in the public domain. 

or what is closer to the truth,
when I look at that of which I may regard myself as the imaginary possessor,
I fix upon what would give me pleasure in my average moments:
the satire upon curiousity in which no more is discernible
than the intensity of the mood;
or quite the opposite—the old thing, the medieval decorated hat-box,
in which there are hounds with waists diminishing like the waist of the hour-glass,
and deer and birds and seated people;
it may be no more than a square of parquetry; the literal biography perhaps,
in letters standing well apart upon a parchment-like expanse;
an artichoke in six varieties of blue; the snipe-legged hieroglyphic in three parts;
the silver fence protecting Adam's grave, or Michael taking Adam by the wrist.
Too stern an intellectual emphasis upon this quality or that detracts from one's enjoyment.
It must not wish to disarm anything; nor may the approved triumph easily be honored—
that which is great because something else is small.
It comes to this: of whatever sort it is,
it must be "lit with piercing glances into the life of things";
it must acknowledge the spiritual forces which have made it.

This poem is in the public domain.

Canst thou make me immortal, O thou that blamest me so 
For haunting the battle and loving the pleasures that fly? 
If thou hast not the power to ward me from Death, let me go
To meet him and scatter the wealth in my hand, ere I die.

Save only for three things in which noble youth take delight, 
I care not how soon rises o’er me the coronach loud: 
Wine that foams when the water is poured on it, ruddy, not bright, 
Dark wine that I quaff stol’n away from the caviling crowd;

And then my fierce charge to the rescue on back of a mare 
Wide-stepping as wolf I have startled where thirsty he cowers; 
And third, the day-long with a lass in her tent of goat’s hair 
To hear the wild rain and beguile of their slowness the hours.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

The last quarter moon of the dying year,
Pendant behind a naked cottonwood tree
On a frosty, dawning morning
With the back of her silver head
Turned to the waking sun.
Quiet like the waters
Of Galilee
After the Lord had bid them
“Peace, be still.”
O silent beauty, indescribable!

Dead, do they say?
Would God that I shall seem
So beautiful in death.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

Not to dance with her
Was such a trivial thing

There were girls more fair than she,––

To-day
Ten girls dressed in white.
Each had a white rose wreath.

They made a dead man’s arch
And ten strong men
Carried a body through.

Not to dance with her
Was a trivial thing.

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

I long not now, a little while at least,
For that serene interminable hour
When I shall leave this barmecidal feast,
With poppy for my everlasting flower.
I long not now for that dim cubicle
Of earth to which my lease will not expire,
Where he who comes a tenant there may dwell
Without a thought of famine, flood, or fire.

Surely that house has quiet to bestow:
Still tongue, spent pulse, heart pumped of its last throb,
The fingers tense and tranquil in a row,
The throat unwelled with any sigh or sob.
But time to live, to love, bear pain and smile,
Oh, we are given such a little while!

From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.

Mountains, a moment’s earth-waves rising and hollowing; the earth too’s an ephemerid; the stars—
Short-lived as grass the stars quicken in the nebula and dry in their summer, they spiral
Blind up space, scattered black seeds of a future; nothing lives long, the whole sky’s
Recurrences tick the seconds of the hours of the ages of the gulf before birth, and the gulf
After death is like dated: to labor eighty years in a notch of eternity is nothing too tiresome,
Enormous repose after, enormous repose before, the flash of activity.
Surely you never have dreamed the incredible depths were prologue and epilogue merely
To the surface play in the sun, the instant of life, what is called life? I fancy
That silence is the thing, this noise a found word for it; interjection, a jump of the breath at that silence;
Stars burn, grass grows, men breathe: as a man finding treasure says ‘Ah!’ but the treasure’s the essence;
Before the man spoke it was there, and after he has spoken he gathers it, inexhaustible treasure.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Into the rose gold westland, its yellow prairies roll,
World of the bison’s freedom, home of the Indian’s soul.
Roll out, O seas! in sunlight bathed,
Your plains wind-tossed, and grass enswathed.

Farther than vision ranges, farther than eagles fly,
Stretches the land of beauty, arches the perfect sky,
Hemm’d through the purple mists afar
By peaks that gleam like star on star.

Fringing the prairie billows, fretting horizon’s line,
Darkly green are slumb’ring wildernesses of pine,
Sleeping until the zephyrs throng
To kiss their silence into song.

Whispers freighted with odour swinging into the air,
Russet needles as censers swing to an altar, where
The angels’ songs are less divine
Than duo sung twixt breeze and pine.

Laughing into the forest, dimples a mountain stream,
Pure as the airs above it, soft as a summer dream,
O! Lethean spring thou’rt only found
Within this ideal hunting ground.

Surely the great Hereafter cannot be more than this,
Surely we’ll see that country after Time’s farewell kiss.
Who would his lovely faith condole?
Who envies not the Red-skin’s soul,

Sailing into the cloud land, sailing into the sun,
Into the crimson portals ajar when life is done?
O! dear dead race, my spirit too
Would fain sail westward unto you.

From Flint and Feather: The Complete Poems of E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) (The Musson Book Co., Limited, 1917) by Emily Pauline Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.