(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

From The Language of Spring, edited by Robert Atwan, published by Beacon Press, 2003.

On the Erie Canal, it was,
     All on a summer’s day,
I sailed forth with my parents
     Far away to Albany.

From out the clouds at noon that day
     There came a dreadful storm,
That piled the billows high about,
     And filled us with alarm.

A man came rushing from a house,
     Saying, “Snub up* your boat I pray,
Snub up your boat, snub up, alas,
     Snub up while yet you may.”

Our captain cast one glance astern,
     Then forward glanced he,
And said, “My wife and little ones
     I never more shall see.”

Said Dollinger the pilot man,
     In noble words, but few,—
“Fear not, but lean on Dollinger,
     And he will fetch you through.”

The boat drove on, the frightened mules
     Tore through the rain and wind,
And bravely still, in danger’s post,
     The whip-boy strode behind.

“Come ’board, come ’board,” the captain cried,
     “Nor tempt so wild a storm;"
But still the raging mules advanced,
     And still the boy strode on.

Then said the captain to us all,
     “Alas, ’tis plain to me,
The greater danger is not there,
     But here upon the sea.

“So let us strive, while life remains,
     To save all souls on board,
And then if die at last we must,
     Let .  .  .  .  I cannot speak the word!”

Said Dollinger the pilot man,
     Tow’ring above the crew,
“Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
     And he will fetch you through.”

“Low bridge!  low bridge!” all heads went down,
     The laboring bark sped on;
A mill we passed, we passed church,
     Hamlets, and fields of corn;
And all the world came out to see,
     And chased along the shore
Crying, “Alas, alas, the sheeted rain,
     The wind, the tempest’s roar!
Alas, the gallant ship and crew,
     Can nothing help them more?”

And from our deck sad eyes looked out
     Across the stormy scene:
The tossing wake of billows aft,
     The bending forests green,
The chickens sheltered under carts
     In lee of barn the cows,
The skurrying swine with straw in mouth,
     The wild spray from our bows!

               “She balances!
               She wavers!
Now let her go about!
     If she misses stays and broaches to,
We’re all"—then with a shout,
               “Huray!  huray!
               Avast!  belay!
               Take in more sail!
               Lord, what a gale!
Ho, boy, haul taut on the hind mule’s tail!”

“Ho!  lighten ship!  ho!  man the pump!
     Ho, hostler, heave the lead!”
“And count ye all, both great and small,
     As numbered with the dead:
For mariner for forty year,
     On Erie, boy and man,
I never yet saw such a storm,
     Or one’t with it began!”

So overboard a keg of nails
     And anvils three we threw,
Likewise four bales of gunny-sacks,
     Two hundred pounds of glue,
Two sacks of corn, four ditto wheat,
     A box of books, a cow,
A violin, Lord Byron’s works,
     A rip-saw and a sow.

A curve!  a curve!  the dangers grow!
     “Labbord!—stabbord!—s-t-e-a-d-y!—so!—
Hard-a-port, Dol!—hellum-a-lee!
     Haw the head mule!—the aft one gee!
Luff!—bring her to the wind!”

“A quarter-three!—’tis shoaling fast!
     Three feet large!—t-h-r-e-e feet!—
Three feet scant!” I cried in fright
     “Oh, is there no retreat?”

Said Dollinger, the pilot man,
     As on the vessel flew,
“Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
     And he will fetch you through.”

A panic struck the bravest hearts,
     The boldest cheek turned pale;
For plain to all, this shoaling said
A leak had burst the ditch’s bed!
And, straight as bolt from crossbow sped,
Our ship swept on, with shoaling lead,
     Before the fearful gale!

“Sever the tow-line!  Cripple the mules!”
     Too late!  There comes a shock!
****
Another length, and the fated craft
     Would have swum in the saving lock!

Then gathered together the shipwrecked crew
     And took one last embrace,
While sorrowful tears from despairing eyes
     Ran down each hopeless face;
And some did think of their little ones
     Whom they never more might see,
And others of waiting wives at home,
     And mothers that grieved would be.

But of all the children of misery there
     On that poor sinking frame,
But one spake words of hope and faith,
     And I worshipped as they came:
Said Dollinger the pilot man,—
     (O brave heart, strong and true!)—
“Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
     For he will fetch you through.”

Lo!  scarce the words have passed his lips
     The dauntless prophet say’th,
When every soul about him seeth
     A wonder crown his faith!

For straight a farmer brought a plank,—
     (Mysteriously inspired)—
And laying it unto the ship,
     In silent awe retired.

Then every sufferer stood amazed
     That pilot man before;
A moment stood.  Then wondering turned,
     And speechless walked ashore.
 

 

*The customary canal technicality for ‘tie up.’

This poem is in the public domain. Taken from Mark Twain's Roughing It.

I have a friend in ghostland—
   Early found, ah me, how early lost!—
Blood-red seaweeds drip along that coastland
   By the strong sea wrenched and tossed.
In every creek there slopes a dead man’s islet,
   And such an one in every bay;
All unripened in the unended twilight:
   For there comes neither night nor day.

Unripe harvest there hath none to reap it
   From the watery misty place;
Unripe vineyard there hath none to keep it
   In unprofitable space.
Living flocks and herds are nowhere found there;
   Only ghosts in flocks and shoals:
Indistinguished hazy ghosts surround there
   Meteors whirling on their poles;
Indistinguished hazy ghosts abound there;
   Troops, yea swarms, of dead men’s souls.—

Have they towns to live in?—
   They have towers and towns from sea to sea;
Of each town the gates are seven;
   Of one of these each ghost is free.
Civilians, soldiers, seamen,
   Of one town each ghost is free:
They are ghastly men those ghostly freemen:
   Such a sight may you not see.—

How know you that your lover
   Of death’s tideless waters stoops to drink?—
Me by night doth mouldy darkness cover,
   It makes me quake to think:
All night long I feel his presence hover
   Thro’ the darkness black as ink.

Without a voice he tells me
   The wordless secrets of death’s deep:
If I sleep, his trumpet voice compels me
   To stalk forth in my sleep:
If I wake, he hunts me like a nightmare;
   I feel my hair stand up, my body creep:
Without light I see a blasting sight there,
   See a secret I must keep.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

      I went by the Druid stone 
   That stands in the garden white and lone,   
And I stopped and looked at the shifting shadows   
   That at some moments there are thrown
   From the tree hard by with a rhythmic swing,   
   And they shaped in my imagining
To the shade that a well-known head and shoulders   
   Threw there when she was gardening.

      I thought her behind my back,
   Yea, her I long had learned to lack,
And I said: “I am sure you are standing behind me,   
   Though how do you get into this old track?”
   And there was no sound but the fall of a leaf   
   As a sad response; and to keep down grief
I would not turn my head to discover
   That there was nothing in my belief.

      Yet I wanted to look and see
   That nobody stood at the back of me;
But I thought once more: “Nay, I’ll not unvision   
   A shape which, somehow, there may be.”
   So I went on softly from the glade,
   And left her behind me throwing her shade,   
As she were indeed an apparition—
   My head unturned lest my dream should fade.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 16, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

I waited on
In the late autumn moonlight,
A train droning out of thought—

The mind on moonlight
And on trains.

Blind as a thread of water
Stirring through a cold like dust,
Lonely beyond all silence

And humming this to children,
The nostalgic listeners in sleep,

Because no guardian
Strides through distance upon distance,
His eyes a web of sleep.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Thou dusky spirit of the wood,
Bird of an ancient brood,
Flitting thy lonely way,
A meteor in the summer's day,
From wood to wood, from hill to hill,
Low over forest, field and rill,
What wouldst thou say?
Why shouldst thou haunt the day?
What makes thy melancholy float?
What bravery inspires thy throat,
And bears thee up above the clouds,
Over desponding human crowds,
Which far below
Lay thy haunts low?

This poem is in the public domain. 

translated by Wilfrid Thorley

The moon grew sad, and weeping seraphim,
Musing among the vaporous flowers aswim,
With slow bows from the sobbing viols drew
White tears that sank in their corónals blue.
It was the blesséd day of your first kiss.
My reverie, eager with new miseries,
Was all a-swoon with perfume of shy grief
That leaves the heart to gather its own sheaf,
And frets not, nor yet sickens of its prize.
I wandered, and the worn way held my eyes
When in the street I saw your sun-girt hair
And you all smiling in the twilit air.
I took you for that elf who, crowned with beams,
Once passed before me in my childish dreams,
And shed white posies of sweet-smelling flow’rs
Star-like for tiny hands in snowy show’rs.

 


 

Apparition 

 

La lune s’attristait. Des séraphins en pleurs
Rêvant, l’archet aux doigts, dans le calme des fleurs
Vaporeuses, tiraient de mourantes violes
De blancs sanglots glissant sur l’azur des corolles.
—C’était le jour béni de ton premier baiser.
Ma songerie aimant à me martyriser
S’enivrait savamment du parfum de tristesse
Que même sans regret et sans déboire laisse
La cueillaison d’un Rêve au cœur qui l’a cueilli.
J’errais donc, l’œil rivé sur le pavé vieilli,
Quand avec du soleil aux cheveux, dans la rue
Et dans le soir, tu m’es en riant apparue
Et j’ai cru voir la fée au chapeau de clarté
Qui jadis sur mes beaux sommeils d’enfant gâté
Passait, laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées
Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 29, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

                    I

This wind sighing recalls certain things.
I warned you:
Beware of it:
Passion has wings;
And will return with the year’s return
Like a bird on migrant wings.
This wind sighing recalls
Certain half-remembered things.

                    II

You have left something of you behind.
But you went with eager step,
Fearful, lest what you have left behind
Should halt your eager step.
When the lean years bring you back,
You will be as one
Who has laughed the lean years with strange men;
You will be different then.

                    III

Beyond the gate of the sun
I shall not seek you:
Before the last days are done
You have sung your last song,
You have played your last tune,
You have danced your steps too soon.
It is not easy
When great moments are so few:
Beyond the gate of the sun
I shall not seek you.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

There is this shifting, endless film
And I have followed it down the valleys
And over the hills,—
Pointing with wavering finger
When it disappeared in purple forest-patches
With its ruffle and wave to the slightest-breathing wind-God.

There is this film
Seen suddenly, far off,
When the sun, walking to his setting,
Turns back for a last look,
And out there on the far, far prairie
A lonely drowsing cabin catches and holds a glint,
For one how endless moment,
In a staring window the fire and song of the martyrs!

There is this film
That has passed to my fingers
And I have trembled,
Afraid to touch.

And in the eyes of one
Who had wanted to give what I had asked
But hesitated—tried—and then
Came with a weary, aged, “Not quite,”
I could but see that single realmless point of time,
All that is sad, and tired, and old—
And endless, shifting film.

And I went again
Down the valleys and over the hills,
Pointing with wavering finger,
Ever reaching to touch, trembling,
Ever fearful to touch.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 13, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Once I freed myself of my duties to tasks and people and went down to the cleansing sea...
The air was like wine to my spirit,
The sky bathed my eyes with infinity,
The sun followed me, casting golden snares on the tide,
And the ocean—masses of molten surfaces, faintly gray-blue—sang to my heart...

Then I found myself, all here in the body and brain, and all there on the shore:
Content to be myself: free, and strong, and enlarged:
Then I knew the depths of myself were the depths of space.
And all living beings were of those depths (my brothers and sisters)
And that by going inward and away from duties, cities, street-cars and greetings,
I was dipping behind all surfaces, piercing cities and people,
And entering in and possessing them, more than a brother,
The surge of all life in them and in me...

So I swore I would be myself (there by the ocean)
And I swore I would cease to neglect myself, but would take myself as my mate,
Solemn marriage and deep: midnights of thought to be:
Long mornings of sacred communion, and twilights of talk,
Myself and I, long parted, clasping and married till death.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
   That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
   A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
   And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
   Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
   Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
   In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
   In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
   Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2017. This poem is in the public domain.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.