Amid the Roses

Alice Dunbar-Nelson - 1875-1935
There is tropical warmth and languorous life
    Where the roses lie
    In a tempting drift
Of pink and red and golden light
Untouched as yet by the pruning knife.
And the still, warm life of the roses fair
    That whisper "Come,"
    With promises
Of sweet caresses, close and pure
Has a thorny whiff in the perfumed air.
There are thorns and love in the roses’ bed,
    And Satan too
    Must linger there;
So Satan’s wiles and the conscience stings,
Must now abide—the roses are dead.

More by Alice Dunbar-Nelson

I Sit and Sew

I sit and sew—a useless task it seems,
My hands grown tired, my head weighed down with dreams—
The panoply of war, the martial tred of men,
Grim-faced, stern-eyed, gazing beyond the ken
Of lesser souls, whose eyes have not seen Death
Nor learned to hold their lives but as a breath—
But—I must sit and sew.

I sit and sew—my heart aches with desire—
That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire
On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things
Once men. My soul in pity flings
Appealing cries, yearning only to go
There in that holocaust of hell, those fields of woe—
But—I must sit and sew.

The little useless seam, the idle patch;
Why dream I here beneath my homely thatch,
When there they lie in sodden mud and rain,
Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
You need, me, Christ! It is no roseate seam
That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,
It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?

Sonnet

I had no thought of violets of late,      
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.       
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,          
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine. 
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed, 
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;            
The perfect loveliness that God has made,— 
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.      

The Lights at Carney’s Point

O white little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You shine so clear o’er the Delaware;
When the moon rides high in the silver sky,
      Then you gleam, white gems on the Delaware.
Diamond circlet on a full white throat,
      You laugh your rays on a questioning boat;
Is it peace you dream in your flashing gleam,
      O’er the quiet flow of the Delaware?

And the lights grew dim at the water’s brim,
      For the smoke of the mills shredded slow between;
And the smoke was red, as is new bloodshed,
      And the lights went lurid ’neath the livid screen.

O red little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You glower so grim o’er the Delaware;
When the moon hides low sombrous clouds below,
      Then you glow like coals o’er the Delaware.
Blood red rubies on a throat of fire,
      You flash through the dusk of a funeral pyre;
Are there hearth fires red whom you fear and dread
      O’er the turgid flow of the Delaware?

And the lights gleamed gold o’er the river cold,
      For the murk of the furnace shed a copper veil;
And the veil was grim at the great cloud’s brim,
      And the lights went molten, now hot, now pale.

O gold little lights at Carney’s Point,
     You gleam so proud o’er the Delaware;
When the moon grows wan in the eastering dawn,
      Then you sparkle gold points o’er the Delaware.
Aureate filagree on a Croesus’ brow,
      You hasten the dawn on a gray ship’s prow.
Light you streams of gold in the grim ship’s hold
      O’er the sullen flow of the Delaware?

And the lights went gray in the ash of day,
      For a quiet Aurora brought a halcyon balm;
And the sun laughed high in the infinite sky,
      And the lights were forgot in the sweet, sane calm.
 

Related Poems

Sea Rose

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?