African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

James Weldon Johnson, "Fifty Years and Other Poems" (1917) (Full text)

FIFTY YEARS & OTHER POEMS

BY

JAMES WELDON JOHNSON

AUTHOR OF

"THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN," ETC.

With an Introduction by BRANDER MATTHEWS


THE CORNHILL COMPANY
BOSTON
                                 1917




To

G. N. F.




ACKNOWLEDGMENT


For permission to reprint certain poems in this book thanks are due to
the editors and proprietors of the _Century Magazine_, the
_Independent_, _The Crisis_, _The New York Times_, and the following
copyright holders, G. Ricordi and Company, G. Schirmer and Company,
and Joseph W. Stern and Company.




CONTENTS


Fifty Years

To America

O Black and Unknown Bards

O Southland

To Horace Bumstead

The Color Sergeant

The Black Mammy

Father, Father Abraham

Brothers

Fragment

The White Witch

Mother Night

The Young Warrior

The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face

From the Spanish of Plácido

From the Spanish

From the German of Uhland

Before a Painting

I Hear the Stars Still Singing

Girl of Fifteen

The Suicide

Down by the Carib Sea
  I.  Sunrise in the Tropics
 II.  Los Cigarillos
III.  Teestay
 IV.  The Lottery Girl
  V.  The Dancing Girl
 VI.  Sunset in the Tropics

The Greatest of These Is War

A Mid-Day Dreamer

The Temptress

Ghosts of the Old Year

The Ghost of Deacon Brown

Lazy

Omar

Deep in the Quiet Wood

Voluptas

The Word of an Engineer

Life

Sleep

Prayer at Sunrise

The Gift to Sing

Morning, Noon and Night

Her Eyes Twin Pools

The Awakening

Beauty That Is Never Old

Venus in a Garden

Vashti

The Reward


JINGLES & CROONS


Sence You Went Away

Ma Lady's Lips Am Like de Honey

Tunk

Nobody's Lookin' but de Owl an' de Moon

You's Sweet to Yo' Mammy Jes de Same

A Plantation Bacchanal

July in Georgy

A Banjo Song

Answer to Prayer

Dat Gal o' Mine

The Seasons

'Possum Song

Brer Rabbit, You'se de Cutes' of 'Em All

An Explanation

De Little Pickaninny's Gone to Sleep

The Rivals




INTRODUCTION


Of the hundred millions who make up the population of the United
States ten millions come from a stock ethnically alien to the other
ninety millions. They are not descended from ancestors who came here
voluntarily, in the spirit of adventure to better themselves or in the
spirit of devotion to make sure of freedom to worship God in their own
way. They are the grandchildren of men and women brought here against
their wills to serve as slaves. It is only half-a-century since they
received their freedom and since they were at last permitted to own
themselves. They are now American citizens, with the rights and the
duties of other American citizens; and they know no language, no
literature and no law other than those of their fellow citizens of
Anglo-Saxon ancestry.

When we take stock of ourselves these ten millions cannot be left out
of account. Yet they are not as we are; they stand apart, more or
less; they have their own distinct characteristics. It behooves us to
understand them as best we can and to discover what manner of people
they are. And we are justified in inquiring how far they have revealed
themselves, their racial characteristics, their abiding traits, their
longing aspirations,--how far have they disclosed these in one or
another of the several arts. They have had their poets, their
painters, their composers, and yet most of these have ignored their
racial opportunity and have worked in imitation and in emulation of
their white predecessors and contemporaries, content to handle again
the traditional themes. The most important and the most significant
contributions they have made to art are in music,--first in the
plaintive beauty of the so-called "Negro spirituals"--and, secondly,
in the syncopated melody of so-called "ragtime" which has now taken
the whole world captive.

In poetry, especially in the lyric, wherein the soul is free to find
full expression for its innermost emotions, their attempts have been,
for the most part, divisible into two classes. In the first of these may
be grouped the verses in which the lyrist put forth sentiments common to
all mankind and in no wise specifically those of his own race; and from
the days of Phyllis Wheatley to the present the most of the poems
written by men who were not wholly white are indistinguishable from the
poems written by men who were wholly white. Whatever their merits might
be, these verses cast little or no light upon the deeper racial
sentiments of the people to whom the poets themselves belonged. But in
the lyrics to be grouped in the second of these classes there was a
racial quality. This contained the dialect verses in which there was an
avowed purpose of recapturing the color, the flavor, the movement of
life in "the quarters," in the cotton field and in the canebrake. Even
in this effort, white authors had led the way; Irvin Russell and Joel
Chandler Harris had made the path straight for Paul Laurence Dunbar,
with his lilting lyrics, often infused with the pathos of a down-trodden
folk.

In the following pages Mr. James Weldon Johnson conforms to both of
these traditions. He gathers together a group of lyrics, delicate in
workmanship, fragrant with sentiment, and phrased in pure and
unexceptionable English. Then he has another group of dialect verses,
racy of the soil, pungent in flavor, swinging in rhythm and adroit in
rhyme. But where he shows himself a pioneer is the half-dozen larger
and bolder poems, of a loftier strain, in which he has been nobly
successful in expressing the higher aspirations of his own people. It
is in uttering this cry for recognition, for sympathy, for
understanding, and above all, for justice, that Mr. Johnson is most
original and most powerful. In the superb and soaring stanzas of
"Fifty Years" (published exactly half-a-century after the signing of
the Emancipation Proclamation) he has given us one of the noblest
commemorative poems yet written by any American,--a poem sonorous in
its diction, vigorous in its workmanship, elevated in its imagination
and sincere in its emotion. In it speaks the voice of his race; and
the race is fortunate in its spokesman. In it a fine theme has been
finely treated. In it we are made to see something of the soul of the
people who are our fellow citizens now and forever,--even if we do not
always so regard them. In it we are glad to acclaim a poem which any
living poet might be proud to call his own.

BRANDER MATTHEWS.

_Columbia University
in the City of New York._




FIFTY YEARS & OTHER POEMS

FIFTY YEARS

1863-1913


    O brothers mine, to-day we stand
      Where half a century sweeps our ken,
    Since God, through Lincoln's ready hand,
      Struck off our bonds and made us men.

    Just fifty years--a winter's day--
      As runs the history of a race;
    Yet, as we look back o'er the way,
      How distant seems our starting place!

    Look farther back! Three centuries!
      To where a naked, shivering score,
    Snatched from their haunts across the seas,
      Stood, wild-eyed, on Virginia's shore.

    Far, far the way that we have trod,
      From heathen kraals and jungle dens,
    To freedmen, freemen, sons of God,
      Americans and Citizens.

    A part of His unknown design,
      We've lived within a mighty age;
    And we have helped to write a line
      On history's most wondrous page.

    A few black bondmen strewn along
      The borders of our eastern coast,
    Now grown a race, ten million strong,
      An upward, onward marching host.

    Then let us here erect a stone,
      To mark the place, to mark the time;
    A witness to God's mercies shown,
      A pledge to hold this day sublime.

    And let that stone an altar be,
      Whereon thanksgivings we may lay,
    Where we, in deep humility,
      For faith and strength renewed may pray.

    With open hearts ask from above
      New zeal, new courage and new pow'rs,
    That we may grow more worthy of
      This country and this land of ours.

    For never let the thought arise
      That we are here on sufferance bare;
    Outcasts, asylumed 'neath these skies,
      And aliens without part or share.

    This land is ours by right of birth,
      This land is ours by right of toil;
    We helped to turn its virgin earth,
      Our sweat is in its fruitful soil.

    Where once the tangled forest stood,--
      Where flourished once rank weed and thorn,--
    Behold the path-traced, peaceful wood,
      The cotton white, the yellow corn.

    To gain these fruits that have been earned,
      To hold these fields that have been won,
    Our arms have strained, our backs have burned,
      Bent bare beneath a ruthless sun.

    That Banner which is now the type
      Of victory on field and flood--
    Remember, its first crimson stripe
      Was dyed by Attucks' willing blood.

    And never yet has come the cry--
      When that fair flag has been assailed--
    For men to do, for men to die,
      That have we faltered or have failed.

    We've helped to bear it, rent and torn,
      Through many a hot-breath'd battle breeze;
    Held in our hands, it has been borne
      And planted far across the seas.

    And never yet--O haughty Land,
      Let us, at least, for this be praised--
    Has one black, treason-guided hand
      Ever against that flag been raised.

    Then should we speak but servile words,
      Or shall we hang our heads in shame?
    Stand back of new-come foreign hordes,
      And fear our heritage to claim?

    No! stand erect and without fear,
      And for our foes let this suffice--
    We've bought a rightful sonship here,
      And we have more than paid the price.

    And yet, my brothers, well I know
      The tethered feet, the pinioned wings,
    The spirit bowed beneath the blow,
      The heart grown faint from wounds and stings;

    The staggering force of brutish might,
      That strikes and leaves us stunned and daezd;
    The long, vain waiting through the night
      To hear some voice for justice raised.

    Full well I know the hour when hope
      Sinks dead, and 'round us everywhere
    Hangs stifling darkness, and we grope
      With hands uplifted in despair.

    Courage! Look out, beyond, and see
      The far horizon's beckoning span!
    Faith in your God-known destiny!
      We are a part of some great plan.

    Because the tongues of Garrison
      And Phillips now are cold in death,
    Think you their work can be undone?
      Or quenched the fires lit by their breath?

    Think you that John Brown's spirit stops?
      That Lovejoy was but idly slain?
    Or do you think those precious drops
      From Lincoln's heart were shed in vain?

    That for which millions prayed and sighed,
      That for which tens of thousands fought,
    For which so many freely died,
      God cannot let it come to naught.




TO AMERICA


    How would you have us, as we are?
    Or sinking 'neath the load we bear?
    Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
    Or gazing empty at despair?

    Rising or falling? Men or things?
    With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
    Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
    Or tightening chains about your feet?




O BLACK AND UNKNOWN BARDS


    O black and unknown bards of long ago,
    How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
    How, in your darkness, did you come to know
    The power and beauty of the minstrel's lyre?
    Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
    Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
    Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
    Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

    Heart of what slave poured out such melody
    As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains
    His spirit must have nightly floated free,
    Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
    Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
    Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he
    That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
    "Nobody knows de trouble I see"?

    What merely living clod, what captive thing,
    Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
    And find within its deadened heart to sing
    These songs of sorrow, love, and faith, and hope?
    How did it catch that subtle undertone,
    That note in music heard not with the ears?
    How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
    Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

    Not that great German master in his dream
    Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
    At the creation, ever heard a theme
    Nobler than "Go down, Moses." Mark its bars,
    How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
    The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
    Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
    That helped make history when Time was young.

    There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
    That from degraded rest and servile toil
    The fiery spirit of the seer should call
    These simple children of the sun and soil.
    O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
    You--you alone, of all the long, long line
    Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
    Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

    You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
    No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean
    Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
    You touched in chord with music empyrean.
    You sang far better than you knew; the songs
    That for your listeners' hungry hearts sufficed
    Still live,--but more than this to you belongs:
    You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.




O SOUTHLAND!


    O Southland! O Southland!
      Have you not heard the call,
    The trumpet blown, the word made known
      To the nations, one and all?
    The watchword, the hope-word,
      Salvation's present plan?
    A gospel new, for all--for you:
      Man shall be saved by man.

    O Southland! O Southland!
      Do you not hear to-day
    The mighty beat of onward feet,
      And know you not their way?
    'Tis forward, 'tis upward,
      On to the fair white arch
    Of Freedom's dome, and there is room
      For each man who would march.

    O Southland, fair Southland!
      Then why do you still cling
    To an idle age and a musty page,
      To a dead and useless thing?
    'Tis springtime! 'Tis work-time!
      The world is young again!
    And God's above, and God is love,
      And men are only men.

    O Southland! my Southland!
      O birthland! do not shirk
    The toilsome task, nor respite ask,
      But gird you for the work.
    Remember, remember
      That weakness stalks in pride;
    That he is strong who helps along
      The faint one at his side.




_To_ HORACE BUMSTEAD


    Have you been sore discouraged in the fight,
      And even sometimes weighted by the thought
      That those with whom and those for whom you fought
    Lagged far behind, or dared but faintly smite?
    And that the opposing forces in their might
      Of blind inertia rendered as for naught
      All that throughout the long years had been wrought,
    And powerless each blow for Truth and Right?

    If so, take new and greater courage then,
      And think no more withouten help you stand;
        For sure as God on His eternal throne
    Sits, mindful of the sinful deeds of men,
    --The awful Sword of Justice in His hand,--
        You shall not, no, you shall not, fight alone.




THE COLOR SERGEANT

(_On an Incident at the Battle of San Juan Hill_)


    Under a burning tropic sun,
    With comrades around him lying,
    A trooper of the sable Tenth
    Lay wounded, bleeding, dying.

    First in the charge up the fort-crowned hill,
    His company's guidon bearing,
    He had rushed where the leaden hail fell fast,
    Not death nor danger fearing.

    He fell in the front where the fight grew fierce,
    Still faithful in life's last labor;
    Black though his skin, yet his heart as true
    As the steel of his blood-stained saber.

    And while the battle around him rolled,
    Like the roar of a sullen breaker,
    He closed his eyes on the bloody scene,
    And presented arms to his Maker.

    There he lay, without honor or rank,
    But, still, in a grim-like beauty;
    Despised of men for his humble race,
    Yet true, in death, to his duty.




THE BLACK MAMMY


    O whitened head entwined in turban gay,
    O kind black face, O crude, but tender hand,
    O foster-mother in whose arms there lay
    The race whose sons are masters of the land!
    It was thine arms that sheltered in their fold,
    It was thine eyes that followed through the length
    Of infant days these sons. In times of old
    It was thy breast that nourished them to strength.

    So often hast thou to thy bosom pressed
    The golden head, the face and brow of snow;
    So often has it 'gainst thy broad, dark breast
    Lain, set off like a quickened cameo.
    Thou simple soul, as cuddling down that babe
    With thy sweet croon, so plaintive and so wild,
    Came ne'er the thought to thee, swift like a stab,
    That it some day might crush thine own black child?




FATHER, FATHER ABRAHAM

(_On the Anniversary of Lincoln's Birth_)


    Father, Father Abraham,
      To-day look on us from above;
    On us, the offspring of thy faith,
      The children of thy Christ-like love.

    For that which we have humbly wrought,
      Give us to-day thy kindly smile;
    Wherein we've failed or fallen short,
      Bear with us, Father, yet awhile.

    Father, Father Abraham,
      To-day we lift our hearts to thee,
    Filled with the thought of what great price
      Was paid, that we might ransomed be.

    To-day we consecrate ourselves
      Anew in hand and heart and brain,
    To send this judgment down the years:
      The ransom was not paid in vain.




BROTHERS


    See! There he stands; not brave, but with an air
    Of sullen stupor. Mark him well! Is he
    Not more like brute than man? Look in his eye!
    No light is there; none, save the glint that shines
    In the now glaring, and now shifting orbs
    Of some wild animal caught in the hunter's trap.

        How came this beast in human shape and form?
    Speak, man!--We call you man because you wear
    His shape--How are you thus? Are you not from
    That docile, child-like, tender-hearted race
    Which we have known three centuries? Not from
    That more than faithful race which through three wars
    Fed our dear wives and nursed our helpless babes
    Without a single breach of trust? Speak out!

        I am, and am not.

                    Then who, why are you?

        I am a thing not new, I am as old
    As human nature. I am that which lurks,
    Ready to spring whenever a bar is loosed;
    The ancient trait which fights incessantly
    Against restraint, balks at the upward climb;
    The weight forever seeking to obey
    The law of downward pull;--and I am more:
    The bitter fruit am I of planted seed;
    The resultant, the inevitable end
    Of evil forces and the powers of wrong.

        Lessons in degradation, taught and learned,
    The memories of cruel sights and deeds,
    The pent-up bitterness, the unspent hate
    Filtered through fifteen generations have
    Sprung up and found in me sporadic life.
    In me the muttered curse of dying men,
    On me the stain of conquered women, and
    Consuming me the fearful fires of lust,
    Lit long ago, by other hands than mine.
    In me the down-crushed spirit, the hurled-back prayers
    Of wretches now long dead,--their dire bequests.--
    In me the echo of the stifled cry
    Of children for their bartered mothers' breasts.
        I claim no race, no race claims me; I am
    No more than human dregs; degenerate;
    The monstrous offspring of the monster, Sin;
    I am--just what I am.... The race that fed
    Your wives and nursed your babes would do the same
    To-day, but I--

                      Enough, the brute must die!
    Quick! Chain him to that oak! It will resist
    The fire much longer than this slender pine.
    Now bring the fuel! Pile it 'round him! Wait!
    Pile not so fast or high! or we shall lose
    The agony and terror in his face.
    And now the torch! Good fuel that! the flames
    Already leap head-high. Ha! hear that shriek!
    And there's another! wilder than the first.
    Fetch water! Water! Pour a little on
    The fire, lest it should burn too fast. Hold so!
    Now let it slowly blaze again. See there!
    He squirms! He groans! His eyes bulge wildly out,
    Searching around in vain appeal for help!
    Another shriek, the last! Watch how the flesh
    Grows crisp and hangs till, turned to ash, it sifts
    Down through the coils of chain that hold erect
    The ghastly frame against the bark-scorched tree.

        Stop! to each man no more than one man's share.
    You take that bone, and you this tooth; the chain--
    Let us divide its links; this skull, of course,
    In fair division, to the leader comes.

        And now his fiendish crime has been avenged;
    Let us back to our wives and children.--Say,
    What did he mean by those last muttered words,
    "Brothers in spirit, brothers in deed are we"?




FRAGMENT


    The hand of Fate cannot be stayed,
    The course of Fate cannot be steered,
    By all the gods that man has made,
    Nor all the devils he has feared,
    Not by the prayers that might be prayed
    In all the temples he has reared.

    See! In your very midst there dwell
    Ten thousand thousand blacks, a wedge
    Forged in the furnaces of hell,
    And sharpened to a cruel edge
    By wrong and by injustice fell,
    And driven by hatred as a sledge.

    A wedge so slender at the start--
    Just twenty slaves in shackles bound--
    And yet, which split the land apart
    With shrieks of war and battle sound,
    Which pierced the nation's very heart,
    And still lies cankering in the wound.

    Not all the glory of your pride,
    Preserved in story and in song,
    Can from the judging future hide,
    Through all the coming ages long,
    That though you bravely fought and died,
    You fought and died for what was wrong.

    'Tis fixed--for them that violate
    The eternal laws, naught shall avail
    Till they their error expiate;
    Nor shall their unborn children fail
    To pay the full required weight
    Into God's great, unerring scale.

    Think not repentance can redeem,
    That sin his wages can withdraw;
    No, think as well to change the scheme
    Of worlds that move in reverent awe;
    Forgiveness is an idle dream,
    God is not love, no, God is law.




THE WHITE WITCH


    O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!
    The great white witch rides out to-night,
    Trust not your prowess nor your strength;
    Your only safety lies in flight;
    For in her glance there is a snare,
    And in her smile there is a blight.

    The great white witch you have not seen?
    Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,
    Like nursery children you have looked
    For ancient hag and snaggled tooth;
    But no, not so; the witch appears
    In all the glowing charms of youth.

    Her lips are like carnations red,
    Her face like new-born lilies fair,
    Her eyes like ocean waters blue,
    She moves with subtle grace and air,
    And all about her head there floats
    The golden glory of her hair.

    But though she always thus appears
    In form of youth and mood of mirth,
    Unnumbered centuries are hers,
    The infant planets saw her birth;
    The child of throbbing Life is she,
    Twin sister to the greedy earth.

    And back behind those smiling lips,
    And down within those laughing eyes,
    And underneath the soft caress
    Of hand and voice and purring sighs,
    The shadow of the panther lurks,
    The spirit of the vampire lies.

    For I have seen the great white witch,
    And she has led me to her lair,
    And I have kissed her red, red lips
    And cruel face so white and fair;
    Around me she has twined her arms,
    And bound me with her yellow hair.

    I felt those red lips burn and sear
    My body like a living coal;
    Obeyed the power of those eyes
    As the needle trembles to the pole;
    And did not care although I felt
    The strength go ebbing from my soul.

    Oh! she has seen your strong young limbs,
    And heard your laughter loud and gay,
    And in your voices she has caught
    The echo of a far-off day,
    When man was closer to the earth;
    And she has marked you for her prey.

    She feels the old Antæan strength
    In you, the great dynamic beat
    Of primal passions, and she sees
    In you the last besieged retreat
    Of love relentless, lusty, fierce,
    Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.

    O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!
    The great white witch rides out to-night.
    O, younger brothers mine, beware!
    Look not upon her beauty bright;
    For in her glance there is a snare,
    And in her smile there is a blight.




MOTHER NIGHT


    Eternities before the first-born day,
      Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
      Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
    A brooding mother over chaos lay.
    And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
      Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
      The haven of the darkness whence they came;
    Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.

    So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
      And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
       I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
    Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
      And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
       Into the quiet bosom of the Night.




THE YOUNG WARRIOR


    Mother, shed no mournful tears,
    But gird me on my sword;
    And give no utterance to thy fears,
    But bless me with thy word.

    The lines are drawn! The fight is on!
    A cause is to be won!
    Mother, look not so white and wan;
    Give Godspeed to thy son.

    Now let thine eyes my way pursue
    Where'er my footsteps fare;
    And when they lead beyond thy view,
    Send after me a prayer.

    But pray not to defend from harm,
    Nor danger to dispel;
    Pray, rather, that with steadfast arm
    I fight the battle well.

    Pray, mother of mine, that I always keep
    My heart and purpose strong,
    My sword unsullied and ready to leap
    Unsheathed against the wrong.




THE GLORY OF THE DAY WAS IN HER FACE


    The glory of the day was in her face,
    The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
    And over all her loveliness, the grace
    Of Morning blushing in the early skies.

    And in her voice, the calling of the dove;
    Like music of a sweet, melodious part.
    And in her smile, the breaking light of love;
    And all the gentle virtues in her heart.

    And now the glorious day, the beauteous night,
    The birds that signal to their mates at dawn,
    To my dull ears, to my tear-blinded sight
    Are one with all the dead, since she is gone.




SONNET

(_From the Spanish of Plácido_)


    Enough of love! Let break its every hold!
      Ended my youthful folly! for I know
      That, like the dazzling, glister-shedding snow,
    Celia, thou art beautiful, but cold.
    I do not find in thee that warmth which glows,
      Which, all these dreary days, my heart has sought,
      That warmth without which love is lifeless, naught
    More than a painted fruit, a waxen rose.

    Such love as thine, scarce can it bear love's name,
      Deaf to the pleading notes of his sweet lyre,
    A frank, impulsive heart I wish to claim,
      A heart that blindly follows its desire.
    I wish to embrace a woman full of flame,
      I want to kiss a woman made of fire.




FROM THE SPANISH


    Twenty years go by on noiseless feet,
    He returns, and once again they meet,
    She exclaims, "Good heavens! and is that he?"
    He mutters, "My God! and that is she!"




FROM THE GERMAN OF UHLAND


    Three students once tarried over the Rhine,
    And into Frau Wirthin's turned to dine.

    "Say, hostess, have you good beer and wine?
    And where is that pretty daughter of thine?"

    "My beer and wine is fresh and clear.
    My daughter lies on her funeral bier."

    They softly tipped into the room;
    She lay there in the silent gloom.

    The first the white cloth gently raised,
    And tearfully upon her gazed.

    "If thou wert alive, O, lovely maid,
    My heart at thy feet would to-day be laid!"

    The second covered her face again,
    And turned away with grief and pain.

    "Ah, thou upon thy snow-white bier!
    And I have loved thee so many a year."

    The third drew back again the veil,
    And kissed the lips so cold and pale.

    "I've loved thee always, I love thee to-day,
    And will love thee, yes, forever and aye!"




BEFORE A PAINTING


    I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
      What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
      He had created life and love and heart
    On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
    Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
      Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
      Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
    But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

    And over me the sense of beauty fell,
      As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
    Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
      There falls the aureate glory filtered through
          The windows in some old cathedral dim.




I HEAR THE STARS STILL SINGING


    I hear the stars still singing
    To the beautiful, silent night,
    As they speed with noiseless winging
    Their ever westward flight.
    I hear the waves still falling
    On the stretch of lonely shore,
    But the sound of a sweet voice calling
    I shall hear, alas! no more.




GIRL OF FIFTEEN


    Girl of fifteen,
    I see you each morning from my window
    As you pass on your way to school.
    I do more than see, I watch you.
    I furtively draw the curtain aside.
    And my heart leaps through my eyes
    And follows you down the street;
    Leaving me behind, half-hid
    And wholly ashamed.

    What holds me back,
    Half-hid behind the curtains and wholly ashamed,
    But my forty years beyond your fifteen?

    Girl of fifteen, as you pass
    There passes, too, a lightning flash of time
    In which you lift those forty summers off my head,
    And take those forty winters out of my heart.




THE SUICIDE


    For fifty years,
    Cruel, insatiable Old World,
    You have punched me over the heart
    Till you made me cough blood.
    The few paltry things I gathered
    You snatched out of my hands.
    You have knocked the cup from my thirsty lips.
    You have laughed at my hunger of body and soul.

    You look at me now and think,
    "He is still strong,
    There ought to be twenty more years of good punching there.
    At the end of that time he will be old and broken,
    Not able to strike back,
    But cringing and crying for leave
    To live a little longer."

    Those twenty, pitiful, extra years
    Would please you more than the fifty past,
    Would they not, Old World?
    Well, I hold them up before your greedy eyes,
    And snatch them away as I laugh in your face,
    Ha! Ha!
    Bang--!




DOWN BY THE CARIB SEA

I

_Sunrise in the Tropics_


    Sol, Sol, mighty lord of the tropic zone,
    Here I wait with the trembling stars
    To see thee once more take thy throne.

    There the patient palm tree watching
    Waits to say, "Good morn" to thee,
    And a throb of expectation
    Pulses through the earth and me.

    Now, o'er nature falls a hush,
    Look! the East is all a-blush;
    And a growing crimson crest
    Dims the late stars in the west;
    Now, a flood of golden light
    Sweeps across the silver night,
    Swift the pale moon fades away
    Before the light-girt King of Day,
    See! the miracle is done!
    Once more behold! The Sun!


II

_Los Cigarillos_


    This is the land of the dark-eyed _gente_,
    Of the _dolce far niente_,
    Where we dream away
    Both the night and day,
    At night-time in sleep our dreams we invoke,
    Our dreams come by day through the redolent smoke,
    As it lazily curls,
    And slowly unfurls
    From our lips,
    And the tips
    Of our fragrant _cigarillos_.
    For life in the tropics is only a joke,
    So we pass it in dreams, and we pass it in smoke,
    Smoke--smoke--smoke.

    Tropical constitutions
    Call for occasional revolutions;
    But after that's through,
    Why there's nothing to do
    But smoke--smoke;

    For life in the tropics is only a joke,
    So we pass it in dreams, and we pass it in smoke,
    Smoke--smoke--smoke.


III

_Teestay_


    Of tropic sensations, the worst
    Is, _sin duda_, the tropical thirst.

    When it starts in your throat and constantly grows,
    Till you feel that it reaches down to your toes,
    When your mouth tastes like fur
    And your tongue turns to dust,
    There's but one thing to do,
    And do it you must,
    Drink _teestay_.

    _Teestay_, a drink with a history,
    A delicious, delectable mystery,
    "_Cinco centavos el vaso, señor_,"
    If you take one, you will surely want more.

    _Teestay, teestay_,
    The national drink on a feast day;
    How it coolingly tickles,
    As downward it trickles,
    _Teestay, teestay_.

    And you wish, as you take it down at a quaff,
    That your neck was constructed à la giraffe.
    _Teestay, teestay_.


IV

_The Lottery Girl_


    "Lottery, lottery,
    Take a chance at the lottery?
    Take a ticket,
    Or, better, take two;
    Who knows what the future
    May hold for you?
    Lottery, lottery,
    Take a chance at the lottery?"

    Oh, limpid-eyed girl,
    I would take every chance,
    If only the prize
    Were a love-flashing glance
    From your fathomless eyes.

    "Lottery, lottery,
    Try your luck at the lottery?
    Consider the size
    Of the capital prize,
    And take tickets
    For the lottery.
    Tickets, _señor_? Tickets, _señor_?
    Take a chance at the lottery?"

    Oh, crimson-lipped girl,
    With the magical smile,
    I would count that the gamble
    Were well worth the while,
    Not a chance would I miss,
    If only the prize
    Were a honey-bee kiss
    Gathered in sips
    From those full-ripened lips,
    And a love-flashing glance
    From your eyes.


V

_The Dancing Girl_


    Do you know what it is to dance?
    Perhaps, you do know, in a fashion;
    But by dancing I mean,
    Not what's generally seen,
    But dancing of fire and passion,
    Of fire and delirious passion.

    With a dusky-haired _señorita_,
    Her dark, misty eyes near your own,
    And her scarlet-red mouth,
    Like a rose of the south,
    The reddest that ever was grown,
    So close that you catch
    Her quick-panting breath
    As across your own face it is blown,
    With a sigh, and a moan.

    Ah! that is dancing,
    As here by the Carib it's known.

    Now, whirling and twirling
    Like furies we go;
    Now, soft and caressing
    And sinuously slow;
    With an undulating motion,
    Like waves on a breeze-kissed ocean:--
    And the scarlet-red mouth
    Is nearer your own,
    And the dark, misty eyes
    Still softer have grown.

    Ah! that is dancing, that is loving,
    As here by the Carib they're known.


VI

_Sunset in the Tropics_


    A silver flash from the sinking sun,
    Then a shot of crimson across the sky
    That, bursting, lets a thousand colors fly
    And riot among the clouds; they run,
    Deepening in purple, flaming in gold,
    Changing, and opening fold after fold,
    Then fading through all of the tints of the rose into gray,
    Till, taking quick fright at the coming night,
    They rush out down the west,
    In hurried quest
    Of the fleeing day.

    Now above where the tardiest color flares a moment yet,
    One point of light, now two, now three are set
    To form the starry stairs,--
    And, in her fire-fly crown,
    Queen Night, on velvet slippered feet, comes softly down.




AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS WAR


    Around the council-board of Hell, with Satan at their head,
    The Three Great Scourges of humanity sat.
    Gaunt Famine, with hollow cheek and voice, arose and spoke,--
    "O, Prince, I have stalked the earth,
    And my victims by ten thousands I have slain,
    I have smitten old and young.
    Mouths of the helpless old moaning for bread, I have filled with dust;
    And I have laughed to see a crying babe tug at the shriveling breast
    Of its mother, dead and cold.
    I have heard the cries and prayers of men go up to a tearless sky,
    And fall back upon an earth of ashes;
    But, heedless, I have gone on with my work.
    'Tis thus, O, Prince, that I have scourged mankind."

    And Satan nodded his head.

    Pale Pestilence, with stenchful breath, then spoke and said,--
    "Great Prince, my brother, Famine, attacks the poor.
    He is most terrible against the helpless and the old.
    But I have made a charnel-house of the mightiest cities of men.
    When I strike, neither their stores of gold or of grain avail.
    With a breath I lay low their strongest, and wither up their fairest.
    I come upon them without warning, lancing invisible death.
    From me they flee with eyes and mouths distended;
    I poison the air for which they gasp, and I strike them down fleeing.
    'Tis thus, great Prince, that I have scourged mankind."

    And Satan nodded his head.

    Then the red monster, War, rose up and spoke,--
    His blood-shot eyes glared 'round him, and his thundering voice
    Echoed through the murky vaults of Hell.--
    "O, mighty Prince, my brothers, Famine and Pestilence,
    Have slain their thousands and ten thousands,--true;
    But the greater their victories have been,
    The more have they wakened in Man's breast
    The God-like attributes of sympathy, of brotherhood and love
    And made of him a searcher after wisdom.
    But I arouse in Man the demon and the brute,
    I plant black hatred in his heart and red revenge.
    From the summit of fifty thousand years of upward climb
    I haul him down to the level of the start, back to the wolf.
    I give him claws.
    I set his teeth into his brother's throat.
    I make him drunk with his brother's blood.
    And I laugh ho! ho! while he destroys himself.
    O, mighty Prince, not only do I slay,
    But I draw Man hellward."

    And Satan smiled, stretched out his hand, and said,--
    "O War, of all the scourges of humanity, I crown you chief."

    And Hell rang with the acclamation of the Fiends.




A MID-DAY DREAMER


    I love to sit alone, and dream,
    And dream, and dream;
    In fancy's boat to softly glide
    Along some stream
    Where fairy palaces of gold
    And crystal bright
    Stand all along the glistening shore:
    A wondrous sight.

    My craft is built of ivory,
    With silver oars,
    The sails are spun of golden threads,
    And priceless stores
    Of precious gems adorn its prow,
    And 'round its mast
    An hundred silken cords are set
    To hold it fast.

    My galley-slaves are sprightly elves
    Who, as they row,
    And as their shining oars they swing
    Them to and fro,
    Keep time to music wafted on
    The scented air,
    Made by the mermaids as they comb
    Their golden hair.

    And I the while lie idly back,
    And dream, and dream,
    And let them row me where they will
    Adown the stream.




THE TEMPTRESS


    Old Devil, when you come with horns and tail,
    With diabolic grin and crafty leer;
    I say, such bogey-man devices wholly fail
    To waken in my heart a single fear.

    But when you wear a form I know so well,
    A form so human, yet so near divine;
    'Tis then I fall beneath the magic of your spell,
    'Tis then I know the vantage is not mine.

    Ah! when you take your horns from off your head,
    And soft and fragrant hair is in their place;
    I must admit I fear the tangled path I tread
    When that dear head is laid against my face.

    And at what time you change your baleful eyes
    For stars that melt into the gloom of night,
    All of my courage, my dear fellow, quickly flies;
    I know my chance is slim to win the fight.

    And when, instead of charging down to wreck
    Me on a red-hot pitchfork in your hand,
    You throw a pair of slender arms about my neck,
    I dare not trust the ground on which I stand.

    Whene'er in place of using patent wile,
    Or trying to frighten me with horrid grin,
    You tempt me with two crimson lips curved in a smile;
    Old Devil, I must really own, you win.




GHOSTS OF THE OLD YEAR


    The snow has ceased its fluttering flight,
    The wind sunk to a whisper light,
    An ominous stillness fills the night,
      A pause--a hush.
    At last, a sound that breaks the spell,
    Loud, clanging mouthings of a bell,
    That through the silence peal and swell,
      And roll, and rush.

    What does this brazen tongue declare,
    That falling on the midnight air
    Brings to my heart a sense of care
      Akin to fright?
    'Tis telling that the year is dead,
    The New Year come, the Old Year fled,
    Another leaf before me spread
      On which to write.

    It tells the deeds that were not done,
    It tells of races never run,
    Of victories that were not won,
      Barriers unleaped.
    It tells of many a squandered day,
    Of slighted gems and treasured clay,
    Of precious stores not laid away,
      Of fields unreaped.

    And so the years go swiftly by,
    Each, coming, brings ambitions high,
    And each, departing, leaves a sigh
      Linked to the past.
    Large resolutions, little deeds;
    Thus, filled with aims unreached, life speeds
    Until the blotted record reads,
      "Failure!" at last.




THE GHOST OF DEACON BROWN


    In a backwoods town
    Lived Deacon Brown,
    And he was a miser old;
    He would trust no bank,
    So he dug, and sank
    In the ground a box of gold,
    Down deep in the ground a box of gold.

    He hid his gold,
    As has been told,
    He remembered that he did it;
    But sad to say,
    On the very next day,
    He forgot just where he hid it:
    To find his gold he tried and tried
    Till he grew faint and sick, and died.

    Then on each dark and gloomy night
    A form in phosphorescent white,
    A genuine hair-raising sight,
    Would wander through the town.
    And as it slowly roamed around,
    With a spade it dug each foot of ground;
    So the folks about
    Said there was no doubt
    'Twas the ghost of Deacon Brown.

    Around the church
    This Ghost would search,
    And whenever it would see
    The passers-by
    Take wings and fly
    It would laugh in ghostly glee,
    Hee, hee!--it would laugh in ghostly glee.

    And so the town
    Went quickly down,
    For they said that it was haunted;
    And doors and gates,
    So the story states,
    Bore a notice, "Tenants wanted."

    And the town is now for let,
    But the ghost is digging yet.




"LAZY"


    Some men enjoy the constant strife
    Of days with work and worry rife,
    But that is not my dream of life:
      I think such men are crazy.
    For me, a life with worries few,
    A job of nothing much to do,
    Just pelf enough to see me through:
      I fear that I am lazy.

    On winter mornings cold and drear,
    When six o'clock alarms I hear,
    'Tis then I love to shift my ear,
      And hug my downy pillows.
    When in the shade it's ninety-three,
    No job in town looks good to me,
    I'd rather loaf down by the sea,
      And watch the foaming billows.

    Some people think the world's a school,
    Where labor is the only rule;
    But I'll not make myself a mule,
      And don't you ever doubt it.
    I know that work may have its use,
    But still I feel that's no excuse
    For turning it into abuse;
      What do _you_ think about it?

    Let others fume and sweat and boil,
    And scratch and dig for golden spoil,
      And live the life of work and toil,
    Their lives to labor giving.
    But what is gold when life is sped,
    And life is short, as has been said,
    And we are such a long time dead,
      I'll spend my life in living.




OMAR


    Old Omar, jolly sceptic, it may be
    That, after all, you found the magic key
    To life and all its mystery, and I
    Must own you have almost persuaded me.




DEEP IN THE QUIET WOOD


    Are you bowed down in heart?
    Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
    Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
    Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
    From out the palpitating solitude
    Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
    They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
    Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
    They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
    Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
    Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
    It touches the diapason of God's grand cathedral organ,
    Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
    And holy harmonies.




VOLUPTAS


    To chase a never-reached mirage
    Across the hot, white sand,
    And choke and die, while gazing on
    Its green and watered strand.




THE WORD OF AN ENGINEER


    "She's built of steel
    From deck to keel,
    And bolted strong and tight;
    In scorn she'll sail
    The fiercest gale,
    And pierce the darkest night.

    "The builder's art
    Has proved each part
    Throughout her breadth and length;
    Deep in the hulk,
    Of her mighty bulk,
    Ten thousand Titans' strength."

    The tempest howls,
    The Ice Wolf prowls,
    The winds they shift and veer,
    But calm I sleep,
    And faith I keep
    In the word of an engineer.

    Along the trail
    Of the slender rail
    The train, like a nightmare, flies
    And dashes on
    Through the black-mouthed yawn
    Where the cavernous tunnel lies.

    Over the ridge,
    Across the bridge,
    Swung twixt the sky and hell,
    On an iron thread
    Spun from the head
    Of the man in a draughtsman's cell.

    And so we ride
    Over land and tide,
    Without a thought of fear--
    _Man never had
    The faith in God
    That he has in an engineer!_




LIFE


    Out of the infinite sea of eternity
    To climb, and for an instant stand
    Upon an island speck of time.

    From the impassible peace of the darkness
    To wake, and blink at the garish light
    Through one short hour of fretfulness.




SLEEP


    O Sleep, thou kindest minister to man,
      Silent distiller of the balm of rest,
    How wonderful thy power, when naught else can,
      To soothe the torn and sorrow-laden breast!
    When bleeding hearts no comforter can find,
      When burdened souls droop under weight of woe,
    When thought is torture to the troubled mind,
      When grief-relieving tears refuse to flow;
    'Tis then thou comest on soft-beating wings,
      And sweet oblivion's peace from them is shed;
    But ah, the old pain that the waking brings!
      That lives again so soon as thou art fled!

    Man, why should thought of death cause thee to weep;
    Since death be but an endless, dreamless sleep?




PRAYER AT SUNRISE


    O mighty, powerful, dark-dispelling sun,
    Now thou art risen, and thy day begun.
    How shrink the shrouding mists before thy face,
    As up thou spring'st to thy diurnal race!
    How darkness chases darkness to the west,
    As shades of light on light rise radiant from thy crest!
    For thee, great source of strength, emblem of might,
    In hours of darkest gloom there is no night.
    Thou shinest on though clouds hide thee from sight,
    And through each break thou sendest down thy light.

    O greater Maker of this Thy great sun,
    Give me the strength this one day's race to run,
    Fill me with light, fill me with sun-like strength,
    Fill me with joy to rob the day its length.
    Light from within, light that will outward shine,
    Strength to make strong some weaker heart than mine,
    Joy to make glad each soul that feels its touch;
    Great Father of the sun, I ask this much.




THE GIFT TO SING


    Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
    And blackening clouds about me cling;
    But, oh, I have a magic way
    To turn the gloom to cheerful day--
      I softly sing.

    And if the way grows darker still,
    Shadowed by Sorrow's somber wing,
    With glad defiance in my throat,
    I pierce the darkness with a note,
      And sing, and sing.

    I brood not over the broken past,
    Nor dread whatever time may bring;
    No nights are dark, no days are long,
    While in my heart there swells a song,
      And I can sing.




MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT


    When morning shows her first faint flush,
    I think of the tender blush
    That crept so gently to your cheek
    When first my love I dared to speak;
    How, in your glance, a dawning ray
    Gave promise of love's perfect day.

    When, in the ardent breath of noon,
    The roses with passion swoon;
    There steals upon me from the air
    The scent that lurked within your hair;
    I touch your hand, I clasp your form--
    Again your lips are close and warm.

    When comes the night with beauteous skies,
    I think of your tear-dimmed eyes,
    Their mute entreaty that I stay,
    Although your lips sent me away;
    And then falls memory's bitter blight,
    And dark--so dark becomes the night.




HER EYES TWIN POOLS


    Her eyes, twin pools of mystic light,
    The blend of star-sheen and black night;
    O'er which, to sound their glamouring haze,
    A man might bend, and vainly gaze.

    Her eyes, twin pools so dark and deep,
    In which life's ancient mysteries sleep;
    Wherein, to seek the quested goal,
    A man might plunge, and lose his soul.




THE AWAKENING


    I dreamed that I was a rose
    That grew beside a lonely way,
    Close by a path none ever chose,
    And there I lingered day by day.
    Beneath the sunshine and the show'r
    I grew and waited there apart,
    Gathering perfume hour by hour,
    And storing it within my heart,
      Yet, never knew,
    Just why I waited there and grew.

    I dreamed that you were a bee
    That one day gaily flew along,
    You came across the hedge to me,
    And sang a soft, love-burdened song.
    You brushed my petals with a kiss,
    I woke to gladness with a start,
    And yielded up to you in bliss
    The treasured fragrance of my heart;
      And then I knew
    That I had waited there for you.




BEAUTY THAT IS NEVER OLD


    When buffeted and beaten by life's storms,
    When by the bitter cares of life oppressed,
    I want no surer haven than your arms,
    I want no sweeter heaven than your breast.

    When over my life's way there falls the blight
    Of sunless days, and nights of starless skies;
    Enough for me, the calm and steadfast light
    That softly shines within your loving eyes.

    The world, for me, and all the world can hold
    Is circled by your arms; for me there lies,
    Within the lights and shadows of your eyes,
    The only beauty that is never old.




VENUS IN A GARDEN


    'Twas at early morning,
    The dawn was blushing in her purple bed,
    When in a sweet, embowered garden
    She, the fairest of the goddesses,
    The lovely Venus,
    Roamed amongst the roses white and red.
    She sought for flowers
    To make a garland
    For her golden head.

    Snow-white roses, blood-red roses,
    In that sweet garden close,
    Offered incense to the goddess:
    Both the white and the crimson rose.

    White roses, red roses, blossoming:
    But the fair Venus knew
    The crimson roses had gained their hue
    From the hearts that for love had bled;
    And the goddess made a garland
    Gathered from the roses red.




VASHTI


    I sometimes take you in my dreams to a far-off land I used to know,
    Back in the ages long ago; a land of palms and languid streams.

    A land, by night, of jeweled skies, by day, of shores that glistened bright,
    Within whose arms, outstretched and white, a sapphire sea lay crescent-wise.

    Where twilight fell like silver floss, where rose the golden moon half-hid
    Behind a shadowy pyramid; a land beneath the Southern Cross.

    And there the days dreamed in their flight, each one a poem chanted through,
    Which at its close was merged into the muted music of the night.

    And you were a princess in those days. And I--I was your serving lad.
    But who ever served with heart so glad, or lived so for a word of praise?

    And if that word you chanced to speak, how all my senses swayed and reeled,
    Till low beside your feet I kneeled, with happiness o'erwrought and weak.

    If, when your golden cup I bore, you deigned to lower your eyes to mine,
    Eyes cold, yet fervid, like the wine, I knew not how to wish for more.

    I trembled at the thought to dare to gaze upon, to scrutinize
    The deep-sea mystery of your eyes, the sun-lit splendor of your hair.

    To let my timid glances rest upon you long enough to note
    How fair and slender was your throat, how white the promise of your breast.

    But though I did not dare to chance a lingering look, an open gaze
    Upon your beauty's blinding rays, I ventured many a stolen glance.

    I fancy, too, (but could not state what trick of mind the fancy caused)
    At times your eyes upon me paused, and marked my figure lithe and straight.

    Once when my eyes met yours it seemed that in your cheek, despite your pride,
    A flush arose and swiftly died; or was it something that I dreamed?

    Within your radiance like the star of morning, there I stood and served,
    Close by, unheeded, unobserved. You were so near, and, yet, so far.

    Ah! just to stretch my hand and touch the musky sandals on your feet!--
    My breaking heart! of rapture sweet it never could have held so much.

    Oh, beauty-haunted memory! Your face so proud, your eyes so calm,
    Your body like a slim young palm, and sinuous as a willow tree.

    Caught up beneath your slender arms, and girdled 'round your supple waist,
    A robe of curious silk that graced, but only scarce concealed your charms.

    A golden band about your head, a crimson jewel at your throat
    Which, when the sunlight on it smote, turned to a living heart and bled.

    But, oh, that mystic bleeding stone, that work of Nature's magic art,
    Which mimicked so a wounded heart, could never bleed as did my own!

    Now after ages long and sad, in this stern land we meet anew;
    No more a princess proud are you, and I--I am no serving lad.

    And yet, dividing us, I meet a wider gulf than that which stood
    Between a princess of the blood and him who served low at her feet.




THE REWARD


    No greater earthly boon than this I crave,
    That those who some day gather 'round my grave,
    In place of tears, may whisper of me then,
    "He sang a song that reached the hearts of men."
 

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