Vintage verse – Songs for the People by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

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Songs for the People

Let me make the songs for the people,
. . . .Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
. . . .Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
. . . .For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
. . . .With more abundant life.

Let me make the songs for the weary,
. . . .Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
. . . .And careworn brows forget.

Let me sing for little children,
. . . .Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
. . . .To float o’er life’s highway.

I would sing for the poor and aged,
. . . .When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
. . . .Where there shall be no night.

Our world, so worn and weary,
. . . .Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
. . . .Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
. . . .Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
. . . .Girdle the world with peace.

by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

[Editor’s Note: Though I posted this poem last year, it seems appropriate to post it once again.]

Vintage verse – Celia by Lola Ridge

Celia

Cherry, cherry,
glowing on the hearth,
bright red cherry…
When you try to pick up cherry
Celia’s shriek
sticks in you like a pin.

: :

When God throws hailstones
you cuddle in Celia’s shawl
and press your feet on her belly
high up like a stool.
When Celia makes umbrella of her hand.
Rain falls through
big pink spokes of her fingers.
When wind blows Celia’s gown up off her legs
she runs under pillars of the bank—
great round pillars of the bank
have on white stockings too.

: :

Celia says my father
will bring me a golden bowl.
When I think of my father
I cannot see him
for the big yellow bowl
like the moon with two handles
he carries in front of him.

: :

Grandpa, grandpa…
(Light all about you…
ginger…pouring out of green jars…)
You don’t believe he has gone away and left his great coat…
so you pretend…you see his face up in the ceiling.
When you clap your hands and cry, grandpa, grandpa, grandpa,
Celia crosses herself.

: :

It isn’t a dream…
It comes again and again…
You hear ivy crying on steeples
the flames haven’t caught yet
and images screaming
when they see red light on the lilies
on the stained glass window of St. Joseph.
The girl with the black eyes holds you tight,
and you run…and run
past the wild, wild towers…
and trees in the gardens tugging at their feet
and little frightened dolls
shut up in the shops
crying…and crying…because no one stops…
you spin like a penny thrown out in the street.
Then the man clutches her by the hair…
He always clutches her by the hair…
His eyes stick out like spears.
You see her pulled-back face
and her black, black eyes
lit up by the glare…
Then everything goes out.
Please God, don’t let me dream any more
of the girl with the black, black eyes.

: :

Celia’s shadow rocks and rocks…
and mama’s eyes stare out of the pillow
as though she had gone away
and the night had come in her place
as it comes in empty rooms…
you can’t bear it—
the night threshing about
and lashing its tail on its sides
as bold as a wolf that isn’t afraid—and you scream at her face, that is white as a stone on a grave
and pull it around to the light,
till the night draws backward…the night that walks alone
and goes away without end.
Mama says, I am cold, Betty, and shivers.
Celia tucks the quilt about her feet,
but I run for my little red cloak
because red is hot like fire.

: :

I wish Celia
could see the sea climb up on the sky
and slide off again…
…Celia saying
I’d beg the world with you…
Celia…holding on to the cab…
hands wrenched away…
wind in the masts…like Celia crying…
Celia never minded if you slapped her
when the comb made your hairs ache,
but though you rub your cheek against mama’s hand
she has not said darling since…
Now I will slap her again…
I will bite her hand till it bleeds.

It is cool by the port hole.
The wet rags of the wind
flap in your face.

by Lola Ridge (1873-1941)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Vintage verse – Epigram on Rough Woods by Robert Burns

Epigram on Rough Woods

I’m now arrived—thanks to the gods!—
. . . .Thro’ pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that makin roads
. . . .Is no this people’s study:
Altho’ Im not wi’ Scripture cram’d,
. . . .I’m sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn’d,
. . . .Unless they mend their ways.

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Vintage verse – The Witch by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

The Witch

I have walked a great while over the snow,
And I am not tall nor strong.
My clothes are wet, and my teeth are set,
And the way was hard and long.
I have wandered over the fruitful earth,
But I never came here before.
Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!

The cutting wind is a cruel foe.
I dare not stand in the blast.
My hands are stone, and my voice a groan,
And the worst of death is past.
I am but a little maiden still,
My little white feet are sore.
Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!

Her voice was the voice that women have,
Who plead for their heart’s desire.
She came—she came—and the quivering flame
Sunk and died in the fire.
It never was lit again on my hearth
Since I hurried across the floor,
To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door.

by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Vintage verse – The Caterpillar by Robert Graves

The Caterpillar

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man’s-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I munch and nibble unregarding:
Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm.
I’ll mind my business: I’m a good worm.

When I’m old, tired, melancholy,
I’ll build a leaf-green mausoleum
Close by, here on this lovely spray,
And die and dream the ages away.

Some say worms win resurrection,
With white wings beating flitter-flutter,
But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care?
Either way I’ll miss my share.

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A hungry, hairy caterpillar,
I crawl on my high and swinging seat,
And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat.

by Robert Graves (1895-1985)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

[Editor’s Note: Please forgive the double posting. The previous post had the incorrect poet—this poem is by Robert Graves, not Walt Whitman.]

Vintage verse – Song of the Open Road, I by Walt Whitman

Song of the Open Road, I

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

Vintage verse – Languages by Carl Sandburg

Languages

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – Sonnet 54 by William Shakespeare

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Vintage verse – Sonnet 102 by William Shakespeare

My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized whose rich esteeming
The owner’s tongue doth publish everywhere.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops her pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.

by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Vintage verse – Sonnet 105 by William Shakespeare

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confin’d,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often liv’d alone,
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one.

by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)