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 – 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 – Mountain Pines by Robinson Jeffers

Mountain Pines

In scornful upright loneliness they stand,
. . . .Counting themselves no kin of anything
. . . .Whether of earth or sky. Their gnarled roots cling
Like wasted fingers of a clutching hand
In the grim rock. A silent spectral band
. . . .They watch the old sky, but hold no communing
. . . .With aught. Only, when some lone eagle’s wing
Flaps past above their grey and desolate land,
Or when the wind pants up a rough-hewn glen,
. . . .Bending them down as with an age of thought,
. . . .Or when, ‘mid flying clouds that can not dull
Her constant light, the moon shines silver, then
. . . .They find a soul, and their dim moan is wrought
. . . .Into a singing sad and beautiful.

by Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – Hysteria by T. S. Eliot

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Hysteria

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden…” I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – A Violin at Dusk by Lizette Woodworth Reese

A Violin at Dusk

Stumble to silence, all you uneasy things,
That pack the day with bluster and with fret.
For here is music at each window set;
Here is a cup which drips with all the springs
That ever bud a cowslip flower; a roof
To shelter till the argent weathers break;
A candle with enough of light to make
My courage bright against each dark reproof.
A hand’s width of clear gold, unraveled out
The rosy sky, the little moon appears;
As they were splashed upon the paling red,
Vast, blurred, the village poplars lift about.
I think of young, lost things: of lilacs; tears;
I think of an old neighbor, long since dead.

by Lizette Woodworth Reese (1856-1935)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – I Know It Will Be Quiet When You Come by Joseph Auslander

I Know It Will Be Quiet When You Come

I know it will be quiet when you come:
No wind; the water breathing steadily;
A light like ghost of silver on the sea;
And the surf dreamily fingering his drum.
Twilight will drift in large and leave me numb
With nearness to the last tranquility;
And then the slow and languorous tyranny
Of orange moon, pale night, and cricket hum.

And suddenly there will be twist of tide,
A rustling as of thin silk on the sand,
The tremor of a presence at my side,
The tremble of a hand upon my hand:
And pulses sharp with pain, and fires fanned,
And words that stumble into stars and hide.

by Joseph Auslander (1897-1965)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – The Cold Heaven by W. B. Yeats

The Cold Heaven

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim