>> / Edgar Lee Masters

. . Poems Edgar Lee Masters

. . Poems Edgar Lee Masters.

 

/ Edgar Lee Masters, (23 1868 5 1950) .

 

Ace Shaw

I never saw any difference
Between playing cards for money
And selling real estate,
Practicing law, banking, or anything else.
For everything is chance.
Nevertheless
Seest thou a man diligent in business?
He shall stand before Kings!

 

America

Glorious daughter of time! Thou of the mild blue eye
Thou of the virginal forehead pallid, unfurrowed of tears
Thou of the strong white hands with fingers dipped in the dye
Of the blood that quickened the fathers of thee, in the ancient years,
Leave thou the path of the beasts. Return thou again to the hills,
Forsake thou the deserts of death, where ever the burning thirst,
Flames in the throat for blood, for the vile desire that kills,
Where the treacherous sands by the rebel cerastes are cursed,
And the wastes are strewn with the bones of folly and hate.
Return! where the sunlight gladdens the places of green,
Where the stars comes forth, the heralds of faith and fate,
And the winds of eternity breathe from a day unseen.

Thou! what hast thou to do with a time burnt out and done?
With the old Serbonian bog-- the marshes where nations were lost?
Where wailings are heard of the dead, of the slaughtered Roman and Hun,
And phosphorent lights arise in the hands of a stricken ghost,
Dreaming of splendors of battle that glanced from a million shields,
When the Cesars pillaged for lust of gold and hunger of power;
And the giants of Gothland festered and stank on the stretching fields,
And the gods of the living were cursed, too weak to reveal the hour,
When they should triumph and others should writhe in a dread defeat,
In the day of thy grace, O fair and false to thy fathers and time,
O thou whom the snares of kings already encompass thy feet,
With thy singing robes besprent with the old Egyptian slime.

But thou hast harkened to guile, to the cunning words of shame,
To the tempter with pieces of gold and the praise of the drunken throng.
Scornfully push from their hands the crown of a common fame,
Not made for thy peaceful brows, for thou wert not born for wrong.
Thou art the fruit of the groaning cycles of hope and love,
Told of by maddened prophets who never beheld thy face,
Who drew from the teeming earth and the fetterless sky above,
That man was made to be free, and to stamp under foot the mace.
How should thy innocent eyes ever leer with a reddened look?
Or thy hair be scented save of the measureless sea?
Or thy feet know the ways of deceit, wrote out in the murderous book,
By monarchs who shrank from the scourging and doom of thy strength and thee?

Beloved of time and of fate, cherished of justice and truth,
Yet thou art free to do, to choose the ill and to die;
To squander thy beauty for hire, to waste thy eternal youth --
For thou art eternal, if thou heedst them not, but pass by,
Pass and return to the mountains of freedom and peace,
Where heavenward flame the fires, where the torches may be relumed,
To girdle the world with the light that was kindled in olden Greece;
Or that the sparks may be scattered wherever injustice has doomed,
Darkness to be the portion of those who famish for light.
Be thou the great rock's shadow cast in a weary land,
Be thou a star of guidance true in a wintry night,
Be thou thyself, and thyself alone, as heaven hath planned.

 

ANNE RUTLEDGE

Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music:
"With malice toward none, with charity for all."
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!

 

Arlo Will

Did you ever see an alligator
Come up to the air from the mud,
Staring blindly under the full glare of noon?
Have you seen the stabled horses at night
Tremble and start back at the sight of a lantern?
Have you ever walked in darkness
When an unknown door was open before you
And you stood, it seemed, in the light of a thousand candles
Of delicate wax?
Have you walked with the wind in your ears
And the sunlight about you
And found it suddenly shine with an inner splendor?
Out of the mud many times,
Before many doors of light,
Through many fields of splendor,
Where around your steps a soundless glory scatters
Like new-fallen snow,
Will you go through earth, O strong of soul,
And through unnumbered heavens
To the final flame!

 

Carl Hamblin

The press of the Spoon River Clarion was wrecked,
And I was tarred and feathered,
For publishing this on the day the Anarchists were hanged in Chicago:
"I saw a beautiful woman with bandaged eyes
Standing on the steps of a marble temple.
Great multitudes passed in front of her,
Lifting their faces to her imploringly.
In her left hand she held a sword.
She was brandishing the sword,
Sometimes striking a child, again a laborer,
Again a slinking woman, again a lunatic.
In her right hand she held a scale;
Into the scale pieces of gold were tossed
By those who dodged the strokes of the sword.
A man in a black gown read from a manuscript:
'She is no respecter of persons.'
Then a youth wearing a red cap
Leaped to her side and snatched away the bandage.
And lo, the lashes had been eaten away
From the oozy eye-lids;
The eye-balls were seared with a milky mucus;
The madness of a dying soul
Was written on her face --
But the multitude saw why she wore the bandage."

 

Dippold the Optician

What do you see now?
Globes of red, yellow, purple.
Just a moment! And now?
My father and mother and sisters.
Yes! And now?
Knights at arms, beautiful women, kind faces.
Try this.
A field of graina city.
Very good! And now?
A young woman with angels bending over her.
A heavier lens! And now?
Many women with bright eyes and open lips.
Try this.
Just a goblet on a table.
Oh I see! Try this lens!
Just an open spaceI see nothing in particular.
Well, now!
Pine trees, a lake, a summer sky.
Thats better. And now?
A book.
Read a page for me.
I cant. My eyes are carried beyond the page.
Try this lens.
Depths of air.
Excellent! And now?
Light, just light, making everything below it a toy world.
Very well, well make the glasses accordingly.

 

EDITOR WHEDON

To be able to see every side of every question;
To be on every side, to be everything, to be nothing long;
To pervert truth, to ride it for a purpose,
To use great feelings and passions of the human family
For base designs, for cunning ends,
To wear a mask like the Greek actors-
Your eight-page paper-behind which you huddle,
Bawling through the megaphone of big type:
"This is I, the giant."
Thereby also living the life of a sneak-thief,
Poisoned with the anonymous words
Of your clandestine soul.
To scratch dirt over scandal for money,
And exhume it to the winds for revenge,
Or to sell papers,
Crushing reputations, or bodies, if need be,
To win at any cost, save your own life.
To glory in demoniac power, ditching civilization,
As a paranoiac boy puts a log on the track
And derails the express train.
To be an editor, as I was.
Then to lie here close by the river over the place
Where the sewage flows from the village,
And the empty cans and garbage are dumped,
And abortions are hidden.

 

Griffy the Cooper

The cooper should know about tubs.
But I learned about life as well,
And you who loiter around these graves
Think you know life.
You think your eye sweeps about a wide horizon, perhaps,
In truth you are only looking around the interior of your tub.
You cannot lift yourself to its rim
And see the outer world of things,
And at the same time see yourself.
You are submerged in the tub of yourself
Taboos and rules and appearances,
Are the staves of your tub.
Break them and dispel the witchcraft
Of thinking your tub is life!
And that you know life!

 

Hail! Master Death!

When conquerors lift the bloody shield,
Showing the fallen's ooze of life,
And on a waste of blasted field
Joy quickens to the drum and fife,
Then the weird brood of flame and fate,
Far under ground, are ill at ease,
And rock their bodies, as they wait,
When Death shall strangle even these.

The banquet board is red and white,
And laughter bubbles with the wine;
But what's the meed of this delight?
The pauper's children peak and pine!
Enough! our sisters laughing stir
The prescient worm, which scents and sees
The feast time shall not long defer --
For Death shall strangle even these.

Tumbled at last in earth and lost
To church bells, sycophant and priest,
The sodden hulks of those who crossed
The world with sorrow west and east.
True Holder of the scales and sword,
God of all Gods, whose stern decrees
Scatter the emperor's bloody hoard --
Great Death who stranglest even these!

So we shall not forever lie
In graves o'er run by cloven feet --
We, vanquished who were first to die;
We, hooted from the judgment seat.
Come armZd hands and hands that clutch
The bauble world, fall to your knees --
Oh you who triumphed over-much --
For death shall strangle even these.

 

LUCINDA MATLOCK

I went to the dances at Chandlerville,
And played snap-out at Winchester.
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis.
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed -
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you -
It takes life to love Life.

 

O Glorious France

You have become a forge of snow-white fire,
A crucible of molten steel, O France!
Your sons are stars who cluster to a dawn
And fade in light for you, O glorious France!
They pass through meteor changes with a song
Which to all islands and all continents
Says life is neither comfort, wealth, nor fame,
Nor quiet hearthstones, friendship, wife nor child,
Nor love, nor youth's delight, nor manhood's power,
Nor many days spent in a chosen work,
Nor honored merit, nor the patterned theme
Of daily labor, nor the crowns nor wreaths
Of seventy years.

These are not all of life,
O France, whose sons amid the rolling thunder
Of cannon stand in trenches where the dead
Clog the ensanguined ice. But life to these
Prophetic and enraptured souls in vision,
And the keen ecstasy of faded strife,
And divination of the loss as gain,
And reading mysteries with brightened eyes
In fiery shock and dazzling pain before
The orient splendour of the face of Death,
As a great light beside a shadowy sea;
And in a high will's strenuous exercise,
Where the warmed spirit finds its fullest strength
And is no more afraid, and in the stroke
Of azure lightning when the hidden essence
And shifting meaning of man's spiritual worth
And mystical significance in time
Are instantly distilled to one clear drop
Which mirrors earth and heaven.

This is life
Flaming to heaven in a minute's span
When the breath of battle blows the smouldering spark.
And across these seas
We who cry Peace and treasure life and cling
To cities, happiness, or daily toil
For daily bread, or trail the long routine
Of seventy years, taste not the terrible wine
Whereof you drink, who drain and toss the cup
Empty and ringing by the finished feast;
Or have it shaken from your hand by sight
Of God against the olive woods.

As Joan of Arc amid the apple trees
With sacred joy first heard the voices, then
Obeying plunged at Orleans in a field
Of spears and lived her dream and died in fire,
Thou, France, hast heard the voices and hast lived
The dream and known the meaning of the dream,
And read its riddle: how the soul of man
May to one greatest purpose make itself
A lens of clearness, how it loves the cup
Of deepest truth, and how its bitterest gall
Turns sweet to soul's surrender.

And you say:
Take days for repitition, stretch your hands
For mocked renewal of familiar things:
The beaten path, the chair beside the window,
The crowded street, the task, the accustomed sleep,
And waking to the task, or many springs
Of lifted cloud, blue water, flowering fields --
The prison-house grows close no less, the feast
A place of memory sick for senses dulled
Down to the dusty end where pitiful Time
Grown weary cries Enough!

 

Professor Newcomer

Everyone laughed at Col. Prichard
For buying an engine so powerful
That it wrecked itself, and wrecked the grinder
He ran it with.
But here is a joke of cosmic size:
The urge of nature that made a man
Evolve from his brain a spiritual life --
Oh miracle of the world! --
The very same brain with which the ape and wolf
Get food and shelter and procreate themselves.
Nature has made man do this,
In a world where she gives him nothing to do
After all -- (though the strength of his soul goes round
In a futile waste of power.
To gear itself to the mills of the gods) --
But get food and shelter and procreate himself!

 

THE HILL

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm,
the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud,
the proud, the happy one?-
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart's desire,
One after life in a far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and
Kate and Maggy-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigny Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?-
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children, fatherless, crying-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with hared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary's Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

 

Widow McFarlane

I was the Widow McFarlane,
Weaver of carpets for all the village.
And I pity you still at the loom of life,
You who are singing to the shuttle
And lovingly watching the work of your hands,
If you reach the day of hate, of terrible truth.
For the cloth of life is woven, you know,
To a pattern hidden under the loom --
A pattern you never see!
And you weave high-hearted, singing, singing,
You guard the threads of love and friendship
For noble figures in gold and purple.
And long after other eyes can see
You have woven a moon-white strip of cloth,
You laugh in your strength, for Hope overlays it
With shapes of love and beauty.
The loom stops short! The pattern's out!
You're alone in the room! You have woven a shroud!
And hate of it lays you in it!

 

Yee Bow

They got me into the Sunday-school
In Spoon River
And tried to get me to drop Confucius for Jesus.
I could have been no worse off
If I had tried to get them to drop Jesus for Confucius.
For, without any warning, as if it were a prank,
And sneaking up behind me, Harry Wiley,
The minister's son, caved my ribs into my lungs,
With a blow of his fist.
Now I shall never sleep with my ancestors in Pekin,
And no children shall worship at my grave.

 

Zilpha Marsh

At four o'clock in late October
I sat alone in the country school-house
Back from the road 'mid stricken fields,
And an eddy of wind blew leaves on the pane,
And crooned in the flue of the cannon-stove,
With its open door blurring the shadows
With the spectral glow of a dying fire.
In an idle mood I was running the planchette --
All at once my wrist grew limp,
And my hand moved rapidly over the board,
Till the name of "Charles Guiteau" was spelled,
Who threatened to materialize before me.
I rose and fled from the room bare-headed
Into the dusk, afraid of my gift.
And after that the spirits swarmed --
Chaucer, Caesar, Poe and Marlowe,
Cleopatra and Mrs. Surratt --
Wherever I went, with messages, --
Mere trifling twaddle, Spoon River agreed.
You talk nonsense to children, don't you?
And suppose I see what you never saw
And never heard of and have no word for,
I must talk nonsense when you ask me
What it is I see!

. . Poems Edgar Lee Masters
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