These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods—
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.
The Freedom of the Moon
I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.
I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.
The Rose Family
The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only know
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose—
But were always a rose.
Fireflies in the Garden
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
Inscription for a Garden Wall
Winds blow the open grassy places bleak;
But where this old wall burns a sunny cheek,
They eddy over it too toppling weak
To blow the earth or anything self-clear;
Moisture and color and odor thicken here.
The hours of daylight gather atmosphere.
The hear can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean–
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.
On Going Unnoticed
As vain to raise a voice as a sigh
In the tumult of free leaves on high.
What are you in the shadow of trees
Engaged up there with the light and breeze?
Less than the coral-root you know
That is content with the daylight low,
And has no leaves at all of its own;
Whose spotted flowers hang meanly down.
You grasp the bark by a rugged pleat,
And look up small from the forest’s feet.
The only leaf it drops goes wide,
Your name not written on either side.
You linger your little hour and are gone,
And still the wood sweep leafily on,
Not even missing the coral-root flower
You took as a trophy of the hour.
As far as I can see this autumn haze
That spreading in the evening air both way,
Makes the new moon look anything but new,
And pours the elm-tree meadow full of blue,
Is all the smoke from one poor house alone
With but one chimney it can call its own;
So close it will not light an early light,
Keeping its life so close and out of sign
No one for hours has set a foot outdoors
So much as to take care of evening chores.
The inmates may be lonely women-folk.
I want to tell them that with all this smoke
They prudently are spinning their cocoon
And anchoring it to an earth and moon
From which no winter gale can hope to blow it—
Spinning their own cocoon did they but know it.
A Passing Glimpse
To Ridgely Torrence
On last looking into His ‘Hesperides’
I often see flowers from a passing car
That are gone before I can tell what they are.
I want to get out of the train and go back
To see what they were beside the track.
I name all the flowers I am sure they weren’t;
Not fireweed loving where woods have burnt—
Not bluebells gracing a tunnel mouth—
Not lupine living on sand and drouth.
Was something brushed across my mind
That no one on earth will ever find?
Heaven gives its glimpses only to those
Not in position to look too close.
A Peck of Gold
Dust always blowing about the town,
Except when sea-fog laid it down,
And I was one of the children told
Some of the blowing dust was gold.
All the dust the wind blew high
Appeared like god in the sunset sky,
But I was one of the children told
Some of the dust was really gold.
Such was life in the Golden Gate:
Gold dusted all we drank and ate,
And I was one of the children told,
“We all must eat our peck of gold.”
When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, “Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night bee too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.”
Once By The Pacific
The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.
The rain to the wind said,
“You push and I’ll pelt.”
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
A Minor Bird
I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.
Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and day was past.
Somber clouds in the west were massed.
Out in the porch’s sagging floor,
leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.
Tree At My Window
Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.
The Peaceful Shepherd
If heaven were to do again,
And on the pasture bars,
I leaned to line the figures in
Between the dotted starts,
I should be tempted to forget,
I fear, the Crown of Rule,
The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
As hardly worth renewal.
For these have governed in our lives,
And see how men have warred.
The Cross, the Crown, the Scales may all
As well have been the Sword.
Out alone in the winter rain,
Intent on giving and taking pain.
But never was I far out of sight
Of a certain upper-window light.
The light was what it was all about:
I would not go in till the light went out;
It would not go out till I came in.
Well, we should wee which one would win,
We should see which one would be first to yield.
The world was black invisible field.
The rain by rights was snow for cold.
The wind was another layer of mold.
But the strangest thing: in the thick old thatch,
Where summer birds had been given hatch,
had fed in chorus, and lived to fledge,
Some still were living in hermitage.
And as I passed along the eaves,
So low I brushed the straw with my sleeves,
I flushed birds out of hole after hole,
Into the darkness. It grieved my soul,
It started a grief within a grief,
To think their case was beyond relief–
They could not go flying about in search
Of their nest again, nor find a perch.
They must brood where they fell in mulch and mire,
Trusting feathers and inward fire
Till daylight made it safe for a flyer.
My greater grief was by so much reduced
As I though of them without nest or roost.
That was how that grief started to melt.
They tell me the cottage where we dwelt,
Its wind-torn thatch goes now unmended;
Its life of hundred of years has ended
By letting the rain I knew outdoors
In on to the upper chamber floors.
A Winter Eden
A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.
It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.
It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.
So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.
A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.
Blood has been harder to dam back than water.
Just when we think we have it impounded safe
Behind new barrier walls (and let it chafe!),
It breaks away in some new kind of slaughter.
We choose to say it is let loose by the devil;
But power of blood itself releases blood.
It goes by might of being such a flood
Held high at so unnatural a level.
It will have outlet, brave and not so brave.
Weapons of war and implements of peace
Are but the points at which it finds release.
And now it is once more the tidal wave
That when it has swept by leaves summits stained.
Oh, blood will out. It cannot be contained.
Acquainted With The Night
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain –and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
The Lovely Shall Be Choosers
The Voice said, “Hurl her down!”
The Voices, “How far down?”
“Seven levels of the world.”
“How much time have we?”
“Take twenty years.
She would refuse love safe with wealth and honor!
The lovely shall be choosers, shall they?
Then let them choose!”
“Then we shall let her choose?”
“Yes, let her choose.
Take up the task beyond her choosing.”
Invisible hands crowded on her shoulder
In readiness to weigh upon her.
But she stood straight still,
In broad round earrings, gold and jet with pearls,
And broad round suchlike brooch,
Her cheeks high-colored’
Proud and the pride of friends.
The Voice asked, “You can let her choose?”
“Yes, we can let her and still triumph.”
“Do it by joys, and leave her always blameless.
Be her first joy her wedding,
That though a wedding,
Is yet – well, something they know, he and she.
And after that her next joy
That though she grieves, her grief is secret:
Those friends know nothing of her grief to make it shameful.
Her third joy that though now they cannot help but know,
They move in pleasure too far off
To think much or much care.
Give her a child at either knee for fourth joy
To tell once and once only, for them never to forget,
How once she walked in brightness,
And make them see it in the winter firelight.
But give her friends, for then she dare not tell
For their foregone incredulousness.
And be her next joy this:
Her never having deigned to tell them.
Make her among the humblest even
Seem to them less than they are.
Hopeless of being known for what she has been,
Failing of being loved for what she is,
Give her the comfort for her sixth of knowing
She fails from strangeness to a way of life
She came to from too high too late to learn.
Then send some one with eyes to see
And wonder at her where she is,
And words to wonder in her hearing how she came there,
But without time to linger for her story.
Be her last joy her heart’s going out to this one
So that she almost speaks.
You know them – seven in all.”
“Trust us,” the Voices said.
‘Fred, where is north?’
‘North? North is there, my love.
The brook runs west.’
‘West-running Brook then call it.’
(West-Running Brook men call it to this day.)
‘What does it think it’s doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries
The way I can with you — and you with me –
Because we’re — we’re — I don’t know what we are.
What are we?’
“Young or new?
“We must be something.
We’ve said we two. Let’s change that to we three.
As you and I are married to each other,
We’ll both be married to the brook. We’ll build
Our bridge across it, and the bridge shall be
Our arm thrown over it asleep beside it.
Look, look, it’s waving to us with a wave
To let us know it hears me. ”
“Why, my dear,
That wave’s been standing off this jut of shore –”
(The black stream, catching a sunken rock,
Flung backward on itself in one white wave,
And the white water rode the black forever,
Not gaining but not losing, like a bird
White feathers from the struggle of whose breast
Flecked the dark stream and flecked the darker pool
Below the point, and were at last driven wrinkled
In a white scarf against the far shore alders.)
“That wave’s been standing off this jut of shore
Ever since rivers, I was going to say,’
Were made in heaven. It wasn’t waved to us. ”
“It wasn’t, yet it was. If not to you
It was to me — in an annunciation. ”
“Oh, if you take it off to lady-land,
As’t were the country of the Amazons
We men must see you to the confines of
And leave you there, ourselves forbid to enter,-
It is your brook! I have no more to say. ”
“Yes, you have, too. Go on. You thought of something. ”
“Speaking of contraries, see how the brook
In that white wave runs counter to itself.
It is from that in water we were from
Long, long before we were from any creature.
Here we, in our impatience of the steps,
Get back to the beginning of beginnings,
The stream of everything that runs away.
Some say existence like a Pirouot
And Pirouette, forever in one place,
Stands still and dances, but it runs away,
It seriously, sadly, runs away
To fill the abyss’ void with emptiness.
It flows beside us in this water brook,
But it flows over us. It flows between us
To separate us for a panic moment.
It flows between us, over us, and with us.
And it is time, strength, tone, light, life and love-
And even substance lapsing unsubstantial;
The universal cataract of death
That spends to nothingness — and unresisted,
Save by some strange resistance in itself,
Not just a swerving, but a throwing back,
As if regret were in it and were sacred.
It has this throwing backward on itself
So that the fall of most of it is always
Raising a little, sending up a little.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us. ”
“To-day will be the day….You said so. ”
“No, to-day will be the day
You said the brook was called West-running Brook. ”
“To-day will be the day of what we both said.”
Sea waves are green and wet,
But up from where they die,
Rise others vaster yet,
And those are brown and dry.
They are the sea made land
To come at the fisher town,
And bury in solid sand
The men she could not drown.
She may know cove and cape,
But she does not know mankind
If by any change of shape,
She hopes to cut off mind.
Men left her a ship to sink:
They can leave her a hut as well;
And be but more free to think
For the one more cast-off shell.
The great Overdog
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye
Gives a leap in the east.
He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.
I’m a poor underdog,
But tonight I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.
He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled,
That lies unlifted now, come dew, come rust,
But still lies pointed as it ploughed the dust.
If we who sight along it round the world,
See nothing worthy to have been its mark,
It is because like men we look too near,
Forgetting that as fitted to the sphere,
Our missiles always make too short an arc.
They fall, they rip the grass, they intersect
The curve of earth, and striking, break their own;
They make us cringe for metal-point on stone.
But this we know, the obstacle that checked
And tripped the body, shot the spirit on
Further than target ever showed or shone.
No ship of all that under sail or steam
Have gathered people to us more and more
But Pilgrim-manned the Mayflower in a dream
Has been her anxious convoy in to shore.
Was there even a cause too lost,
Ever a cause that was lost too long,
Or that showed with the lapse of time to vain
For the generous tears of youth and song?
The Flower Boat
The fisherman’s swapping a yarn for a yarn
Under the hand of the village barber,
And her in the angle of house and barn
His deep-sea dory has found a harbor.
At anchor she rides the sunny sod
As full to the gunnel of flowers growing
As ever she turned her home with cod
From George’s bank when winds were blowing.
And I judge from that elysian freight
That all they ask is rougher weather,
And dory and master will sail by fate
To seek the Happy Isles together.
The Times Table
More than halfway up the pass
Was a spring with a broken drinking glass,
And whether the farmer drank or not
His mare was sure to observe the spot
By cramping the wheel on a water-bar,
turning her forehead with a star,
And straining her ribs for a monster sigh;
To which the farmer would make reply,
‘A sigh for every so many breath,
And for every so many sigh a death.
That’s what I always tell my wife
Is the multiplication table of life.’
The saying may be ever so true;
But it’s just the kind of a thing that you
Nor I, nor nobody else may say,
Unless our purpose is doing harm,
And then I know of no better way
To close a road, abandon a farm,
Reduce the births of the human race,
And bring back nature in people’s place.
Over back where they speak of life as staying
(“You couldn’t call it living, for it ain’t”),
There was an old, old house renewed with paint,
And in it a piano loudly playing.
Out in the plowed ground in the cold a digger,
Among unearthed potatoes standing still,
Was counting winter dinners, one a hill,
With half an ear to the piano’s vigor.
All that piano and new paint back there,
Was it some money suddenly come into?
Or some extravagance young love had been to?
Or old love on an impulse not to care–
Not to sink under being man and wife,
But get some color and music out of life?
The Last Mowing
There’s a place called Faraway Meadow
We never shall mow in again,
Or such is the talk at the farmhouse:
The meadow is finished with men.
Then now is the chance for the flowers
That can’t stand mowers and plowers.
It must be now, through, in season
Before the not mowing brings trees on,
Before trees, seeing the opening,
March into a shadowy claim.
The trees are all I’m afraid of,
That flowers can’t bloom in the shade of;
It’s no more men I’m afraid of;
The meadow is done with the tame.
The place for the moment is ours
For you, oh tumultuous flowers,
To go to waste and go wild in,
All shapes and colors of flowers,
I needn’t call you by name.
Here further up the mountain slope
Than there was every any hope,
My father built, enclosed a spring,
Strung chains of wall round everything,
Subdued the growth of earth to grass,
And brought our various lives to pass.
A dozen girls and boys we were.
The mountain seemed to like the stir,
And made of us a little while–
With always something in her smile.
Today she wouldn’t know our name.
(No girl’s, of course, has stayed the same.)
The mountain pushed us off her knees.
And now her lap is full of trees.
The Door in the Dark
In going from room to room in the dark,
I reached out blindly to save my face,
But neglected, however lightly, to lace
My fingers and close my arms in an arc.
A slim door got in past my guard,
And hit me a blow in the head so hard
I had my native simile jarred.
So people and things don’t pair any more
With what they used to pair with before.
Dust in the Eyes
If, as they say, some dust thrown in my eyes
Will keep my talk from getting overwise,
I’m not the one for putting off the proof.
Let it be overwhelming, off a roof
And round a corner, blizzard snow for dust,
And blind me to a standstill if it must.
Sitting by a Bush in Broad Sunlight
When I spread out my hand here today,
I catch no more than a ray
To feel of between thumb and fingers;
No lasting effect of it lingers.
There was one time and only the one
When dust really took in the sun;
And from that one intake of fire
All creatures still warmly suspire.
And if men have watched a long time
And never seen sun-smitten slime
Again come to life and crawl off,
We not be too ready to scoff.
God once declared he was true
And then took the veil and withdrew,
And remember how final a hush
Then descended of old on the bush.
God once spoke to people by name.
The sun once imparted its flame.
One impulse persists as our breath;
The other persists as our faith.
For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at. once
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with~ hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.
What Fifty Said
When I was young my teachers were the old.
I gave up fire for form till I was cold.
I suffered like a metal being cast.
I went to school to age to learn the past.
Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I got to school to youth to learn the future.
The surest thing there is is we are riders,
And though none too successful at it, guiders,
Through everything presented, land and tide
And now the very air, of what we ride.
What is this talked-of mystery of birth
But being mounted bareback on the earth?
We can just see the infant up astride,
His small fist buried in the bushy hide.
There is our wildest mount–a headless horse.
But though it runs unbridled off its course,
And all our blandishments would seem defied,
We have ideas yet that we haven’t tried.
On Looking Up By Chance At The Constellations
You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last to-night.
The bear puts both arms around the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its choke cherries lips to kiss good-bye,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.
Her next step rocks a boulder on the wall
(She’s making her cross-country in the fall).
Her great weight creaks the barbed-wire in its staples
As she flings over and off down through the maples,
Leaving on one wire moth a lock of hair.
Such is the uncaged progress of the bear.
The world has room to make a bear feel free;
The universe seems cramped to you and me.
Man acts more like the poor bear in a cage
That all day fights a nervous inward rage~
His mood rejecting all his mind suggests.
He paces back and forth and never rests
The me-nail click and shuffle of his feet,
The telescope at one end of his beat~
And at the other end the microscope,
Two instruments of nearly equal hope,
And in conjunction giving quite a spread.
Or if he rests from scientific tread,
‘Tis only to sit back and sway his head
Through ninety odd degrees of arc, it seems,
Between two metaphysical extremes.
He sits back on his fundamental butt
With lifted snout and eyes (if any) shut,
(lie almost looks religious but he’s not),
And back and forth he sways from cheek to cheek,
At one extreme agreeing with one Greek~
At the other agreeing with another Greek
Which may be thought, but only so to speak.
A baggy figure, equally pathetic
When sedentary and when peripatetic.
The Egg and the Machine
He gave the solid rail a hateful kick.
From far away there came an answering tick
And then another tick. He knew the code:
His hate had roused an engine up the road.
He wished when he had had the track alone
He had attacked it with a club or stone
And bent some rail wide open like switch
So as to wreck the engine in the ditch.
Too late though, now, he had himself to thank.
Its click was rising to a nearer clank.
Here it came breasting like a horse in skirts.
(He stood well back for fear of scalding squirts.)
Then for a moment all there was was size
Confusion and a roar that drowned the cries
He raised against the gods in the machine.
Then once again the sandbank lay serene.
The traveler’s eye picked up a turtle train,
between the dotted feet a streak of tail,
And followed it to where he made out vague
But certain signs of buried turtle’s egg;
And probing with one finger not too rough,
He found suspicious sand, and sure enough,
The pocket of a little turtle mine.
If there was one egg in it there were nine,
Torpedo-like, with shell of gritty leather
All packed in sand to wait the trump together.
“You’d better not disturb any more,”
He told the distance, ‘I am armed for war.
The next machine that has the power to pass
Will get this plasm in it goggle glass.”