Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

March 15, 2007

The Ella Wheeler Wilcox Top 30 Countdown

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1850-1919, was an American poet and mystic, one of the two poets I can find who was labelled as Poet Laureate of Humanity, the other being Rumi. As Rumi is today, she was known to be the most read poet in America in her time. There is much to find about her life and writings at Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society, where poems, photos, biographies and such have been brought together for perusal. Reading through her thousands of poems and revisions there, I have selected the top 30 Ella Wheeler Wilcox poems, and count them down for you below.
   
   

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#30

   
   
The Ship and the Boat
   
   
In the great ship Life we speed along,
    With sails and pennons spread.
And tethered, beside the great ship, glide
    The mystic boats for the dead.

Over the deck of the ship of Life
    Our loved and lost we lower.
And calm and steady, his small boat ready,
    Death silently sits at the oar.

He rows our dead away from our sight–
    Away from our hearing or ken.
We call and cry for a last good-bye,
    But they never come back again.

The ship of Life bounds on and on;
    The river of Time runs fast;
And yet more swift our dear dead drift
    For ever back into the Past.

We do not forget those loved and lost,
    But they fade away like a dream:
As we hurry along on the current strong
    Of Time’s great turbulent stream.

On and on, and ever away,
    Our sails are filled by the wind;
We see new places, we meet new faces,
    And the dead are far behind.

Their boats have drifted into the sea
    That laves God’s holy feet.
But the river’s course, too, seeks that source,
    So the ship and the boat shall meet.
   
   

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#29

   
   
Bleak Weather
   
   
Dear Love, where the red lilies blossomed and grew
    The white snows are falling;
And all through the woods where I wandered with you
    The loud winds are calling;
And the robin that piped to us tune upon tune,
    ‘Neath the oak you remember,
O’er hilltop and forest has followed the June
    And left us December.
He has left like a friend who is true in the sun
    And false in the shadows;
He has found new delights in the land where he’s gone,
    Greener woodlands and meadows.
Let him go! what care we? let the snow shroud the lea,
    Let it drift on the heather;
We can sing through it all; I have you, you have me,
    And we’ll laugh at the weather.

The old year may die and a new year be born
    That is bleaker and colder:
It cannot dismay us: we dare it, we scorn,
    For our love makes us bolder.
Ah, Robin! sing loud on your far distant lea,
    You friend in fair weather!
But here is a song sung that’s fuller of glee
    By two warm hearts together.
   
   

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#28

   
   
Old and New
   
   
Long have the poets vaunted, in their lays,
Old times, old loves, old friendship, and old wine.
Why should the old monopolise all praise?
Then let the new claim mine.

Give me strong new friends, when the old prove weak,
Or fail me in my darkest hour of need;
Why perish with the ship that springs a leak,
Or lean upon a reed?

Give me new love, warm, palpitating, sweet,
When all the grace and beauty leaves the old;
When like a rose it withers at my feet,
Or like a hearth grows cold.

Give me new times, bright with a prosperous cheer,
In place of old, tear-blotted, burdened days;
I hold a sunlit present far more dear,
And worthy of my praise.

When the old creeds are threadbare, and worn through,
And all too narrow for the broadening soul,
Give me the fine, firm texture of the new,
Fair, beautiful and whole.
   
   

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#27

   
   
Worldly Wisdom
   
   
If it were in my dead Past’s power
    To let my Present bask
In some lost pleasure for an hour,
    This is the boon I’d ask:

Re-pedestal from out the dust
    Where long ago ’twas hurled,
My beautiful incautious trust
    In this unworthy world.

The symbol of my own soul’s truth–
    I saw it go with tears–
The sweet unwisdom of my youth–
    That vanished with the years.

Since knowledge brings us only grief,
    I would return again
To happy ignorance and belief
    In motives and in men.

For worldly wisdom learned in pain
    Is in itself a cross,
Significant mayhap of gain,
    Yet sign of saddest loss.
   
   

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#26

   
   
Sunset
   
   
I saw the day lean o’er the world’s sharp edge
    And peer into night’s chasm dark and damp.
    High in his hand he held a blazing lamp,
Then dropped it and plunged headlong down the ledge.

With lurid splendor that swift paled to gray,
    I saw the dim skies suddenly flush bright.
    ‘Twas but the expiring glory of the light
Flung from the hand of the adventurous day.
   
   

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#25

   
   
Winter Rain
   
   
Falling upon the frozen world last night
    I heard the slow beat of the winter rain–
    Poor foolish drops, down-dripping all in vain;
The ice-bound Earth but mocked their puny might;
Far better had the fixedness of white
And uncomplaining snows–which make no sign,
But coldly smile, when pitying moonbeams shine–
Concealed its sorrow from all human sight.
Long, long ago, in blurred and burdened years,
    I learned the uselessness of uttered woe.
    Though sinewy Fate deals her most skilful blow,
I do not waste the gall now of my tears,
    But feed my pride upon its bitter, while
    I look straight in the world’s bold eyes, and smile.
   
   

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#24

   
   
A Revery in the Station-House
   
   
Last night I walked along the city street
And smiled at men; they saw the ancient sin
In my young eyes, and one said, “Come with me.”
I went with him, believing my poor purse
Would fatten with his gold. He brought me here
And turned the key upon me. In an hour,
I shall be called before the judge and fined,
Because I have solicited. How strange
And inexplicable a thing is law–
How curious its whys, and why-nots! I
Was young and innocent of evil thought
A few brief years ago. My brother’s friend,
A social favorite to whom all doors
Were open (and a church communicant),
Sought me, soliciting my faith and trust,
And brushed the dew of virtue from my lips;
Then left me to my solitary thoughts.
Death and misfortune entered on the scene;
I was thrown out to battle with the world,
And hide the anguish of a maid deflowered.

I left my first employer,–left because
He, too, solicited those favors that
No contract mentions, but which seem to be
Expected duties by unwritten law
In many business-houses. Soon I learned
That virtue is, indeed, its own reward.
And often finds no other. My poor wage
For honest labor and a decent life
Scarce kept me fed and sheltered. Everywhere
In office, boarding-house, and in church aisles
I met the eyes of men soliciting.
They supplemented pleading looks by words,
And laughed at all my scruples. Finally,
The one compelling lover had his way,
And when he wearied of me I began
The dreary treadmill of the city streets,
Soliciting whoever crossed my path
To take my favors and to give me gold.

Somehow, I cannot seem to understand
Why there is law to punish me for that,
And none to punish any of the men
Who have pursued me with soliciting
Right from the threshold of my childhood’s home
To this grim station-house.
                                          My case is called?
Well, lead the way, and I will follow you.
   
   

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#23

   
   
A Morning Prayer
   
   
Let me to-day do something that shall take
    A little sadness from the world’s vast store,
And may I be so favored as to make
    Of joy’s too scanty sum a little more.

Let me not hurt, by any selfish deed
    Or thoughtless word, the heart of foe or friend,
Nor would I pass, unseeing, worthy need,
    Or sin by silence when I should defend.

However meager be my worldly wealth,
    Let me give something that shall aid my kind,
A word of courage or a thought of health,
    Dropped as I pass for troubled hearts to find.

Let me to-night look back across the span
    ‘Twixt dawn and dark, and to my conscience say
Because of some good act to beast or man
    “The world is better that I lived to-day.”
   
   

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#22

   
   
Disarmament
   
   
We have outgrown the helmet and cuirass,
The spear, the arrow, and the javelin.
These crude inventions of a cruder age,
When men killed men to show their love of God,
And he who slaughtered most was greatest king.
We have outgrown the need of war!
          Should men
Unite in this one thought, all war would end.

Disarm the world; and let all Nations meet
Like Men, not monsters, when disputes arise.
When crossed opinions tangle into snarls,
Let Courts untie them, and not armies cut.
When State discussions breed dissentions, let
Union and Arbitration supersede
The hell-created implements of War.
Disarm the world! and bid destructive thought
Slip like a serpent from the mortal mind
Down through the marshes of oblivion. Soon
A race of gods shall rise!    Disarm!    Disarm!
   
   

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#21

   
   
Moon and Sea
   
   
You are the moon, dear love, and I the sea:
The tide of hope swells high within my breast,
And hides the rough dark rockes of life’s unrest
When your fond eyes smile near in perigee.
But when that loving face is turned from me,
Low falls the tide, and the grim rocks appear,
And earth’s dim coast-line seems a thing to fear.
You are the moon, dear one, and I the sea.
   
   

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#20

   
   
Old Rhythm and Rhyme
   
   
They tell me new methods now govern the Muses,
The modes of expression have changed with the times;
That low is the rank of the poet who uses
    The old-fashioned verse with intentional rhymes.
And quite out of date, too, is rhythmical metre;
    The critics declare it an insult to art.
But oh! the sweet swing of it, oh! the clear ring of it,
    Oh! the great pulse of it, right from the heart,
                                    Art or no art.

I sat by the side of that old poet, Ocean,
    And counted the billows that broke on the rocks;
The tide lilted in with a rhythmical motion;
    The sea-gulls dipped downward in time-keeping flocks.

I watched while a giant wave gathered its forces,
    And then on the gray granite precipice burst;
And I knew as I counted, while other waves mounted,
    I knew the tenth billow would rhyme with the first.

Below in the village a church bell was chiming,
    And back in the woodland a little bird sang;
And, doubt it who will, yet those two sounds were rhyming,
    As out o’er the hill-tops they echoed and rang.
The Wind and the Trees fell to talking together;
    And nothing they said was didactic or terse;
But everything spoken was told in unbroken
    And a beautiful rhyming and rhythmical verse.

So rhythm I hail it, though critics assail it,
    And hold melting rhymes as an insult to art,
For oh! the sweet swing of it, oh! the dear ring of it,
    Oh! the strong pulse of it, right from the heart,
                                    Art or no art.
   
   

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#19

   
   
Understanding
   
   
The snowdrops and the crocuses
Bloomed in the olden way:
The stately tulips followed on–
The pansies had their day;
The roses came–and yet the year
Brought neither June nor May.
And now the tiger lilies lift
Their freckled faces high;
And now the sun is blazing down
From out a cloudless sky–
And yet it is not Summertime,
Though Summer days drag by,

His dog looks up the lonely lane–
He knows the reason why.

   
   

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#18

   
   
To Another Woman’s Baby
   
   
I list your prattle, baby boy,
    And hear your pattering feet
With feelings more of pain than joy
    And thoughts of bitter-sweet.

While touching your soft hands in play
    Such passionate longings rise
For my wee boy who strayed away
    So soon to Paradise.

You win me with your infant art;
    But when our play is o’er,
The empty cradle in my heart
    Seems lonelier than before.

Sweet baby boy you do not guess
    How oft mine eyes are dim,
Or that my lingering caress
    Is sometimes meant for him.
   
   

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#17

   
   
March
   
   
Like some reformer, who with mien austere,
    Neglected dress and loud insistent tones,
    More rasping than the wrongs which she bemoans,
Walks through the land and wearies all who hear,
    While yet we know the need of such reform;
    So comes unlovely March, with wind and storm,
To break the spell of winter, and set free
    The poisoned brooks and crocus beds oppressed.
    Severe of face, gaunt-armed, and wildly dressed,
She is not fair nor beautiful to see.
    But merry April and sweet smiling May
    Come not till March has first prepared the way.
   
   

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#16

   
   
I Like Cigars
   
   
Beneath the stars,
Upon the waters blue.
To laugh and float
While rocks the boat
Upon the waves,–Don’t you?

To rest the oar
And float to shore,–
While soft the moonbeams shine,–
To laugh and joke,
And idly smoke;
I think is quite divine.
   
   

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#15

   
   
The Mill
   
   
Something there is in the mill whistle blowing
Sets my blood flowing–
    Stirs me with life.
Gives me the feeling of being a part of it,
Hand of it, heart of it,
    Ready to plunge in the thick of the strife
    As a strong swimmer goes when the seas are rife.

Many have said there was pain in the call of it;
I get the thrall of it;
    Nerved and made strong,
My hand reaches out for the work that is waiting it;
    Loving, not hating it;
    Loving the noise, and the rush, and the throng,
    Loving the days as they hurry along.

Over the moil and the murk and the grime in it,
Something sublime in it,
    Calls to my soul.
Some things that speak of the ceaseless endeavor
For aye and forever,
    Moving the Universe on to its goal,
    And each of us parcel and part of the whole.

Oh, there is sorrow, injustice and wrong in it;
But there’s a song in it.
    All day I hear
Over the din and the discord, the thrill of it,
That’s the brave mill of it,
    Doing its work without worry or fear
    And breathing its message of strength in my ear.

Happy, I sing to it;
Smiling, I bring to it,
    Patience and love, for the tasks that lie near.
   
   

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#14

   
   
Last Love
   
   
The first flower of the spring is not so fair
Or bright, as one the ripe midsummer brings.
The first faint note the forest warbler sings
Is not as rich with feeling, or so rare
As when, full master of his art, the air
Drowns in the liquid sea of song he flings
Like silver spray from beak, and breast, and wings.
The artist’s earliest effort wrought with care,
The bard’s first ballad, written in his tears,
Set by his later toil seems poor and tame.
And into nothing dwindles at the test.
So with the passions of maturer years
Let those who will demand the first fond flame,
Give me the heart’s last love, for that is best.
   
   

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#13

   
   
The Doomed City’s Prayer
   
   
I heard a low sound, like a troubled soul praying:
    And the winds of the winter night brought it to me.
‘Twas the doomed city’s voice: “Oh, kind snow,” it was saying,
    “Come, cover my ruins, so ghastly to see.
I am robbed of my beauty, and shorn of my glory;
    And the strength that I boasted–where is it to-day?
I am down in the dust; and my pitiful story
    Make tearless eyes weep and unpious lips pray.

“I–I, who have reveled in pomp and in power,
    Am down on my knees, with my face in the dust;
But yesterday queen, with a queen’s royal dower,
    To-day I am glad of a crumb or a crust.
But yesterday reigning, a grand, mighty city,
    The pride of the Nation, the queen of the West;
To-day I am gazed at, an object of pity,
    A charity child, asking alms, at the best.

“My strength, and my pride, and my glory departed,
    My fair features scorched by the fire fiends breath,
Is it strange that I’m soul-sick and sorrowful hearted?
    Is it strange that my thoughts run on ruin and death?
Oh, white, fleecy clouds that are drooping above me,
    Hark, hark to my pleadings, and answer my sighs,
And let down the beautiful snow, if you love me,
    To cover my wounds from all pitying eyes.

“I am hurled from my throne, but not hurled down forever,
    I shall rise from the dust, I shall live down my woes–
But my heart lies to-day, like a dumb, frozen river;
    When to thaw out and flow again, God only knows.
Oh, sprites of the air! I beseech you to weave me
    A mantle of white snow, and beautiful rime
To cover my unsightly ruins; then leave me
    In the hands of the healer of all wounds–‘Old Time.'”
   
   

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#12

   
   
Hung
   
   
Nine o’clock, and the sun shines as yellow and warm
As though ’twere a fete day. I wish it would storm:
    Wish the thunder would crash,
    And the red lightning flash,
And lap the black clouds, with its serpentine tongue.
The day is too calm for a man to be hung.
    Hung!    Ugh, what a word!
The most heartless and horrible ear ever heard.

He has murdered, and plundered, and robbed, so “they say”;
Been the scourge of the country for many a day.
    He was lawless and wild;
    Man, woman or child
Met no mercy, no pity, if found in his path;
He was worse than a beast of the woods, in his wrath.
    And yet–to be hung,
    Oh, my God! to be swung
By the neck to and fro for the rabble to see–
    The thought sickens me.

Thirty minutes past nine. How the time hurries by,
But the half hour remains–at ten he will die.
    Die?    No!    He’ll be killed!
    For God never willed
Men should die in this way.
“Vengeance is mine,” He saith. “I will repay.”
    Yet what could be done
    With this wild, lawless one!
No prison could hold him, and so–he must swing.
    It’s a horrible thing!

Outcast, desperado, fiend, knave; all of these
And more. But call him whatever you please,
    I cannot forget
    He’s a mortal man yet:
That he once was a babe and was hushed into rest,
And fondled and pressed to a woman’s warm breast.
    Was sung to, and rocked,
    And when he first walked
With his weak little feet, he was petted and told
He was “mamma’s own pet, worth his whole weight in gold.”
    And this is the end
Of a God-given life.    Just think of it, friend!

Hark! hear you that chime?    ‘Tis the clock striking ten.
The dread weight falls down, with a sound like “Amen.”
Does murder pay murder? Do two wrongs make a right?
    Oh, that horrible sight!
I am shut in my room and have covered my face,
But the dread scene has followed me into this place.
    I see that strange thing,
    Like a clock pendulum, swing
To and fro, in the air, back and forth, to and fro.
    One moment ago
‘Twas a man in God’s image.    Now hide it, kind grave.
Oh, God what an end to the life that you gave!
   
   

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#11

   
   
Relics
   
   
This is her crochet-work, just as she left it,
The spool, with the needle caught into its side,
And the edging wound up in a    neat little bundle;
She had been knitting, the day that she died.

This is her dress, hanging here in the closet,
The last one she hung here; ’twill never be moved;
She wore it the morn of the day that she sickened,
And it constantly speaks of the maiden we loved.

This is her glove, lying here on the table,
Bearing the marks of her fingers, you see;
Just as she tossed it aside, I shall leave it;
It is more than a diamond, or topaz, to me.

This is the last book her eye ever glanced in,
The blue ribbon mark shows how far she had read.
That morn, she was better, she said, and was reading
Aloud; and at a dusk, the same day, she was dead.

This is a letter: begun, but not finished;
Her head ached, she said, and she laid it aside.
And these little relics, so sacredly guarded,
Are all that are left of the dear girl that died.
   
   

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#10

   
   
The Edict of the Sex
   
   
Two thousand years had passed since Christ was born,
When suddenly there rose a mighty host
Of women, sweeping to a central goal
As many rivers sweep on to the sea.
They came from mountains, valleys, and from coasts
And from all lands, all nations, and all ranks,
Speaking all languages, but thinking one.
And that one language–Peace.

                    “Listen,” they said,
And straightway was there silence on the earth,
For men were dumb with wonder and surprise.
“Listen, O mighty masters of the world,
And hear the edict of all womankind;
Since Christ His new commandment gave to men
‘Love one another,’ full two thousand years
Have passed away, yet earth is red with blood.
The strong male rulers of the world proclaim
Their weakness, when we ask that war shall cease.

Now will the poor weak women of the world
Proclaim their strength, and say that war shall end.
Hear, then, our edict: Never from this day
Will any woman on the crust of earth
Mother a warrior. We have sworn the oath
And will go barren to the waiting tomb
Rather than breed strong sons at war’s behest,
Or bring fair daughters into life, to bear
The pains of travail, for no end but war.
Ay! let the race die out for lack of babes:
Better a dying race than endless wars!
Better a silent world than noise of guns
And clash of armies.

                      “Long we asked for peace,
And oft you promised–but to fight again.
At last you told us, war must ever be
While men existed, laughing at our plea
For the disarmament of all mankind.
Then in our hearts flamed such a mad desire
For peace on earth, as lights the world at times
With some great conflagration; and it spread
From distant land to land, from sea to sea,
Until all women thought as with one mind
And spoke as with one voice; and now behold!
The great Crusading Syndicate of Peace,
Filling all space with one supreme resolve.
Give us, O men, your word that war shall end:
Disarm the world, and we will give you sons–
Sons to construct, and daughters to adorn
A beautiful new earth, where there shall be
Fewer and finer people, opulence
And opportunity and peace for all.
Until you promise peace no shrill birth-cry
Shall sound again upon the ageing earth.
We wait your answer.”
                    And the world was still
While men considered.
   
   

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#9

   
   
The Old Wooden Cradle
   
   
Good-bye to the cradle, the dear wooden cradle
The rude hand of Progress has thrust it aside.
No more to its motion o’er sleep’s fairy ocean,
Our play-weary wayfarers peacefully glide.

No more by the rhythm of slow-moving rocker,
Their sweet dreamy fancies are fostered and fed;
No more to low singing the cradle goes swinging–
The child of this era is put into bed.

Good-bye to the cradle, the dear wooden cradle,
It lent to the twilight a strange, subtle charm;
When bees left the clover, when play-time was over,
How safe seemed this shelter from danger or harm.

How soft seemed the pillow, how distant the ceiling,
How weird were the voices that whispered around,
What dreams would come flocking, as rocking and rocking,
We floated away into slumber profound.

Good-bye to the cradle, the old wooden cradle,
The babe of to-day does not know it by sight.
When day leaves the border, with system and order,
The child goes to bed and we put out the light.

I bow to Progression and ask no concession,
Though strewn be her pathway with wrecks of the past;
So off with old lumber, that sweet ark of slumber,
The old wooden cradle, is ruthlessly cast.
   
   

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#8

   
   
Breaking the Day in Two
   
   
When from dawn till noon seems one long day,
    And from noon till night another,
Oh, then should a little boy come from play,
    And creep into the arms of his mother.
Snugly creep and fall asleep,
    O come, my baby, do;
Creep into my lap, and with a nap,
    We’ll break the day in two.

When the shadows slant for afternoon,
      When the midday meal is over;
When the winds have sung themselves into a swoon,
      And the bees drone in the clover.
    Then hie to me, hie, for a lullaby–
      Come, my baby, do;
    Creep into my lap, and with a nap
      We’ll break the day in two.

We’ll break it in two with a crooning song,
    With a soft and soothing number;
For the day has no right to be so long
    And keep my baby from slumber.
Then rock-a-by, rock, may white dreams flock
    Like angels over you;
Baby’s gone, and the deed is done
    We’ve broken the day in two.
   
   

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#7

   
   
Buried To-Day
   
   
Cold is the wind, that blows up from the river.
    Cold is the blast that sweeps over the plain.
In the bleak breath of the morning I shiver–
    Shiver and weep, in my desolate pain.
She was so fair–like the beautiful lily–
    Fair, oh too fair to be hidden away.
And the grave is so dark, and so damp, and so chilly,
    And she–oh my love!–will be buried to-day.

White is the snow that is heaped on the meadow,
    Whiter the face, in this desolate room.
Low in the valley lurk darkness and shadow–
    Low lies my heart, in its sorrow and gloom.
How the spades scrape, on the sods they are breaking,
    Breaking, and cutting the snowdrifts away.
How the men bend to the grave they are making,
    Where she–oh my love!–will be buried to-day.

Thick are the walls! but the bleak wind will enter,
    And chill her through all her long slumber, I know.
Rich are her robes! but the merciless Winter
    Will beat on her breast, with its tempests of snow.
Oh she was guarded, and shielded from sorrow–
    Kept from the shadows, and darkness, alway.
But she will lie, as the beggar to-morrow–
    My love–oh my love!–that is buried to-day.
   
   

_____

   
   

_____

#6

   
   
A Mirage
   
   
It was the crowded hour of the great city,
And through its long streets rushed
Trams, motor trucks, and automobiles,
And there was honk of horn, and clang of bell.
    Then suddenly the din seemed hushed.
The people paused a moment in their hurry.
      A curious spell
Fell over that loud scene, as down the street
A pair of pretty ponies drew a surrey;
And in it sat a lady with a bonnet–
A quaint affair with just one posy on it,
And narrow strings tied underneath her chin.
The man who drove the ponies seemed to be
A picture from old Godey’s Magazine,
Materialised. The city’s din
Died down, and voices of a village choir
Trailed on the air! A pastoral scene
With glimpses in the distance of the sea
Replaced tall city structures. Life was quiet,
And there was time for reverie and song.
The surrey passed from sight. A trolley gong
Clanged all the street again to noise and riot.
Tall city structures seemed to loom still higher
And shut the sunlight out. Intolerant,
Unbeautiful and loud-voiced vehicles
Proceeded on their way to rave and rant.
There was no peace in all the city’s mart
Save but for him who found it in his heart.
   
   

_____

#5

   
   
Divorced
   
   
Thinking of one thing all day long, at night
I fall asleep, brain weary and heart sore;
But only for a little while. At three,
Sometimes at two o’clock, I wake and lie,
Staring out into darkness; while my thoughts
Begin the weary tread-mill toil again,
From that white marriage morning of our youth
Down to this dreadful hour.

                                I see your face
Lit with the lovelight of the honeymoon;
I hear your voice, that lingered on my name
As if it loved each letter; and I feel
The clinging of your arms about my form,
Your kisses on my cheek–and long to break
The anguish of such memories with tears,
But cannot weep; the fountain has run dry.
We were so young, so happy, and so full
Of keen, sweet joy of life. I had no wish
Outside your pleasure; and you loved me so
That when I sometimes felt a woman’s need
For more serene expression of man’s love
(The need to rest in calm affection’s bay
And not sail ever on the stormy main),
Yet would I rouse myself to your desire;
Meet ardent kisses with kisses just as warm;
So nothing I could give should be denied.

And then our children came. Deep in my soul,
From the first hour of conscious motherhood,
I knew I should conserve myself for this
Most holy office; knew God meant it so.
Yet even then, I held your wishes first;
And by my double duties lost the bloom
And freshness of my beauty; and beheld
A look of disapproval in your eyes.
But with the coming of our precious child,
The lover’s smile, tinged with the father’s pride,
Returned again; and helped to make me strong;
And life was very sweet for both of us.

Another, and another birth, and twice
The little white hearse paused beside our door
And took away some portion of my youth
With my sweet babies. At the first you seemed
To suffer with me, standing very near;
But when I wept too long, you turned away.
And I was hurt, not realising then
My grief was selfish.    I could see the change
Which motherhood and sorrow made in me;
And when I saw the change that came to you,
Saw how your eyes looked past me when you talked,
And when I missed the love tone from your voice,
I did that foolish thing weak women do,
Complained, and cried, accused you of neglect,
And made myself obnoxious in your sight.

And often, after you had left my side,
Alone I stood before my mirror, mad
With anger at my pallid cheeks, my dull
Unlighted eyes, my shrunken mother-breasts,
And wept, and wept, and faded more and more.
How could I hope to win back wandering love,
And make new flames in dying embers leap
By such ungracious means?

                                And then She came,
Firm-bosomed, round of cheek, with such young eyes,
And all the ways of youth. I who had died
A thousand deaths in waiting the return
Of that old love-look to your face once more,
Died yet again and went straight into hell
When I beheld it come at her approach.

My God! My God! How have I borne it all!
Yet since she had the power to wake that look–
The power to sweep the ashes from your heart
Of burned-out love of me, and light new fires,
One thing remained for me–to let you go.
I had no wish to keep the empty frame
From which the priceless picture had been wrenched.
Nor do I blame you; it was not your fault:
You gave me all that most men can give–love
Of youth, of beauty, and of passion; and
I gave you full return; my womanhood
Matched well your manhood. Yet had you grown ill,
Or old, and unattractive from some cause
(Less close than was my service unto you),
I should have clung the tighter to you, dear;
And loved you, loved you, loved you more and more.

I grow so weary thinking of these things;
Day in, day out, and half the awful nights.
   
   

_____

#4

   
   
But One
   
   
The year has but one June, dear friend,
    The year has but one June;
And when that perfect month doth end,
The robin’s song, though loud, though long
    Seems never quite in tune.

The rose, though still its blushing face
    By bee and bird is seen,
May yet have lost that subtle grace–
That nameless spell the winds know well–
    Which makes its gardens queen.

Life’s perfect June, love’s red, red rose,
    Have burned and bloomed for me.
Though still youth’s summer sunlight glows;
Though thou art kind, dear friend, I find
    I have no heart for thee.
   
   

_____

   
   

_____

#3

   
   
The Dream-Town Show
   
   
There is an island in Slumber Sea
Where the drollest things are done,
And we will sail there if the winds are fair
Just after the set of the sun.
‘Tis the loveliest place in the whole wide world,
Or anyway, so it seems,
And the folks there play at the end of each day
In a curious show called Dreams.

We sail right into the evening skies,
And the very first thing we know,
We are there at the port and read for sport
Where the dream folks give their show.
And what do you think they did last night
When I crossed their harbor bars?
They hoisted a plank on a great cloud bank
And teetered among the stars.

And they sat on the moon and swung their feet
Like pendulums to and fro;
Down Slumber Sea is the sail for me,
And I wish you were ready to go.
For the dream folks there on this curious isle
Begin their performance at eight.
There are no encores, and they close their doors,
On everyone who is late.

The sun is sinking behind the hills,
The seven o’clock bells chime.
I know by the chart that we ought to start
If we would be there in time.
O fair is the trip down Slumber Sea,
Set sail and away we go:
The anchor is drawn, we are off and gone
To the wonderful Dream-town show.
   
   

_____

#2

   
   
Resigned
   
   
My babe was moaning in its sleep;
    I leaned and kissed it where it lay;
My pain was such I could not weep.
    Oh, would God take my child away?
He had so many ’round his throne–
If He took mine–I stood alone!

I held my child upon my knee;
    It looked up with its father’s eyes,
Who, ere the infant came to me,
    Had journeyed homeward to the skies.
But through those eyes, so sad and mild,
I found my husband, in my child.

It was such comfort, night and day,
    To watch its slumber–feel its breath–
And slow–so slow–it pined away,
    I heard not th’ approach of Death
Until he stood close at my side,
    And then my soul within me died.

I clasped my babe with sudden moan,
    I cried, “My sweet, thou shalt not go
To join the children ’round the Throne,
    For I have need of thee below.
If God takes thee, I am bereft–
No hope or joy or comfort left.”

My babe looked pleading in my face;
    It seemed my husband’s eyes instead,
And his voice sounded in the place,
    “I want my child in heaven,” it said.
The infant raised its little hands,
And seemed to reach toward heavenly lands.

The tears that had refused to flow,
    Came welling upward from my heart;
I sobbed, “My child, then thou may’st go,
    Thy angel father bids us part.
I know in all that heavenly place
He ne’er looked on so sweet a face.

“He does not even know thy name,
    And all these months, he’s longed for thee.
How could I so forget his claim–
    And strive to keep thee at my knee?
Go child–my child–and give him this–
In one the wife’s and mother’s kiss.”

My baby smiled, and seeming slept.
    Its hand grew cold within my own.
Not wholly sad the tears I wept,
    For though I was indeed alone,
My babe I knew was safe at rest
    Upon its angel father’s breast.
   
   

_____

   
   

_____

#1

   
   
Solitude
   
   
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
    Weep, and you weep alone,
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
    Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
    But are slow to voice your care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
    Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
    But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
    Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
    But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
    Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
    But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
    For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
    Through the narrow aisles of pain.
   
   

_____

   
   

_____

8 Comments »

  1. Ella is one of my favorite poets, and I was so glad to see your collection of some of her great poetry. There are many among them that I haven’t read before, so I will be reading this post for a couple of days.

    Like the look of your new blog home. Hope you like it here at WordPress🙂

    Best to you and I will be visiting more often in the future now that things are finally settling down.

    Peace.

    M.

    Comment by mshahin — March 24, 2007 @ 11:50 pm

  2. Hi M,

    Glad to hear that things are finally settling down for you. I have missed you here and at your blog Gently Into the Night.

    C

    Comment by Clattery MacHinery — March 25, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  3. I’ve enjoyed reading these poems by E.W. Wilcox. I Like Cigars reminds me of my dad who liked nothing better than sitting on the deck, looking out at the ocean, smoking and reflecting on all that life had brought him.

    That innocent pasttime is a thing of the past itself, I guess. I’m glad I quit, but I know what I’m missing.

    Comment by Carol — May 19, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  4. Hi Carol,

    It’s great to see you around. I appreciate your reading.

    Isn’t it interesting that Ella Wheeler Wilcox “likes cigars” in that poem, but was a staunch prohibitionist. Indeed, that goes along the line of AA thinking, where at meetings, you can smoke as much as you desire, and drink as much coffee, just stay away from the booze that ruins your life and the lives of those around you. Nowadays, though, we worry more about second hand smoke.

    I caught that same relaxed sense about smoking doing the recent Paul Laurence Dunbar post. One of his poems is called “When the Old Man Smokes” ands refers to pipe smoking (versus cigars, versus cigarettes).

    Here is the second stanza:

            And the tear-drops come a-trickling
                Down his cheeks, a silver flow–
            Smoke or memories you wonder,
                But you never ask him,–no;
            For there ’s something almost sacred
                To the other family folks
            In those moods of silent dreaming
                When the old man smokes.

    C.M.

    Comment by Clattery MacHinery — May 20, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  5. wtf did she win any awards

    Comment by kk — April 1, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

  6. Hi kk,

    If she didn’t win any awards, would that make you dislike her poems?

    C.

    Comment by Clattery MacHinery — April 1, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

  7. […] found that on a blog I have never seen before: see The Ella Wheeler Wilcox Top 30 Countdown. I must visit Clattery Machinery on Poetry […]

    Pingback by Poetastery and pollies | Neil's Commonplace Book — August 23, 2014 @ 1:08 am

  8. Trying to find the one about love to a woman being life and death and love to a man no more than a mood. ?…can someone help me with the actual
    piece?

    Comment by Janice Wheeler — September 4, 2014 @ 4:20 pm


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