Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

November 29, 2009

All-World Wrestling Poetry—a collection of 52 wrestling poems

Filed under: 17th century poetry, 17th century poets, 18th century philosophers, 18th century poetry, 19th century poetry, 19th century poets, 20th century poetry, 20th century poets, 21 century poetry, 21st century poets, Abe Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, aging, Alfred Noyes, Allah, amateur wrestling, American poets, Ancient Greek poetry, Andy Jones, angel, animal poetry, Anonymous, Antaeus, art, aspiration, Athena, athletes, athletics, automobile accidents, award, Babilu, bear wrestling, black ice, bodies, Canadian poets, Catherine Edmunds, Charles Wesley, coaching, Cole VanOhlen, college recruiting, college wrestling, collegiate wrestling, control, corn, Creative Commons, culture, dance, David Hernandez, dead poets, death, death poetry, Dennis Riley, Der Schauende, dialect poetry, dog poetry, dogs, Don Schaeffer, Drax Ireland, Edmund Waller, Emily Dickinson, Enceladus, English poets, Euphronios, European poetry, European poets, Facebook, failing, fasting, female wrestling, folkstyle wrestling, freestyle wrestling, G.C. Smith, gay poetry, Gilbert Pye, God, Goddess Athena, Granby roll, grappling, Greco-Roman wrestling, Harold Von Schmidt, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Heracles, Herakles, Hercules, Hiawatha, high school wrestling, Homer, human contact, humorous poetry, hunger, husking, Iliad, illustrations, illustrators, intimacy, Islam, Israel, Jack Armstrong, Jacob, Jakobs Kampf mit dem Engel, Jane M'Lean, Jayson Iwen, Jean Starr Untermeyer, Jeff Kass, John D. Berry, John Jeffire, John S. Taylor, John Timpane, Judy Swann, Julius Caeser, Justin Bowser, Kimberly Dark, Lincoln, Lori Desrosiers, losing, maize, martial arts, MassWrestling.com, Michael D. Snediker, Mondamin, Muhammad, Muhammad Afzal Mirza, Muhammad Amir Sheikh, Muslim, narrative, narrative poetry, Nestor, occasional poetry, Olympic Games, Olympic wrestling, Olympics, online poetry, online poetry writing, painting, Pamela Uschuk, Patroclus, pinning, poems, poetry, poetry forums, poetry translation, poetry workshops, poetry writing, poets, practice, preparation, prize, Prophet Muhammad, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rakana, Rane Arroyo, religion, religious poetry, Rembrandt, Rembrandt van Rijn, revenge, reversal, Rilke, Robin Hood, Robyn Hode, Rukana, Rukhana, Rus Bowden, Scottish poetry, sexuality, Sir Walter Scott, sports poetry, sports recruiting, Steve Meador, Steve Parker, Steven Woods, students, Sumo, Sumo wrestling, Susan Kelly-Dewitt, Susie DeFord, Tabitha Wilson, take down, Terreson, The Iliad, The Song of Hiawatha, touch, William Ernest Henley, women wrestling, wrestling, wrestling coach, wrestling poetry — Clattery MacHinery @ 9:06 pm

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Dreier Carr's High School Folkstyle Wrestling at the 2006 Glenn Invite

   

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The poems in this collection are on wrestling—the collegiate and amateur styles—but also how we wrestle with life, where we find wrestling in our lives, plus our gods, prophets and heroes past, those who have wrestled the classic bouts. It is modern and boundary-busting, and at the same time about tradition, a duality significant to both the poetry and wrestling communities. It is not about professional wrestling. Although that would make a wonderful project on its own, there is not enough poetry about amateur wrestling, the collegiate, Olympic, and folk styles.

The rest of this intro will be of interest to you if you would like to use any of the artwork or poetry yourself, and if you are interested in why such a collection came together—maybe for the first time. If not, then scan down to below Catherine Edmunds‘ 2009 drawing called “Greek wrestlers,” and begin reading. If you are looking for a particular poet’s work, or to see if it is included, simply click “Ctrl-F” on your keyboard. Here is a list of the living contributing poets you will find:

        Rane Arroyo
        John D. Berry
        Rus Bowden
        Kimberly Dark
        Susie DeFord
        Lori Desrosiers
        Susan Kelly-DeWitt
        David Hernandez
        Drax Ireland
        Jayson Iwen
        John Jeffire
        Andy Jones
        Jeff Kass
        Steve Meador
        Muhammad Afzal Mirza
        Steve Parker
        Gilbert Pye
        Don Schaeffer
        Muhammad Amir Sheikh
        Michael D. Snediker
        G.C. Smith
        Judy Swann
        Terreson
        John Timpane
        Pamela Uschuk

In lieu of bios, links to the contributors’ web sites are provided from their names. If you would like to reach them, most of the time you will find contact information there. If not, e-mail me (lowelldude@aol.com), and I will try to connect you.

The works in this collection fall under Creative Commons—Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. This way, as you share these poems, the poets’ names remains attached, so that they continue to get credit for their work as it is passed around. In the spirit of this, each piece of artwork used below has just beneath it, as part of the image, an attribution that includes what the work is, who made it, and when. This Creative Commons agreement also protects the artists and poets from someone else making money from their works, while cutting them out. You’ll need permission for such a commercial venture. It allows, however, for you to feel free to share the works, to keep the poems handy and pass them around, and speak them at events. If you have sought these poems out for noncommercial use, wonderful!, please write the poet a thank you, but the answer is already yes.

A few years back, when I was blogging daily at Bud Bloom, November arrived, and the poetry posting necessarily slowed down, as wrestling season was about to begin. My son Dan was wrestling in college at the time, and I was a moderating contributor at MassWrestling.com, working on a comprehensive directory of all collegiate wrestlers from Massachusetts, in order that wrestlers, their family, and friends, could see how their high school wrestlers were faring in college, even if they were still active. Part of this, was to create a comprehensive list of wrestling colleges around the country, which was shared with other wrestling forums in other states. I made a brief post on the poetry blog called Wrestling With Poetry in November. I wanted to include wrestling poetry in that blog, and found some in a translation of Homer’s Iliad, but had difficulty finding it elsewhere. Since creating that blog post, I then noticed that many others who go online in search for “wrestling poetry”, come up with my post. And I always felt that that post was not allowing the searchers to find the jackpot they were looking for. Thus, there is demand, but short supply. This blog post is a wrestling poetry jackpot.

Back in July, I made a call for submissions of new and recent wrestling poems, by posting at over 20 wrestling forums, over 20 poetry forums, and to over 2500 members of Facebook. The response has been remarkable, as you can read for yourself below. And a high percentage of these gifted poets, have been or still are wrestlers or members of the wrestling community themselves. With these poems by living poets, I have merged classics. Included also are fresh translations of classic poems, and renditions of scriptural texts.

My thanks go to all the contributors listed above. Each have been a pleasure to work with. My thanks also to those who have guided this project with ideas, such as Joyce Nower, who turned me onto Emily Dickinson’s many wrestling poems, and Dennis Greene, who reminded me of the classic wrestling scene in Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha.” Thanks also to you for finding these poems, for shaking hands with them, and taking the time to read them, even to grapple with them when you hear the metaphoric whistle. It’s your match now, your time to enter the ring.

C.

   

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Catherine Edmunds' Greek Wrestlers, 2009

   

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by Jeff Kass

    White Plains High and Yale University wrestler, 1980-85
    WPHS coach, 1988-90

   
All wrestlers practice failing

   
        We need to know what to do
        when we’re getting cranked.

        Inevitably, we will be on our backs.

        Somebody will be tougher, somebody will be quicker, somebody
        will be strong enough to knock us flat.  It’s called looking at the lights
        as if when we’re horizontal and helpless, we’re also gazing at paradise.

        All I know is it’s hot down there.  It stinks.  The friction of your head rubbing
        against the mat could start a bonfire.  The guy who’s decking you is breathing
        in your ear, a rush of panting grunts.  His sweat drips in your hair and your
        girlfriend is watching from the bleachers as his muscles glisten and you are
        buried.  Your teammates are groaning and urging you to keep fighting
        but secretly they doubt you won’t surrender and the referee is cutting
        the air at smaller and flatter angles to signal the shrinking breadth
        between the mat and your shoulders and he poises to slap, he poises
        to slap and that is why every day in practice we must drill and rehearse
        for failure.

        It’s called bridging.  Make your neck a great spoon stirring the soup
        of your head.  Stir it left.  Stir it right.  Hold it.  Hold it.  He will be a ten-
        ton slab trying to break you flat—you must resist, your neck must insist
        no, with your neck no, with your neck no, you must train your neck
        to insist NO.

   
Previously published in Anderbo

   

   

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by Terreson

   
Antaeus’s Son to His Father’s Killer

   
        Here we are, my mercenary Greek,
        back at the same crossroads
        where you bested my father.
        The ground when you pinned him down
        is what defeated you in
        hold after hold or until
        you found the way to filet his strength,
        the way a fisherman’s instinct
        cleans flesh from the bone of earth.

        That’s when you bettered him, pressing him, his feet loose,
        to your chest, enjoying his death.

        But I am not like him whose daughters
        are my mother (earth, air, fire, and water).
        I am the inbred, an avatar
        thread through elements, and whose
        original sin is my source of strength.

        Come to me please, Herakles.
        I wish to press you to my chest
        and see your eyes bulge out when you meet
        my father’s face in each hero’s moment
        defining his one hero’s defeat.

        Revenge is such a useless emotion.
        I don’t want your death; just your lost look
        in the echo of my father’s eyes on the mat.

   

   

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by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Artists wrestled here!
        Lo, a tint Cashmere!
        Lo, a Rose!
        Student of the Year!
        For the easel here
        Say Repose!

   

                110

   

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by Gilbert Pye

   
The Ballad of Rukhana

   
        Many people challenged Muhammad at wrestling
        (they didn’t realise he was divine;
        they thought he was an ordinary bloke).

        He pummelled skull, scapula and spine,
        ripped ligament from bone, loved pestling
        puny wrong-believing bodies until they broke.

        One day Rukhana, hideous, colossal, hairy,
        strongest of the Arabs, challenges Muhammad to a bout.
        Muhammad accepts.  Bets are placed.

        The outcome is never in doubt
        (insh’allah); at first both men are wary,
        looking each other over, tense, the taste

        of raw testosterone on their lips;
        then, exponent of the sacred art,
        Muhammad makes his move, nostrils aglow

        with the smell of Rukhana’s skin and heart:
        charge, grapple, throw,
        and the infidel describes a glorious ellipse

        through the air and falls to earth like a kite
        when the wind ceases suddenly as if by decree.
        Muhammad prostrates himself before Allah, Allah

        nods at Muhammad evasively;
        Rukhana and his corner exhibit that pallor
        you see on the face of the better man having lost a fight.

        The crowd go wild, beating their chests, cheering,
        ululating, howling, miming the winning move, bearing
        the victor aloft, cavorting through the souk

        in a tumult of piety and teeth, secretly tearing
        up their betting slips.  Look!
        Allah winks and fades.  He’s disappearing!

   

   

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by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Because I could not stop for Death—
        He kindly stopped for me—
        The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
        And Immortality.

        We slowly drove—He knew no haste
        And I had put away
        My labor and my leisure too,
        For His Civility—

        We passed the School, where Children strove
        At Recess—in the Ring—
        We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
        We passed the Setting Sun—

        Or rather—He passed Us—
        The Dews drew quivering and chill—
        For only Gossamer, my Gown—
        My Tippet—only Tulle—

        We paused before a House that seemed
        A Swelling of the Ground—
        The Roof was scarcely visible—
        The Cornice—in the Ground—

        Since then—’tis Centuries—and yet
        Feels shorter than the Day
        I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
        Were toward Eternity—

   

                712

   

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Rembrandt van Rijn's Jakobs Kampf mit dem Engel, 1660

   

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by John Timpane

   
Beholder

a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Der Schauende”

   
        I tell the storm is coming on:
        My anxious windows bear the beat
        Of branches after tedious days.
        I hear the distant things say truths
        That without friend I do not bear
        And without sister cannot love.

        There goes the all-reshaper storm,
        Through the forest, through all time
        And everything is ageless now:
        The landscape, like a verse from Psalms
        Is purpose, heft, eternity.

        Since what we wrestle with is small
        And what contends against us great,
        Let the great storm subdue us, more
        As all things in the world do; then
        We would be distant, never named.

        Our victory is in the small,
        And when we win, the smaller we.
        The Endless, the Superlative
        Does not consent to bend to us.

        The Angel of the Testament
        Came to the wrestlers.  Metal match:
        When their contending tendons stretched
        It felt beneath his fingers like
        The strings of deepening melody.

        The man this Angel overcame
        (He often won without a fight)
        Retired upright and energized,
        Made great by that hard hand, which shaped
        Him new, as if to recreate.
        The vanquished finds a victory
        Not tempting. How he grows is to
        Be pinned by ever-greater gods.

   

   
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

   
Der Schauende

   
        Ich sehe den Bäumen die Stürme an,
        die aus laugewordenen Tagen
        an meine ängstlichen Fenster schlagen,
        und höre die Fernen Dinge sagen,
        die ich nicht ohne Freund ertragen,
        nicht ohne Schwester lieben kann.

        Da geht der Sturm, ein Umgestalter,
        geht durch den Wald und durch die Zeit,
        und alles ist wie ohne Alter:
        die Landschaft, wie ein Vers im Psalter,
        ist Ernst und Wucht und Ewigkeit.

        Wie ist das klein, womit wir ringen,
        was mit uns ringt, wie ist das groß;
        ließen wir, ähnlicher den Dingen,
        uns so vom großen Sturm bezwingen,—
        wir würden weit und namenlos.

        Was wir besiegen, ist das Kleine,
        und der Erfolg selbst macht uns klein.
        Das Ewige und Ungemeine
        will nicht von uns gebogen sein.
        Das ist der Engel, der den Ringern
        des Alten Testaments erschien:
        wenn seiner Widersacher Sehnen
        im Kampfe sich metallen dehnen,
        fühlt er sie unter seinen Fingern
        wie Saiten tiefer Melodien.

        Wen dieser Engel überwand,
        welcher so oft auf Kampf verzichtet,
        der geht gerecht und aufgerichtet
        und groß aus jener harten Hand,
        die sich, wie formend, an ihn schmiegte.
        Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein.
        Sein Wachstum ist:  der Tiefbesiegte
        von immer Größerem zu sein.

   

   

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for the people of Whitefish, Montana

   
by Pamela Uschuk

   
Black Ice

   
        I

        How easy it is to slip.
        Slowing for a switchback’s glazed curve, I
        catch the radio’s news:
                                                    a school bus carrying wrestlers
        from Browning to Whitefish
        over this same unrelenting glare
        has slammed into a tanker
        jacknifed across both lanes.  Then flames
        killing nine in the quick cold.

        Along the polished carbon dip
        and swell of the Blackfoot River, I drive
        over ice so darkly transparent
        the pavement is a well
        whose varnished shaft pulls me sliding,
        an awkward creature
        away from home.

        What needs our sorrow?
        Or passed between the stunned drivers
        when the bus brakes locked
        in that short skid?
        During the first thoughtless seconds, boys
                                                                  becoming men
        dragged friends from the sudden fire, then
        watched, helpless as rocks dislodged by current,
        those they couldn’t reach, their screams lost to
        wind biting across the dreaming world.

        II

        To drive far in this weather—
        the afternoon half-blasted by wind gray as old wood—
        invites hypnotic dreams.
                                                      I recall checking
        the rearview mirror to see
        your farewell shiver, then shrink in silver light.  Love,
        how often we’re forced apart.
        Nothing is so visible as this ice,
        black-humored, a stoic beyond desire.

        III

        There is nothing I can offer
        those boys as healing as their daring, their hearts.
        Tomorrow, I teach poetry in a high school
        not far away.  I slow
        cursing these roads hunched spinal
        with no shoulders for escape.
        Listening to the tick of studden tires on ice,
        I know how fragile the traction
        holding us, what suffering
        edges induce.

        In the furrowed rush of black water
        Frost-grained waves
        grind back into themselves,
        intent on motion to avoid the final freeze across.
        Smoothing rocks, crisp hulls of caddis,
        stone flies, last summer’s storm-rendered windfall,
        the river carves its deeper trough
        widening its embrace.

        IV

        Like a snow bank bursting, snow buntings startle
        from my tires, threading
        the river’s rough hem.
        I envy the birds’ close escape
        as they ascend—
                                         moth fluttery, sudden confetti
        folding black on white
        above the snow-flocked highway—
                                                                 safe to the wild shore.

        Below the indifferent grade
        the current endures.  In dim light
        its dark arms turn from themselves, deceptive
        as the familiar lover.
        I can almost hear water’s porcelain stampede
        against an iced log above rocks
        that bump gratefully inside the swirl
        or hold their own.

        Only the small ceremonies
        of comfort and soaring can cure.
        Unable to build roads for safety, I will
        each speeding log truck, each
        oil tanker back-skidding
        to stay in its narrow lane,
                                                     to grip what can’t be held.
        I wonder what job is worth
        these long winter drives, clinging to slick surfaces
        unpredictable as the metereology of the heart.

        Even though my eyes burn
        tired of the constant play of gray light
        across black ice, there is no time to rest.
                                                       I drive through
        this wilderness against the curve of pavement
        following the river and its restless strain.

   
Previously published in Poetry Magazine and by Wings Press in her book Scattered Risks

   

   

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Harold Von Schmidt's There Was a Man--Abe Lincoln Licks Jack Armstrong, for Esquire, 1949

   

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by John Jeffire

    1995 NAIA national collegiate coach of the year

   
Coach Talks to the Wrestling Team the Day
Before the Eastside Match

   
   
Wrestling room air thick
as an amazonian afternoon
stinkheavy with years
of sweat that not even buckets of
uncut bleach can defeat.
I was still three pounds over
my weight class before practice
and I’m grateful
for more sprints back and forth
from padded wall to padded wall
wading through 90 degree fog
in two t-shirts and three sweatshirts
and two pairs of longjohns
under my sweatpants
sweating, sweating, ounce by ounce
closer to weight, but coach
calls us in and orders us
to take a knee.
His right ear a piece
of popcorn flesh glued
to the side of his head
his eyebrows rubbed off from
years of skullgrinding
his nose crooked as
a broken arm of lightning
his knees crisscrossed
by crazed scartissue worms
he walks like
a wheelchair is days away
but somehow he wrestles us like
a landmine eating handgrenades
exploding our bodies
across the mildewed mats.
We love him
like a father
especially those of us
who have no fathers.
He speaks.
We listen.
The coach from State, he begins,
is gonna be at the match tomorrow.
He’s recruiting Hendry from Eastside,
none a you dumbasses, but he’s
an old pal a mine.

I look over at LaDuke who
looks at Brophy who looks
at Washington the heavyweight . . .
we hate Hendry
defending state champ who stole
Kraznicki’s girlfriend last summer
at our town’s Dairy Queen
none of us could ever beat him
but we can take Eastside as a team.
Now, any a you jokers
ever think about college?

Sweat drips down my nose
onto the rubber mat.
I look over at LaDuke who
looks at Brophy who looks
at Washington the heavyweight . . .
none of us has thought of college.
LaDuke, who has failed Freshman English
twice and lives in the metal shop, though,
says, Yeah, I thought about it,
and even coach knows he’s lying.
Yeah?  Coach says. So what exactly
you want to study, LaDuke?

Sweat drips down his nose.
He thinks.
He answers,
I dunno, maybe buildin’ stuff.
Something like a smile
creases Coach’s scarred mouth.
We smile, waiting for the verdict.
Building stuff, huh? asks Coach
then he shows us that ragged row
of chipped crocodile teeth.
We laugh on cue
not really sure what is so funny.
Cut the crap, says Coach
and the mice and roaches in this decayed
corner of the school take cover.
What about you, Camel Jockey?
I am Camel Jockey.
I was still three pounds over
before practice and somewhere
in the frozen air above our town
21 pounds of me has been stolen
since season began in November.
I am sick of cutting weight
but I’m so close now
and tomorrow we can take Eastside.
You got some A’s, didn’t you? Coach asks.
True, I got some A’s but
my parents own a bar where
I cook Italian sausage sandwiches
and butter garlic bread in front
of a 700 degree oven after practice
still dressed in sweat clothes
trying to drain off those last few ounces
wishing I could just lick the grease
off the prep counter or sneak a few
slices of Genoa salami and not be overweight
but I’m ranked in the district
at 112 pounds and the team
needs the points
if we’re gonna take leagues in two weeks.
You’re smart enough, Camel, and you could be
tough enough with a few more ass whuppins,

says Coach, so whattaya think?
I can talk to the coach at State,
see what he thinks a you tomorrow.

I look over at LaDuke who
looks at Brophy who looks
at Washington the heavyweight . . .
sweat drips down my nose
and my mouth is coated in cotton
and if I’m lucky, really lucky
I only have another pound to lose
and maybe if we stop all this talk
about college and start running again
I can eat half an orange
and drink a cup of milk after work tonight
before drifting off to sleep.

   

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by Kimberly Dark

   
Contact

   
        In pairs, they fall together again and again,
        shoulder to shoulder, neck to neck,
        heads close, they take on each others weight
        with pleasure.

        It looks like pleasure, an intimate pleasure,
        an embrace—until the feet dig in and
        the choreographed tussle begins.
        It looks like pleasure
        and so it must be
        for what would hold them,
        hour after hour,
        in these forms of embrace,
        bodily pressure, contact—
        if not pleasure.

        The environment is daunting, after all.
        The grunts and shuffling feet,
        yells of coaches create a noise
        that even in its power
        cannot rise above the hot stench
        of bodies, struggling.
        A steamy-loud-funk escapes the room
        and they are all writhing in the midst of it—
        creating a steamy hot punk funk
        109-summer-degrees outside
        and inside, the steam rises from their bodies.

        This is how young men must touch each other—
        hug, hold one another’s bodies—
        without provoking disdain
        without fear of abuse
        without loss, loss, loss,
        loss of everything

        Summer wrestling camp,
        the south gym at Fresno State University
        is a giant room with hardwood floors
        big blue mats hauled in two days ago
        to cushion prancing feet and falls,
        to guard the flesh and bones of boy’s tumbles,
        shield knees from harm.

        The door between the sunny day
        and the stench of wrestlers
        seems an easily passable
        portal between worlds.
        The gym is dark and slightly cooler
        than the noon-time brightness
        and yet within each wrestler,
        a sun glows
        drenching his clothes and skin
        with sweat.

        At the call of the coaches they
        “BREAK! Give me 5 sit-ups!”
        Then they’re back at it again
        falling together, shoulder to shoulder,
        enacting the forms of contact
        common to the sport—
        the rituals of contact within
        the tightly controlled container
        of combat and propriety.
        Intimate propriety; their suns shine
        making the paint want to peel
        in the stench.
        They fall together again and again
        constrained by the form as they
        make vital, human contact.

   

   

_____

   

   
by John D. Berry

    martial artist, Berkeley CA

   
Contest
   
   
Stillness,
Before beginning,
Focus narrows,
To target,
Sounds diminish,
Without silence.
   
The movie runs,
In your head,
Which moves,
Counter moves,
How victory,
Will come.
   
Move,
No thought,
No mind,
Breathe,
The referee’s signal,
It begins.

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        The Drop, that wrestles in the Sea—
        Forgets her own locality—
        As I—toward Thee—

        She knows herself an incense small—
        Yet small—she sighs—if All—is All—
        How larger—be?

        The Ocean—smiles—at her Conceit—
        But she, forgetting Amphitrite—
        Pleads—“Me”?

   

                284

   

_____

   

Granby Roll from TheMat.com's Coaches Corner

   

_____

   

   
by Alfred Noyes (1880-1958)

   
Enceladus

   
        In the Black Country, from a little window,
        Before I slept, across the haggard wastes
        Of dust and ashes, I saw Titanic shafts
        Like shadowy columns of wan-hope arise
        To waste, on the blear sky, their slow sad wreaths
        Of smoke, their infinitely sad slow prayers.
        Then, as night deepened, the blast-furnaces,
        Red smears upon the sulphurous blackness, turned
        All that sad region to a City of Dis,
        Where naked, sweating giants all night long
        Bowed their strong necks, melted flesh, blood and bone,
        To brim the dry ducts of the gods of gloom
        With terrible rivers, branches of living gold.

        O, like some tragic gesture of great souls
        In agony, those awful columns towered
        Against the clouds, that city of ash and slag
        Assumed the grandeur of some direr Thebes
        Arising to the death-chant of those gods,
        A dreadful Order climbing from the dark
        Of Chaos and Corruption, threatening to take
        Heaven with its vast slow storm.
                                                              I slept, and dreamed.
        And like the slow beats of some Titan heart
        Buried beneath immeasurable woes,
        The forging-hammers thudded through the dream:

        Huge on a fallen tree,
        Lost in the darkness of primeval woods,
        Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
        The naked giant, brooded all alone.
        Born of the lower earth, he knew not how,
        Born of the mire and clay, he knew not when,
        Brought forth in darkness, and he knew not why!

        Thus, like a wind, went by a thousand years.

        Anhungered, yet no comrade of the wolf,
        And cold, but with no power upon the sun,
        A master of this world that mastered him!

        Thus, like a cloud, went by a thousand years.

        Who chained this other giant in his heart
        That heaved and burned like Etna?  Heavily
        He bent his brows and wondered and was dumb.

        And, like one wave, a thousand years went by.

        He raised his matted head and scanned the stars.
        He stood erect!  He lifted his uncouth arms!
        With inarticulate sounds his uncouth lips
        Wrestled and strove—I am full-fed, and yet
        I hunger!
        Who set this fiercer famine in my maw?

        Can I eat moons, gorge on the Milky Way,
        Swill sunsets down, or sup the wash of the dawn
        Out of the rolling swine-troughs of the sea?
        Can I drink oceans, lie beneath the mountains,
        And nuzzle their heavy boulders like a cub
        Sucking the dark teats of the tigress?  Who,
        Who set this deeper hunger in my heart?

        And the dark forest echoed—Who?  Ah, who?

        “I hunger!”
        And the night-wind answered him,
        “Hunt, then, for food.”

        “I hunger!”
        And the sleek gorged lioness
        Drew nigh him, dripping freshly from the kill,
        Redder her lolling tongue, whiter her fangs,
        And gazed with ignorant eyes of golden flame.

        “I hunger!”
        Like a breaking sea his cry
        Swept through the night.  Against his swarthy knees
        She rubbed the red wet velvet of her ears
        With mellow thunders of unweeting bliss,
        Purring—Ah, seek, and you shall find.
        Ah, seek, and you shall slaughter, gorge, ah seek,
        Seek, seek, you shall feed full, ah seek, ah seek.

        Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
        Bewildered like a desert-pilgrim, saw
        A rosy City, opening in the clouds,
        The hunger-born mirage of his own heart,
        Far, far above the world, a home of gods,
        Where One, a goddess, veiled in the sleek waves
        Of her deep hair, yet glimmering golden through,
        Lifted, with radiant arms, ambrosial food
        For hunger such as this!  Up the dark hills,
        He rushed, a thunder-cloud,
        Urged by the famine of his heart.  He stood
        High on the topmost crags, he hailed the gods
        In thunder, and the clouds re-echoed it!

        He hailed the gods!
        And like a sea of thunder round their thrones
        Washing, a midnight sea, his earth-born voice
        Besieged the halls of heaven!  He hailed the gods!
        They laughed, he heard them laugh!
        With echo and re-echo, far and wide,
        A golden sea of mockery, they laughed!

        Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
        Laid hold upon the rosy Gates of Heaven,
        And shook them with gigantic sooty hands,
        Asking he knew not what, but not for alms;
        And the Gates, opened as in jest;
        And, like a sooty jest, he stumbled in.

        Round him the gods, the young and scornful gods,
        Clustered and laughed to mark the ravaged face,
        The brutal brows, the deep and dog-like eyes,
        The blunt black nails, and back with burdens bowed.
        And, when they laughed, he snarled with uncouth lips
        And made them laugh again.
                                                           “Whence comest thou?”
        He could not speak!
        How should he speak whose heart within him heaved
        And burned like Etna?  Through his mouth there came
        A sound of ice-bergs in a frozen sea
        Of tears, a sullen region of black ice
        Rending and breaking, very far away.
        They laughed!
        He stared at them, bewildered, and they laughed
        Again, “Whence comest thou?”

        He could not speak!
        But through his mouth a moan of midnight woods,
        Where wild beasts lay in wait to slaughter and gorge,
        A moan of forest-caverns where the wolf
        Brought forth her litter, a moan of the wild earth
        In travail with strange shapes of mire and clay,
        Creatures of clay, clay images of the gods,
        That hungered like the gods, the most high gods,
        But found no food, and perished like the beasts.

        And the gods laughed,—
        Art thou, then, such a god?  And, like a leaf
        Unfolding in dark woods, in his deep brain
        A sudden memory woke; and like an ape
        He nodded, and all heaven with laughter rocked,
        While Artemis cried out with scornful lips,—
        Perchance He is the Maker of you all!

        Then, piteously outstretching calloused hands,
        He sank upon his knees, his huge gnarled knees,
        And echoed, falteringly, with slow harsh tongue,—
        Perchance, perchance, the Maker of you all.

        They wept with laughter!  And Aphrodite, she,
        With keener mockery than white Artemis
        Who smiled aloof, drew nigh him unabashed
        In all her blinding beauty.  Carelessly,
        As o’er the brute brows of a stallèd ox
        Across that sooty muzzle and brawny breast,
        Contemptuously, she swept her golden hair
        In one deep wave, a many-millioned scourge
        Intolerable and beautiful as fire;
        Then turned and left him, reeling, gasping, dumb,
        While heaven re-echoed and re-echoed, See,
        Perchance, perchance, the Maker of us all!

        Enceladus, earth-born Enceladus,
        Rose to his feet, and with one terrible cry
        “I hunger,” rushed upon the scornful gods
        And strove to seize and hold them with his hands,
        And still the laughter deepened as they rolled
        Their clouds around them, baffling him.  But once,
        Once with a shout, in his gigantic arms
        He crushed a slippery splendour on his breast
        And felt on his harsh skin the cool smooth peaks
        Of Aphrodite’s bosom.  One black hand
        Slid down the naked snow of her long side
        And bruised it where he held her.  Then, like snow
        Vanishing in a furnace, out of his arms
        The splendour suddenly melted, and a roll
        Of thunder split the dream, and headlong down
        He fell, from heaven to earth; while, overhead
        The young and scornful gods—he heard them laugh!—
        Toppled the crags down after him.  He lay
        Supine.  They plucked up Etna by the roots
        And buried him beneath it.  His broad breast
        Heaved, like that other giant in his heart,
        And through the crater burst his fiery breath,
        But could not burst his bonds.  And so he lay
        Breathing in agony thrice a thousand years.

        Then came a Voice, he knew not whence, “Arise,
        Enceladus!”  And from his heart a crag
        Fell, and one arm was free, and one thought free,
        And suddenly he awoke, and stood upright,
        Shaking the mountains from him like a dream;
        And the tremendous light and awful truth
        Smote, like the dawn, upon his blinded eyes,
        That out of his first wonder at the world,
        Out of his own heart’s deep humility,
        And simple worship, he had fashioned gods
        Of cloud, and heaven out of a hollow shell.
        And groping now no more in the empty space
        Outward, but inward in his own deep heart,
        He suddenly felt the secret gates of heaven
        Open, and from the infinite heavens of hope
        Inward, a voice, from the innermost courts of Love,
        Rang—Thou shall have none other gods but Me.

        Enceladus, the foul Enceladus,
        When the clear light out of that inward heaven
        Whose gates are only inward in the soul,
        Showed him that one true Kingdom, said,
                                                                     “I will stretch
        My hands out once again.  And, as the God
        That made me is the Heart within my heart,
        So shall my heart be to this dust and earth
        A god and a creator.  I will strive
        With mountains, fires and seas, wrestle and strive,
        Fashion and make, and that which I have made
        In anguish I shall love as God loves me.”

        In the Black Country, from a little window,
        Waking at dawn, I saw those giant Shafts
        —O great dark word out of our elder speech,
        Long since the poor man’s kingly heritage—
        The Shapings, the dim Sceptres of Creation,
        The Shafts like columns of wan-hope arise
        To waste, on the blear sky, their slow sad wreaths
        Of smoke, their infinitely sad slow prayers.
        Then, as the dawn crimsoned, the sordid clouds,
        The puddling furnaces, the mounds of slag,
        The cinders, and the sand-beds and the rows
        Of wretched roofs, assumed a majesty
        Beyond all majesties of earth or air;
        Beauty beyond all beauty, as of a child
        In rags, upraised thro’ the still gold of heaven,
        With wasted arms and hungering eyes, to bring
        The armoured seraphim down upon their knees
        And teach eternal God humility;
        The solemn beauty of the unfulfilled
        Moving towards fulfilment on a height
        Beyond all heights; the dreadful beauty of hope;
        The naked wrestler struggling from the rock
        Under the sculptor’s chisel; the rough mass
        Of clay more glorious for the poor blind face
        And bosom that half emerge into the light,
        More glorious and august, even in defeat,
        Than that too cold dominion God foreswore
        To bear this passionate universal load,
        This Calvary of Creation, with mankind.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Andy Jones

   
First Dance

   
        Your new wife and her relatives,
        now your in-laws,
        had never seen you dance before the big day,
        and wondered how,
        with all this bulky, residual muscle,
        you knew how to move so well, so expressively.
        As your coach and mentor,
        I had been invited to help welcome you to adulthood,
        And I knew.

        First you and your partner start in a neutral position,
        facing each other,
        sizing each other up,
        neither one yet in control.
        Soon, if it’s a slow song,
        you may take a head and shoulder lead,
        so that you start ear to ear,
        and her head may drop to your chest,
        but ironically she has the advantage here,
        for this is her arena,
        so she is in command.

        When the music changes,
        when the pace quickens,
        and adrenaline can be called upon,
        there is a reversal.
        You feel uplifted, and centered, and calm.
        Now the hips come into play,
        and your hips are well-trained.
        you start hips down so as to create an angle,
        and then spin her so as to drive strong across her hips,
        and before she knows it,
        you have impressed her with a hip lock,
        followed by a hip heist and hip pop.
        Such dexterity and vigor!

        When the time is right,
        you pull her near,
        inside to your arms like a lock
        so that all of her is adjacent to all of you,
        and your staggered stance realigns her rhythm to yours.
        Now you dictate the action,
        and she circles to your trail leg.
        You are feeling it now, sensing satisfaction and victory.
        You step and slide,
        and then one step back, and then circle.
        Your every move had been practiced, horizontally,
        as I stood over you with a whistle.

        Your new bride, she loves it!
        She is walking her fingers forward!
        You are a flanker!
        You are a double top stretcher!
        Inspired, she kicks up her heel to her butt
        and eliminates all the daylight between the two of you.
        She hopes to keep up with your energy,
        sees you as so graceful and authoritative here,
        just as you always hoped to be on the mat.
        And you realize, as you try to keep your hip on top,
        that this moment here,
        a moment when you are so strong, flexible, and smooth,
        without a referee ever to stop you,
        this might be your absolute last moment of control.

   

   

_____

   

Two Children Wrestling, Roman Marble Sculpture, 1st Century AD, Barakat Gallery

   

_____

   

   
a traditional ballad

   
A Gest of Robyn Hode

The Second Fytte (verses 134-143)

   
        He bare a launsgay in his honde,
            And a man ledde his male,
        And reden with a lyght songe
            Unto Bernysdale.

        But as he went at a brydge ther was a wrastelyng,
            And there taryed was he,
        And there was all the best yemen
            Of all the west countree.

        A full fayre game there was up set,
            A whyte bulle up i-pyght,
        A grete courser, with sadle and brydil,
            With golde burnyssht full bryght.

        A payre of gloves, a rede golde rynge,
            A pype of wyne, in fay;
        What man that bereth hym best i-wys
            The pryce shall bere away.

        There was a yoman in that place,
            And best worthy was he,
        And for he was ferre and frembde bested,
            Slayne he shulde have be.

        The knight had ruthe of this yoman,
            In placë where that he stode;
        He sayde that yoman shulde have no harme,
            For love of Robyn Hode.

        The knyght presed in to the place,
            An hundreth folowed hym free,
        With bowes bent and arowes sharpe,
            For to shende that companye.

        They shulderd all and made hym rome,
            To wete what he wolde say;
        He took the yeman bi the hande,
            And gave hym al the play.

        He gave hym five marke for his wyne,
            There it lay on the molde,
        And bad it shulde be set a broche,
            Drynkë who so wolde.

        Thus longe taried this gentyll knyght,
            Tyll that play was done;
        So long abode Robyn fastinge
            Thre hourës after the none.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Jean Starr Untermeyer (1886-1970)

   
Growing Pains

   
        From the bloodless battle,
        From wrestling with memories—those athletic ghosts,
        From an aching reach for Beauty,
        Speech has burst forth.
        Not for Art’s sake,
        But to rid me of an ancient sorrow—
        Not mine alone and yet so wholly mine.
        I have left no songs for an idle lute,
        No pretty tunes of coddled ills,
        But the bare chart of my growing pains.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        How dare the robins sing,
             When men and women hear
        Who since they went to their account
              Have settled with the year!—
        Paid all that life had earned
              In one consummate bill,
        And now, what life or death can do
              Is immaterial.
        Insulting is the sun
              To him whose mortal light
        Beguiled of immortality
              Bequeaths him to the night.
        Extinct be every hum
              In deference to him
        Whose garden wrestles with the dew,
              At daybreak overcome!

   

                1724

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        I think the Hemlock likes to stand
        Upon a Marge of Snow—
        It suits his own Austerity—
        And satisfies an awe

        That men, must slake in Wilderness—
        And in the Desert—cloy—
        An instinct for the Hoar, the Bald—
        Lapland’s—necessity—

        The Hemlock’s nature thrives—on cold—
        The Gnash of Northern winds
        Is sweetest nutriment—to him—
        His best Norwegian Wines—

        To satin Races—he is nought—
        But Children on the Don,
        Beneath his Tabernacles, play,
        And Dnieper Wrestlers, run.

   

                525

   

_____

   

   
from a hospital bed

   
to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce

   
by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

   
Invictus

   
        Out of the night that covers me,
              Black as the pit from pole to pole,
        I thank whatever gods may be
              For my unconquerable soul.

        In the fell clutch of circumstance
              I have not winced nor cried aloud.
        Under the bludgeonings of chance
              My head is bloody, but unbowed.

        Beyond this place of wrath and tears
              Looms but the horror of the shade,
        And yet the menace of the years
              Finds and shall find me unafraid.

        It matters not how strait the gate,
              How charged with punishments the scroll,
        I am the master of my fate:
              I am the captain of my soul.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Rus Bowden

        a Dracut High School and Bridgewater State College wrestling dad

   
Jacob the Leg Puller

   
        It was late.  With the tribute to his brother
        being herded on its way,
        Jacob, exhausted, decided to stay at camp.

        Unable to sleep, a bit later he rose, took his
        two wives, two maids, eleven children
        and all that he owned, and escorted them

        across the shallow of the rivulet that rises
        and flows:  the Jaboc River.
        With family and belongings well on ahead,

        Jacob returned to camp to be by himself.
        This man appeared and they
        wrestled all night until the twilight of morning.

        When the man realized that he could not win,
        he wrenched Jacob’s hip
        at the socket, popping it out of joint.

        The match continued.
        The man said:  “Let go, morning is here.”
        Jacob replied:  “I won’t let you go unless

        “you give me the award.”
        His opponent said:  “What is your name?”
        “Jacob,” came the reply.  The man spoke:

        “Your name is no longer Jacob the leg puller,
        but Israel the god wrestler.
        You have wrestled divinity as well as humanity

        “and you are the winner.”
        Jacob asked him, “What is your name?”
        He said, “Never mind my name,” and bowed and left.

        Jacob christened that place “Peni-el” saying,
        “Face the divine and live.”
        He limped out of Penuel.  The sun was rising.

   

   

_____

   

by John S. Taylor in 1841

   
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

   
        Now, by that touch, Mysterious man! I know
        Thy nature’s more than human!—Let thee go!
        Not till thou bless me.  If, through all the night,
        My daring, struggling limbs increas’d in might;
        If thou thy strength attempered e’en to mine,
        If thus resisting I o’ermastered thine;
        Then wilt thou too, my daring speech approve,
        For all thy wrestling was but tender love!
        My name is Jacob—thou hast made me bold,
        Thine arms that have repell’d me, must enfold!
        Thou shalt, Oh Wondrous Stranger! e’er we part—
        Stamp thine eternal blessing on my heart!

        Thy name no more is Jacob!  Thou hast seen
        By faith’s keen vision, what thy trials mean!
        Thy name is Israel!  Knighted Prince of God!
        For thou with him the wrestling ring hast trod!
        Nay–cease!  Ask not for my peculiar name,
        Enough to know ’twill put thy foes to shame:
        Take this white stone—’tis deeply graven there,
        With thine, a token of prevailing prayer!
        Forth to thy work—thy darkest dangers brave,
        My name goes with thee, and ’tis strong to save!

   
Previously published in Jacob wrestling with the angel [sermons]

   

   

_____

   

Bibi Saint-Pol's 2007 photo of Euphronios' Heracles wrestling Antaeus, 515-510 BC

   

_____

   

by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

   
The Lady of the Lake

Canto Fifth (The Combat)

   
        XXIII.

        Now, clear the ring! for, hand to hand,
        The manly wrestlers take their stand.
        Two o’er the rest superior rose,
        And proud demanded mightier foes,—
        Nor called in vain, for Douglas came.—
        For life is Hugh of Larbert lame;
        Scarce better John of Alloa’s fare,
        Whom senseless home his comrades bare.
        Prize of the wrestling match, the King
        To Douglas gave a golden ring,
        While coldly glanced his eye of blue,
        As frozen drop of wintry dew.
        Douglas would speak, but in his breast
        His struggling soul his words suppressed;
        Indignant then he turned him where
        Their arms the brawny yeomen bare,
        To hurl the massive bar in air.
        When each his utmost strength had shown,
        The Douglas rent an earth-fast stone
        From its deep bed, then heaved it high,
        And sent the fragment through the sky
        A rood beyond the farthest mark;
        And still in Stirling’s royal park,
        The gray-haired sires, who know the past,
        To strangers point the Douglas cast,
        And moralize on the decay
        Of Scottish strength in modern day.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Steve Parker

    martial artist and sometime wrestler

   
Lights fall from the Old Man of the Sea

   
        we hold until I am exhausted

        he is a trickling thing of sand
        a scintilla that drains back into the beach

        a shock of trees
        released by strong winds
        he is a fish, a slither
        an eel that flits away
        then has me pinned

        he is all around me
        he clenches, shoves my face
        towards his
        buried down there
        beneath our grinding feet
        iron-eyed our faces

        stare it out underground
        through lock and tremor
        we are two seismic prayers
        to a god divided

        he is a lion he is my mother he is the flicker of songbirds falling
        as black snow in early evening my fingers are wings are poems
        within his smoke we fold back to embrace
        count five sudden things of magic
        stamp and hold tight

        lion mother phantom
        my lost brother
        whistles hard in the waves

        old father in the fallen leaves offshore

        we walk into the sea
        each carrying the other
        light as children who cannot return
        rise only as the tide
        sends up her drowned lanterns

        each with his heart of red sand
        catching, holding

        our breath beyond reach

   

   

_____

   

   
by G.C. Smith

   
Lightweight

   
        At two hundred and twenty today
        this unHogan Hulk knew another time
        way back in the way back when
        he wrestled at a paltry ninety-eight

        Tough monkey that he was at fourteen
        he practiced hard each and every day
        and once a week eliminated all comers
        except that damn hardened skinny senior

        He never made it to interschool competition
        the skinny bastard senior saw to that
        but, still, he got a lot from trying
        before he switched off to other things

        Looking back some fifty seven years
        it’s nigh impossible to recollect
        that wiry freckled fourteen year old
        taking on all comers at a lightweight ninety-eight

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        A little East of Jordan,
        Evangelists record,
        A Gymnast and an Angel
        Did wrestle long and hard—

        Till morning touching mountain—
        And Jacob, waxing strong,
        The Angel begged permission
        To Breakfast—to return—

        Not so, said cunning Jacob!
        “I will not let thee go
        Except thou bless me”—Stranger!
        The which acceded to—

        Light swung the silver fleeces
        “Peniel” Hills beyond,
        And the bewildered Gymnast
        Found he had worsted God!

   

                59

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Longing is like the Seed
        That wrestles in the Ground,
        Believing if it intercede
        It shall at length be found.

        The Hour, and the Clime—
        Each Circumstance unknown,
        What Constancy must be achieved
        Before it see the Sun!

   

                1255

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Musicians wrestle everywhere—
        All day—among the crowded air
              I hear the silver strife—
        And—walking—long before the morn—
        Such transport breaks upon the town
              I think it that “New Life”!

        If is not Bird—it has no nest—
        Nor “Band”—in brass and scarlet—drest—
              Nor Tamborin—nor Man—
        It is not Hymn from pulpit read—
        The “Morning Stars” the Treble led
              On Time’s first Afternoon!

        Some—say—it is “the Spheres”—at play!
        Some say that bright Majority
              Of vanished Dames—and Men!
        Some—think it service in the place
        Where we—with late—celestial face—
              Please God—shall Ascertain!

   

                157

   

_____

   

Rus Bowden's Goddess Athena versus Emily Dickinson, 2009

   

_____

   

   
by Steve Meador

    Defiance OH High School and Defiance College wrestler, 1969-1974

   
Muster

   
        The prairie meets the mountains at a place
        where the journey ends for the meek or weak.
        Here, cougar cunning versus buffalo strength
        versus diamondback lightning, and survival
        is measured in the ability to circle and strike,
        grip and twist, lunge and sprawl, stand or fall.
        It’s a lonely place where a man crawls inward,
        communes with a creature that will lead or carry
        him to the peak.  The only sounds are a chinook
        gathering strength as it blows from the fringes,
        sink it Sink it Sink It Sink IT SINK IT!
        On your toes.  Drive Drive DRIVEDRIVEDRIVE!

        and a clap of thunder that slaps against the hardpan.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Rane Arroyo

   
My Wrestler

   
        My ex-lover was a wrestler,
        liked the strain of power against
        the rumors:  two men.  There was
        a gain in him showing me the basic
        positions and me only pinning him
        once.  Maybe he let me.  The girls
        wanted him, wanted to haunt him,
        but he’d kiss me in the gym and
        no one dared to mess with him,
        the message clear:  in America,
        we have free will.  I think of
        Whitman’s brief reference to
        shirtless wrestlers, but closer
        to home, my lover would go
        to his opponent and there was
        an art to his rage.  And I felt like
        the lover in The Great White Hope:
        all sidelines, unsure how this became
        my life, that I was courageous too,
        in my own way, as I screamed,
        flip him now!  Nothing like having
        to fail in front of your boyfriend when
        the world hated us.  The future will
        not understand how important that
        he and I wrestled angels with moral
        messages because we made each
        other pure.  He’d kissed me to piss off
        people and I kissed him back because
        he was sweaty, tired, and proud of
        me for being proud of him.  He had
        never lost a match, but then he lost me.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Don Schaeffer

   
Passion Fruits

   
        While others
        built with wood
        I was making toys of cardboard tubes
        and paper clips,

        blonde shickza
        taking me to her bedroom
        and making me late
        for fourth period math class,

        and teacher thinking I went
        to the devil,
        wrestling match adventure,
        the best experiences

        were in the games.
        When the others were
        risking everything,
        close to death

        in the throws of passion,
        I didn’t dare
        go after
        the sweetest fruits.

   
Previously seen at Don Schaeffer’s Poems

   

   

_____

   

   
by Judy Swann

    an Ithaca High School wrestling mom

   
Pin

   
        I am fourteen years old
        muscles held together with skin and grit
        goaty, an ephebe, tufty hair above my lip
        for one eighth of one inch the red slow twitch
        of blood pricks my lats in a thousand points
        and I my body, its dozen senses, am my body
        upright levator scapulae
        sucking the muscles of my tongue
        and measuring you
        brachioradialis
        plectrum—
        I am hundreds of muscles.

        My eyes are muscles that see
        you shoot before your breath burns
        across my lynx ears.
        I am on you, nociceptor, know me.

        Lacrimae, lacrimae I press you back.
        I am all muscle and you
        are finished.

        Ref slaps the mat.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Judy Swann

    an Ithaca High School wrestling mom

   
Pinned

   
        Its medal is the oldest trophy
        awarded in Western athletics.
        Its communion attracts few females.
        Still it’s not like joining the Marines,
        not like the feuds of pushtunwali
        where a man seals clan triumph
        by drinking the guy’s blood.
        But it does man you up
        and despite its claim to being a team
        sport, it is not.
        The ferrety mass of your opponent
        the slug of his sweat on your throat
        that last inch
        is you losing, not your yelling coach or
        the guy next weight up, it’s all you
        when you lose.

   

   

_____

   

Dennis Riley's Eva the Pit Bull Wrestling Susie DeFord's Legs, 2008

   

_____

   

   
for Eva

   
by Susie DeFord

   
Powerboat Pit Bull

   
        Cartoon paws spread web-wide, wiggle
        a little two-step upon arrival.  A brindle-
        brown wild tigress, snakeskin sheen,
        slithering along the walls of Brooklyn

                  buildings.  Nosing my knees, knocking
                  legs out beneath or hammerhead sharking
                  shins shiny amethyst wine.  Street thugs
                  saunter and say, “Hey, nice Pit.”  Tail

        between legs, Cowardly Lion, eyes wide,
        ears perked, city construction sounds
        and strangers scary.  You powerboat-pull
        me, pavement water-skier, into Lucy’s lair.

                  She’s your best girl, block buddy, partner
        in grime.  You rocket launch upstairs amidst
                  laughing doorman Rudolpho’s stares, drag
        me tripping upwards along.  Release the beast,
                  Lucy’s out, it’s on!  Attempts to extinguish

        exuberance, but you’re gone.  You pounce,
                  pitching paws, and prancing like a boxer.
        I’m the gong, match marker, stopper, clocker.

        Lucy flings into the ring with a facebuster,

                            your muscles bulge a moonsault.  Pause

                  downward  dog, then in again Banana Split

                            and Peekout scouting your next move.  Gong

        song, Luchadoras leap into the elevator,

        endorphins emanating, meek from misbehaving,
        both sit solemnly, silly silent grins, bout breathless.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        The pretty Rain from those sweet Eaves
        Her unintending Eyes—
        Took her own Heart, including ours,
        By innocent Surprise—

        The wrestle in her simple Throat
        To hold the feeling down
        That vanquished her—defeated Feat—
        Was Fervor’s sudden Crown—

   

                1426

   

_____

   

   
by Drax Ireland

   
from the Funeral Games in Honour of Patroclus, after Homer, The Iliad, Book XXIII

   
The Prizegiving

   
        ‘Noëmon friend of Antilochos
        lead the mare away’
        as Menelaus himself took the glittering cauldron.
        Fourth, as driven, Meriones carried off the two talents’ weight of gold.
        Only the two handed jar was left.
        Achilles carried it through the Argives to Nestor,

        standing there he spoke;—

        ‘Elder, in memory of Patrokulus, a treasure for you to lay away,
        He is gone from the Argives for evermore
        this prize mine to give for the giving
        for you will not fight with fists or wrestle with limbs
        nor stand with the spear throwers
        nor race fleet footed
        as age claims her due’

        Speaking thus he placed it in Nestor’s hands
        who answered with joy

        ‘Yes youth you speak truth
        my limbs betray me as do my feet
        my friend
        my arms swing ponderous
        I wish for youth and strength within me
        as it was with Amaryngkeus and the Epeians at Bouprasion,
        the sons kings’ funeral games
        I was alone among the Epeians
        and the Pylians and the brave Aitolians
        Klytomedes, the son of Enops fell to my fists
        Angkaios of Pleuron I wrestled to the floor
        I outran the fast Iphiklos
        Polydoros and Phyleus watched my spear fly away
        only the chariot of the sons of Aktor defeated me
        crowd crossing champions chasing the prize
        the twins of Aktor, as one held the reins loose the other lashed the horses

        But this all in the past . . .

        An Elder must make way for youth
        I embrace my aging, an old hero among the young
        Enough of me, more to the contest in honour of your friend
        I take this prize with joy and a happy heart
        to be remembered, a kindness,
        I am not forgotten the honour due to me among the Achaians
        for this may the gods grant you great happiness.’

   

   

_____

   

   
for Adam

   
by David Hernandez

   
Proof

   
        Once he wrestled a bear, he said,
        in a bar off-campus with eyes
        glossy from lager, he wrestled
        a bear.  Claws and all, black fur
        and the salmon of its muscles
        leaping under the black fur.
        Wrestled and won, he said,
        the bear pinned and snorting,
        pinned and one hundred pounds
        heavier, with claws, with claws
        and teeth, the electric blue current
        of animal instinct.  I was gullible
        once, under kindergarten lights
        with glitter and paste, building
        a galaxy.  A boy stole my stars
        once, a bigger boy I wrestled
        under the night of blackboard.
        Wrestled and lost, pinned
        and weeping with my back
        to the carpet, with the fireflies
        of glitter dazzling on my skin.
        To the man who said he wrestled
        a bear, wrestled and won, I said,
        You’re full of bear shit.  But
        a scar is proof and so began
        the slow striptease of a pant leg
        rolled to his knee.  There, he said.
        And his story sparkled on his flesh.

   
Previously published in Gulf Coast, Summer/Fall 2006

   

   

_____

   

   
by Muhammad Afzal Mirza and Muhammad Amir Sheikh

   
from the biographies of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him

   
Rakana vs. Prophet Muhammad

   
        While preaching in Mecca,
        Prophet Muhammad encountered
        Rakana, a famous wrestler there.
        A discussion started

        and the wrestler challenged him saying,
        “If you defeat me in a wrestling match,
        I will accept Islam.”
        They wrestled and the Prophet defeated him.

        Being a good wrestler, Rakana could not
        accept this defeat and challenged
        for another match, losing a second time.
        Rakana requested a third match.

        After this defeat, he honored
        his word and accepted Islam.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Lori Desrosiers

   
Real Wrestling

   
        Weighed in, lots drawn,
        smelling of puke and sweat,
        chewing on black mouth guards,
        the one in the yellow shorts
        vs. the one in the blue shorts.
        Referee in black socks
        and black plimsolls
        blows his whistle.
        Men fall together, splat!
        Tangle of legs, arms,
        swish of dripping sweat,
        meat against mat,
        a mass of bone and tendons,
        faces contorted in pain.
        The mat chairman amasses points
        judge verifies the fall, the touche.
        The referee calls it:
        Yellow shorts, black and blue,
        the victor by nine points.

   

   

_____

   

Greco-Roman Wrestler Steven Woods, 2004 Armed Forces Championships

   

_____

   

   
by Jeff Kass

    White Plains High and Yale University wrestler, 1980-85
    WPHS coach, 1988-90

   
Reversal

   
        You can’t execute a successful Granby Roll
        if you can’t believe you can be a wrecking ball
        and bounce

        Pop your hips toward the sky
        make your body an A-frame
        post your weight on your left hand

        Ready yourself for your quake
        hop your left foot in front
        of your right, now blow
        your house from its moorings,
        duck your head and make your
        break violent

        The Granby Roll will not work
        if you don’t have faith in your
        own momentum, you cannot quit
        halfway, your naked shoulders
        exposed to the mat’s cold mercy

        You must believe you can ravage
        your own symmetry and survive

        Now try it from standing up
        you are human, tall on two legs
        and you can dive and spin
        from upright too

        It’s hop, hop, go

        Don’t let your fear of falling
        failure, falling, failure, don’t
        let fear of falling fail you,
        failure fall you, dive,
        dive—trust your dive,
        and roll.

   
Previously published in The Ann Arbor Chronicle

   

   

_____

   

   
by Jane M’Lean (no bio)

   
Slogan

   
        Don’t prate about what is your right,
        But bare your fists and show your might;
        Life is another man to fight
        Catch as catch can.

        Don’t talk of Life as scurvy Fate,
        Who gave you favors just too late,
        Or Luck who threw you smiles for bait
        Before he ran.

        Don’t whine and wish that you were dead,
        But wrestle for your daily bread,
        And afterward let it be said
        “He was a man.”

   
found in the book It Can Be Done: Poems of Inspiration collected by Joseph Morris and St. Clair Adams

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Some we see no more, Tenements of Wonder
        Occupy to us though perhaps to them
        Simpler are the Days than the Supposition
        Leave us to presume

        That oblique Belief which we call Conjecture
        Grapples with a Theme stubborn as Sublime
        Able as the Dust to equip its feature
        Adequate as Drums
        To enlist the Tomb.

   

                1221

   

_____

   

   
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

   
The Song of Hiawatha

Chapter 5, Hiawatha’s Fasting

   
        You shall hear how Hiawatha
        Prayed and fasted in the forest,
        Not for greater skill in hunting,
        Not for greater craft in fishing,
        Not for triumphs in the battle,
        And renown among the warriors,
        But for profit of the people,
        For advantage of the nations.

        First he built a lodge for fasting,
        Built a wigwam in the forest,
        By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
        In the blithe and pleasant Spring-time,
        In the Moon of Leaves he built it,
        And, with dreams and visions many,
        Seven whole days and nights he fasted.

        On the first day of his fasting
        Through the leafy woods he wandered;
        Saw the deer start from the thicket,
        Saw the rabbit in his burrow,
        Heard the pheasant, Bena, drumming,
        Heard the squirrel, Adjidaumo,
        Rattling in his hoard of acorns,
        Saw the pigeon, the Omeme,
        Building nests among the pinetrees,
        And in flocks the wild-goose, Wawa,
        Flying to the fen-lands northward,
        Whirring, wailing far above him.
        “Master of Life!” he cried, desponding,
        “Must our lives depend on these things?”

        On the next day of his fasting
        By the river’s brink he wandered,
        Through the Muskoday, the meadow,
        Saw the wild rice, Mahnomonee,
        Saw the blueberry, Meenahga,
        And the strawberry, Odahmin,
        And the gooseberry, Shahbomin,
        And the grape-vine, the Bemahgut,
        Trailing o’er the alder-branches,
        Filling all the air with fragrance!
        “Master of Life!” he cried, desponding,
        “Must our lives depend on these things?”

        On the third day of his fasting
        By the lake he sat and pondered,
        By the still, transparent water;
        Saw the sturgeon, Nahma, leaping,
        Scattering drops like beads of wampum,
        Saw the yellow perch, the Sahwa,
        Like a sunbeam in the water,
        Saw the pike, the Maskenozha,
        And the herring, Okahahwis,
        And the Shawgashee, the crawfish!
        “Master of Life!” he cried, desponding,
        “Must our lives depend on these things?”

        On the fourth day of his fasting
        In his lodge he lay exhausted;
        From his couch of leaves and branches
        Gazing with half-open eyelids,
        Full of shadowy dreams and visions,
        On the dizzy, swimming landscape,
        On the gleaming of the water,
        On the splendor of the sunset.

        And he saw a youth approaching,
        Dressed in garments green and yellow,
        Coming through the purple twilight,
        Through the splendor of the sunset;
        Plumes of green bent o’er his forehead,
        And his hair was soft and golden.

        Standing at the open doorway,
        Long he looked at Hiawatha,
        Looked with pity and compassion
        On his wasted form and features,
        And, in accents like the sighing
        Of the South-Wind in the tree-tops,
        Said he, “O my Hiawatha!
        All your prayers are heard in heaven,
        For you pray not like the others;
        Not for greater skill in hunting,
        Not for greater craft in fishing,
        Not for triumph in the battle,
        Nor renown among the warriors,
        But for profit of the people,
        For advantage of the nations.

        “From the Master of Life descending,
        I, the friend of man, Mondamin,
        Come to warn you and instruct you,
        How by struggle and by labor
        You shall gain what you have prayed for.
        Rise up from your bed of branches,
        Rise, O youth, and wrestle with me!”

        Faint with famine, Hiawatha
        Started from his bed of branches,
        From the twilight of his wigwam
        Forth into the flush of sunset
        Came, and wrestled with Mondamin;
        At his touch he felt new courage
        Throbbing in his brain and bosom,
        Felt new life and hope and vigor
        Run through every nerve and fibre.

        So they wrestled there together
        In the glory of the sunset,
        And the more they strove and struggled,
        Stronger still grew Hiawatha;
        Till the darkness fell around them,
        And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
        From her nest among the pine-trees,
        Gave a cry of lamentation,
        Gave a scream of pain and famine.

        “‘T is enough!” then said Mondamin,
        Smiling upon Hiawatha,
        “But tomorrow, when the sun sets,
        I will come again to try you.”
        And he vanished, and was seen not;
        Whether sinking as the rain sinks,
        Whether rising as the mists rise,
        Hiawatha saw not, knew not,
        Only saw that he had vanished,
        Leaving him alone and fainting,
        With the misty lake below him,
        And the reeling stars above him.

        On the morrow and the next day,
        When the sun through heaven descending,
        Like a red and burning cinder
        From the hearth of the Great Spirit,
        Fell into the western waters,
        Came Mondamin for the trial,
        For the strife with Hiawatha;
        Came as silent as the dew comes,
        From the empty air appearing,
        Into empty air returning,
        Taking shape when earth it touches,
        But invisible to all men
        In its coming and its going.

        Thrice they wrestled there together
        In the glory of the sunset,
        Till the darkness fell around them,
        Till the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
        From her nest among the pine-trees,
        Uttered her loud cry of famine,
        And Mondamin paused to listen.

        Tall and beautiful he stood there,
        In his garments green and yellow;
        To and fro his plumes above him,
        Waved and nodded with his breathing,
        And the sweat of the encounter
        Stood like drops of dew upon him.

        And he cried, “O Hiawatha!
        Bravely have you wrestled with me,
        Thrice have wrestled stoutly with me,
        And the Master of Life, who sees us,
        He will give to you the triumph!”

        Then he smiled, and said:  “To-morrow
        Is the last day of your conflict,
        Is the last day of your fasting.
        You will conquer and o’ercome me;
        Make a bed for me to lie in,
        Where the rain may fall upon me,
        Where the sun may come and warm me;
        Strip these garments, green and yellow,
        Strip this nodding plumage from me,
        Lay me in the earth, and make it
        Soft and loose and light above me.

        “Let no hand disturb my slumber,
        Let no weed nor worm molest me,
        Let not Kahgahgee, the raven,
        Come to haunt me and molest me,
        Only come yourself to watch me,
        Till I wake, and start, and quicken,
        Till I leap into the sunshine”

        And thus saying, he departed;
        Peacefully slept Hiawatha,
        But he heard the Wawonaissa,
        Heard the whippoorwill complaining,
        Perched upon his lonely wigwam;
        Heard the rushing Sebowisha,
        Heard the rivulet rippling near him,
        Talking to the darksome forest;
        Heard the sighing of the branches,
        As they lifted and subsided
        At the passing of the night-wind,
        Heard them, as one hears in slumber
        Far-off murmurs, dreamy whispers:
        Peacefully slept Hiawatha.

        On the morrow came Nokomis,
        On the seventh day of his fasting,
        Came with food for Hiawatha,
        Came imploring and bewailing,
        Lest his hunger should o’ercome him,
        Lest his fasting should be fatal.

        But he tasted not, and touched not,
        Only said to her, “Nokomis,
        Wait until the sun is setting,
        Till the darkness falls around us,
        Till the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
        Crying from the desolate marshes,
        Tells us that the day is ended.”

        Homeward weeping went Nokomis,
        Sorrowing for her Hiawatha,
        Fearing lest his strength should fail him,
        Lest his fasting should be fatal.
        He meanwhile sat weary waiting
        For the coming of Mondamin,
        Till the shadows, pointing eastward,
        Lengthened over field and forest,
        Till the sun dropped from the heaven,
        Floating on the waters westward,
        As a red leaf in the Autumn
        Falls and floats upon the water,
        Falls and sinks into its bosom.

        And behold! the young Mondamin,
        With his soft and shining tresses,
        With his garments green and yellow,
        With his long and glossy plumage,
        Stood and beckoned at the doorway.
        And as one in slumber walking,
        Pale and haggard, but undaunted,
        From the wigwam Hiawatha
        Came and wrestled with Mondamin.

        Round about him spun the landscape,
        Sky and forest reeled together,
        And his strong heart leaped within him,
        As the sturgeon leaps and struggles
        In a net to break its meshes.
        Like a ring of fire around him
        Blazed and flared the red horizon,
        And a hundred suns seemed looking
        At the combat of the wrestlers.

        Suddenly upon the greensward
        All alone stood Hiawatha,
        Panting with his wild exertion,
        Palpitating with the struggle;
        And before him breathless, lifeless,
        Lay the youth, with hair dishevelled,
        Plumage torn, and garments tattered,
        Dead he lay there in the sunset.

        And victorious Hiawatha
        Made the grave as he commanded,
        Stripped the garments from Mondamin,
        Stripped his tattered plumage from him,
        Laid him in the earth, and made it
        Soft and loose and light above him;
        And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
        From the melancholy moorlands,
        Gave a cry of lamentation,
        Gave a cry of pain and anguish!

        Homeward then went Hiawatha
        To the lodge of old Nokomis,
        And the seven days of his fasting
        Were accomplished and completed.
        But the place was not forgotten
        Where he wrestled with Mondamin;
        Nor forgotten nor neglected
        Was the grave where lay Mondamin,
        Sleeping in the rain and sunshine,
        Where his scattered plumes and garments
        Faded in the rain and sunshine.

        Day by day did Hiawatha
        Go to wait and watch beside it;
        Kept the dark mould soft above it,
        Kept it clean from weeds and insects,
        Drove away, with scoffs and shoutings,
        Kahgahgee, the king of ravens.

        Till at length a small green feather
        From the earth shot slowly upward,
        Then another and another,
        And before the Summer ended
        Stood the maize in all its beauty,
        With its shining robes about it,
        And its long, soft, yellow tresses;
        And in rapture Hiawatha
        Cried aloud, “It is Mondamin!
        Yes, the friend of man, Mondamin!”

        Then he called to old Nokomis
        And Iagoo, the great boaster,
        Showed them where the maize was growing,
        Told them of his wondrous vision,
        Of his wrestling and his triumph,
        Of this new gift to the nations,
        Which should be their food forever.

        And still later, when the Autumn
        Changed the long, green leaves to yellow,
        And the soft and juicy kernels
        Grew like wampum hard and yellow,
        Then the ripened ears he gathered,
        Stripped the withered husks from off them,
        As he once had stripped the wrestler,
        Gave the first Feast of Mondamin,
        And made known unto the people
        This new gift of the Great Spirit.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Still own thee—still thou art
        What surgeons call alive—
        Though slipping—slipping I perceive
        To thy reportless Grave—

        Which question shall I clutch—
        What answer wrest from thee
        Before thou dost exude away
        In the recallless sea?

   

                1633

   

_____

   

   
by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

   
Sumo

   
        Five crabs apiece, dinner after,
        then the obligatory zzzzzzzzz’s.
        Fat chance blubber

        can work itself off with this
        routine.  They squat on the dohyo
        inside “the snake’s eye”

        the Shinto priest has blessed:
        550 pounds of meat.  Tough
        disciplined blimps

        with hearts like venous seeds.
        The gods themselves may touch
        down among them tonight.

   

   

_____

   

Sumo Wrestler Throwing a Foreigner at Yokohama, Color Woodblock, 1861

   

_____

   

   
by Jeff Kass

    White Plains High and Yale University wrestler, 1980-85
    WPHS coach, 1988-90

   
Takedown

   
        When you step to the mat
        you will face an opponent
        the same weight

        You will hurt him
        or he will hurt you

        At the referee’s whistle
        you will fight from neutral

        Shuffle step, shuffle step, circle, circle, feint

        Let your legs be lampposts with panther feet

        You are a surfer on soil
        solid and liquid and solid
        again and in between teetering a clean
        green line on a carpenter’s level

        Circle, shuffle, circle, shuffle

        Knees bent, get low, lower, head up
        you are rolling shoulder grunt
        and crackling bolt from skull
        to toe, you cannot be thrown,
        but you will throw

        This is how you take a wrestler down
        you circle and feint, shuffle and feint
        grip and twist, the rhythm of your body
        a sacred hiss and you must dizzy his

        You must live for the split-second
        bulwark crack—you are one
        juggernaut knife and you will
        not be denied, you will penetrate
        low and drive

        you are a merciless thief
        and you will steal
        his ground

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        ‘Tis so appalling—it exhilarates—
        So over Horror, it half Captivates—
        The Soul stares after it, secure—
        A Sepulchre, fears frost, no more—

        To scan a Ghost, is faint—
        But grappling, conquers it—
        How easy, Torment, now—
        Suspense kept sawing so—

        The Truth, is Bald, and Cold—
        But that will hold—
        If any are not sure—
        We show them—prayer—
        But we, who know,
        Stop hoping, now—

        Looking at Death, is Dying—
        Just let go the Breath—
        And not the pillow at your Cheek
        So Slumbereth—

        Others, Can wrestle—
        Yours, is done—
        And so of Woe, bleak dreaded—come,
        It sets the Fright at liberty—
        And Terror’s free—
        Gay, Ghastly, Holiday!

   

                281

   

_____

   

   
by Edmund Waller (1606-87)

   
To Zelinda

   
        Fairest piece of well-form’d earth!
        Urge not thus your haughty birth;
        The power which you have o’er us lies
        Not in your race, but in your eyes.
        ‘None but a prince!’—Alas! that voice
        Confines you to a narrow choice.
        Should you no honey vow to taste,
        But what the master-bees have placed
        In compass of their cells, how small
        A portion to your share would fall!
        Nor all appear, among those few,
        Worthy the stock from whence they grew.
        The sap which at the root is bred
        In trees, through all the boughs is spread;
        But virtues which in parents shine,
        Make not like progress through the line.
        ‘Tis not from whom, but where, we live;
        The place does oft those graces give.
        Great Julius, on the mountains bred,
        A flock perhaps, or herd, had led.
        He that the world subdued, had been
        But the best wrestler on the green.
        ‘Tis art and knowledge which draw forth
        The hidden seeds of native worth;
        They blow those sparks, and make them rise
        Into such flames as touch the skies.
        To the old heroes hence was given
        A pedigree which reached to heaven;
        Of mortal seed they were not held,
        Which other mortals so excell’d.
        And beauty, too, in such excess
        As yours, Zelinda! claims no less.
        Smile but on me, and you shall scorn,
        Henceforth, to be of princes born.
        I can describe, the shady grove
        Where your loved mother slept with Jove;
        And yet excuse the faultless dame,
        Caught with her spouse’s shape and name.
        Thy matchless form will credit bring
        To all the wonders I shall sing.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        ‘Twas Crisis—All the length had passed—
        That dull—benumbing time
        There is in Fever or Event—
        And now the Chance had come—

        The instant holding in its claw
        The privilege to live
        Or warrant to report the Soul
        The other side the Grave.

        The Muscles grappled as with leads
        That would not let the Will—
        The Spirit shook the Adamant—
        But could not make it feel.

        The Second poised—debated—shot—
        Another had begun—
        And simultaneously, a Soul
        Escaped the House unseen—

   

                948

   

_____

   

   
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

   
        Two swimmers wrestled on the spar—
        Until the morning sun—
        When One—turned smiling to the land—
        Oh God! the Other One!

        The stray ships—passing—
        Spied a face—
        Upon the waters borne—
        With eyes in death—still begging raised—
        And hands—beseeching—thrown!

   

                201

   

_____

   

by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

   
Wrestling Jacob

   
        Come, O, thou Traveller unknown,
             Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
        My company before is gone,
             And I am left alone with thee:
        With thee all night I mean to stay,
        And wrestle till the break of day.

        I need not tell thee who I am,
             My sin and misery declare:
        Thyself hast call’d me by my name;
             Look on thy hands and read it there;
        But who, I ask thee, who art thou?
        Tell me thy name, and tell me now.

        In vain thou strugglest to get free,
             I never will unloose my hold:
        Art thou the Man that died for me?
             The secret of thy love unfold:
        Wrestling, I will not let thee go,
        Till I thy name, thy nature know.

        Wilt thou not yet to me reveal
             thy new, unutterable name?
        Tell me, I still beseech thee, tell;
             To know it now resolv’d I am:
        Wrestling I will not let thee go,
        Till I thy name, thy nature know.

        What though my shrinking flesh complain,
             And murmur to contend so long?
        I rise superior to my pain;
             When I am weak then am I strong:
        And when my all of strength shall fail,
        I shall with the God-man prevail.

        Yield to me now for I am weak;
             But confident in self-despair!
        Speak to my heart, in blessings speak;
             Be conquer’d by my instant prayer;
        Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
        And tell me if thy name be Love.

        ‘Tis Love! ’tis Love!  Thou died’st for me;
             I hear thy whisper in my heart;
        The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
             Pure, universal Love thou art:
        To me, to all, thy bowels move,
        Thy nature and thy name is Love.

        My prayer hath power with God; the grace
             Unspeakable I now receive;
        Through faith I see thee face to face;
             I see thee face to face, and live:
        In vain I have not wept and strove;
        Thy nature and thy name is Love.

        I know thee, Saviour, who thou art,
             Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend,
        Nor wilt thou with the night depart,
             But stay and love me to the end:
        Thy mercies never shall remove;
        Thy nature and thy name is Love.

        The Sun of Righteousness on me
             Hath rose, with healing in his wings;
        Wither’d my nature’s strength; from thee
             My soul its life and succour brings;
        My help is all laid up above;
        Thy nature and thy name is Love.

        Contented now upon my thigh
             I halt till life’s short journey end;
        All helplessness, all weakness, I
             On thee alone for strength depend;
        Nor have I power from thee to move;
        thy nature and thy name is Love.

        Lame as I am, I take the prey;
             Hell, earth, and sin with ease o’ercome;
        I leap for joy, pursue my way,
             And, as a bounding hart fly home,
        Through all eternity to prove
        Thy nature and thy name is Love.

   

   

_____

   

   
by Michael D. Snediker

   
Wrestling Song

   
        Our spandex clung like denouement
        to limbs as fast as lariats,
        lassoed and whipped Kabuki acts
        from bodies cool and pale as Noh.

        You wooed me into a dragon-screw,
        then suplexed hard against the mat;
        pescadoed putti bullied and booed,
        your belly locked into my back.

        The putti flocked, and tried to track
        which body clung to this or that,
        which unitarded shoulders shrugged
        trapezii from singlet-straps,

        which hamstring sprung, and elbow blocked
        and ankle pressed a signet’s wax—
        velocity spun our flanks so fast
        we blurred before we’d yet begun.

        A fan in the corner turned its head,
        and in its croon, remembered air;
        while we, in swandives flung, forgot,
        and firebirds of bruises bloomed.

   

   

_____

   

Tabitha Wilson USAF's Cole VanOhlen vs Justin Bowser, 2009 NCWA Championships

   

_____

   

   
by Jayson Iwen

   
Wrestling with Gods

from Six Trips in Two Directions

   
        I’m in a walled garden full of ornamental trees

        A man steps into the blue moonlight from a bluer shadow

        I’ve been waiting for you a long time

        It begins to snow

        Who are you running from

        I listen for my pursuer

        It’s silent but for my own breathing

        What’s in the briefcase

        I don’t know what to say

        Shall we take a look

        I hand him the briefcase, and he opens it

        Ah, my manuscript

        Thank you

        I beg your pardon, I blurt

        I’m sitting at a desk, in a motel right now, copying this dialogue word for word from the manuscript you just gave me

        And this is what I say next

        You see, I made you come here alone

        I made you hand it over

        I even made it snow

        And you

        He points at me

        Made it all possible

        Without even knowing it

        Though, of course, you had your suspicions

        And that’s why you got the job

        I even know what you’re thinking now

        He crouches down and plucks a pebble from the grass, then steps forward and holds it before my eyes

        Here’s your stone, a stone so heavy it breaks my heart at the thought of it, a stone so heavy the whole of creation rises from the depression it has made in time, a stone so heavy with sickness I cannot lift it one moment more or I shall perish

        He tosses it over the garden wall

        ‘Abdu Manaf was the strongest man among the Quraysh, and one day he met the apostle in one of the passes of Mecca alone: “Rukana,” said he, “why won’t you fear God and accept my preaching?”‘

        That simple

        But here’s the real kicker

        There’s an infinite chain of sets of god

        Each self-conscious set containing the previous set within it

        And each emergently conscious one becoming aware of the next larger set

        Becoming it

        For example, one is thinking both of us right now as our story rolls through its mind

        And as long as it holds us, whether we are conscious of it or not, we are part of its infinity

        As the heart of all layers is the utmost layer

        ‘”If I knew that what you say is true I would follow you,” he said’

        You see, common consciousness now is realizing you’re a character in other people’s dreams

        But you’re going a step further

        Listen carefully to who it is you talk to when you’re alone

        The schizophrenic may be the human to the limit

        Will we find who we are talking to one day and see that there is no longer a future, perhaps when we are all together, at the beginning and end of time

        Will we decide to begin again

        ‘The apostle then asked him if he would recognize that he spoke the truth if he threw him, and when he said Yes they began to wrestle, and when the apostle got a firm grip of him he threw him to the ground, he being unable to offer any effective resistance’

        When the whole speaks to the individual

        When I speak to You

        And now you ask

        You want me to worship you

        No, I couldn’t love someone who didn’t consider me their equal

        Besides, I contain only one more than you

        Now that I’m aware of you, what am I supposed to do

        ‘”Do it again, Muhammad,” he said, and he did it again’

        Wrestle me

        Wrestle you

        Yes

        That’s ridiculous

        Every threshold is

        ‘”This is extraordinary,” he said, “can you really throw me”‘

        What are you doing

        He kneels down, turtling himself before me, and I hear his whisper in my ear

        You must make me submit

        But you’ve just submitted

        I’m different than preceding gods that charged like mad bulls

        ‘With their elbows against their elbows, dealt they, knees against knees, head against head, and chest against chest, one another their blows’

        I’m a bit more subtle than that

        As long as I breathe you will breathe my air

        ‘That same night he sent his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, across the ford of the Jabbok’

        I’ll just walk away

        You can’t

        I turn to the wall, but it’s risen to the stars

        It glorifies the next greater god to grapple with you

        By contrasting itself with you, it reminds itself what it is

        The cold and night make a silver bouquet of my sigh

        Alright

        ‘Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak’

        The voices of my teachers return to me

        You must close the distance between yourself and your opponent so he cannot strike you

        Don’t leave gaps so he can slip an arm or leg in

        If one is flexible enough to do so, one can break holds that strength alone cannot

        Hold him closer than a lover

        ‘When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him’

        With your right hand grab his collar and with your left hand his belt

        And lift

        Creating just enough space to slide your right foot between his armpit and his thigh

        We’re enlightened through such struggle with the other

        For example, ‘jihad’ is properly defined as an all-encompassing engagement of one’s self with one’s world

        Between one and one’s limitations

        ‘Then the man said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking”‘

        What you call yourself is this conversation between ‘You’ and ‘I’

        Just between you and I

        Move so you are standing on his thighs with both feet

        Through the narrative generated by such struggle is vision most viscerally achieved

        And through the physicality of figuration most effectively transmitted

        ‘But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me”‘

        Now use both hands to hoist up on his collar, while thrusting your feet between his legs to the ground, assuming the ‘back mount’ position

        When I enter a classroom, I don’t see Protestants, Catholics, Sunnis, Shias, Hindus, Buddhists, Maronites, Druze, Agnostics, or Atheists

        I see gods sitting in the desks, filling the room with anxious radiance

        Lay your right arm over his right shoulder and under his chin, with the inside of your arm touching the tender of his neck

        ‘So he said to him, “What is your name?” and he said, “Jacob”‘

        What can I say to keep this uneasy host from tearing the world apart

        I am mortal, and have but this short day of mine with which to grapple

        Grab your left bicep with your right hand and place the back of your left hand behind his head with the palm facing you

        ‘Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed”‘

        And make a fist

        Each grapples with me in turn and only through flexibility do I survive their superhuman embrace

        Once the fist is made, do the following things to create pressure on the arteries at the sides of his neck

        Bend your left palm away from you

        Flex your biceps

        Squeeze your right forearm toward your right shoulder

        And hold it

        Though the Earth may tremble

        Take these snowflakes, each as similar and as different as the memory of your first kiss recalled at different moments in your life

        I catch one on my tongue and it melts from staggering diversity of design into the unity of water, and diffuses into my bloodstream across the membrane of my parched throat

        It is no longer the blood of a single man

        It is the blood of the universe

        When reading, you think you are merely having a conversation with a writer from elsewhere in spacetime, unpresent and undead

        We drink it endlessly

        As we drink in the sight of our lovers with our eyes

        But you and the text have become part of a greater consciousness, speaking to itself, working something out in its mind

        The sky dripping with what has ever evaporated

        With what has ever condensed from confusion to exhaustion

        What has ever left a stain behind

        As the unconscious ancients were right to assume the voice of conscience they heard was the voice of a god

        What we in the privileged present call consciousness

        You drink the blood of all life

        Of the exhalation we inhabit

        Of earth and stars and endless space

        As knowable as time alone allows

        Wrestling with a god was wrestling with a new form of consciousness that was overcoming you—a new level emerging—and if you lost, you remained in that god’s service—and if you won, you looked down at your feared, beloved, defeated god, lying, panting, on the ground, and for the first time you spoke to yourself—in shock you asked

        What now

        And the voice that answered from then on was your own

        He lies on the torn grass breathing laboriously

        So I’ve defeated you, I say

        Yes

        I was once in your place

        Now we must both move on

        Now you must do what I did then

        First close your eyes

        Now listen carefully to my voice

        Sol sinks below the Earth

        I’m in perfect darkness

        I realize everything I’ve seen has been summoned by voices

        And a new one is articulating a darkness about me

        I touch my eyes

        They’re closed

        I open them

        I’m standing alone on an empty plain, beneath a single burning star

        I raise my hand to my lips

        They’re moving

   
Previously published by Emergency Press

   

   

_____

   

   
by Lori Desrosiers

   
Wrestling with the Poem

   
        We pose opposite one another
        like Hercules and the Cretan Bull,
        but the mad beast gets away from me again,
        terrorizing the lands beyond my desk,
        here in Massachusetts, not in Greece.
        Some days I try to sneak up on him, guerilla style,
        but he dances away,
        snorting at my inadequacies.
        Despite my study of poetics,
        my piece of paper on the wall,
        the innocuous M.F.A.,
        a two year’s journey into conversation,
        followed by workshops with the best of poets,
        a foray into teaching is inspiring,
        a few good sparks, perhaps a flame,
        the match continues.
        We fall together.
        When I find a hold,
        the poem slithers out, that oily boy.
        So, I look for a new move,
        try a poem a day, a practice,
        in thirty days a few good possibilities.
        Now there are thirty new bulls
        wrestling me to the ground.

   

   

_____

   

 Jgremillot's Bassin d'Encelade, at Versailles Castle, Sculpted by Gaspard Marsy 1675-1677, photo 2005

   

_____

December 21, 2008

. . . and don’t forget these Christmas poems

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

lj-bridgmans-on-the-way-to-christmas-eve-service-in-norway

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

Anonymous
 

At the Last
 

      The stream is calmest when it nears the tide,
      And flowers are sweetest at eventide,
      The birds most musical at close of day,
      The saints divinest when they pass away.

      Morning is holy, but a holier charm
      Lies folded in evening’s robe of balm;
      And weary men must ever love her best.
      For morning calls to toil, but night to rest.

      She comes from heaven and on her wings doth bear
      A holy fragrance, like the breath of prayer;
      Footsteps of angels follow in her trace,
      To shut the weary eyes of Day in peace.

      All things are hushed before her, as she throws
      O’er earth and sky her mantle of repose;
      There is a calmer beauty, and a power
      That Morning knows not, in the Evening’s hour.

      Until the evening we must weep and toil—
      Plough life’s stern furrow, dig the woody soil,
      Tread with sad feet the rough and thorny way,
      And bear the heat and burden of the day.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

lj-bridgmans-a-christmas-bonfire-in-russia

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
 

Ballade of Christmas Ghosts
 

      Between the moonlight and the fire
      In winter twilights long ago,
      What ghosts we raised for your desire,
      To make your merry blood run slow!
      How old, how grave, how wise we grow!
      No Christmas ghost can make us chill,
      Save those that troop in mournful row,
      The ghosts we all can raise at will!

      The beasts can talk in barn and byre
      On Christmas Eve, old legends know.
      As year by year the years retire,
      We men fall silent then I trow,
      Such sights hath memory to show,
      Such voices from the silence thrill,
      Such shapes return with Christmas snow,—
      The ghosts we all can raise at will.

      Oh, children of the village choir,
      Your carols on the midnight throw,
      Oh, bright across the mist and mire,
      Ye ruddy hearths of Christmas glow!
      Beat back the dread, beat down the woe,
      Let’s cheerily descend the hill;
      Be welcome all, to come or go,
      The ghosts we all can raise at will.

      Friend, sursum corda, soon or slow
      We part, like guests who’ve joyed their fill;
      Forget them not, nor mourn them so,
      The ghosts we all can raise at will.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

c-mullers-the-holy-night

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
 

The Birth of Christ

      The time draws near the birth of Christ;
        The moon is hid—the night is still;
        The Christmas bells from hill to hill
      Answer each other in the mist.

      Four voices of four hamlets round,
        From far and near, on mead and moor,
        Swell out and fail, as if a door
      Were shut between me and the sound.

      Each voice four changes on the wind,
        That now dilate and now decrease,
        Peace and good-will, good-will and peace,
      Peace and good-will to all mankind.

      Rise, happy morn! rise, holy morn!
        Draw forth the cheerful day from night;
        O Father! touch the east, and light
      The light that shone when hope was born!

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

christmas-in-naples-an-italian-presipio

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by Joe Cone (1869-?1925)
 

The Christmas Feeling
 

      I like the Christmas Feeling that is filling all the air,
      That fills the streets and busy stores, and scatters everywhere;
      I like the easy manner of the people on the street,
      The bundle-laden people, and the shop-girls smiling sweet.
      There’s a glow of warmth and splendor in the windows everywhere,
      There’s a glow in people’s faces which has lately stolen there;
      And everywhere the bells ring out with merry peal and chime,
      Which makes me like the Feeling of the happy Christmas time.

      I like the Christmas Feeling; there is nothing can compare
      With the free and kindly spirit that is spreading everywhere;
      And every heart for once is full of good old Christmas cheer.
      I like to Feel the presents as they reach me day by day;
      The presence of the presents drives my loneliness away.
      To Feel that I’m remembered is a Feeling most sublime,
      The Feeling of the Feeling of the happy Christmas time.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

the-nativity-from-add-ms-32454-in-the-british-museum-french-15th-century

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

 

by Margaret Deland (1857-1945)
 

The Christmas Silence
 

      Hushed are the pigeons cooing low
        On dusty rafters of the loft;
        And mild-eyed oxen, breathing soft,
      Sleep on the fragrant hay below.

      Dim shadows in the corner hide;
        The glimmering lantern’s rays are shed
        Where one young lamb just lifts his head,
      Then huddles ‘gainst his mother’s side.
     
      Strange silence tingles in the air;
        Through the half-open door a bar
        Of light from one low-hanging star
      Touches a baby’s radiant hair.

      No sound: the mother, kneeling, lays
        Her cheek against the little face.
        Oh human love! Oh heavenly grace!
      ‘Tis yet in silence that she prays!

      Ages of silence end to-night;
        Then to the long-expectant earth
        Glad angels come to greet His birth
      In burst of music, love, and light!

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

lj-bridgmans-christmas-festivity-in-seville

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
 

Church Decking at Christmas
 

      Would that our scrupulous sires had dared to leave
        Less scanty measure of those graceful rites
        And usages, whose due return invites
      A stir of mind too natural to deceive;
      Giving the memory help when she could weave
        A crown for Hope!—I dread the boasted lights
        That all too often are but fiery blights,
      Killing the bud o’er which in vain we grieve.
      Go, seek, when Christmas snows discomfort bring,
        The counter Spirit found in some gay church
        Green with fresh holly, every pew a perch
      In which the linnet or the thrush might sing,
        Merry and loud, and safe from prying search,
      Strains offered only to the genial spring.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

kenny-meadows-a-merry-christmas

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by William Barnes (1801-1886)
 

The Farmer’s Invitation
 

      Come down to-marra night; an’ mind
      Don’t leave thy fiddle-bag behind.
      We’ll shiake a lag, an’ drink a cup
      O’ yal to kip wold Chris’mas up.

      An’ let thy sister tiake thy yarm,
      The wa’k woont do ‘er any harm:
      Ther’s noo dirt now to spwile her frock
      Var ‘t a-vroze so hard ‘s a rock.

      Ther bent noo stranngers that ‘ull come,
      But only a vew naighbors: zome
      Vrom Stowe, an’ Combe; an’ two ar dree
      Vrom uncles up at Rookery.

      An’ thee woot vind a ruozy fiace,
      An’ pair ov eyes so black as sloos,
      The pirtiest oones in al the pliace.
      I’m sure I needen tell thee whose.

      We got a back-bran’, dree girt logs
      So much as dree ov us can car:
      We’ll put ’em up athirt the dogs,
      An’ miake a vier to the bar.

      An’ ev’ry oone wull tell his tiale,
      An’ ev’ry oone wull zing his zong,
      An’ ev’ry oone wull drink his yal,
      To love an’ frien’ship al night long.

      We’ll snap the tongs, we’ll have a bal,
      We’ll shiake the house, we’ll rise the ruf,
      We’ll romp an’ miake the maidens squal,
      A catchen o’m at bline-man’s buff.

      Zoo come to marra night, an’ mind
      Don’t leave thy fiddle-bag behind.
      We’ll shiake a lag, an’ drink a cup
      O’ yal to kip wold Chris’mas up.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

ara-coelis-the-bambino

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by Alfred H. Domett
 

The First Roman Christmas
 

      It was the calm and silent night!
        Seven hundred years and fifty-three
      Had Rome been growing up to might,
        And now was queen of land and sea.
      No sound was heard of clashing wars,
        Peace brooded o’er the hushed domain;
      Apollo, Pallas, Jove, and Mars
        Held undisturbed their ancient reign,
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

      ‘Twas in the calm and silent night!
        The senator of haughty Rome
      Impatient urged his chariot’s flight,
        From lonely revel rolling home.
      Triumphal arches, gleaming, swell
        His breast with thoughts of boundless sway;
      What recked the Roman what befell
        A paltry province far away
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago?

      Within that province far away
        Went plodding home a weary boor;
      A streak of light before him lay,
        Fallen through a half-shut stable-door,
      Across his path. He passed; for naught
        Told what was going on within.
      How keen the stars! his only thought;
        The air how calm, and cold, and thin!
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

      O strange indifference! Low and high
        Drowsed over common joys and cares;
      The earth was still, but knew not why;
        The world was listening unawares.
      How calm a moment may precede
        One that shall thrill the world forever!
      To that still moment none would heed,
        Man’s doom was linked, no more to sever,
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

      It is the calm and solemn night!
        A thousand bells ring out and throw
      Their joyous peals abroad, and smite
        The darkness, charmed, and holy now!
      The night that erst no name had worn,
        To it a happy name is given;
      For in that stable lay, new-born,
        The peaceful Prince of earth and heaven,
            In the solemn midnight
              Centuries ago.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

john-gilberts-knighting-the-loin-of-beef

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

Anonymous
 

The Knighting of the Sirloin of Beef by Charles the Second
 

      The Second Charles of England
        Rode forth one Christmas tide,
      To hunt a gallant stag of ten,
        Of Chingford woods the pride.

      The winds blew keen, the snow fell fast,
        And made for earth a pall,
      As tired steeds and wearied men
        Returned to Friday Hall.

      The blazing logs, piled on the dogs,
        Were pleasant to behold!
      And grateful was the steaming feast
        To hungry men and cold.

      With right good-will all took their fill,
        And soon each found relief;
      Whilst Charles his royal trencher piled
        From one huge loin of beef.

      Quoth Charles, “Odd’s fish! a noble dish!
        Ay, noble made by me!
      By kingly right, I dub thee knight—
        Sir Loin henceforward be!”

      And never was a royal jest
        Received with such acclaim:
      And never knight than good Sir Loin
        More worthy of the name.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

gentile-da-fabrianos-the-adoration-of-the-magi

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

Anonymous
 

Madonna and Child
 

                  This endris night
                  I saw a sight,
                    A star as bright as day;
                  And ever among
                  A maiden sung,
                    Lullay, by by, lullay.

      This lovely lady sat and sang, and to her child she said,—
      “My son, my brother, my father dear, why liest thou thus in hayd?
                  My sweet bird,
                  Thus it is betide
                    Though thou be king veray;
                  But, nevertheless,
                  I will not cease
                    To sing, by by, lullay.”

      The child then spake; in his talking he to his mother said,—
      “I bekid am king, in crib though I be laid;
                  For angels bright
                  Down to me light,
                    Thou knowest it is no nay,
                  And of that sight
                  Thou mayest be light
                    To sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Now, sweet Son, since thou art king, why art thou laid in stall?
      Why not thou ordain thy bedding in some great kingès hall?
                  Methinketh it is right
                  That king or knight
                    Should be in good array;
                  And them among
                  It were no wrong
                    To sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Mary, mother, I am thy child, though I be laid in stall,
      Lords and dukes shall worship me and so shall kingès all.
                  Ye shall well see
                  That kingès three
                    Shall come on the twelfth day;
                  For this behest
                  Give me thy breast
                    And sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Now tell me, sweet Son, I thee pray, thou art my love and dear,
      How should I keep thee to thy pay and make thee glad of cheer?
                  For all thy will
                  I would fulfil
                    Thou weet’st full well in fay,
                  And for all this
                  I will thee kiss,
                    And sing, by by, lullay.”

      “My dear mother, when time it be, take thou me up aloft,
      And set me upon thy knee and handle me full soft.
                  And in thy arm
                  Thou wilt me warm,
                    And keep me night and day;
                  If I weep
                  And may not sleep
                    Thou sing, by by, lullay.”

      “Now, sweet Son, since it is so, all things are at thy will,
      I pray thee grant to me a boon if it be right and skill,
                  That child or man,
                  That will or can,
                    Be merry upon my day;
                  To bliss them bring,
                  And I shall sing,
                    Lullay, by by, lullay.”

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

joseph-kellner-egraving-the-german-christmas-tree-in-the-eighteenth-century

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)
 

The Mahogany-Tree
 

      Christmas is here;
      Winds whistle shrill,
      Icy and chill,
      Little care we;
      Little we fear
      Weather without,
      Sheltered about
      The Mahogany-Tree.

      Once on the boughs
      Birds of rare plume
      Sang in its bloom;
      Night-birds are we;
      Here we carouse,
      Singing, like them,
      Perched round the stem
      Of the jolly old tree.

      Here let us sport,
      Boys, as we sit—
      Laughter and wit
      Flashing so free.
      Life is but short—
      When we are gone,
      Let them sing on,
      Round the old tree.

      Evenings we knew,
      Happy as this;
      Faces we miss,
      Pleasant to see.
      Kind hearts and true,
      Gentle and just,
      Peace to your dust!
      We sing round the tree.

      Care like a dun,
      Lurks at the gate;
      Let the dog wait;
      Happy we’ll be!
      Drink, every one;
      Pile up the coals;
      Fill the red bowls,
      Round the old tree!

      Drain we the cup.—
      Friend, art afraid?
      Spirits are laid
      In the Red Sea.
      Mantle it up;
      Empty it yet;
      Let us forget,
      Round the old tree!

      Sorrows begone!
      Life and its ills,
      Duns and their bills,
      Bid we to flee.
      Come with the dawn,
      Blue-devil sprite;
      Leave us to-night,
      Round the old tree!

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

correggios-the-virgin-adoring-the-infant-child

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by M. Nightingale
 

Mary Had A Little Lamb
 

      The Blessed Mary had a lamb,
      It too was white as snow,
      Far whiter than I ever am—
      Always and always so.

      She found it lying in the stall
      Wherefrom the oxen fed,
      With hay for bedding, hay for shawl,
      And hay beneath its head.

      She followed near it every day
      In all the paths it trod,
      She knew her lamb could never stray
      (It was the Lamb of God).

      And when the cloud of angels came
      And hid It from her sight,
      Its heart was near her all the same
      Because her own was white.

      So when she slept white lilies screened
      Her sleep from all alarms,
      Till from His Throne her white lamb leaned
      And waked her in His Arms.

 

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

harrison-s-morris-the-yule-log-glow

 
 
angel-divider
 
 

 

by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
 

The New-Years Gift
 

      Let others look for pearl and gold
      Tissues, or tabbies manifold;
      One only lock of that sweet hay
      Whereon the Blessed Baby lay,
      Or one poor swaddling-clout, shall be
      The richest New-Year’s gift to me.

 

 
 
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blindmans-buff

 
 
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by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
 

The New-Years Gift Sent to Sir Simeon Steward
 

      No news of navies burnt at sea,
      No noise of late-spawned Tityries,
      No closet plot or open vent
      That frights men with a Parliament:
      No new device or late-found trick,
      To read by the stars the kingdom’s sick;
      No gin to catch the State, or wring
      The free-born nostrils of the king,
      We send to you, but here a jolly
      Verse crowned with ivy and with holly;
      That tells of winter’s tales and mirth
      That milkmaids make about the hearth,
      Of Christmas sports, the wassail-bowl,
      That’s tost up after fox-i’-th’-hole;
      Of Blindman-buff, and of the care
      That young men have to shoe the mare;
      Of Twelve-tide cake, of peas and beans,
      Wherewith ye make those merry scenes,
      When as ye choose your king and queen,
      And cry out: Hey, for our town green!
      Of ash-heaps, in the which ye use
      Husbands and wives by streaks to choose;
      Of crackling laurel, which foresounds
      A plenteous harvest to your grounds;
      Of these and such like things, for shift,
      We send instead of New-Year’s gift:
      Read then, and when your faces shine
      With buxom meat and cap’ring wine,
      Remember us in cups full-crowned,
      And let our city-health go round,
      Quite through the young maids and the men
      To the ninth number, if not ten;
      Until the fired chestnuts leap
      For joy to see the fruits ye reap
      From the plump chalice and the cup
      That tempts till it be tosséd up.
      Then, as ye sit about your embers,
      Call not to mind those fled Decembers;
      But think on these that are to appear
      As daughters to the instant year;
      Sit crowned with rose-buds, and carouse,
      Till Liber Pater twirls the house
      About your ears; and lay upon
      The year, your cares, that’s fled and gone.
      And let the russet swains the plough
      And harrow hang up resting now;
      And to the bagpipe all address
      Till sleep takes place of weariness;
      And thus, throughout, with Christmas plays
      Frolic the full twelve holydays.

 

 
 
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ferdinand-waldmullers-christmas-morning-in-lower-austria

 
 
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by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
 

Saint Distaff’s Day, the Morrow After Twelfth Day
 

      Partly work and partly play
      Ye must on St. Distaff’s day;
      From the plough soon free your team,
      Then come home and fodder them;
      If the maids a-spinning go,
      Burn the flax and fire the tow;
      Scorch their plackets, but beware
      That ye singe no maiden-hair;
      Bring in pails of water then,
      Let the maids bewash the men;
      Give St. Distaff all the right,
      Then bid Christmas sport good-night,
      And next morrow every one
      To his own vocation.

 

 
 
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john-gilberts-christmas-for-ever

 
 
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Anonymous
 

Santa Claus
 

      He comes in the night! He comes in the night!
        He softly, silently comes;
      While the little brown heads on the pillows so white
        Are dreaming of bugles and drums.
      He cuts through the snow like a ship through the foam,
        While the white flakes around him whirl;
      Who tells him I know not, but he findeth the home
        Of each good little boy and girl.

      His sleigh it is long, and deep, and wide;
        It will carry a host of things,
      While dozens of drums hang over the side,
        With the sticks sticking under the strings:
      And yet not the sound of a drum is heard,
        Not a bugle blast is blown,
      As he mounts to the chimney-top like a bird,
        And drops to the hearth like a stone.

      The little red stockings he silently fills,
        Till the stockings will hold no more;
      The bright little sleds for the great snow hills
        Are quickly set down on the floor.
      Then Santa Claus mounts to the roof like a bird,
        And glides to his seat in the sleigh;
      Not the sound of a bugle or drum is heard
        As he noiselessly gallops away.

      He rides to the East, and he rides to the West,
        Of his goodies he touches not one;
      He eateth the crumbs of the Christmas feast
        When the dear little folks are done.
      Old Santa Claus doeth all that he can;
        This beautiful mission is his;
      Then, children, be good to the little old man,
        When you find who the little man is.

 

 
 
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hm-pagets-bringing-in-the-yule-log

 
 
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by Edwin Lees
 

Signs of Christmas
 

      When on the barn’s thatch’d roof is seen
      The moss in tufts of liveliest green;
      When Roger to the wood pile goes,
      And, as he turns, his fingers blows;
      When all around is cold and drear,
      Be sure that Christmas-tide is near.

      When up the garden walk in vain
      We seek for Flora’s lovely train;
      When the sweet hawthorn bower is bare,
      And bleak and cheerless is the air;
      When all seems desolate around,
      Christmas advances o’er the ground.

      When Tom at eve comes home from plough,
      And brings the mistletoe’s green bough,
      With milk-white berries spotted o’er,
      And shakes it the sly maids before,
      Then hangs the trophy up on high,
      Be sure that Christmas-tide is nigh.

      When Hal, the woodman, in his clogs,
      Bears home the huge unwieldly logs,
      That, hissing on the smould’ring fire,
      Flame out at last a quiv’ring spire;
      When in his hat the holly stands,
      Old Christmas musters up his bands.

      When cluster’d round the fire at night,
      Old William talks of ghost and sprite,
      And, as a distant out-house gate
      Slams by the wind, they fearful wait,
      While some each shadowy nook explore,
      Then Christmas pauses at the door.

      When Dick comes shiv’ring from the yard,
      And says the pond is frozen hard,
      While from his hat, all white with snow,
      The moisture, trickling, drops below,
      While carols sound, the night to cheer,
      Then Christmas and his train are here.

 

 
 
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madonna-enthroned-with-saints-and-angels-pesellino

 
 
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by Charles Mackay (1814-1889)
 

Under the Holly-Bough
 

      Ye who have scorned each other,
      Or injured friend or brother,
        In this fast-fading year;
      Ye who, by word or deed,
      Have made a kind heart bleed,
        Come gather here!
      Let sinned against and sinning
      Forget their strife’s beginning,
        And join in friendship now.
      Be links no longer broken,
      Be sweet forgiveness spoken
        Under the Holly-Bough.

      Ye who have loved each other,
      Sister and friend and brother,
        In this fast-fading year:
      Mother and sire and child,
      Young man and maiden mild,
        Come gather here;
      And let your heart grow fonder,
      As memory shall ponder
        Each past unbroken vow;
      Old loves and younger wooing
      Are sweet in the renewing
        Under the Holly-Bough.

      Ye who have nourished sadness,
      Estranged from hope and gladness
        In this fast-fading year;
      Ye with o’erburdened mind,
      Made aliens from your kind,
        Come gather here.
      Let not the useless sorrow
      Pursue you night and morrow,
        If e’er you hoped, hope now.
      Take heart,—uncloud your faces,
      And join in our embraces
        Under the Holly-Bough.

 

 
 
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masaccios-the-adoration-of-the-magi

 
 
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June 20, 2007

The Long-Awaited, Unabating, Top 30 All-Time Greatest Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

_____

Below is a countdown of the top 30 poems written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, who was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872, and died there in 1906. The poems included here are very enjoyable and speak very well to the world, some through dialect. They show Dunbar to be unique, important, and universal by way of expressing specifics from culture he encountered, was taught, and lived.

To find more about, and read more Dunbar, you can click into the pages of the Wright State University Libraries: Paul Laurence Dunbar Digital Collection.

   
   

_____

#30


   

Lincoln
   

    Hurt was the nation with a mighty wound,
    And all her ways were filled with clam’rous sound.
    Wailed loud the South with unremitting grief,
    And wept the North that could not find relief.
    Then madness joined its harshest tone to strife:
    A minor note swelled in the song of life.
    ‘Till, stirring with the love that filled his breast,
    But still, unflinching at the right’s behest,
    Grave Lincoln came, strong handed, from afar,
    The mighty Homer of the lyre of war.
    ‘T was he who bade the raging tempest cease,
    Wrenched from his harp the harmony of peace,
    Muted the strings, that made the discord,–Wrong,
    And gave his spirit up in thund’rous song.
    Oh mighty Master of the mighty lyre,
    Earth heard and trembled at thy strains of fire:
    Earth learned of thee what Heav’n already knew,
    And wrote thee down among her treasured few.

   
   

_____

#29

   

“Howdy, Honey, Howdy!”
   

    Do’ a-stan’in’ on a jar, fiah a-shinin’ thoo,
    Ol’ folks drowsin’ ‘roun’ de place, wide awake is Lou,
    W’en I tap, she answeh, an’ I see huh ‘mence to grin,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    Den I step erpon de log layin’ at de do’,
    Bless de Lawd, huh mammy an’ huh pap’s done ‘menced to sno’,
    Now’s de time, ef evah, ef I’s gwine to try an’ win,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    No use playin’ on de aidge, trimblin’ on de brink,
    Wen a body love a gal, tell huh whut he t’ink;
    W’en huh hea’t is open fu’ de love you gwine to gin,
    Pull yo’se’f togethah, suh, an’ step right in.

    Sweetes’ imbitation dat a body evah hyeahed,
    Sweetah den de music of a lovesick mockin’-bird,
    Comin’ f’om de gal you loves bettah den yo’ kin,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    At de gate o’ heaven w’en de storm o’ life is pas’,
    ‘Spec’ I ‘ll be a-stan’in’, ‘twell de Mastah say at las’,
    “Hyeah he stan’ all weary, but he winned his fight wid sin.
    Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

   
   

_____

#28

   

The Colored Soldiers
   

    If the muse were mine to tempt it
      And my feeble voice were strong,
    If my tongue were trained to measures,
      I would sing a stirring song.
    I would sing a song heroic
      Of those noble sons of Ham,
    Of the gallant colored soldiers
      Who fought for Uncle Sam!

    In the early days you scorned them,
      And with many a flip and flout
    Said “These battles are the white man’s,
      And the whites will fight them out.”
    Up the hills you fought and faltered,
      In the vales you strove and bled,
    While your ears still heard the thunder
      Of the foes’ advancing tread.

    Then distress fell on the nation,
      And the flag was drooping low;
    Should the dust pollute your banner?
      No! the nation shouted, No!
    So when War, in savage triumph,
      Spread abroad his funeral pall–
    Then you called the colored soldiers,
      And they answered to your call.

    And like hounds unleashed and eager
      For the life blood of the prey,
    Sprung they forth and bore them bravely
      In the thickest of the fray.
    And where’er the fight was hottest,
      Where the bullets fastest fell,
    There they pressed unblanched and fearless
      At the very mouth of hell.

    Ah, they rallied to the standard
      To uphold it by their might;
    None were stronger in the labors,
      None were braver in the fight.
    From the blazing breach of Wagner
      To the plains of Olustee,
    They were foremost in the fight
      Of the battles of the free.

    And at Pillow! God have mercy
      On the deeds committed there,
    And the souls of those poor victims
      Sent to Thee without a prayer.
    Let the fulness of Thy pity
      O’er the hot wrought spirits sway
    Of the gallant colored soldiers
      Who fell fighting on that day!

    Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom,
      And they won it dearly, too;
    For the life blood of their thousands
      Did the southern fields bedew.
    In the darkness of their bondage,
      In the depths of slavery’s night,
    Their muskets flashed the dawning,
      And they fought their way to light.

    They were comrades then and brothers,
      Are they more or less to-day?
    They were good to stop a bullet
      And to front the fearful fray.
    They were citizens and soldiers,
      When rebellion raised its head;
    And the traits that made them worthy,–
      Ah! those virtues are not dead.

    They have shared your nightly vigils,
      They have shared your daily toil;
    And their blood with yours commingling
      Has enriched the Southern soil.

    They have slept and marched and suffered
      ‘Neath the same dark skies as you,
    They have met as fierce a foeman,
      And have been as brave and true.

    And their deeds shall find a record
      In the registry of Fame;
    For their blood has cleansed completely
      Every blot of Slavery’s shame.
    So all honor and all glory
      To those noble sons of Ham–
    The gallant colored soldiers
      Who fought for Uncle Sam!

   
   

_____

#27

   

A Letter
   

    Dear Miss Lucy: I been t’inkin’ dat I ‘d write you long fo’ dis,
    But dis writin’ ‘s mighty tejous, an’ you know jes’ how it is.
    But I ‘s got a little lesure, so I teks my pen in han’
    Fu’ to let you know my feelin’s since I retched dis furrin’ lan’.
    I ‘s right well, I ‘s glad to tell you (dough dis climate ain’t to blame),
    An’ I hopes w’en dese lines reach you, dat dey ‘ll fin’ yo’ se’f de same.
    Cose I ‘se feelin kin’ o’ homesick–dat ‘s ez nachul ez kin be,
    Wen a feller ‘s mo’n th’ee thousand miles across dat awful sea.
    (Don’t you let nobidy fool you ’bout de ocean bein’ gran’;
    If you want to see de billers, you jes’ view dem f’om de lan’.)
    ‘Bout de people? We been t’inkin’ dat all white folks was alak;
    But dese Englishmen is diffunt, an’ dey ‘s curus fu’ a fac’.
    Fust, dey’s heavier an’ redder in dey make-up an’ dey looks,
    An’ dey don’t put salt nor pepper in a blessed t’ing dey cooks!
    Wen dey gin you good ol’ tu’nips, ca’ots, pa’snips, beets, an’ sich,
    Ef dey ain’t some one to tell you, you cain’t ‘stinguish which is which.
    Wen I t’ought I ‘s eatin’ chicken–you may b’lieve dis hyeah ‘s a lie–
    But de waiter beat me down dat I was eatin’ rabbit pie.
    An’ dey ‘d t’ink dat you was crazy–jes’ a reg’lar ravin’ loon,
    Ef you ‘d speak erbout a ‘possum or a piece o’ good ol’ coon.
    O, hit’s mighty nice, dis trav’lin’, an’ I ‘s kin’ o’ glad I come.
    But, I reckon, now I ‘s willin’ fu’ to tek my way back home.
    I done see de Crystal Palace, an’ I ‘s hyeahd dey string-band play,
    But I has n’t seen no banjos layin’ nowhahs roun’ dis way.
    Jes’ gin ol’ Jim Bowles a banjo, an’ he ‘d not go very fu’,
    ‘Fo’ he ‘d outplayed all dese fiddlers, wif dey flourish and dey stir.
    Evahbiddy dat I ‘s met wif has been monst’ous kin an’ good;
    But I t’ink I ‘d lak it better to be down in Jones’s wood,
    Where we ust to have sich frolics, Lucy, you an’ me an’ Nelse,
    Dough my appetite ‘ud call me, ef dey was n’t nuffin else.
    I ‘d jes’ lak to have some sweet-pertaters roasted in de skin;
    I ‘s a-longin’ fu’ my chittlin’s an’ my mustard greens ergin;
    I ‘s a-wishin’ fu’ some buttermilk, an’ co’n braid, good an’ brown,
    An’ a drap o’ good ol’ bourbon fu’ to wash my feelin’s down!
    An’ I ‘s comin’ back to see you jes’ as ehly as I kin,
    So you better not go spa’kin’ wif dat wuffless scoun’el Quin!
    Well, I reckon, I mus’ close now; write ez soon’s dis reaches you;
    Gi’ my love to Sister Mandy an’ to Uncle Isham, too.
    Tell de folks I sen’ ’em howdy; gin a kiss to pap an’ mam;
    Closin’ I is, deah Miss Lucy, Still Yo’ Own True-Lovin’ Sam.

    P. S. Ef you cain’t mek out dis letter, lay it by erpon de she’f,
        An’ when I git home, I ‘ll read it, darlin’, to you my own se’f.

   
   

_____

#26


   

The Old Front Gate
   

    W’en daih ‘s chillun in de house,
      Dey keep on a-gittin’ tall;
    But de folks don’ seem to see
      Dat dey ‘s growin’ up at all,
    ‘Twell dey fin’ out some fine day
      Dat de gals has ‘menced to grow,
    Wen dey notice as dey pass
      Dat de front gate ‘s saggin’ low.

    Wen de hinges creak an’ cry,
      An’ de bahs go slantin’ down,
    You kin reckon dat hit’s time
      Fu’ to cas’ yo’ eye erroun’,
    ‘Cause daih ain’t no ‘sputin’ dis,
      Hit’s de trues’ sign to show
    Dat daih ‘s cou’tin’ goin’ on
      Wen de ol’ front gate sags low.

    Oh, you grumble an’ complain,
      An’ you prop dat gate up right;
    But you notice right nex’ day
      Dat hit’s in de same ol’ plight.
    So you fin’ dat hit’s a rule,
      An’ daih ain’ no use to blow,
    W’en de gals is growin’ up,
      Dat de front gate will sag low.

    Den you t’ink o’ yo’ young days,
      W’en you cou’ted Sally Jane,
    An’ you so’t o’ feel ashamed
      Fu’ to grumble an’ complain,
    ‘Cause yo’ ricerlection says,
      An’ you know hits wo’ds is so,
    Dat huh pappy had a time
      Wid his front gate saggin’ low.

    So you jes’ looks on an’ smiles
      At ’em leanin’ on de gate,
    Tryin’ to t’ink whut he kin say
      Fu’ to keep him daih so late,
    But you lets dat gate erlone,
      Fu’ yo’ ‘sperunce goes to show,
    ‘Twell de gals is ma’ied off,
      It gwine keep on saggin’ low.

   
   

_____

#25

   

Communion
   

    In the silence of my heart,
      I will spend an hour with thee,
    When my love shall rend apart
      All the veil of mystery:

    All that dim and misty veil
      That shut in between our souls
    When Death cried, “Ho, maiden, hail!”
      And your barque sped on the shoals.

    On the shoals? Nay, wrongly said.
      On the breeze of Death that sweeps
    Far from life, thy soul has sped
      Out into unsounded deeps.

    I shall take an hour and come
      Sailing, darling, to thy side.
    Wind nor sea may keep me from
      Soft communings with my bride.

    I shall rest my head on thee
      As I did long days of yore,
    When a calm, untroubled sea
      Rocked thy vessel at the shore.

    I shall take thy hand in mine,
      And live o’er the olden days
    When thy smile to me was wine,–
      Golden wine thy word of praise,

    For the carols I had wrought
      In my soul’s simplicity;
    For the petty beads of thought
      Which thine eyes alone could see.

    Ah, those eyes, love-blind, but keen
      For my welfare and my weal!
    Tho’ the grave-door shut between,
      Still their love-lights o’er me steal.

    I can see thee thro’ my tears,
      As thro’ rain we see the sun.
    What tho’ cold and cooling years
      Shall their bitter courses run,–

    I shall see thee still and be
      Thy true lover evermore,
    And thy face shall be to me
      Dear and helpful as before.

    Death may vaunt and Death may boast,
      But we laugh his pow’r to scorn;
    He is but a slave at most,–
      Night that heralds coming morn.

    I shall spend an hour with thee
      Day by day, my little bride.
    True love laughs at mystery,
      Crying, “Doors of Death, fly wide.”

   
   

_____

#24


   

The Voice of the Banjo
   

    In a small and lonely cabin out of noisy traffic’s way,
    Sat an old man, bent and feeble, dusk of face, and hair of gray,
    And beside him on the table, battered, old, and worn as he,
    Lay a banjo, droning forth this reminiscent melody:

    “Night is closing in upon us, friend of mine, but don’t be sad;
    Let us think of all the pleasures and the joys that we have had.
    Let us keep a merry visage, and be happy till the last,
    Let the future still be sweetened with the honey of the past.

    “For I speak to you of summer nights upon the yellow sand,
    When the Southern moon was sailing high and silvering all the land;
    And if love tales were not sacred, there’s a tale that I could tell
    Of your many nightly wanderings with a dusk and lovely belle.

    “And I speak to you of care-free songs when labour’s hour was o’er,
    And a woman waiting for your step outside the cabin door,
    And of something roly-poly that you took upon your lap,
    While you listened for the stumbling, hesitating words, ‘Pap, pap.’

    “I could tell you of a ‘possum hunt across the wooded grounds,
    I could call to mind the sweetness of the baying of the hounds,
    You could lift me up and smelling of the timber that ‘s in me,
    Build again a whole green forest with the mem’ry of a tree.

    “So the future cannot hurt us while we keep the past in mind,
    What care I for trembling fingers,–what care you that you are blind?
    Time may leave us poor and stranded, circumstance may make us bend;
    But they ‘ll only find us mellower, won’t they, comrade?–in the end.”

   
   

_____

#23

   

Puttin’ the Baby Away
   

    Eight of ’em hyeah all tol’ an’ yet
    Dese eyes o’ mine is wringin’ wet;
    My haht’s a-achin’ ha’d an’ so’,
    De way hit nevah ached befo’;
    My soul’s a-pleadin’, “Lawd, give back
    Dis little lonesome baby black,
    Dis one, dis las’ po’ he’pless one
    Whose little race was too soon run.”

    Po’ Little Jim, des fo’ yeahs ol’
    A-layin’ down so still an’ col’.
    Somehow hit don’ seem ha’dly faih,
    To have my baby lyin’ daih
    Wi’dout a smile upon his face,
    Wi’dout a look erbout de place;
    He ust to be so full o’ fun
    Hit don’ seem right dat all’s done, done.

    Des eight in all but I don’ caih,
    Dey wa’nt a single one to spaih;
    De worl’ was big, so was my haht,
    An’ dis hyeah baby owned hit’s paht;
    De house was po’, dey clothes was rough,
    But daih was meat an’ meal enough;
    An’ daih was room fu’ little Jim;
    Oh! Lawd, what made you call fu’ him?.

    It do seem monst’ous ha’d to-day,
    To lay dis baby boy away;
    I’d learned to love his teasin’ smile,
    He mought o’ des been lef’ erwhile;
    You wouldn’t t’ought wid all de folks,
    Dat’s roun’ hyeah mixin’ teahs an’ jokes,
    De Lawd u’d had de time to see
    Dis chile an’ tek him ‘way f’om me.

    But let it go, I reckon Jim,
    ‘Ll des go right straight up to Him
    Dat took him f’om his mammy’s nest
    An’ lef dis achin’ in my breas’,
    An’ lookin’ in dat fathah’s face
    An’ ‘memberin’ dis lone sorrerin’ place,
    He’ll say, “Good Lawd, you ought to had
    Do sumpin’ fu’ to comfo’t dad!”

   
   

_____

#22

   

The Deserted Plantation
   

    Oh, de grubbin’-hoe ‘s a-rustin’ in de co’nah,
      An’ de plow ‘s a-tumblin’ down in de fiel’,
    While de whippo’will ‘s a-wailin’ lak a mou’nah
      When his stubbo’n hea’t is tryin’ ha’d to yiel’.

    In de furrers whah de co’n was allus wavin’,
      Now de weeds is growin’ green an’ rank an’ tall;
    An’ de swallers roun’ de whole place is a-bravin’
      Lak dey thought deir folks had allus owned it all.

    An’ de big house stan’s all quiet lak an’ solemn,
      Not a blessed soul in pa’lor, po’ch, er lawn;
    Not a guest, ner not a ca’iage lef’ to haul ’em,
      Fu’ de ones dat tu’ned de latch-string out air gone.

    An’ de banjo’s voice is silent in de qua’ters,
      D’ ain’t a hymn ner co’n-song ringin’ in de air;
    But de murmur of a branch’s passin’ waters
      Is de only soun’ dat breks de stillness dere.

    Whah ‘s de da’kies, dem dat used to be a-dancin’
      Evry night befo’ de ole cabin do’?
    Whah ‘s de chillun, dem dat used to be a-prancin’
      Er a-rollin’ in de san’ er on de flo’?

    Whah ‘s ole Uncle Mordecai an’ Uncle Aaron?
      Whah ‘s Aunt Doshy, Sam, an’ Kit, an’ all de res’?
    Whah ‘s ole Tom de da’ky fiddlah, how ‘s he farin’?
      Whah ‘s de gals dat used to sing an’ dance de bes’?

    Gone! not one o’ dem is lef’ to tell de story;
      Dey have lef’ de deah ole place to fall away.
    Could n’t one o’ dem dat seed it in its glory
      Stay to watch it in de hour of decay?

    Dey have lef’ de ole plantation to de swallers,
      But it hol’s in me a lover till de las’;
    Fu’ I fin’ hyeah in de memory dat follers
      All dat loved me an’ dat I loved in de pas’.

    So I’ll stay an’ watch de deah ole place an’ tend it
      Ez I used to in de happy days gone by.
    ‘Twell de othah Mastah thinks it’s time to end it,
      An’ calls me to my qua’ters in de sky.

   
   

_____

#21

   

Growin’ Gray
   

    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray,
    An’ it beats ole Ned to see the way
    ‘At the crow’s feet’s a-getherin’ aroun’ yore eyes;
    Tho’ it ought n’t to cause me no su’prise,
    Fur there ‘s many a sun ‘at you ‘ve seen rise
    An’ many a one you ‘ve seen go down
    Sence yore step was light an’ yore hair was brown,
    An’ storms an’ snows have had their way–
    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray.

    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray,
    An’ the youthful pranks ‘at you used to play
    Are dreams of a far past long ago
    That lie in a heart where the fires burn low–
    That has lost the flame though it kept the glow,
    An’ spite of drivin’ snow an’ storm,
    Beats bravely on forever warm.
    December holds the place of May–
    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray.

    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray–
    Who cares what the carpin’ youngsters say?
    For, after all, when the tale is told,
    Love proves if a man is young or old!
    Old age can’t make the heart grow cold
    When it does the will of an honest mind;
    When it beats with love fur all mankind;
    Then the night but leads to a fairer day–
    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray!

   
   

_____

#20

   

On the River
   

    The sun is low,
    The waters flow,
    My boat is dancing to and fro.
    The eve is still,
    Yet from the hill
    The killdeer echoes loud and shrill.

    The paddles plash,
    The wavelets dash,
    We see the summer lightning flash;
    While now and then,
    In marsh and fen
    Too muddy for the feet of men,

    Where neither bird
    Nor beast has stirred,
    The spotted bullfrog’s croak is heard.
    The wind is high,
    The grasses sigh,
    The sluggish stream goes sobbing by.

    And far away
    The dying day
    Has cast its last effulgent ray;
    While on the land
    The shadows stand
    Proclaiming that the eve’s at hand.

   
   

_____

#19


   

When Malindy Sings
   

    G’way an’ quit dat noise, Miss Lucy–
      Put dat music book away;
    What’s de use to keep on tryin’?
      Ef you practise twell you ‘re gray,
    You cain’t sta’t no notes a-flyin’
      Lak de ones dat rants and rings
    F’om de kitchen to be big woods
      When Malindy sings.

    You ain’t got de nachel o’gans
      Fu’ to make de soun’ come right,
    You ain’t got de tu’ns an’ twistin’s
      Fu’ to make it sweet an’ light.
    Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy,
      An’ I ‘m tellin’ you fu’ true,
    When hit comes to raal right singin’,
      ‘T ain’t no easy thing to do.

    Easy ‘nough fu’ folks to hollah,
      Lookin’ at de lines an’ dots,
    When dey ain’t no one kin sence it,
      An’ de chune comes in, in spots;
    But fu’ real melojous music,
      Dat jes’ strikes yo’ hea’t and clings,
    Jes’ you stan’ an’ listen wif me
      When Malindy sings.

    Ain’t you nevah hyeahd Malindy?
      Blessed soul, tek up de cross!
    Look hyeah, ain’t you jokin’, honey?
      Well, you don’t know whut you los’.
    Y’ ought to hyeah dat gal a-wa’blin’,
      Robins, la’ks, an’ all dem things,
    Heish dey moufs an’ hides dey faces
      When Malindy sings.

    Fiddlin’ man jes’ stop his fiddlin’,
      Lay his fiddle on de she’f;
    Mockin’-bird quit tryin’ to whistle,
      ‘Cause he jes’ so shamed hisse’f.
    Folks a-playin’ on de banjo
      Draps dey fingahs on de strings–
    Bless yo’ soul–fu’gits to move em,
      When Malindy sings.

    She jes’ spreads huh mouf and hollahs,
      “Come to Jesus,” twell you hyeah
    Sinnahs’ tremblin’ steps and voices,
      Timid-lak a-drawin’ neah;
    Den she tu’ns to “Rock of Ages,”
      Simply to de cross she clings,
    An’ you fin’ yo’ teahs a-drappin’
      When Malindy sings.

    Who dat says dat humble praises
      Wif de Master nevah counts?
    Heish yo’ mouf, I hyeah dat music,
      Ez hit rises up an’ mounts–
    Floatin’ by de hills an’ valleys,
      Way above dis buryin’ sod,
    Ez hit makes its way in glory
      To de very gates of God!

    Oh, hit’s sweetah dan de music
      Of an edicated band;
    An’ hit’s dearah dan de battle’s
      Song o’ triumph in de lan’.
    It seems holier dan evenin’
      When de solemn chu’ch bell rings,
    Ez I sit an’ ca’mly listen
      While Malindy sings.

    Towsah, stop dat ba’kin’, hyeah me!
      Mandy, mek dat chile keep still;
    Don’t you hyeah de echoes callin’
      F’om de valley to de hill?
    Let me listen, I can hyeah it,
      Th’oo de bresh of angels’ wings,
    Sof an’ sweet, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,”
      Ez Malindy sings.

   
   

_____

#18

   

Dirge for a Soldier
   

    In the east the morning comes,
    Hear the rollin’ of the drums
        On the hill.
    But the heart that beat as they beat
    In the battle’s raging day heat
        Lieth still.
    Unto him the night has come,
    Though they roll the morning drum.

    What is in the bugle’s blast?
    It is: “Victory at last!
        Now for rest.”
    But, my comrades, come behold him,
    Where our colors now enfold him,
        And his breast
    Bares no more to meet the blade,
    But lies covered in the shade.

    What a stir there is to-day!
    They are laying him away
        Where he fell.
    There the flag goes draped before him;
    Now they pile the grave sod o’er him
        With a knell.
    And he answers to his name
    In the higher ranks of fame.

    There’s a woman left to mourn
    For the child that she has borne
        In travail.
    But her heart beats high and higher,
    With the patriot mother’s fire,
        At the tale.
    She has borne and lost a son,
    But her work and his are done.

    Fling the flag out, let it wave;
    They ‘re returning from the grave–
        “Double quick!”
    And the cymbals now are crashing,
    Bright his comrades’ eyes are flashing
        From the thick
    Battle-ranks which knew him brave,
    No tears for a hero’s grave.

    In the east the morning comes,
    Hear the rattle of the drums
        Far away.
    Now no time for grief’s pursuing,
    Other work is for the doing,
        Here to-day.
    He is sleeping, let him rest
    With the flag across his breast.

   
   

_____

#17


   

When the Old Man Smokes
   

    In the forenoon’s restful quiet,
      When the boys are off at school,
    When the window lights are shaded
      And the chimney-corner cool,
    Then the old man seeks his armchair,
      Lights his pipe and settles back;
    Falls a-dreaming as he draws it
      Till the smoke-wreaths gather black.

    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.

    Ah, perhaps he sits there dreaming
      Of the love of other days
    And of how he used to lead her
    Through the merry dance’s maze;
    How he called her “little princess,”
      And, to please her, used to twine
    Tender wreaths to crown her tresses,
      From the “matrimony vine.”

    Then before his mental vision
      Comes, perhaps, a sadder day,
    When they left his little princess
      Sleeping with her fellow clay.
    How his young heart throbbed, and pained him!
      Why, the memory of it chokes!
    Is it of these things he ‘s thinking
      When the old man smokes?

    But some brighter thoughts possess him,
      For the tears are dried the while.
    And the old, worn face is wrinkled
      In a reminiscent smile,
    From the middle of the forehead
      To the feebly trembling lip,
    At some ancient prank remembered
      Or some long unheard-of quip.

    Then the lips relax their tension
      And the pipe begins to slide,
    Till in little clouds of ashes,
      It falls softly at his side;
    And his head bends low and lower
      Till his chin lies on his breast,
    And he sits in peaceful slumber
      Like a little child at rest.

    Dear old man, there ‘s something sad’ning,
      In these dreamy moods of yours,
    Since the present proves so fleeting,
      All the past for you endures.
    Weeping at forgotten sorrows,
      Smiling at forgotten jokes;
    Life epitomized in minutes,
      When the old man smokes.

   
   

_____

#16

   

A Summer Pastoral
   

    It’s hot to-day. The bees is buzzin’
      Kinder don’t-keer-like aroun’
    An’ fur off the warm air dances
      O’er the parchin’ roofs in town.
    In the brook the cows is standin’;
      Childern hidin’ in the hay;
    Can’t keep none of ’em a workin’,
      ‘Cause it’s hot to-day.

    It’s hot to-day. The sun is blazin’
      Like a great big ball o’ fire;
    Seems as ef instead o’ settin’
      It keeps mountin’ higher an’ higher.
    I’m as triflin’ as the children,
      Though I blame them lots an’ scold;
    I keep slippin’ to the spring-house,
      Where the milk is rich an’ cold.

    The very air within its shadder
      Smells o’ cool an’ restful things,
    An’ a roguish little robin
      Sits above the place an’ sings.
    I don’t mean to be a shirkin’,
      But I linger by the way
    Longer, mebbe, than is needful,
    ‘Cause it’s hot to-day.

    It’s hot to-day. The horses stumble
      Half asleep across the fiel’s;
    An’ a host o’ teasin’ fancies
      O’er my burnin’ senses steals,–
    Dreams o’ cool rooms, curtains lowered,
      An’ a sofy’s temptin’ look;
    Patter o’ composin’ raindrops
      Or the ripple of a brook.

    I strike a stump! That wakes me sudden;
      Dreams all vanish into air.
    Lordy! how I chew my whiskers;
      ‘Twouldn’t do fur me to swear.
    But I have to be so keerful
      ‘Bout my thoughts an’ what I say;
    Somethin’ might slip out unheeded,
      ‘Cause it’s hot to-day.

    Git up, there, Suke! you, Sal, git over!
      Sakes alive! how I do sweat.
    Every stitch that I’ve got on me,
    Bet a cent, is wringin’ wet.
    If this keeps up, I’ll lose my temper.
      Gee there, Sal, you lazy brute!
    Wonder who on airth this weather
      Could ‘a’ be’n got up to suit?

    You, Sam, go bring a tin o’ water;
      Dash it all, don’t be so slow!
    ‘Pears as ef you tuk an hour
      ‘Tween each step to stop an’ blow.
    Think I want to stand a meltin’
      Out here in this b’ilin’ sun,
    While you stop to think about it?
      Lift them feet o’ your’n an’ run.

    It ain’t no use; I’m plumb fetaggled.
      Come an’ put this team away.
    I won’t plow another furrer;
      It’s too mortal hot to-day.
    I ain’t weak, nor I ain’t lazy,
      But I’ll stand this half day’s loss
    ‘Fore I let the devil make me
      Lose my patience an’ git cross.

   
   

_____

#15


   

Weltschmertz
   

    You ask why I am sad to-day,
    I have no cares, no griefs, you say?
    Ah, yes, ‘t is true, I have no grief–
    But–is there not the falling leaf?

    The bare tree there is mourning left
    With all of autumn’s gray bereft;
    It is not what has happened me,
    Think of the bare, dismantled tree.

    The birds go South along the sky,
    I hear their lingering, long good-bye.
    Who goes reluctant from my breast?
    And yet–the lone and wind-swept nest.

    The mourning, pale-flowered hearse goes by,
    Why does a tear come to my eye?
    Is it the March rain blowing wild?
    I have no dead, I know no child.

    I am no widow by the bier
    Of him I held supremely dear.
    I have not seen the choicest one
    Sink down as sinks the westering sun.

    Faith unto faith have I beheld,
    For me, few solemn notes have swelled;
    Love bekoned me out to the dawn,
    And happily I followed on.

    And yet my heart goes out to them
    Whose sorrow is their diadem;
    The falling leaf, the crying bird,
    The voice to be, all lost, unheard–

    Not mine, not mine, and yet too much
    The thrilling power of human touch,
    While all the world looks on and scorns
    I wear another’s crown of thorns.

    Count me a priest who understands
    The glorious pain of nail-pierced hands;
    Count me a comrade of the thief
    Hot driven into late belief.

    Oh, mother’s tear, oh, father’s sigh,
    Oh, mourning sweetheart’s last good-bye,
    I yet have known no mourning save
    Beside some brother’s brother’s grave.

   
   

_____

#14

   

The Old Cabin
   

    In de dead of night I sometimes,
      Git to t’inkin’ of de pas’
    An’ de days w’en slavery helt me
      In my mis’ry–ha’d an’ fas’.
    Dough de time was mighty tryin’,
      In dese houahs somehow hit seem
    Dat a brightah light come slippin’
      Thoo de kivahs of my dream.

    An’ my min’ fu’gits de whuppins
      Draps de feah o’ block an’ lash
    An’ flies straight to somep’n’ joyful
      In a secon’s lightnin’ flash.
    Den hit seems I see a vision
      Of a dearah long ago
    Of de childern tumblin’ roun’ me
      By my rough ol’ cabin do’.

    Talk about yo’ go’geous mansions
      An’ yo’ big house great an’ gran’,
    Des bring up de fines’ palace
      Dat you know in all de lan’.
    But dey’s somep’n’ dearah to me,
      Somep’n’ faihah to my eyes
    In dat cabin, less you bring me
      To yo’ mansion in de skies.

    I kin see de light a-shinin’
      Thoo de chinks atween de logs,
    I kin hyeah de way-off bayin’
      Of my mastah’s huntin’ dogs,
    An’ de neighin’ of de hosses
      Stampin’ on de ol’ bahn flo’,
    But above dese soun’s de laughin’
      At my deah ol’ cabin do’.

    We would gethah daih at evenin’,
      All my frien’s ‘ud come erroun’
    An’ hit wan’t no time, twell, bless you,
      You could hyeah de banjo’s soun’.
    You could see de dahkies dancin’
      Pigeon wing an’ heel an’ toe–
    Joyous times I tell you people
      Roun’ dat same ol’ cabin do’.

    But at times my t’oughts gits saddah,
      Ez I riccolec’ de folks,
    An’ dey frolickin’ an’ talkin’
      Wid dey laughin’ an dey jokes.
    An’ hit hu’ts me w’en I membahs
      Dat I’ll nevah see no mo’
    Dem ah faces gethered smilin’
      Roun’ dat po’ ol’ cabin do’.

   
   

_____

#13

   

Slow Through the Dark
   

    Slow moves the pageant of a climbing race;
      Their footsteps drag far, far below the height,
      And, unprevailing by their utmost might,
    Seem faltering downward from each hard won place.
    No strange, swift-sprung exception we; we trace
      A devious way thro’ dim, uncertain light,–
      Our hope, through the long vistaed years, a sight
    Of that our Captain’s soul sees face to face.
      Who, faithless, faltering that the road is steep,
    Now raiseth up his drear insistent cry?
      Who stoppeth here to spend a while in sleep
    Or curseth that the storm obscures the sky?
      Heed not the darkness round you, dull and deep;
    The clouds grow thickest when the summit’s nigh.

   
   

_____

#12

   

Farewell to Arcady
   

    With sombre mien, the Evening gray
    Comes nagging at the heels of Day,
    And driven faster and still faster
    Before the dusky-mantled Master,
    The light fades from her fearful eyes,
    She hastens, stumbles, falls, and dies.

    Beside me Amaryllis weeps;
    The swelling tears obscure the deeps
    Of her dark eyes, as, mistily,
    The rushing rain conceals the sea.
    Here, lay my tuneless reed away,–
    I have no heart to tempt a lay.

    I scent the perfume of the rose
    Which by my crystal fountain grows.
    In this sad time, are roses blowing?
    And thou, my fountain, art thou flowing,

    While I who watched thy waters spring
    Am all too sad to smile or sing?
    Nay, give me back my pipe again,
    It yet shall breathe this single strain:
            Farewell to Arcady!

   
   

_____

#11

   

At Candle-Lightin’ Time
   

    When I come in f’om de co’n-fiel’ aftah wo’kin’ ha’d all day,
    It ‘s amazin’ nice to fin’ my suppah all erpon de way;
    An’ it ‘s nice to smell de coffee bubblin’ ovah in de pot,
    An’ it ‘s fine to see de meat a-sizzlin’ teasin’-lak an’ hot.

    But when suppah-time is ovah, an’ de t’ings is cleahed away;
    Den de happy hours dat foller are de sweetes’ of de day.
    When my co’ncob pipe is sta’ted, an’ de smoke is drawin’ prime,
    My ole ‘ooman says, “I reckon, Ike, it ‘s candle-lightin’ time.”

    Den de chillun snuggle up to me, an’ all commence to call,
    “Oh, say, daddy, now it ‘s time to mek de shadders on de wall.”
    So I puts my han’s togethah–evah daddy knows de way,–
    An’ de chillun snuggle closer roun’ ez I begin to say:–

    “Fus’ thing, hyeah come Mistah Rabbit; don’ you see him wo’k his eahs?
    Huh, uh! dis mus’ be a donkey,–look, how innercent he ‘pears!
    Dah ‘s de ole black swan a-swimmin’–ain’t she got a’ awful neck?
    Who ‘s dis feller dat ‘s a-comin’? Why, dat ‘s ole dog Tray, I ‘spec’!”

    Dat ‘s de way I run on, tryin’ fu’ to please ’em all I can;
    Den I hollahs, “Now be keerful–dis hyeah las’ ‘s de buga-man!”
    An’ dey runs an’ hides dey faces; dey ain’t skeered–dey ‘s lettin’ on:
    But de play ain’t raaly ovah twell dat buga-man is gone.

    So I jes’ teks up my banjo, an’ I plays a little chune,
    An’ you see dem haids come peepin’ out to listen mighty soon.
    Den my wife says, “Sich a pappy fu’ to give you sich a fright!
    Jes, you go to baid, an’ leave him: say yo’ prayers an’ say good-night.”

   
   

_____

#10


   

Chrismus on the Plantation
   

    It was Chrismus Eve, I mind hit fu’ a mighty gloomy day–
    Bofe de weathah an’ de people–not a one of us was gay;
    Cose you ‘ll t’ink dat ‘s mighty funny ‘twell I try to mek hit cleah,
    Fu’ a da’ky ‘s allus happy when de holidays is neah.

    But we wasn’t, fu’ dat mo’nin’ Mastah ‘d tol’ us we mus’ go,
    He ‘d been payin’ us sence freedom, but he couldn’t pay no mo’;’
    He wa’n’t nevah used to plannin’ ‘fo’ he got so po’ an’ ol’,
    So he gwine to give up tryin’, an’ de homestead mus’ be sol’.

    I kin see him stan’in’ now erpon de step ez cleah ez day,
    Wid de win’ a-kind o’ fondlin’ thoo his haih all thin an’ gray;
    An’ I ‘membah how he trimbled when he said, “It’s ha ‘d fu’ me,
    Not to mek yo’ Chrismus brightah, but I ‘low it wa’n’t to be.”

    All de women was a-cryin’, an’ de men, too, on de sly,
    An’ I noticed somep’n shinin’ even in ol’ Mastah’s eye.
    But we all stood still to listen ez ol’ Ben come f’om de crowd
    An’ spoke up, a-try’n’ to steady down his voice and mek it loud:–

    “Look hyeah, Mastah, I ‘s been servin’ you’ fu’ lo! dese many yeahs,
    An’ now, sence we ‘s got freedom an’ you ‘s kind o’ po’, hit ‘pears
    Dat you want us all to leave you ’cause you don’t t’ink you can pay.
    Ef my membry has n’t fooled me, seem dat whut I hyead you say.

    “Er in othah wo’ds, you wants us to fu’git dat you ‘s been kin’,
    An’ ez soon ez you is he’pless, we ‘s to leave you hyeah behin’.
    Well, ef dat ‘s de way dis freedom ac’s on people, white er black,
    You kin jes’ tell Mistah Lincum fu’ to tek his freedom back.

    “We gwine wo’k dis ol’ plantation fu’ whatevah we kin git,
    Fu’ I know hit did suppo’t us, an’ de place kin do it yit.
    Now de land is yo’s, de hands is ouahs, an’ I reckon we ‘ll be brave,
    An’ we ‘ll bah ez much ez you do w’en we has to scrape an’ save.”

    Ol’ Mastah stood dah trimblin’, but a-smilin’ thoo his teahs,
    An’ den hit seemed jes’ nachul-like, de place fah rung wid cheahs,
    An’ soon ez dey was quiet, some one sta’ted sof an’ low:
    “Praise God,” an’ den we all jined in, “from whom all blessin’s flow!”

    Well, dey was n’t no use tryin’, ouah min’s was sot to stay,
    An’ po’ ol’ Mastah could n’t plead ner baig, ner drive us ‘way,
    An’ all at once, hit seemed to us, de day was bright agin,
    So evahone was gay dat night, an’ watched de Chrismus in.

   
   

_____

#9

   

She Told Her Beads
   

    She told her beads with down-cast eyes,
      Within the ancient chapel dim;
      And ever as her fingers slim
    Slipt o’er th’ insensate ivories,
    My rapt soul followed, spaniel-wise.
    Ah, many were the beads she wore;
      But as she told them o’er and o’er,
    They did not number all my sighs.
    My heart was filled with unvoiced cries
      And prayers and pleadings unexpressed;
      But while I burned with Love’s unrest,
    She told her beads with down-cast eyes.

   
   

_____

#8

   

The Haunted Oak
   

    Pray why are you so bare, so bare,
      Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
    And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
      Runs a shudder over me?

    My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
      And sap ran free in my veins,
    But I saw in the moonlight dim and weird
      A guiltless victim’s pains.

    I bent me down to hear his sigh;
      I shook with his gurgling moan,
    And I trembled sore when they rode away,
      And left him here alone.

    They ‘d charged him with the old, old crime,
      And set him fast in jail:
    Oh, why does the dog howl all night long,
      And why does the night wind wail?

    He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath,
      And he raised his hand to the sky;
    But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear,
      And the steady tread drew nigh.

    Who is it rides by night, by night,
      Over the moonlit road?
    And what is the spur that keeps the pace,
      What is the galling goad?

    And now they beat at the prison door,
      “Ho, keeper, do not stay!
    We are friends of him whom you hold within,
      And we fain would take him away

    “From those who ride fast on our heels
      With mind to do him wrong;
    They have no care for his innocence,
      And the rope they bear is long.”

    They have fooled the jailer with lying words,
      They have fooled the man with lies;
    The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn,
      And the great door open flies.

    Now they have taken him from the jail,
      And hard and fast they ride,
    And the leader laughs low down in his throat,
      As they halt my trunk beside.

    Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black,
      And the doctor one of white,
    And the minister, with his oldest son,
      Was curiously bedight.

    Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?
      ‘Tis but a little space,
    And the time will come when these shall dread
      The mem’ry of your face.

    I feel the rope against my bark,
      And the weight of him in my grain,
    I feel in the throe of his final woe
      The touch of my own last pain.

    And never more shall leaves come forth
      On a bough that bears the ban;
    I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead,
      From the curse of a guiltless man.

    And ever the judge rides by, rides by,
      And goes to hunt the deer,
    And ever another rides his soul
      In the guise of a mortal fear.

    And ever the man he rides me hard,
      And never a night stays he;
    For I feel his curse as a haunted bough,
      On the trunk of a haunted tree.

   
   

_____

#7

   

We Wear the Mask
   

    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
        We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
        We wear the mask!

   
   

_____

#6


   

When Dey ‘Listed Colored Soldiers
   

    Dey was talkin’ in de cabin, dey was talkin’ in de hall;
    But I listened kin’ o’ keerless, not a-t’inkin’ ’bout it all;
    An’ on Sunday, too, I noticed, dey was whisp’rin’ mighty much,
    Stan’in’ all erroun’ de roadside w’en dey let us out o’ chu’ch.
    But I did n’t t’ink erbout it ‘twell de middle of de week,
    An’ my ‘Lias come to see me, an’ somehow he could n’t speak.
    Den I seed all in a minute whut he ‘d come to see me for;–
    Dey had ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias gwine to wah.

    Oh, I hugged him, an’ I kissed him, an’ I baiged him not to go;
    But he tol’ me dat his conscience, hit was callin’ to him so,
    An’ he could n’t baih to lingah w’en he had a chanst to fight
    For de freedom dey had gin him an’ de glory of de right.
    So he kissed me, an’ he lef me, w’en I ‘d p’omised to be true;
    An’ dey put a knapsack on him, an’ a coat all colo’ed blue.
    So I gin him pap’s ol’ Bible f’om de bottom of de draw’,–
    W’en dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

    But I t’ought of all de weary miles dat he would have to tramp,
    An’ I could n’t be contented w’en dey tuk him to de camp.
    W’y my hea’t nigh broke wid grievin’ ‘twell I seed him on de street;
    Den I felt lak I could go an’ th’ow my body at his feet.
    For his buttons was a-shinin’, an’ his face was shinin’, too,
    An’ he looked so strong an’ mighty in his coat o’ sojer blue,
    Dat I hollahed, “Step up, manny,” dough my th’oat was so’ an’ raw,–
    W’en dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

    Ol’ Mis’ cried w’en mastah lef huh, young Miss mou’ned huh brothah Ned,
    An’ I did n’t know dey feelin’s is de ve’y wo’ds dey said
    W’en I tol’ ’em I was so’y. Dey had done gin up dey all;
    But dey only seemed mo’ proudah dat dey men had hyeahed de call.
    Bofe my mastahs went in gray suits, an’ I loved de Yankee blue,
    But I t’ought dat I could sorrer for de losin’ of ’em too;
    But I could n’t, for I did n’t know de ha’f o’ whut I saw,
    ‘Twell dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

    Mastah Jack come home all sickly; he was broke for life, dey said;
    An’ dey lef my po’ young mastah some’r’s on de roadside,–dead.
    W’en de women cried an’ mou’ned ’em, I could feel it thoo an’ thoo,
    For I had a loved un fightin’ in de way o’ dangah, too.
    Den dey tol’ me dey had laid him some’r’s way down souf to res’,
    Wid de flag dat he had fit for shinin’ daih acrost his breas’.
    Well, I cried, but den I reckon dat ‘s whut Gawd had called him for,
    W’en dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

   
   

_____

#5

   

The Sum
   

    A little dreaming by the way,
    A little toiling day by day;
    A little pain, a little strife,
    A little joy,–and that is life.

    A little short-lived summer’s morn,
    When joy seems all so newly born,
    When one day’s sky is blue above,
    And one bird sings,–and that is love.

    A little sickening of the years,
    The tribute of a few hot tears
    Two folded hands, the failing breath,
    And peace at last,–and that is death.

    Just dreaming, loving, dying so,
    The actors in the drama go–
    A flitting picture on a wall,
    Love, Death, the themes; but is that all?

   
   

_____

#4

   

A Spring Wooing
   

    Come on walkin’ wid me, Lucy; ‘t ain’t no time to mope erroun’
      Wen de sunshine ‘s shoutin’ glory in de sky,
    An’ de little Johnny-Jump-Ups ‘s jes’ a-springin’ f’om de groun’,
      Den a-lookin’ roun’ to ax each othah w’y.
    Don’ you hyeah dem cows a-mooin’? Dat ‘s dey howdy to de spring;
      Ain’ dey lookin’ most oncommon satisfied?
    Hit ‘s enough to mek a body want to spread dey mouf an’ sing
      Jes’ to see de critters all so spa’klin’-eyed.

    W’y dat squir’l dat jes’ run past us, ef I did n’ know his tricks,
      I could swaih he ‘d got ‘uligion jes’ to-day;
    An’ dem liza’ds slippin’ back an’ fofe ermong de stones an’ sticks
      Is a-wigglin’ ’cause dey feel so awful gay.
    Oh, I see yo’ eyes a-shinin’ dough you try to mek me b’lieve
      Dat you ain’ so monst’ous happy ’cause you come;
    But I tell you dis hyeah weathah meks it moughty ha’d to ‘ceive
      Ef a body’s soul ain’ blin’ an’ deef an’ dumb.

    Robin whistlin’ ovah yandah ez he buil’ his little nes’;
      Whut you reckon dat he sayin’ to his mate?
    He’s a-sayin’ dat he love huh in de wo’ds she know de bes’,
      An’ she lookin’ moughty pleased at whut he state.
    Now, Miss Lucy, dat ah robin sholy got his sheer o’ sense,
      An’ de hen-bird got huh mothah-wit fu’ true;
    So I t’ink ef you ‘ll ixcuse me, fu’ I do’ mean no erfence,
      Dey ‘s a lesson in dem birds fu’ me an’ you.

    I ‘s a-buil’in’ o’ my cabin, an’ I ‘s vines erbove de do’
      Fu’ to kin’ o’ gin it sheltah f’om de sun;
    Gwine to have a little kitchen wid a reg’lar wooden flo’,
      An’ dey ‘ll be a back verandy w’en hit ‘s done.
    I ‘s a-waitin’ fu’ you, Lucy, tek de ‘zample o’ de birds,
      Dat ‘s a-lovin’ an’ a-matin’ evahwhaih.
    I cain’ tell you dat I loves you in de robin’s music wo’ds,
      But my cabin ‘s talkin’ fu’ me ovah thaih!

   
   

_____

#3

   

A Negro Love Song
   

    Seen my lady home las’ night,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
    Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,
    An’ a smile go flittin’ by–
      Jump back, honey, jump back.

    Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,
    When I reached my lady’s do’,
    Dat I could n’t ba’ to go–
      Jump back, honey, jump back.

    Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Love me, honey, love me true?
    Love me well ez I love you?
    An’ she answe’d, “‘Cose I do”–
    Jump back, honey, jump back.

   
   

_____

#2


   

A Florida Night
   

    Win’ a-blowin’ gentle so de san’ lay low,
      San’ a little heavy f’om de rain,
    All de pa’ms a-wavin’ an’ a-weavin’ slow,
      Sighin’ lak a sinnah-soul in pain.
    Alligator grinnin’ by de ol’ lagoon,
    Mockin’-bird a-singin’ to be big full moon.
    ‘Skeeter go a-skimmin’ to his fightin’ chune
      (Lizy Ann’s a-waitin’ in de lane!).

    Moccasin a-sleepin’ in de cyprus swamp;
    Need n’t wake de gent’man, not fu’ me.
    Mule, you need n’t wake him w’en you switch an’ stomp,
      Fightin’ off a ‘skeeter er a flea.
    Florida is lovely, she’s de fines’ lan’
    Evah seed de sunlight f’om de Mastah’s han’,
    ‘Ceptin’ fu’ de varmints an’ huh fleas an’ san’
      An’ de nights w’en Lizy Ann ain’ free.

    Moon ‘s a-kinder shaddered on de melon patch;
      No one ain’t a-watchin’ ez I go.
    Climbin’ of de fence so ‘s not to click de latch
      Meks my gittin’ in a little slow.
    Watermelon smilin’ as it say, “I’ s free;”
    Alligator boomin’, but I let him be,
    Florida, oh, Florida ‘s de lan’ fu’ me–
      (Lizy Ann a-singin’ sweet an’ low).

   
   

_____

#1

   
   
Sympathy
   

    I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
      When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
    When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
    And the river flows like a stream of glass;
      When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
    And the faint perfume from its chalice steals–
    I know what the caged bird feels!

    I know why the caged bird beats his wing
      Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
    For he must fly back to his perch and cling
    When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
      And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
    And they pulse again with a keener sting–
    I know why he beats his wing!

    I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
      When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,–
    When he beats his bars and he would be free;
    It is not a carol of joy or glee,
      But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
    But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings–
    I know why the caged bird sings!

   
   

_____

_____

May 19, 2007

The Official Top 20 Countdown of the All Time Greatest Love Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

_____

   
   

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) with a friend

I have been reading all the poems I can find by Paul Laurence Dunbar, in order to create another top 30 countdown. Yesterday, when I got down from the hundreds to 55 poems in order, I knew I did not want to lose any more of his love poems. So I take a break from that top 30, to bring you the very enjoyable top 20 love poems written by Dunbar. He only lived to be 33, so when he writes of how an old man may feel about love as well as he does a young couple, as if he carried all of this within him, some full and long happy love life, we can recognize a gift. But, just as tuberculosis beat him physically to a young death, it seems at least alcohol kept him from being the great lover to his bride, then Alice Moore (pictured below, not above).
   
   

_____

#20

from

1899

   
   
Then and Now
   
   
Then

    He loved her, and through many years,
    Had paid his fair devoted court,
    Until she wearied, and with sneers
    Turned all his ardent love to sport.

    That night within his chamber lone,
    He long sat writing by his bed
    A note in which his heart made moan
    For love; the morning found him dead.
   
   
Now

    Like him, a man of later day
    Was jilted by the maid he sought,
    And from her presence turned away,
    Consumed by burning, bitter thought.

    He sought his room to write–a curse
    Like him before and die, I ween.
    Ah no, he put his woes in verse,
    And sold them to a magazine.
   
   

_____

#19

from

1901

   
   
Anchored
   
   
    If thro’ the sea of night which here surrounds me,
      I could swim out beyond the farthest star,
    Break every barrier of circumstance that bounds me,
      And greet the Sun of sweeter life afar,

    Tho’ near you there is passion, grief, and sorrow,
      And out there rest and joy and peace and all,
    I should renounce that beckoning for to-morrow,
      I could not choose to go beyond your call.
   
   

_____

#18

from

1901

   
   
Suppose
   
   
    If ’twere fair to suppose
      That your heart were not taken,
    That the dew from the rose
      Petals still were not shaken,
    I should pluck you,
      Howe’er you should thorn me and scorn me,
    And wear you for life as the green of the bower.

    If ’twere fair to suppose
      That that road was for vagrants,
    That the wind and the rose,
      Counted all in their fragrance;
    Oh, my dear one,
      By love, I should take you and make you,
    The green of my life from the scintillant hour.
   
   

_____

#17

from

1899

   
   
Love
   
   
    A life was mine full of the close concern
      Of many-voiced affairs. The world sped fast;
      Behind me, ever rolled a pregnant past.
    A present came equipped with lore to learn.
    Art, science, letters, in their turn,
      Each one allured me with its treasures vast;
      And I staked all for wisdom, till at last
    Thou cam’st and taught my soul anew to yearn.
      I had not dreamed that I could turn away
    From all that men with brush and pen had wrought;
      But ever since that memorable day
    When to my heart the truth of love was brought,
      I have been wholly yielded to its sway,
    And had no room for any other thought.
   
   

_____

#16

from

1895

   
   
The Corn-Stalk Fiddle
   
   
    When the corn ‘s all cut and the bright stalks shine
      Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
    When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
      And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
    Then it’s heigho! fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
    For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.

    And you take a stalk that is straight and long,
      With an expert eye to its worthy points,
    And you think of the bubbling strains of song
      That are bound between its pithy joints–
    Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,
    With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.

    Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow
      O’er the yielding strings with a practised hand!
    And the music’s flow never loud but low
      Is the concert note of a fairy band.
    Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle
    To the simple sweets of the corn-stalk fiddle.

    When the eve comes on, and our work is done,
      And the sun drops down with a tender glance,
    With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,
      Come the neighbor girls for the evening’s dance,
    And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle–
    More time than tune–from the corn-stalk fiddle.

    Then brother Jabez takes the bow,
      While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,
    Then Henry stops by Milly Snow,
      And John takes Nellie Jones’s hand,
    While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,
    And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.

    “Salute your partners,” comes the call,
      “All join hands and circle round,”
    “Grand train back,” and “Balance all,”
      Footsteps lightly spurn the ground.
    “Take your lady and balance down the middle”
    To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.

    So the night goes on and the dance is o’er,
      And the merry girls are homeward gone,
    But I see it all in my sleep once more,
      And I dream till the very break of dawn
    Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle
    To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.
   
   

_____

#15

from

1895

   
   
After the Quarrel
   
   
    So we, who ‘ve supped the self-same cup,
      To-night must lay our friendship by;
    Your wrath has burned your judgment up,
      Hot breath has blown the ashes high.
    You say that you are wronged–ah, well,
      I count that friendship poor, at best
    A bauble, a mere bagatelle,
      That cannot stand so slight a test.

    I fain would still have been your friend,
      And talked and laughed and loved with you;
    But since it must, why, let it end;
      The false but dies, ‘t is not the true.
    So we are favored, you and I,
      Who only want the living truth.
    It was not good to nurse the lie;
      ‘T is well it died in harmless youth.

    I go from you to-night to sleep.
      Why, what’s the odds? why should I grieve?
    I have no fund of tears to weep
      For happenings that undeceive.
    The days shall come, the days shall go
      Just as they came and went before.
    The sun shall shine, the streams shall flow
      Though you and I are friends no more.

    And in the volume of my years,
      Where all my thoughts and acts shall be,
    The page whereon your name appears
      Shall be forever sealed to me.
    Not that I hate you over-much,
      ‘T is less of hate than love defied;
    Howe’er, our hands no more shall touch,
      We ‘ll go our ways, the world is wide.
   
   

_____

#14

from

1901

   
   
Diplomacy
   
   
    Tell your love where the roses blow,
      And the hearts of the lilies quiver,
    Not in the city’s gleam and glow,
      But down by a half-sunned river.
    Not in the crowded ball-room’s glare,
      That would be fatal, Marie, Marie,
    How can she answer you then and there?
      So come then and stroll with me, my dear,
      Down where the birds call, Marie, Marie.
   
   

_____

#13

from

1899

   
   
Dream Song II
   
   
    Pray, what can dreams avail
      To make love or to mar?
    The child within the cradle rail
      Lies dreaming of the star.
    But is the star by this beguiled
    To leave its place and seek the child?

    The poor plucked rose within its glass
      Still dreameth of the bee;
    But, tho’ the lagging moments pass,
      Her Love she may not see.
    If dream of child and flower fail,
    Why should a maiden’s dreams prevail?
   
   

_____

#12

from

1893

   
   
The Old Apple-Tree
   
   
    There’s a memory keeps a-runnin’
      Through my weary head to-night,
    An’ I see a picture dancin’
      In the fire-flames’ ruddy light;
    ‘Tis the picture of an orchard
      Wrapped in autumn’s purple haze,
    With the tender light about it
      That I loved in other days.
    An’ a-standin’ in a corner
      Once again I seem to see
    The verdant leaves an’ branches
      Of an old apple-tree.

    You perhaps would call it ugly,
      An’ I don’t know but it’s so,
    When you look the tree all over
      Unadorned by memory’s glow;
    For its boughs are gnarled an’ crooked,
      An’ its leaves are gettin’ thin,
    An’ the apples of its bearin’
      Would n’t fill so large a bin
    As they used to. But I tell you,
      When it comes to pleasin’ me,
    It’s the dearest in the orchard,–
      Is that old apple-tree.

    I would hide within its shelter,
      Settlin’ in some cosy nook,
    Where no calls nor threats could stir me
      From the pages o’ my book.
    Oh, that quiet, sweet seclusion
      In its fulness passeth words!
    It was deeper than the deepest
      That my sanctum now affords.
    Why, the jaybirds an’ the robins,
      They was hand in glove with me,
    As they winked at me an’ warbled
      In that old apple-tree.

    It was on its sturdy branches
      That in summers long ago
    I would tie my swing an’ dangle
      In contentment to an’ fro,
    Idly dreamin’ childish fancies,
      Buildin’ castles in the air,
    Makin’ o’ myself a hero
      Of romances rich an’ rare.
    I kin shet my eyes an’ see it
      Jest as plain as plain kin be,
    That same old swing a-danglin’
      To the old apple-tree.

    There’s a rustic seat beneath it
      That I never kin forget.
    It’s the place where me an’ Hallie–
      Little sweetheart–used to set,
    When we ‘d wander to the orchard
      So ‘s no listenin’ ones could hear
    As I whispered sugared nonsense
      Into her little willin’ ear.
    Now my gray old wife is Hallie,
      An’ I ‘m grayer still than she,
    But I ‘ll not forget our courtin’
      ‘Neath the old apple-tree.

    Life for us ain’t all been summer,
      But I guess we ‘we had our share
    Of its flittin’ joys an’ pleasures,
      An’ a sprinklin’ of its care.
    Oft the skies have smiled upon us;
      Then again we ‘ve seen ’em frown,
    Though our load was ne’er so heavy
      That we longed to lay it down.
    But when death does come a-callin’,
      This my last request shall be,–
    That they ‘ll bury me an’ Hallie
      ‘Neath the old apple tree.
   
   

_____

#11

from

1896

   
   
A Florida Night
   
   
    Win’ a-blowin’ gentle so de san’ lay low,
      San’ a little heavy f’om de rain,
    All de pa’ms a-wavin’ an’ a-weavin’ slow,
      Sighin’ lak a sinnah-soul in pain.
    Alligator grinnin’ by de ol’ lagoon,
    Mockin’-bird a-singin’ to be big full moon.
    ‘Skeeter go a-skimmin’ to his fightin’ chune
      (Lizy Ann’s a-waitin’ in de lane!).

    Moccasin a-sleepin’ in de cyprus swamp;
    Need n’t wake de gent’man, not fu’ me.
    Mule, you need n’t wake him w’en you switch an’ stomp,
      Fightin’ off a ‘skeeter er a flea.
    Florida is lovely, she’s de fines’ lan’
    Evah seed de sunlight f’om de Mastah’s han’,
    ‘Ceptin’ fu’ de varmints an’ huh fleas an’ san’
      An’ de nights w’en Lizy Ann ain’ free.

    Moon ‘s a-kinder shaddered on de melon patch;
      No one ain’t a-watchin’ ez I go.
    Climbin’ of de fence so ‘s not to click de latch
      Meks my gittin’ in a little slow.
    Watermelon smilin’ as it say, “I’ s free;”
    Alligator boomin’, but I let him be,
    Florida, oh, Florida ‘s de lan’ fu’ me–
      (Lizy Ann a-singin’ sweet an’ low).
   
   

_____

#10

from

1896, this cover 1905

   
   
“Howdy, Honey, Howdy!”
   
   
    Do’ a-stan’in’ on a jar, fiah a-shinin’ thoo,
    Ol’ folks drowsin’ ‘roun’ de place, wide awake is Lou,
    W’en I tap, she answeh, an’ I see huh ‘mence to grin,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    Den I step erpon de log layin’ at de do’,
    Bless de Lawd, huh mammy an’ huh pap’s done ‘menced to sno’,
    Now’s de time, ef evah, ef I’s gwine to try an’ win,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    No use playin’ on de aidge, trimblin’ on de brink,
    Wen a body love a gal, tell huh whut he t’ink;
    W’en huh hea’t is open fu’ de love you gwine to gin,
    Pull yo’se’f togethah, suh, an’ step right in.

    Sweetes’ imbitation dat a body evah hyeahed,
    Sweetah den de music of a lovesick mockin’-bird,
    Comin’ f’om de gal you loves bettah den yo’ kin,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    At de gate o’ heaven w’en de storm o’ life is pas’,
    ‘Spec’ I ‘ll be a-stan’in’, ‘twell de Mastah say at las’,
    “Hyeah he stan’ all weary, but he winned his fight wid sin.
    Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”
   
   

_____

#9

from

1899

   
   
A Letter
   
   
    Dear Miss Lucy: I been t’inkin’ dat I ‘d write you long fo’ dis,
    But dis writin’ ‘s mighty tejous, an’ you know jes’ how it is.
    But I ‘s got a little lesure, so I teks my pen in han’
    Fu’ to let you know my feelin’s since I retched dis furrin’ lan’.
    I ‘s right well, I ‘s glad to tell you (dough dis climate ain’t to blame),
    An’ I hopes w’en dese lines reach you, dat dey ‘ll fin’ yo’ se’f de same.
    Cose I ‘se feelin kin’ o’ homesick–dat ‘s ez nachul ez kin be,
    Wen a feller ‘s mo’n th’ee thousand miles across dat awful sea.
    (Don’t you let nobidy fool you ’bout de ocean bein’ gran’;
    If you want to see de billers, you jes’ view dem f’om de lan’.)
    ‘Bout de people? We been t’inkin’ dat all white folks was alak;
    But dese Englishmen is diffunt, an’ dey ‘s curus fu’ a fac’.
    Fust, dey’s heavier an’ redder in dey make-up an’ dey looks,
    An’ dey don’t put salt nor pepper in a blessed t’ing dey cooks!
    Wen dey gin you good ol’ tu’nips, ca’ots, pa’snips, beets, an’ sich,
    Ef dey ain’t some one to tell you, you cain’t ‘stinguish which is which.
    Wen I t’ought I ‘s eatin’ chicken–you may b’lieve dis hyeah ‘s a lie–
    But de waiter beat me down dat I was eatin’ rabbit pie.
    An’ dey ‘d t’ink dat you was crazy–jes’ a reg’lar ravin’ loon,
    Ef you ‘d speak erbout a ‘possum or a piece o’ good ol’ coon.
    O, hit’s mighty nice, dis trav’lin’, an’ I ‘s kin’ o’ glad I come.
    But, I reckon, now I ‘s willin’ fu’ to tek my way back home.
    I done see de Crystal Palace, an’ I ‘s hyeahd dey string-band play,
    But I has n’t seen no banjos layin’ nowhahs roun’ dis way.
    Jes’ gin ol’ Jim Bowles a banjo, an’ he ‘d not go very fu’,
    ‘Fo’ he ‘d outplayed all dese fiddlers, wif dey flourish and dey stir.
    Evahbiddy dat I ‘s met wif has been monst’ous kin an’ good;
    But I t’ink I ‘d lak it better to be down in Jones’s wood,
    Where we ust to have sich frolics, Lucy, you an’ me an’ Nelse,
    Dough my appetite ‘ud call me, ef dey was n’t nuffin else.
    I ‘d jes’ lak to have some sweet-pertaters roasted in de skin;
    I ‘s a-longin’ fu’ my chittlin’s an’ my mustard greens ergin;
    I ‘s a-wishin’ fu’ some buttermilk, an’ co’n braid, good an’ brown,
    An’ a drap o’ good ol’ bourbon fu’ to wash my feelin’s down!
    An’ I ‘s comin’ back to see you jes’ as ehly as I kin,
    So you better not go spa’kin’ wif dat wuffless scoun’el Quin!
    Well, I reckon, I mus’ close now; write ez soon’s dis reaches you;
    Gi’ my love to Sister Mandy an’ to Uncle Isham, too.
    Tell de folks I sen’ ’em howdy; gin a kiss to pap an’ mam;
    Closin’ I is, deah Miss Lucy, Still Yo’ Own True-Lovin’ Sam.

    P. S. Ef you cain’t mek out dis letter, lay it by erpon de she’f,
          An’ when I git home, I ‘ll read it, darlin’, to you my own se’f.
   
   

_____

#8

from

1901

   
   
The Old Front Gate
   
   
    W’en daih ‘s chillun in de house,
      Dey keep on a-gittin’ tall;
    But de folks don’ seem to see
      Dat dey ‘s growin’ up at all,
    ‘Twell dey fin’ out some fine day
      Dat de gals has ‘menced to grow,
    Wen dey notice as dey pass
      Dat de front gate ‘s saggin’ low.

    Wen de hinges creak an’ cry,
      An’ de bahs go slantin’ down,
    You kin reckon dat hit’s time
      Fu’ to cas’ yo’ eye erroun’,
    ‘Cause daih ain’t no ‘sputin’ dis,
      Hit’s de trues’ sign to show
    Dat daih ‘s cou’tin’ goin’ on
      Wen de ol’ front gate sags low.

    Oh, you grumble an’ complain,
      An’ you prop dat gate up right;
    But you notice right nex’ day
      Dat hit’s in de same ol’ plight.
    So you fin’ dat hit’s a rule,
      An’ daih ain’ no use to blow,
    W’en de gals is growin’ up,
      Dat de front gate will sag low.

    Den you t’ink o’ yo’ young days,
      W’en you cou’ted Sally Jane,
    An’ you so’t o’ feel ashamed
      Fu’ to grumble an’ complain,
    ‘Cause yo’ ricerlection says,
      An’ you know hits wo’ds is so,
    Dat huh pappy had a time
      Wid his front gate saggin’ low.

    So you jes’ looks on an’ smiles
      At ’em leanin’ on de gate,
    Tryin’ to t’ink whut he kin say
      Fu’ to keep him daih so late,
    But you lets dat gate erlone,
      Fu’ yo’ ‘sperunce goes to show,
    ‘Twell de gals is ma’ied off,
      It gwine keep on saggin’ low.
   
   

_____

#7

from

1899

   
   
Communion
   
   
    In the silence of my heart,
      I will spend an hour with thee,
    When my love shall rend apart
      All the veil of mystery:

    All that dim and misty veil
      That shut in between our souls
    When Death cried, “Ho, maiden, hail!”
      And your barque sped on the shoals.

    On the shoals? Nay, wrongly said.
      On the breeze of Death that sweeps
    Far from life, thy soul has sped
      Out into unsounded deeps.

    I shall take an hour and come
      Sailing, darling, to thy side.
    Wind nor sea may keep me from
      Soft communings with my bride.

    I shall rest my head on thee
      As I did long days of yore,
    When a calm, untroubled sea
      Rocked thy vessel at the shore.

    I shall take thy hand in mine,
      And live o’er the olden days
    When thy smile to me was wine,–
      Golden wine thy word of praise,

    For the carols I had wrought
      In my soul’s simplicity;
    For the petty beads of thought
      Which thine eyes alone could see.

    Ah, those eyes, love-blind, but keen
      For my welfare and my weal!
    Tho’ the grave-door shut between,
      Still their love-lights o’er me steal.

    I can see thee thro’ my tears,
      As thro’ rain we see the sun.
    What tho’ cold and cooling years
      Shall their bitter courses run,–

    I shall see thee still and be
      Thy true lover evermore,
    And thy face shall be to me
      Dear and helpful as before.

    Death may vaunt and Death may boast,
      But we laugh his pow’r to scorn;
    He is but a slave at most,–
      Night that heralds coming morn.

    I shall spend an hour with thee
      Day by day, my little bride.
    True love laughs at mystery,
      Crying, “Doors of Death, fly wide.”

   
   

_____

#6

from

1899

   
   
When the Old Man Smokes
   
   
    In the forenoon’s restful quiet,
      When the boys are off at school,
    When the window lights are shaded
      And the chimney-corner cool,
    Then the old man seeks his armchair,
      Lights his pipe and settles back;
    Falls a-dreaming as he draws it
      Till the smoke-wreaths gather black.

    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.

    Ah, perhaps he sits there dreaming
      Of the love of other days
    And of how he used to lead her
    Through the merry dance’s maze;
    How he called her “little princess,”
      And, to please her, used to twine
    Tender wreaths to crown her tresses,
      From the “matrimony vine.”

    Then before his mental vision
      Comes, perhaps, a sadder day,
    When they left his little princess
      Sleeping with her fellow clay.
    How his young heart throbbed, and pained him!
      Why, the memory of it chokes!
    Is it of these things he ‘s thinking
      When the old man smokes?

    But some brighter thoughts possess him,
      For the tears are dried the while.
    And the old, worn face is wrinkled
      In a reminiscent smile,
    From the middle of the forehead
      To the feebly trembling lip,
    At some ancient prank remembered
      Or some long unheard-of quip.

    Then the lips relax their tension
      And the pipe begins to slide,
    Till in little clouds of ashes,
      It falls softly at his side;
    And his head bends low and lower
      Till his chin lies on his breast,
    And he sits in peaceful slumber
      Like a little child at rest.

    Dear old man, there ‘s something sad’ning,
      In these dreamy moods of yours,
    Since the present proves so fleeting,
      All the past for you endures.
    Weeping at forgotten sorrows,
      Smiling at forgotten jokes;
    Life epitomized in minutes,
      When the old man smokes.
   
   

_____

#5

from

1906

   
   
The Voice of the Banjo
   
   
    In a small and lonely cabin out of noisy traffic’s way,
    Sat an old man, bent and feeble, dusk of face, and hair of gray,
    And beside him on the table, battered, old, and worn as he,
    Lay a banjo, droning forth this reminiscent melody:

    “Night is closing in upon us, friend of mine, but don’t be sad;
    Let us think of all the pleasures and the joys that we have had.
    Let us keep a merry visage, and be happy till the last,
    Let the future still be sweetened with the honey of the past.

    “For I speak to you of summer nights upon the yellow sand,
    When the Southern moon was sailing high and silvering all the land;
    And if love tales were not sacred, there’s a tale that I could tell
    Of your many nightly wanderings with a dusk and lovely belle.

    “And I speak to you of care-free songs when labour’s hour was o’er,
    And a woman waiting for your step outside the cabin door,
    And of something roly-poly that you took upon your lap,
    While you listened for the stumbling, hesitating words, ‘Pap, pap.’

    “I could tell you of a ‘possum hunt across the wooded grounds,
    I could call to mind the sweetness of the baying of the hounds,
    You could lift me up and smelling of the timber that ‘s in me,
    Build again a whole green forest with the mem’ry of a tree.

    “So the future cannot hurt us while we keep the past in mind,
    What care I for trembling fingers,–what care you that you are blind?
    Time may leave us poor and stranded, circumstance may make us bend;
    But they ‘ll only find us mellower, won’t they, comrade?–in the end.”
   
   

_____

#4

from

1921

   
   
Weltschmertz
   
   
    You ask why I am sad to-day,
    I have no cares, no griefs, you say?
    Ah, yes, ‘t is true, I have no grief–
    But–is there not the falling leaf?

    The bare tree there is mourning left
    With all of autumn’s gray bereft;
    It is not what has happened me,
    Think of the bare, dismantled tree.

    The birds go South along the sky,
    I hear their lingering, long good-bye.
    Who goes reluctant from my breast?
    And yet–the lone and wind-swept nest.

    The mourning, pale-flowered hearse goes by,
    Why does a tear come to my eye?
    Is it the March rain blowing wild?
    I have no dead, I know no child.

    I am no widow by the bier
    Of him I held supremely dear.
    I have not seen the choicest one
    Sink down as sinks the westering sun.

    Faith unto faith have I beheld,
    For me, few solemn notes have swelled;
    Love bekoned me out to the dawn,
    And happily I followed on.

    And yet my heart goes out to them
    Whose sorrow is their diadem;
    The falling leaf, the crying bird,
    The voice to be, all lost, unheard–

    Not mine, not mine, and yet too much
    The thrilling power of human touch,
    While all the world looks on and scorns
    I wear another’s crown of thorns.

    Count me a priest who understands
    The glorious pain of nail-pierced hands;
    Count me a comrade of the thief
    Hot driven into late belief.

    Oh, mother’s tear, oh, father’s sigh,
    Oh, mourning sweetheart’s last good-bye,
    I yet have known no mourning save
    Beside some brother’s brother’s grave.
   
   

_____

#3

from

1899

   
   
She Told Her Beads
   
   
    She told her beads with down-cast eyes,
      Within the ancient chapel dim;
      And ever as her fingers slim
    Slipt o’er th’ insensate ivories,
    My rapt soul followed, spaniel-wise.
    Ah, many were the beads she wore;
      But as she told them o’er and o’er,
    They did not number all my sighs.
    My heart was filled with unvoiced cries
      And prayers and pleadings unexpressed;
      But while I burned with Love’s unrest,
    She told her beads with down-cast eyes.
   
   

_____

#2

from

1901

   
   
A Spring Wooing
   
   
    Come on walkin’ wid me, Lucy; ‘t ain’t no time to mope erroun’
      Wen de sunshine ‘s shoutin’ glory in de sky,
    An’ de little Johnny-Jump-Ups ‘s jes’ a-springin’ f’om de groun’,
      Den a-lookin’ roun’ to ax each othah w’y.
    Don’ you hyeah dem cows a-mooin’? Dat ‘s dey howdy to de spring;
      Ain’ dey lookin’ most oncommon satisfied?
    Hit ‘s enough to mek a body want to spread dey mouf an’ sing
      Jes’ to see de critters all so spa’klin’-eyed.

    W’y dat squir’l dat jes’ run past us, ef I did n’ know his tricks,
      I could swaih he ‘d got ‘uligion jes’ to-day;
    An’ dem liza’ds slippin’ back an’ fofe ermong de stones an’ sticks
      Is a-wigglin’ ’cause dey feel so awful gay.
    Oh, I see yo’ eyes a-shinin’ dough you try to mek me b’lieve
      Dat you ain’ so monst’ous happy ’cause you come;
    But I tell you dis hyeah weathah meks it moughty ha’d to ‘ceive
      Ef a body’s soul ain’ blin’ an’ deef an’ dumb.

    Robin whistlin’ ovah yandah ez he buil’ his little nes’;
      Whut you reckon dat he sayin’ to his mate?
    He’s a-sayin’ dat he love huh in de wo’ds she know de bes’,
      An’ she lookin’ moughty pleased at whut he state.
    Now, Miss Lucy, dat ah robin sholy got his sheer o’ sense,
      An’ de hen-bird got huh mothah-wit fu’ true;
    So I t’ink ef you ‘ll ixcuse me, fu’ I do’ mean no erfence,
      Dey ‘s a lesson in dem birds fu’ me an’ you.

    I ‘s a-buil’in’ o’ my cabin, an’ I ‘s vines erbove de do’
      Fu’ to kin’ o’ gin it sheltah f’om de sun;
    Gwine to have a little kitchen wid a reg’lar wooden flo’,
      An’ dey ‘ll be a back verandy w’en hit ‘s done.
    I ‘s a-waitin’ fu’ you, Lucy, tek de ‘zample o’ de birds,
      Dat ‘s a-lovin’ an’ a-matin’ evahwhaih.
    I cain’ tell you dat I loves you in de robin’s music wo’ds,
      But my cabin ‘s talkin’ fu’ me ovah thaih!
   
   

_____

#1

from

1895

   
   
A Negro Love Song
   
   
    Seen my lady home las’ night,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
    Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,
    An’ a smile go flittin’ by–
      Jump back, honey, jump back.

    Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,
    When I reached my lady’s do’,
    Dat I could n’t ba’ to go–
      Jump back, honey, jump back.

    Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Love me, honey, love me true?
    Love me well ez I love you?
    An’ she answe’d, “‘Cose I do”–
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
   
   

_____

   
   

Alice Moore Dunbar, Mrs. Paul L. Dunbar

_____

September 24, 2006

The Babes in the Wood: a Randolph Caldecott Picture Book

____________

 

000.jpg

Printed in Great Britain

 

 

____________

 

author anonymous
 

THE BABES

IN THE WOOD

 

____________

 

002.jpg

 

________________________

 

The Babes in the Wood

 

003.jpg

 

                        Now ponder well, you parents deare,
                                    These wordes which I shall write;
                        A doleful story you shall heare,
                                    In time brought forth to light.

                        A gentleman of good account
                                    In Norfolke dwelt of late.
                        Who did in honour far surmount
                                    Most men of his estate.

                        Sore sicke he was, and like to dye,
                                    No helpe his life could save;
                        His wife by him as sicke did lye,
                                    And both possest one grave.
 

004.jpg

 

                        No love between these two was lost,
                                    Each was to other kinde;
                        In love they liv’d, in love they dyed,
                                    And left two babes behinde:

                        The one a fine and pretty boy,
                                    Not passing three yeares olde;
                        The other a girl more young than he
                                    And fram’d in beautye’s molde.

                        The father left his little son,
                                    As plainlye doth appeare,
                        When he to perfect age should come
                                    Three hundred poundes a yeare.

                        And to his little daughter Jane
                                    Five hundred poundes in gold,
                        To be paid downe on marriage-day,
                                    Which might not be controll’d:
 

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                        But if the children chanced to dye,
                                    Ere they to age should come,
                        Their uncle should possesse their wealth;
                                    For so the wille did run.
 

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                        “Now, brother,” said the dying man,
                                    “Look to my children deare;
                        Be good unto my boy and girl,
                                    No friendes else have they here:

                        “To God and you I do commend
                                    My children deare this daye;
                        But little while be sure we have
                                    Within this world to staye.

                        “You must be father and mother both,
                                    And uncle all in one;
                        God knowes what will become of them,
                                    When I am dead and gone.”
 

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                        With that bespake their mother deare:
                                    “O brother kinde,” quoth shee,
                        You are the man must bring our babes
                                    To wealth or miserie:
 

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                        “And if you keep them carefully,
                                    Then God will you reward;
                        But if you otherwise should deal,
                                    God will your deedes regard.”
 

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                        With lippes as cold as any stone.
                                    They kist the children small:
                        ‘God bless you both, my children deare;’
                                    With that the teares did fall.
 

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                        These speeches then their brother spake
                                    To this sicke couple there:
                        “The keeping of your little ones,
                                    Sweet sister, do not feare:

                        “God never prosper me nor mine,
                                    Nor aught else that I have,
                        If I do wrong your children deare,
                                    When you are layd in grave.”
 

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                        The parents being dead and gone,
                                    The children home he takes,
                        And bringes them straite unto his house,
                                    Where much of them he makes.
 

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                        He had not kept these pretty babes
                                    A twelvemonth and a daye,
                        But, for their wealth, he did devise
                                    To make them both awaye.

                        He bargain’d with two ruffians strong,
                                    Which were of furious mood,
                        That they should take the children young,
                                    And slaye them in a wood.
 

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                        He told his wife an artful tale,
                                    He would the children send
                        To be brought up in faire London,
                                    With one that was his friend.
 

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                        Away then went those pretty babes,
                                    Rejoycing at that tide,
                        Rejoycing with a merry minde,
                                    They should on cock-horse ride.
 

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                        They prate and prattle pleasantly
                                    As they rode on the waye,
                        To those that should their butchers be,
                                    And work their lives’ decaye:

                        So that the pretty speeche they had,
                                    Made murderers’ heart relent:
                        And they that undertooke the deed,
                                    Full sore did now repent.

                        Yet one of them, more hard of heart,
                                    Did vow to do his charge,
                        Because the wretch, that hired him,
                                    Had paid him very large.
 

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                        The other would not agree thereto,
                                    So here they fell to strife;
                        With one another they did fight,
                                    About the children’s life:
 

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                        And he that was of mildest mood,
                                    Did slaye the other there,
                        Within an unfrequented wood,
                                    Where babes did quake for feare!
 

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                        He took the children by the hand,
                                    While teares stood in their eye,
                        And bade them come and go with him,
                                    And look they did not crye:

                        And two long miles he ledd them on,
                                    While they for food complaine:
                        “Stay here,” quoth he, “I’ll bring ye bread,
                                    When I come back againe.”
 

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                        These prettye babes, with hand in hand,
                                    Went wandering up and downe;
 

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                        But never more they sawe the man
                        Approaching from the town.
 

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                        Their prettye lippes with blackberries
                                    Were all besmear’d and dyed;
                        And when they sawe the darksome night,
                                    They sat them downe and cryed.
 

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                        Thus wandered these two prettye babes,
                                    Till death did end their grief;
                        In one another’s armes they dyed,
                                    As babes wanting relief.

                        No burial these prettye babes
                                    Of any man receives,
 

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                        Till Robin-redbreast painfully
                                    Did cover them with leaves.
 

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