Not of the princes and prelates with periwigged charioteers
Riding triumphantly laurelled to lap the fat of the years,–
Rather the scorned—the rejected—the men hemmed in with the spears;
The men of the tattered battalion which fights till it dies,
Dazed with the dust of the battle, the din and the cries.
The men with the broken heads and the blood running into their eyes.
Not the be-medalled Commander, beloved of the throne,
Riding cock-horse to parade when the bugles are blown,
But the lads who carried the koppie and cannot be known.
Not the ruler for me, but the ranker, the tramp of the road,
The slave with the sack on his shoulders pricked on with the goad,
The man with too weighty a burden, too weary a load.
The sailor, the stoker of steamers, the man with the clout,
The chantyman bent at the halliards putting a tune to the shout,
The drowsy man at the wheel and the tired look-out.
Others may sing of the wine and the wealth and the mirth,
The portly presence of potentates goodly in girth;–
Mine be the dirt and the dross, the dust and scum of the earth!
Theirs be the music, the colour, the glory, the gold;
Mine be a handful of ashes, a mouthful of mould.
Of the maimed, of the halt and the blind in the rain and the cold—
Of these shall my songs be fashioned, my tales be told.
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
–James Oppenheim, The American Magazine , December 1911
There Will Come Soft Rains
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Flame and Shadow, 1920
I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.
I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.
–Edna St. Vincent Millay
True love. Is it normal,
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?
Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way—in reward for what?
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn’t this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn’t it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.
Look at the happy couple.
Couldn’t they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends’ sake?
Listen to them laughing—it’s an insult.
The language they use—deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines—
it’s obviously a plot behind the human race’s back!
It’s hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who’d want to stay within bounds?
True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life’s highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn’t populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.
Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there’s no such thing.
Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.
— Wisława Szymborska
from Could Have
reprinted in View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems
translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
There is no word of thanks to hear,
No word of praise to gain,
But we, that must, in sun and dust,
Tramp on across the plain:
We know not how the orders come,
Who bids the bugle blow …
But we, that may, track out the way
Our comrades soon shall go.
Far, far behind our army drags
The wagons and the guns;
Along the line, beneath the flags,
A noise of cheering runs;
Full-seen in all the blaze of noon
Set forth its proud array…
But we were up beneath the moon
And out before the day.
Where age-long in the dank ravine
A swamp-fed forest grew,
’Tis we that back the jungle back
To let the sunlight through;
Across the desert no man dared,
Up cliffs where none might win,
By down and dale we blaze the trail,
The highway for our kin.
The noonday or the nightfall knows
The flickering of our fires,
The flung-down pack, the stretcht repose,
The talk of dreamt desires.
We camp, and go, and care no jot
How soon, how far we roam…
But each camp-fire has marked a spot
That men shall call their home.
A sudden bullet flicks the air,
A comrade slacks his stride;
Small time have we for surgery
Whose errand may not bide:
Stanch, as you go, the jetting blood,
Set teeth against the pain,
And feel the grip of comradeship
Stir you to strength again.
Ours is the shattering night-surprise,
The crawl of lifelong days,
The slow set stare of aching eyes
Across the drifted haze:
Lonely in hidden lairs we spy
The march of stealthy foes;
What work we do, what death we die,
Not even a comrade knows.
By beaten roads the mainguard goes
With banner and with band;
Yet we, that dare, find everywhere
New work that fits our hand;
We know not how the orders come …
But hark! the bugles blow:
Across the plain day breaks again;
Pick up the packs, and go!
–Arthur W. Jose
collected in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse, edited Walter Murdoch, 1918
Joanna Russ passed away yesterday, after being in poor health for many years. Sarah Monette reminded me of this poem.
Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
–Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sufficient time for faith and miracles
We find we cannot fit into our days;
And nothing’s left at all that joyous dwells
Inside the heart. The spark of spirit stays
Too small for dreamburst, and all earth may prove
Inadequate for art. No human is
This potent all alone, and fear kills love . . .
Love kills fear, and alone; all-potent, this.
No human is inadequate for art,
For dreamburst; and all earth may prove too small.
The spark of spirit stays inside the heart
That joyous dwells, and nothing’s left at all
We cannot fit into our days. We find
For faith and miracles, sufficient time.
– John M. Ford
I have a Valentine’s playlist up today at the new Heroes and Heartbreakers here.
We are living together on the earth.
The clock’s heart
beats in its wooden chest.
The cats follow the sun through the house.
We lie down together at night.
Today, you work in your office,
and I in my study. Sometimes
we are busy and casual.
Sitting here, I can see
the path we have made on the rug.
The hermit gives up
after thirty years of hiding in the jungle.
The last door to the last room
comes unlatched. Here are the gestures
of my hands. Wear them in your hair.
— Jane Kenyon
from From Room to Room