Alan Seeger had only a short life. He was an idealist with, some might say, an unrealistically romantic view of death. He wrote a poem, which has become his most famous piece of work, called I Have a Rendezvous with Death. We will never know if he really and truly believed these words at the time that he wrote it but one has to assume that he did. There is a certain eerie coincidence in the fact that this poem was a favourite of John F Kennedy. His wife Jackie memorised it word for word. It’s an intriguing thought but maybe President Kennedy also had a similar premonition to that of Seeger regarding an early death.
Alan Seeger Bio
Seeger was born in June 1888 in New York and he lived here and on Staten Island for the first ten years of his life. When he was 12 the family moved to Mexico and it is said that the two years spent there influenced his future style of poetry. On his return to the States he was able to attend a number of elite preparatory schools before being admitted to Harvard. A fellow student there was the famous writer T S Elliott. He set down his early poetry while here and also wrote for the in-house magazine “Harvard Monthly”.
Following graduation in 1910 he took up residence in the trendy Greenwich Village area of New York and, without any urgent need to take up paid employment, spent his time writing poetry and being the “Bohemian man about town”. He enjoyed some early French influence from frequent visits to Mlles. Petitpas’ boarding house where there were frequent soirées for the benefit of the artistic fraternity of the city, including the father of the famous Irish poet W B Yeats.
Perhaps Alan Seeger new the end was close at hand and, on the 4th July 1916, he was shot several times in a machine gun burst of fire. He was 28 years old.
Alan Seeger pomes (Part 03)
The Sultan’s Palace
My spirit only lived to look on Beauty’s face,
As only when they clasp the arms seem served aright;
As in their flesh inheres the impulse to embrace,
To gaze on Loveliness was my soul’s appetite.
I have roamed far in search; white road and plunging bow
Were keys in the blue doors where my desire was set;
Obedient to their lure, my lips and laughing brow
The hill-showers and the spray of many seas have wet.
Hot are enamored hands, the fragrant zone unbound,
To leave no dear delight unfelt, unfondled o’er,
The will possessed my heart to girdle Earth around
With their insatiate need to wonder and adore.
The flowers in the fields, the surf upon the sands,
The sunset and the clouds it turned to blood and wine,
Were shreds of the thin veil behind whose beaded strands
A radiant visage rose, serene, august, divine.
A noise of summer wind astir in starlit trees,
A song where sensual love’s delirium rose and fell,
Were rites that moved my soul more than the devotee’s
When from the blazing choir rings out the altar bell.
I woke amid the pomp of a proud palace; writ
In tinted arabesque on walls that gems o’erlay,
The names of caliphs were who once held court in it,
Their baths and bowers were mine to dwell in for a day.
Their robes and rings were mine to draw from shimmering trays—
Brocades and broidered silks, topaz and tourmaline–
Their turban-cloths to wind in proud capricious ways,
And fasten plumes and pearls and pendent sapphires in.
I rose; far music drew my steps in fond pursuit
Down tessellated floors and towering peristyles:
Through groves of colonnades fair lamps were blushing fruit,
On seas of green mosaic soft rugs were flowery isles.
And there were verdurous courts that scalloped arches wreathed,
Where fountains plashed in bowls of lapis lazuli.
Through enigmatic doors voluptuous accents breathed,
And having Youth I had their Open Sesame.
I paused where shadowy walls were hung with cloths of gold,
And tinted twilight streamed through storied panes above.
In lamplit alcoves deep as flowers when they unfold
Soft cushions called to rest and fragrant fumes to love.
I hungered; at my hand delicious dainties teemed—
Fair pyramids of fruit; pastry in sugared piles.
I thirsted; in cool cups inviting vintage beamed—
Sweet syrups from the South; brown muscat from the isles.
I yearned for passionate Love; faint gauzes fell away.
Pillowed in rosy light I found my heart’s desire.
Over the silks and down her florid beauty lay,
As over orient clouds the sunset’s coral fire.
Joys that had smiled afar, a visionary form,
Behind the ranges hid, remote and rainbow-dyed,
Drew near unto my heart, a wonder soft and warm,
To touch, to stroke, to clasp, to sleep and wake beside.
Joy, that where summer seas and hot horizons shone
Had been the outspread arms I gave my youth to seek,
Drew near; awhile its pulse strove sweetly with my own,
Awhile I felt its breath astir upon my cheek.
I was so happy there; so fleeting was my stay,
What wonder if, assailed with vistas so divine,
I only lived to search and sample them the day
When between dawn and dusk the sultan’s courts were mine !
Speak not of other worlds of happiness to be,
As though in any fond imaginary sphere
Lay more to tempt man’s soul to immortality
Than ripens for his bliss abundant now and here!
Flowerlike I hope to die as flowerlike was my birth.
Rooted in Nature’s just benignant law like them,
I want no better joys than those that from green Earth
My spirit’s blossom drew through the sweet body’s stem.
I see no dread in death, no horror to abhor.
I never thought it else than but to cease to dwell
Spectator, and resolve most naturally once more
Into the dearly loved eternal spectacle.
Unto the fields and flowers this flesh I found so fair
I yield; do you, dear friend, over your rose-crowned wine,
Murmur my name some day as though my lips were there,
And frame your mouth as though its blushing kiss were mine.
Yea, where the banquet-hall is brilliant with young men,
You whose bright youth it might have thrilled my breast to know,
Drink . . . and perhaps my lips, insatiate even then
Of lips to hang upon, may find their loved ones so.
Unto the flush of dawn and evening I commend
This immaterial self and flamelike part of me,—
Unto the azure haze that hangs at the world’s end,
The sunshine on the hills, the starlight on the sea,—
Unto angelic Earth, whereof the lives of those
Who love and dream great dreams and deeply feel may be
The elemental cells and nervules that compose
Its divine consciousness and joy and harmony.
So when the verdure of his life was shed,
With all the grace of ripened manlihead,
And on his locks, but now so lovable,
Old age like desolating winter fell,
Leaving them white and flowerless and forlorn:
Then from his bed the Goddess of the Morn
Softly withheld, yet cherished him no less
With pious works of pitying tenderness;
Till when at length with vacant, heedless eyes,
And hoary height bent down none otherwise
Than burdened willows bend beneath their weight
Of snow when winter winds turn temperate, —
So bowed with years — when still he lingered on:
Then to the daughter of Hyperion
This counsel seemed the best: for she, afar
By dove-gray seas under the morning star,
Where, on the wide world’s uttermost extremes,
Her amber-walled, auroral palace gleams,
High in an orient chamber bade prepare
An everlasting couch, and laid him there,
And leaving, closed the shining doors. But he,
Deathless by Jove’s compassionless decree,
Found not, as others find, a dreamless rest.
There wakeful, with half-waking dreams oppressed,
Still in an aural, visionary haze
Float round him vanished forms of happier days;
Still at his side he fancies to behold
The rosy, radiant thing beloved of old;
And oft, as over dewy meads at morn,
Far inland from a sunrise coast is borne
The drowsy, muffled moaning of the sea,
Even so his voice flows on unceasingly, —
Lisping sweet names of passion overblown,
Breaking with dull, persistent undertone
The breathless silence that forever broods
Round those colossal, lustrous solitudes.
Times change. Man’s fortune prospers, or it falls.
Change harbors not in those eternal halls
And tranquil chamber where Tithonus lies.
But through his window there the eastern skies
Fall palely fair to the dim ocean’s end.
There, in blue mist where air and ocean blend,
The lazy clouds that sail the wide world o’er
Falter and turn where they can sail no more.
There singing groves, there spacious gardens blow —
Cedars and silver poplars, row on row,
Through whose black boughs on her appointed night,
Flooding his chamber with enchanted light,
Lifts the full moon’s immeasurable sphere,
Crimson and huge and wonderfully near.
For aught but life’s romance, nor puts above
All life’s necessities the need to love,
Nor counts his greatest wealth what Beauty gives.
But sometime on an afternoon in spring,
When dandelions dot the fields with gold,
And under rustling shade a few weeks old
‘Tis sweet to stroll and hear the bluebirds sing,
Do you, blond head, whom beauty and the power
Of being young and winsome have prepared
For life’s last privilege that really pays,
Make the companion of an idle hour
These relics of the time when I too fared
Across the sweet fifth lustrum of my days.
Written in a Volume of the Comtesse de Noailles
That frame some drowsy street and dazzling square
Beyond whose flowers and palm-tree promenades
White belfries burn in the blue tropic air.
Lie near me in dim forests where the croon
Of wood-doves sounds and moss-banked water flows,
Or musing late till the midsummer moon
Breaks through some ruined abbey’s empty rose.
Sweetest of those to-day whose pious hands
Tend the sequestered altar of Romance,
Where fewer offerings burn, and fewer kneel,
Pour there your passionate beauty on my heart,
And, gladdening such solitudes, impart
How sweet the fellowship of those who feel!
More than her beautiful bright limbs were hid
By the light veils they burned and blushed amid,
Skilled to provoke in soft, lascivious ways,
And there was invitation in her voice
And laughing lips and wonderful dark eyes,
As though above the gates of Paradise
Fair verses bade, Be welcome and rejoice!
O’er rugs where mottled blue and green and red
Blent in the patterns of the Orient loom,
Like a bright butterfly from bloom to bloom,
She floated with delicious arms outspread.
There was no pose she took, no move she made,
But all the feverous, love-envenomed flesh
Wrapped round as in the gladiator’s mesh
And smote as with his triple-forked blade.
I thought that round her sinuous beauty curled
Fierce exhalations of hot human love, —
Around her beauty valuable above
The sunny outspread kingdoms of the world;
Flowing as ever like a dancing fire
Flowed her belled ankles and bejewelled wrists,
Around her beauty swept like sanguine mists
The nimbus of a thousand hearts’ desire.
The Need to Love
The need to love that all the stars obey
Entered my heart and banished all beside.
Bare were the gardens where I used to stray;
Faded the flowers that one time satisfied.
Before the beauty of the west on fire,
The moonlit hills from cloister-casements viewed
Cloud-like arose the image of desire,
And cast out peace and maddened solitude.
I sought the City and the hopes it held:
With smoke and brooding vapors intercurled,
As the thick roofs and walls close-paralleled
Shut out the fair horizons of the world—
A truant from the fields and rustic joy,
In my changed thought that image even so
Shut out the gods I worshipped as a boy
And all the pure delights I used to know.
Often the veil has trembled at some tide
Of lovely reminiscence and revealed
How much of beauty Nature holds beside
Sweet lips that sacrifice and arms that yield:
Clouds, window-framed, beyond the huddled eaves
When summer cumulates their golden chains,
Or from the parks the smell of burning leaves,
Fragrant of childhood in the country lanes,
An organ-grinder’s melancholy tune
In rainy streets, or from an attic sill
The blue skies of a windy afternoon
Where our kites climbed once from some grassy hill:
And my soul once more would be wrapped entire
In the pure peace and blessing of those years.
Before the fierce infection of Desire
Had ravaged all the flesh. Through starting tears
Shone that lost Paradise; but, if it did,
Again ere long the prison-shades would fall
That Youth condemns itself to walk amid,
So narrow, but so beautiful withal.
And I have followed Fame with less devotion,
And kept no real ambition but to see
Rise from the foam of Nature’s sunlit ocean
My dream of palpable divinity;
And aught the world contends for to mine eye
Seemed not so real a meaning of success
As only once to clasp before I die
My vision of embodied happiness.
He faints with hope and fear. It is the hour.
Distant, across the thundering organ-swell,
In sweet discord from the cathedral-tower,
Fall the faint chimes and the thrice-sequent bell.
Over the crowd his eye uneasy roves.
He sees a plume, a fur; his heart dilates —
Soars . . . and then sinks again. It is not hers he loves.
She will not come, the woman that he waits.
Braided with streams of silver incense rise
The antique prayers and ponderous antiphones.
`Gloria Patri’ echoes to the skies;
`Nunc et in saecula’ the choir intones.
He marks not the monotonous refrain,
The priest that serves nor him that celebrates,
But ever scans the aisle for his blonde head. . . . In vain!
She will not come, the woman that he waits.
How like a flower seemed the perfumed place
Where the sweet flesh lay loveliest to kiss;
And her white hands in what delicious ways,
With what unfeigned caresses, answered his!
Each tender charm intolerable to lose,
Each happy scene his fancy recreates.
And he calls out her name and spreads his arms . . . No use!
She will not come, the woman that he waits.
But the long vespers close. The priest on high
Raises the thing that Christ’s own flesh enforms;
And down the Gothic nave the crowd flows by
And through the portal’s carven entry swarms.
Maddened he peers upon each passing face
Till the long drab procession terminates.
No princess passes out with proud majestic pace.
She has not come, the woman that he waits.
Back in the empty silent church alone
He walks with aching heart. A white-robed boy
Puts out the altar-candles one by one,
Even as by inches darkens all his joy.
He dreams of the sweet night their lips first met,
And groans — and turns to leave — and hesitates . . .
Poor stricken heart, he will, he can not fancy yet
She will not come, the woman that he waits.
But in an arch where deepest shadows fall
He sits and studies the old, storied panes,
And the calm crucifix that from the wall
Looks on a world that quavers and complains.
Hopeless, abandoned, desolate, aghast,
On modes of violent death he meditates.
And the tower-clock tolls five, and he admits at last,
She will not come, the woman that he waits.
Through the stained rose the winter daylight dies,
And all the tide of anguish unrepressed
Swells in his throat and gathers in his eyes;
He kneels and bows his head upon his breast,
And feigns a prayer to hide his burning tears,
While the satanic voice reiterates
`Tonight, tomorrow, nay, nor all the impending years,
She will not come,’ the woman that he waits.
Fond, fervent heart of life’s enamored spring,
So true, so confident, so passing fair,
That thought of Love as some sweet, tender thing,
And not as war, red tooth and nail laid bare,
How in that hour its innocence was slain,
How from that hour our disillusion dates,
When first we learned thy sense, ironical refrain,
She will not come, the woman that he waits.
Over new mountains piled and unploughed waves,
Back of old-storied spires and architraves
To watch Arcturus rise or Fomalhaut,
And roused by street-cries in strange tongues when day
Flooded with gold some domed metropolis,
Between new towers to waken and new bliss
Spread on his pillow in a wondrous way:
These were his joys. Oft under bulging crates,
Coming to market with his morning load,
The peasant found him early on his road
To greet the sunrise at the city-gates,—
There where the meadows waken in its rays,
Golden with mist, and the great roads commence,
And backward, where the chimney-tops are dense,
Cathedral-arches glimmer through the haze.
White dunes that breaking show a strip of sea,
A plowman and his team against the blue
Swiss pastures musical with cowbells, too,
And poplar-lined canals in Picardie,
And coast-towns where the vultures back and forth
Sail in the clear depths of the tropic sky,
And swallows in the sunset where they fly
Over gray Gothic cities in the north,
And the wine-cellar and the chorus there,
The dance-hall and a face among the crowd,—
Were all delights that made him sing aloud
For joy to sojourn in a world so fair.
Back of his footsteps as he journeyed fell
Range after range; ahead blue hills emerged.
Before him tireless to applaud it surged
The sweet interminable spectacle.
And like the west behind a sundown sea
Shone the past joys his memory retraced,
And bright as the blue east he always faced
Beckoned the loves and joys that were to be.
From every branch a blossom for his brow
He gathered, singing down Life’s flower-lined road,
And youth impelled his spirit as he strode
Like winged Victory on the galley’s prow.
That Loveliness whose being sun and star,
Green Earth and dawn and amber evening robe,
That lamp whereof the opalescent globe
The season’s emulative splendors are,
That veiled divinity whose beams transpire
From every pore of universal space,
As the fair soul illumes the lovely face—
That was his guest, his passion, his desire.
His heart the love of Beauty held as hides
One gem most pure a casket of pure gold.
It was too rich a lesser thing to bold;
It was not large enough for aught besides.
Translations: Dante – Inferno, Canto XXVI
Florence, rejoice! For thou o’er land and sea
So spread’st thy pinions that the fame of thee
Hath reached no less into the depths of Hell.
So noble were the five I found to dwell
Therein — thy sons — whence shame accrues to me
And no great praise is thine; but if it be
That truth unveil in dreamings before dawn,
Then is the vengeful hour not far withdrawn
When Prato shall exult within her walls
To see thy suffering. Whate’er befalls,
Let it come soon, since come it must, for later,
Each year would see my grief for thee the greater.
We left; and once more up the craggy side
By the blind steps of our descent, my guide,
Remounting, drew me on. So we pursued
The rugged path through that steep solitude,
Where rocks and splintered fragments strewed the land
So thick, that foot availed not without hand.
Grief filled me then, and still great sorrow stirs
My heart as oft as memory recurs
To what I saw; that more and more I rein
My natural powers, and curb them lest they strain
Where Virtue guide not, — that if some good star,
Or better thing, have made them what they are,
That good I may not grudge, nor turn to ill.
As when, reclining on some verdant hill —
What season the hot sun least veils his power
That lightens all, and in that gloaming hour
The fly resigns to the shrill gnat — even then,
As rustic, looking down, sees, o’er the glen,
Vineyard, or tilth where lies his husbandry,
Fireflies innumerable sparkle: so to me,
Come where its mighty depth unfolded, straight
With flames no fewer seemed to scintillate
The shades of the eighth pit. And as to him
Whose wrongs the bears avenged, dim and more dim
Elijah’s chariot seemed, when to the skies
Uprose the heavenly steeds; and still his eyes
Strained, following them, till naught remained in view
But flame, like a thin cloud against the blue:
So here, the melancholy gulf within,
Wandered these flames, concealing each its sin,
Yet each, a fiery integument,
Wrapped round a sinner.
On the bridge intent,
Gazing I stood, and grasped its flinty side,
Or else, unpushed, had fallen. And my guide,
Observing me so moved, spake, saying: “Behold
Where swathed each in his unconsuming fold,
The spirits lie confined.” Whom answering,
“Master,” I said, “thy words assurance bring
To that which I already had supposed;
And I was fain to ask who lies enclosed
In the embrace of that dividing fire,
Which seems to curl above the fabled pyre,
Where with his twin-born brother, fiercely hated,
Eteocles was laid.” He answered, “Mated
In punishment as once in wrath they were,
Ulysses there and Diomed incur
The eternal pains; there groaning they deplore
The ambush of the horse, which made the door
For Rome’s imperial seed to issue: there
In anguish too they wail the fatal snare
Whence dead Deidamia still must grieve,
Reft of Achilles; likewise they receive
Due penalty for the Palladium.”
“Master,” I said, “if in that martyrdom
The power of human speech may still be theirs,
I pray — and think it worth a thousand prayers —
That, till this horned flame be come more nigh,
We may abide here; for thou seest that I
With great desire incline to it.” And he:
“Thy prayer deserves great praise; which willingly
I grant; but thou refrain from speaking; leave
That task to me; for fully I conceive
What thing thou wouldst, and it might fall perchance
That these, being Greeks, would scorn thine utterance.”
So when the flame had come where time and place
Seemed not unfitting to my guide with grace
To question, thus he spoke at my desire:
“O ye that are two souls within one fire,
If in your eyes some merit I have won —
Merit, or more or less — for tribute done
When in the world I framed my lofty verse:
Move not; but fain were we that one rehearse
By what strange fortunes to his death he came.”
The elder crescent of the antique flame
Began to wave, as in the upper air
A flame is tempest-tortured, here and there
Tossing its angry height, and in its sound
As human speech it suddenly had found,
Rolled forth a voice of thunder, saying: “When,
The twelvemonth past in Circe’s halls, again
I left Gaeta’s strand (ere thither came
Aeneas, and had given it that name)
Not love of son, nor filial reverence,
Nor that affection that might recompense
The weary vigil of Penelope,
Could so far quench the hot desire in me
To prove more wonders of the teeming earth, —
Of human frailty and of manly worth.
In one small bark, and with the faithful band
That all awards had shared of Fortune’s hand,
I launched once more upon the open main.
Both shores I visited as far as Spain, —
Sardinia, and Morocco, and what more
The midland sea upon its bosom wore.
The hour of our lives was growing late
When we arrived before that narrow strait
Where Hercules had set his bounds to show
That there Man’s foot shall pause, and further none shall go.
Borne with the gale past Seville on the right,
And on the left now swept by Ceuta’s site,
`Brothers,’ I cried, `that into the far West
Through perils numberless are now addressed,
In this brief respite that our mortal sense
Yet hath, shrink not from new experience;
But sailing still against the setting sun,
Seek we new worlds where Man has never won
Before us. Ponder your proud destinies:
Born were ye not like brutes for swinish ease,
But virtue and high knowledge to pursue.’
My comrades with such zeal did I imbue
By these brief words, that scarcely could I then
Have turned them from their purpose; so again
We set out poop against the morning sky,
And made our oars as wings wherewith to fly
Into the Unknown. And ever from the right
Our course deflecting, in the balmy night
All southern stars we saw, and ours so low,
That scarce above the sea-marge it might show.
So five revolving periods the soft,
Pale light had robbed of Cynthia, and as oft
Replenished since our start, when far and dim
Over the misty ocean’s utmost rim,
Rose a great mountain, that for very height
Passed any I had seen. Boundless delight
Filled us — alas, and quickly turned to dole:
For, springing from our scarce-discovered goal,
A whirlwind struck the ship; in circles three
It whirled us helpless in the eddying sea;
High on the fourth the fragile stern uprose,
The bow drove down, and, as Another chose,
Over our heads we heard the surging billows close.”
With a Copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets on Leaving College
Weighing the yield of these four faded years,
If any ask what fruit seems loveliest,
What lasting gold among the garnered ears, —
Ah, then I’ll say what hours I had of thine,
Therein I reaped Time’s richest revenue,
Read in thy text the sense of David’s line,
Through thee achieved the love that Shakespeare knew.
Take then his book, laden with mine own love
As flowers made sweeter by deep-drunken rain,
That when years sunder and between us move
Wide waters, and less kindly bonds constrain,
Thou may’st turn here, dear boy, and reading see
Some part of what thy friend once felt for thee.
Where the flood-tide of France’s early gain,
Big with wrecked promise and abandoned hopes,
Broke in a surf of blood along the Aisne.
The charge her heroes left us, we assumed,
What, dying, they reconquered, we preserved,
In the chill trenches, harried, shelled, entombed,
Winter came down on us, but no man swerved.
Winter came down on us. The low clouds, torn
In the stark branches of the riven pines,
Blurred the white rockets that from dusk till morn
Traced the wide curve of the close-grappling lines.
In rain, and fog that on the withered hill
Froze before dawn, the lurking foe drew down;
Or light snows fell that made forlorner still
The ravaged country and the ruined town;
Or the long clouds would end. Intensely fair,
The winter constellations blazing forth —
Perseus, the Twins, Orion, the Great Bear —
Gleamed on our bayonets pointing to the north.
And the lone sentinel would start and soar
On wings of strong emotion as he knew
That kinship with the stars that only War
Is great enough to lift man’s spirit to.
And ever down the curving front, aglow
With the pale rockets’ intermittent light,
He heard, like distant thunder, growl and grow
The rumble of far battles in the night, —
Rumors, reverberant, indistinct, remote,
Borne from red fields whose martial names have won
The power to thrill like a far trumpet-note, —
Vic, Vailly, Soupir, Hurtelise, Craonne . . .
Craonne, before thy cannon-swept plateau,
Where like sere leaves lay strewn September’s dead,
I found for all dear things I forfeited
A recompense I would not now forego.
For that high fellowship was ours then
With those who, championing another’s good,
More than dull Peace or its poor votaries could,
Taught us the dignity of being men.
There we drained deeper the deep cup of life,
And on sublimer summits came to learn,
After soft things, the terrible and stern,
After sweet Love, the majesty of Strife;
There where we faced under those frowning heights
The blast that maims, the hurricane that kills;
There where the watchlights on the winter hills
Flickered like balefire through inclement nights;
There where, firm links in the unyielding chain,
Where fell the long-planned blow and fell in vain —
Hearts worthy of the honor and the trial,
We helped to hold the lines along the Aisne.
Purged, with the life they left, of all
That makes life paltry and mean and small,
In their new dedication charged
With something heightened, enriched, enlarged,
That lends a light to their lusty brows
And a song to the rhythm of their trampling feet,
These are the men that have taken vows,
These are the hardy, the flower, the élite,–
These are the men that are moved no more
By the will to traffic and grasp and store
And ring with pleasure and wealth and love
The circles that self is the centre of;
But they are moved by the powers that force
The sea for ever to ebb and rise,
That hold Arcturus in his course,
And marshal at noon in tropic skies
The clouds that tower on some snow-capped chair
And drift out over the peopled plain.
They are big with the beauty of cosmic things.
Mark how their columns surge! They seem
To follow the goddess with outspread wings
That points toward Glory, the soldier’s dream.
With bayonets bare and flags unfurled,
They scale the summits of the world
And fade on the farthest golden height
In fair horizons full of light.
Comrades in arms there–friend or foe–
That trod the perilous, toilsome trail
Through a world of ruin and blood and woe
In the years of great decision–hail!
Friend or foe, it shall matter nought;
This only matters, in fine: we fought.
For we were young and in love or strife
Sought exultation and craved excess:
To sound the wildest debauch in life
We staked our youth and its loveliness.
Let idlers argue the right and wrong
And weigh what merit our causes had.
Putting our faith in being strong–
Above the level of good and bad–
For us, we battled and burned and killed
Because evolving Nature willed,
And it was our pride and boast to be
The instruments of Destiny.
There was a stately drama writ
By the hand that peopled the earth and air
And set the stars in the infinite
And made night gorgeous and morning fair,
And all that had sense to reason knew
That bloody drama must be gone through.
Some sat and watched how the action veered–
Waited, profited, trembled, cheered–
We saw not clearly nor understood,
But yielding ourselves to the master hand,
Each in his part as best he could,
We played it through as the author planned.
The Old Lowe House, Staten Island
And Fashion tenanted (where Fashion wanes)
Here in the sorrowful suburban lanes
When first these gables rose against the sky.
Relic of a romantic taste gone by,
This stately monument alone remains,
Vacant, with lichened walls and window-panes
Blank as the windows of a skull. But I,
On evenings when autumnal winds have stirred
In the porch-vines, to this gray oracle
Have laid a wondering ear and oft-times heard,
As from the hollow of a stranded shell,
Old voices echoing (or my fancy erred)
Things indistinct, but not insensible.
The Torture of Cuauhtemoc
Their strength had fed on this when Death’s white arms
Came sleeved in vapors and miasmal dew,
Curling across the jungle’s ferny floor,
Becking each fevered brain. On bleak divides,
Where Sleep grew niggardly for nipping cold
That twinged blue lips into a mouthed curse,
Not back to Seville and its sunny plains
Winged their brief-biding dreams, but once again,
Lords of a palace in Tenochtitlan,
They guarded Montezuma’s treasure-hoard.
Gold, like some finny harvest of the sea,
Poured out knee deep around the rifted floors,
Shiny and sparkling, — arms and crowns and rings:
Gold, sweet to toy with as beloved hair, —
To plunge the lustful, crawling fingers down,
Arms elbow deep, and draw them out again,
And watch the glinting metal trickle off,
Even as at night some fisherman, home bound
With speckled cargo in his hollow keel
Caught off Campeche or the Isle of Pines,
Dips in his paddle, lifts it forth again,
And laughs to see the luminous white drops
Fall back in flakes of fire. . . . Gold was the dream
That cheered that desperate enterprise. And now? . . .
Victory waited on the arms of Spain,
Fallen was the lovely city by the lake,
The sunny Venice of the western world;
There many corpses, rotting in the wind,
Poked up stiff limbs, but in the leprous rags
No jewel caught the sun, no tawny chain
Gleamed, as the prying halberds raked them o’er.
Pillage that ran red-handed through the streets
Came railing home at evening empty-palmed;
And they, on that sad night a twelvemonth gone,
Who, ounce by ounce, dear as their own life’s blood
Retreating, cast the cumbrous load away:
They, when brown foemen lopped the bridges down,
Who tipped thonged chests into the stream below
And over wealth that might have ransomed kings
Passed on to safety; — cheated, guerdonless —
Found (through their fingers the bright booty slipped)
A city naked, of that golden dream
Shorn in one moment like a sunset sky.
Deep in a chamber that no cheerful ray
Purged of damp air, where in unbroken night
Black scorpions nested in the sooty beams,
Helpless and manacled they led him down —
Cuauhtemotzin — and other lords beside —
All chieftains of the people, heroes all —
And stripped their feathered robes and bound them there
On short stone settles sloping to the head,
But where the feet projected, underneath
Heaped the red coals. Their swarthy fronts illumed,
The bearded Spaniards, helmed and haubergeoned,
Paced up and down beneath the lurid vault.
Some kneeling fanned the glowing braziers; some
Stood at the sufferers’ heads and all the while
Hissed in their ears: “The gold . . . the gold . . . the gold.
Where have ye hidden it — the chested gold?
Speak — and the torments cease!”
They answered not.
Past those proud lips whose key their sovereign claimed
No accent fell to chide or to betray,
Only it chanced that bound beside the king
Lay one whom Nature, more than other men
Framing for delicate and perfumed ease,
Not yet, along the happy ways of Youth,
Had weaned from gentle usages so far
To teach that fortitude that warriors feel
And glory in the proof. He answered not,
But writhing with intolerable pain,
Convulsed in every limb, and all his face
Wrought to distortion with the agony,
Turned on his lord a look of wild appeal,
The secret half atremble on his lips,
Livid and quivering, that waited yet
For leave — for leave to utter it — one sign —
One word — one little word — to ease his pain.
As one reclining in the banquet hall,
Propped on an elbow, garlanded with flowers,
Saw lust and greed and boisterous revelry
Surge round him on the tides of wine, but he,
Staunch in the ethic of an antique school —
Stoic or Cynic or of Pyrrho’s mind —
With steady eyes surveyed the unbridled scene,
Himself impassive, silent, self-contained:
So sat the Indian prince, with brow unblanched,
Amid the tortured and the torturers.
He who had seen his hopes made desolate,
His realm despoiled, his early crown deprived him,
And watched while Pestilence and Famine piled
His stricken people in their reeking doors,
Whence glassy eyes looked out and lean brown arms
Stretched up to greet him in one last farewell
As back and forth he paced along the streets
With words of hopeless comfort — what was this
That one should weaken now? He weakened not.
Whate’er was in his heart, he neither dealt
In pity nor in scorn, but, turning round,
Met that racked visage with his own unmoved,
Bent on the sufferer his mild calm eyes,
And while the pangs smote sharper, in a voice,
As who would speak not all in gentleness
Nor all disdain, said: “Yes! And am -I- then
Upon a bed of roses?”
Stung with shame —
Shame bitterer than his anguish — to betray
Such cowardice before the man he loved,
And merit such rebuke, the boy grew calm;
And stilled his struggling limbs and moaning cries,
And shook away his tears, and strove to smile,
And turned his face against the wall — and died.
To England at the Outbreak of the Balkan War
A cloud has lowered that shall not soon pass o’er.
The world takes sides: whether for impious aims
With Tyranny whose bloody toll enflames
A generous people to heroic war;
Whether with Freedom, stretched in her own gore,
Whose pleading hands and suppliant distress
Still offer hearts that thirst for Righteousness
A glorious cause to strike or perish for.
England, which side is thine? Thou hast had sons
Would shrink not from the choice however grim,
Were Justice trampled on and Courage downed;
Which will they be — cravens or champions?
Oh, if a doubt intrude, remember him
Whose death made Missolonghi holy ground.
Fringed round with lilies; her bright hair unfurled
Clothed her as sunshine clothes the summer world.
Her robes were gauzes — gold and green and gules,
All furry things flocked round her, from her hand
Nibbling their foods and fawning at her feet.
Two peacocks watched her where she made her seat
Beside a fountain in Broceliande.
Sometimes she sang. . . . Whoever heard forgot
Errand and aim, and knights at noontide here,
Riding from fabulous gestes beyond the seas,
Would follow, tranced, and seek . . . and find her not . . .
But wake that night, lost, by some woodland mere,
Powdered with stars and rimmed with silent trees.