| Best Poems | Short Poems
Oft seems the Time a market-town
Where many merchant-spirits meet
Who up and down and up and down
Cry out along the street
Their needs, as wares; one THUS, one SO:
Till all the ways are full of sound:
-- But still come rain, and sun, and snow,
And still the world goes round.
"Opinion, let me alone: I am not thine.
Prim Creed, with categoric point, forbear
To feature me my Lord by rule and line.
Thou canst not measure Mistress Nature's hair,
Not one sweet inch: nay, if thy sight is sharp,
Would'st count the strings upon an angel's harp?
"Oh let me love my Lord more fathom deep
Than there is line to sound with: let me love
My fellow not as men that mandates keep:
Yea, all that's lovable, below, above,
That let me love by heart, by heart, because
(Free from the penal pressure of the laws)
I find it fair.
"The tears I weep by day and bitter night,
Opinion! for thy sole salt vintage fall.
-- As morn by morn I rise with fresh delight,
Time through my casement cheerily doth call
`Nature is new, 'tis birthday every day,
Come feast with me, let no man say me nay,
"So fare I forth to feast: I sit beside
Some brother bright: but, ere good-morrow's passed,
Burly Opinion wedging in hath cried
`Thou shalt not sit by us, to break thy fast,
Save to our Rubric thou subscribe and swear --
`Religion hath blue eyes and yellow hair:'
She's Saxon, all.
"Then, hard a-hungered for my brother's grace
Till well-nigh fain to swear his folly's true,
In sad dissent I turn my longing face
To him that sits on the left: `Brother, -- with you?'
-- `Nay, not with me, save thou subscribe and swear
`Religion hath black eyes and raven hair:'
Nought else is true.
"Debarred of banquets that my heart could make
With every man on every day of life,
I homeward turn, my fires of pain to slake
In deep endearments of a worshipped wife.
`I love thee well, dear Love,' quoth she, `and yet
Would that thy creed with mine completely met,
As one, not two.
"Assassin! Thief! Opinion, 'tis thy work.
By Church, by throne, by hearth, by every good
That's in the Town of Time, I see thee lurk,
And e'er some shadow stays where thou hast stood.
Thou hand'st sweet Socrates his hemlock sour;
Thou sav'st Barabbas in that hideous hour,
And stabb'st the good
"Deliverer Christ; thou rack'st the souls of men;
Thou tossest girls to lions and boys to flames;
Thou hew'st Crusader down by Saracen;
Thou buildest closets full of secret shames;
Indifferent cruel, thou dost blow the blaze
Round Ridley or Servetus; all thy days
Smell scorched; I would
"-- Thou base-born Accident of time and place --
Bigot Pretender unto Judgment's throne --
Bastard, that claimest with a cunning face
Those rights the true, true Son of Man doth own
By Love's authority -- thou Rebel cold
At head of civil wars and quarrels old --
Thou Knife on a throne --
"I would thou left'st me free, to live with love,
And faith, that through the love of love doth find
My Lord's dear presence in the stars above,
The clods below, the flesh without, the mind
Within, the bread, the tear, the smile.
Opinion, damned Intriguer, gray with guile,
Let me alone.
The Ship of Earth.
"Thou Ship of Earth, with Death, and Birth, and Life, and Sex aboard,
And fires of Desires burning hotly in the hold,
I fear thee, O! I fear thee, for I hear the tongue and sword
At battle on the deck, and the wild mutineers are bold!
"The dewdrop morn may fall from off the petal of the sky,
But all the deck is wet with blood and stains the crystal red.
A pilot, GOD, a pilot! for the helm is left awry,
And the best sailors in the ship lie there among the dead!"
Prattville, Alabama, 1868.
How Love Looked for Hell.
"To heal his heart of long-time pain
One day Prince Love for to travel was fain
With Ministers Mind and Sense.
`Now what to thee most strange may be?'
Quoth Mind and Sense.
`All things above,
One curious thing I first would see --
Hell,' quoth Love.
"Then Mind rode in and Sense rode out:
They searched the ways of man about.
First frightfully groaneth Sense.
`'Tis here, 'tis here,' and spurreth in fear
To the top of the hill that hangeth above
And plucketh the Prince: `Come, come, 'tis here --'
`Where?' quoth Love --
"`Not far, not far,' said shivering Sense
As they rode on.
`A short way hence,
-- But seventy paces hence:
Look, King, dost see where suddenly
This road doth dip from the height above?
Cold blew a mouldy wind by me'
(`Cold?' quoth Love)
"`As I rode down, and the River was black,
And yon-side, lo! an endless wrack
And rabble of souls,' sighed Sense,
`Their eyes upturned and begged and burned
In brimstone lakes, and a Hand above
Beat back the hands that upward yearned --'
`Nay!' quoth Love --
"`Yea, yea, sweet Prince; thyself shalt see,
Wilt thou but down this slope with me;
'Tis palpable,' whispered Sense.
-- At the foot of the hill a living rill
Shone, and the lilies shone white above;
`But now 'twas black, 'twas a river, this rill,'
(`Black?' quoth Love)
"`Ay, black, but lo! the lilies grow,
And yon-side where was woe, was woe,
-- Where the rabble of souls,' cried Sense,
`Did shrivel and turn and beg and burn,
Thrust back in the brimstone from above --
Is banked of violet, rose, and fern:'
`How?' quoth Love:
"`For lakes of pain, yon pleasant plain
Of woods and grass and yellow grain
Doth ravish the soul and sense:
And never a sigh beneath the sky,
And folk that smile and gaze above --'
`But saw'st thou here, with thine own eye,
Hell?' quoth Love.
"`I saw true hell with mine own eye,
True hell, or light hath told a lie,
True, verily,' quoth stout Sense.
Then Love rode round and searched the ground,
The caves below, the hills above;
`But I cannot find where thou hast found
Hell,' quoth Love.
"There, while they stood in a green wood
And marvelled still on Ill and Good,
Came suddenly Minister Mind.
`In the heart of sin doth hell begin:
'Tis not below, 'tis not above,
It lieth within, it lieth within:'
(`Where?' quoth Love)
"`I saw a man sit by a corse;
`Hell's in the murderer's breast: remorse!'
Thus clamored his mind to his mind:
Not fleshly dole is the sinner's goal,
Hell's not below, nor yet above,
'Tis fixed in the ever-damned soul --'
`Fixed?' quoth Love --
"`Fixed: follow me, would'st thou but see:
He weepeth under yon willow tree,
Fast chained to his corse,' quoth Mind.
Full soon they passed, for they rode fast,
Where the piteous willow bent above.
`Now shall I see at last, at last,
Hell,' quoth Love.
"There when they came Mind suffered shame:
`These be the same and not the same,'
A-wondering whispered Mind.
Lo, face by face two spirits pace
Where the blissful willow waves above:
One saith: `Do me a friendly grace --'
(`Grace!' quoth Love)
"`Read me two Dreams that linger long,
Dim as returns of old-time song
That flicker about the mind.
I dreamed (how deep in mortal sleep!)
I struck thee dead, then stood above,
With tears that none but dreamers weep;'
`Dreams,' quoth Love;
"`In dreams, again, I plucked a flower
That clung with pain and stung with power,
Yea, nettled me, body and mind.
`'Twas the nettle of sin, 'twas medicine;
No need nor seed of it here Above;
In dreams of hate true loves begin.
`True,' quoth Love.
"`Now strange,' quoth Sense, and `Strange,' quoth Mind,
`We saw it, and yet 'tis hard to find,
-- But we saw it,' quoth Sense and Mind.
Stretched on the ground, beautiful-crowned
Of the piteous willow that wreathed above,
`But I cannot find where ye have found
Hell,' quoth Love.
I charge you by your life, go back to death.
This glebe is sick, this wind is foul of breath.
Stay: feed the worms.
"Oh! every clod
Is faint, and falters from the war of growth
And crumbles in a dreary dust of sloth,
"What need, what need,
To hide with flowers the curse upon the hills,
Or sanctify the banks of sluggish rills
Where vapors breed?
"And -- if needs must --
Advance, O Summer-heats! upon the land,
And bake the bloody mould to shards and sand
"Before your birth,
Burn up, O Roses! with your dainty flame.
Good Violets, sweet Violets, hide shame
Below the earth.
"Ye silent Mills,
Reject the bitter kindness of the moss.
O Farms! protest if any tree emboss
The barren hills.
"Young Trade is dead,
And swart Work sullen sits in the hillside fern
And folds his arms that find no bread to earn,
And bows his head.
Albeit the towns have left you place to play,
I charge you, sport not.
Winter owns to-day,
Stay: feed the worms.
Prattville, Alabama, 1868.
Life and Song.
"If life were caught by a clarionet,
And a wild heart, throbbing in the reed,
Should thrill its joy and trill its fret,
And utter its heart in every deed,
"Then would this breathing clarionet
Type what the poet fain would be;
For none o' the singers ever yet
Has wholly lived his minstrelsy,
"Or clearly sung his true, true thought,
Or utterly bodied forth his life,
Or out of life and song has wrought
The perfect one of man and wife;
"Or lived and sung, that Life and Song
Might each express the other's all,
Careless if life or art were long
Since both were one, to stand or fall:
"So that the wonder struck the crowd,
Who shouted it about the land:
`His song was only living aloud,
His work, a singing with his hand!'"
To Richard Wagner.
"I saw a sky of stars that rolled in grime.
All glory twinkled through some sweat of fight,
From each tall chimney of the roaring time
That shot his fire far up the sooty night
Mixt fuels -- Labor's Right and Labor's Crime --
Sent upward throb on throb of scarlet light
Till huge hot blushes in the heavens blent
With golden hues of Trade's high firmament.
"Fierce burned the furnaces; yet all seemed well,
Hope dreamed rich music in the rattling mills.
`Ye foundries, ye shall cast my church a bell,'
Loud cried the Future from the farthest hills:
`Ye groaning forces, crack me every shell
Of customs, old constraints, and narrow ills;
Thou, lithe Invention, wake and pry and guess,
Till thy deft mind invents me Happiness.
"And I beheld high scaffoldings of creeds
Crumbling from round Religion's perfect Fane:
And a vast noise of rights, wrongs, powers, needs,
-- Cries of new Faiths that called `This Way is plain,'
-- Grindings of upper against lower greeds --
-- Fond sighs for old things, shouts for new, -- did reign
Below that stream of golden fire that broke,
Mottled with red, above the seas of smoke.
"Hark! Gay fanfares from halls of old Romance
Strike through the clouds of clamor: who be these
That, paired in rich processional, advance
From darkness o'er the murk mad factories
Into yon flaming road, and sink, strange Ministrants!
Sheer down to earth, with many minstrelsies
And motions fine, and mix about the scene
And fill the Time with forms of ancient mien?
"Bright ladies and brave knights of Fatherland;
Sad mariners, no harbor e'er may hold,
A swan soft floating tow'rds a magic strand;
Dim ghosts, of earth, air, water, fire, steel, gold,
Wind, grief, and love; a lewd and lurking band
Of Powers -- dark Conspiracy, Cunning cold,
Gray Sorcery; magic cloaks and rings and rods;
Valkyries, heroes, Rhinemaids, giants, gods!
* * * * *
"O Wagner, westward bring thy heavenly art,
No trifler thou: Siegfried and Wotan be
Names for big ballads of the modern heart.
Thine ears hear deeper than thine eyes can see.
Voice of the monstrous mill, the shouting mart,
Not less of airy cloud and wave and tree,
Thou, thou, if even to thyself unknown,
Hast power to say the Time in terms of tone.
A Song of Love.
"Hey, rose, just born
Twin to a thorn;
Was't so with you, O Love and Scorn?
"Sweet eyes that smiled,
Now wet and wild;
O Eye and Tear -- mother and child.
"Well: Love and Pain
Be kinsfolk twain:
Yet would, Oh would I could love again.
Top Sidney Lanier Poems