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Best Famous John Crowe Ransom Poems

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by John Crowe Ransom |

Winter Remembered

 Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:
A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,
And in the wood the furious winter blowing.
Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks, And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter, I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks, Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.
Better to walk forth in the frozen air And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing; Because my heart would throb less painful there, Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.
And where I walked, the murderous winter blast Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming, And though I think this heart's blood froze not fast It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.
Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch, And tied our separate forces first together, Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much, Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.


by John Crowe Ransom |

The Equilibrists

 Full of her long white arms and milky skin 
He had a thousand times remembered sin.
Alone in the press of people traveled he, Minding her jacinth, and myrrh, and ivory.
Mouth he remembered: the quaint orifice From which came heat that flamed upon the kiss, Till cold words came down spiral from the head.
Grey doves from the officious tower illsped.
Body: it was a white field ready for love, On her body's field, with the gaunt tower above, The lilies grew, beseeching him to take, If he would pluck and wear them, bruise and break.
Eyes talking: Never mind the cruel words, Embrace my flowers, but not embrace the swords.
But what they said, the doves came straightway flying And unsaid: Honor, Honor, they came crying.
Importunate her doves.
Too pure, too wise, Clambering on his shoulder, saying, Arise, Leave me now, and never let us meet, Eternal distance now command thy feet.
Predicament indeed, which thus discovers Honor among thieves, Honor between lovers.
O such a little word is Honor, they feel! But the grey word is between them cold as steel.
At length I saw these lovers fully were come Into their torture of equilibrium; Dreadfully had forsworn each other, and yet They were bound each to each, and they did not forget.
And rigid as two painful stars, and twirled About the clustered night their prison world, They burned with fierce love always to come near, But honor beat them back and kept them clear .
Ah, the strict lovers, they are ruined now! I cried in anger.
But with puddled brow Devising for those gibbeted and brave Came I descanting: Man, what would you have? For spin your period out, and draw your breath, A kinder saeculum begins with Death.
Would you ascend to Heaven and bodiless dwell? Or take your bodies honorless to Hell ? In Heaven you have heard no marriage is, No white flesh tinder to your lecheries, Your male and female tissue sweetly shaped Sublimed away, and furious blood escaped.
Great lovers lie in Hell, the stubborn ones Infatuate of the flesh upon the bones; Stuprate, they rend each other when they kiss, The pieces kiss again, no end to this.
But still I watched them spinning, orbited nice.
Their flames were not more radiant than their ice.
I dug in the quiet earth and wrought the tomb And made these lines to memorize their doom:— EPITAPH Equilibrists lie here; stranger, tread light; Close, but untouching in each other's sight; Mouldered the lips arid ashy the tall skull.
Let them lie perilous and beautiful.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Prelude to an Evening

 Do not enforce the tired wolf
Dragging his infected wound homeward
To sit tonight with the warm children
Naming the pretty kings of France.
The images of the invaded mind Being as the monsters in the dreams Of your most brief enchanted headful, Suppose a miracle of confusion: That dreamed and undreamt become each other And mix the night and day of your mind; And it does not matter your twice crying From mouth unbeautied against the pillow To avert the gun of the same old soldier; For cry, cock-crow, or the iron bell Can crack the sleep-sense of outrage, Annihilate phantoms who were nothing.
But now, by our perverse supposal, There is a drift of fog on your mornings; You in your peignoir, dainty at your orange cup, Feel poising round the sunny room Invisible evil, deprived and bold.
All day the clock will metronome Your gallant fear; the needles clicking, The heels detonating the stair's cavern Freshening the water in the blue bowls For the buck berries, with not all your love, You shall he listening for the low wind, The warning sibilance of pines.
You like a waning moon, and I accusing Our too banded Eumenides, While you pronounce Noes wanderingly And smooth the heads of the hungry children.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Painted Head

 By dark severance the apparition head 
Smiles from the air a capital on no 
Column or a Platonic perhaps head 
On a canvas sky depending from nothing; 

Stirs up an old illusion of grandeur 
By tickling the instinct of heads to be 
Absolute and to try decapitation 
And to play truant from the body bush; 

But too happy and beautiful for those sorts 
Of head (homekeeping heads are happiest) 
Discovers maybe thirty unwidowed years 
Of not dishonoring the faithful stem; 

Is nameless and has authored for the evil 
Historian headhunters neither book 
Nor state and is therefore distinct from tart 
Heads with crowns and guilty gallery heads; 

Wherefore the extravagant device of art 
Unhousing by abstraction this once head 
Was capital irony by a loving hand 
That knew the no treason of a head like this; 

Makes repentance in an unlovely head 
For having vinegarly traduced the flesh 
Till, the hurt flesh recusing, the hard egg 
Is shrunken to its own deathlike surface; 

And an image thus.
The body bears the head (So hardly one they terribly are two) Feeds and obeys and unto please what end? Not to the glory of tyrant head but to The estate of body.
Beauty is of body.
The flesh contouring shallowly on a head Is a rock-garden needing body's love And best bodiness to colorify The big blue birds sitting and sea-shell cats And caves, and on the iron acropolis To spread the hyacinthine hair and rear The olive garden for the nightingales.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Necrological

 The friar had said his paternosters duly 
And scourged his limbs, and afterwards would have slept; 
But with much riddling his head became unruly, 
He arose, from the quiet monastery he crept.
Dawn lightened the place where the battle had been won.
The people were dead -- it is easy he thought to die -- These dead remained, but the living were all gone, Gone with the wailing trumps of victory.
The dead men wore no raiment against the air, Bartholomew's men had spoiled them where they fell; In defeat the heroes' bodies were whitely bare, The field was white like meads of asphodel.
Not all were white; some gory and fabulous Whom the sword had pierced and then the grey wolf eaten; But the brother reasoned that heroes' flesh was thus.
Flesh fails, and the postured bones lie weather-beaten.
The lords of chivalry lay prone and shattered.
The gentle and the bodyguard of yeomen; Bartholomew's stroke went home -- but little it mattered, Bartholomew went to be stricken of other foemen.
Beneath the blue ogive of the firmament Was a dead warrior, clutching whose mighty knees Was a leman, who with her flame had warmed his tent, For him enduring all men's pleasantries.
Close by the sable stream that purged the plain Lay the white stallion and his rider thrown, The great beast had spilled there his little brain, And the little groin of the knight was spilled by a stone.
The youth possessed him then of a crooked blade Deep in the belly of a lugubrious wight; He fingered it well, and it was cunningly made; But strange apparatus was if for a Carmelite.
Then he sat upon a hill and bowed his head As under a riddle, and in deep surmise So still that he likened himself unto those dead Whom the kites of Heaven solicited with sweet cries.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Dead Boy

 The little cousin is dead, by foul subtraction,
A green bough from Virginia's aged tree,
And none of the county kin like the transaction,
Nor some of the world of outer dark, like me.
A boy not beautiful, nor good, nor clever, A black cloud full of storms too hot for keeping, A sword beneath his mother's heart—yet never Woman bewept her babe as this is weeping.
A pig with a pasty face, so I had said, Squealing for cookies, kinned by poor pretense With a noble house.
But the little man quite dead, I see the forbears' antique lineaments.
The elder men have strode by the box of death To the wide flag porch, and muttering low send round The bruit of the day.
O friendly waste of breath! Their hearts are hurt with a deep dynastic wound.
He was pale and little, the foolish neighbors say; The first-fruits, saith the Preacher, the Lord hath taken; But this was the old tree's late branch wrenched away, Grieving the sapless limbs, the short and shaken.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Conrad in Twilight

 Conrad, Conrad, aren't you old 
To sit so late in your mouldy garden? 
And I think Conrad knows it well, 
Nursing his knees, too rheumy and cold 
To warm the wraith of a Forest of Arden.
Neuralgia in the back of his neck, His lungs filling with such miasma, His feet dipping in leafage and muck: Conrad! you've forgotten asthma.
Conrad's house has thick red walls, The log on Conrad's hearth is blazing, Slippers and pipe and tea are served, Butter and toast are meant for pleasing! Still Conrad's back is not uncurved And here's an autumn on him, teasing.
Autumn days in our section Are the most used-up thing on earth (Or in the waters under the earth) Having no more color nor predilection Than cornstalks too wet for the fire, A ribbon rotting on the byre, A man's face as weathered as straw By the summer's flare and winter's flaw.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Captain Carpenter

 Captain Carpenter rose up in his prime 
Put on his pistols and went riding out 
But had got wellnigh nowhere at that time 
Till he fell in with ladies in a rout.
It was a pretty lady and all her train That played with him so sweetly but before An hour she'd taken a sword with all her main And twined him of his nose for evermore.
Captain Carpenter mounted up one day And rode straightway into a stranger rogue That looked unchristian but be that as may The Captain did not wait upon prologue.
But drew upon him out of his great heart The other swung against him with a club And cracked his two legs at the shinny part And let him roll and stick like any tub.
Captain Carpenter rode many a time From male and female took he sundry harms He met the wife of Satan crying "I'm The she-wolf bids you shall bear no more arms.
Their strokes and counters whistled in the wind I wish he had delivered half his blows But where she should have made off like a hind The bitch bit off his arms at the elbows.
And Captain Carpenter parted with his ears To a black devil that used him in this wise O Jesus ere his threescore and ten years Another had plucked out his sweet blue eyes.
Captain Carpenter got up on his roan And sallied from the gate in hell's despite I heard him asking in the grimmest tone If any enemy yet there was to fight? "To any adversary it is fame If he risk to be wounded by my tongue Or burnt in two beneath my red heart's flame Such are the perils he is cast among.
"But if he can he has a pretty choice From an anatomy with little to lose Whether he cut my tongue and take my voice Or whether it be my round red heart he choose.
" It was the neatest knave that ever was seen Stepping in perfume from his lady's bower Who at this word put in his merry mien And fell on Captain Carpenter like a tower.
I would not knock old fellows in the dust But there lay Captain Carpenter on his back His weapons were the old heart in his bust And a blade shook between rotten teeth alack.
The rogue in scarlet and grey soon knew his mind.
He wished to get his trophy and depart With gentle apology and touch refined He pierced him and produced the Captain's heart.
God's mercy rest on Captain Carpenter now (a, I thought him Sirs an honest gentleman Citizen husband soldier and scholar enow Let jangling kites eat of him if they can.
But God's deep curses follow after those That shore him of his goodly nose and ears His legs and strong arms at the two elbows And eyes that had not watered seventy years.
The curse of hell upon the sleek upstart That got the Captain finally on his back And took the red red vitals of his heart And made the kites to whet their beaks clack clack.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Piazza Piece

 -- I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying
To make you hear.
Your ears are soft and small And listen to an old man not at all, They want the young men's whispering and sighing.
But see the roses on your trellis dying And hear the spectral singing of the moon; For I must have my lovely lady soon, I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying.
-- I am a lady young in beauty waiting Until my truelove comes, and then we kiss.
But what grey man among the vines is this Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream? Back from my trellis, Sir, before I scream ! I am a lady young in beauty waiting.


by John Crowe Ransom |

Bells For John Whitesides Daughter

 There was such speed in her little body, 
And such lightness in her footfall, 
It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all 

Her wars were bruited in our high window.
We looked among orchard trees and beyond Where she took arms against her shadow, Or harried unto the pond The lazy geese, like a snow cloud Dripping their snow on the green grass, Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud, Who cried in goose, Alas, For the tireless heart within the little Lady with rod that made them rise From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle Goose-fashion under the skies! But now go the bells, and we are ready, In one house we are sternly stopped To say we are vexed at her brown study, Lying so primly propped.