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by William Vaughn Moody |

A Grey Day

 Grey drizzling mists the moorlands drape, 
Rain whitens the dead sea, 
From headland dim to sullen cape 
Grey sails creep wearily. 
I know not how that merchantman 
Has found the heart; but 'tis her plan 
Seaward her endless course to shape. 

Unreal as insects that appall 
A drunkard's peevish brain, 
O'er the grey deep the dories crawl, 
Four-legged, with rowers twain: 
Midgets and minims of the earth, 
Across old ocean's vasty girth 
Toiling--heroic, comical! 

I wonder how that merchant's crew 
Have ever found the will! 
I wonder what the fishers do 
To keep them toiling still! 
I wonder how the heart of man 
Has patience to live out its span, 
Or wait until its dreams come true.


by William Vaughn Moody |

An Ode in Time of Hesitation

 After seeing at Boston the statue of Robert Gould Shaw, killed while storming Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863, at the head of the first enlisted negro regiment, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts.


I 

Before the solemn bronze Saint Gaudens made 
To thrill the heedless passer's heart with awe, 
And set here in the city's talk and trade 
To the good memory of Robert Shaw, 
This bright March morn I stand, 
And hear the distant spring come up the land; 
Knowing that what I hear is not unheard 
Of this boy soldier and his negro band, 
For all their gaze is fixed so stern ahead, 
For all the fatal rhythm of their tread. 
The land they died to save from death and shame 
Trembles and waits, hearing the spring's great name, 
And by her pangs these resolute ghosts are stirred. 


II 

Through street and mall the tides of people go 
Heedless; the trees upon the Common show 
No hint of green; but to my listening heart 
The still earth doth impart 
Assurance of her jubilant emprise, 
And it is clear to my long-searching eyes 
That love at last has might upon the skies. 
The ice is runneled on the little pond; 
A telltale patter drips from off the trees; 
The air is touched with southland spiceries, 
As if but yesterday it tossed the frond 
Of pendant mosses where the live-oaks grow 
Beyond Virginia and the Carolines, 
Or had its will among the fruits and vines 
Of aromatic isles asleep beyond 
Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. 


III 

Soon shall the Cape Ann children shout in glee, 
Spying the arbutus, spring's dear recluse; 
Hill lads at dawn shall hearken the wild goose 
Go honking northward over Tennessee; 
West from Oswego to Sault Sainte-Marie, 
And on to where the Pictured Rocks are hung, 
And yonder where, gigantic, wilful, young, 
Chicago sitteth at the northwest gates, 
With restless violent hands and casual tongue 
Moulding her mighty fates, 
The Lakes shall robe them in ethereal sheen; 
And like a larger sea, the vital green 
Of springing wheat shall vastly be outflung 
Over Dakota and the prairie states. 
By desert people immemorial 
On Arizonan mesas shall be done 
Dim rites unto the thunder and the sun; 
Nor shall the primal gods lack sacrifice 
More splendid, when the white Sierras call 
Unto the Rockies straightway to arise 
And dance before the unveiled ark of the year, 
Sounding their windy cedars as for shawms, 
Unrolling rivers clear 
For flutter of broad phylacteries; 
While Shasta signals to Alaskan seas 
That watch old sluggish glaciers downward creep 
To fling their icebergs thundering from the steep, 
And Mariposa through the purple calms 
Gazes at far Hawaii crowned with palms 
Where East and West are met, -- 
A rich seal on the ocean's bosom set 
To say that East and West are twain, 
With different loss and gain: 
The Lord hath sundered them; let them be sundered yet. 


IV 

Alas! what sounds are these that come 
Sullenly over the Pacific seas, -- 
Sounds of ignoble battle, striking dumb 
The season's half-awakened ecstasies? 
Must I be humble, then, 
Now when my heart hath need of pride? 
Wild love falls on me from these sculptured men; 
By loving much the land for which they died 
I would be justified. 
My spirit was away on pinions wide 
To soothe in praise of her its passionate mood 
And ease it of its ache of gratitude. 
Too sorely heavy is the debt they lay 
On me and the companions of my day. 
I would remember now 
My country's goodliness, make sweet her name. 
Alas! what shade art thou 
Of sorrow or of blame 
Liftest the lyric leafage from her brow, 
And pointest a slow finger at her shame? 


V 

Lies! lies! It cannot be! The wars we wage 
Are noble, and our battles still are won 
By justice for us, ere we lift the gage. 
We have not sold our loftiest heritage. 
The proud republic hath not stooped to cheat 
And scramble in the market-place of war; 
Her forehead weareth yet its solemn star. 
Here is her witness: this, her perfect son, 
This delicate and proud New England soul 
Who leads despisèd men, with just-unshackled feet, 
Up the large ways where death and glory meet, 
To show all peoples that our shame is done, 
That once more we are clean and spirit-whole. 


VI 

Crouched in the sea fog on the moaning sand 
All night he lay, speaking some simple word 
From hour to hour to the slow minds that heard, 
Holding each poor life gently in his hand 
And breathing on the base rejected clay 
Till each dark face shone mystical and grand 
Against the breaking day; 
And lo, the shard the potter cast away 
Was grown a fiery chalice crystal-fine 
Fulfilled of the divine 
Great wine of battle wrath by God's ring-finger stirred. 
Then upward, where the shadowy bastion loomed 
Huge on the mountain in the wet sea light, 
Whence now, and now, infernal flowerage bloomed, 
Bloomed, burst, and scattered down its deadly seed, -- 
They swept, and died like freemen on the height, 
Like freemen, and like men of noble breed; 
And when the battle fell away at night 
By hasty and contemptuous hands were thrust 
Obscurely in a common grave with him 
The fair-haired keeper of their love and trust. 
Now limb doth mingle with dissolvèd limb 
In nature's busy old democracy 
To flush the mountain laurel when she blows 
Sweet by the southern sea, 
And heart with crumbled heart climbs in the rose: -- 
The untaught hearts with the high heart that knew 
This mountain fortress for no earthly hold 
Of temporal quarrel, but the bastion old 
Of spiritual wrong, 
Built by an unjust nation sheer and strong, 
Expugnable but by a nation's rue 
And bowing down before that equal shrine 
By all men held divine, 
Whereof his band and he were the most holy sign. 


VII 

O bitter, bitter shade! 
Wilt thou not put the scorn 
And instant tragic question from thine eye? 
Do thy dark brows yet crave 
That swift and angry stave -- 
Unmeet for this desirous morn -- 
That I have striven, striven to evade? 
Gazing on him, must I not deem they err 
Whose careless lips in street and shop aver 
As common tidings, deeds to make his cheek 
Flush from the bronze, and his dead throat to speak? 
Surely some elder singer would arise, 
Whose harp hath leave to threaten and to mourn 
Above this people when they go astray. 
Is Whitman, the strong spirit, overworn? 
Has Whittier put his yearning wrath away? 
I will not and I dare not yet believe! 
Though furtively the sunlight seems to grieve, 
And the spring-laden breeze 
Out of the gladdening west is sinister 
With sounds of nameless battle overseas; 
Though when we turn and question in suspense 
If these things be indeed after these ways, 
And what things are to follow after these, 
Our fluent men of place and consequence 
Fumble and fill their mouths with hollow phrase, 
Or for the end-all of deep arguments 
Intone their dull commercial liturgies -- 
I dare not yet believe! My ears are shut! 
I will not hear the thin satiric praise 
And muffled laughter of our enemies, 
Bidding us never sheathe our valiant sword 
Till we have changed our birthright for a gourd 
Of wild pulse stolen from a barbarian's hut; 
Showing how wise it is to cast away 
The symbols of our spiritual sway, 
That so our hands with better ease 
May wield the driver's whip and grasp the jailer's keys. 


VIII 

Was it for this our fathers kept the law? 
This crown shall crown their struggle and their ruth? 
Are we the eagle nation Milton saw 
Mewing its mighty youth, 
Soon to possess the mountain winds of truth, 
And be a swift familiar of the sun 
Where aye before God's face his trumpets run? 
Or have we but the talons and the maw, 
And for the abject likeness of our heart 
Shall some less lordly bird be set apart? -- 
Some gross-billed wader where the swamps are fat? 
Some gorger in the sun? Some prowler with the bat? 


IX 

Ah no! 
We have not fallen so. 
We are our fathers' sons: let those who lead us know! 
'T was only yesterday sick Cuba's cry 
Came up the tropic wind, "Now help us, for we die!" 
Then Alabama heard, 
And rising, pale, to Maine and Idaho 
Shouted a burning word. 
Proud state with proud impassioned state conferred, 
And at the lifting of a hand sprang forth, 
East, west, and south, and north, 
Beautiful armies. Oh, by the sweet blood and young 
Shed on the awful hill slope at San Juan, 
By the unforgotten names of eager boys 
Who might have tasted girls' love and been stung 
With the old mystic joys 
And starry griefs, now the spring nights come on, 
But that the heart of youth is generous, -- 
We charge you, ye who lead us, 
Breathe on their chivalry no hint of stain! 
Turn not their new-world victories to gain! 
One least leaf plucked for chaffer from the bays 
Of their dear praise, 
One jot of their pure conquest put to hire, 
The implacable republic will require; 
With clamor, in the glare and gaze of noon, 
Or subtly, coming as a thief at night, 
But surely, very surely, slow or soon 
That insult deep we deeply will requite. 
Tempt not our weakness, our cupidity! 
For save we let the island men go free, 
Those baffled and dislaureled ghosts 
Will curse us from the lamentable coasts 
Where walk the frustrate dead. 
The cup of trembling shall be drainèd quite, 
Eaten the sour bread of astonishment, 
With ashes of the hearth shall be made white 
Our hair, and wailing shall be in the tent; 
Then on your guiltier head 
Shall our intolerable self-disdain 
Wreak suddenly its anger and its pain; 
For manifest in that disastrous light 
We shall discern the right 
And do it, tardily. -- O ye who lead, 
Take heed! 
Blindness we may forgive, but baseness we will smite.


by William Vaughn Moody |

Gloucester Moods

 A mile behind is Gloucester town 
Where the flishing fleets put in, 
A mile ahead the land dips down 
And the woods and farms begin. 
Here, where the moors stretch free 
In the high blue afternoon, 
Are the marching sun and talking sea, 
And the racing winds that wheel and flee 
On the flying heels of June. 

Jill-o'er-the-ground is purple blue, 
Blue is the quaker-maid, 
The wild geranium holds its dew 
Long in the boulder's shade. 
Wax-red hangs the cup 
From the huckleberry boughs, 
In barberry bells the grey moths sup, 
Or where the choke-cherry lifts high up 
Sweet bowls for their carouse. 

Over the shelf of the sandy cove 
Beach-peas blossom late. 
By copse and cliff the swallows rove 
Each calling to his mate. 
Seaward the sea-gulls go, 
And the land-birds all are here; 
That green-gold flash was a vireo, 
And yonder flame where the marsh-flags grow 
Was a scarlet tanager. 

This earth is not the steadfast place 
We landsmen build upon; 
From deep to deep she varies pace, 
And while she comes is gone. 
Beneath my feet I feel 
Her smooth bulk heave and dip; 
With velvet plunge and soft upreel 
She swings and steadies to her keel 
Like a gallant, gallant ship. 

These summer clouds she sets for sail, 
The sun is her masthead light, 
She tows the moon like a pinnace frail 
Where her phosphor wake churns bright. 
Now hid, now looming clear, 
On the face of the dangerous blue 
The star fleets tack and wheel and veer, 
But on, but on does the old earth steer 
As if her port she knew. 

God, dear God! Does she know her port, 
Though she goes so far about? 
Or blind astray, does she make her sport 
To brazen and chance it out? 
I watched when her captains passed: 
She were better captainless. 
Men in the cabin, before the mast, 
But some were reckless and some aghast, 
And some sat gorged at mess. 

By her battened hatch I leaned and caught 
Sounds from the noisome hold,-- 
Cursing and sighing of souls distraught 
And cries too sad to be told. 
Then I strove to go down and see; 
But they said, "Thou art not of us!" 
I turned to those on the deck with me 
And cried, "Give help!" But they said, "Let be: 
Our ship sails faster thus." 

Jill-o'er-the-ground is purple blue, 
Blue is the quaker-maid, 
The alder-clump where the brook comes through 
Breeds cresses in its shade. 
To be out of the moiling street 
With its swelter and its sin! 
Who has given to me this sweet, 
And given my brother dust to eat? 
And when will his wage come in? 

Scattering wide or blown in ranks, 
Yellow and white and brown, 
Boats and boats from the fishing banks 
Come home to Gloucester town. 
There is cash to purse and spend, 
There are wives to be embraced, 
Hearts to borrow and hearts to lend, 
And hearts to take and keep to the end;-- 
O little sails, make haste! 

But thou, vast outbound ship of souls, 
What harbor town for thee? 
What shapes, when thy arriving tolls, 
Shall crowd the banks to see? 
Shall all the happy shipmates then 
Stand singing brotherly? 
Or shall a haggard ruthless few 
Warp her over and bring her to, 
While the many broken souls of men 
Fester down in the slaver's pen 
And nothing to say or do?


by William Vaughn Moody |

On a Soldier Fallen in the Philippines

 Streets of the roaring town, 
Hush for him, hus, be still! 
He comes, who was stricken down 
Doing the word of our will. 
Hush! Let him have his state, 
Give him his soldier's crown. 
The grists of trade can wait 
Their grinding at the mill, 
But he cannot wait for his honor, now the trumpet has been blown. 
Wreathe pride now for his granite brow, lay love on his breast of stone.

Toll! Let the great bells toll 
Till the clashing air is dim. 
Did we wrong this parted soul? 
We will make it up to him. 
Toll! Let him never guess 
What work we set him to. 
Laurel, laurel, yes; 
He did waht we bade him do. 
Praise, and never a whispered hint but the fight he fought was good; 
Never a word that the blood on his sword was his country's own heart's-blood.

A flag for the soldier's bier 
Who dies that his land may live; 
O, banners, banners here, 
That he doubt not nor misgive ! 
That he heed not from the tomb 
The evil days draw near 
When the nation, robed in gloom, 
With its faithless past shall strive. 
Let him never dream that his bullet's scream went wide of its island mark, 
Home to the heart of his darling land where she stumbled and sinned in the dark.


by William Vaughn Moody |

The Daguerreotype

 This, then, is she, 
My mother as she looked at seventeen, 
When she first met my father. Young incredibly, 
Younger than spring, without the faintest trace 
Of disappointment, weariness, or tean 
Upon the childlike earnestness and grace 
Of the waiting face. 
Those close-wound ropes of pearl 
(Or common beads made precious by their use) 
Seem heavy for so slight a throat to wear; 
But the low bodice leaves the shoulders bare 
And half the glad swell of the breast, for news 
That now the woman stirs within the girl. 
And yet, 
Even so, the loops and globes 
Of beaten gold 
And jet 
Hung, in the stately way of old, 
From the ears' drooping lobes 
On festivals and Lord's-day of the week, 
Show all too matron-sober for the cheek, -- 
Which, now I look again, is perfect child, 
Or no -- or no -- 't is girlhood's very self, 
Moulded by some deep, mischief-ridden elf 
So meek, so maiden mild, 
But startling the close gazer with the sense 
Of passions forest-shy and forest-wild, 
And delicate delirious merriments. 

As a moth beats sidewise 
And up and over, and tries 
To skirt the irresistible lure 
Of the flame that has him sure, 
My spirit, that is none too strong to-day, 
Flutters and makes delay, -- 
Pausing to wonder on the perfect lips, 
Lifting to muse upon the low-drawn hair 
And each hid radiance there, 
But powerless to stem the tide-race bright, 
The vehement peace which drifts it toward the light 
Where soon -- ah, now, with cries 
Of grief and giving-up unto its gain 
It shrinks no longer nor denies, 
But dips 
Hurriedly home to the exquisite heart of pain, -- 
And all is well, for I have seen them plain, 
The unforgettable, the unforgotten eyes! 
Across the blinding gush of these good tears 
They shine as in the sweet and heavy years 
When by her bed and chair 
We children gathered jealously to share 
The sunlit aura breathing myrrh and thyme, 
Where the sore-stricken body made a clime 
Gentler than May and pleasanter than rhyme, 
Holier and more mystical than prayer. 

God, how thy ways are strange! 
That this should be, even this, 
The patient head 
Which suffered years ago the dreary change! 
That these so dewy lips should be the same 
As those I stooped to kiss 
And heard my harrowing half-spoken name, 
A little ere the one who bowed above her, 
Our father and her very constant lover, 
Rose stoical, and we knew that she was dead. 
Then I, who could not understand or share 
His antique nobleness, 
Being unapt to bear 
The insults which time flings us for our proof, 
Fled from the horrible roof 
Into the alien sunshine merciless, 
The shrill satiric fields ghastly with day, 
Raging to front God in his pride of sway 
And hurl across the lifted swords of fate 
That ringed Him where He sat 
My puny gage of scorn and desolate hate 
Which somehow should undo Him, after all! 
That this girl face, expectant, virginal, 
Which gazes out at me 
Boon as a sweetheart, as if nothing loth 
(Save for the eyes, with other presage stored) 
To pledge me troth, 
And in the kingdom where the heart is lord 
Take sail on the terrible gladness of the deep 
Whose winds the gray Norns keep, -- 
That this should be indeed 
The flesh which caught my soul, a flying seed, 
Out of the to and fro 
Of scattering hands where the seedsman Mage, 
Stooping from star to star and age to age 
Sings as he sows! 
That underneath this breast 
Nine moons I fed 
Deep of divine unrest, 
While over and over in the dark she said, 
"Blessed! but not as happier children blessed" -- 
That this should be 
Even she . . . 
God, how with time and change 
Thou makest thy footsteps strange! 
Ah, now I know 
They play upon me, and it is not so. 
Why, 't is a girl I never saw before, 
A little thing to flatter and make weep, 
To tease until her heart is sore, 
Then kiss and clear the score; 
A gypsy run-the-fields, 
A little liberal daughter of the earth, 
Good for what hour of truancy and mirth 
The careless season yields 
Hither-side the flood of the year and yonder of the neap; 
Then thank you, thanks again, and twenty light good-byes. -- 
O shrined above the skies, 
Frown not, clear brow, 
Darken not, holy eyes! 
Thou knowest well I know that it is thou 
Only to save me from such memories 
As would unman me quite, 
Here in this web of strangeness caught 
And prey to troubled thought 
Do I devise 
These foolish shifts and slight; 
Only to shield me from the afflicting sense 
Of some waste influence 
Which from this morning face and lustrous hair 
Breathes on me sudden ruin and despair. 
In any other guise, 
With any but this girlish depth of gaze, 
Your coming had not so unsealed and poured 
The dusty amphoras where I had stored 
The drippings of the winepress of my days. 
I think these eyes foresee, 
Now in their unawakened virgin time, 
Their mother's pride in me, 
And dream even now, unconsciously, 
Upon each soaring peak and sky-hung lea 
You pictured I should climb. 
Broken premonitions come, 
Shapes, gestures visionary, 
Not as once to maiden Mary 
The manifest angel with fresh lilies came 
Intelligibly calling her by name; 
But vanishingly, dumb, 
Thwarted and bright and wild, 
As heralding a sin-defiled, 
Earth-encumbered, blood-begotten, passionate man-child, 
Who yet should be a trump of mighty call 
Blown in the gates of evil kings 
To make them fall; 
Who yet should be a sword of flame before 
The soul's inviolate door 
To beat away the clang of hellish wings; 
Who yet should be a lyre 
Of high unquenchable desire 
In the day of little things. -- 
Look, where the amphoras, 
The yield of many days, 
Trod by my hot soul from the pulp of self, 
And set upon the shelf 
In sullen pride 
The Vineyard-master's tasting to abide -- 
O mother mine! 
Are these the bringings-in, the doings fine, 
Of him you used to praise? 
Emptied and overthrown 
The jars lie strown. 
These, for their flavor duly nursed, 
Drip from the stopples vinegar accursed; 
These, I thought honied to the very seal, 
Dry, dry, -- a little acid meal, 
A pinch of mouldy dust, 
Sole leavings of the amber-mantling must; 
These, rude to look upon, 
But flasking up the liquor dearest won, 
Through sacred hours and hard, 
With watching and with wrestlings and with grief, 
Even of these, of these in chief, 
The stale breath sickens reeking from the shard. 
Nothing is left. Aye, how much less than naught! 
What shall be said or thought 
Of the slack hours and waste imaginings, 
The cynic rending of the wings, 
Known to that froward, that unreckoning heart 
Whereof this brewage was the precious part, 
Treasured and set away with furtive boast? 
O dear and cruel ghost, 
Be merciful, be just! 
See, I was yours and I am in the dust. 
Then look not so, as if all things were well! 
Take your eyes from me, leave me to my shame, 
Or else, if gaze they must, 
Steel them with judgment, darken them with blame; 
But by the ways of light ineffable 
You bade me go and I have faltered from, 
By the low waters moaning out of hell 
Whereto my feet have come, 
Lay not on me these intolerable 
Looks of rejoicing love, of pride, of happy trust! 

Nothing dismayed? 
By all I say and all I hint not made 
Afraid? 
O then, stay by me! Let 
These eyes afflict me, cleanse me, keep me yet, 
Brave eyes and true! 
See how the shrivelled heart, that long has lain 
Dead to delight and pain, 
Stirs, and begins again 
To utter pleasant life, as if it knew 
The wintry days were through; 
As if in its awakening boughs it heard 
The quick, sweet-spoken bird. 
Strong eyes and brave, 
Inexorable to save!


by William Vaughn Moody |

The Quarry

 Between the rice swamps and the fields of tea
I met a sacred elephant, snow-white.
Upon his back a huge pagoda towered
Full of brass gods and food of sacrifice.
Upon his forehead sat a golden throne,
The massy metal twisted into shapes
Grotesque, antediluvian, such as move
In myth or have their broken images
Sealed in the stony middle of the hills.
A peacock spread his thousand dyes to screen
The yellow sunlight from the head of one
Who sat upon the throne, clad stiff with gems,
Heirlooms of dynasties of buried kings,--
Himself the likeness of a buried king,
With frozen gesture and unfocused eyes.
The trappings of the beast were over-scrawled
With broideries--sea-shapes and flying things,
Fan-trees and dwarfed nodosities of pine,
Mixed with old alphabets, and faded lore
Fallen from ecstatic mouths before the Flood,
Or gathered by the daughters when they walked
Eastward in Eden with the Sons of God
Whom love and the deep moon made garrulous
Between the carven tusks his trunk hung dead;
Blind as the eyes of pearl in Buddha's brow
His beaded eyes stared thwart upon the road;
And feebler than the doting knees of eid,
His joints, of size to swing the builder's crane
Across the war-walls of the Anakim,
Made vain and shaken haste. Good need was his
To hasten: panting, foaming, on the slot
Came many brutes of prey, their several hates
Laid by until the sharing of the spoil.
Just as they gathered stomach for the leap,
The sun was darkened, and wide-balanced wings
Beat downward on the trade-wind from the sea.
A wheel of shadow sped along the fields
And o'er the dreaming cities. Suddenly
My heart misgave me, and I cried aloud,
"Alas! What dost thou here? What dost thou here? "
The great beasts and the little halted sharp,
Eyed the grand circler, doubting his intent.
Straightway the wind flawed and he came about,
Stooping to take the vanward of the pack;
Then turned, between the chasers and the chased,
Crying a word I could not understand,--
But stiller-tongued, with eyes somewhat askance,
They settled to the slot and disappeared.