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Best Famous Irony Poems

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by Ellis Parker Butler |

The Ballad Of A Bachelor

 Listen, ladies, while I sing
The ballad of John Henry King.

John Henry was a bachelor,
His age was thirty-three or four.

Two maids for his affection vied,
And each desired to be his bride,

And bravely did they strive to bring
Unto their feet John Henry King.

John Henry liked them both so well,
To save his life he could not tell

Which he most wished to be his bride,
Nor was he able to decide.

Fair Kate was jolly, bright, and gay,
And sunny as a summer day;

Marie was kind, sedate, and sweet,
With gentle ways and manners neat.

Each was so dear that John confessed
He could not tell which he liked best.

He studied them for quite a year,
And still found no solution near,

And might have studied two years more
Had he not, walking on the shore,

Conceived a very simple way
Of ending his prolonged delay--

A way in which he might decide
Which of the maids should be his bride.

He said, "I'll toss into the air
A dollar, and I'll toss it fair;

If heads come up, I'll wed Marie;
If tails, fair Kate my bride shall be."

Then from his leather pocket-book
A dollar bright and new he took;

He kissed one side for fair Marie,
The other side for Kate kissed he.

Then in a manner free and fair
He tossed the dollar in the air.

"Ye fates," he cried, "pray let this be
A lucky throw indeed for me!"

The dollar rose, the dollar fell;
He watched its whirling transit well,

And off some twenty yards or more
The dollar fell upon the shore.

John Henry ran to where it struck
To see which maiden was in luck.

But, oh, the irony of fate!
Upon its edge the coin stood straight!

And there, embedded in the sand,
John Henry let the dollar stand!

And he will tempt his fate no more,
But live and die a bachelor.

Thus, ladies, you have heard me sing
The ballad of John Henry King.

by Alfred Lord Tennyson |

The Princess (part 7)

 So was their sanctuary violated, 
So their fair college turned to hospital; 
At first with all confusion: by and by 
Sweet order lived again with other laws: 
A kindlier influence reigned; and everywhere 
Low voices with the ministering hand 
Hung round the sick: the maidens came, they talked, 
They sang, they read: till she not fair began 
To gather light, and she that was, became 
Her former beauty treble; and to and fro 
With books, with flowers, with Angel offices, 
Like creatures native unto gracious act, 
And in their own clear element, they moved. 

But sadness on the soul of Ida fell, 
And hatred of her weakness, blent with shame. 
Old studies failed; seldom she spoke: but oft 
Clomb to the roofs, and gazed alone for hours 
On that disastrous leaguer, swarms of men 
Darkening her female field: void was her use, 
And she as one that climbs a peak to gaze 
O'er land and main, and sees a great black cloud 
Drag inward from the deeps, a wall of night, 
Blot out the slope of sea from verge to shore, 
And suck the blinding splendour from the sand, 
And quenching lake by lake and tarn by tarn 
Expunge the world: so fared she gazing there; 
So blackened all her world in secret, blank 
And waste it seemed and vain; till down she came, 
And found fair peace once more among the sick. 

And twilight dawned; and morn by morn the lark 
Shot up and shrilled in flickering gyres, but I 
Lay silent in the muffled cage of life: 
And twilight gloomed; and broader-grown the bowers 
Drew the great night into themselves, and Heaven, 
Star after Star, arose and fell; but I, 
Deeper than those weird doubts could reach me, lay 
Quite sundered from the moving Universe, 
Nor knew what eye was on me, nor the hand 
That nursed me, more than infants in their sleep. 

But Psyche tended Florian: with her oft, 
Melissa came; for Blanche had gone, but left 
Her child among us, willing she should keep 
Court-favour: here and there the small bright head, 
A light of healing, glanced about the couch, 
Or through the parted silks the tender face 
Peeped, shining in upon the wounded man 
With blush and smile, a medicine in themselves 
To wile the length from languorous hours, and draw 
The sting from pain; nor seemed it strange that soon 
He rose up whole, and those fair charities 
Joined at her side; nor stranger seemed that hears 
So gentle, so employed, should close in love, 
Than when two dewdrops on the petals shake 
To the same sweet air, and tremble deeper down, 
And slip at once all-fragrant into one. 

Less prosperously the second suit obtained 
At first with Psyche. Not though Blanche had sworn 
That after that dark night among the fields 
She needs must wed him for her own good name; 
Not though he built upon the babe restored; 
Nor though she liked him, yielded she, but feared 
To incense the Head once more; till on a day 
When Cyril pleaded, Ida came behind 
Seen but of Psyche: on her foot she hung 
A moment, and she heard, at which her face 
A little flushed, and she past on; but each 
Assumed from thence a half-consent involved 
In stillness, plighted troth, and were at peace. 

Nor only these: Love in the sacred halls 
Held carnival at will, and flying struck 
With showers of random sweet on maid and man. 
Nor did her father cease to press my claim, 
Nor did mine own, now reconciled; nor yet 
Did those twin-brothers, risen again and whole; 
Nor Arac, satiate with his victory. 

But I lay still, and with me oft she sat: 
Then came a change; for sometimes I would catch 
Her hand in wild delirium, gripe it hard, 
And fling it like a viper off, and shriek 
'You are not Ida;' clasp it once again, 
And call her Ida, though I knew her not, 
And call her sweet, as if in irony, 
And call her hard and cold which seemed a truth: 
And still she feared that I should lose my mind, 
And often she believed that I should die: 
Till out of long frustration of her care, 
And pensive tendance in the all-weary noons, 
And watches in the dead, the dark, when clocks 
Throbbed thunder through the palace floors, or called 
On flying Time from all their silver tongues-- 
And out of memories of her kindlier days, 
And sidelong glances at my father's grief, 
And at the happy lovers heart in heart-- 
And out of hauntings of my spoken love, 
And lonely listenings to my muttered dream, 
And often feeling of the helpless hands, 
And wordless broodings on the wasted cheek-- 
From all a closer interest flourished up, 
Tenderness touch by touch, and last, to these, 
Love, like an Alpine harebell hung with tears 
By some cold morning glacier; frail at first 
And feeble, all unconscious of itself, 
But such as gathered colour day by day. 

Last I woke sane, but well-nigh close to death 
For weakness: it was evening: silent light 
Slept on the painted walls, wherein were wrought 
Two grand designs; for on one side arose 
The women up in wild revolt, and stormed 
At the Oppian Law. Titanic shapes, they crammed 
The forum, and half-crushed among the rest 
A dwarf-like Cato cowered. On the other side 
Hortensia spoke against the tax; behind, 
A train of dames: by axe and eagle sat, 
With all their foreheads drawn in Roman scowls, 
And half the wolf's-milk curdled in their veins, 
The fierce triumvirs; and before them paused 
Hortensia pleading: angry was her face. 

I saw the forms: I knew not where I was: 
They did but look like hollow shows; nor more 
Sweet Ida: palm to palm she sat: the dew 
Dwelt in her eyes, and softer all her shape 
And rounder seemed: I moved: I sighed: a touch 
Came round my wrist, and tears upon my hand: 
Then all for languor and self-pity ran 
Mine down my face, and with what life I had, 
And like a flower that cannot all unfold, 
So drenched it is with tempest, to the sun, 
Yet, as it may, turns toward him, I on her 
Fixt my faint eyes, and uttered whisperingly: 

'If you be, what I think you, some sweet dream, 
I would but ask you to fulfil yourself: 
But if you be that Ida whom I knew, 
I ask you nothing: only, if a dream, 
Sweet dream, be perfect. I shall die tonight. 
Stoop down and seem to kiss me ere I die.' 

I could no more, but lay like one in trance, 
That hears his burial talked of by his friends, 
And cannot speak, nor move, nor make one sign, 
But lies and dreads his doom. She turned; she paused; 
She stooped; and out of languor leapt a cry; 
Leapt fiery Passion from the brinks of death; 
And I believed that in the living world 
My spirit closed with Ida's at the lips; 
Till back I fell, and from mine arms she rose 
Glowing all over noble shame; and all 
Her falser self slipt from her like a robe, 
And left her woman, lovelier in her mood 
Than in her mould that other, when she came 
From barren deeps to conquer all with love; 
And down the streaming crystal dropt; and she 
Far-fleeted by the purple island-sides, 
Naked, a double light in air and wave, 
To meet her Graces, where they decked her out 
For worship without end; nor end of mine, 
Stateliest, for thee! but mute she glided forth, 
Nor glanced behind her, and I sank and slept, 
Filled through and through with Love, a happy sleep. 

Deep in the night I woke: she, near me, held 
A volume of the Poets of her land: 
There to herself, all in low tones, she read. 

'Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white; 
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; 
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font: 
The fire-fly wakens: wake thou with me. 

Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost, 
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me. 

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars, 
And all thy heart lies open unto me. 

Now lies the silent meteor on, and leaves 
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me. 

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up, 
And slips into the bosom of the lake: 
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip 
Into my bosom and be lost in me.' 

I heard her turn the page; she found a small 
Sweet Idyl, and once more, as low, she read: 

'Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height: 
What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang) 
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills? 
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease 
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine, 
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire; 
And come, for love is of the valley, come, 
For love is of the valley, come thou down 
And find him; by the happy threshold, he, 
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize, 
Or red with spirted purple of the vats, 
Or foxlike in the vine; nor cares to walk 
With Death and Morning on the silver horns, 
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine, 
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice, 
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls 
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors: 
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down 
To find him in the valley; let the wild 
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave 
The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill 
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke, 
That like a broken purpose waste in air: 
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales 
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth 
Arise to thee; the children call, and I 
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound, 
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet; 
Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn, 
The moan of doves in immemorial elms, 
And murmuring of innumerable bees.' 

So she low-toned; while with shut eyes I lay 
Listening; then looked. Pale was the perfect face; 
The bosom with long sighs laboured; and meek 
Seemed the full lips, and mild the luminous eyes, 
And the voice trembled and the hand. She said 
Brokenly, that she knew it, she had failed 
In sweet humility; had failed in all; 
That all her labour was but as a block 
Left in the quarry; but she still were loth, 
She still were loth to yield herself to one 
That wholly scorned to help their equal rights 
Against the sons of men, and barbarous laws. 
She prayed me not to judge their cause from her 
That wronged it, sought far less for truth than power 
In knowledge: something wild within her breast, 
A greater than all knowledge, beat her down. 
And she had nursed me there from week to week: 
Much had she learnt in little time. In part 
It was ill counsel had misled the girl 
To vex true hearts: yet was she but a girl-- 
'Ah fool, and made myself a Queen of farce! 
When comes another such? never, I think, 
Till the Sun drop, dead, from the signs.' 
Her voice 
choked, and her forehead sank upon her hands, 
And her great heart through all the faultful Past 
Went sorrowing in a pause I dared not break; 
Till notice of a change in the dark world 
Was lispt about the acacias, and a bird, 
That early woke to feed her little ones, 
Sent from a dewy breast a cry for light: 
She moved, and at her feet the volume fell. 

'Blame not thyself too much,' I said, 'nor blame 
Too much the sons of men and barbarous laws; 
These were the rough ways of the world till now. 
Henceforth thou hast a helper, me, that know 
The woman's cause is man's: they rise or sink 
Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free: 
For she that out of Lethe scales with man 
The shining steps of Nature, shares with man 
His nights, his days, moves with him to one goal, 
Stays all the fair young planet in her hands-- 
If she be small, slight-natured, miserable, 
How shall men grow? but work no more alone! 
Our place is much: as far as in us lies 
We two will serve them both in aiding her-- 
Will clear away the parasitic forms 
That seem to keep her up but drag her down-- 
Will leave her space to burgeon out of all 
Within her--let her make herself her own 
To give or keep, to live and learn and be 
All that not harms distinctive womanhood. 
For woman is not undevelopt man, 
But diverse: could we make her as the man, 
Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this, 
Not like to like, but like in difference. 
Yet in the long years liker must they grow; 
The man be more of woman, she of man; 
He gain in sweetness and in moral height, 
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world; 
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care, 
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind; 
Till at the last she set herself to man, 
Like perfect music unto noble words; 
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time, 
Sit side by side, full-summed in all their powers, 
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be, 
Self-reverent each and reverencing each, 
Distinct in individualities, 
But like each other even as those who love. 
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men: 
Then reign the world's great bridals, chaste and calm: 
Then springs the crowning race of humankind. 
May these things be!' 
Sighing she spoke 'I fear 
They will not.' 
'Dear, but let us type them now 
In our own lives, and this proud watchword rest 
Of equal; seeing either sex alone 
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies 
Nor equal, nor unequal: each fulfils 
Defect in each, and always thought in thought, 
Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow, 
The single pure and perfect animal, 
The two-celled heart beating, with one full stroke, 
And again sighing she spoke: 'A dream 
That once was mind! what woman taught you this?' 

'Alone,' I said, 'from earlier than I know, 
Immersed in rich foreshadowings of the world, 
I loved the woman: he, that doth not, lives 
A drowning life, besotted in sweet self, 
Or pines in sad experience worse than death, 
Or keeps his winged affections clipt with crime: 
Yet was there one through whom I loved her, one 
Not learnèd, save in gracious household ways, 
Not perfect, nay, but full of tender wants, 
No Angel, but a dearer being, all dipt 
In Angel instincts, breathing Paradise, 
Interpreter between the Gods and men, 
Who looked all native to her place, and yet 
On tiptoe seemed to touch upon a sphere 
Too gross to tread, and all male minds perforce 
Swayed to her from their orbits as they moved, 
And girdled her with music. Happy he 
With such a mother! faith in womankind 
Beats with his blood, and trust in all things high 
Comes easy to him, and though he trip and fall 
He shall not blind his soul with clay.' 
'But I,' 
Said Ida, tremulously, 'so all unlike-- 
It seems you love to cheat yourself with words: 
This mother is your model. I have heard 
of your strange doubts: they well might be: I seem 
A mockery to my own self. Never, Prince; 
You cannot love me.' 
'Nay but thee' I said 
'From yearlong poring on thy pictured eyes, 
Ere seen I loved, and loved thee seen, and saw 
Thee woman through the crust of iron moods 
That masked thee from men's reverence up, and forced 
Sweet love on pranks of saucy boyhood: now, 
Given back to life, to life indeed, through thee, 
Indeed I love: the new day comes, the light 
Dearer for night, as dearer thou for faults 
Lived over: lift thine eyes; my doubts are dead, 
My haunting sense of hollow shows: the change, 
This truthful change in thee has killed it. Dear, 
Look up, and let thy nature strike on mine, 
Like yonder morning on the blind half-world; 
Approach and fear not; breathe upon my brows; 
In that fine air I tremble, all the past 
Melts mist-like into this bright hour, and this 
Is morn to more, and all the rich to-come 
Reels, as the golden Autumn woodland reels 
Athwart the smoke of burning weeds. Forgive me, 
I waste my heart in signs: let be. My bride, 
My wife, my life. O we will walk this world, 
Yoked in all exercise of noble end, 
And so through those dark gates across the wild 
That no man knows. Indeed I love thee: come, 
Yield thyself up: my hopes and thine are one: 
Accomplish thou my manhood and thyself; 
Lay thy sweet hands in mine and trust to me.'

by Rudyard Kipling |

The Man Who Could Write

 Boanerges Blitzen, servant of the Queen,
Is a dismal failure -- is a Might-have-been.
In a luckless moment he discovered men
Rise to high position through a ready pen.

Boanerges Blitzen argued therefore -- "I,
With the selfsame weapon, can attain as high."
Only he did not possess when he made the trial,
Wicked wit of C-lv-n, irony of L--l.

[Men who spar with Government need, to back their blows,
Something more than ordinary journalistic prose.]

Never young Civilian's prospects were so bright,
Till an Indian paper found that he could write:
Never young Civilian's prospects were so dark,
When the wretched Blitzen wrote to make his mark.

Certainly he scored it, bold, and black, and firm,
In that Indian paper -- made his seniors squirm,
Quated office scandals, wrote the tactless truth --
Was there ever known a more misguided youth?

When the Rag he wrote for praised his plucky game,
Boanerges Blitzen felt that this was Fame;
When the men he wrote of shook their heads and swore,
Boanerges Blitzen only wrote the more:

Posed as Young Ithuriel, resolute and grim,
Till he found promotion didn't come to him;
Till he found that reprimands weekly were his lot,
And his many Districts curiously hot.

Till he found his furlough strangely hard to win,
Boanerges Blitzen didn't care to pin:
Then it seemed to dawn on him something wasn't right --
Boanerges Blitzen put it down to "spite";

Languished in a District desolate and dry;
Watched the Local Government yearly pass him by;
Wondered where the hitch was; called it most unfair.
 . . . . .
That was seven years ago -- and he still is there!

by Vachel Lindsay |

The Tale of the Tiger-Tree

 A Fantasy, dedicated to the little poet Alice Oliver Henderson, ten years old. 

The Fantasy shows how tiger-hearts are the cause of war in all ages. It shows how the mammoth forces may be either friends or enemies of the struggle for peace. It shows how the dream of peace is unconquerable and eternal.


Peace-of-the-Heart, my own for long,
Whose shining hair the May-winds fan,
Making it tangled as they can,
A mystery still, star-shining yet,
Through ancient ages known to me
And now once more reborn with me: —

This is the tale of the Tiger Tree
A hundred times the height of a man,
Lord of the race since the world began.

This is my city Springfield,
My home on the breast of the plain.
The state house towers to heaven,
By an arsenal gray as the rain...
And suddenly all is mist,
And I walk in a world apart,
In the forest-age when I first knelt down
At your feet, O Peace-of-the-Heart.

This is the wonder of twilight:
Three times as high as the dome
Tiger-striped trees encircle the town,
Golden geysers of foam.
While giant white parrots sail past in their pride.
The roofs now are clouds and storms that they ride.
And there with the huntsmen of mound-builder days
Through jungle and meadow I stride.
And the Tiger Tree leaf is falling around
As it fell when the world began:
Like a monstrous tiger-skin, stretched on the ground,
Or the cloak of a medicine man.
A deep-crumpled gossamer web,
Fringed with the fangs of a snake.
The wind swirls it down from the leperous boughs.
It shimmers on clay-hill and lake,
With the gleam of great bubbles of blood,
Or coiled like a rainbow shell....
I feast on the stem of the Leaf as I march.
I am burning with Heaven and Hell.


The gray king died in his hour.
Then we crowned you, the prophetess wise:
Peace-of-the-Heart we deeply adored
For the witchcraft hid in your eyes.
Gift from the sky, overmastering all,
You sent forth your magical parrots to call
The plot-hatching prince of the tigers,
To your throne by the red-clay wall.

Thus came that genius insane:
Spitting and slinking,
Sneering and vain,
He sprawled to your grassy throne, drunk on The Leaf,
The drug that was cunning and splendor and grief.
He had fled from the mammoth by day,
He had blasted the mammoth by night,
War was his drunkenness,
War was his dreaming,
War was his love and his play.
And he hissed at your heavenly glory
While his councillors snarled in delight,
Asking in irony: "What shall we learn
From this whisperer, fragile and white?"

And had you not been an enchantress
They would not have loitered to mock
Nor spared your white parrots who walked by their paws
With bantering venturesome talk.

You made a white fire of The Leaf.
You sang while the tiger-chiefs hissed.
You chanted of "Peace to the wonderful world."
And they saw you in dazzling mist.
And their steps were no longer insane,
Kindness came down like the rain,
They dreamed that like fleet young ponies they feasted
On succulent grasses and grain.

Then came the black-mammoth chief:
Long-haired and shaggy and great,
Proud and sagacious he marshalled his court:
(You had sent him your parrots of state.)
His trunk in rebellion upcurled,
A curse at the tiger he hurled.
Huge elephants trumpeted there by his side,
And mastodon-chiefs of the world.
But higher magic began.
For the turbulent vassals of man.
You harnessed their fever, you conquered their ire,
Their hearts turned to flowers through holy desire,
For their darling and star you were crowned,
And their raging demons were bound.
You rode on the back of the yellow-streaked king,
His loose neck was wreathed with a mistletoe ring.
Primordial elephants loomed by your side,
And our clay-painted children danced by your path,
Chanting the death of the kingdoms of wrath.
You wrought until night with us all.
The fierce brutes fawned at your call,
Then slipped to their lairs, song-chained.
And thus you sang sweetly, and reigned:
"Immortal is the inner peace, free to beasts and men.
Beginning in the darkness, the mystery will conquer,
And now it comforts every heart that seeks for love again.
And now the mammoth bows the knee,
We hew down every Tiger Tree,
We send each tiger bound in love and glory to his den,
Bound in love...and wisdom...and glory, his den."


"Beware of the trumpeting swine,"
Came the howl from the northward that night.
Twice-rebel tigers warning was still
If we held not beside them it boded us ill.
From the parrots translating the cry,
And the apes in the trees came the whine:
"Beware of the trumpeting swine.
Beware of the faith of a mammoth."

"Beware of the faith of a tiger,"
Came the roar from the southward that night.
Trumpeting mammoths warning us still
If we held not beside them it boded us ill.
The frail apes wailed to us all,
The parrots reëchoed the call:
"Beware of the faith of a tiger."
From the heights of the forest the watchers could see
The tiger-cats crunching the Leaf of the Tree
Lashing themselves, and scattering foam,
Killing our huntsmen, hurrying home.
The chiefs of the mammoths our mastery spurned,
And eastward restlessly fumed and burned.
The peacocks squalled out the news of their drilling
And told how they trampled, maneuvered, and turned.
Ten thousand man-hating tigers
Whirling down from the north, like a flood!
Ten thousand mammoths oncoming
From the south as avengers of blood!
Our child-queen was mourning, her magic was dead,
The roots of the Tiger Tree reeking with red.


This is the tale of the Tiger Tree
A hundred times the height of a man,
Lord of the race since the world began.

We marched to the mammoths,
We pledged them our steel,
And scorning you, sang: —
"We are men,
We are men."
We mounted their necks,
And they stamped a wide reel.
We sang:
"We are fighting the hell-cats again,
We are mound-builder men,
We are elephant men."
We left you there, lonely,
Beauty your power,
Wisdom your watchman,
To hold the clay tower.
While the black-mammoths boomed —
"You are elephant men,
Elephant men."
The dawn-winds prophesied battles untold.
While the Tiger Trees roared of the glories of old,
Of the masterful spirits and hard.

The drunken cats came in their joy
In the sunrise, a glittering wave.
"We are tigers, are tigers," they yowled.
Go the swine to the grave."
But we tramp
Trampled them there,
Then charged with our sabres and spears.
The swish of the sabre,
The swish of the sabre,
Was a marvellous tune in our ears.

We yelled "We are men,
We are men."
As we bled to death in the sun....
Then staunched our horrible wounds
With the cry that the battle was won....
And at last,
When the black-mammoth legion
Split the night with their song: —
"Right is braver than wrong,
Right is stronger than wrong,"
The buzzards came taunting:
"Down from the north
Tiger-nations are sweeping along."

Then we ate of the ravening Leaf
As our savage fathers of old.
No longer our wounds made us weak,
No longer our pulses were cold.
Though half of my troops were afoot,
(For the great who had borne them were slain)
We dreamed we were tigers, and leaped
And foamed with that vision insane.
We cried "We are soldiers of doom,
Sabres of glory and doom."
We wreathed the king of the mammoths
In the tiger-leaves' terrible bloom.
We flattered the king of the mammoths,
Loud-rattling sabres and spears.
The swish of the sabre,
The swish of the sabre,
Was a marvellous tune in his ears.


This was the end of the battle.
The tigers poured by in a tide
Over us all with their caterwaul call,
"We are the tigers,"
They cried.
"We are the sabres,"
They cried.
But we laughed while our blades swept wide,
While the dawn-rays stabbed through the gloom.
"We are suns on fire" was our yell —
"Suns on fire."...
But man-child and mastodon fell,
Mammoth and elephant fell.
The fangs of the devil-cats closed on the world,
Plunged it to blackness and doom.

The desolate red-clay wall
Echoed the parrots' call: —
"Immortal is the inner peace, free to beasts and men.
Beginning in the darkness, the mystery will conquer,
And now it comforts every heart that seeks for love again.
And now the mammoth bows the knee,
We hew down every Tiger Tree,
We send each tiger bound in love and glory to his den,
Bound in love... and wisdom... and glory,... to his den."

A peacock screamed of his beauty
On that broken wall by the trees,
Chiding his little mate,
Spreading his fans in the breeze...
And you, with eyes of a bride,
Knelt on the wall at my side,
The deathless song in your mouth...
A million new tigers swept south...
As we laughed at the peacock, and died.

This is my vision in Springfield:
Three times as high as the dome,
Tiger-striped trees encircle the town,
Golden geysers of foam; —
Though giant white parrots sail past, giving voice,
Though I walk with Peace-of-the-Heart and rejoice.

by Marianne Moore |


 This institution,
perhaps one should say enterprise
out of respect for which
one says one need not change one's mind
about a thing one has believed in,
requiring public promises
of one's intention
to fulfill a private obligation:
I wonder what Adam and Eve
think of it by this time,
this firegilt steel
alive with goldenness;
how bright it shows --
"of circular traditions and impostures,
committing many spoils,"
requiring all one's criminal ingenuity
to avoid!
Psychology which explains everything
explains nothing
and we are still in doubt.
Eve: beautiful woman --
I have seen her
when she was so handsome
she gave me a start,
able to write simultaneously
in three languages --
English, German and French
and talk in the meantime;
equally positive in demanding a commotion
and in stipulating quiet:
"I should like to be alone;"
to which the visitor replies,
"I should like to be alone;
why not be alone together?"
Below the incandescent stars
below the incandescent fruit,
the strange experience of beauty;
its existence is too much;
it tears one to pieces
and each fresh wave of consciousness
is poison.
"See her, see her in this common world,"
the central flaw
in that first crystal-fine experiment,
this amalgamation which can never be more
than an interesting possibility,
describing it
as "that strange paradise
unlike flesh, gold, or stately buildings,
the choicest piece of my life:
the heart rising
in its estate of peace
as a boat rises
with the rising of the water;"
constrained in speaking of the serpent --
that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness
not to be returned to again --
that invaluable accident
exonerating Adam.
And he has beauty also;
it's distressing -- the O thou
to whom, from whom,
without whom nothing -- Adam;
"something feline,
something colubrine" -- how true!
a crouching mythological monster
in that Persian miniature of emerald mines,
raw silk -- ivory white, snow white,
oyster white and six others --
that paddock full of leopards and giraffes --
long lemonyellow bodies
sown with trapezoids of blue.
Alive with words,
vibrating like a cymbal
touched before it has been struck,
he has prophesied correctly --
the industrious waterfall,
"the speedy stream
which violently bears all before it,
at one time silent as the air
and now as powerful as the wind."
"Treading chasms 
on the uncertain footing of a spear,"
forgetting that there is in woman
a quality of mind
which is an instinctive manifestation
is unsafe,
he goes on speaking
in a formal, customary strain
of "past states," the present state,
seals, promises, 
the evil one suffered,
the good one enjoys,
hell, heaven,
everything convenient
to promote one's joy."
There is in him a state of mind
by force of which,
perceiving what it was not
intended that he should,
"he experiences a solemn joy
in seeing that he has become an idol."
Plagued by the nightingale
in the new leaves,
with its silence --
not its silence but its silences,
he says of it:
"It clothes me with a shirt of fire."
"He dares not clap his hands
to make it go on
lest it should fly off;
if he does nothing, it will sleep;
if he cries out, it will not understand."
Unnerved by the nightingale
and dazzled by the apple,
impelled by "the illusion of a fire
effectual to extinguish fire,"
compared with which
the shining of the earth
is but deformity -- a fire
"as high as deep as bright as broad
as long as life itself,"
he stumbles over marriage,
"a very trivial object indeed"
to have destroyed the attitude
in which he stood --
the ease of the philosopher
unfathered by a woman.
Unhelpful Hymen!
"a kind of overgrown cupid"
reduced to insignificance
by the mechanical advertising
parading as involuntary comment,
by that experiment of Adam's
with ways out but no way in --
the ritual of marriage,
augmenting all its lavishness;
its fiddle-head ferns,
lotus flowers, opuntias, white dromedaries,
its hippopotamus --
nose and mouth combined
in one magnificent hopper,
"the crested screamer --
that huge bird almost a lizard,"
its snake and the potent apple.
He tells us
that "for love
that will gaze an eagle blind,
that is like a Hercules
climbing the trees
in the garden of the Hesperides,
from forty-five to seventy
is the best age,"
commending it
as a fine art, as an experiment,
a duty or as merely recreation.
One must not call him ruffian
nor friction a calamity --
the fight to be affectionate:
"no truth can be fully known
until it has been tried
by the tooth of disputation."
The blue panther with black eyes,
the basalt panther with blue eyes,
entirely graceful --
one must give them the path --
the black obsidian Diana
who "darkeneth her countenance
as a bear doth,
causing her husband to sigh,"
the spiked hand
that has an affection for one
and proves it to the bone,
impatient to assure you
that impatience is the mark of independence
not of bondage.
"Married people often look that way" --
"seldom and cold, up and down,
mixed and malarial
with a good day and bad."
"When do we feed?"
We occidentals are so unemotional,
we quarrel as we feed;
one's self is quite lost,
the irony preserved
in "the Ahasuerus t?te ? t?te banquet"
with its "good monster, lead the way,"
with little laughter
and munificence of humor
in that quixotic atmosphere of frankness
in which "Four o'clock does not exist
but at five o'clock
the ladies in their imperious humility
are ready to receive you";
in which experience attests
that men have power
and sometimes one is made to feel it.
He says, "what monarch would not blush
to have a wife
with hair like a shaving-brush?
The fact of woman
is not `the sound of the flute
but every poison.'"
She says, "`Men are monopolists
of stars, garters, buttons
and other shining baubles' --
unfit to be the guardians
of another person's happiness."
He says, "These mummies
must be handled carefully --
`the crumbs from a lion's meal,
a couple of shins and the bit of an ear';
turn to the letter M
and you will find
that `a wife is a coffin,'
that severe object
with the pleasing geometry
stipulating space and not people,
refusing to be buried
and uniquely disappointing,
revengefully wrought in the attitude
of an adoring child
to a distinguished parent."
She says, "This butterfly,
this waterfly, this nomad
that has `proposed
to settle on my hand for life.' --
What can one do with it?
There must have been more time
in Shakespeare's day
to sit and watch a play.
You know so many artists are fools."
He says, "You know so many fools
who are not artists."
The fact forgot
that "some have merely rights
while some have obligations,"
he loves himself so much,
he can permit himself
no rival in that love.
She loves herself so much,
she cannot see herself enough --
a statuette of ivory on ivory,
the logical last touch
to an expansive splendor
earned as wages for work done:
one is not rich but poor
when one can always seem so right.
What can one do for them --
these savages
condemned to disaffect
all those who are not visionaries
alert to undertake the silly task
of making people noble?
This model of petrine fidelity
who "leaves her peaceful husband
only because she has seen enough of him" --
that orator reminding you,
"I am yours to command."
"Everything to do with love is mystery;
it is more than a day's work
to investigate this science."
One sees that it is rare --
that striking grasp of opposites
opposed each to the other, not to unity,
which in cycloid inclusiveness
has dwarfed the demonstration
of Columbus with the egg --
a triumph of simplicity --
that charitive Euroclydon
of frightening disinterestedness
which the world hates,

"I am such a cow,
if I had a sorrow,
I should feel it a long time;
I am not one of those
who have a great sorrow
in the morning
and a great joy at noon;"
which says: "I have encountered it
among those unpretentious
proteg?s of wisdom,
where seeming to parade
as the debater and the Roman,
the statesmanship
of an archaic Daniel Webster
persists to their simplicity of temper
as the essence of the matter:

`Liberty and union
now and forever;'

the book on the writing-table;
the hand in the breast-pocket."

by Czeslaw Milosz |

Ars Poetica?

 I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with thehelp of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

by Edgar Lee Masters |

Percival Sharp

 Observe the clasped hands!
Are they hands of farewell or greeting,
Hands that I helped or hands that helped me?
Would it not be well to carve a hand
With an inverted thumb, like Elagabalus?
And yonder is a broken chain,
The weakest-link idea perhaps --
But what was it?
And lambs, some lying down,
Others standing, as if listening to the shepherd --
Others bearing a cross, one foot lifted up --
Why not chisel a few shambles?
And fallen columns! Carve the pedestal, please,
Or the foundations; let us see the cause of the fall.
And compasses and mathematical instruments,
In irony of the under tenants' ignorance
Of determinants and the calculus of variations.
And anchors, for those who never sailed.
And gates ajar -- yes, so they were;
You left them open and stray goats entered your garden.
And an eye watching like one of the Arimaspi --
So did you -- with one eye.
And angels blowing trumpets -- you are heralded --
It is your horn and your angel and your family's estimate.
It is all very well, but for myself I know
I stirred certain vibrations in Spoon River
Which are my true epitaph, more lasting than stone.

by Edwin Arlington Robinson |

Late Summer


Confused, he found her lavishing feminine 
Gold upon clay, and found her inscrutable; 
And yet she smiled. Why, then, should horrors 
Be as they were, without end, her playthings? 

And why were dead years hungrily telling her 
Lies of the dead, who told them again to her? 
If now she knew, there might be kindness 
Clamoring yet where a faith lay stifled. 

A little faith in him, and the ruinous 
Past would be for time to annihilate,
And wash out, like a tide that washes 
Out of the sand what a child has drawn there. 

God, what a shining handful of happiness, 
Made out of days and out of eternities, 
Were now the pulsing end of patience—
Could he but have what a ghost had stolen! 

What was a man before him, or ten of them, 
While he was here alive who could answer them, 
And in their teeth fling confirmations 
Harder than agates against an egg-shell?

But now the man was dead, and would come again 
Never, though she might honor ineffably 
The flimsy wraith of him she conjured 
Out of a dream with his wand of absence. 

And if the truth were now but a mummery,
Meriting pride’s implacable irony, 
So much the worse for pride. Moreover, 
Save her or fail, there was conscience always. 

Meanwhile, a few misgivings of innocence, 
Imploring to be sheltered and credited,
Were not amiss when she revealed them. 
Whether she struggled or not, he saw them. 

Also, he saw that while she was hearing him 
Her eyes had more and more of the past in them; 
And while he told what cautious honor
Told him was all he had best be sure of, 

He wondered once or twice, inadvertently, 
Where shifting winds were driving his argosies, 
Long anchored and as long unladen, 
Over the foam for the golden chances.

“If men were not for killing so carelessly, 
And women were for wiser endurances,” 
He said, “we might have yet a world here 
Fitter for Truth to be seen abroad in; 

“If Truth were not so strange in her nakedness,
And we were less forbidden to look at it, 
We might not have to look.” He stared then 
Down at the sand where the tide threw forward 

Its cold, unconquered lines, that unceasingly 
Foamed against hope, and fell. He was calm enough,
Although he knew he might be silenced 
Out of all calm; and the night was coming. 

“I climb for you the peak of his infamy 
That you may choose your fall if you cling to it. 
No more for me unless you say more.
All you have left of a dream defends you: 

“The truth may be as evil an augury 
As it was needful now for the two of us. 
We cannot have the dead between us. 
Tell me to go, and I go.”—She pondered:

“What you believe is right for the two of us 
Makes it as right that you are not one of us. 
If this be needful truth you tell me, 
Spare me, and let me have lies hereafter.” 

She gazed away where shadows were covering
The whole cold ocean’s healing indifference. 
No ship was coming. When the darkness 
Fell, she was there, and alone, still gazing.

by Edwin Arlington Robinson |

The Revealer


He turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion … And the men of the city said unto him, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?—Judges, 14.

The palms of Mammon have disowned 
The gift of our complacency; 
The bells of ages have intoned 
Again their rhythmic irony; 
And from the shadow, suddenly,
’Mid echoes of decrepit rage, 
The seer of our necessity 
Confronts a Tyrian heritage. 

Equipped with unobscured intent 
He smiles with lions at the gate,
Acknowledging the compliment 
Like one familiar with his fate; 
The lions, having time to wait, 
Perceive a small cloud in the skies, 
Whereon they look, disconsolate,
With scared, reactionary eyes. 

A shadow falls upon the land,— 
They sniff, and they are like to roar; 
For they will never understand 
What they have never seen before.
They march in order to the door, 
Not knowing the best thing to seek, 
Nor caring if the gods restore 
The lost composite of the Greek. 

The shadow fades, the light arrives,
And ills that were concealed are seen; 
The combs of long-defended hives 
Now drip dishonored and unclean; 
No Nazarite or Nazarene 
Compels our questioning to prove
The difference that is between 
Dead lions—or the sweet thereof. 

But not for lions, live or dead, 
Except as we are all as one, 
Is he the world’s accredited
Revealer of what we have done; 
What You and I and Anderson 
Are still to do is his reward; 
If we go back when he is gone— 
There is an Angel with a Sword.

He cannot close again the doors 
That now are shattered for our sake; 
He cannot answer for the floors 
We crowd on, or for walls that shake; 
He cannot wholly undertake
The cure of our immunity; 
He cannot hold the stars, or make 
Of seven years a century. 

So Time will give us what we earn 
Who flaunt the handful for the whole,
And leave us all that we may learn 
Who read the surface for the soul; 
And we’ll be steering to the goal, 
For we have said so to our sons: 
When we who ride can pay the toll,
Time humors the far-seeing ones. 

Down to our nose’s very end 
We see, and are invincible,— 
Too vigilant to comprehend 
The scope of what we cannot sell;
But while we seem to know as well 
As we know dollars, or our skins, 
The Titan may not always tell 
Just where the boundary begins.

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.