Best Famous William Vaughn Moody Poems

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Written by William Vaughn Moody | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by William Vaughn Moody | Create an image from this poem

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?
Written by William Vaughn Moody | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by William Vaughn Moody | Create an image from this poem

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!
Written by William Vaughn Moody | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by William Vaughn Moody | Create an image from this poem

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.