Of Dying Beauty

Louis Zukofsky
American
1904 – 1978

 

“Spare us of dying beauty,” cries out Youth,
“Of marble gods that moulder into dust—
Wide-eyed and pensive with an ancient truth
That even gods will go as old things must.”

Where fading splendor grays to powdered earth,
And time’s slow movement darkens quiet skies,
Youth weeps the old, yet gives new beauty birth
And molds again, though the old beauty dies.

Time plays an ancient dirge amid old places
Where ruins are a sign of passing strength,
As is the weariness of aged faces
A token of a beauty gone at length.

Yet youth will always come self-willed and gay—
A sun-god in a temple of decay.

Fellow Citizens

In honor of Independence Day, we present this work by one of the most quintessentially American of all American poets.

Carl Sandburg
American
1878 – 1967

 

I drank musty ale at the Illinois Athletic Club with the millionaire manufacturer of Green River butter one night

And his face had the shining light of an old-time Quaker, he spoke of a beautiful daughter, and I knew he had a peace and a happiness up his sleeve somewhere. Then I heard Jim Kirch make a speech to the Advertising Association on the trade resources of South America.

And the way he lighted a three-for-a-nickel stogie and cocked it at an angle regardless of the manners of our best people,

I knew he had a clutch on a real happiness even though some of the reporters on his newspaper say he is the living double of Jack London’s Sea Wolf.

In the mayor’s office the mayor himself told me he was happy though it is a hard job to satisfy all the office-seekers and eat all the dinners he is asked to eat.

Down in Gilpin Place, near Hull House, was a man with his jaw wrapped for a bad toothache,

And he had it all over the butter millionaire, Jim Kirch and the mayor when it came to happiness.

He is a maker of accordions and guitars and not only makes them from start to finish, but plays them after he makes them.

And he had a guitar of mahogany with a walnut bottom he offered for seven dollars and a half if I wanted it,

And another just like it, only smaller, for six dollars, though he never mentioned the price till I asked him,

And he stated the price in a sorry way, as though the music and the make of an instrument count for a million times more than the price in money.

I thought he had a real soul and knew a lot about God.

There was light in his eyes of one who has conquered sorrow in so far as sorrow is conquerable or worth conquering.

Anyway he is the only Chicago citizen I was jealous of that day.

He played a dance they play in some parts of Italy when the harvest of grapes is over and the wine presses are ready for work.

We Have Not Long to Love

In honor of National Martini Day, we present this work by one of literature’s greatest drinkers.

Tennessee Williams
American
1911 – 1983

 

We have not long to love.
Light does not stay.
The tender things are those
we fold away.
Coarse fabrics are the ones
for common wear.
In silence I have watched you
comb your hair.
Intimate the silence,
dim and warm.
I could but did not, reach
to touch your arm.
I could, but do not, break
that which is still.
(Almost the faintest whisper
would be shrill.)
So moments pass as though
they wished to stay.
We have not long to love.
A night. A day…

America

We present this work in honor of Flag Day.

Claude McKay
American
1889 – 1948

 

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

The Fool’s Prayer

We present this work in honor of the Pentecost.

Edward Rowland Sill
American
1841 – 1887

 

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: ‘Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!’

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: ‘O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

‘No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin; but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

‘ ‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

‘These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

‘The ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

‘Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders-oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

‘Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!’

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
‘Be merciful to me, a fool!’

Hurt Hawks

Robinson Jeffers
American
1887 – 1962

 

I

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,

No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.

He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.

He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,

The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.

You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.

II

I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

Silence

Marianne Moore
American
1887 – 1972

 

My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
nor the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “`Make my house your inn’.”
Inns are not residences.

Some Little Bug

Roy Atwell
American
1878 – 1962

 

In these days of indigestion it is oftentimes a question
As to what to eat and what to leave alone.
Every microbe and bacillus has a different way to kill us
And in time they all will claim us for their own.
There are germs of every kind in every food that you can find
In the market or upon the bill of fare.
Drinking water’s just as risky as the so-called “deadly” whiskey
And it’s often a mistake to breathe the air.

Some little bug is going to find you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is going to find you someday.

The inviting green cucumber, it’s most everybody’s number
While sweetcorn has a system of its own.
Now, that radish seems nutritious, but its behavior is quite vicious
And a doctor will be coming to your home.
Eating lobster, cooked or plain, is only flirting with ptomaine,
While an oyster often has a lot to say.
And those clams we eat in chowder make the angels sing the louder
For they know that they’ll be with us right away.

Some little bug is going to find you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Eat that juicy sliced pineapple,
And the sexton dusts the chapel
Oh, yes, some little bug is going to find you someday.

When cold storage vaults I visit, I can only say,
“What is it Makes poor mortals fill their systems with such stuff?”
Now, at breakfast prunes are dandy if a stomach pump is handy
And a doctor can be called quite soon enough.
Eat a plate of fine pig’s knuckles and the headstone cutter chuckles
While the gravedigger makes a mark upon his cuff.
And eat that lovely red bologna and you’ll wear a wood kimono
As your relatives start packing up your stuff.

Some little bug is going to find you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is going to find you someday.

Those crazy foods they fix, they’ll float us ‘cross the River Styx
Or start us climbing up the Milky Way.
And those meals they serve in courses mean a hearse and two black horses
So before meals, some people always pray.
Luscious grapes breed appendicitis, while their juice leads to gastritis
So there’s only death to greet us either way.
Fried liver’s nice, but mind you, friends will follow close behind you
And the papers, they will have nice things to say…

Some little bug is going to find you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is going to find you someday.

A Failure

Edith Wharton
American
1862 – 1937

 

I meant to be so strong and true!
The world may smile and question, When?
But what I might have been to you
I cannot be to other men.
Just one in twenty to the rest,
And all in all to you alone, –
This was my dream; perchance ’tis best
That this, like other dreams, is flown.

For you I should have been so kind,
So prompt my spirit to control,
To win fresh vigor for my mind,
And purer beauties for my soul;
Beneath your eye I might have grown
To that divine, ideal height,
Which, mating wholly with your own,
Our equal spirits should unite.