* A Distributed Proofreaders Canada eBook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the ebook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the ebook. If either of these conditions applies, please contact a FP administrator before proceeding.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. IF THE BOOK IS UNDER COPYRIGHT IN YOUR COUNTRY, DO NOT DOWNLOAD OR REDISTRIBUTE THIS FILE.

Title: A Land and a People

Date of first publication: 1952

Author: Shirley Barker (1911-1965)

Date first posted: Mar. 5, 2016

Date last updated: Mar. 5, 2016

Faded Page eBook #20160302

This ebook was produced by: Mardi Desjardins, Cindy Beyer & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

Books by Shirley Barker




The Dark Hills Under


A Land and a People




Peace, My Daughters


Rivers Parting





A  Land  and  a  People




A book of poems



CROWN  PUBLISHERS,  inc.  •  new  york









    For whom I am like money in the bank.

    You can forget it, take no care for it.

    But if you ever need it, it is there.


New Hampshire Prelude3
Wind Over England8
A Land and a People9
Sandwich Fair12
From Father to Son14
The Spirit Walks17
The Fathers of My Heart18
Descend to Man20
The Eldest Son22
Challenge and Answer25
The Unregenerate26
Alas and Lack-A-Day27
Incredible End28
March Weather29
Poem Written in the Belief That It Is
    Possible to Pass Through Wisdom
    and Come Out the Other Side30
The Unremembered31
Rhyme for Red32
Men’s Generations33
If Any Child34
Child That I Never Had36
To a Maker of Land37
Cup to the Dead38
In Time of a Friend’s Illness
    I. St. Patrick’s: a rainy night in May39
   II. The Knight’s Tale39
  III. On receiving an invitation to a
       strawberry festival that would
       have admitted two, but that only
       one can use40
Poem for My Daughters41
Poem for Your Home Town42
Sing Oh the Holly44
Fable for Genealogists45
The Sewing Circle Remembers Kit Rowan47
Ballad of Wind and Rain48
Of Female Scholars52
A Cradle Song for Old John Doane53
Hester Prynne’s Daughter56
Clipper Captain57
John Alden Speaks for Himself58
Hunter’s Moon60
Armada Weather61
New Hampshire Christmas62
American Autumn63
With a Book of Bohemian Folk Tales
    Done in Red and Black65
By High St. George66
First Poem for Valerie68
Map of England71
Old Tale Retold72
End and Beginning74



New Hampshire Prelude

Will Scarlet walked in the gray-green wood,

Where the bearded oaks and hazels stood,

Up through the covert to Robin Hood,


    In the time of man, in the time of man.


He let the ghost of an arrow fly

As the ghost of a deer went loping by

In the primrose light of the evening sky,

    In the time of man.


    The trees had stood there since the time of God.

They nodded to Will with a kinsman’s nod,

And he to them.

                  “My bones are laid

Over in Blidworth; the merry blade

Has a slack bow hung on a chapel wall

For epitaph. But a boy grows tall

In Gamwell Chase, with a shooting eye

And the name of Scarlet, the same as I.

We Scarlets been here since God made tree,

And none be English so much as we.

Where we’ve always been we will always be,

So what do I need of an epitaph?”

As he went to Robin he tried to laugh.

Robin tapered a shaft of yew.

“Ho, Will!

            What powder and shot can do

I hear when I walk in Nottingham.

It must cleave a wand of willow true

Before I yield it a tinker’s dam.

But the night owl falls from his daytime perch

At seeing you stride from Blidworth Church

In the wan half-light ere the night comes on.

You’ve not been so spry since the reign of John.

Tuck and Johnny are hunting grouse,

And Allan’s gone robbing a public house

To raise the ghost of a butt of beer,

But empty-handed you’ve traveled here,

You, my yeoman who bagged the deer


        Have you been carrying on

With that royal wench from Aragon

Who liked you best of the merry men?

Don’t tell me she’s astir again,

When we stole a priest to bless her sod,

And left her back in the time of God,

    While we stayed on, for the time of man.”


Will stood up in his gray-green ghost,

Like a shaft of smoke from a farmyard oast,

Tapped foot to earth with a woodcock-drumming.

“Robin, I’ve word to fear what’s coming!

Once I ha’ died—”

                  “Aye, Will, that’s true,

So what have you got to worry you?”

“I can die again—

                  for what’s to die

But to go from England—?”

                          “Aw Will, give over!

You be going nowhere.


                     Go back and lie

Down at Blidworth and dream for aye

O’ being the Spanish woman’s lover.

    I wish that Allan would come in sight!

    There’s little here for the soul’s sustaining,

    Since that prowling priory Hallows Night

    Gave our last barrel of sack a draining.”

“Rob,” said Will, to his sorrow cleaving,

“The blood is up and the lad is leaving,


    For all time ever of God or man.

And wherever he goes, goes part of me.

We Scarlets been here since God made tree,

And none be English so much as we.

But he’s going forever from Gamwell Chase,

And not for sack or a pretty face,

With adventurers for Piscataqua—

And what’ll they have when they get him there?

Six feet still of muscle and bone

May turn to nothing we’re proud to own,

Once he’s away from us; less tall,

In the land where black-green rivers crawl,

And gold guineas catch in the salmon weir.”

“What’d you have if you kept him here

When he wants to go?” asked Robin, fetching

A sheaf of arrows that needed fletching.

“Can’t you see, Will, a boy can tire

Of heaping turf on a kitchen fire

That hasn’t gone out in a hundred years?

Guineas leaping in salmon weirs

Would tempt me too, and there’s endless firwood

There, I hear.”

             “But it isn’t Sherwood.

He may thatch four walls there, and strew seed corn,

But it’s not Old Thorny where he was born.

None of its towns will be Nottingham,

Nor its rivers Trent, where his father swam;

And he’ll grow a difference.

                 New England will swallow him.

He’s going where England’ll never follow him.

And he can’t tell why, and neither can we.”

“Why then,” said Robin, “God made tree,

But Devil had share in you and me.

Mayhap between them they think to take

An English yeoman, and of him make

Something better, for Christ His Sake.”

Fire spat forth from the gray-green head.

“What could be better?” Will Scarlet said.

Robin sighted along his bow.

“Whatever it is, we’ll never know—”

Choosing a shaft with a goose-gray quill—

“We won’t—but maybe New Hampshire will—


    And the time of God be the time of man.”

Wind Over England

Over the shires a gray wind came,

  That iron autumn, where men were sowing

Their winter wheat. No town could tame

  Its force. John Winthrop felt it blowing

By Fleet Ditch midden. The reedy water

  Of Lincoln scudded against the weirs,

As it passed on its way to Dudley’s daughter,

  With rhymes to last her for forty years.

The gray wind blew on a generation,

  And those who felt it were marked for going

To be seed corn for the strangest nation

  That ever came of a gray wind’s blowing.

Stand in the furrow, lad, and feel it!

  The wind blows ever on town and tree.

What choice it makes, you cannot appeal it

  In County Assize or Chancery.

You cannot flee from its commendation,

  You cannot struggle athwart its plan.

You must stand up with your generation

  And play your part in the time of man.

A Land and a People

Seers of my day, loose-lipped and self-assured,

Call me the dying bough on the dead tree;

Tell me my race is evermore immured

In sunken graveyards. Blood from oversea—

Which you call new—will wake new miracle

Out of the empty soil that starved my sires

Until they died within themselves, and walked,

And worked, and bred dead sons too long a time.

Tell me a peasant woman is a shell

Bearing the pearl of vitalness within;

That in my fields, run-out and rusty-stalked,

Sweet corn shall grow for her and fadeless thyme.

Tell me these things: here there were Puritans,

Stiff-necked and gray, blind as the steeple bat

To virtues alien in their stubborn clans;

Their laws forbade the tassel on a hat,

The buckle on a shoe, the gilded sleeve.

These bigots prayed, and bred sons who were weaker

With every breeding. These shall not retrieve

Ascendancy, for a new race is forming—

At carven doors hear the coarse knuckles storming!

A people dies! The People rise!

                              Bespeak her,

This woman who is earth, and man, and pain,

Harvest and dearth, the spirit of your People.

She toils to whitewash stones along the lane,

Missing the vision behind the whitewashed steeple.

Her hands are raw with labor in the mills,

She has delights, nor knows the greater one—

Between the moment when her body fills

With the sharp clamor of the living son,

And a new ribbon for her unwashed hair.

Pitiful is she as a new-plowed field,

As patient, and as sure to bear, and bear,

Heavy with strength she cannot always wield,

Half troubled by old laughters on the air.

    You give this land to her, seers of my day.

    Give her the king-writ grants she cannot read,

    And let us watch her. I shall stand aside,

    And hear the wooden pattens pounding up

    The stairs of generations. I shall laugh

    At certain changing airs of this, your People.

The posturer who clips the unwieldy name,

And calls himself “Rob Jones” or “Edward Smith”;

He has despised us when he took our land,

But now he wants the name that goes therewith,

Now he has coins to jangle in his pocket.

The dame who shapes her grandsires’ tardy fame,

And shows the jewel from a pawnshop locket,

Saying her forebears brought it out of Kent,

Lincoln, or Surrey—she has studied maps—

In Cromwell’s time—she has studied history

With sloe-black southern eyes, dull, but intent.

You say the Puritans are dead? Perhaps.

This country will not let this people die.

Their dust strikes deeper than the mountain root,

Their inarticulate grief swells in its rivers,

Their tartness sets the flavors of its fruit.

While there are stars—by this I mean forever—

Who takes this land may climb

With wooden shoes or silver up the stairs

Of generations, but his look will grow

In climbing, like the look of Alden’s heirs;

Myles Standish will be in him ere he know;

When all the loose-lipped seers have talked with time,

And turned away, admitting it is so.

Sandwich Fair

Today the dead men ride to Sandwich Fair,

Where scent of steaming flanks and frost on clover

Walks merrily abroad in the fall air.

Turf comes off them like a quilt tossed over;

Throb of lost hoofs is all the mount they need;

Here they will draw rein in the village square,

Between the vendors of apples and pumpkin seed—

Look where the dead men ride to Sandwich Fair.

John Ames rides first, imperious, leather-lipped,

Shaped like a horse-whip; flagons full of cider

Shall sweeten his way home. May Goodfall, gripped

In a tight habit; scarce the saucy rider

She was two decades back. Alonzo Pray,

Black-browed as snow squall on the Ossipees’

Tall mountains walling Sandwich. Ethan Gray,

Trim-coated, fleckless.

                      There are graves for these,

And for their fellow riders where the dam

And mill town curb the Merrimack, and where

The sea fogs drive at dusk through Rockingham—

Unpeopled graves, the day of Sandwich Fair.

Is it the children’s faces like small moons

Of apple ruddiness that calls them back?

Or the sharp, tawdry color of balloons

And fakers’ toys, grown lovelier for the black

Look of slow dust so long before their eyes?

Mortality in a thick-tendoned bull?

Longing to see old friends? Or the surmise

That here is life, and life is beautiful?

Whatever voice can speak below the tares

In country graveyards, quickens with October:

“Time to go forth where men have spread their wares

At Sandwich Fair—and no man ride back sober,

But drunk with life! Life, tart as russet apples,

Good as a woolen coat, as ledges bare—

But living—living!”

                   I may not go beside them,

But I shall watch for these steeds and the men who ride them,

For one I would meet again at Sandwich Fair.

From Father to Son

Young men who walk the windless halls of time,

Young marchers in the progress that is man,

Young countrymen of ours, tough with the lime

And sand of our own acres, we are plan

And power that spread your fields unhedged and broad,

That raised your towns against the afternoon.

We are the elders building spires to God;

The rakes who battled to a drinking tune.

We are your fathers, living as the brook

Under the ice of winter, and we smile

With dim old faces in a dusty book.

You think you are the first to play with guile,

The first with driving courage in his marrow,

The first to stand upon a peak and sing.

You think us lodgers in a sunken barrow,

Forever doomed to feed the roots of spring.

And this we are. But deeper than the blind,

Proud fallacy that death is dust and rue

In the grave’s unchanging weather,

The dead man walks within the living mind

And counsels you,

“You are our sons, and we shall march together.

When you have given your body to this land

And the sharp roots about your temples bite,

The fires you lit being no longer-spanned

Than any young man’s ardor in the night;

The plans you made for mankind gone awry,

Your high crusade become a schoolboy’s jest,

Then you shall share our earlier dream of sky,

The ripe field, and the roof against the weather;

The woman’s mouth, the child upon her breast,

And youth, a roaring colt too brave to tether—

These, and the wide land, and the stars at night,

And the dim roads the dead men march together.

When you have poured your blood upon this land,

Buried your loves in it, and watched them grow

Into a summer’s greenness, you will know

A courage past the lift of waving flags,

A faith that needs

No stormy eagle crying on the crags,

No guarded roads for lesser men to grope;

Only the surety of scattered seeds,

Only the knuckles curved for clasp or fight,

Only the wide land, and the stars at night,

The sires for memory and the sons for hope.

When you, with us, are shades through shadow drifting,

You shall have peace no vision can foretell,

And sharp delight to feel your spirit lifting

Young clay again; to know yourself the bell

Whose voice strikes upward from the sea-drowned steeple;

To know in starlit land and a quick people

Something of yours remains, and it is well.”

The Spirit Walks

England has come this way:

England has come and left

This patterned country, shaped with hedge and wall;

England has bred these canny folk who say

Few words in youth, in old age none at all.

Where a gaunt wind grows loud, of space bereft,

Rocking the steeple, shaking the white plum

To the bough’s hard tip; England has come and left

Her likeness here, and gone.

                           And there have come

Out of the niggard valleys, strong men singing;

Out of the praying sires, the fighting men.

Swift as the taunt astride the bullet’s stinging,

The spirit walks, and speaks of change again.

Away and off, beyond what sweet horizon,

The sky has roots, the rainbow turns to gold?

The hand that staked the claim and shot the bison

Shall not return to Massachusetts mould,

More than the flesh that conquered Massachusetts

Shall feed the Cotswold violets.

                                Not alone

The spirit walks. It leads where graves shall mellow

For us, in some hushed land beyond the yellow

And amber stores of immemorial harvest,

Wrested from sharper earth than plows have known.

The Fathers of My Heart

The fathers of my heart were gnarléd men,

Riding the borders of a mountain county

To view their fences. Men who knew the Lord

Loves a tight fence, they only used a pen

To keep accounts, nor did they have the swagger

It takes to wave a sword.

Children begotten in their narrow bounty

Of passion, might grow up to whet a dagger,

Or love a harlot, or drink wine and stagger,

Or worse—to spend what they could not afford.

Self-ruined heirs might waste their careful hoarding,

For no dead hand had laid restraint thereon.

“After we die, we shall not talk back from heaven.

Go wallow in every sin from one to seven;

We shall not weep for it where we have gone.

We framed your minds to sense; deny the pattern.

We sweat to earn you gold; trade it for clay.

Go crying ‘Sister’ to each passing slattern,

If you want to make yourself a fool that way.

You are our flesh. We love you, but we show it

Not in the quick kiss, not in the weak tear drawn

By your mistakes. This is the way you know it:

That we went gnarled and niggard to project you

Toward plenty, that we taught what should protect you

And keep you free men, after we were gone.”


The fathers of my heart were ruthless men

Unto themselves, unto their neighbors, shearing

The sheep too close, going in threadbare coats,

And praising their sons deep in their gruff throats,

When the sons were out of hearing.

Berating with a caustic word those children,

Loving them so the hand shook at the name

Of son or daughter; all their tortuous living

Quickened for those whose flesh was of their giving

Such were the fathers and the ways I knew them.

The children of my heart shall say the same.

Descend to Man

Spirit that lifts a golden maple high,

And sways the willow catkins in the spring;

Spirit that speaks out of a gusty sky

The muted poetry of a blackbird’s wing,

The wordless poetry of a mountain climbing

Among thin, frosty airs forever chiming—

Spirit, descend to man that he may sing.

Come swinging through the beechwood in the dusk,

Bearing the scent of leaves forever green;

Through towns more fair than Camelot on Usk,

Blow the long smoke the shining roofs between.

Spirit that moves a field to kiss the plow

With warm, brown lips, and breathe the ruddy word

Of harvest: Spirit shaking the ripe bough,

Where blind men only see the thieving bird:

We shall inherit what our fathers had:

The mellow field, the road that gropes to town;

Each his own choice of music—each may hear

A hundred steeples beat upon the ear,

Or one lost sheep bell from a misty down.

We shall inherit spires that twist and climb,

Tall tree trunks blackened with the wind and rain—

All that our sires relinquished unto time

We shall have back, as youth has always had;

But not their lost security again.

Not the proud force that held the seas at bay,

And cut the curving lands to their deep core;

Not the sure knowledge that the new-cut hay

Would rise as sweet a thousand seasons more;

Not the indifference to death and pain

That keyed the senses to a marching tune,

That drove the ramrod home at Yorktown plain

And broke the dark and bloody ground with Boone.

We shall inherit what a people leaves,

But we are not that people, fleshed with earth,

Who dwelt serenely under ancient eaves

And took their substance from one meadow’s girth.

We are not that folk who watched the breakers flood

Over their little ship steered for a dream.

No storm of arrows stings along our blood

To drive us where the last dim ranges gleam.

Spirit that lifts a golden maple high,

Dark, thorny boughs are crashing on the air.

Come softly where our ruined towers lie,

Sow in our furrowed minds the seeds of prayer.

Song shall arise there like a sweet wind blowing

To green old fields against a second mowing—

Song, and the singing courage that shall dare

On mortal lips to front the immortal sky.

The Eldest Son

These are the children of a continent:

This dark-eyed, ruddy girl, the painted plain,

With desert turquoise woven in her hair;

This cornland woman overborne with grain,

Generous alike to seed and sickle blade,

Burnt gold and brown beneath the parching air.

These are the children of a continent;

Mulatto wench, slow-veined with tepid streams,

Most ancient lady, whose severe brocade

Is frayed along the seams,

Who sits within a ruined garden close

And weeps because a vandal crushed the rose,

But plants new roses only in her dreams.

These are the children of a swelling land,

A full-blown country, and a vision’s power;

A country that can partly understand

Love is least mortal at its April hour;

A country that forsook its eldest son

On a sharp headland by the gray sea’s rim,

But made a hundred peoples into one,

Strong with the sinewed strength they drew from him.

He is a man, this country, and his frame

Is a gaunt hillside, and his laugh the wind

That shakes the hill—a laugh not often heard,

Save at the cry of the black, returning bird

Where wings have ceased to beat since winter came.

Dark roots have long drawn lifeblood from his heart,

His youth gone seaward from a rotting pier,

But still his savor keeps the apples tart,

His passion speaks in men for men to hear.

Autumn pervades him, but his every part

Holds May more dear.

He is a man gray-coated in the snow,

Hiding arbutus underneath his coat;

Wearing a silence always on his mouth,

Though the whole sea is singing in his throat.

That mouth is an ascetic’s, thin and tight;

Its kiss is like a comet in the night.

I took this man for lover in my youth;

I took this man, desiring his caress.

His love was sunlight on the winter roof—

Too white and sharp to give me tenderness.

His handclasp was more cruel than a blow,

His fingers grasp my spirit’s self in me;

But I shall love him till he bids me go

To feed the sumac and the shagbark tree.

His heirs amend him. You can see them pass.

They beat against you in a crowded street,

Their footprints lie on every blade of grass,

Their chimney smoke goes up the sky at dusk—

I have not drawn them from a winding sheet

Scented with rue and musk.

My lover’s house is not a cenotaph:

Its granite chambers open to the sky

Are full of living men who breathe, and laugh,

And walk the russet orchards in the fall;

Who walk the road of death but do not die,

Because their sons go out to mend the wall

They left unmended, and their daughters take

The needle up to run the unfinished seam.

Their blood has the bright leap of brooks that wake

In spring, their flesh is turf that takes this stream

And holds it up to feel the vibrant air.

I would be theirs, and I would have them mine,

Because I know they live to breed and bear

A destiny beyond their own design.

For men will come on feet that shake the ground,

Deep-rooted men, as earthly as the corn,

Whose laughter has a wind-in-treetops sound,

Who scatter seeds out of a powder horn

And put their faith upon the blowing stem.

Such men will come. I want a part in them.

Challenge and Answer

The young man wearies of his father’s house:

Too sturdy timbers keep the stars from sharing

His wakefulness. Outside, the careless boughs

Shake with fresh wind across a new world faring;

Within, the cobwebs gather, gather and thicken,

As old beliefs thicken in old men’s minds.

Hew off the roof! Pull down the walls! Let quicken

Each gust of change.

                    Rattling these window blinds

Is no fit, noble sport for such clean blowing.

We are young men. We shall build new, if at all.

Youth needs no shelter when the rains are flowing.

Strength will not burrow when the whirlwinds fall.

Young challengers, this is the doom of you:

To grope, tear-blinded, through a shattered wood

Of trees that you considered stout and new.

When you have learned your fathers’ ways were good;

That stars and wind are but poor friends to mortals;

That roofs have reason in them, you shall dwell

Under the weathered beams, behind old portals,

Rejoicing that your fathers built so well.

You shall renew the battered paint and shingle,

And watch your gray hairs coming through the brown,

While all your generation toil and mingle,

And rear up sons to tear their houses down.

The Unregenerate

In autumn


Brown shagbarks, hold from me the gnarléd kernel

With the prismed shell. Yellowing elm trees,

Pour down your gold on the hair of other women

            Walking in virtue.

Barberry bush, tender your sour orange.

Briar and burdock, tatter my flesh. The bramble

Plucked with the rose strikes inward rankling coldly

            When I embrace it.

Fetch me the sackcloth skirt and coif of ashes—

Likewise, a branch outrageous of the maple!

Thus I be fitly clad for sin or Sabbath,

            As the mood takes me.

Alas and Lack-a-Day!

Who marries you will marry Massachusetts,

  The steepled village and the fieldstone wall,

And lie in bed at night with ghosts of greatness

  That cannot make the living man more tall.

Who marries you will marry Harvard College

  And rear her sons to wear the scholar’s gown

And entertain on Sundays, Cotton Mather,

  Alive as when he preached the witches down.

Of parsons robed severely for the Sabbath,

  Of magistrates garbed each in his degree—

Of all who render honest lovers honest—

  Who marries you will never marry me.

Incredible End

These are the girls who read the Gallic Wars

When I was reading them, who ran with me

Across the hockey field. They sit indoors

Tonight, and read a cooking recipe

Or mend a sock. The hips and bosoms flare,

That I recall as angular and slim.

Wide eyes grow veiled beneath the accusing stare

Of wider eyes across a cradle’s rim.

These are the men who had the mouths of boys

When I was learning how a boy’s mouth felt

Upon my own. Now apathy employs

Their nights as trade their days. No friend can melt

The glaze of their indifference by asking

News of themselves. They only warm to me

After a glass has cheered them into basking

In piteous boasts of what their sons will be.

It does not grieve me that my father’s friends

Are old men now with sinews lax and sprung,

But that my own companions fall on ends

Incredible last night when we were young.

This is the end of agony and wonder

Save through vicariousness; this is the pain

Of my green generation’s plowing under

To feed the roots of man’s eternal grain.

March Weather

Landscapes dissolve in rain,

Now winter splits apart;

Willows bud in the fen;

The weather in the heart

Stirs like the greening wave,

Quickens in kindled fire:

Now every girl believes

In every man’s desire.

The leafless lilac hedge

Too bare to shelter love,

The sea-blown winds that rage

Inland cannot reprove

This shaft of mellowing light

Over inward acres blown.

In this weather of the heart

No lover goes alone.

Poem Written in the Belief That It Is
Possible to Pass Through Wisdom
and Come Out the Other Side

When I was nineteen the land ran green and brown

To the mountain’s blue,

And any fool could tell the field from the town,

The false from the true.

Wiser than all the books I had never read,

Older than all the years I had never seen,

Inexorable as parting of quick and dead,

I knew you would never be mine when I was nineteen.

In a riper year the land dissolves in sky

Like smoke in mist.

Bared to their colorless depths all colors lie;

No towns exist

For wise men’s telling. Under the autumn rain,

True touches false with little choice between,

And the tempered wit denies the untempered vein

The wisdom of nineteen.

The Unremembered

The year your son’s as tall as August corn,

Your daughter like to give her mate an heir,

Will you remember, with an old man’s scorn

For young men’s folly, how you touched my hair

And took my lips?

                  You will remember, rather,

The autumn edge of wind, the mourning rain;

Rebellious ache of muscles bent to gather

The fallen twig; strength in the marching vein

Of the uplifted arm.

                    Courage and color

You will remember; fear, in the dull night;

The tortuous ache of tortures growing duller

To disappearance—the unwavering sight

Of your first rifle—your first glimpse of sea—

Sunset behind the house where you were born—

You will have little need to think of me,

The year your son’s as tall as August corn.

Rhyme for Red

Red are the apples on the bough,

Red are the bramble hips,

Red is the soil beneath the plow,

Red are a woman’s lips.

Though man may reap his fruit amiss

And seed his turf awry,

Until he scorn a woman’s kiss

His kind will never die.

Men’s Generations

Men’s generations lift a feeble stem

Immortally, much to the planet’s wonder,

The stars’ indifference. There is in them,

Fibre of oaks hewn down and trodden under;

Tenacity of fog on a dark shingle;

The inarticulateness of wind and rain;

Patience of fields wherein they look to mingle,

Intimate dust with dust that grows again

Up a green stalk.

                  Men’s generations quiver

Before what storm of stars? Go down before

What planet’s thrust? Streams from a deathless river

Into their hushed roots pour.

Soil from unmeasured mountains feeds their growing

Perennially. Under the blade of time

Fall the bright flowers of all purer sowing,

But not the generations as they climb.

Mist out of chaos blurs the leaf’s appearance,

Seldom the sun of vision warms the tree

That has no power beyond the perseverance

To lift a feeble stem immortally.

If Any Child—

If any child, born of this beauty’s breath,

Shall look at me with eyes like mine and say

That love has less reality than death,

That men are forged of finer stuff than clay,

I shall forgive him.

                 Young eyes watch a star

Too ardently to see the fields as well.

Small good to tell him April lilacs are

More sweet than amaranth and asphodel.

If he swear loyalty to deathless things,

As I am sworn to love the things that die,

If any child of mine shall long for wings,

Let him, too, learn the emptiness of sky.

He will come back to crush the friendly turf,

To barter jests and apples in the town,

To pull an oar against the pulsing surf,

And love a girl with eyes of autumn brown.

If any child shall have his flesh of me,

Betrayed by this bright moment out of dust

Into a shape that fathoms ecstasy

And begs in scarlet for a bitter crust,

Let him love oak leaves rustling to the moon,

And all earth’s colored pageant moving by.

He will be part of timelessness too soon,

Lost as a wind that walks along the sky.


In shadow and quick light,

  Where grass flows to the sea,

Blue, to green, to white,

  Time moves visibly.

Gold, to amber, to black,

  Returning tides will come;

The russet leaf hangs slack

  To banner no man home.

The chestnut’s ivory leaf,

  The lilac’s mauve,

Wither for no man’s grief,

  Nor burgeon for his love.

Time bids colors burn

  Or cease, to suit a plan

That holds of no concern

  The troubled flesh of man.

Child That I Never Had

Child that I never had, you owe me more

Than any man of flesh can owe his mother:

Armor no crowds can spit upon or bore

With lead; the knowledge no man is your brother,

And hence deserving of you. Nothingness?

There are worse legacies of stain and blight;

You might have paid with fifty years’ duress

For sport I took at kissing in the night.

Girl that I never had, you will not know

All earth’s horizon in one lost young man

As I have done; but you are better so

Than bound in service to the futile plan

Of generation.

                  Oh unwaking son,

Infallible, and unbetrayed to clay,

Not by the crumbling forts my fathers won

Shall I appoint you heir to their decay.

Women who cannot see beyond delight,

Or women who believe, or those who hope,

Cling to the strong arm, claim their ancient right,

And curse with breath the children who must grope

Into an ever darker chaos. Shrinking

Back from the baffled girl, the bleeding lad,

I shall go down my last road proudly linking

My arms with arms of heirs I never had.

To a Maker of Land

When the last briar, the last red sumac spray

Is hacked away, and sleekly curves the ground

Under your apple trees, stand tall some night

Under the light of a bright moon; look round

About you at the land you wrought, and hear

The early apples clear the twigs and fall,

At the sad end of summer—and remember

I would not have approved your feat at all!

I would have kept the bramble, the wild stem

That leafs in flame, nor blessed with my consent

This tidiness created at your touch.

There is so much I would have different—

As you know well. Under the lowering air,

Turn homeward, where my feet will never go,

On your last night of summer—and remember

This is your orchard; you would have it so.

Cup to the Dead

Come, brother, Agamemnon’s down,

  But we shall share his hill;

Fill we our cup with drink as brown

  As the turf we must fill.

What if our grief grow clamorous

  And scandalize the town?

Death has no power to trouble us,

  Now Agamemnon’s down.

The beams to shore the falling roof

  Have felt our strength today.

He built his house disaster-proof,

  He shaped his heirs that way.

Come, brother, hold your corner hard.

  Let nothing shift his wall,

Who told us, “This is yours to guard—

  If Agamemnon fall.”

Brother, our legend ends in peace,

  So men have said who know;

They wrote it down that way in Greece

  Two thousand years ago.

Till then, serve we each other well,

  Past any loves that be,

Because when Agamemnon fell

  No other watched with me.

In Time of a Friend’s Illness

I. St. Patrick’s: a rainy night in May

I was brought up to think the gods were dead

With ghost and goblin. I was a wise child:

Too wise to bend the knee or bow the head,

And that did well enough while fortune smiled.

But now, afraid, in trouble, and distraught,

’Tis marvel how unerringly I turn

From consolations thinking men have wrought,

To these old altars where the candles burn.

I kneel here in the dark, an unbeliever,

With lovely Latin chanted soft above,

Humbly beseeching those dead gods deliver

Their safest passage to a friend I love.

And as they answer Heaven stands or falls.

Oh gods, I charge you, mind those jasper walls!

II. The Knight’s Tale

Let’s play that you’re a princess in a tower,

And I’m the knight pacing below the wall,

And illness is the cruel stepmother,

And pain the dragon at her beck and call.

She is not flesh the broadsword can dispatch,

No sorcerer can chant her hold away,

But all we have to do is wait and watch;

She is at best the creature of a day.

’Tis a hard doom thus to subsist on patience

That bears but poor repute as knightly fare.

The walls look down upon me in complacence.

I face them back and tell them they are air.

I can await the ultimate renaissance,

When you let down one single golden hair.

III. On receiving an invitation to a strawberry
     festival that would have admitted two,
     but that only one can use.

These strawberries will not be common fruit

  Gathered from any field of earth. They’ll be

Grown of Elysium’s immortal root,

  Too good for me.

Whatever’s said or sung will be the same,

  Sweet past the telling, be it false or true;

Since it is something hallowed with your name,

  Coming from you.

I’ll be there proud and wear my gayest dress,

  And walk secure, and steadfast, all my own;

And nobody who looks at me will guess

  I’m not alone.

Poem for My Daughters

These are my daughters and these will I own:

Deborah, Barbara, Janet, and Joan.

Barbara—stranger—is I to the life,

Always a daughter and never a wife.

Janet and Joan are the twins I would bear

Him who demanded a masculine heir.

Deborah, brown-eyed, in a gray dress

With a white kerchief—one sober caress

Always I wanted and never could win—

She is the child of that mystical sin.

All will I give you, save flesh, blood, and bone,

Deborah, Barbara, Janet, and Joan.

Poem for Your Home Town

The land I grew in gave me gifts

Beyond my flesh: the free

Indifference to assault that lifts

A mountain rowan tree.

Its sea put singing in my blood;

Its autumn air put edge

Along my wit. To nerve and mood,

Each crooked granite ledge

Brought perseverance after vows,

The strength to look at truth.

My father and my father’s house,

My apple blossom youth

New Hampshire gave.

                   It did deny

Of all sweet gifts the crown.

That was bestowed upon me by

A green Ohio town.



Sing Oh the Holly

I met my love in winter’s sorry season:

  Sing oh the prickled holly and the fir!

A maid is first betrayed by her own treason,

  It little needs a man should cozen her.

I kissed my love when Candlemas brought thawing:

  Sing oh the chastened holly in a wreath!

Wroth at our plighted troth the rooks went cawing

  Up from the boughs we lovers lay beneath.

We waved goodbye across the springing furrows:

  Sing oh the withered holly flung away!

No man who takes the span of golden boroughs

  Will hie him back to cut the golden hay.

By Hallows Eve, ’tis like, I’ll bear his daughter—

  No boy be cradled for a lot so mean.

One woe she’ll know, whatever else is taught her:

  In twenty years the holly will be green.

Fable for Genealogists

They drew her in a satin dress

Of whalebone and brocade,

Befitting for an ancestress,

But irksome to a maid.

They painted her with powdered hair

And jewels at her throat,

Who once had let her feet go bare

And torn her petticoat

Picking a way up Bramble Hill,

To tryst beneath the thorn

With Tam O’Day who kept the mill

That ground her husband’s corn.

That she was fair the men would say,

The women call her sly:

Her son was gotten on the day

She laid her satins by.

They painted her with powdered hair

Beside her graybeard squire

Who reared him up the thin-lipped heir

Named for a thin-lipped sire.

They drew her in a satin dress

Ten generations gone.

Never did those bright lips confess

What lips they rested on:

But now and then the blood distills

A child too mad and gay,

The eyes as blue as Wicklow hills,

The laugh of Tam O’Day.

The Sewing Circle Remembers Kit Rowan

Kit Rowan’s mother came from County Down

In famine year, wrapped in a ragged quilt.

Kit’s eyes were blue, her hair was peat-moss brown,

She prayed to Mary, and she danced the lilt

With Dan the peddler on the muster green.

(’Twas Dan the peddler bought her scarlet shoes—

He said he liked her laughter.) That could mean

The elders had no second way to choose.

Beyond the edge of town they harried Kit.


“It’s sad I am,” she wept, “for any people

So hard and foolish and so proud of it

They put a golden cock upon a steeple.”

The girl was draggled, poor, and infamous;

I cannot see why she should pity us.

Ballad of Wind and Rain

Two men were knocking at my door as I ran down from the gables;

  Rain blew up from the river, and fog drew in from the sea.

One man wanted a prophet, and one a spinner of fables,

  And neither wanted me.

“Come in,” I said, “from the dripping sky. A loaf and a lighted candle

  Are yours and welcome, though I can tell no saw nor curious tale.”

Better the storm than a stupid wench made fast to a teapot’s handle.

  Her speech pallid and stale.

I loosened my hair in the sullen light and the color of bronze was in it.

  I held my hands to their scornful hands, and beckoned them indoors.

We have been blinded with brighter locks and lain out love’s sharp minute

  In whiter arms than yours.

We come here seeking a man tonight; a brother to stand beside us

  And try his wit upon our wits, and gladden our feast with the pearl

Of a brave jest crushed in the wine. We have not hied us

  Hither to prate with a girl.

They rode away in the yellow mist. I walked my house more drearly

  Than raindrops lost in the river or fog drawn back to the sea.

Every night comes the rap on my door, and my own name spoken clearly,

  And nobody wanting me.


Oh come, fellow, come, here’s India rum

  In a keg that will never go dry,

And here’s Hetty come up from the towns in the south,

  With the come-hither look in her eye.

She’s been with a colonel who carried a sword,

  She’s been with a sea-going tar,

She’s been with a parson who prayed to the Lord,

  And she’s waiting to try what you are.

Once Hetty was white as a pear tree in May,

  But now she is raddled and red.

Too often she watched out the dawning of day,

  While her sisters lay sleeping in bed;

Too often she walked with a man in the dusk;

  Too often she lay in the straw.

She’s been with a painter, and been with a priest,

  And been with a man of the law.

For we cried, when her baby lay breathless and dead,

  That its throat bore a bruise and a mark,

But the judge on the bench caught a glance from the wench,

  And loved her that night in the dark.

So Hetty will laugh with her wide, painted lips,

  And shake the rough mat of her hair.

“When I was a girl, you were good, you were bad,

  Just the way you were ugly—or fair.”

Oh come, fellow, come, to the comfort of rum,

  Nor drink to the loves you have lost.

Here’s Hetty as bright as the coins in her purse,

  And sharp as the edge of the frost.

She’s been with a poet, and a digger of graves,

  She’s been with the host at the bar;

She’s tried all your brothers and found they were knaves,

  And she’s waiting to try what you are.

Of Female Scholars

(For Edith Stedman, Director of the Bureau of
Appointments, Radcliffe College)

My wares are female scholars, sir. Discern

  Their virtues well, and make a studied choice.

Here’s Ann: it took her seven years to learn

  To babble Sanskrit in a raucous voice.

Here’s Jane: her stockings wrinkle at the ankle,

  Her brow is smudged with lipstick like the curse

Of Cain. Don’t let such trivial matters rankle!

  She writes iambics, eloquent and terse.

Laurette—poor creature—this is just between us,

  Is a rare jewel, though she stoops and squints.

She wrote her thesis on “The Busts of Venus.”

  (The subject didn’t give her any hints.)

These are my wares, these shy, imperious women

  Pursuing visions perilous and sweet.

They put no thought upon a bonnet’s trimming

  And make no terms with dust blown through the street.

I hawk them for the price of bread and covers

  Paid to the purchased wench. Their heads are high;

Plato and Aristotle are their lovers.

  My wares are female scholars. Who will buy?

A Cradle Song for Old John Doane

—A deacon of Plymouth church who lived
to the age of one hundred and ten, and
during his last days was rocked in a cradle—

Oh let Sue scour the pewter, both trencher and ladle,

  And Ann go out leafing the green woods along,

And Martha’s to rock the old lad in his cradle,

  With the long swing, the strong swing, the soft swinging song.

                Here and yon,

                Come and gone.

                First of all

                Men recall

                Swaying bed,

                Bending head

                Over them,

                Rustling hem,

                Gentle kiss.

                More than this

                Never any woman is.

                Who was small

                Groweth tall;

                Draining sedge,

                Setting hedge,

                Guiding plows.

                Hawthorne boughs

                Hide the place

                For embrace,

                Plighting kiss.

                More than this

                Never any woman is.

Oh the light’s down the wall, and the wick as ye trimmeth,

  Lean over him gently—he sleeps now and then;

Our grandfather’s grandsire, a deacon of Plymouth,

  All shriveled and wee, and a hundred and ten.

                Crossing seas,

                Felling trees,

                Shooting braves,

                Digging graves,

                Praising God

                For his rod,

                Watching her

                Soothe your heir

                With her kiss.

                More than this

                Never any woman is.

Run, Nan, pin the shutter across the east gable;

  The wind’s rising fast. Jane, go season the pot.

The wisest lad ever was rocked in a cradle

  Will call for his supper and call for it hot.

                Here and yon,

                Come and gone,

                Summers pass;

                Flesh is grass

                Under stone.

                Man alone

                Thinks of these:

                Gathered sheaves,

                Fallen leaves,


                More than these

                Never any woman is.

                Soft and slow,

                To and fro.

                What was tall

                Lieth small.

                Start and end

                Meet and blend.

                Swaying bed,

                Comely head

                Bending down,

                Rustling gown,

                Gentle kiss;

                Who has this

                Has all woman ever is.

Hester Prynne’s Daughter

I have remembered walking in this way,

Through slanting tombstones on the yellow grass;

Feeling harsh boughs beset me as I pass,

Hearing a wind beside my shoulder say,

“Put a dull cloak upon your rose-red dress.

You walk where dead men walked in righteousness;

Kneel down in prayer where they have knelt to pray.”

The air was thick with syllables of dust;

The silt of ages lay upon my hair—

And then the bright wave caught me unaware!

Thrust from the sod as daffodils are thrust,

I knew the kisses of the living air,

I knew the kisses of a loving mouth.

I have come back to walk across the drouth.

That love is gone. The daffodils are dead.

I walk among the tombs, I hear the sound

Of a ghost’s gray skirts as it trails them over the ground.

The gray wind says what all gray winds have said.

But I am proud to walk across this grass

And flaunt my rose-red gown to the prayerful men.

No grand-dame crying caution in my blood,

No vision gleaming darkly through a glass,

Shall keep my soul from drowning in that flood,

When the bright wave breaks over me again.

Clipper Captain

The Captain went to sea at seventeen,

Before the time of clipper ships was done.

They say his first wife was an island queen

Who moved like palm leaves stirring in the sun.

His second wife was Mattie Jones from Hull;

She bore him sons and kept him from the tide.

Her voice was shriller than a wailing gull;

She swept the house up clean the day she died.

The Captain does not think of women now.

His chair is placed where he can watch the sea;

His blue eye quickens at a cleaving prow,

He whispers quaveringly,

“This land breeds men. I sailed around the Horn

Seventy years ago. One hour past

A boy took ship, and there are boys unborn,

Like those who sailed with me before the mast.

This land breeds men. They may not swear by sails,

But they are tempered with the same unrest

A headland gives. They have a love for gales

And roads run west.

It is not death to feel the body go

Into a land that keeps on breeding men.

It is the one way I shall ever go

To sea again.”

John Alden Speaks for Himself

May Hell and Death blow fury on that day!

  I walked so gay in the woods, and I found a plot

Of silly pink buds and took them to her in a spray.

  The Captain said she was his. (May the Captain rot!)

He said he knew she loved him, but he was too proud

  To go chasing a maid for himself.

                                    He never said

That once I’d made his offer, and stood there, polite, and bowed,

  The wench would fling herself at my hapless head.

There were others in town could bake a tastier loaf,

  Others could kiss in the starlight quicker than she;

But had I refused her, all Plymouth would call me an oaf.

  I might have found myself in the pillory

Or worse.

      You know the end—the end that is never over—

  Three hundred springs have dwindled away in fall,

But still men sneer at me for a laggard lover,

  Who was never a lover at all.



Hunter’s Moon

—In the time of the Finnish War—

Great Bay is frozen over now,

  From the pale sedges wheel

No blue-gray wings of mallard,

  No blue-green wings of teal.

The men crack walnuts by the fire,

  The boys court or brawl,

Oblivious of their empty guns

  On the kitchen wall.

By other frozen bays the guns,

  Checked by no game law’s ban,

Bring down upon the darkening fields

  The richness that is man.

Under the trampled sedges lie,

  Stiff in the steel rain,

Boys who will never shoot a duck

  Or kiss a girl again.

The stars look out on Stratham Hill,

  Lights in the windows spring;

And I reach out my hand for yours,

  Knowing no better thing

Than this dumb comfort for dumb fear

  Of landscapes torn with steel

If the Great Bay men wrench down their guns,

  Ignoring teal.

Armada Weather

“Grant us, oh God, the old Armada weather—”

Country too raw to nurse the fine-bred heather,

Unfertilized by castles in decay,

Now England darkens for Armada weather;

What shall we say

When she comes seeking men-at-arms of us?

Is it the old reply?

“While our unthreatened towns are populous,

Our harvest safe, we have no call to die.”

Look out with lights across the shrunken water:

Are we unmenaced if the armies sweep

Over the sad frontiers betrayed to slaughter

By old men counting danegeld in their sleep?

Country too young to know Armada weather,

Ask your unshattered stone,

What free man turns from free men drawn together?

What nation liveth to itself alone?

New Hampshire Christmas

Our harvest moon is gone, and our hunting season;

Black rains turn white in the air, gray acres white.

Now firwood feels the axe for the old reason,

And children dream of reindeer in the night.

Now in the reindeer countries no such folly

Survives. Kris Kringle dies without reprieve.

Brave shires that sang the ivy and the holly

Dare risk no peal of bells this Christmas Eve.

Christ, if he came, would find no friendly manger

In David’s land, no offering of myrrh.

Peace walks the earth an outcast and a stranger,

But in New Hampshire we may harbor her

A little longer at least; tell the old story

Of man’s rejoicing, and keep the old good cheer;

Thank, for what peace we have, the Power, the Glory—

And pray to do the same another year.

American Autumn

Believing men have plowed their fields this year;

Traced the brown runnel round the sallow hill

As in remembered autumns.

                        So mynheer

Planted his tulips by a brown canal

One fallow spring, but never saw them bloom.

Last year the muzhik set his fields with grain,

Then set the torch against the yellow stem.

Plowers, how many of you will plow again?

Will see, beyond the fields of brown and amber,

The beechwood whiten as the dark comes on;

Will use your guns for hunting in the timber,

Or know rejoicing in the new-born son

And the casual march of autumn back to autumn

Till age remembers only mellow sky?

Death was about, young men, when you were gotten,

And your young fathers marched away to die.


Out of the towns of the mandarins,

Out of the villas in Provence and Brittany,

Out of the gate flung open in a Sussex lane;

By the light of high stars falling into the sea,

The home-born come home again.

Now Europe’s burning, Asia’s turned the brown

Frown for the yellow smile;

Where is there an American can go?

Only the quick ship sailing west, exile

Where rude autumns blow;

Where corn and desert stripe the land between

Two rows of seaboard cities? How is this

Life like raw leather, fed from turnip fields,

To recompense them for the sweet, the green

Old countries rich with all time’s artifice?

They went for money, learning, restlessness,

Because it was the fashion—and they come

Ruefully back, in emptiness and fear,

Seeking one thing.

                We bid them welcome home;

We do not promise they shall find it here.

With a Book of Bohemian Folk Tales
Done in Red and Black

Black grief is yours, black terror on the rack;

The red of sweet, spilled flesh is yours as well,

Bohemian peasants drawn in red and black,

Who sent the devil limping home to hell.

A greater devil strides your mountains now,

Your cities crumble and your harvests burn;

You cannot smite the symbols from his brow,

By simple tricks with apple tree and churn.

But these sharp stories from your days of mirth

Should caution any Satan to have done

His futile war on the black strength of earth,

The red of apple harvest, and God’s son.

By High St. George

The apple trees by high St. George

  Bend in the shifting snow

Seaward, toward the harbor gorge

  Wherein the troopships go.

For there are men loved apple trees

  Who walk the decks thereon,

Leaving their hearts’ Hesperides

  In Maine and Oregon.

They shall pick apples, God allow,

  At home, before they die,

Who turn from home’s last apple bough

  East to the alien sky.

We set our faith in no mirage

  Who call their courage kin,

And tend the roots by high St. George

  Till all the ships are in.


(On reading of the death of Stephen Vincent Benét)

So long as men shall cross America

West from the seaboard cities with the light,

Yet conscious underneath their consciousness

Of Plymouth landfall, or the dogwood bough

Whitening beside the James:

                          so long as men

Pass the horizons of the buffalo—

Today, tomorrow, and no buffalo there—

Beyond the gray-green streams that flowered blue

At one man’s word—

                  this man shall live that long!

First Poem for Valerie

(Born on the morning of the invasion of Sicily)

Green nuts hide in the green leaves along the chestnut bough,

Blue summer lights the bay.

In May the chestnut blossoms—you must learn how whitely—

For you were not born last May.

These green nuts in autumn will be smooth and amber

You must touch them then.

Nothing will ever be sleeker to your fingers

Though you stroke richer silk than most daughters of men.

A black mist came blowing early through the chestnuts,

The green fields of cattle and corn;

And on one chestnut island, good men died in battle,

The morning you were born.

A sad wind, a sea wind blew your eyelids open,

The world revealed its woe.

By children slain, by cradles split and broken,

You could have told it no.

But you chose to breathe its grim air—so the world is yours

To take with little aid,

Save the trees in the green wind that never heard of wars,

And lift their boughs for any child who makes the choice you made.


Great ships move down the bay,

Bearing our loves to death.

Ile de France makes way

For Queen Elizabeth,

Moving like queens to court,

Sinister, sleek.

Wherever they make port

The wrath will break.

It has been ours to prove

In our life’s span,

The death of God and love,

The rise of outraged man.

These ships have in their holds

Burnt town and riven sky,

Young flesh already old,

Bright flesh that must die

Before its brightness dulls,

Before wars stop.

Over them hang the gulls,

And the world’s hope.

Map of England

Here’s England forty miles the inch! Here’s time,

And love, and man, and all that makes us we!

Top of the Dunkery Beacon I shall climb

To watch the Doones and Lorna—it’s 5-C.

And you’ll be up in Haworth near 4-D

With those Bronte girls—Charlotte’s a minx, but clever

Enough to seem demure; wears jet, no doubt.

And if she misses, Emily you can’t flout.

They will go on enduring and forever

On their doomed earth that shall outwit all doom.

To this our blood goes back: to Suffolk where

Jim Barker left his goose and tailor’s shears

And went from Risbridge Hundred west—the years

That bring men home have not returned him there;

To Cheshire, where “a Done doth kill a Done,”

Beside the Irish Sea, so Drayton wrote

About your sires.

                In this lost century,

Where sterling pound grows lesser, groat by groat,

Here’s Wessex whence the fighting kings have gone.

Here’s England!

              Cross your fingers and hold on.

Old Tale Retold

This is the way the houses looked,

  All dusty in the drouth;

Around this hill the coach road crooked

  When hooves went beating south.

His love stood by in crinoline,

  His house rose firm as prayer,

The day Bray Collin rode to war

  Across the village square.

New Hampshire dust has piteous dreams

  Asleep at Seven Pines:

Bray Collin’s house is rotting beams

  Below the blackberry vines;

His love has left her withered flesh

  That wrapped a bitter core.

Her sons were not Bray Collin’s sons,

  They never went to war.

The years go over: autumn, May,

  And love and death come back.

Men whose great grandsires rode with Bray

  Move now to the attack.

May God upright their rooftrees keep,

  Let love’s fulfillment be,

Nor lay New Hampshire dust asleep

  Beside the Yellow Sea.



End and Beginning

Return again!

            Wind rattling at the door

In the blue autumn morning, rains of spring

Driven across the warm night heretofore

Have kept you down, have ceiled you, wondering

Why death must be (as we shall wonder soon);

Not done with life, not reconciled to gain

The heaven promised you, seeking no boon

But breath eternal—

                    Gone, return again!

Not that this foolish bidding can evoke

What is, without it. There can never burn

In dead men’s minds the words their children spoke,

“Christ, as you had a father, make return

Of mine!”

        The graves that do not yawn or yield

Stay tamped; no glimmering whiteness moves from there

Transparently. But in the stubble field

Or the steel town; in every man, the heir

Of all men gone before him; in the thrust

Of blood and muscle; in the silence heard

After the prayer, the poem—

                          Wan in dust

The dead men—but they speak the living word.

They lived before us, winding in parade

A flight of stairs (the journey up or down?)

From lavish Eden in the apple shade,

To August morning in an eastern town

Now with them, out of mind.

                          (Did they enjoy

Its sharp arrival? Whisper pridefully,

“It took our arms ten years to level Troy.

The boys we got are better men than we.”)

They built before us: here and there an ell,

And now and then a gable—never whole

Or to a grand design. If it were well,

They did not ask; if it were beautiful,

Not half so much as did it serve the need.

One marble moment of the Parthenon,

Ten thousand years of wattle laced with weed.

We cannot call them back who have not gone.


They thought before us: Beauty, Truth, and Good

They bounded, sifting shadow out of dream.

Sir Isaac lying in the apple wood,

The Scotch boy bending to the kettle steam,

The men who wrote, “We hold these truths to be


                Like raindrops down a wall

They pass, and yet we have no surety,

But what our children shall out-think them all.

Their books, their walls, their unremembering flesh

We have of them; within us they remain.

I try their old integrity afresh,

Who cry above our graves, “Return again!”

With this my argument:

                      I bear no lyre,

No golden clime of song has sheltered me;

I had my being in a stony shire,

The only shire this side the western sea;

But there the mist was cleft before me once—

Which one of you can prove but what I am

A palace minstrel murdered in Provence,

Reborn in Strafford north of Rockingham?

But what am I and what are all the poets,

Talking too loud of what they do not know?

Effectual as blind men tossing quoits,

Till the mist cleave to let the vision show

A dome of many colored glass revealed

To one; the red rose beauty, to a score;

To me, a narrow stretch of stonewalled field

That has been England’s but is hers no more.

Below this field, the men this field has fed—

And out beyond this field to Sutter’s mill—

In Saffron Walden were the fathers bred,

Devon or London, but the moving will,

From Charles His Kingdom by the Grace of God,

Spilled them all seaward as the lemmings spill.

And the sons grew up in the swamps around Great Bay,

Taught they were subjects still of Charles His Crown,

But a different set of muscles comes in play

Trimming a hedge than rafting hemlock down.

A different look lies on the land you clear

Than on the land you had from Doomsday Book.

The first New Hampshire man was not a seer,

But he could read the difference in that look.

In Strafford County north by Rockingham,

Down in a cup-shaped town the dark comes early,

Where chestnuts reach across the beaver dam,

I heard him asking,

                  “Can’t you hear me, Shirley?”

“Yes, I can hear. What is it?”

                            “If you can,

You are mine forever. I can half the score,

Possessing you, with any living man.”

And hearing him, I knew what I was for.

I was to listen always till I die,

For the voice half heard just as the dark comes down,

When mist goes walking somber on the sky,

When grass is gray and all the leaves are brown.

I was to speak whatever I should hear

Blown through the crooked crabtrees black with rain.

Thus, as a destined watcher by the weir

Between two worlds, I plead,

                          “Return again!”

Return again! Forever driving north

By east, the sea wind spirals into snow

Round towers that cannot hide me from the truth

Faced in a steepled village long ago.

I must lose myself to tell the thing I know.

There is no I. My hand’s an empty glove;

Where I have stood, a lifeless cloak shall sway,

And other lips comfort my living love,

That dead men may go walking in the day.

Open the window to the northeast sky;

Out of New England floods the freezing rain,

The voices calling as the wind drives by,

The cleaving mist, the ages tipped awry,

And the undying dead return again.


Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.

A cover was created for this eBook.


[The end of A Land and a People by Shirley Barker]