By Hamlin Garland
(1860 - 1940)
 
 
A Tribute of Grasses
 
To W. W.
 
 
SERENE, vast head, with silver cloud of hair
Lined on the purple dusk of death,
A stern medallion, velvet set—
Old Norseman, throned, not chained upon thy chair,
Thy grasp of hand, thy hearty breath
    Of welcome thrills me yet
    As when I faced thee there!
 
Loving my plain as thou thy sea,
Facing the East as thou the West,
I bring a handful of grass to thee,—
The prairie grasses I know the best;
Type of the wealth and width of the plain,
Strong of the strength of the wind and sleet,
Fragrant with sunlight and cool with rain,
I bring it and lay it low at thy feet,
    Here by the eastern sea.
 
 
A Wish
 
 
ALL day and many days I rode,
My horse’s head set toward the sea;
And as I rode a longing came to me
That I might keep the sunset road,
Riding my horse right on and on,
O’ertake the day still lagging at the west,
And so reach boyhood from the dawn,
And be with all the days at rest.
 
For then the odor of the growing wheat,
The flare of sumach on the hills,
The touch of grasses to my feet
Would cure my brain of all its ills,—
Would fill my heart so full of joy
That no stern lines could fret my face.
There would I be forever boy,
Lit by the sky’s unfailing grace.
 
 
Do You Fear the Wind?
 
 
DO you fear the force of the wind,
The slash of the rain?
Go face them and fight them,
Be savage again.
Go hungry and cold like the wolf,
    Go wade like the crane:
The palms of your hands will thicken,
The skin of your cheek will tan,
You ’ll grow ragged and weary and swarthy,
    But you ’ll walk like a man!
 
 
In the Grass
 
 
O TO lie in long grasses!
O to dream of the plain!
Where the west wind sings as it passes
A weird and unceasing refrain;
Where the rank grass wallows and tosses,
And the plains’ ring dazzles the eye;
Where hardly a silver cloud bosses
The flashing steel arch of the sky.
 
To watch the gay gulls as they flutter
Like snowflakes and fall down the sky,
To swoop in the deeps of the hollows,
Where the crow’s-foot tosses awry,
And gnats in the lee of the thickets
Are swirling like waltzers in glee
To the harsh, shrill creak of the crickets,
And the song of the lark and the bee.
 
O far-off plains of my west land!
O lands of winds and the free,
Swift deer—my mist-clad plain!
From my bed in the heart of the forest,
From the clasp and the girdle of pain
Your light through my darkness passes;
To your meadows in dreaming I fly
To plunge in the deeps of your grasses,
To bask in the light of your sky!
 
 
Pioneers
 
 
THEY rise to mastery of wind and snow;
They go like soldiers grimly into strife
To colonize the plain. They plough and sow,
And fertilize the sod with their own life,
As did the Indian and the buffalo.
 
 
The Gift of Water
 
 
        “IS water nigh?”
        The plainsmen cry,
As they meet and pass in the desert grass.
        With finger tip
        Across the lip
I ask the sombre Navajo.
The brown man smiles and answers “Sho!”
With fingers high, he signs the miles
        To the desert spring,
And so we pass in the dry dead grass,
    Brothers in bond of the water’s ring.
 
 
The Gold-Seekers
 
 
I SAW these dreamers of dreams go by,
I trod in their footsteps a space;
Each marched with his eyes on the sky,
Each passed with a light on his face.
 
They came from the hopeless and sad,
They faced the future and gold;
Some the tooth of want’s wolf had made mad,
And some at the forge had grown old.
 
Behind them these serfs of the tool
The rags of their service had flung;
No longer of fortune the fool,
This word from each bearded lip rung:
 
“Once more I ’m a man, I am free!
No man is my master, I say;
To-morrow I fail, it may be,—
No matter, I ’m freeman to-day.”
 
They go to a toil that is sure,
To despair and hunger and cold;
Their sickness no warning can cure,
They are mad with a longing for gold.
 
The light will fade from each eye,
The smile from each face;
They will curse the impassable sky,
And the earth when the snow torrents race.
 
Some will sink by the way and be laid
In the frost of the desolate earth;
And some will return to a maid,
Empty of hand as at birth.
 
But this out of all will remain,
They have lived and have tossed;
So much in the game will be gain,
Though the gold of the dice has been lost.
 
 
The Greeting of the Roses
 
 
WE had been long in mountain snow,
In valleys bleak, and broad, and bare,
Where only moss and willows grow,
And no bird wings the silent air.
And so, when on our downward way
Wild roses met us, we were glad:
They were so girlish fair, so gay,
It seemed the sun had made them mad.
 
 
The Massasauga
 
 
A COLD coiled line of mottled lead,
He lies where grazing cattle tread,
And lifts a fanged and spiteful head.
 
His touch is deadly, and his eyes
Are hot with hatred and surprise—
Death waits and watches where he lies!
 
His hate is turned toward everything!
He is the undisputed king
Of every path and woodland spring.
 
His naked fang is raised to smite
All passing things; light
Is not swifter than his bite.
 
His touch is deadly, and his eyes
Are hot with hatred and surprise—
Death waits and watches where he lies!
 
 
The Meadow Lark
 
 
A BRAVE little bird that fears not God,
A voice that breaks from the snow-wet clod
With prophecy of sunny sod,
Set thick with wind-waved goldenrod.
From the first bare clod in the raw, cold spring,
From the last bare clod, when fall winds sting,
The farm-boys hears his brave song ring,
And work for the time is a pleasant thing.
 
 
The Ute Lover
 
 
BENEATH the burning brazen sky,
The yellowed tepees stand.
Not far away a singing river
Sets through the sand.
Within the shadow of a lonely elm tree
The tired ponies keep.
The wild land, throbbing with the sun’s hot magic,
Is rapt as sleep.
 
From out a clump of scanty willows
A low wail floats,—
The endless repetition of a lover’s
Melancholy notes,
So sad, so sweet, so elemental,
All lovers’ pain
Seems borne upon its sobbing cadence,—
The love-song of the plain.
From frenzied cry forever falling,
To the wind’s wild moan,
It seems the voice of anguish calling
Alone! alone!
 
Caught from the winds forever moaning
On the plain,
Wrought from the agonies of woman
In maternal pain,
It holds within its simple measure
All death of joy,
Breathed though it be by smiling maiden
Or lithe brown boy.
 
It hath this magic, sad though its cadence
And short refrain—
It helps the exiled people of the mountain
Endure the plain;
For when at night the stars a-glitter
Defy the moon,
The maiden listens, leans to seek her lover
Where waters croon.
 
Flute on, O lithe and tuneful Utah,—
Reply, brown jade;
There are no other joys secure to either
Man or maid.
Soon you are old and heavy-hearted,
Lost to mirth;
While on you lies the white man’s gory
Greed of earth.
 
Strange that to me that burning desert
Seems so dear.
The endless sky and lonely mesa,
Flat and drear,
Calls me, calls me as the flute of Utah
Calls his mate,—
This wild, sad, sunny, brazen country,
Hot as hate.
 
Again the glittering sky uplifts star-blazing;
Again the stream
From out the far-off snowy mountains
Sings through my dream;
And on the air I hear the flute-voice calling
The lover’s croon,
And see the listening, longing maiden
Lit by the moon.
 
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