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The Poet


The Medea and Some Poems (1935)


Any Human to Another

The ills I sorrow at
Not me alone
Like an arrow,
Pierce to the marrow,
Through the fat
And past the bone.

Your grief and mine
Must intertwine
Like sea and river,
Be fused and mingle,
Diverse yet single,
Forever and forever.

Let no man be so proud
And confident,
To think he is allowed
A little tent
Pitched in a meadow
Of sun and shadow
All his little own.

Joy may be shy, unique,
Friendly to a few,
Sorrow may be scorned to speak
To any who
Were false or ture.
Your every grief
Like a blade
Shining and unsheathed

Must strike me down.
Of bitter aloes wreathed,
My sorrow must be laid
On your head like a crown.



Only the Polished Skeleton

The heart has need of some deceit
  To make its pistons rise and fall;
For less than this it would not beat.
  Nor flush the sluggish vein at all.

With subterfuge and fraud the mind
  Must fend and parry thrust for thrust,
With logic brutal and unkind
  Beat off the onslaughts of the dust.

Only the polished skeleton,
  Of flesh revlieved and pauperized,
Can rest at ease and think upon
  The worth of all it so despised.



To France

Though I am not the first in English terms
To name you of the earth's great nations Queen;
Though better poets chant it to the worms
How that fair city perched upon the Seine
Is lovelier than that they traveled to;
While kings and warriors and many a priest
In their last hour have smiled to think of you,
Among these count me not the last nor least.

As he whose eyes are gouged craves light to see,
And he whose limbs are broken strenght to run,
So have I sought in you that alchemy
That knits my bones and turns me to the sun;
And found across a continent of foam
What was denied my hungry heart at home.



Medusa

I mind me how when first I looked at her
A warning shudder in the blood cried, "Ware!
Those eyes are basilisk's she gazes through,
And those are snakes you take for strands of hair!"
But I was never one to be subdued
By any fear of aught not reason-bred,
And so I mocked the ruddy word, and stood
To meet the gold-envenomed dart instead.

O vengeful warning, spiteful stream, a truce!
What boots this constant crying in the wind,
This ultimate indignity: abuse
Heaped on a tree of all it foliage thinned?
Though blind, yet on these arid balls engraved
I know it was a lovely face I braved.



Sonnet Dialogue

I to My Soul:

Why this preoccupation, soul, with Death,
This servile genuflexion to the worm,
Making the tomb a Mecca where the breath
(Though still it rises vaporous, but firm,
Expelled from lungs still clear and unimpaired,
To plough through nostrils quivering with pride)
Veers in distress and love, as if it dared
Not search a gayer place, and there subside?


My Soul to Me:

Because the worm shall tread the lion down,
And in the end shall sicken at its feast,
And for a worm of even less renown
Loom as a dread but subjugated beast;
Because whatever lives is granted breath
But by the grace and sufferance of Death.



The Cat

(From the French of Baudelaire)

Come, lovely cat, to this adoring breast;
Over thy daggers silken scabbards draw;
Into thy beauty let me plunge to rest,
Unmindful of thy swift and cruel claw.
The while my fingers leisurely caress
Thy head and vaulted back's elastic arch,
And through each tip mysterious pleasures press
And crackle on their swift dynamic march,
I see revived in thee, felinely cast,
A woman with thine eyes, satanic beast,
Profound and cold as scythes to mow me down.
And from her feet up to her throat are massed
Strange aromas; a perfume from the East
Swims round her body, sinuous and brown.



Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song
As Read by Ossie Davis

(A poem to American poets)
I said: Now will the poets sing.—— Their cries go thundering Like blood and tears Into the nation's ears, Like lightning dart Into the nation's heart. Against disease and death and all things fell, And war, Their strophes rise and swell To jar The foe smug in his citadel. Remembering their sharp and pretty Tunes for Sacco and Vanzetti, I said: Here too's a cause divinely spun For those whose eyes are on the sun, Here in empitome Is all disgrace And epic wrong, Like wine to brace The minstrel heart, and blare it into song. Surely, I said, Now will the poets sing. But they have raised no cry. I wonder why


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