People

GEORGE RIPLEY

Fortune, success, renown – these knew him not,
But stood far off; nor needed he their aid
To keep the compact that his soul had made
With honor.  What though, life-time long, his lot
Was toil and scant return?  No smallest jot
Abated his high zeal.  He labored,  prayed,
And faced his grief and failure undismayed —
Content to guard his cause from smirch and blot.

Lives such as his ask no o’er-friendly gloss
Of smooth condoning.  Clear in deed and plan
They beacon the far-stretching years across,
And preach, as no lip-spoken sermon can,
That priceless gain that still accrues from loss –
The clean, strong courage of a simple man.

STRANGER

I saw her pass, a slender shape
In rosy frock and blowing cape.

Upon her face was such a glow
Of joy, I wished that I might know
What was her secret keen delight.
Perhaps it was a sudden sight
Of some lost friend; or high desire
Fulfilled, to which great souls aspire;
Or lovers’ meeting, sweet and wild;
Perhaps the promise of a child.

I could not tell; I had no clue.
And yet I often wish I knew.

NIGHT SCRUB-WOMAN

All dim and still the office stands;
Yet there is moving through the room
A woman with efficient hands,
Who plies he cleansing mop and broom.

And while her toilsome work is done,
It seems a gallant thing
That though her task is late and lone
She still has strength and heart to sing.

1728 Regent Street, Madison, Wisconsin

THOREAU’S WALDEN

With simple skill, on every lucid page –
Fresh from the woods, and mild with mellowed
thought –
The calm philosopher his word has wrought,
The utterance at once of bard and sage;
His prophet-pen has power to assuage
The eager covetings of souls distraught
With haste and greed, so well his truth has
taught
A soothing gospel to a frenzied age.
Could we who read cast off our worldly pride,
From close convention seek a just release,
Make him some whit our counselor and guide,
While our harassed restlessness might cease;
Some glad content might in our breasts abide,
And life become a fair, straight way of peace.

THE WAITRESS

I watched her as she set the plate and glass, –
A slim dark woman, with an ordered mass
Of black, gray-threaded hair.  He work-worn
hands
Were dexterous, fulfilling the demands
Of seemly service; and I saw she went
About her task with unassumed content.
(A still, benignant light was on her face.)

She brought the food and spread it in its place
As if I were a long-expected guest,
And she a gracious hostess, with her best
Of meat and drink to offer, friendly-wise.
(She did not speak, but I could read her eyes.)
Her work was done with courtesy complete,
That blessed the food, and made it doubly sweet.

I ate with strange humility and peace,
And felt within my harassed heart surcease
Of care and loneliness.  I went away,
And thought upon her kindness all that day.

Printed in the Christian Science Monitor
Written at 2301 Regent Street, Madison, Wisconsin

THE TOILERS

Down in the street, uncheered by breeze or shade,
They bend and strain; their hardened faces burn
With ardent heat, reflected in its turn
From glimmering pavements, tireless, unafraid
Of tasks that, in a daintier sight, degrade
The soul that labors, these with fervor stern
As delving hard their day’s subsistence earn –
Strong men who yield the matlock and the spade
But scorn not, neither pity; it is meet
That men should toil unceasingly to gain
The right to live; and fate – won bread is sweet,
Though coarse and scant; compassion and disdain
Only the idle merit – those who eat,
Yet spend not strength of either hand or drain.

Published with Illustration

MARGARET FULLER

Would that she might have tarried long among
Those gifted friend, whose faith perceived her skill
To see and do, her virile, tireless will,
The clear, unfaltering fervor of her tongue;
Would she stayed till kindly age had flung
Its soft content around her, and until
It touched her with that tolerance which still
Is life’s best gift to those no longer young!
So many joys stood waiting for her here,
Which all the wide, art-haunted halls of Rome
Could never give; and triumphs, doubly dear,
Shared in the peaceful precincts of as home
Whose white dream-portals gleamed convincing-near –
And these must vanish in a burst of foam!

New England Magazine, p. 382 – November 1907

HOUSEWIFE

Each day brings back its simple task, the same
As yesterday, and like the one that came
And went on days before. In younger years
I thought on this with hidden angry tears,
But now my sight is clearer and I see
How much, how much the world has need of me
That I may make a quiet, sure retreat,
Where those I love may come and sit and eat
The bread of kindness, drink the ready cup
Of hope and faith; and, going, may look up
Some whit higher for the minutes spent
Where I have toiled to make a home content
With cleanliness and order, warm and bright,
With all that speaks the tired heart’s delight.
The simple task grows greater. So I live
Within my walls, and think how I may give
Some good to any soul who enters here,
And fail not once in friendliness and cheer.

Published place and date unknown

A LITTLE BOY

Past high brick buildings, down the city street,
Where overhead far shadows swing and meet,
He trudges, holding to his father’s hand.
His little legs, half bare, are stout and tanned;
His coat, too long by half for such as he,
Proclaims an elder brother’s legacy;
His hard round hat pressed down upon his ears,
Is scarcely suited to his tender years.
He does not think of these things. On his face
The wonder of this unfamiliar place
Shows like a flame. He stares beyond the glass,
Then back again upon the crowds that pass
In strange and bright attire. As he beholds
The marvel world, undreamed of, that unfolds
Confused and brilliant, to his childish eyes,
He views it all with silent, slow surprise.

COMMUTERS

In rows they sit, dull-eyed and mostly dumb,
And wait resigned for that good time to come
When they shall make descent and flit away.
They bear the harsh impressions of the day
Spent in the hurried haunts of toil and trade,
Where money rules, and wealth is lost or made.

One taps impatient at the window ledge,
Or adds up frantic figures on the edge
Of news-sheets quickly staled. Another bends
Above the printed page. A group of friends
Make cheerful babble of their own affairs,
And laugh aloud, unmindful of the stares
Of those who seek to drowse the journey through.
Some frankly sleep and snore.

But only few
Are placid, vital, glad, with eyes serene,
And looks that show contentment, and that mean
A freer soul, a spirit satisfied
With what the day has brought, —a conscious pride
In new achievement and a lesson learned
(Not merely hours spent and stipend earned).
Why should not all find life as richly blessed
By chosen labor and its promised rest?

ON A CLOISONNE VASE

Quaint, exquisite, clear hued, it subtly shows
In every line an art that holds the eye
Gloating with joy; within its surface lie
Such shapes as fancy through a vision throws –
Thin golden tendrils, intertwined with rose,
And cherry bloom, and web-winged dragon-fly,
And drifting bird – all in the richest dye!
And mingled here in Orient repose.
When he who wrought beheld the gracious whole
Made by his patient hands, what ecstasy
Of wonder through his ravished being stole!
He must have whispered, marveling to see,
“Lo, all this loveliness from my own soul
Has sprung: Here stands the best of me!”

New England Magazine p. 615- April 1908

Advertisements