Read Second Section - Incense of The Congo and Other Poems, free online book, by Vachel Lindsay, on ReadCentral.com.

An Argument

I. The Voice of the Man Impatient with Visions and Utopias

We find your soft Utopias as white
As new-cut bread, and dull as life in cells,
O, scribes who dare forget how wild we are
How human breasts adore alarum bells.
You house us in a hive of prigs and saints
Communal, frugal, clean and chaste by law.
I’d rather brood in bloody Elsinore
Or be Lear’s fool, straw-crowned amid the straw.
Promise us all our share in Agincourt
Say that our clerks shall venture scorns and death,
That future ant-hills will not be too good
For Henry Fifth, or Hotspur, or Macbeth.
Promise that through to-morrow’s spirit-war
Man’s deathless soul will hack and hew its way,
Each flaunting Cæsar climbing to his fate
Scorning the utmost steps of yesterday.
Never a shallow jester any more!
Let not Jack Falstaff spill the ale in vain.
Let Touchstone set the fashions for the wise
And Ariel wreak his fancies through the rain.

II. The Rhymer’s Reply. Incense and Splendor

Incense and Splendor haunt me as I go.
Though my good works have been, alas, too few,
Though I do naught, High Heaven comes down to me,
And future ages pass in tall review.
I see the years to come as armies vast,
Stalking tremendous through the fields of time.
MAN is unborn. To-morrow he is born,
Flame-like to hover o’er the moil and grime,
Striving, aspiring till the shame is gone,
Sowing a million flowers, where now we mourn
Laying new, precious pavements with a song,
Founding new shrines, the good streets to adorn.
I have seen lovers by those new-built walls
Clothed like the dawn in orange, gold and red.
Eyes flashing forth the glory-light of love
Under the wreaths that crowned each royal head.
Life was made greater by their sweetheart prayers.
Passion was turned to civic strength that day
Piling the marbles, making fairer domes
With zeal that else had burned bright youth away.
I have seen priestesses of life go by
Gliding in samite through the incense-sea
Innocent children marching with them there,
Singing in flowered robes, “THE EARTH IS FREE”:
While on the fair, deep-carved unfinished towers
Sentinels watched in armor, night and day
Guarding the brazier-fires of hope and dream
Wild was their peace, and dawn-bright their array!

A Rhyme about an Electrical Advertising Sign

I look on the specious electrical light
Blatant, mechanical, crawling and white,
Wickedly red or malignantly green
Like the beads of a young Senegambian queen.
Showing, while millions of souls hurry on,
The virtues of collars, from sunset till dawn,
By dart or by tumble of whirl within whirl,
Starting new fads for the shame-weary girl,
By maggoty motions in sickening line
Proclaiming a hat or a soup or a wine,
While there far above the steep cliffs of the street
The stars sing a message elusive and sweet.

Now man cannot rest in his pleasure and toil
His clumsy contraptions of coil upon coil
Till the thing he invents, in its use and its range,
Leads on to the marvellous CHANGE BEYOND CHANGE.
Some day this old Broadway shall climb to the skies,
As a ribbon of cloud on a soul-wind shall rise.
And we shall be lifted, rejoicing by night,
Till we join with the planets who choir their delight.
The signs in the street and the signs in the skies
Shall make a new Zodiac, guiding the wise,
And Broadway make one with that marvellous stair
That is climbed by the rainbow-clad spirits of prayer.

In Memory of a Child

The angels guide him now,
And watch his curly head,
And lead him in their games,
The little boy we led.

He cannot come to harm,
He knows more than we know,
His light is brighter far
Than daytime here below.

His path leads on and on,
Through pleasant lawns and flowers,
His brown eyes open wide
At grass more green than ours.

With playmates like himself,
The shining boy will sing,
Exploring wondrous woods,
Sweet with eternal spring.

Galahad, Knight Who Perished

A Poem Dedicated to All Crusaders against the International and Interstate
Traffic in Young Girls

Galahad... soldier that perished... ages ago,
Our hearts are breaking with shame, our tears overflow.
Galahad... knight who perished... awaken again,
Teach us to fight for immaculate ways among men.
Soldiers fantastic, we pray to the star of the sea,
We pray to the mother of God that the bound may be free.
Rose-crowned lady from heaven, give us thy grace,
Help us the intricate, desperate battle to face
Till the leer of the trader is seen nevermore in the land,
Till we bring every maid of the age to one sheltering hand.
Ah, they are priceless, the pale and the ivory and red!
Breathless we gaze on the curls of each glorious head!
Arm them with strength mediaeval, thy marvellous dower,
Blast now their tempters, shelter their steps with thy power.
Leave not life’s fairest to perish strangers to thee,
Let not the weakest be shipwrecked, oh, star of the sea!

The Leaden-eyed

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.
Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly,
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap,
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve,
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

An Indian Summer Day on the Prairie

(In the Beginning)

The sun is a huntress young,
The sun is a red, red joy,
The sun is an Indian girl,
Of the tribe of the Illinois.

(Mid-morning)

The sun is a smouldering fire,
That creeps through the high gray plain,
And leaves not a bush of cloud
To blossom with flowers of rain.

(Noon)

The sun is a wounded deer,
That treads pale grass in the skies,
Shaking his golden horns,
Flashing his baleful eyes.

(Sunset)

The sun is an eagle old,
There in the windless west.
Atop of the spirit-cliffs
He builds him a crimson nest.

The Hearth Eternal

There dwelt a widow learned and devout,
Behind our hamlet on the eastern hill.
Three sons she had, who went to find the world.
They promised to return, but wandered still.
The cities used them well, they won their way,
Rich gifts they sent, to still their mother’s sighs.
Worn out with honors, and apart from her,
They died as many a self-made exile dies.
The mother had a hearth that would not quench,
The deathless embers fought the creeping gloom.
She said to us who came with wondering eyes
“This is a magic fire, a magic room.”
The pine burned out, but still the coals glowed on,
Her grave grew old beneath the pear-tree shade,
And yet her crumbling home enshrined the light.
The neighbors peering in were half afraid.
Then sturdy beggars, needing fagots, came,
One at a time, and stole the walls, and floor.
They left a naked stone, but how it blazed!
And in the thunderstorm it flared the more.
And now it was that men were heard to say,
“This light should be beloved by all the town.”
At last they made the slope a place of prayer,
Where marvellous thoughts from God came sweeping down.
They left their churches crumbling in the sun,
They met on that soft hill, one brotherhood;
One strength and valor only, one delight,
One laughing, brooding genius, great and good.
Now many gray-haired prodigals come home,
The place out-flames the cities of the land,
And twice-born Brahmáns reach us from afar,
With subtle eyes prepared to understand.
Higher and higher burns the eastern steep,
Showing the roads that march from every place,
A steady beacon o’er the weary leagues,
At dead of night it lights the traveller’s face!
Thus has the widow conquered half the earth,
She who increased in faith, though all alone,
Who kept her empty house a magic place,
Has made the town a holy angel’s throne.

The Soul of the City Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit

A Broadside distributed in Springfield, Illinois

Censers are swinging
Over the town;
Censers are swinging,
Look overhead!
Censers are swinging,
Heaven comes down.
City, dead city,
Awake from the dead!

Censers, tremendous,
Gleam overhead.
Wind-harps are ringing,
Wind-harps unseen
Calling and calling:
“Wake from the dead.
Rise, little city,
Shine like a queen.”

Soldiers of Christ
For battle grow keen.
Heaven-sent winds
Haunt alley and lane.
Singing of life
In town-meadows green
After the toil
And battle and pain.

Incense is pouring
Like the spring rain
Down on the mob
That moil through the street.
Blessed are they
Who behold it and gain
Power made more mighty
Thro’ every defeat.

Builders, toil on.
Make all complete.
Make Springfield wonderful.
Make her renown
Worthy this day,
Till, at God’s feet,
Tranced, saved forever,
Waits the white town.

Censers are swinging
Over the town,
Censers gigantic!
Look overhead!
Hear the winds singing:
“Heaven comes down.
City, dead city,
Awake from the dead.”

By the Spring, at Sunset

Sometimes we remember kisses,
Remember the dear heart-leap when they came:
Not always, but sometimes we remember
The kindness, the dumbness, the good flame
Of laughter and farewell.

Beside the road
Afar from those who said “Good-by” I write,
Far from my city task, my lawful load.

Sun in my face, wind beside my shoulder,
Streaming clouds, banners of new-born night
Enchant me now. The splendors growing bolder
Make bold my soul for some new wise delight.

I write the day’s event, and quench my drouth,
Pausing beside the spring with happy mind.
And now I feel those kisses on my mouth,
Hers most of all, one little friend most kind.

I Went down into the Desert

I went down into the desert To meet Elijah Arisen from the dead. I thought to find him in an echoing cave; For so my dream had said.

I went down into the desert To meet John the Baptist. I walked with feet that bled, Seeking that prophet lean and brown and bold. I spied foul fiends instead.

I went down into the desert To meet my God. By him be comforted. I went down into the desert To meet my God. And I met the devil in red.

I went down into the desert To meet my God. O, Lord my God, awaken from the dead! I see you there, your thorn-crown on the ground, I see you there, half-buried in the sand. I see you there, your white bones glistening, bare, The carrion-birds a-wheeling round your head.

Love and Law

True Love is founded in rocks of Remembrance
In stones of Forbearance and mortar of Pain.
The workman lays wearily granite on granite,
And bleeds for his castle ’mid sunshine and rain.

Love is not velvet, not all of it velvet,
Not all of it banners, not gold-leaf alone.
’Tis stern as the ages and old as Religion.
With Patience its watchword, and Law for its throne.

The Perfect Marriage

I

I hate this yoke; for the world’s sake here put it on:
Knowing ’twill weigh as much on you till life is gone.
Knowing you love your freedom dear, as I love mine
Knowing that love unchained has been our life’s great wine:
Our one great wine (yet spent too soon, and serving none;
Of the two cups free love at last the deadly one).

II

We grant our meetings will be tame, not honey-sweet
No longer turning to the tryst with flying feet.
We know the toil that now must come will spoil the bloom
And tenderness of passion’s touch, and in its room
Will come tame habit, deadly calm, sorrow and gloom.
Oh, how the battle scars the best who enter life!
Each soldier comes out blind or lame from the black strife.
Mad or diseased or damned of soul the best may come
It matters not how merrily now rolls the drum,
The fife shrills high, the horn sings loud, till no steps lag
And all adore that silken flame, Desire’s great flag.

III

We will build strong our tiny fort, strong as we can
Holding one inner room beyond the sword of man.
Love is too wide, it seems to-day, to hide it there.
It seems to flood the fields of corn, and gild the air
It seems to breathe from every brook, from flowers to sigh
It seems a cataract poured down from the great sky;
It seems a tenderness so vast no bush but shows
Its haunting and transfiguring light where wonder glows.
It wraps us in a silken snare by shadowy streams,
And wildering sweet and stung with joy your white soul seems
A flame, a flame, conquering day, conquering night,
Brought from our God, a holy thing, a mad delight.
But love, when all things beat it down, leaves the wide air,
The heavens are gray, and men turn wolves, lean with despair.
Ah, when we need love most, and weep, when all is dark,
Love is a pinch of ashes gray, with one live spark
Yet on the hope to keep alive that treasure strange
Hangs all earth’s struggle, strife and scorn, and desperate change.

IV

Love?... we will scarcely love our babes full many a time
Knowing their souls and ours too well, and all our grime
And there beside our holy hearth we’ll hide our eyes
Lest we should flash what seems disdain without disguise.
Yet there shall be no wavering there in that deep trial
And no false fire or stranger hand or traitor vile
We’ll fight the gloom and fight the world with strong sword-play,
Entrenched within our block-house small, ever at bay
As fellow-warriors, underpaid, wounded and wild,
True to their battered flag, their faith still undefiled!

Darling Daughter of Babylon

Too soon you wearied of our tears.
And then you danced with spangled feet,
Leading Belshazzar’s chattering court
A-tinkling through the shadowy street.
With mead they came, with chants of shame.
DESIRE’S red flag before them flew.
And Istar’s music moved your mouth
And Baal’s deep shames rewoke in you.

Now you could drive the royal car;
Forget our Nation’s breaking load:
Now you could sleep on silver beds
(Bitter and dark was our abode.)
And so, for many a night you laughed,
And knew not of my hopeless prayer,
Till God’s own spirit whipped you forth
From Istar’s shrine, from Istar’s stair.

Darling daughter of Babylon
Rose by the black Euphrates flood
Again your beauty grew more dear
Than my slave’s bread, than my heart’s blood.
We sang of Zion, good to know,
Where righteousness and peace abide....
What of your second sacrilege
Carousing at Belshazzar’s side?

Once, by a stream, we clasped tired hands
Your paint and henna washed away.
Your place, you said, was with the slaves
Who sewed the thick cloth, night and day.
You were a pale and holy maid
Toil-bound with us. One night you said:
“Your God shall be my God until
I slumber with the patriarch dead.”

Pardon, daughter of Babylon,
If, on this night remembering
Our lover walks under the walls
Of hanging gardens in the spring,
A venom comes from broken hope,
From memories of your comrade-song
Until I curse your painted eyes
And do your flower-mouth too much wrong.

The Amaranth

Ah, in the night, all music haunts me here....
Is it for naught high Heaven cracks and yawns
And the tremendous Amaranth descends
Sweet with the glory of ten thousand dawns?

Does it not mean my God would have me say:
“Whether you will or no, O city young,
Heaven will bloom like one great flower for you,
Flash and loom greatly all your marts among?”

Friends, I will not cease hoping though you weep.
Such things I see, and some of them shall come
Though now our streets are harsh and ashen-gray,
Though our strong youths are strident now, or dumb.
Friends, that sweet town, that wonder-town, shall rise.
Naught can delay it. Though it may not be
Just as I dream, it comes at last I know
With streets like channels of an incense-sea.

The Alchemist’s Petition

Thou wilt not sentence to eternal life
My soul that prays that it may sleep and sleep
Like a white statue dropped into the deep,
Covered with sand, covered with chests of gold,
And slave-bones, tossed from many a pirate hold.

But for this prayer thou wilt not bind in Hell
My soul, that shook with love for Fame and Truth
In such unquenched desires consumed his youth
Let me turn dust, like dead leaves in the Fall,
Or wood that lights an hour your knightly hall

Amen.

Two Easter Stanzas

I

The Hope of the Resurrection

Though I have watched so many mourners weep
O’er the real dead, in dull earth laid asleep
Those dead seemed but the shadows of my days
That passed and left me in the sun’s bright rays.
Now though you go on smiling in the sun
Our love is slain, and love and you were one.
You are the first, you I have known so long,
Whose death was deadly, a tremendous wrong.
Therefore I seek the faith that sets it right
Amid the lilies and the candle-light.
I think on Heaven, for in that air so clear
We two may meet, confused and parted here.
Ah, when man’s dearest dies, ’tis then he goes
To that old balm that heals the centuries’ woes.
Then Christ’s wild cry in all the streets is rife:
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

II

We meet at the Judgment and I fear it Not

Though better men may fear that trumpet’s warning,
I meet you, lady, on the Judgment morning,
With golden hope my spirit still adorning.

Our God who made you all so fair and sweet
Is three times gentle, and before his feet
Rejoicing I shall say: “The girl you gave
Was my first Heaven, an angel bent to save.
Oh, God, her maker, if my ingrate breath
Is worth this rescue from the Second Death,
Perhaps her dear proud eyes grow gentler too
That scorned my graceless years and trophies few.
Gone are those years, and gone ill-deeds that turned
Her sacred beauty from my songs that burned.
We now as comrades through the stars may take
The rich and arduous quests I did forsake.
Grant me a seraph-guide to thread the throng
And quickly find that woman-soul so strong.
I dream that in her deeply-hidden heart
Hurt love lived on, though we were far apart,
A brooding secret mercy like your own
That blooms to-day to vindicate your throne.

The Traveller-heart

(To a Man who maintained that the Mausoleum is the Stateliest Possible
Manner of Interment)

I would be one with the dark, dark earth:
Follow the plough with a yokel tread.
I would be part of the Indian corn,
Walking the rows with the plumes o’erhead.

I would be one with the lavish earth,
Eating the bee-stung apples red:
Walking where lambs walk on the hills;
By oak-grove paths to the pools be led.

I would be one with the dark-bright night
When sparkling skies and the lightning wed
Walking on with the vicious wind
By roads whence even the dogs have fled.

I would be one with the sacred earth
On to the end, till I sleep with the dead.
Terror shall put no spears through me.
Peace shall jewel my shroud instead.

I shall be one with all pit-black things
Finding their lowering threat unsaid:
Stars for my pillow there in the gloom,
Oak-roots arching about my head!

Stars, like daisies, shall rise through the earth,
Acorns fall round my breast that bled.
Children shall weave there a flowery chain,
Squirrels on acorn-hearts be fed:

Fruit of the traveller-heart of me,
Fruit of my harvest-songs long sped:
Sweet with the life of my sunburned days
When the sheaves were ripe, and the apples red.

The North Star Whispers to the Blacksmith’s Son

The North Star whispers: “You are one
Of those whose course no chance can change.
You blunder, but are not undone,
Your spirit-task is fixed and strange.

“When here you walk, a bloodless shade,
A singer all men else forget.
Your chants of hammer, forge and spade
Will move the prairie-village yet.

“That young, stiff-necked, reviling town
Beholds your fancies on her walls,
And paints them out or tears them down,
Or bars them from her feasting-halls.

“Yet shall the fragments still remain;
Yet shall remain some watch-tower strong
That ivy-vines will not disdain,
Haunted and trembling with your song.

“Your flambeau in the dusk shall burn,
Flame high in storms, flame white and clear;
Your ghost in gleaming robes return
And burn a deathless incense here.”