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Sunday, May 8, 2011


Like last week (not to mention the next few weeks to come), I'm going through an old secondary English lit textbook.  The two for-sures will be the first and last poems the book has to offer, and I hope to be caught by--caught because maybe I've never read it before, particularly like it or hate it, or am flabbergasted that it's found its way into the textbook at all--a few others in between.

(I suppose it's some sort of commentary on the recent economic condition of public schools--because I really haven't been out of the secondary English classroom for long--that all the textbooks I've got in my personal collection are from the late eighties and early nineties.)

Prentice Hall Literature, Bronze
1991, 1989

The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wordsworth Longfellow
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
      The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
      With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
      Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
      His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
      He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
      For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
      You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
      With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
      When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
      Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
      And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
      Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
      And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
      He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
      And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
      Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
      How in the grave she lies;
And with his haul, rough hand he wipes
      A tear out of his eyes.

      Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
      Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
      Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
      For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
      Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
      Each burning deed and thought.

Upon Mistress Susanna Southwell,
Her Feet
Robert Herrick
            Her pretty feet
            Like snails did creep
      A little out, and then,
As if they started at Bo-peep,
Did soon draw in again.

Three Haiku
Basho, translated by Daniel C. Buchanan
On sweet plum blossoms
The sun rises suddenly.
Look, a mountain path!

Has spring come indeed?
On that nameless mountain lie
Thin layers of mist.

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

The Flower-Fed Buffaloes
Vachel Lindsay
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prarie flowers lie low:
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us long ago,
They gore no more, they bellow no more:--
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low,
Lying low.

Nikki Giovanni
Frogs burrow the mud
snails bury themselves
and I air my quilts
preparing for the cold

Dogs grow more hair
mothers make oatmeal
and little boys and girls
take Gather John’s Medicine

Bears store fat
chipmunks gather nuts
and I collect books
For the coming winter

A Song of Greatness
Chippewa Traditional
Mary Austin
When I hear the old men
Telling of heroes,
Telling of great deeds
Of ancient days—
When I hear that telling,
Then I think within me
I, too, am one of these.

When I hear the people
Praising great ones,
Then I know that I too—
Shall be esteemed:
I, too, when my time comes
Shall do mightily.

Walt Whitman
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, 
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water, 
Or stand under trees in the woods, 
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night 
with any one I love, 
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest, 
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car, 
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon, 
Or animals feeding in the fields, 
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, 
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet 
and bright, 
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring; 
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, 
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place. 

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, 
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, 
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, 
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same. 
To me the sea is a continual miracle, 
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the 
ships with men in them, 
What stranger miracles are there?


  1. The first poem reminds me of Orwell's verse in "1984" about "Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you, and you sold me."

  2. well, Longfellow was massively famous a few generations before Orwell. I have no doubt that Orwell would be familiar with "Blacksmith." And the poem fits the tone as well, I think.


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