Anna Hempstead Branch (1875-1937)
From Shoes That Danced and Other Poems (1905)
Sonnets for New York City
While Loveliness Goes By
Sometimes when all the world seems gray and dun
And nothing beautiful, a voice will cry,
"Look out, look out! Angels are drawing nigh!"
Then my slow burdens leave me, one by one,
And swiftly does my heart arise and run
Even like a child, while loveliness goes by--
And common folk seem children of the sky,
And common things seem shapéd of the sun.
Oh, pitiful! that I who love them, must
So soon perceive their shining garments fade!
And slowly, slowly, from my eyes of trust
Their flaming banners sink into a shade!
While this earth's sunshine seems the golden dust
Slow settling from that radiant cavalcade.
Fatigue itself may be a pleasant thing
And weariness be silken, soft and fine!
Upon my eyes its little vapors shine,
Trailing me softly like a colored wing!
Tender as when belovéd voices sing
It steals upon me and with touch divine
Lulls all my senses till each thought of mine
Is hushed to quiet, unremembering.
Oh, weariness thrice dear, so frailly spun
Of ended pleasure that still shines and glows;
Oh, weariness, thrice dear! What have I done
To earn this delicate and deep repose?
Child, thou hast worshiped at the setting sun
And looked, long, long, upon the opening rose.
Wounded am I, yet happier--happier far
Than they who have not felt the precious sting!
Poor feet that bleed not with this wandering!
Poor hands that burn not, plucking at a star!
Poor hearts unblessed and whole! I bear the scar
Of a too piercing loveliness. The thing
Hung out of reach I touched, and now I sing
Mad with delight, more blessed than others are.
For since the blushing and ethereal hour
When loveliness upon my heart was born,
When I was stricken by her magic power,
I run--I run--wild, ecstasied, forlorn,
For beauty, when I go to pluck her flower,
Pierces my willing bosom with a thorn.
A Sonnet for the Earth
When I am weary for delight and spent,
Even as a bird that tries too long its wings
Will nest awhile amid the grass and sings,
So I drop downward from the wonderment
Of timelessness and space, in which were blent
The wind, the sunshine and the wanderings
Of all the planets--to the little things
That are my grass and flowers and am content.
Or if in flight my wings should beat so far
From the kind grass that is so cool and deep
That it must poise among the winds on high--
Yet will I sing to thee from star to star,
Piercing thy sunshine, and will always keep
A song for thee amid the farthest sky.
My Foolish Deeds
When I, before the altars of repose,
Invited Slumber, she refused to stay,
But with a broken heart she turned away,
Astonished quite. Among the flaunting shows
That circled round, she perished like a rose
Cast among flames. Oh, bring her back--I pray!
Then sternly to my heart a voice said, "Nay,
Thou canst not have her--tearfully she goes."
God might not join us,--for gorgeous, bright,
Adorned, conspicuous, sure, without disguise,
Strangely illumined with derisive light
They danced -- they danced! Oh, then I was made wise!
My foolish deeds, flaming before my eyes,
Denied me slumber all the livelong night.
Sonnets for New York City
I. New York at Sunrise
When with her clouds the early dawn illumes
Our doubtful streets, wistful they grow and mild
As if a sleeping soul grew happy and smiled,
The whole dark city radiantly blooms.
Pale spires lift their hands above the glooms
Like a resurrection, delicately wild,
And flushed with slumber like a little child,
Under a mist, shines forth the innocent Tombs.
Thus have I seen it from a casement high.
As unsubstantial as a dream it grows.
Is this Manhattan, virginal and shy,
That in a cloud so rapturously glows?
Ethereal, frail, and like an opening rose,
I see my city with an enlightened eye.
II. A Political "Boss"
Has he no country? Is he of alien breed?
Is this land not his home? Oh, exiled one!
Stranger to his own kind, where does he run?
How he has shamed us, for the world to read!
Oh, carrion, prowling where this people bleed,
Grown fat upon disaster, hide from the sun!
A scornful nation asks, what has he done
With the public trust, the honor, and the need.
Not him with glorious hand will we indite,
Patriot, Statesman, in the Hall of Fame,
Nor will we let him flee into the night
Of safe oblivion! But oh--that name
For our sons' sons a moving hand shall write
In scarlet letters on the walls of Shame.
III. Shame on Thee, O Manhattan
Shame on thee, O Manhattan, whom I love!
And shame on me that I have slept away
So many years while thy feet went astray!
O Thou--that should'st be white as any dove,
Thou Scarlet Woman! Is there no voice to move--
No hand to smite us? Even for this I pray--
Some terrible scourging that we have let the day
Darken around us while we saw thee rove.
Last night I heard thee cry. Thy wandering feet
Went bleeding by me. On thy ruined breast
I saw thee nurse a feeding child of flame!
Desolate, gorgeous, frantic along the street!
Ah, how I blushed in the dark that through my rest
I felt the burning garments of thy shame.
IV. The Fountain of Life
This day into the fields my steps are led.
I cannot heal me there! Row after row,
Thousands of daisies radiantly blow.
They have not brought from Heaven my daily bread!
But they are like a prayer too often said.
I have forgot their meaning, and I go
From the cold rubric of their gold and snow,
And the calm ritual, all uncomforted.
I want the faces! faces! remote and pale,
That surge along the city streets! The flood
Of reckless ones, haggard and spent and frail,
Excited, hungry! In this other mood
'T is not the words of the faith for which I ail,
But to plunge in the fountain of its living blood.