Sonnets on Great Men and Women

by Washington Van Dusen (1857-?)


Below are all of the sonnets from the volume Sonnets on Great Men and Women, including several sonnets that are not biographical.

Abraham Lincoln

Born in a cabin in the forest wild,
With old Kentucky pioneers he found
A life to penury and hardship bound,
With little schooling for the ardent child;
But skies grew brighter when Romance beguiled,
And books gave dreams that charmed the bloody ground
Like roses in the clearings all around--
Then came the Law, and with it Fortune smiled.

Years brought on War, and like an angel sent
To save, the Great Emancipator came;
And daily watched its course as President,
Till Gettysburg rolled back the sea of flame;
And there he rose sublimely eloquent,
With those immortal words that crown his fame.

Roosevelt's Humanity

Perhaps to one of us may come the day
When we must stand for principle and rise
Like some lone peak against the silent skies,
With none to lean upon and none to sway;
But would we help our brothers on the way,
We must come down to earth with kindly aim,
Not coldly stand aloof and watch the game,
But play with zest as little children may.

We cannot lead, said he, a life apart,
Nor turn away from men for faults that mar;
While good remains there's hope to reach the heart,
And lead our comrades like a steadfast star;
Hold up the light for them in hall or mart,
And take them all and use them as they are.

Memories of Roosevelt

As we look back and scan life's hazy prime
Across the waste of long-forgotten years,
Some gleam divine breaks through the night and clears
The clouds, that veil the beacon lights of Time,
Making appeal to every age and clime
While all else in the darkness disappears;
The past is lost with all its joys and tears;
But here and there a star with look sublime

Shines on our days with gleams from long ago.
And so will Roosevelt crown the skies to be
Like some great mountain in an afterglow,
That shades its lower slopes as tenderly
As Time hides lives we do not care to know,
While all the Highest glows in memory.

A Kindly Light from Edison

Born with a passion from his boyhood days
To mould great nature to his vast desire,
He strung his incandescent lamps on wire,
And telegraphed on single lines four ways,
Wrought day and night in God's eternal maze
To find the clues that set the world on fire,
With phones and motion pictures to inspire
And phonographs--the marvels of his age.

Then Fortune placed him in a mansion fair
Where love shed on his heart a light divine;
For looking on his home and garden rare
He said unto a friend: This is too fine
For me, but not too fine for one I care
The most of all--this little wife of mine.

Emily Bronte

The parsonage o'erlooked the barren moors,
The little garden and the graveyard there,
With all the country round it bleak and bare
Yet even desolation had its lures,
And like the flower that blossoms and endures
Among the rocks, here spirit, too, grew fair,
And found its heaven in the bracing air
Of Haworth midst the villagers and boors.

She loved the tempest and the driving rain,
Her very loneliness inspired her sight,
The winds expressed her longing and her pain,
And gave her fancy weird the wings for flight;
But all the beauty round her shone in vain,
Unless the home folks shared with her its light.

Joan of Arc

She was untaught, like peasants of her age,
But in her father's garden when a child
She heard the Voices and at first was wild
With fear, but acted on their counsels sage,
And mounted on her charger like a page
In armor clad, this maid so young, so mild,
Now led an army at which people smiled,
Or vented on the "sorceress" their rage.

She was inspired if mortal e'er could be,
Foretold events and led by light divine
She captured forts and Orleans set free,
Crowned Charles at Rheims; then came her sad decline,
But death hallowed the Flower of Chivalry,
On fields of France forevermore to shine.

Petrarch and Laura

Unmoved, he passed a million faces by,
When all at once he saw at church one day
A form whose beauty never passed away,
But like a guardian spirit ever nigh,
Gave life new dreams and aspirations high,
And fired his soul to many a tender lay,
That still lifts men above the common clay
With thoughts to near divinity to die.

But she who ever kept her own in sight,
Gave no response to his impassioned heart,
But like a star forever pure and bright,
In cold and silent splenfdor shone apart,
Divinely set beyond his reach, to light
A great ideal for his life and art.

Charles Lamb

Who were the heads of that great company
Where Lamb toiled as a clerk the livelong day?
Their proud imperial names have passed away,
Like ships long sunk beneath Oblivion's sea;
Yet his fair life looms up triumphantly,
And o'er the buried past holds kingly sway;
As ivy climbs an abbey in decay,
Forever keeping green a memory.

For Nature's heart on beauty is so set
She would not lose a flower the Past once gave,
But keeps the mould with dews of heaven wet.
Divinely cherishing what Time should save;
As when our loved ones fade and we forget,
The rose still scents the long-forgotten grave.


He saw the world from many points of view--
The clouds, the strife, the beauty and the light,
But life to him was mainly but a fight
Where men gain strength from all that they subdue.
And he was brave enough to see it through,
With no misgivings for the coming night,
Like one who views earth's shadows from a height,
Lost in a light beneficent and true.

For while he saw the wreck and ruin there,
The flower of youth cut down, the fields forlorn,
He looked beyond with faith and courage rare,
To see apparent failure rise new born,
Full sure the night would give earth's clouds and care
The glory and the freshness of the morn.

John Keats

His youth was like the bloom of early May,
With all its freshness and its sweetness, too,
Yet with a promise richer as it grew,
Like roses budding for a summer day!
But Autumn came too soon, in garments gay,
With russet, red and gold and skies of blue,
Yet over all a melancholy hue--
A hectic beauty soon to fade away!

And now how strange it seems to you and me,
That even those who loved him passed the light;
That years rolled by in scorn and mockery
Before his star rose clear above the Night;
As if those ultra rays men could not see
Were rays divine, too fine for human sight.

George Eliot

Some climb the heights and like the crests grow cold,
Wrapped in the splendor of their own proud view;
Forgetful of the crowd whose toils untold
Have dressed the very soil on which they grew;
But thou, O woman with a soul as fine,
Hadst still the all-embracing heart to see
The light of Heaven pour out its beams devine
On all the humbler lives so dear to thee;
And there they shine from pages ever fair,
Untouched by time, in living pictures bright;
Where freedom breathes a pure, ampler air,
And kindness mellows all the searching light
Poured by a great heart's loving sympathy--
O heart that beat for all humanity!

Rupert Brooke

I hear a voice heroic speak to me:
Wake from thy sleep; they closet dreams and lies;
And come with me beneath the open skies,
And face the foe! God calls the hour to thee
To sacrifice divine, if need there be;
And some fair day the mists from earth will rise
And Time look up to see with happy eyes
A better world for all humanity.

And so the poet-soldier heard God's call,
Blessing the day Fate threw her bloody gage;
His love for England rising over all,
He voiced the cry that thrills his noblest page;
Glad Honor reigns again in cot and hall,
And "we have come into our heritage."

Mary Pickford

The organ rises with a yearning tone,
And soon the picture flashes on the screen,
While thousands thrill to watch the touching scene
Where Mary battles with the world alone,
An orphan child deserted and unknown.
But with the soul and grace of Nature's queen,
She glorifies the lowly and the mean
With light and truth and beauty all her own.

And there she plays, an angel in her art,
Whose face with all its changes still is fine;
As perfect as a dream that grips the heart
When those we loved come in our sleep and shine,
Just as we knew them, true to live's old part,
And flawless in a light that makes divine.

Alan Seeger

No beauty could escape his loving eyes,
Not even ruthless war could hide from view
The smiling fields where crimson poppies grew,
Nor mar the sunset's rose and purple dyes;
He watched a vine-clad slope, with glad surprise
To hear grapepickers sing, although they knew
Just on the other side the cannon threw
Their deadly shells and woke the startled skies.

But over all that made Champagne so fair
He saw the grandeur of the field of strife,
Exulting in the cause that placed him there.
He felt a calm, mid all the carnage rife,
And faced the battle with a spirit rare,
"For death may be more wonderful than life."


His life and art were never far apart,
But like a happy couple they were one,
The poet and the man in unison,
And everywhere at home, in hall or mart,
He met his fellows with a kindly heart,
And voiced their dreams, in verse so finely done,
He thrilled the world as with a clarion
Till Fame, in many lands, acclaimed his art.

Then came detraction for the humble lay
That he had sung with dignity and grace;
But he pursued the bright and cheerful way,
That kept the sunshine on his noble face,
While he unveiled before the light of day
The truth and beauty of the commonplace.

Harvard Voices

I heard a poet here once speak in praise
Of men who opened up horizons new,
That filled his mind with fresher points of view,
And happy dreams whose beauty ne'er decays,
But gilds the memories of Harvard days,
When James and Royce taught here, his teachers true,
Who walked these grounds one summer eve and threw
Some starry gleams of hope on life's dark maze.

Who found it good to leave closed rooms that night
And come out here where endless vistas rise;
Where faith in all things beautiful gives sight
To scan the darkest depths with fearless eyes,
If we are loyal to the highest light
That burns in us, responsive to the skies.

Shakespeare the Richest Man

The treasures that come down to us from old
Are not the treasures of the sea and land,
But human thought, more worth than all the Rand,
That gave man power to blossom and unfold;
And Shakespeare like a sun with light untold
Used his imagination as a wand,
Whose rays lit sea and sky on every hand,
And touched life's vast encircling shores with gold.

No El Dorado opens up such mines;
No Golden Fleece nor far-famed Odyssey
Shines half so fair as his creation shines
With all its beauty voiced ineffably;
Forever precious in his jeweled lines--
The richest soil in all humanity.

Sir Oliver Lodge

A hint may guide us on a chartless sea,
As birds of passage on the Western main
Led great Columbus o'er the watery plain;
Or as the golden dreams of alchemy
Once blazed the way for modern chemistry
With all the growing wonders that we know;
And now the psychic's wireless flashes throw
A glimmer on the tide of destiny.

For we are slowly working towards the light
And breaking down the prison walls that hide.
Says Lodge, our loved ones passed from earthly sight,
Like men who in a tunnell, sundered wide,
Hear muffled voices strange, yet sense aright
Their lost companions on the other side.

Dore's Mansion

He lived in wonderland where fancy kind
Came at his beck and call, and led him through
More realms than Homer dreamed or Dante drew,
All pictured in his own creative mind;
It thrilled the world to see its dreams outlined
And fame came to him then with laurels meet,
While fortune poured its treasures at his feet;
But he wrapt in his own great art was blind
To lower aims, and deemed its heights could know
More rapture than the splendors of a throne;
So when success was his, and one unknown
Proposed, why don't you build a fine chateau?
He tapped his forehead, as he proudly said,
"Why should I build? My castle is my head."

A Flower of Memory

A maid one evening took a wilted rose
She wore and pressed it in a treasured book
Where she alone was privileged to look
On love's poor fading token in repose,
Till time had passed and with it all her woes,
And then once more she turned the leaves in tears
To see the beauty of her vanished years
Return like exiles to a sacred close,
The shrine deserted, but the grounds abloom
With living memories of fairer skies;
So love returned; sweet incense swept the room.
She dreamed old dreams again with misty eyes,
And then her Heaven paled and in the gloom
She stood outside the gates of Paradise.


I climbed full easy up the wooded height,
And walked the upland's flowering slopes in May;
Then walls rose sheer, and glaciers barred the way,
But worse than all a mist took all my light,
And blotted out the crest that lured my sight.
I tried again; but storms drove me astray,
And forced me to retreat--to close the day
With failure on the darkling fields at night.

Yet from the valley where I rest awhile
I gaze with joy upon the peak's white throne,
Proud of the heights that still my dreams beguile,
And humbly happy in my lower zone
That still the highest beckons with a smile
To broader, grander outlooks than my own.

The Speeding Earth

The seven wonders of the world are small
Beside this speeding miracle of earth,
Enormous in its weight and in its girth,
Hurled through the ether like a cannon ball,
Without a guard, a sign or signal call,
While cities sleep serenely on its face;
And ages pass without a single trace
Of one slight jolt or accident at all.

So speeding towards its ever-flying goal,
Without a pause to nod or take a breath;
The world survives and keeps its kingdoms whole,
In spite of imperfections, Science saith;
And bears us on in its divine control,
With love and joy in life, and hope in death.

Beauty at Home

An artist roamed the earth to find a face
As knights of old once sought the Holy Grail
In countries far and wide, but found no trail.
So he pursued his search without a trace
Of that divine Madonna's matchless grace.
He dreamed, and seeing he was doomed to fail
Gave up the quest and presently set sail
For Italy, his kindred and his race.

And now with sight restored for all things there,
He saw the beauty of his own dear shore,
And found the hidden gem he deemed so rare,
For home gave loveliness unseen before;
There shone the Virgin's face, supremely fair
In one he knew of old--the girl next door.


For untold years the Brento and the Po
Poured down into the Gulf their silt and sand,
Mud banks arose; Attila and his band
Came like a scourge, but some escaped the blow
By taking refuge on those islands low;
Built ships; took products of the Western lands,
And traded with the East and shores at hand
Till riches came to them with steadfast flow.

And now arose the palace, dome and tower
With artists rare to grace their dignity;
And Venice now, a queen in state and power,
Was fair as anything on earth could be,
When all her jewels flashed at sunset's hour
Their splendor on the Adriatic Sea.

The Public Library

Remote from the Arts, from books and luxuries,
A thoughtful couple lived the whole year round
Upon a quiet shore out on the Sound--
To leave its clovered green and foaming seas,
Its lowing kine, its roses and its trees,
Its rocky shores where peace and health abound,
To enter on the striving, bustling ground,
Manhattan opens up to lives like these.

But when they saw the library, happy pair!
And all its treasures vast broke on their sight,
The future spread its skies with visions rare,
And O the joy, the mystery and light,
That dwelt within the countless volumes there,
How beautiful it made the world that night!

The Cloisters

The world without was hidden quite from view,
Its din and strife scarce found an echo here,
Yet these dark cloisters faced no prospect drear,
But opened on a close where roses grew;
Where trees and plants and skies of blue
Such beauty gave the sanctuary dear,
The nuns in calm retreat felt Heaven near,
And found the peace of God, vouchsafed to few.

O soul aspire; but never dwell apart,
Build altars, too, yet live the life of men,
But keep some chamber sacred in thy heart--
Some cloister curtained from the common ken,
To see as through stained glass when sunbeems dart
A world of beauty rise with light again.

The Lover of Beauty

Who sows the stars upon the field of night
Or throws the moon's soft glamour on the sea?
Who makes the fireflies flash on bush and tree
Or thrills the dawn with flush of rosy light?
Who gems the dew that sparkles on my sight
Or gives the bird its airy pinions free,
The rose its hue and fragrant charm for me,
Or flowers the fields with myriad blossoms bright?

O deep within my soul I know the Power
That Nature with a million voices sings;
Who gave my life its glory for a dower,
My eye its light; my soaring thought its wings,
And He must love the sky, the hill, the flower,
For Beauty is the very heart of things.

The Wonder-Working War

Men looked with horror on their darkened skies,
But Freedom called them and they laid aside
Life's greatest gifts, to take their guns with pride
And hasten to their camps with fearless eyes;
Then Labor saw its fitting hour to rise,
And Woman found her honors multiplied,
While millions flung the starry banner wide,
To find their flag the grandest of all ties.

For war had brought such magic with its might
That spite of carnage, loss and shrapnel scars
Men felt an inspiration and new light
To see the world's great changes under Mars,
As though God only dropped the veil of Night,
That men might see the glory of the stars.

The Flower of the Ghetto

She mingled with the world, but kept her eyes
Upon its heights, and said the shades below,
Life's darker shades 'twere better not to know,
And living with her highland dreams, too wise
To note Rome's lower planes, its lusts and lies,
She saw her world in light and beauty grow,
As some tall peak clears in the Alpen glow,
And smiles to feel the peace of stainless skies.

And so she lived, to breathe an incense rare
Upon the highways marred with vice and crime,
Sweet as a lily rising pure and fair,
Above the soiling touch of mud and slime;
As she looked up in all her saintly grace
With heaven's light upon her lovely face.

Boundless Hope

I am a spirit of the boundless main,
For though my argosies go down to sea:
Though wreck and ruin strike the heart of me,
Yet over all the failure and the pain,
I see my dream ships sail the watery plain,
As fair against the Future's golden skies
As if some heaven opened on my eyes,
And thrilled Earth's losses with immortal gain.

For deep within my soul the surges pour,
Their everlasting yearning in my ears:
And while they ring their triumph evermore
Above defeat, Time's transient pain and tears,
I drink life's larger hope upon the shore,
And hear the music of eternal years.

Beauty and Form

Once Donatello took the shapeless stone
And slowly carved the marble to the line,
Until he wrought a human form as fine
As Greece or Italy had ever known;
Behold a woman now in splendor lone,
A statue only but a thing divine;
A beauty that this earth cannot outshine
Whose Art antique the world has not outgrown.

And so the poet takes a shapeless thought
And gives its fancies grace and melody,
Until he feels he has perfection wrought
Where Thought and Music blending happily
Create the Beauty that all time has sought,
Where perfect form is immortality.

Music and Immortality

We walked Madeira's flowery scented shore,
For lilies and geraniums grew there,
And roses breathed their fragrance on the air,
Great sea cliffs soared a thousand feet or more,
And mountain peaks the landscape towered o'er;
While glorious vistas charmed us everywhere,
O happy day, we left behind all care,
With all this beauty at our very door.

But when a strain of music reached our ears,
Our spirits rose as boundless as the sea,
And we were lifted up beyond all fears,
Lost in the Infinite, divinely free,
As song made us forget the passing years,
And thrilled the soul with immortality.

A Symbol of Immortality

A wave far out upon the smiling blue,
Looks faint at first on Ocean's dimpled floor,
But strengthens as it hastens to the shore,
Where all its power and meaning come to view,
As on it sweeps with crest of snowy hue,
Amidst the seething floods and wild uproar,
Of mighty billows striving evermore,
To make the self-same goal so old yet new.

Now brighter, prouder rolls the swelling wave,
With flashing curve straight for the land,
And aiming high for glory or the grave,
It pours its mighty waters on the strand,
In one resounding paean strong and brave,
It rings its triumph o'er the golden sand.

Beacon Lights

I watch the purpling sea with wistful eyes,
Just as the sun goes down upon the bay,
And throws a path of gold across the way,
While all the heavens flush in sunset's dyes;
Then beacons burn like stars in darkling skies,
The bay grows dim, and fancy turns at last
To see the lights that glorified the Past,
From shores of Time, in solemn beauty rise.

O shining host, more beautiful to me
Than any constellation in my sight!
No path of gold can light life's troubled sea,
Like those bright lives that starred its long, long Night,
The beacons of our own humanity
Forever holding up the living Light.

Mary Anderson

With classic beauty, both of form and face,
An actress charmed the stage; but more by art,
The power and passion of a mighty heart,
With magic of her voice and matchless grace:
She threw a spell upon her age and race,
Till Love unbidden came and played his part
And she who erstwhile had escaped his dart
Renounced her triumphs for a humbler place.

And now the foxlights fade and soft blue skies
Look down on English lawns, where one still fair,
Amid her flowers, now smiles with happy eyes;
And whispers o'er a child she fondles there,
Dear boy, this is the light and peace I prize,
And would not change for all the world's bright glare.

Pasteur on the Infinite

Man rises from the dark encircling night
And feels a Power eternal everywhere,
As hidden as the germs that haunt the air,
But when he knows that mighty One aright,
That Nature forces on his inward sight,
He can but kneel in adoration there,
Built temples to the skies and breathe a prayer,
To keep forever moving towards the Light.

Blessed is he who carries in his heart
A God, a pure ideal he obeys,
Ideal of Virtue, Science or of Art,
And strives to reach its heaven all his days;
The source of Action's greater, nobler part,
The Infinite revealed in human ways.

The Glory of Her Face

Del Sarto saw some beauty everywhere,
But when Love came and threw his fateful dart
There was a face so graven on his heart,
It never lost its fadeless glory there;
For her, his wife, his model and despair,
He sacrificed both fortune and his art,
And though he found her wayward, couild not part
From one he loved and found forever fair.

O Faultless Painter, with what matchless grace
Your fair Madonna beams on all below!
There shine the lineaments you loved to trace
From your Lucrezia centuries ago;
A glory given to a human face
As fair and heavenly as earth can show.

Raphael's Ideal

I catch a glimpse of Beauty here and there,
But there's a face that Heaven conceals from me,
Who try to paint the fancy that I see
Which in imagination shines so fair,
But when I view the canvas poor and bare,
Where all my brightest dreams fade utterly,
I feel my art is wed to poverty,
And gaze upon my picture in despair.

I strive and strive to reach some form divine,
Expressing all that's fairest in the soul,
But like the waves that proudly sweep the brine
For higher shores, but break and backwards roll,
My baffled efforts meet a sad decline,
And never reach Perfection's shining goal.

The Mount of Vision

How small the path we leave behind will be
When we have climbed the mountain's lofty crest!
And when we reach the summit's bracing rest
What broader views will rise interminably!
For earth's small things how little will care we,
Finding the toilsome road with visions blest--
The peace and golden glory of the West,
And skies that breathe of life's Infinity!

For we shall then forget the wounds and pain,
Our weary feet have suffered on the way;
For twilight's gold will glorify the plain,
And thorn and bramble blend with blossoms gay,
While we look down on clouds and shadows vain,
Lost in a light diviner than the day.