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Carolina Chansons Legends of the Low Country

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SÉANCE AT SUNRISE Place the new handsIn the old handsOf the old generation,And let us tilt tablesIn the high roomOf our imagination. Let the thick veil glow thin,At sunrise—at sunrise—Let the strange eyes peer in,The red, the black, and the white facesOf the still living deadOf the three races. Let a quaint voice begin: Voice of an Indian"Gone from the land,We leave the music of our names,As pleasant as the sound of waters;Gone is the log-lodge and the skin tepee,And moons ago the ghost-canoe brought homeThe latest of our sons and daughters—Yet still we linger in tobacco smokeAnd in the rustling fields of maize;Faint are the tracks our moccasins have left,But they are there, down all your ways." Voice of a Slave"We do not talkOf hours in the riceWhen days were long,Nor of old mastersWho are with us hereBeyond all right or wrong.Only white afternoons come back,When in the fieldsWe reached the Mercy SeatOn wings of song." Voice of a Planter"Nothing moves there but the night wind,Blowing the mosses like smoke;All would be silent as moonlightBut for the owl in the oak—Stairways that lead up to nothing—Windows like terrible scars—Snakes on a log in the cisternPeering at stars...." Spirit of Prophecy"Dawn with its childish colorsStipples the solemn vault of night;Behind the horizon the sun shakes a bloody fist;Mysteries stand naked by the lakes of mist;Spirits take flight,The medicine man,The voodoo doctor—Witches mount brooms.The day looms.Faster it comes,Bringing young giantsWho hate solitude,And march with drums—Beat—beat—beat,Down every ancient street,The young giants! Minded like boys:Action for action's sake they loveAnd noise for noise." Voice of a Poet"The fire of the sunsetIs remembered at midnight,But forgotten at dawn.While the old stars set,Let us speak of their gloryBefore they are gone."


SILENCES You who have known my city for a dayAnd heard the music of her steepled bells,Then laughed, and passed along your vagrant way,Carrying only what the city tellsTo those who listen solely with their ears;You know St. Matthew's swinging harmonies,And old St. Michael's tale of golden yearsFar less like bells than chanted memories. Yet there is something wanting in the songOf lyric youth with voice unschooled by pain.And there are breathing stillnesses that throngDim corners, and that only stir againWhen bells are dumb. Not even bronze that beatsOur heart-throbs back can tell of old defeats. But you who take the city for your own,Come with me when the night flows deep and kindAlong these narrow ways of troubled stone,And floods the wide savannas of the mindWith tides that cool the fever of the day:One with the dark, companioned by the stars,We'll seek St. Philip's, nebulous and gray,Holding its throbbing beacon to the bars,A prisoned spirit vibrant in the stoneThat knew its empire of forgotten things.Then will the city know you for her own,And feel you meet to share her sufferings;While down a swirl of poignant memories,Herself shall find you in her silences. Once coaches waited row on shining rowBefore this door; and where the thirsty streetDrank the deep shadow of the porticoThe Sunday hush was stirred by happy feet,Low greetings, and the rustle of brocade,The organ throb, and warmth of sunny eyesThat flashed and smiled beneath a bonnet shade;Life with the lure of all its swift disguise. Then from the soaring lyric of the spire,Like the composite voice of all the town,The bells burst swiftly into singing fireThat wrapped the building, and which showered downBright cadences to flash along the waysLoud with the splendid gladness of the days....