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The Green Helmet and Other Poems

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I swayed upon the gaudy stern

The butt end of a steering oar,

And everywhere that I could turn

Men ran upon the shore.

And though I would have hushed the crowd

There was no mother’s son but said,

“What is the figure in a shroud

Upon a gaudy bed?”

And fishes bubbling to the brim

Cried out upon that thing beneath,

It had such dignity of limb,

By the sweet name of Death.

Though I’d my finger on my lip,

What could I but take up the song?

And fish and crowd and gaudy ship

Cried out the whole night long,

Crying amid the glittering sea,

Naming it with ecstatic breath,

Because it had such dignity

By the sweet name of Death.



If any man drew near

When I was young,

I thought, “He holds her dear,”

And shook with hate and fear.

But oh, ’twas bitter wrong

If he could pass her by

With an indifferent eye.

Whereon I wrote and wrought,

And now, being gray,

I dream that I have brought

To such a pitch my thought

That coming time can say,

“He shadowed in a glass

What thing her body was.”

For she had fiery blood

When I was young,

And trod so sweetly proud

As ’twere upon a cloud,

A woman Homer sung,

That life and letters seem

But an heroic dream.



She lived in storm and strife.

Her soul had such desire

For what proud death may bring

That it could not endure

The common good of life,

But lived as ’twere a king

That packed his marriage day

With banneret and pennon,

Trumpet and kettledrum,

And the outrageous cannon,

To bundle Time away

That the night come.



I had this thought awhile ago,

“My darling cannot understand

What I have done, or what would do

In this blind bitter land.”

And I grew weary of the sun

Until my thoughts cleared up again,

Remembering that the best I have done

Was done to make it plain;

That every year I have cried, “At length

My darling understands it all,

Because I have come into my strength,

And words obey my call.”

That had she done so who can say

What would have shaken from the sieve?

I might have thrown poor words away

And been content to live.



Now must I these three praise—

Three women that have wrought

What joy is in my days;

One that no passing thought,

Nor those unpassing cares,

No, not in these fifteen

Many times troubled years,

Could ever come between

Heart and delighted heart;

And one because her hand

Had strength that could unbind

What none can understand,

What none can have and thrive,

Youth’s dreamy load, till she

So changed me that I live

Labouring in ecstasy.

And what of her that took

All till my youth was gone

With scarce a pitying look?

How should I praise that one?

When day begins to break

I count my good and bad,

Being wakeful for her sake,

Remembering what she had,

What eagle look still shows,

While up from my heart’s root

So great a sweetness flows

I shake from head to foot.



Why should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery, or that she would of late

Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,

Or hurled the little streets upon the great,

Had they but courage equal to desire...?