by LOUIS UNTERMEYER (1885-1977)
THE RAIN was over, and the brilliant air
Made every little blade of grass appear
Vivid and startling—everything was there
With sharpened outlines, eloquently clear,
As though one saw it in a crystal sphere.
The rusty sumac with its struggling spires;
The golden-rod with all its million fires
(A million torches swinging in the wind);
A single poplar, marvellously thinned,
Half like a naked boy, half like a sword;
Clouds, like the haughty banners of the Lord;
A group of pansies with their shrewish faces,
Little old ladies cackling over laces;
The quaint, unhurried road that curved so well;
The prim petunias with their rich, rank smell;
The lettuce-birds, the creepers in the field—
How bountifully were they all revealed!
How arrogantly each one seemed to thrive—
So frank and strong, so radiantly alive!
And over all the morning-minded earth
There seemed to spread a sharp and kindling mirth,
Piercing the stubborn stones until I saw
The toad face heaven without shame or awe,
The ant confront the stars, and every weed
Grow proud as though it bore a royal seed;
While all the things that die and decompose
Sent forth their bloom as richly as the rose….
Oh, what a liberal power that made them thrive
And keep the very dirt that died, alive.
And now I saw the slender willow-tree
No longer calm or drooping listlessly,
Letting its languid branches sway and fall
As though it danced in some sad ritual;
But rather like a young, athletic girl,
Fearless and gay, her hair all out of curl,
And flying in the wind—her head thrown back,
Her arms flung up, her garments flowing slack,
And all her rushing spirits running over….
What made a sober tree seem such a rover—
Or made the staid and stalwart apple-trees,
That stood for years knee-deep in velvet peace,
Turn all their fruit to little worlds of flame,
And burn the trembling orchard there below?
What lit the heart of every golden-glow—
Oh, why was nothing weary, dull, or tame?…
Beauty it was, and keen, compassionate mirth
That drives the vast and energetic earth.
And, with abrupt and visionary eyes,
I saw the huddled tenements arise.
Here where the merry clover danced and shone
Sprang agonies of iron and of stone;
There, where green Silence laughed or stood enthralled,
Cheap music blared and evil alleys sprawled.
The roaring avenues, the shrieking mills;
Brothels and prisons on those kindly hills—
The menace of these things swept over me;
A threatening, unconquerable sea….
A stirring landscape and a generous earth!
Freshening courage and benevolent mirth—
And then the city, like a hideous sore….
Good God, and what is all this beauty for?
From 1923 until his death in 1977, Untermeyer worked solely at his literary interests as a poet, writer, editor, translator, and lecturer. Untermeyer had been writing and editing for a number of years while working in the jewelry business, and by 1923, several volumes of his own poetry and at least six of his poetry anthologies had already been published. By the conclusion of his life, Untermeyer had written, edited, or translated over one hundred books for readers of all ages…. Through his anthologies, poetry, lectures, and relationships with numerous literary figures, Louis Untermeyer exercised substantial influence on American literature during his lifetime. ~ Univ. of Delaware Biographical Note: Louis Untermeyer Papers