Poetry from the Greats

“Shall I despise you that your colorless tears made rainbows in your lashes, and you forgot to weep?”

Illustration of a man and woman carrying a globe

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“To a Young Girl” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Published on September 15, 1928

Shall I despise you that your colorless tears

Made rainbows in your lashes, and you forgot to weep?

Would we were half so wise, that eke a grief out

By sitting in the dark, until we fall asleep.


I only fear lest, being by nature sunny,

By and by you will weep no more at all,

And fall asleep in the light, having lost with the tears

The color in the lashes that comes as the tears fall.

I would not have you darken your lids with weeping,

Beautiful eyes, but I would have you weep enough

To wet the fingers of the hand held over the eyelids,

And stain a little the light frock’s delicate stuff.

For there came into my mind, as I watched you winking the tears down,

Laughing faces, blown from the west and the east,

Faces lovely and proud that I have prized and cherished;

Nor were the loveliest among them those that had wept the least.


“Poplar and Elm” by Carl Sandburg

Published on September 15, 1928

Silver leaves of the last of summer,

Poplar and elm silver leaves,

Leaves not least of all of the Lombardy poplar,

Standing before the autumn moon and the autumn wind as a woman waits in a doorway for someone who must be coming,

All you silver-leaf people, you I have seen and heard in a hundred summer winds,

It is October, it is a week, two weeks, till the rain and frost break on us and the leaves are washed off, washed down.

In January when the trees fork gray against a clear winter blue in the spare sun silver of winter or the lengthened frost silver of the long nights —

I shall remember then the loans of the sun to you in June, I shall remember the hundred summer winds who kissed you.

“The Snow Storm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Published on January 23, 1847


Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,

Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,

Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air

Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,

And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.

The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet

Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit

Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed

In a tumultuous privacy of storm.


Come see the north wind’s masonry.

Out of an unseen quarry evermore

Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer

Curves his white bastions with projected roof

Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.

Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work

So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he

For number or proportion. Mockingly,

On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;

A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;

Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,

Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate,

A tapering turret overtops the work.

And when his hours are numbered, and the world

Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,

Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art

To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,

Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,

The frolic architecture of the snow.



“Dawn” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Published on September 15, 1928

All men are lonely now.

This is the hour when no man has a friend.

Memory and Faith suspend

From their spread wings above a cool abyss.

All friendships end.


He that stayed awake

All night

For sweet love’s unregenerate sake,

Sleeps in the gray light.


The lover, if he dream at all,

Dreams not of her whose languid hand sleeps open at his side;

He is gone to another bride.

And she he leaves behind

Sighs not in sleep “Unkind— unkind — ”

She walks in a garden of yellow quinces;

Smiling, she gathers yellow quinces in a basket intertwined

Of willow and laurel combined.


Should I return to your door,

Fresh and haggard out of the morning air,

There would be darkness on the stair,

And a dead close odor painfully sad,

That was not there before.

There would be silence.

There would be heavy steps across the floor.

And you would let me in, frowning with sleep

Under your rumpled hair.


Beautiful now upon the ear unshut by slumber

The rich and varied voices of the waking day!

The mighty, mournful whistles without number

Of tugs and ferries, mingling, confounding, failing

Thinning to separate notes of wailing,

Making stupendous music on the misty bay.


Now through the echoing street in the growing light,

Intent on errands that the sun approves,

Clatter unashamed the heavy wheels and hooves

Before the silent houses; briskly they say:

“Marshal not me among the enterprises of the night.

I am the beginning of the day.”



“On Thought In Harness” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Published on February 24, 1934


My Falcon to my wrist returns

From no high air.

I sent her toward the sun that burns

Above the mist.

But she has not been there.


Her talons are not cold; her beak

Is closed upon no wonder;

Her head stinks of its hood, her feathers reek

Of me, that quake at the thunder.


Degraded bird, I give you back your eyes forever, ascend now whither you are tossed;

Forsake this wrist, forsake this rhyme;

Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost,

But climb.


“Good-By, Jim” by James Whitcomb Riley

Published on August 13, 1898



Old man never had much to say,

’Ceptin’ to Jim —

And Jim was the wildest boy he had —

And the old man jes’ wrapped up in him!

Never heerd him speak but once

Er twice in my life—and first time was

When the Army broke out, and Jim he went,

The old man backin’ him, fer three months.

An’ all ’at I heard the old man say

Was, jes’ as we turned to start away —

“Well; good-by, Jim : Take keer of yourse’f!”



’Peared like he was more satisfied

Jes’ lookin’ at Jim

And likin’ him all to hisse’f like, see?

’Cause he was jos’ wrapped up in him!

And over and over I mind the day

The old man come and stood round in the way

While he was drillin’, a-watchin’ Jim —

And down at the depot a-heerin’ him say —

“Well; good-by, Jim:

Take keer of yourse’f!”



Never was nothin’ about the farm

Disting’ished Jim —

Neighbors all ust to wonder why

The old man ’peared wrapped up in him.

But when Cap. Biggler, he writ back

’At Jim was the bravest boy we had

In the whole dern rigiment, white er black,

And his fightin’ good as his farmin’ bad —

’At he had led with a bullet clean

Bored through his thigh, and carried the flag

Through the bloodiest battle you ever seen —

The old man wound up a letter to him

’At Cap. read to us, ’at said, “Tell Jim


And take keer of hisse’f.”



Jim come back jes’ long enough

To take the whim

’At he’d like to go back in cavalry —

And the old man jes’ wrapped up in him! —

Jim ’lowed ’at he’d had sich luck afore,

Guessed he’d tackle her three years more.

And the old man gave him a colt he’d raised

And follered him over to Camp Ben Wade,

And laid round fer a week or so,

Watchin’ Jim on dress-parade —

Tel finally he rid away,

And last he heerd was the old man say

“Well; good-by, Jim:

Take keer of yourse’f!”



Tuk the papers, the old man did,

A-watchin’ fer Jim —

Fully believin’ he’d make his mark

Some way — jes’ wrapped up in him!

And many a time the word ’u’d come

’At stirred him up like the tap of a drum —

At Petersburg, for instance, where

Jim rid right into the cannons there,

And tuk ’em, and p’inted ’em t’other way,

And socked it home to the boys in gray,

As they skooted for timber, and on and on —

Jim a Lieutenant, and one arm gone,

And the old man’s words in his mind all day-

“Well; good-by, Jim: Take keer of yourse’f!”



Think of a private, now, perhaps,

We’ll say like Jim,

’At’s clumb clean up to the shoulderstraps —

And the old man jes’ wrapped up in him!

Think of him—with the war plum’ through,

And the glorious old Red-White-and-Blue

A-laughin’ the news down over Jim,

And the old man, bendin’ over him —

The Surgeon turnin’ away with tears

’At hadn’t leaked fer years and years —

As the hand of the dyin’ boy clung to

His father’s, the old voice in his ears —

“Well; good-by, Jim : Take keer of yourse’f!”

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