kilmer

Stars

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(For the Rev. James J. Daly, S. J.)

Bright stars, yellow stars, flashing through the air,
Are you errant strands of Lady Mary’s hair?
As she slits the cloudy veil and bends down through,
Do you fall across her cheeks and over heaven too?

Gay stars, little stars, you are little eyes,
Eyes of baby angels playing in the skies.
Now and then a winged child turns his merry face
Down toward the spinning world — what a funny place!

Jesus Christ came from the Cross (Christ receive my soul!)
In each perfect hand and foot there was a bloody hole.
Four great iron spikes there were, red and never dry,
Michael plucked them from the Cross and set them in the sky.

Christ’s Troop, Mary’s Guard, God’s own men,
Draw your swords and strike at Hell and strike again.
Every steel-born spark that flies where God’s battles are,
Flashes past the face of God, and is a star.

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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Alarm Clocks

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When Dawn strides out to wake a dewy farm
Across green fields and yellow hills of hay
The little twittering birds laugh in his way
And poise triumphant on his shining arm.
He bears a sword of flame but not to harm
The wakened life that feels his quickening sway
And barnyard voices shrilling “It is day!”
Take by his grace a new and alien charm.

But in the city, like a wounded thing
That limps to cover from the angry chase,
He steals down streets where sickly arc-lights sing,
And wanly mock his young and shameful face;
And tiny gongs with cruel fervor ring
In many a high and dreary sleeping place.

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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Pennies

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A few long-hoarded pennies in his hand
Behold him stand;
A kilted Hedonist, perplexed and sad.
The joy that once he had,
The first delight of ownership is fled.
He bows his little head.
Ah, cruel Time, to kill
That splendid thrill!

Then in his tear-dimmed eyes
New lights arise.
He drops his treasured pennies on the ground,
They roll and bound
And scattered, rest.
Now with what zest
He runs to find his errant wealth again!

So unto men
Doth God, depriving that He may bestow.
Fame, health and money go,
But that they may, new found, be newly sweet.
Yea, at His feet
Sit, waiting us, to their concealment bid,
All they, our lovers, whom His Love hath hid.

Lo, comfort blooms on pain, and peace on strife,
And gain on loss.
What is the key to Everlasting Life?
A blood-stained Cross.

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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The Rosary

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Not on the lute, nor harp of many strings
Shall all men praise the Master of all song.
Our life is brief, one saith, and art is long;
And skilled must be the laureates of kings.
Silent, O lips that utter foolish things!
Rest, awkward fingers striking all notes wrong!
How from your toil shall issue, white and strong,
Music like that God’s chosen poet sings?

There is one harp that any hand can play,
And from its strings what harmonies arise!
There is one song that any mouth can say, —
A song that lingers when all singing dies.
When on their beads our Mother’s children pray
Immortal music charms the grateful skies.

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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The Fourth Shepherd

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(For Thomas Walsh)

I

On nights like this the huddled sheep
Are like white clouds upon the grass,
And merry herdsmen guard their sleep
And chat and watch the big stars pass.

It is a pleasant thing to lie
Upon the meadow on the hill
With kindly fellowship near by
Of sheep and men of gentle will.

I lean upon my broken crook
And dream of sheep and grass and men —
O shameful eyes that cannot look
On any honest thing again!

On bloody feet I clambered down
And fled the wages of my sin,
I am the leavings of the town,
And meanly serve its meanest inn.

I tramp the courtyard stones in grief,
While sleep takes man and beast to her.
And every cloud is calling “Thief!”
And every star calls “Murderer!”

II

The hand of God is sure and strong,
Nor shall a man forever flee
The bitter punishment of wrong.
The wrath of God is over me!

With ashen bread and wine of tears
Shall I be solaced in my pain.
I wear through black and endless years
Upon my brow the mark of Cain.

III

Poor vagabond, so old and mild,
Will they not keep him for a night?
And She, a woman great with child,
So frail and pitiful and white.

Good people, since the tavern door
Is shut to you, come here instead.
See, I have cleansed my stable floor
And piled fresh hay to make a bed.

Here is some milk and oaten cake.
Lie down and sleep and rest you fair,
Nor fear, O simple folk, to take
The bounty of a child of care.

IV

On nights like this the huddled sheep —
I never saw a night so fair.
How huge the sky is, and how deep!
And how the planets flash and glare!

At dawn beside my drowsy flock
What winged music I have heard!
But now the clouds with singing rock
As if the sky were turning bird.

O blinding Light, O blinding Light!
Burn through my heart with sweetest pain.
O flaming Song, most loudly bright,
Consume away my deadly stain!

V

The stable glows against the sky,
And who are these that throng the way?
My three old comrades hasten by
And shining angels kneel and pray.

The door swings wide — I cannot go —
I must and yet I dare not see.
Lord, who am I that I should know —
Lord, God, be merciful to me!

VI

O Whiteness, whiter than the fleece
Of new-washed sheep on April sod!
O Breath of Life, O Prince of Peace,
O Lamb of God, O Lamb of God!

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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The Ballade Of Butterflies

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Because we never build a nest
And no one of us ever sings,
We are the butt of every jest
That strutting loud-mouthed robin flings.
Unless the field with laughter rings
And we are meek in our replies
His claws and beak to bear he brings;
Have pity on all butterflies!

Since we are of no home possessed,
And have no joy in courts and kings,
And love on working-days to rest,
The name of ‘Idlers’ to us clings.
On all our gypsy travellings
They follow us with jeering cries.
From every rose a spider springs;
Have pity on all butterflies!

A little thing is our request-
Some peace from nets of sticks and strings,
An hour to feel the sunlight’s zest,
To ‘scape the deadly bee that stings.
From hostile fortune’s bolts and slings
Give us release ere Summer dies-
We dread the Winter’s threatenings;
Have pity on all butterflies!
L’ENVOI
Great Pan, kind lord of living things,
Look on us now with friendly eyes.
We pray to you on trembling wings,
Have pity on all butterflies!

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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The Big Top

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The boom and blare of the big brass band is cheering
to my heart
And I like the smell of the trampled grass and elephants and hay.
I take off my hat to the acrobat with his delicate, strong art,
And the motley mirth of the chalk-faced clown drives all my care
away.
I wish I could feel as they must feel, these players
brave and fair,
Who nonchalantly juggle death before a staring throng.
It must be fine to walk a line of silver in the air
And to cleave a hundred feet of space with a gesture like a song.
Sir Henry Irving never knew a keener, sweeter thrill
Than that which stirs the breast of him who turns his painted face
To the circling crowd who laugh aloud and clap hands with a will
As a tribute to the clown who won the great wheel-barrow race.
Now, one shall work in the living rock with a mallet
and a knife,
And another shall dance on a big white horse that canters round
a ring,
By another’s hand shall colours stand in similitude of life;
And the hearts of the three shall be moved by one mysterious high
thing.
For the sculptor and the acrobat and the painter
are the same.
They know one hope, one fear, one pride, one sorrow and one mirth,
And they take delight in the endless fight for the fickle world’s
acclaim;
For they worship art above the clouds and serve her on the earth.
But you, who can build of the stubborn rock no
form of loveliness,
Who can never mingle the radiant hues to make a wonder live,
Who can only show your little woe to the world in a rhythmic dress

What kind of a counterpart of you does the three-ring circus give?
Well – here in the little side-show tent to-day
some people stand,
One is a giant, one a dwarf, and one has a figured skin,
And each is scarred and seared and marred by Fate’s relentless hand,
And each one shows his grief for pay, with a sort of pride therein.
You put your sorrow into rhyme and want the world
to look;
You sing the news of your ruined hope and want the world to hear;
Their woe is pent in a canvas tent and yours in a printed book.
O, poet of the broken heart, salute your brothers here!

 

– Joyce Kilmer

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