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Three by Kilmer II

Three poems by Joyce Kilmer.

The Apartment House

Severe against the pleasant arc of sky
   The great stone box is cruelly displayed.
   The street becomes more dreary from its shade,
And vagrant breezes touch its walls and die.
Here sullen convicts in their chains might lie,
   Or slaves toil dumbly at some dreary trade.
   How worse than folly is their labor made
Who cleft the rocks that this might rise on high!

Yet, as I look, I see a woman's face
   Gleam from a window far above the street.
This is a house of homes, a sacred place,
   By human passion made divinely sweet.
How all the building thrills with sudden grace
   Beneath the magic of Love's golden feet!

(from "Poems at Home")

Delicatessen

Why is that wanton gossip Fame
   So dumb about this man's affairs?
Why do we titter at his name
   Who come to buy his curious wares?

Here is a shop of wonderment.
   From every land has come a prize;
Rich spices from the Orient,
   And fruit that knew Italian skies,

And figs that ripened by the sea
   In Smyrna, nuts from hot Brazil,
Strange pungent meats from Germany,
   And currants from a Grecian hill.

He is the lord of goodly things
   That make the poor man's table gay,
Yet of his worth no minstrel sings
   And on his tomb there is no bay.

Perhaps he lives and dies unpraised,
   This trafficker in humble sweets,
Because his little shops are raised
   By thousands in the city streets.

Yet stars in greater numbers shine,
   And violets in millions grow,
And they in many a golden line
   Are sung, as every child must know.

Perhaps Fame thinks his worried eyes,
   His wrinkled, shrewd, pathetic face,
His shop, and all he sells and buys
   Are desperately commonplace.

Well, it is true he has no sword
   To dangle at his booted knees.
He leans across a slab of board,
   And draws his knife and slices cheese.

He never heard of chivalry,
   He longs for no heroic times;
He thinks of pickles, olives, tea,
   And dollars, nickles, cents and dimes.

His world has narrow walls, it seems;
   By counters is his soul confined;
His wares are all his hopes and dreams,
   They are the fabric of his mind.

Yet—in a room above the store
   There is a woman—and a child
Pattered just now across the floor;
   The shopman looked at him and smiled.

For, once he thrilled with high romance
   And tuned to love his eager voice.
Like any cavalier of France
   He wooed the maiden of his choice.

And now deep in his weary heart
   Are sacred flames that whitely burn.
He has of Heaven's grace a part
   Who loves, who is beloved in turn.

And when the long day's work is done,
   (How slow the leaden minutes ran!)
Home, with his wife and little son,
   He is no huckster, but a man!

And there are those who grasp his hand,
   Who drink with him and wish him well.
O in no drear and lonely land
   Shall he who honors friendship dwell.

And in his little shop, who knows
   What bitter games of war are played?
Why, daily on each corner grows
   A foe to rob him of his trade.

He fights, and for his fireside's sake;
   He fights for clothing and for bread:
The lances of his foemen make
   A steely halo round his head.

He decks his window artfully,
   He haggles over paltry sums.
In this strange field his war must be
   And by such blows his triumph comes.

What if no trumpet sounds to call
   His arméd legions to his side?
What if, to no ancestral hall
   He comes in all a victor's pride?

The scene shall never fit the deed.
   Grotesquely wonders come to pass.
The fool shall mount an Arab steed
   And Jesus ride upon an ass.

This man has home and child and wife
   And battle set for every day.
This man has God and love and life;
   These stand, all else shall pass away.

O Carpenter of Nazareth,
   Whose mother was a village maid,
Shall we, Thy children, blow our breath
   In scorn on any humble trade?

Have pity on our foolishness
   And give us eyes, that we may see
Beneath the shopman's clumsy dress
   The splendor of humanity!

(from "Poems at Home")

Servant Girl and Grocer's Boy

Her lips' remark was: "Oh, you kid!"
Her soul spoke thus (I know it did):

"O king of realms of endless joy,
My own, my golden grocer's boy,

I am a princess forced to dwell
Within a lonely kitchen cell,

While you go dashing through the land
With loveliness on every hand.

Your whistle strikes my eager ears
Like music of the choiring spheres.

The mighty earth grows faint and reels
Beneath your thundering wagon wheels.

How keenly, perilously sweet
To cling upon that swaying seat!

How happy she who by your side
May share the splendors of that ride!

Ah, if you will not take my hand
And bear me off across the land,

Then, traveller from Arcady,
Remain awhile and comfort me.

What other maiden can you find
So young and delicate and kind?"

Her lips' remark was: "Oh, you kid!"
Her soul spoke thus (I know it did).

(from "Poems at Home")

Joyce Kilmer: Poems, Letters and Essays; Volume One: Memoir and Poems (1918), pp. 195, 185ff, 190f. The book is on line here.

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Sun. 05/23/04 11:47:22 AM
Categorized as Literary & Sunday Poetry Series.

   
         
         

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Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”