“Theodore Dreiser,” from Precipitations, by Evelyn Scott (1920)


Theodore Dreiser

The man body jumbled out of the earth, half, formed,
Clay on the feet.
Heavy with the lingering might of chaos.
The man face so high above the feet
As if lonesome for them like a child.
The veins that beat heavily with the music they but half understood
Coil languidly around the heart
And lave it in the death stream
Of a grand impersonal benignance.

from Precipitations, by Evelyn Scott
New York: Nicholas L. Brown, 1920

I could hardly imagine a less likely subject for a poem than Theodore Dreiser, but this sketch by Evelyn Scott is close to perfection, both in its imagery and in the clay-footedness of that last line, which might have come straight off the pages of one of Dreiser’s novels.

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“Take Their Little Necks,” by Loureine Aber, from We. the Musk Chasers


Take Their Little Necks

I ask you to be fierce, Chicago,
As a drowning man in the first spasm
Fierce first of all to your women.
Trip them when they come mincing down the Avenue,
Take their little necks and squeeze them,
(Women grow scatter-brained with no fingers at them,
There is no white glory to them if they are not hurt,
Oh, the unhurt women you see ogling at the shops.
Paint and cloth!)

And when you get a chance at men.
Be fierce with them;
It is their hands have made you,
Their insistent, silly howling for the moon.
When they wrought you, Chicago,
They wrought pigstys out of gauze.
And fine dreams.

from We, the Musk Chasers, by Loureine Aber
Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour, 1921

Available on the Internet Archive: Link.

I like this poem because the poet’s voice is ferocious. She invites Sandburg’s Hog Butcher of the World, City of Big Shoulders, to wring the necks of her men and women with the facts of the real world.

We, the Musk Chasers–one of the odder titles of its time–was Loureine Aber’s only book, and at that, was a cheap paperback edition from a minor Chicago publisher. A graduate of Oberlin College, she had a number of poems published in Harriet Monroe’s magazine, including a feature spot right after Wallace Stevens in the October 1921 issue. She worked in advertising and then in the offices of the Leschin Apparel Company and boarded with a fellow Oberlin graduate, Lillian Blackwell Dial, and her husband. She died in 1930, a few days past her 37th birthday.

She was in her late 20s when she wrote “Take Their Little Necks.” She’d already been out, presumably on her own, for some years. Was she writing out of frustration with her own situation or with the fact that so many others hadn’t yet come to share her outlook on the world? Another poem in the collection, “You Will Never Go Picking Wild Flowers,” tells a well-to-do woman that she can never be carefree again because “You must go stiff now/Furs in storage/Diamonds in vault/Limousine waiting.” And was to make of “Four Corners of a Room”? Is this a celebration of limits or a declaration of resignation?

It is only four corners of a room
That keep me from becoming God.
I might leap out and spin stars,
I might address myself to grass
And long windy nights.
But these four corners hold me,
They have memories in them.

They will keep me fast

I am glad to be kept from being God.

It is certainly tempting to weave a whole story for Loureine Aber out of the lines of We, the Musk Chasers.

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“Night at Scheveningen,” by F. V. Branford, from Titans and Gods (1922)


Night at Scheveningen

The North Sea shakes
His ranks in
The moon,
Beats and breaks
His flanks in
The dune.

And pitiless
On rock and century.
And cityless
My soul is as the sea.

from Titans and Gods, by F. V. Branford
London: Christophers, 1922

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

Sitting here tonight in a hotel on the beach at Scheveningen, looking out into the dunes, I wondered if I could find any poem about this most unpoetic sounding place.

En hier is het. Wie had dat gedacht?

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“The Unhappy Few,” by Thomas McAfee, from Poems and Stories


The Unhappy Few

–after reading Weldon Kees

Most of us spend most of our lives
Climbing in and out of wombs,
Bitching about bad coffee and too wet
Martinis. Most of us lust for, more than love,
Our wives, waitresses, and celluloid sirens.

But a few seem to move to the total horror
Of ennui, to wake tired at morning,
To be glad to face another alley, rather
Than to go on for another hour with the sheets,
Fighting the nightmares that gang up.

Those few are real and positive. They know
What misery and terror really are.
They’re usually the very last ones to bitch.
They go off somewhere to drink in a bar
Or cry or quietly to kill themselves.

from Poems and Stories, by Thomas McAfee
Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1960

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“Cadillac Square: 1933,” by John Malcolm Brinnin, from Selected Poems

cadillac square

Cadillac Square: 1933

Whoever know a city, know this square:
The loud and quaking air
That breaks on brick or scales the sun-choked glass,
The travelers who pass
One minute of one day and nevermore,
The neo-Grecian door
Poised like the needle’s eye, open and shut
For the mythical feet
Of some squat nobleman of fields and mines,
Industrial scenes,
Or eggshell yachts afloat in summer water,
The pink expensive daughter
With a flair for shady friends and maybe Bach,
The colonnaded house and the Chinese cook.

In early spring this heartlike acre shines:
Canyoned streets, carlines
Flow with violence of union, men
Learn faith in fathers then;
The butcher from the suburb and the clerk
Hear the organizers speak
The echoing language of the pioneer,
And in that press they cheer
With such a swirling and reproachless voice
The city swims in noise;
Those sooty faces and grime-sculptured hands
Live where the river bends,
They own the rotted gardens made to green
Where but the fossils of machines have lain.

All interweaves among the changing years:
Progress is in arrears
Until some chanticleering message raids
The disparate multitudes,
Or the bark of some command, made sharp with hate,
Sends Property’s gunmen out.
Poised in that infinity of death
Or life, or barely both,
The human balance sways; away, away,
The bleak night and the day,
The bankers couched in limousines, the poor
Jackknifed against a door,
The bankers conscious of defeat, the poor
Jackknifed, oblivious, against a door.

from The Selected Poems of John Malcolm Brinnin
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link)

“Elegy Before the Time,” by William Dickey, from The Interpreter’s House


Elegy Before the Time

From Kansas City, the
last bleeding station-stop
of mother’s cancer, goes
west and then south, writes
“Having become myself
my fiction’s hero, will
pause at tonight’s hotel,
called (letterhead translates)
Inn of the Last Resort,
(amused) tomorrow will
taken sudden steps to go
into Mexico, write
nothing to anyone.”

Like a cheap dog thereafter
in grey timorousness
will his hallucinations
attend his heel
to lick at the least call?
Heroic, in the bar
back of the best streets,
he, in a diamond vest,
gold pieces in his ears,
muscles like a hoopsnake,
cheerfully will impart
his daddy’s wisdom with
new lies in a new night.

Or if that keepsake fails,
the coin in his hand turns
to a useless penny, he
cursed for a male witch,
eyes superstitiously full,
flesh softer than human,
“having become himself
his fiction’s hero” may
dance to a smart blaze,
staccato feet bound
fast to the fire’s end,
his clumsy hands told
gestures of departure.

Why worry, lovey? He,
mother in her fat tomb,
auntie on her pension,
Kansas City an act done
in an indecent story,
now suffers his own air,
breathes himself wholly.
And if he takes off
all clothes, smarts
in another country’s love, if
he takes off his heart, bleeds
untranslated blood, still
it is his fiction.

But I agree, I
cannot leave it there, and
wait the improbable card
postmarked Champs Elysees:
“Everything dandy, death
easily managed. Find
fine company; Ambrose Bierce,
all others who disappeared
stopping by for a drink.
Having become themselves
their fictions, are
spoken with new tongues.
Write to me. Love me. Yours.”

from The Interpreter’s House, by William Dickey
Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1963

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“The Drought,” by Edwin Ford Piper, from Barbed Wire and other poems


The Drought

The light of noon comes reddened from a sky
A-blur with dust; the irritable wind
Burns on your cheek, and leans against your garments
Like a hot iron. Cloud after cloud, the dust
Sweeps the road, rattles on the dirty canvas
Of the schooner so dispiritedly drawn
By drooping horses. On the whitening grass,
With bright and helpless eyes, a meadow-lark
Sits open-beaked, and desperately mute.
The thin, brown wheat that was too short to cut
Stands in the field; the feeble corn, breast high,
Shows yellowed leaf and tassel. With slack line
The bearded, gaunt, stoop-shouldered driver sits
As if in sleep some mounting wave of sorrow
Had overpassed him, and he still dreamed on.
Within the schooner children’s voices wail;
A mother’s tones bring quiet. The sun glares,
The wind drones and makes dirty all the sky.
The horses scarcely fight the vicious flies.

This is departure, but there are who stay.

from Barbed Wire and Other Poems, by Edwin Ford Piper
Chicago: The Midland Press

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“For Instance,” by Robert McAlmon, from The Best Poems Of 1926


For Instance

and jewelry, rightly displayed,
have an equal amount of fascination.

Carrots, for instance,
ferntops, bodies, and hair roots
so bound together in bunches
bunches laid in rows
of oblong heaps with magnitude,
are sufficient to arrest any seeing eye.

Cabbages with a purplish tinge,
when of grandeur, with widespread petals,
as they rest in heaps
catching the dawn’s first filtering of sunlight,
compare satisfyingly with roses enmassed,
with orchids, sunflowers, tulips,
or variegated flowers
extravagantly scattered.

While as to onions,
little can excel their decorative effect
when green tubes, white bulbs, and grey hair roots
rest in well arranged, paralleled piles
about which buxom women congregate,
laughing and chattering in wholesome vulgarity.

a cool indifference to the gash of knives,
to the crush of kind,
or to any destiny whatsoever,
has granted the vegetables an arrogance of identity
one would be foolhardy to strive after
with heated impressionable imagination.

given their color,
scent and freshness,
too easily attain a cool supremacy of being
for our fumbling competition.

from The Best Poems Of 1926, edited by L. A. G. Strong
New York City: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1926

Robert McAlmon was a pivotal figure in the American avant-garde of the 1920s, both in Greenwich Village and Paris. His press, Contact Editions, published Hemingway’s first book of fiction, Three Stories & Ten Poems, as well as Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All, and Robert Coates’ The Eater of Darkness. After his death, Kay Boyle assembled his memoirs, along with some of her own, into one of the best accounts of the period, Being Geniuses Together (1970).

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“A Lilt,” from Cobblestones: A Book of Poems, by David Sentner


A Lilt

I grasped the greasy subway strap
And read the lurid advertisements
I chewed my gum voraciously
Inhaled strange fumes pugnaciously.
I heard the grating of the wheels
And felt that the chords
Of my city soul
Were in perfect tune.

from Cobblestones: A Book of Poems, by David Sentner
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921

David Sentner’s Cobblestones was published by Alfred A. Knopf as the result of a poetry competition held among undergraduates of (then) Columbia College. Sentner’s book received a fair amount of press when it was published, due the fact that he was a wounded veteran of World War One. Sentner lost his sight in one eye while serving with the 27th Division in France, and founded the Columbia Comeback Club, which represented nearly 800 veterans attending the school after the war.

This didn’t impress the New York Times’ reviewer, though. “Prize poets are generally bad, for some reason,” he quipped, and found this held true for Sentner as well. “Just what these poems prove besides the facts that the writer does not know trees and that he is a gum-chewing poet (rather a modern figure) it is hard to see.”

Cobblestones was Sentner’s first and last book of poems. He died in 1975, apparently having left poetry behind nearly a half century before.

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“Letters Found Near a Suicide,” by Frank Horne, from The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949


Letters Found Near a Suicide

To all of you

My little stone
Sinks quickly
Into the bosom of this deep, dark pool
Of oblivion . . .
I have troubled its breast but little
Yet those far shores
That knew me not
Will feel the fleeting, furtive kiss
Of my tiny concentric ripples . . .

This is the first of eleven short poems that comprise the “Letters Found Near a Suicide,” which was first published in The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP. Horne submitted the collection to a contest run by the magazine and came in second, behind Countee Cullen and ahead of Langston Hughes (who co-edited the anthology I took this from).

Horne’s accomplishments were remarkable and diverse. He trained and practiced professionally as an ophthalmologist, wrote poetry, and was active in the NAACP and other black political organizations. He served in numerous positions in government and in government advisory functions, particularly related to public housing. Strongly aligned with the Democratic Party, he was the target of Civil Service Loyalty Board investigations, accused of being Communist-friendly, and eventually left the U. S. Housing Authority to take a position on the New York City Civil Rights Commission. He published his only book, Haverstraw, a collection of poems, in 1963. There appear to be no copies of it for sale now. He died in 1975. You can find an extensive article devoted to Horne’s career, along with the full set of “Letters” at the Hidden Cause blog (link).

from The Poetry Of The Negro, 1746 1949: An Anthology, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps
Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1951

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“Song of the Drunken Business Man,” from Mid-American Chants, by Sherwood Anderson


“Song of the Drunken Business Man”

Don’t try, little one, to keep hold of me.
Go home! There’s a place for you by the fire.
Age is waiting to welcome you, love—
Go home and sit by the fire.

Into the naked street I ran,
Roaring and bellowing like a cow;
Shaking the walls of the houses down,
Proclaiming my dream of black desire.

Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole,
Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole.

If there’s a thing in this world that’s good it’s guts.
I’m a blackbird hovering over the land:
Go on home! Let me alone.

Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole,
Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole.

Do you know, little dove, I admire your lips—
They’re so red.
What are you doing out in the street?
Take my arm! Look at me!
Ah, you be gone. I’m sixty-five years old tonight,
Now what’s the use of beginning again.

Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole,
Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole.

Well, I’m tired. I ache. What’s the use?
I can’t meet the note. I have a son.
Let’s go home. It’s twelve o’clock.
I’m going to get that boy into West Point yet.

Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole,
Eighteen letters in a pigeon-hole.

from Mid-American Chants, by Sherwood Anderson, New York: John Lane Co., 1918

This is a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

“Sociability of the Subconscious,” from The Pursuit of Happiness by Benjamin R. C. Low


Sociability of the Subconscious

Thought gives it rarely. It must happen so.
The perfect hour blooms up unheralded.
Perpend. “Let’s take our books with us, and go
Out to the cabin for a quiet read !” she said.
In lazy mood
I took my tome and followed after.
(The back way for adventure.) Soon
Across the warm, gold afternoon,
She led me, with light feet and laughter,
Into a wood.
A sabbath journey only, through the pines.
One cleft of sunlight caught it; good bark brown,
With easy roof and unassuming lines;
Door open; a play cabin. We sat down.

There was, I think, some virtue in the clothes we wore:
She, a stout skirt and simple sailor blouse,
No hat, and sneakers; I,
Old flannels, outlawed many years before,
A tennis shirt and shoes. (Comfort allows
The mood care’s quirks deny.)
We squandered little time on speech:
Each took a corner of the window; guided
Plump pillows to best use, and then subsided
Into a swoon of silence, each.

Books held the foreground. Books were of that hour
Pre-eminent, we thought.
(In winter’s footprints April hides her flower.)
We read; while fortune wrought,
Not romance, but a rarer thing, diviner.
I read John Milton; she, an Olive Schreiner.
Books held the foreground. Half-sensed, all the while,
Were soft intrusions, seas,
Far-heard when winds touch trees;
Sweet, distant laughter dwindled to a smile;
The Peter Piper of a motor-boat,
Throbbing beneath bright voices, then
A pool of silence, stirred a
By seagulls in falsetto, a harsh note.
But mostly — peace. One almost felt the sun
A-westering, while one small bee
Droned all the world indulgence, in his run
Round one small room: so still were we.
And all the while, I was aware of her;
Reading anew
L’ Allegro, Penseroso, Lycidas,
The Cyriack, and the Blindness
. Ghostlier
As, eyes drawn down, I watched the old friends pass,
That still room grew.

I was aware of her in a new way.
Milton absorbed me. I remember well
The joy of winging that proud upper air,
And, once, how scrannel keyed the seagulls. (They
Still own it.) Whence it came I cannot tell,
But we waked, somehow, and–I was aware.

An inroad ended it:
A megaphone
Called: “We are starting!” Books closed, out we ran,
The world of common-sense resumed. No plan.
Neither intended it.
The hour unknown.
But something wrought with us. I was aware. . . .
We waked in some eternity, it seems,
Brains are but barriers of, with their poor dreams.
Who runs may read; only–such hours are rare.

from The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Poems, New York: John Lane Co., 1919

This is a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive (link).

From The Biographical Dictionary Of Contemporary Poets. The Who’s Who Of American Poets (1938), we learn that Benjamin Low was born in Massachussetts, earned his bachelor’s at Yale and a law degree from Harvard and practiced insurance law in New York City.

One wonders if he ever compared poetical notes with Wallace Stevens–though Low was no match the Hartford’s man. Of another of Low’s books of poetry, Saturday Review wrote, “there is ever and again the glitter of the true precious metal in this thin vein of ore.” This lovely vignette of an hour captured alone/together reading is certainly one.

“The Rats in Council,” from Old Saws, Newly Set, by George Linley


The Rats in Council

A certain colony of rats,
Was ravaged by a chief of cats,
The foe his rounds so slily went,
No rat his skill could circumvent;
So that, as none from home dare stray,

Their rations dwindled day by day;
And visions of that demon gaunt
Grim Famine, ‘gan their hearts to daunt.
One noon (’twas after a good dinner,
Which made the rat race somewhat thinner,)
Grimalkin, with complacent air,
Went forth to court a neighb’ring fair.

The coast is clear, with hearts elate,
The chiefs in council hold debate.
A knowing Rat, grown grey with age,
By all his brethren deem’d a sage,
Describes a remedy most pat,
Which is — forthwith to bell the Cat;
So that, the tinkling larum may show,
The whereabouts of the prowling foe.

Th’ assembled multitude agree
No means could shorter, surer be;
And, as the orator speaks well,
Propose to him to hang the bell.
To this, however, he demurr’d;
I bell the Cat, the thing’s absurd!
Methinks, if I the plan devise,
Others the scheme should realize.”

From rat to rat the word goes round,
But not a volunteer is found,
With military pluck or zeal
To battle for the common weal.
Too oft we find that talkers fluent,
When call’d to action, play the truant.

From Old Saws, Newly Set: Fables in Verse, by George Linley the Younger
Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one of a series of neglected poems found on the Internet Archive.

“Mason Street, 11 P. M.,” from A City of Caprice, by Neill Wilson




Mason Street, Eleven P. M.

Spangles flashing, slippers twinkling.
Round and round she goes.
To the mad piano’s tinkling.
On her tippy-toes.
Waiter! Has the girl no inkling
Of the word repose?

Flagellate ’em! Fast, Professor,
Beat the ivories hard!
Never pace a minute lesser.
While the night is starred.
Waiter! Who’s the giddy dresser
Glancing hitherward?

Cheek allures and lips abet it.
Mistress with the eyes.
Speak then: do we pirouette it
Where the sachet flies?
Ah, the prospect dazzles? Let it!
Evening star, arise!

Psyche’s nearest rival, spritely
Condiment of art.
Hug, oh hug me not so tightly.
Let me breathe, dear heart.
Less inured am I to nightly
Passion a la carte.

Listen, Circe’s little sister.
Once embraced, endeared:
You have scorched my soul; I blister.
Even as I feared.
Waiter! Chasers two! I kissed her.
And it tasted weird.

Pound the box. Professor! Shocking
Though the modern Eve,
And a lady’s lost her stocking,
I decline to leave.
What, the hour so soon for locking?
Halts all make-believe?

Gently, waiter. Friend, confessor,
Where’s the sidewalk, please?
Hail, the honest milkman! Yessir,
Morning air agrees.
Man! but couldn’t that professor
Castigate those keys?

The mix of traditionally poetic language and then-contemporary slang in this poem–and in most of those in this collection–is awkward and unstable. On its own, the whole book could easily remain forgotten. I just featured it as an excuse to post a few of the dozen or so photographs that appear ahead of the poems. Look closely at the last: you can see the reflections of the two women in the store window they are passing. I always like old photos that remind us that a photograph only captures an instant. Most of the picture is filled with things that are fixed–for years at least. But here we also catch the women a moment before they turn the corner and disappear.

from A City of Caprice, by Neill Compton Wilson
San Francisco: Overland Press, 1920

Available on the Internet Archive (Link).

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“For a Wordfarer,” from Green Armor on Green Ground, by Rolfe Humphries


For a Wordfarer

Speak them slowly, space them so:
Say them soft, or sing them low,
Words whose way we may not know any more.
Still, before the days go,

Sing them low, or say them soft.
Such a little while is left
To counterpoint the soundless drift of Time,
Let rhyming fall and lift.

Space them so, with lift and fall
Decent in their interval,
Late, archaic, who could say?–but always
Graceful, musical.

from Green Armor on Green Ground, which is subtitled, “Poems in the Twenty-four Official Welsh Meters and Some, in Free Meters, on Welsh Themes,” by Rolfe Humphries
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956

Available on the Internet Archive (link)

Humphries writes that this poem is written in a meter known as “Englyn Unodl Crwca”:

This is also a four line stanza, reversing the pattern of Englyn unodl union, in that the syllable count of the lines runs seven, seven, ten, six, respectively. The same principles apply in the echoing of the syllables that follow the main rhyme in the long line.

“Words for Time,” from New and Selected Poems, by Thomas H. Ferril


Words for Time

Ask a boy on his back
In a track the buffalo cut
How long it takes that cloud
To cross that butte.

How many turns of calico tied to a spoke
Of a wheel
Make a mile
Make a century?

Ask dew on the ox-bow:
Where did the century go?
Ask lantern light on the butternut sleeve
In the evening.

Tonight I was watching a jet-plane lag behind
The spokes of light a hub of sunken sun
Was turning in the under-West
Behind the Rocky Mountains.

The jet-plane, for an instant of twelve mountains,
Held its own with a span of apricot sky
But lost to a fanning blade of choke-cherry;
Nearer, a snow-white-pitch-black magpie bird
Sauntered the West wind faster.

What shall I tell the children about Time?
Children who never counted the sing-back sway
Of the shoes of a single-footer horse,
Surrey by goldenrod or pung by snow,
But know the red light from the green
And when to go
And go
And go so soon
Over and under the poles of the earth
And toss the earth like a toy balloon.

Shall I tell them Time is countable repetition:
Tree-ring, heart-beat, Ocean’s coral accrual?
Shall I speak allegory: Time has teeth,
Forgives, is foolish, yawns, rubs like a river,
Is bald, is nick, is nurse, is pale avenger?

Big Time, small Time, war Time, your Time?
Hickory-dickory Geiger Time?
The mouse ran up the isotope,
Five . . . ten . . . fifteen . . . twenty . . .
Twenty-five . . . thirty . . . thirty-five . . . forty . . .
Where you are you shall burn up
In your hiding place or not!

I’ll say those things for all those things are true,
And I will tell the children Time is Love,
Like a slogan to laugh at on a greeting card,
Like a One-I-Love song made of daisy petals,
Like bidding the mountains sloughing off to sea
Good wayfaring, my hills, goodbye, goodbye!

Let boys and girls grow old and die one day,
Well taught that Time itself does not exist
Where nothing can go faster than the light
That let me love that magpie’s wing tonight:
Love of watching, recognizing, naming,
Knowing why similar ash of men and cattle
Leaves talismans that differ as a hymn
Might differ from an idle opal mine.

And I will tell them . . .
No, I’ll let them learn it:
All constellations, bench-marks, citadels
Continuing and lost and starting over
Within a whisper: “Was it all right with you?”
Passion into slumber into being.

Thomas Hornsby Ferril was a Denver newspaper editor and poet who saw his city grow and change through most of the 20th century, dying at age 92 in 1988. The introduction to this collection was written by novelist H. L. Davis, whose Winds of Morning (published the same year as Ferril’s collection) was one of the first books I featured on this site (link). That novel and this poem have in common the theme of the passing of time in the West–as Davis noted in his introduction:

Time and continuity may seem commonplace elements from which to develop individuality in poetry. Other poets have written about time and its effect on things ostensibly stable and permanent; writers as far back as Xenophon have paid homage to the power of renewal that gives continuity to the human spirit. But with most of them, such things are incidental and minor, reasoned reflections touched on in passing. In Ferril’s poetry, they are fundamental and all-pervading, underlying and coloring thought, emotion, even instinct.

In origin, much of this may be due to environment. The plateau region of the Rocky Mountains has always had, for some strange reason, an intensely stimulating effect on the efflorescence of stock poetical pronouncements about everlasting hills and the earth abiding unchanged and unchanging. The record for generations has brilliantly corroborated and extended the application of the old critical note that the best British poets always wrote their worst poetry in Switzerland. The truth is that hills do change; they shift, alter shape, switch colors and textures; rivers flood, change course, dry up and cut new channels for themselves; grasslands gully out, silt up and saturate with alkali, wind-strip and bank into new grasslands a couple of counties away. This process has been noted often enough in books — Shakespeare’s forty-fourth sonnet, for instance, or any textbook on geology — but reading or reasoning about it is not the same thing as having it happen visibly and persistently, until it becomes a part of one’s inmost consciousness. People in the plateau area of the Rockies are exposed to it from childhood; they come to take it for granted, except when, as sometimes can happen, one of them develops into a poet.

Davis also writes that these poems “… were written primarily to be read aloud, and Ferril’s Library of Congress recordings of some of them do give them a depth and closeness of rhythm that the printed page misses. But even on the printed page, as stages in the achievement of a precise and far-ranging literary artist, they are well able to speak for themselves.”

This poem also makes me think of my grandfather, who was born in a sod house in western Nebraska in 1901, rode a mule to school and studied by a kerosene lamp, and who lived to ride in jet planes and see men walk on the moon on his television. He wasn’t much for poetry, but I’ll bet he’d have appreciated Ferril’s work.

from New and Selected Poems, by Thomas Hornsby Ferril
New York City: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1903

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“Dawn in the City,” from Hesperus, and other poems, by Charles de Kay (1880)


Dawn in the City

The city slowly wakes:
Her every chimney makes
Offering of smoke against the cool white skies.
Slowly the morning shakes
The lingering shadowy flakes
Of night from doors and windows, from the city’s eyes.

A breath through heaven goes:
Leaves of the pale sweet rose
Are strewn along the clouds of upper air.
Healer of ancient woes,
The palm of dawn bestows
Peace on the feverish brow, comfort on grim despair.

Now the celestial fire
Fingers the sunken spire.
Crocket by crocket swiftly creepeth down;
Brushes the maze of wire.
Dewy, electric lyre,
And with a silent hymn one moment fills the town.

A sound of pattering hoofs
Above the emergent roofs
And anxious bleatings tell the passing herd;
Scared by the piteous droves,
A shoal of scurrying doves
Veering, around the island of the church has whirred.

Soon through the smoky haze
The park begins to raise
Its outlines clearer into daylit prose;
Ever with fresh amaze
The sleepless fountains praise
Mom that has gilt the city as it gilds the rose.

High in the clearer air
The smoke now builds a stair
Leading to realms no wing of bird has found;
Things are more foul, more fair;
A distant clock somewhere
Strikes, and the dreamer starts at clear reverberant sound.

Farther the tide of dark
Drains from each square and park:
Here is a city fresh and new-create,
Wondrous as though the ark
Should once again disbark
On a remoulded world its safe and joyous freight.

Ebbs all the dark, and now
Life eddies to and fro
By pier and alley, street and avenue:
The myriads stir below,
As hives of coral grow——
Vaulted above, like them, with a fresh sea of blue.

from Hesperus, and other poems, by Charles de Kay
New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1880

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

Like much poetry, particularly from before the World Wars, this suffers from an overly poetic vocabulary, but I appreciate the details that capture a cityscape from the days of coal and wood fires, horses and cattle in the streets, and noises much different from those we would now encounter. “The real background to these formative years, however, was the sound of hooves; the metallic thunder of the big animals drawing the carriages called landaus, the lighter trip-trop of the hansom cabs,” wrote Bryher in her memoir, The Heart to Artemis.

And one detail here sets the time precisely: “Brushes the maze of wire.” This is after the invention of the telephone (1876), after the first proliferation of subscriber lines by Western Electric and other early telephone companies, and before the practices of burying cables and using distribution frames. As more and more people signed up for the novelty service, companies stacked up row upon row of cross-arms, each supporting up to a dozen wire pairs. For a time, people could look up and truly see a maze of wire above their heads.

“Conchology,” by Sarah Hoare




Delightful task, to trace the hand,
In the minute as in the grand,
Of sovereign Deity !
   ‘Tis holy exercise of mind,
Most valued by the most refin’d.
And by the heaven-exalted mind
   Enjoy’d with ecstacy.


Behold beneath, around, above,
Proofs of immeasurable love.
   Illimitable powers;
Those powers the host of Heaven illume,
And give the summer’s varied bloom.
Its treasury of sweet perfume,
   Its fascinating flowers.


Still may thy lore, Oh Linne! charm,
Still with the love of science warm
   The young, the gay, the wise,
Still may the treasures of thy page,
Give youth a charm, and solace age.
And oft retirement’s hour engage,
   And sorrows tranquillize.


Cheer’d by th’ amusement they bestow,
I’ve sought the flowers that earliest blow,
   From spring till winter lour’d;
Fresh breezes cool’d my fev’rish vein.
Amusement dissipated pain.
Gay health reviv’d my sinking frame,
   And healing balsam pour’d.


Nor less Testacea have I sought,
With deepest admiration fraught.
   Of all their vivid dyes;
Their well proportion’d spires’ ascent,
Their foliaceous ornament.
Their varied charms, so competent,
   To dazzle and surprise.

from Poems on conchology and botany: with plates and notes, by Sarah Hoare
London: Simpkin & Marshal / Bristol: Wright and Bagnall, 1831

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“Sustenance,” by Robert Bagg



If you starve anything,
A race, a flower, a fever,
Fear it will rise and cling
To you, for you can never
Kill something true for good
By cutting off its food.

I knew a sinner once,
God was his meat and drink.
He wouldn’t look askance
At Christ, or say he shrank
Because the world had given
No saints lately to heaven.

from Madonna of the Cello, by Robert Bagg
Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

“Further Document on the Human Brain,” by W. R. Moses


Further Document on the Human Brain

This is a bit of rope that lies in the street.
And the stuff of oakum, but it is not blood
Out of half-naked seamen, nor the smoke
Grey from gun-mouths over the rough blue water
Where oaken old vessels would battle as they could.

This is waste-paper, flicked by a dust-filled breeze.
And what they make books on, but no feathered pen
In the hand of one who wore a ready dagger.
Wrote thunderous plays, praised his wine and tobacco,
And kept his whores in Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

This is a fringe of a woman’s fine black hair
Just seen past another; it is sheeting, cool
And crisply smooth to sheathe one’s limbs between.
Behind a locked door; and a heart that makes its throbbing
Noticed much more than in class-rooms in a school.

from Trial Balances: An Anthology Of New Poetry, edited by Ann Winslow
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935

In Trial Balances: An Anthology Of New Poetry, Allen Tate writes:

The feature of Moses’ work that most forcibly strikes me is the conscious control of his material. I believe he must have stated his problem to himself somewhat in these terms: given the desire to achieve all the shock of immediacy so brilliantly achieves in a poem like Crane’s Paraphrase; but given, too, the desire for the greater range of presentation and commentary that is possible only if the poem is removed from its inciting event, is there any way in which they might be combined, so that they actually reinforce and define each other?

In each of Moses’ poems lurks a hidden generalization that we do not merely infer, as we do with all poetry; it is the conscious selector of the material.

You can find this and two other poems by Moses from the The American Review in 1934: link. Moses’ work was the subject of a commemorative issue of the Kansas Quarterly in 1982.