Poetry

Voltairine de Cleyre

Preview: Issue 1 of 1

The Burial of My Past Self

Poor Heart, so weary with thy bitter grief! So thou art dead at last, silent and chill! The longed-for death-dart came to thy relief, And there thou liest, Heart, forever still.

Dead eyes, pain-pressed beneath their black-fringed pall! Dead cheeks, dark-furrowed with so many tears! So thou art passed far, far beyond recall, And all thy hopes are past, and all thy fears.

Thy lips are closed at length in the long peace! Pale lips! so long they have thy woe repressed, They seem even now when life has run its lease All dumbly pitiful in their mournful rest.

And now I lay thee in thy silent tomb, Printing thy brow with one last solemn kiss; Laying upon thee one fair lily bloom, A symbol of thy rest;-oh, rest is bliss.

No, Heart, I would not call thee back again; No, no; too much of suffering hast thou known; But yet, but yet, it was not all in vain- Thy unseen tears, thy solitary moan!

For out of sorrow joy comes uppermost; Where breaks the thunder soon the sky smiles blue; A better love replaces what is lost, And phantom sunlight pales before the true!

The seed must burst before the germ unfolds, The stars must fade before the morning wakes; Down in her depths the mine the diamond holds; A new heart pulses when the old heart breaks.

And now, Humanity, I turn to you; I consecrate my service to the world! Perish the old love, welcome to the new- Broad as the space-aisles where the stars are whirled!

Greenville, Mich., 1885.

Night on the Graves

O'er the sweet, quiet homes in the silent grave-city, Softly the dewdrops, the night-tears, fall; Broadly about, like the wide arms of pity, The silver-shot darkness lies over all. Heroes, asleep 'neath the red-hearted rose-wreaths, Leaf-crowned with honor, flower-crowned with rest, Gently above you each moon-dripping bough breathes A far-echoed whisper, "Sleep well; ye are blest."

Oh! never, as long as the heart pulses quicker At the dear name of Country may yours be forgot; Nor may we, till the last puny life spark shall flicker, Your deeds from the tablets of Memory blot! Spirits afloat in the night-shrouds that bound us, Souls of the "Has-Been" and of the "To-Be," Keep the fair light of Liberty shining around us, Till our souls may go back to the mighty soul-sea.

St. Johns, Mich., 1886 (Decoration Day).

The Christian's Faith

(The two following poems were written at that period of my life when the questions of the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus had but recently been settled, and they present the pros and cons which had been repeating themselves over and over again in my brain for some years.)

We contrast light and darkness-light of God, And darkness from the Stygian shades of hell; Fumes of the pit infernal rising up Have clouded o'er the brain, laid reason low;- For when the eye looks on fair Nature's face And sees not God, then is she blind indeed! No night so starless, even in its gloom, As his who wanders on without a hope In that great, just Hereafter all must meet!- No heart so dull, so heavy, and so void, As that which lives for this chill world alone! No soul so groveling, unaspiring, base, As that which, here, forgets the afterhere! And still through all the darkness and the gloom Its voice will not be stilled, its hopes be quenched; It cries, it screams, it struggles in its chains, And bleeds upon the altar of the mind- Unwilling sacrifice to thought misled. The soul that knows no God can know no peace. Thus speaketh light, the herald of our God! In that far dawn where shone each rolling world First lit with shadowed splendor of the stars, In that fair morning when Creation sang Its praise of God, e'er yet it dreamed of sin, Pure and untainted as the source of life Man dwelt in Eden. There no shadows came, No question of the goodness of our Lord, Until the prince of darkness tempted man, And, yielding to the newly born desire, He fell! Sank in the mire of ignorance! And Man, who put himself in Satan's power, Since then has wandered far in devious ways, Seeing but now and then a glimpse of light, Till Christ is come, the living Son of God! Far in his heavenly home he viewed the world, Saw all her sadness and her sufferings, Saw all her woes, her struggles, and her search For some path leading up from out the Night. Within his breast the fount of tears was touched; His great heart swelled with pity, and he said: "Father, I go to save the world from sin." Ah! What power but a soul divinely clad In purity, in holiness and love, Could leave a home of happiness and light For this lost World of suffering and death? He came: the World tossed groaning in her sleep; He touched her brow: the nightmare passed away; He soothed her heart, red with the stain of sin; And she forgot her guilt in penitence; She washed the ruby out with pearls of tears. He came, he suffered, and he died for us; He felt the bitterest woes a soul can feel; He probed the darkest depths of human grief; He sounded all the deeps and shoals of pain; Was cursed for all his love; thanked with the cross, Whereon he hung nailed, bleeding, glorified, As the last smoke of holocaust divine. "Ah! This was all two thousand years ago!" Two thousand years ago, and still he cries, With voice sweet calling through the distant dark: "O souls that labor, struggling in your pain, Come unto me, and I will give you rest! For every woe of yours, and every smart, I, too, have felt:-the mockery, the shame, The sneer, the scoffing lip, the hate, the lust, The greed of gain, the jealousy of man, Unstinted have been measured out to me. I know them all, I feel them all with you! And I have known the pangs of poverty, The cry of hunger and the weary heart Of childhood burdened with the weight of age! O sufferers, ye all are mine to love! The pulse-beats of my heart go out with you, And every drop of agony that drips From my nailed hands adown this bitter cross, Cries out, 'O God! accept the sacrifice, And ope the gates of heaven to the world!' Ye vermin of the garret, who do creep Your weary lives away within its walls; Ye children of the cellar, who behold The sweet, pale light, strained through the lothsome air And doled to you in tid-bits, as a thing Too precious for your use; ye rats in mines, Who knaw within the black and somber pits To seek poor living for your little ones; Ye women who stitch out your lonely lives, Unmindful whether sun or stars keep watch; Ye slaves of wheels; ye worms that bite the dust Where pride and scorn have ground you 'neath the heel; Ye Toilers of the earth, ye weary ones- I know your sufferings, I feel your woes; My peace I give you; in a little while The pain will all be over, and the grave Will sweetly close above your folded hands! And then?-Ah, Death, no conqueror art thou! For I have loosed thy chains; I have unbarred The gates of heaven! In my Father's house Of many mansions I prepare a place; And rest is there for every heart that toils! Oh, all ye sick and wounded ones who grieve For the lost health that ne'er may come again; Ye who do toss upon a couch of pain, Upon whose brow disease has laid his hand, Within whose eyes the dull and heavy sight Burns like a taper burning very low, Upon whose lips the purple fever-kiss Rests his hot breath, and dries the sickened palms, Scorches the flesh and e'en the very air; Ye who do grope along without the light; Ye who do stumble, halting on your way; Ye whom the world despises as unclean; Know that the death-free soul has none of these: The unbound spirit goes unto its God, Pure, whole, and beauteous as newly born! Oh, all ye mourners, weeping for the dead; Your tears I gather as the grateful rain Which rises from the sea and falls again, To nurse the withering flowers from its touch; No drop is ever lost! They fall again To nurse the blossoms of some other heart! I would not dry one single dew of grief: The sorrow-freighted lashes which bespeak The broken heart and soul are dear to me; I mourn with them, and mourning so I find The grief-bowed soul with weeping oft grows light! But yet ye mourn for them not without hope: Beyond the woes and sorrows of the earth, As stars still shine though clouds obscure the sight, The friends ye mourn as lost immortal live; And ye shall meet and know their souls again, Through death transfigured, through love glorified! Oh, all ye patient waiters for reward, Scorned and despised by those who know not worth, I know your merit and I give you hope; For in my Father's law is justice found. See how the seed-germ, toiling underground, Waits patiently for time to burst its shell; And by and by the golden sunlight warms The dark, cold earth; the germ begins to shoot. And upward trends until two small green leaves Unfold and wave and drink the pure, fresh air. The blossoms come and go with Summer's breath, And Autumn brings the fruit-time in her hand. So ye, who patient watch and wait and hope, Trusting the sun may bring the blossoms out, Shall reap the fruited labor by and by. I am your friend; I wait and hope with you, Rejoice with you when the hard vict'ry's won! And still for you, O prisoners in cells, I hold the dearest gifts of penitence, Forgiveness and charity and hope! I stretch the hands of mercy through the bars; White hands-like doves they bring the branch of peace! Repent, believe-and I will expiate Upon this bitter cross all your deep guilt! Oh, take my gift, accept my sacrifice! I ask no other thing but only-trust! Oh, all ye martyrs, bleeding in your chains; Oh, all ye souls that live for others' good; Oh, all ye mourners, all ye guilty ones, And all ye suffering ones, come unto me! Ye are all my brothers, all my sisters, all! And as I love one, so I love you all. Accept my love, accept my sacrifice; Make not my cross more bitter than it is By shrinking from the peace I bring to you!"

St. Johns, Mich., April, 1887.

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