AND YOU are the poet, and so you want
Something—what is it?—a theme, a fancy?
Something or other the Muse won’t grant
To your old poetical necromancy;
Why, one half you poets—you can’t deny—
Don’t know the Muse when you chance to meet her,
But sit in your attics and mope and sigh
For a faineant goddess to drop from the sky,
When flesh and blood may be standing by
Quite at your service, should you but greet her.
What if I told you my own romance?
Women are poets, if you so take them,
One third poet,—the rest what chance
Of man and marriage may choose to make them.
Give me ten minutes before you go,—
Here at the window we’ll sit together,
Watching the currents that ebb and flow;
Watching the world as it drifts below
Up the hot Avenue’s dusty glow:
Isn’t it pleasant, this bright June weather?
Well, it was after the war broke out,
And I was a schoolgirl fresh from Paris;
Papa had contracts, and roamed about,
And I—did nothing—for I was an heiress.
Picked some lint, now I think; perhaps
Knitted some stockings—a dozen nearly:
Havelocks made for the soldiers’ caps;
Stood at fair-tables and peddled traps
Quite at a profit. The “shoulder-straps”
Thought I was pretty. Ah, thank you! really?
Still it was stupid. Rata-tat-tat!
Those were the sounds of that battle summer,
Till the earth seemed a parchment round and flat,
And every footfall the tap of a drummer;
And day by day down the Avenue went
Cavalry, infantry, all together,
Till my pitying angel one day sent
My fate in the shape of a regiment,
That halted, just as the day was spent,
Here at our door in the bright June weather.
None of your dandy warriors they,—
Men from the West, but where I know not;
Haggard and travel-stained, worn and gray,
With never a ribbon or lace or bow-knot:
And I opened the window, and, leaning there,
I felt in their presence the free winds blowing.
My neck and shoulders and arms were bare,—
I did not dream they might think me fair,
But I had some flowers that night in my hair,
And here, on my bosom, a red rose glowing.
And I looked from the window along the line,
Dusty and dirty and grim and solemn,
Till an eye like a bayonet flash met mine,
And a dark face shone from the darkening column,
And a quick flame leaped to my eyes and hair,
Till cheeks and shoulders burned all together,
And the next I found myself standing there
With my eyelids wet and my cheeks less fair,
And the rose from my bosom tossed high in air,
Like a blood-drop falling on plume and feather.
Then I drew back quickly: there came a cheer,
A rush of figures, a noise and tussle,
And then it was over, and high and clear
My red rose bloomed on his gun’s black muzzle.
Then far in the darkness a sharp voice cried,
And slowly and steadily, all together,
Shoulder to shoulder and side to side,
Rising and falling and swaying wide,
But bearing above them the rose, my pride,
They marched away in the twilight weather.
And I leaned from my window and watched my rose
Tossed on the waves of the surging column,
Warmed from above in the sunset glows,
Borne from below by an impulse solemn.
Then I shut the window. I heard no more
Of my soldier friend, nor my flower neither,
But lived my life as I did before.
I did not go as a nurse to the war,—
Sick folks to me are a dreadful bore,—
So I didn’t go to the hospital either.
You smile, O poet, and what do you?
You lean from your window, and watch life’s column
Trampling and struggling through dust and dew,
Filled with its purposes grave and solemn;
And an act, a gesture, a face—who knows?—
Touches your fancy to thrill and haunt you,
And you pluck from your bosom the verse that grows
And down it flies like my red, red rose,
And you sit and dream as away it goes,
And think that your duty is done,—now don’t you?
I know your answer. I’m not yet through.
Look at this photograph,—“In the Trenches”!
That dead man in the coat of blue
Holds a withered rose in his hand. That clenches
Nothing!—except that the sun paints true,
And a woman is sometimes prophetic-minded.
And that’s my romance. And, poet, you
Take it and mould it to suit your view;
And who knows but you may find it too
Come to your heart once more, as mine did.