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 . Clay Hills

IT IS easy to mould the yielding clay.
And many shapes grow into beauty
Under the facile hand.
But forms of clay are lightly broken;
They will lie shattered and forgotten in a dingy corner.

But underneath the slipping clay
Is rock . . .
I would rather work in stubborn rock
All the years of my life,
And make one strong thing
And set it in a high, clean place,
To recall the granite strength of my desire.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . High-Tide

I EDGED back against the night.
The sea growled assault on the wave-bitten shore.
And the breakers,
Like young and impatient hounds,
Sprang, with rough joy on the shrinking sand.
Sprang--but were drawn back slowly,
With a long, relentless pull,
Whimpering, into the dark.

Then I saw who held them captive;
And I saw how they were bound
With a broad and quivering leash of light,
Held by the moon,
As, calm and unsmiling,
She walked the deep fields of the sky.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . Zanesville

I WILL not be like the unaspiring hills,
Whence the sour clay is taken,
To be moulded by the shape-loving fingers of Man
Into vases and cups of an old pattern.

But I will be my own creator,
Dragging myself from the clinging mud,
And mould myself into fresh and lovelier shapes
To celebrate my passion for Beauty.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . On the Beach

THERE was motion in the night--
Motion of sea, of breeze, of cloud--
But we lay motionless upon the sand,
With far-reaching thoughts
And little speech.
We watched awhile the changing shapes of clouds--
Now like a flock of birds,
Now like a lonely tree . . .
We were strangely stirred,
For it was summer, but restive spring was in the air.
After a while we talked of love--
Of the heedless stabs, the healing wounds of love--
Of a distant friend.
And then, as the sea grew louder,
Of the war.
Our thoughts grew turbulent;
Our words clashed like weapons . . .
Louder and nearer the sea boomed up.
A red, smoking moon burst through a cloud;
Our words darted out with a sharper sound
Until, like spent waves
That ran out and were lost in the sea,
They sank lower and ceased,
And were lost in the dark.
There was quiet in the night--
Quiet of star-hung skies, of stretching sands;
Quiet of space.
And the moon, grown pale, floated lightly off,
Like a child's soap-bubble, fragile and clear.
Our hands sought each other's.
The night had its way . . .
We turned with peace in our hearts
From the clamor of seas and of wars
To the greater clamor of love.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . Church Sociable

"ISN'T it quaint," he turned and said to me,
"To watch these village people at the fair?"
But I had seen too often what was there;
I shrugged impatience at his sympathy . . .
I was a child again, and Mrs. Lee
And other members of The Ladies' Aid
At tables on the lawn, a meek parade,
Were serving cakes and glasses of iced-tea.

I hated this weak pomp of charity,
This pauper feast to aid the stricken poor.
I watched these too-thin ladies seek their door
In sweetly pious insincerity;
Holding themselves so righteously alone,
Turning their Christian backs on Mrs. Cohn.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . Rebuke

I GATHERED what insolent gardens grew,
Roses of every kind and hue.
I took two armfuls, I cut them down
And brought them grudgingly to the town. '
I hated the country that shut me in,
With strange calm folk from my restless kin.
I even loved the gritty train
That carried me to the city again.
And once in the El I looked to see
Familiar sights withheld from me:
Hurrying houses, row on row;
Colored crowds in the street below;
A city park edged boldly between;
(I silently hailed its dusty green.)
Hair-shops, department stores, rooms askew,
In a moving flash past the window flew.
How heavy my drooping roses grew.

Rounding a turn the cars slackened and creaked
In front of a loft where the sunlight streaked
A mocking finger across the dust
That lay on the windows, a mouldy crust.
I craned to pierce that sweaty gloom,
To know how they fared in that reeking room.
I could hardly see what those huddled girls
Were doing with wires and paper twirls . . .
And then, in the grimy morning hours ;
I saw--they were making paper flowers.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . A Teacher

(for H. E.)

IT WAS late afternoon.
Wearily a yellow streak of sunlight
Fell through the blue net curtains,
Making greenish shadows on your face
And over your heavy shoulders.
I watched you strain to sit straight
On the stiff chair by the piano's side,
While a heedless and hurrying girl
Stumbled over her scales,
And giggled out her excuses
With the gauche coquetry of fourteen.

I thought of your reaching aims,
And of how you were always giving
From your heart and brain;
Giving from the toil of years—
Giving yourself;
Of the many you urged to hardier striving;
Of those who were eased and lifted;
And of those—like this thin-souled child—
For whom sacrifice was empty.

And when a patient smile lit up your face,
Warming your eyes, but deepening the ruts of care,
I was reminded of lamplight in a well-loved room—
Lamplight that cheered, but whose drooping beams
Revealed the shabbiness of nearby-chairs
And deepened the shadows.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . A Man

    OFTEN, when I would sit, a dreamy, straight-haired child,
    A book held gaping on my knee,
    Watering a sterile romance with my thoughts,
    You would come bounding to the curb
    And startle me to life.
    You sat so straight upon your vibrant horse—
    That lovely horse, all silken fire and angry grace—
    And yet you seemed so merged in him,
    So like! At least my thoughts
    Gave you a measure of that wildness.
    And oh, for many years you seemed to me
    Something to marvel at and yet to fear.

    But now I know that you resemble most
    That growth in nature that you most revere.
    You are so like, so very like, a tree—
    Grown straight and strong and beautiful,
    With many leaves.
    The years but add in richness to your boughs,
    You make a noble pattern on the sky.
    About your rugged trunk
    Vines creep and lichens cling,
    And children play at tag.
    Upon your branches some will hang their load
    And rest and cool while you must brave the sun.
    But you put forth new life with every year,

    And tower nearer to the clouds
    And never bend or grow awry.
    I wonder what sweet water bathes your roots,
    And if you gain your substance from the earth ;
    Or if you have a treaty with the sun,
    Or keep some ancient promise with the heavens.

    Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . Rain

    I HAVE always hated the rain,
    And the gloom of grayed skies.
    But now I think I must always cherish
    Rain-hung leaf and the misty river ;
    And the friendly screen of dripping green
    Where eager kisses were shyly given,
    And your pipe-smoke made clouds in our damp, close heaven.
    The curious laggard passed us by,
    His wet shoes soughed on the shining walk.
    And that afternoon was filled with a blurred glory-
    That afternoon, when we first talked as lovers.

    Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . Clothes

SINCE the earliest days I have dressed myself
In fanciful clothes;
Trying to satisfy a whispering insistence.
There was so much I dared not give
To speech or act;
So I put romance and fantasy
Into my raiment.
In that dreamy girlhood
My clothes were like my thoughts;
Vague and sentimental.
They were of misty greens
And faded lavenders;
Like cloudy colors in entangled woods,
Like the budding thoughts of a young girl.

Later on when womanhood came,
And Motherhood sat consciously on me,
I essayed the dignified and noble
In a trailing gown of gray.

But Spring came,
And with it a dress of juicy green
And tricky yellows,
With darts of black,
Like bare twigs showing through bright leaves.
After a while I revelled in the sophistication
Of a gown of black;
Cut low, swirling in worldly curves.
And once I dared the long line of the siren
In a gown of weird brocade.

But these things have not silenced the whispers.
Something urgent wants a tongue.
My clothes are not me, myself;
Something real escapes in the translation of color and fabric.

I think I should go naked into the streets,
And wander unclothed into people's parlors.
The incredulous eyes of the bewildered world
Might give me back my true image. . . .
Maybe in the glances of others
I would find out what I really am.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

 . Autumn

(For my Mother)

Jean Starr Untermeyer
How memory cuts away the years,
And how clean the picture comes
Of autumn days, brisk and busy;
Charged with keen sunshine.
And you, stirred with activity;
The spirit of these energetic days.
There was our back-yard,
So plain and stripped of green,
With even the weeds carefully pulled away
From the crooked, red bricks that made the walk,
And the earth on either side so black.
Autumn and dead leaves burning in the sharp air;
And winter comforts coming in like a pageant.
I shall not forget them:
Great jars laden with the raw green of pickles,
Standing in a solemn row across the back of the porch,
Exhaling the pungent dill;
And in the very center of the yard,
You, tending the great catsup kettle of gleaming copper
Where fat, red tomatoes bobbed up and down
Like jolly monks in a drunken dance.
And there were bland banks of cabbages that came by the wagon-load,
Soon to be cut into delicate ribbons
Only to be crushed by the heavy, wooden stompers.
Such feathery whiteness -- to come to kraut!
And after, there were grapes that hid their brightness under a grey dust,
Then gushed thrilling, purple blood over the fire;
And enamelled crab-apples that tricked with their fragrance
But were bitter to taste.
And there were spicy plums and ill-shaped quinces,
And long string beans floating in pans of clear water
Like slim, green fishes.
And there was fish itself,
Salted, silver herring from the city . . .
And you moved among these mysteries,
Absorbed and smiling and sure;
Stirring, tasting, measuring,
With the precision of a ritual.
I like to think of you in your years of power --
You, now so shaken and so powerless --
High priestess of your home.

Jean Starr Untermeyer

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