Whether I Laugh or Weep

Léonie Adams

An envy of that one consummate part

Swept me, who mock.

Whether I laugh or weep,

Some inner silences are at my heart

Léonie Adams

Apostate

By Léonie Adams – 1899-1988

From weariness I looked out on the stars
And there beheld them, fixed in throbbing joy,
Nor racked by such mad dance of moods as mars
For us each moment’s grace with swift alloy.
And as they pierced the heavens’ serene deep
An envy of that one consummate part
Swept me, who mock. Whether I laugh or weep,
Some inner silences are at my heart.
Cold shame is mine for all the masks I wear,
Belying that in me which shines and sings
Before Him, to face down man’s alien stare—
A graceless puppet on unmeaning strings,
I that looked out, and saw, and was at rest,
Stars, and faint wings, rose-etched along the west.


Home-Coming

by Léonie Adams – 1899-1988

When I stepped homeward to my hill,
Dusk went before with quiet tread;
The bare laced branches of the trees
Were as a mist about its head.

Upon its leaf-brown breast the rocks
Like great grey sheep lay silentwise,
Between the birch trees’ gleaming arms,
The faint stars trembled in the skies.

The white brook met me half-way up,
And laughed as one that knew me well,
To whose more clear than crystal voice
The frost had joined a crystal spell.

The skies lay like pale-watered deep,
Dusk ran before me to its strand
And cloudily leaned forth to touch
The moon’s slow wonder with her hand.

Kind Air Breathed Kindness Everywhere

Louis Untermeyer (1885 – 1977)

Poetry is the power of defining the indefinable in terms of the unforgettable.

Louis Untermeyer

Prayer For This House

by Louis Untermeyer

 

MAY nothing evil cross this door,
And may ill-fortune never pry
About these windows; may the roar
And rains go by.

Strengthened by faith, the rafters will
Withstand the battering of the storm.
This hearth, though all the world grow chill,
Will keep you warm.

Peace shall walk softly through these rooms,
Touching your lips with holy wine,
Till every casual corner blooms
Into a shrine.

Laughter shall drown the raucous shout
And, though the sheltering walls are thin,
May they be strong to keep hate out
And hold love in.


Louis Untermeyer was a businessman, poet, translator, educator and editor who followed his passion mid-life to become one of the most influential anthologists of poetry in the early 20th Century.   Untermeyer spent his 20’s and early 30’s in the family jewelry business in New York City, but eventually followed his literary passions.  He was fond of puns and rhymes and felt that poetry didn’t need to be an elite artistic endevour but was something that should be enjoyed by everyone.   He focused on a wide range of poetry, from children’s verse to poetry anthologies used in Universities to introduce countless college students to English literature.  

Untermeyer was a liberal all his life and aligned his politics around civil rights and a more just society.  Late in life he left New York City and like Frost,  retired to the country, preferring the solitude of his gardens and nature over the busy streets of New York City. 

Untermeyer is known more for his work as an anthologist and translator, but his own poetry I find playful and inspiring.  I was particularly taken with the poem above, but wonder how successful he was in his own right in the affirmation expressed.  Married and divorced four times, martial harmony in Untermeyer’s households seemed to have eluded him, now matter how strong the sentiments he successfully put to rhyme. 

Both Adams and Untermeyer share the distinction of serving as Poet Laureate when the title was known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  Adams poem below took a bit for me to wrap my head around.  It is an example of a poem that I have a hard time connecting to the whole of it, but I was taken with these three lines; Thus I lived then, till this air breathed on me.  Till this kind are breathed kindness everywhere, There where my times had left me I would stay.  For me sometimes a couple of lines is all I take from a poem and the rest takes a while to sink in before the emotion or thoughts expand beyond the portion that I am attracted.  Sometimes the entirety of a poem I  never understand.   Do you have poems like that; where there is only one line that stays with you, inspires you? 


Alas, Kind Element!

By Leonie Adams 
 
Then I was sealed, and like the wintering tree
I stood me locked upon a summer core;
Living, had died a death, and asked no more.
And I lived then, but as enduringly,
And my heart beat, but only as to be.
Ill weathers well, hail, gust and cold I bore,
I held my life as hid, at root, in store:
Thus I lived then, till this air breathed on me.
Till this kind air breathed kindness everywhere,
There where my times had left me I would stay.
Then I was staunch, I knew nor yes nor no;
But now the wishful leaves have thronged the air.
My every leaf leans forth upon the day;
Alas, kind element! which comes to go.