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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936). The New Poetry: An Anthology. 1917.

Songs of Deliverance

Orrick Johns


THIS is the song of youth,

This is the cause of myself;

I knew my father well and he was a fool,

Therefore will I have my own foot in the path before I take a step;

I will go only into new lands,

And I will walk on no plank-walks.

The horses of my family are wind-broken,

And the dogs are old,

And the guns rusty;

I will make me a new bow from an ash-tree,

And cut up the homestead into arrows.

Behold how people stand around!

(There are always crowds of people standing around,

Whose legs have no knees)—

While the engineers put up steel work …

Is it something to catch the sunlight,

Jewelry and gew-gaw?

I have no time to wait for them to build bridges for me;

Where awful the gap seems stretching there is no gap,

Leaping I take it at once from a thought to a thought.

I can no more walk in the stride of other men

Than be father of their children.

My treasure lured like a bright star,

And I went to it young and desirous.

Lo, as it stood there in its great chests,

The wise men came up with the keys,

Crying, “Blasphemy, blasphemy!”

For I had broken the locks …

And when the procession went waving to a funeral,

They cried it again;

For I stayed in my home and spoke truth about the dead.

Much did I learn waiting in my youth;

At the door of a great man I waited on one foot and then on the other.

The files passed in and out before me to the antechamber, for at that door I was not favored:

(O costly preferment!)

Yet I watched them coming and going,

And I learned the great man by heart from the stories on their faces.

When presently the retainers arrived, one above the other in a row, saying:

“The great man is ready,”

I had long been a greater than he.

This is the reason for myself:

When I used to go in the races, I had but one prayer,

And I went first before the judges, saying:

“Give everyone a distance, such as you consider best;

I will run scratch.”

I have had one fear in my life—

When I was young I feared virgins;

But I do not any more …

By contact with them I learn that each is a center,

And has a period of brightness,

And stands epitome in that brief space

Of the Universe!

Ah, the ephemeral eternal!

In virgins’ eyes I would live reflected as in a globe,

And know myself purer than crystal.

No prey am I of poor thoughts.

I leave all of my followers; I tire quickly of them;

I send them away from me when they ask too much; for though I live alone

Still will I live, night and day …

There is not anything in me save mutation and laughter;

My laughter is like a sword,

Like the piston-rod that defies oceans and grades.

When I labor it is a song of battle in the broad noon;

For behold the muscles of a man—

They are piston-rods; they are cranes, hydraulic presses, powder-magazines:

But though my body be as beautiful as a hill crowned with flowers

I will despise it and make it obey me …

Is the old love dead?

Then I shall await the new,

To embrace it more sturdily and passionately than ever the old;

And break it under the white force of my laughter

Until it lies passive in my arms.

There is nothing in me but renewal;

If my friend bow his head over me I soon surprise him with shouts of joy:

For in an instant I am again what I was,

Only with a few moments more of the infusion of Earth;

I tell him, the griever, to follow me and he is a griever no more;

He raises his head and must follow.

Yet it is my battle, not his battle,

For in me I absorb others …

I hail parties and partisans from afar;

Not men but parties are my comrades,

Not persons but nations are my associates.

I shake the hand of nations;

For I am a nation and a party, and majorities do not elect me—

I elect myself.

I swam in the sea, and lo!

The continents assembled like islands off my coast.

My talk is with Homer and Bonaparte, with David and Garibaldi, with China and Pharaoh and Texas;

When I laugh it is with Lucifer and Rabelais.

A pathfinder is my mistress, one hard to keep and unbridled,

I have no respect for tame women.

My friends and I do not meet every day,

For we are centuries apart, our salutations girdle the globe.

I have eaten locusts with Jeremiah;

I invite all hatreds and the stings of little creatures,

They enrich me, I glory in my parasites.

No man shall ever read me,

For I bring about in a gesture what they cannot fathom in a life;

Yet I tell Bob and Harry and Bill—

It costs me nothing to be kind;

If I am a generous adversary, be not deceived, neither be devoted—

It is because I despise you.

Yet if any man claim to be my peer I shall meet him,

For that man has an insolence that I like;

I am beholden to him.

I know the lightning when I see it,

And the toad when I see it …

I warn all pretenders.

Yet before I came it was known of me to the chosen, all that I should do.

Every tree knew it;

Every lion and every leech knew it—

And called out to meet the new enemy,

The new friend …

What power can deny me?

It was known that I should do not one thing but hundreds,

For I despise my works and make them obey me.

I have my time and I bide it …

It was known that I should turn no whit from my end, until I had attained it.

Nothing has scathed me,

Nothing ever, nor ever will.

I have touched pitch, I have revelled in it and rolled in it;

Buried in mire and filth, I laughed long,

And sprang up.

I have loved lust and vain deviltries

And taken them into my heart—

Their dirt and their lies—and my heart was aflame

With a new fancy …

Not me can pitch defile!

For the Spring, my sister, rose under my feet

And I was again naked and white,

Ready to dive into the deep pool, green and bottomless,

The medium for heroes, since it is dangerous and beautiful—

The pool of Tomorrow!

It is because I breathe like fishes and live in the waters of Tomorrow that Death fears me …

How often I have intercepted thee, O Death!

O windy Liar!

Thou canst do nothing against me;

If I command thee to stand back thou art afraid and cowerest,

For I have caught thee often and punished thee …

I am the greatest laugher of all,

Greater than the sun and the oak-tree,

Than the frog and Apollo;

I laugh all day long!

I laugh at Death, I hail Death, I kiss her on the cheek as a lover his bride,

But the lover goes not to his bride unless he desire her;

I go not to Death until I am ready.

The strong lover goes not to his bride save when he would people his land with sons,

Then I too, I go not to Death, save it be for the labor greater than all others.

I shall break her with my laughter;

I shall complete her …

Only then shall Death be when I die!