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Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950). Spoon River Anthology. 1916.

205. Rutherford McDowell

THEY brought me ambrotypes

Of the old pioneers to enlarge.

And sometimes one sat for me—

Some one who was in being

When giant hands from the womb of the world

Tore the republic.

What was it in their eyes?—

For I could never fathom

That mystical pathos of drooped eyelids,

And the serene sorrow of their eyes.

It was like a pool of water,

Amid oak trees at the edge of a forest,

Where the leaves fall,

As you hear the crow of a cock

From a far-off farm house, seen near the hills

Where the third generation lives, and the strong men

And the strong women are gone and forgotten.

And these grand-children and great grand-children

Of the pioneers!

Truly did my camera record their faces, too,

With so much of the old strength gone,

And the old faith gone,

And the old mastery of life gone,

And the old courage gone,

Which labors and loves and suffers and sings

Under the sun!