uv UNIVERSITY OP CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO PRAIRIE SONGS BEING CHANTS RHYMED AND UNRHYMED OF THE LEVEL LANDS OF THE GREAT WEST BY HAMLIN GARLAND WITH DRAWINGS BY H. T. CARPENTER CAMBRIDGE AND CHICAGO PUBLISHED BY STONE AND KIMBALL IN THE YEAR MDCCCXCIII COPYRIGHTED 1893 BY HAMLIN GARLAND THIS IS OF THE FIRST EDITION TO MY BROTHER FRANKLIN IN MEMORY OF THE PRAIRIES OVER WHICH WE RODE TOGETHER OST modern men, I fancy, find it rather difficult to take verse (not poetry) seriously. It is so restrictive and so monotonous in comparison with the flexibility of prose, that it forever hampers and binds in the man's larger feeling Prose seems to be drawing off all that is most modern and freest and most char- acteristic of our American civilization. I do not expect, therefore, to have these verses taken to represent my larger work. A quarter of a century ago the prairies of North- ern Iowa were only just won from the elk and buffalo, whose bones and antlers lay in thousands beside every trail and watering place. These rich and splendid meadows had swarmed with herbivora for ages of undisturbed possession, and every crumbling crib of bones or bleaching antler was a powerful incentive to a boy's imagination. From them my mind was able to construct some idea of the grandeur of the flocks which once peopled these green vistas. Even then I felt the beauty of the wilderness, which is coming to have deeper charm as it passes irrecoverably from sight. The prairies are not the plains. The plains do not begin until you reach the Missouri river and be- gin to climb toward the Rocky Mountains. These verses have to do with both plains and prairies, though the wild prairies are nearly gone. The vege- tation differs wildly, as will be evident from allu- sions throughout this volume. The plains are mainly clothed in a short hair-like grass which cures early in the stock and is russet in color dur- ing most of the year. The prairies were rich in grasses. Blue-joint, crows-foot and wild oats. Sunflowers and innum- erable and brilliant flowers grew in the beautiful meadows, out of which groves of popple and hazel bushes rose like islands out of shallow seas. These prairies were intersected by beautiful streams, belted in splendid groves of oaks and maples and basswood trees. The prairies were gen- erally level, with long swells like a quiet sea, but in the neighborhood of streams they grew more varied and wooded. Over such prairie grasses, around such tow-heads of popple trees, my brother and I rode, racing with half -wild horses, chasing the wild fox and the prairie wolf, spying out the Massasauga in the grass, and munching hazel nuts in lee of hazel thickets on cold November days. Those were glorious days ! I have lived many phases of life, but those few years among the colts and cattle of the prairies, be- fore settlement closed the cows' wild pasture and stabled the horses, are among my happiest recollec- tions. The prairies are gone. I held one of the ripping, snarling, breaking plows that rolled the hazel bushes and the wild sunflowers under. I saw the wild steers come into pasture and the wild colts come under harness. I saw the wild fowl scatter and turn aside; I saw the black sod burst into gold and lavender harvests of wheat and corn and so there comes into my reminiscences an unmistakable note of sadness. I do not excuse it or conceal it. I set it down as it comes to me. I have designedly ex- cluded all things alien to the book and its title. I make no further claim than this; it is composed of prairie songs. HAMLIN GARLAND. A TABLE OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK. FOREWORD PRAIRIE MEMORIES 17 THE WEST WIND 19 COMING RAIN ON THE PRAIRIE 21 MASSASAUGA THE MEADOW RATTLESNAKE 22 SPRING ON THE PRAIRIE 23 A SONG OF WINDS 24 INDIAN SUMMER 25 COLOR IN THE WHEAT 26 THE MEADOW LARK 27 THE HUSH OF THE PLAINS 28 PIONEERS 29 SETTLERS PORTRAIT 30 LINES 31 PRAIRIE FIRES 32 DROUGHT 33 AT DUSK 35 A WINTER BROOK 36 THE VOICE OF THE PINES 37 CORN SHADOWS 39 THE HERALD CRANE 41 SUNDOWN 43 IN THE AUTUMN GRASS 44 DREAMS OF THE GRASS 45 MEADOW MEMORIES 46 THE WHIP-POOR-WILL'S HOUR 47 A SUMMER MOOD 48 ATAVISM 49 IN A LULL IN THE SPLENDORS OF BRAHMS 5l THE PASSING OF THE BUFFALO 53 AN APOLOGY 57 ILLUSTRATION 58 HOME FROM THE CITY 59 APRIL DAYS 60 BY THE RIVER 6l ILLUSTRATION 62 A MOUNTAIN-SIDE 64 IN AUGUST 65 THE BLUE JAY 66 THE MOUNTAINS 67 MY CABIN 70 BENEATH THE PINES 71 THE STRIPED GOPHER 73 THE PRAIRIE TO THE CITY 74 A HUMAN HABITATION 75 A RIVER GORGE 77 ALTRUISM 78 RETURN OF THE GULLS 79 EARLY MAY 81 THE WIND'S VOICE 82 ON THE MISSISSIPPI 83 A BROTHER'S DEATH SEARCH 84 SPRING RAINS 86 A DAKOTA HARVEST FIELD 87 THE NOONDAY PLAIN 89 MIDNIGHT SNOWS 91 IN STACKING-TIME 93 PRAIRIE CHICKENS 95 A TOWN OF THE PLAIN 97 IN THE GOLD COUNTRY 98 HOME FROM WILD MEADOWS 99 FIGHTING FIRE 101 BOYISH SLEEP 102 THE HERDSMAN 103 RUSHING EAGLE 105 SEPTEMBER 107 THE STAMPEDE 109 SPORT 110 THE COOL GRAY JUG 111 THE GRAY WOLF 113 PLOWING US A TRIBUTE OF GRASSES 116 MOODS OF THE PLAIN 117 LOST IN A NORTHER 119 ILLUSTRATION 124 LADRONE 125 ILLUSTRATION 130 ACROSS THE PICKET LINE 131 THEN IT'S SPRING 133 LOGAN AT PEACH TREE CREEK 134 PAID HIS WAY 136 HORSES CHAWIN' HAY 139 GROWING OLD 142 A FARMER'S WIFE 145 POM, POM, PULL-AWAY 147 COIN' BACK T'MORRER 149 ON WING OF STEAM 153 MY PRAIRIES 155 MIDWAY ON THE TRAIL 157 I WIDE cloud-peopled summer-sky; Sea-drifting grasses, rustling reeds, Where young grouse to their mothers cry, And locusts pipe from whistling weeds; Broad meadows lying like lagoons Of sunniest waters, on whose swells Float nodding blooms to tinkling bells Of bob-o'-linkum's wildest tunes; Far west-winds bringing odors, fresh From mountains clothed as monarchs are In royal robes of ice and snow, Where storms are bred in thunder-jar; Land of corn, and wheat, and kine, Where plenty fills the hand of him Who tills the soil or prunes the vine Or digs in thy far canons dim My Western land, 1 love thee yet! In dreams I ride my horse again And breast the breezes blowing fleet From out the meadows cool and wet. 18 PRAIRIE SONGS From fields of flowers blowing sweet, And flinging perfume to the breeze. The wild oats swirl along the plain; I feel their dash against my knees, Like rapid plash of running seas. I pass by islands, dark and tall, Of slender poplars thick with leaves; The grass in rustling ripple, cleaves To left and right in emerald flow; And as I listen, riding slow, Out breaks the wild bird's jocund call. Oh, shining suns of boyhood's time ! Oh, winds that from the mythic west Sang calls to Eldorado's quest ! Oh, swaying wild bird's thrilling chime ! When the loud city's clanging roar Wraps in my soul as if in shrouds I hear those sounds and songs once more, And dream of boyhood's wind-swept clouds PRAIRIE SONGS 19 THE WEST WIND. Ohl the wind is abroad in the hollows And a-sweep on the swells of the plain, Where the dun grass tosses and wallows, And the hazel bush shakes as in pain With a petulant air and a shiver Of fright and of pain While the broad breeze streams like a river And roars like a far-off main. The wide waves, restless, but weary, Roll on to the half-hid sun. Hear the rush! Hear the roar! Hear the murmurl See the swift waves serially run, Like fowls from the eagle's swift wings! To the bowed ear's hearing, there comes The sound of far harping of harp strings, The noise of dim pipings and drums. Oh! magic west wind of the prairiel How he leaps in his might! No boundaries knows he or cares he, No day and no night. His footsteps grow weary never, He is here! He is there! Now he harries the clouds in the air, Now he tramples the grass in his flight. 20 PRAIRIE SONGS But whether in spring or in summer, Or in autumn's gray shadow or shine, Chainless and care-free is he As a faun in a riot of wine. He is lord of the whole sky's hollow; He possesses the whole vast plain; He leads and the wild clouds follow He frowns and they vanish in rain! f-K COMING RAIN " ONTHE PRAIRIE SOUNDING southern breeze The spire-like poplar trees Stream like vast plumes Against a seamless cloud a high Dark mass, a dusty dome that looms A rushing shadow on the western sky. The lightning falls in streams, Sprangling in fiery seams, Through which the bursting rain Falls in trailing clouds of gray; The cattle draw together on the plain, And drift like anchored boats upon a wind-swept bay. 21 22 PRAIRIE SONGS MASSASAUGA THE MEADOW RATTLESNAKE. A cold coiled line of mottled lead, He lies where grazing cattle tread And lifts a fanged and spiteful head. His touch is deadly, and his eyes Are hot with hatred and surprise Death waits and watches where he lies! His hate is turned toward everything! He is the undisputed king Of every path and woodland spring. His naked fang is raised to smite All passing things; light Is not swifter than his bite. His touch is deadly, and his eyes Are hot with hatred and surprise Death waits and watches where he lies! SftOKG ND the fields grew green With the mighty mystery Of springing grain; The poplar trees burst into yellow leaf, The oak leaves pricked like a squirrel's ear, And in the mellow grounds the planter strode; The birds paired off and nested, The horses fed on the sunny slopes Where the crocus bloomed and the early grasses Yielded their sweets to the cattle's lips; And like some peerless overture, the vast Sweet symphony the wild chickens sang at dawn Died away to a single note, And genial spring was merged in sultry summer. 23 24 PRAIRIE SONGS A SONG OF WINDS. Winds from the prairies where wild weeds shiver; Winds from the popple trees' quick leaves' quiver, Where the blithe chickens boom and shrill frogs chime winds from my boyhood's far-away time, 1 wait for you, long for you, here in the town! Filled with the memory of grasses and trees, I long for my prairies as a sailor loves seas; I hear in red mornings the wild chickens calling, I hear at still nooning the bugle note falling From crane sweeping by in the fathomless sky. I long, oh! I long to lie in the stubble, Close by the creek, where the cool waters bubble; Longing to lose in a dream all my care, Feeling the summer winds kissing my hair, Hearing the willows shake over my head! SUMMER IT LAST there came The sudden fall of frost, when Time Dreaming through russet September days Suddenly awoke, and lifting his head, strode Swiftly forward made one vast desolating sweep Of his scythe, then, rapt with the glory That burned under his feet, fell dreaming again. And the clouds soared and the crickets sang In the brief heat of noon; the corn, So green, grew sere and dry And in the mist the ploughman's team Moved silently, as if in dream And it was Indian summer on the plain. 26 PRAIRIE SONGS COLOR IN THE WHEAT. Like liquid gold the wheat field lies, A marvel of yellow and green, That ripples and runs, that floats and flies, With the subtle shadows, the change the sheen That plays in the golden hair of a girl. A cloud flies there A ripple of amber a flare Of light follows after. A swirl In the hollows like the twinkling feet Of a fairy waltzer, the colors run To the western sun, Through the deeps of the ripening wheat. I hear the reapers' far-off hum, So faint and far, it seems the drone Of bee or beetle ; seems to come From far-off, fragrant, fruity zone, A land of plenty, where, Toward the sun, as hasting there, The colors run before the wind's feet In the wheat. The wild hawk swoops To his prey in the deeps; The sun-flower droops To the lazy wave; the wind sleeps Then running in dazzling links and loops A marvel of shadow and shine, A glory of olive and amber and wine Runs the color in the wheat. THE NEADOV LARK BRAVE little bird that fears not God, A voice that breaks from the snow-wet clod With prophecy of sunny sod, Set thick with wind-waved golden-rod. From the first bare clod in the raw cold spring, From the last bare clod, when fall winds sting, The farm-boy hears his brave song ring, And work for the time is a pleasant thing. 28 PRAIRIE SONGS THE HUSH OF THE PLAINS JULY. As some vast orchestra, listening, waits Full-breathed and tense in a sudden lull, With only the string-bass throbbing on, Ready at fall of the leader's wand To break into soft, slow swell, So the plain lies, hushed and dumb as death, Songless and soundless. No crickets fill the pause with whirr, No bird wakes a note or stirs a wing. Only the flute-like note of the lark sounds, Only the flashing, inaudible wing of the gull moves, All else waits, listens. Only the wide wind droning on, Wide as the plain, vaguely vast, The string-bass throbbing dimly on. PIONEERS HEY rise to mastery of wind and snow; They go like soldiers grimly into strife To colonize the plain. They plow and sow, And fertilize the sod with their own life, As did the Indian and the buffalo. PRAIRIE SONGS 31 SETTLERS. Above them soars a dazzling sky, In winter blue and clear as steel, In summer like an arctic sea, Wherein great icebergs drift and reel And melt like sudden sorcery; Beneath them plains stretch far and fair, Rich with sunlight and with rain; Vast harvests ripen with their care And fill with overplus of grain Their square great bins; Yet still they strive ! I see them rise At dawn-light going forth to toil; The same salt sweat has filled my eyes; My feet have trod the self-same soil Behind the snarling share. PRAIRIE FIRES. A curving, leaping line of light, A crackling roar from lurid lungs, A wild flush on the skies of night A force that gnaws with hot red tongues, That leaves a blackened smoking sod A fiery furnace where the cattle trod. WIDE dun land, where the fierce suns smite, And the wind is a furnace breath, Where the beautiful sky has a sinister light, And the earth lies dread and dry as death; Where the sod lies scorching and wan grass sighs, And the hot red morning has no birds O songless sunset land! I close mine eyes In sheer despair of thy dim reach O level waste! so lone thou art, no words Can tell, no pictures teach. A presence like a curse! no insects hum No chirping crickets' cheery ring A white mist-wall of bounding space Flecked with the swift gull's fluttering, Alone confronts the asking face! No tree stands green against the sky The hawk swims in the blazing air, He scarce can find (though keen his eye) A human heart beat anywhere. 33 34 PRAIRIE SONGS So hot and lone the plain God! The very breezes faint and die Along the burning hopeless sod Where sere grass rustles sullenly. All creatures turn an asking eye To where the radiant heavens soar In cloudless splendor a cry Bursts from the bitten lip deathwise The desperate husbandmen, with hands Outspread, clutch at the dust. Their harvest withers where it stands And burns to ashes while they trust! hT DUSK NDOLENT I lie Beneath the sky Thick-sown with clouds that soar and float Like stately swans upon the air, And in the hush of dusk I hear The ring-dove's plaintive liquid note Sound faintly as a prayer. Against the yellow sky The grazing kine stalk slowly by; Like wings that spread and float and flee The clouds are drifting over me. The couching cattle sigh, And from the meadow damp and dark I hear the piping of the lark; While falling night-hawks scream and boom, Like rockets, through the rising gloom, And katydids with pauseless chime Bear on the far frogs' ringing rhyme. 36 PRAIRIE SONGS A WINTER BROOK. How sweetly you sang as you circled The elm's rugged knees in the sod, I know! for deep in the shade of your willows, A barefooted boy with a rod, 1 Jay in the drowsy June weather, And sleepily whistled in tune To the laughter 1 heard in your shallows, Involved with the music of June ! PRAIRIE SONGS 37 THE VOICE OF THE PINES. Wailing, wailing, O ceaseless wail of the pines. Sighing, sighing, An incommunicable grief! No matter how bright the summer sky, No matter how the dandelions star the sod, Nor how the bees buzz in the cherry blooms, Nor how the rich green grass is thick with daisies, While the sun moves through the dazzling sky, And the up-rolled clouds sail slowly on, The nun-voiced pines, sombre and strong, Breathe on their endless moaning song. The birds do not dwell there or sing there ! They fly to trees with fruit and shining leaves, Where twigs swing gayly and boughs are in bloom Among these glooms they would surely die, And their young forget to swing and sway. The wild hawk may sit here and scream; The gray-coated owl utter his hoarse note; And the dark ravens perch and peer, But the robins, the orioles, the bright singers Flee these sighing pines. Sighing, sighing! vast illimitable voice ! Like the moan of multitudes, the chant of nuns, Thy ceaseless wail and cry comes on me. 38 PRAIRIE SONGS And when the autumn sky is dull and wild, When jagged clouds stream swiftly by, When the sleet falls in slant torrents, When thy dripping arms, outspread, are drear And harsh with cold and rain, Then thy voice, O pines, is stern and wild; Thy sigh becomes a vengeful moan and snarl A voice of stormy, inexpressible anguish Timed to the sweep of thy tossing boughs, Keyed to the desolate gray of the ragged sky. Wailing, wailing ! O vast illimitable wail of the pines ! The chill wash of swift dark streams, The joyless days, the lonely nights, Hungry noons, funeral trains, with trappings of sable, The burial chants with clods falling in the grave All the measureless and eternal inheritance of grief All the ineffable woe which has oppressed my race All the tragedy I have felt With all that my ancestors have felt, Comes back to me here, Borne on the wings of thine eternal wail, Blent in the flow Of thine incommunicable sorrow. DRN SHADOWS \ ITH heart grown weary of the heat, And hungry for the breath Of field and farm, with eager feet I trod the pavement, dry as death, Through city streets where vice is born And sudden, lo! a ridge of corn! Above the dingy roofs it stood, A dome of tossing tangled spears, Dark, cool, and sweet as any wood Its silken green and plumed ears Laughed on me through the haze of morn The tranquil presence of the corn. Upon the salt wind from the sea Borne westward swift as dreams Of boyhood are, I seemed to be Once more a part of sounds and gleams Thrown on me by the winds of morn Amid the rustling rows of corn. 39 40 PRAIRIE SONGS I bared my head, and on me fell The old wild wizardry again Of leaf and sky, the moving spell Of boyhood's easy joy or pain, When pumpkin trump was Siegfried's horn Echoing down the walls of corn. I saw the field (as trackless then As wood to Daniel Boone) Wherein we hunted wolves and men And ranged and twanged the green bassoon- (Not blither Robin Hood's merry horn Than pumpkin vine amid the corn!) In central deeps the melons lay Slow swelling in the August sun. I traced again the narrow way And joined again the stealthy run The jack-o'-lantern wraith was born Within the shadows of the corn. O wide, west wilderness of leaves! O playmates, far awayi over thee The slow wind like a mourner grieves And stirs the plumed ears like a sea. Would we could sound again the horn In vast sweet presence of the corn! THE HERALD GRANE H ! say, you so, bold sailor In the sun-lit deeps of sky! Dost thou so soon the seed-time tell In thy imperial cry, As circling in yon shoreless sea Thine unseen form goes drifting by ? I can not trace in the noon-day glare Thy regal flight, O crane! From the leaping might of the fiery light Mine eyes recoil in pain, But on mine ear, thine echoing cry Falls like a bugle strain. The mellow soil glows beneath my feet, Where lies the buried grain; The warm light floods the length and breadth Of the vast, dim, shimmering plain, Throbbing with heat and the nameless thrill Of the birth-time's restless pain. 42 PRAIRIE SONGS On weary wing, plebeian geese Push on their arrowy line Straight into the north, or snowy brant In dazzling sunshine, gloom and shine; But thou, O crane, save for thy sovereign cry, At thy majestic height On proud, extended wings sweep'st on In lonely, easeful flight. Then cry, thou martial-throated herald ! Cry to the sun, and sweep And swing along thy mateless, tireless course Above the clouds that sleep Afloat on lazy air cry on ! Send down Thy trumpet note it seems The voice of hope and dauntless will, And breaks the spell of dreams. SUNDOWN T WAS sundown, and the royal river Dropping southward to the sea, With rippling rush and serial shiver Of small waves in the reedy sedges, Swept round its yellow limestone ledges; And the far-off pulsing came to me Of a negro boatman's melody. Like a silvery wind-blown vail The shimmering mist lay on the heights, Struck through and through by the level shafts Of the rising, spotless orange moon. The bittern boomed from the shadowy marsh, The curlew piped in lonesome cry, And the frogs from the river made reply. The mass and depth and mystery Of the river deepened, till its flood Seemed magical. Its weight of dark Unresting waters was so swift, so broad, It seemed as if some prisoned sea Were slipping by me hurriedly. 43 44 PRAIRIE SONGS IN THE AUTUMN GRASS. Did you ever lie low In the depth of the plain, In the lee of a swell that lifts Like a low-lying island out of the sea, When the blue joint shakes As an army of spears; When each flashing wave breaks In turn overhead And wails in the door of your ears ? If you have, you have heard In the midst of the roar, The note of a lone gray bird, Blown slantwise by overhead As he swiftly sped To his south-land haven once more ! the music abroad in the air, With the autumn wind sweeping His hand on the grass, where The tiniest blade is astir, keeping Voice in the dim, wide choir, Of the infinite song, the refrain, The wild, sad wail of the plain I PRAIRIE SONGS 45 DREAMS OF THE GRASS. I to lie in long grasses ! ! to dream on the plain ! Where the west wind sings as it passes, A weird and unceasing refrain ! Where the rank grass tosses and wallows, And the plain's rim dazzles the eye Where hardly a silver cloud bosses The flashing steel shield of the sky ! To watch the gay gulls as they glitter Like snowflakes, and fall from on high To dip in the deeps of the prairie; Where the crows foot tosses awry, Like the swirl o' swift waltzers in glee, To the harsh, shrill creak of the cricket And the song of the lark and the bee! 46 PRAIRIE SONGS MEADOW MEMORIES. Memory, what conjury is thine! Once more the sun shines on the wneat Once more 1 drink the wind like wine When bursts the lark's song wildly-sweet From out the rain- wet, new-mown grass; 1 hear the sickle's clattering sweep, And peals of laughter swell and pass From lip to lip; again 1 heap The odorous wind-rows, rank by rank. Silent the rancuous tumult of the street From iron pavements ceaseless clank, From grinding hooves and jar of car I flee, and lave my boyish feet Where bee-lodged clover blossoms arel THE WHIP-POOR-WILL'S HOUR. The cool sweet air, The dark fern-scented woods, The breath of oak and pine, The fire-flies in the grass, The chirp of sleepy crickets, The song of the thrush, A lullaby of streams, The unutterable coolness and sweetness The odor of apple blooms and grass Then from the fragrant dusk of pines The whip-poor-will puts forth his slender cry. 47 48 PRAIRIE SONGS A SUMMER MOOD. O, to be lost in the wind and the sun, To be one with the wind and the stream! With never a care while the waters run With never a thought in my dream. To be part of the robin's lilting call And part of the bobolink's rhyme. Lying close to the shy thrush singing alone, And lapped in the cricket's chime. O, to live with these beautiful ones ! With the lust and the glory of man Lost in the circuit of spring-time suns Submissive as earth and part of her plan To lie as the snake lies, content in the grass ! To drift as the clouds drift, effortless, free, Glad of the power that drives them on With never a question of wind or sea. ATAVISM OMETIMES, ranging the upland sod, A lean, lone steer comes suddenly upon A trace of blood. Like a hound he stops And wheels, snuffling the earth. His eyes roll savagely, his nostrils expand And his wrinkled neck stiffens. He paws The ground with horny hoofs. He lifts His voice in a wild roar that ends In a harsh scream. The herd listens, still as statues Every horn lifted, every nostril spread! Again it comes, that screaming roar, Wild as the tiger's food-sick cry! A score of voices echo it, and then The whole herd wakes to action. The plain swarms with flying forms Centering with savage, menacing run Towards the bawling sentinel. 50 PRAIRIE SONGS The noise becomes frightful Every curling tongue joins the sudden tumult Lions are not more terrible of voice. The domestic is lost in savagery. The snorting, bawling roar of heavy-uddered cows, Proclaims the power of memory. All frantic with roused memory of war And fear and hate of man and wolf, They rush in ranks like warriors. Their tails wave like pennon lances. The herdsman dreaming beneath the shine Of poplar trees, springs to his saddle And sits wondering, while his horse With nostrils blown like trumpets, Fronts the scene, his eyes Reflecting the storm-like rush Of the trampling herd. The bulls paw the earth; Their eyes roll and flame from the dust Their hollow hoofs have raised The herd surges to and fro in mass, Blind and savage, seeking an unseen cause Of some ancestral danger. PRAIRIE SONGS Si IN A LULL IN THE SPLENDORS OF BRAHMS. In a lull in the splendors of Brahms, When the passionate wail of the flute, Struck dumb by the stroke of the drums, Like the voice of a child sank mute: In tbe second 'twixt thunder and thunder, In the hush ere the wild music came My soul flew far to the plain Where the blue sky arched, and wide land under Rolled a sea of grasses and growing grain. II. I lay in the reeds of the prairie, In the hush of the night, and I heard The wandering wind, swift and wary, Slipping by in the grass like a snake. Faint clouds floated high in the air A lone wolf howled on a swell A bird in the grass seemed to tremble and wake, And sent on the chime of the crickets afloat, A clear and most marvelous note That lay in the ear like a prayer. 52 PRAIRIE SONGS III. The dim moon set! The wolf ceased his cry. Overhead the far meteors streamed redly, And dropped down the dark Southern dome of the sky The chime of the hid cricket stopped As if awed by strange sounds in the air And then, as 1 waited in trance of desire, With throbbing shut eyes, The ear was aware Of stir in the wide waste of grasses; a glare Overshot the gray East with red fire With swelling vague clamor, Swift beat and shrill blare Back to the hearing the deep music came, As out of the darkness a vast army comes, Roaring like wind and wild flame To burst in the thunder of drums! PASSING BUFFALO JOING the wild things of our - - land, Passing the antelope and buffalo. They have gone with the sunny sweep Of the untracked plain! They have passed away with the untrammeled current of our streamsl With the falling trees they fell, With the autumn grass they rotted, And their bones Lie white on the flame-charred sod, Mixed with antlers of the elk. For centuries they lay down and rose in peace and calm content. They were fed by the rich grass And watered by sunny streams. The plover called to them Out of the shimmering air, 53 54 PRAIRIE SONGS The hawk swooped above them, The blackbird sat on their backs In the still afternoons, In the cool mud they wallowed, Rolling in noisy sport. They lived through centuries of struggle In swarming millions till the white man came. The snows of winter were terrible! The dry wind was hard to bear, But the breath of man, the smoke Of his gun was more fatal. They fell by thousands. They melted away like smoke! Mile by mile they retreated westward; Year by year they moved north and south In dust-brown clouds; Each year they descended upon the plains In endless floods; Each winter they retreated to the hills Of the south. Their going was like the ocean current, But each spring they stopped a little short They were like an ebbing tide! They came at last to meager little bands That never left the hills- Crawling in sombre files from canon to canon Now, they are gone! PRAIRIE SONGS 55 O the unfenced vistas of sod They fed upon! O the sweet strange memories they evoke! The sun-lit prairie with groves and streams, The rich grasses, the undisturbed primeval wild All gone, all gonel Swallowed up, lost irretrievably. My heart aches with longing for it. Gone the wild turkeyl Gone the deer and antelopel Passing the crane and the prairie chicken! Passing the wild free spaces That swarmed with feet and echoed with bawl Of bulls and savage snarl of wolves Ended the infinite drama of savage life. Passing the seas of hazel-brush; Passing the prairie sod And all its wealth of grass and flowers, The swirling crow's foot. The tossing plumes of snake weed, The golden groves of sunflowers, Passing, never to return. O the regret of it. the mystery and power Of the untracked land, The lure of winds from unknown spaces, The wonder and power of swift rivers, Where only the shy beaver builds a dam wild woods and rivers and untrod sweep of sodl 56 PRAIRIE SONGS I exult that I have known you! I have felt you and worshiped you I I cannot be robbed of the memory Of horse and plain And bird and flower, Nor the song of the illimitable west wind. They are all part of my life, And while 1 live they will endure. When I am old my heart will thrill, And I will say, I saw the wild sod burst To blossom, before the city's trample Drowned the winds' sweet song! PRAIRIE SONGS 57 AN APOLOGY. The ancient minstrel when times befit, And his song outran his laggard pen, Went forth in the world and chanted it In the market place, to the busy men; Who found full leisure to listen and long For the far-off land of the minstrel's song. Let me play minstrel and sing the lines Which rise in my heart in praise of the plain! I'll lead you where the wild oat shines, And swift clouds dapple the wheat with rain. If you'll listen, you'll hear the songs of birds And the shuddering roar of trampling herds. The brave brown lark from the russet sod Will pipe as clear as a cunning flute, Though sky and sod are stern as God, And the wind and plain lie hot and mute Though the gulls complain of the blazing air And the grass lies brown and crisp as hair. 58 PRAIRIE SONGS 59 HOME FROM THE CITY. Out of the city, out of the street I Out in the wind and the grasses, Where the bird and the daisy wooing meet, And the cloud like an eagle passes, Far from the roaring street. Out of the hurry, away from the heat And clamor of iron wheels and hooves, Out of the stench and scorching heat We come as a dove to its native roofs, Far from the thunderous street. Into the silence of cool-breathed leaves, Where the wind like a lover Murmurs, and waits to listen, and weaves His arms in the leafy cover Back to a world of stubble and sheaves We flee from the murderous street! 60 PRAIRIE SONGS APRIL DAYS. Days of witchery subtly sweet, When every hill and tree finds heart; When winter and spring like lovers meet In the mist of noon and part In the April days. Nights when the wood-frogs faintly peep One, two, and then are still, And the woodpeckers' martial voices sweep Like bugle blasts from hill to hill Through the breathless morn. Days when the soil is warm with rain, And through the wood the shy wind steals, Rich with the pine and the poplar smell, And the joyous brain like a dancer reels Through April days. PRAIRIE SONGS 61 BY THE RIVER. A sun-lit stream Flows athwart my dream, With a gurgle of laughter in sunny shallows, Where rounded boulders, white and red, On a pebbly bed Lie wide bespread, With shoulders and hollows, Smoothed down and scooped out By the swift water's rout. It comes from the meadow, Where cool and deep In the elm's dark shadow, In murmur of dream and of sleep It drowsily eddied and swirled, And softly crept and curled Round the out-thrust knees Of the white-wood trees, And lifted the rustling dripping sedge In rhythmic sweep at the outer edge. There the graceful water-snake rippled across Through the shimmering dapple the leaves cast down, While tFle swamp-bird, perched on the spongy moss At the darker side, looked gravely on. It was there the kingfisher swiftly flew In the cool sweet silence from tree to tree 62 PRAIRIE SONGS 63 All silent, save when the vagabond jay Flashed swiftly by with wild tehee! Swaggering by in his elfish way. The hot dust drifts along the street And fills the air with a furnace heat, Stifling the crowds of hurrying men, But in my dreaming and rippling rhyme It is noon in the sultriest summer time, And I, a bare-legged boy again, Can hear the low sweet laugh of the river, See on the water the dapples a-quiver, Feel on my knees the lipping-lap Of the sunny ripples, see the snake Slip silently into the sedgy brake, And hear the rising pickerel slap With a rushing leap Where the lilies sleep! 64 PRAIRIE SONGS A MOUNTAIN-SIDE. A height that curved like a woman's breast, A stream that plunged in mad unrest Through sullen snow and gray-green grass, And fell a thousand feet Below the mountain pass. Its wild roar mingled with the moan Of snarling pines, rooted on mottled stone; The gray clouds blurred the saffron peaks with snow Ten thousand feet above the vale below. ROM the great trees the locusts cry In quavering ecstatic duo a boy Shouts a wild call a mourning dove In the blue distance sobs the wind Wanders by, heavy with odors Of corn and wheat and melon vines; The trees tremble with delirious joy as the breeze Greets them, one by one now the oak, Now the great sycamore, now the elm. And the locusts in brazen chorus, cry Like stricken things, and the ring-dove's note Sobs on in the dim distance. 65 66 PRAIRIE SONGS THE BLUE JAY. His eye is bright as burnished steel, His note a quick defiant cry; Harsh as a hinge his grating squeal Sounds from the keen wind sweeping by. Rains never dim his smooth blue coat, The winter never troubles him. No fog puts hoarseness in his throat Or makes his merry eyes grow dim. His cry at morning is a shout. His wing is subject to his heart. Of fear he knows not doubt Did not draw his sailing-chart. He is an universal emigre; His foot is set in every land. He greets me by gray Casco bay, And laughs across the Texas sand. In heat or cold, in storm or sun He lives unfearingly, and when he dies He folds his feet up one by one And turns a last look at the skies. He is the true American! He fears No journey and no wood or wall, And in the desert, toiling voyagers Take heart of courage from his call. THE MOUNKNS IVER the mountains face the plain, Ever the plainsman's longing eyes Turn to the distant peaks. In the warm mornings, when the lark Whistles from cool, sage-green, 'close-curling grass, When not a cloud stains the sky Then the mountains stand forth Warm, sharply outlined, Wearing a time-worn cloak of purple rock And dark green pines. They draw near the plain, They seem close, intimate, prosaic. Every hollow and wrinkle is displayed, Every rasp and ravage of wind and frost Is seen, every canon seems emptied Of its mystery and color. 68 PRAIRIE SONGS But as the sun swings west, A splendid robe of royal blue Drops over the distant peaks : And lowers and deepens And grows richer and richer Till the whole mighty group is arrayed In purple splendid distance. They withdraw into color and depth Like demigods ; They lift their heads like those Who wear crowns ; They begin at the plainsman's feet, They end in space where dreams are, Where scars become heroic history, Where silence reigns in majesty like death As the sun sinks, The canons deepen in color, Adding mystery to silence. They become awful deeps Where stupendous cats and great birds Move about the strange walls Carved and hollowed by water. Caves yawn wider as night thickens. The lone traveler, lying beneath The silent pines on some high range, Watches and listens in ecstacy of fear And exalted admiration. PRAIRIE SONGS 69 The prosaic is gone, The present is gone, The eastern plain becomes an obscure sea, Its life absorbed by distance He is alone with the stupendous, the inexorable, The past! In the roar of the far stream Is the reminiscent dream Of colossal cataracts; In the cry of the cliff-bird, he hears The scream of the eagle Or the yawl of the mountain lion; In the fall of a loose rock He fancies he hears the stealthy tread of the grizzly; In the black night of the lower canon, He thinks he sees once more Prodigious lines of buffaloes, Or files of Indian armies Winding downward to the distant valley Where camp-fires shine like stars And the dreamer shudders With a strange longing thrill, A regret for the vanished past. He trembles but to tremble here Is not fear it is comprehension I 70 PRAIRIE SONGS MY CABIN. My cabin cowers in the onward sweep Of the terrible northern blast; Above its roof the wild clouds leap, And shriek as they hurry past. The snow-waves hiss along the plain, Like hungry wolves they stretch and strain. They race and romp with rushing beat; Like stealthy tread of myriad feet They pass the door. Upon the roof The icy showers swirl and rattle. At times the moon, though far aloof, Through winds and snow in furious battle, Shines white and wan within the room Then swift clouds dart across the light, And all the plain is lost to sight; The cabin rocks, and on my palm The sifted snow falls, cold and calm. God! what a power is in the wind! I lay my ear to the cabin-side To feel the weight of those giant hands ; A speck, a fly in the blasting tide Of streaming, pitiless, icy sands; A single heart with its feeble beat A mouse in the lion's throat A swimmer at sea a sunbeam's mote In the strength of a tempest of hail and sleet! BENEATH THE PINES SUNLESS deeps of northern pines ! O broad, snow-laden arms of fir! Dim aisles where wolves slip to and fro, And noiseless wild deer swiftly skirr! O home of wind-songs wild and grand, As suits thy mighty strains, O harp On which the North Wind lays his hand! I walk thy pungent glooms once more And shout amid thy stormful roar. As in wild seas a deep is found, No wintry tempest stirs, though high As hills the marching waves upbound And break in hissing foam, so I Walk here secure; though, far above, The Storm-king with his train of snows Sweeps downward from the bitter north, And shouts hoarse fury as he goes. 72 PRAIRIE SONGS I laugh in tones of ribald glee, To see the shaking of his hair, And hear from out his cloud of beard His furious threatenings sweep the air. The dark pines lower their lofty crests As warriors bow, when chieftain grim Rides by and shouts his stern behests And with swift answers echo him. TRIPED GOPHER E IS a roguish little wag! He sits like priest, with folded hands. The farm-boy stops behind his drag And mocks his whistle where he stands. The crane in deeps of sunlit sky Proclaims the Spring with bugle throat, Not less the prophecies which lie Within the gopher's cheery note. From radiant slopes of pink and green, From warm brown fields his greetings fret. The eye of hawk is not more keen Than his, when danger seems to threat. He is a cunning little wag! He sits and jeers with folded hands. The farm-boy stoops behind his drag And flings a missile where he stands. 74 PRAIRIE SONGS THE PRAIRIE TO THE CITY. O wind of the West, go greet for me Those toilers in the city deeps! Go teach them to be wild and free And chainless as the eagle keeps. Go fill their hearts with hot desire To rise above their sooty task, Go teach them to be wild as fire To ask, and compass that they ask! A HUMAN HABITATION. The sky was like a low-hung purple disk, The plain its counterpart. Eastward, between These infinite disks of variant purple, the train Rushed steadily, entering a belt of orange-colored sky, Wherein the spring-time sunlight grew in power. Against the glowing band, A tooth of purple plain upreared, to notch The otherwise unbroken, splendid sweep Of intersecting sky and plain. From it A thin blue smoke arose. It was a human habitation. It was not a prison. A prison , Resounds with songs, yells, the crash of gates, The click of locks and grind of chains. Voice shouts to voice. Bars do not exclude The interchange of words. This was solitary confinement. 75 76 PRAIRIE SONGS The sun up-sprang, Its light swept the plain like a sea Of golden water, and the blue-gray dome That soared above the settler's shack, Was lighted into magical splendor. To some worn woman Another monotonous day was born. PRAIRIE SONGS 77 A RIVER GORGE. A savage, ragged throat of red And splintered rocks, through which a dim stream flows, So far beneath, its foam becomes a thread Of melted silver, poured amid the rose And orange-tinted lichen-spotted walls. Across this awful chasm, a jay Flies dauntlessly, with a ringing cry. The shuddering soul goes with him on his way, Made sick with horror, while the high Cliffs echo with his fearless calls. 78 PRAIRIE SONGS ALTRUISM. A tale of toil that's never done, I tell; Of life where love's a fleeting wing Across the toiler's murky hell Of endless, cheerless journeying. 1 draw to thee the far-off poor And lay their sorrows at thy door. Thou shalt not rest while these my kind Toil hopelessly in solitude ; Thou shalt not leave them out of mind They must be reckoned with. The food You eat shall bitter be, While law robs them and feedeth thee. RETURN Or THE GULLS AR out upon the treeless sweep Of sun-smit plain, there come And go great flights of gulls. In hot still noon, in roar of wind, In mist of evening or ,in cold clear dawn They flit in easeful flight above the swash Of uncut wheat, glittering like flakes Of snow in flaming sunlight. They are far from the sea How came they here, these children Of the raw, salt winds of ocean? All day they wheel and dip And rise again complaining, calling In querulous voices, calling, asking For something lost. In keen October dawns They move in myriads, with the rolling sweep Of foam-lined waves of water, Close to the sod in search of food. 80 PRAIRIE SONGS At night they settle upon the breast Of little alkaline lakes and sit and swing In the soft wash of the water, And talk of things far off. In the winter they hasten south. For ages they have journeyed thus, Century by century, while the low land rose And the water wasted aeons, and still They came and went. Generations died, But the young preserved the custom. And now, though the land is hot And the sea is sunk to an alkaline pool, They come and come, because they bear Within their faithful brains, the habits Of a thousand thousand years. ROAD fields of newly-risen wheat Whereon lie curving, burnished pools Of smooth rose-golden water. Across each pond the hylas peep; A warm soil-scented wind Moves from the wide, unending spaces Of the roseate West, where clouds hang Like weary birds on wing. The click of planter, and the shout Of driver ringing through the air Adds human presence; while through the rays Of wide, red-setting sun a slow team moves A purple shadow on a golden ground. Bi 82 PRAIRIE SONGS THE WIND'S VOICE. I woke far out upon the Kansas sod, And in the car-eaves overheard, Close to my ear, as if it called to me, I heard the sad wind of the plain. A pushing whisper, the voice Of a spent runner hoarse with haste, Burdened with news of the vast Untrodden west. ^"^ as&s iHrMississim !HROUGH wild and tangled forests The broad, unhasting river flows Spotted with rain-drops, gray with night; Upon its curving breast there goes A lonely steamboat's larboard light, A blood-red star against the shadowy oaks; Noiseless as a ghost, through greenish gleam Of fire-flies, before the boat's wild scream A heron flaps away Like silence taking flight. 84 PRAIRIE SONGS A BROTHER'S DEATH-SEARCH. A sadder search you'd hardly plan Than a brother seeking a brother's bones, Seeking the grave of a murdered man, On the plain where the wind like a mourner moans; Seeking a skull that the wolves have gnawed, Bones that the keen-eyed fox has pawed! Alone on the prairie day by day, With keen eyes sweeping the sunny grass Where the bleaching buffalo skeletons lay Seeing the hawk's swift shadow pass Searching the gullies, amid the stones For a murdered brother's scattered bones. Alone on the prairie, night by night; In camp where the wild wind, spent and weak, Comes like a runner hoarse with fright, Whispering a tale he dares not speak While the roan at his picket uneasily stirring, Hears over his head a swift bird whirring. Alone on the prairie by night, he dreamed, Alone on the prairie by day, he spied The dead man's bones (or so it seemed) A thousand times in his silent ride. But only the skeleton buffaloes lay In countless myriads along his way. PRAIRIE SONGS 85 Whenever the vulture heavily rose From a shallow swale with sudden start, The rider stopped God! Who knows, But the bird is fat with a dead man's heart? But only a crib of wild elks' bones Lay broken and sunken amid the stones. A sadder search you'd hardly plan Than a herder seeking a brother's bones, Seeking a murdered skeleton man On the plain where the sad wind ever moans Seeking the limbs that the wolves have gnawed And skull that the keen-eyed fox has pawed. O, the swift white clouds tell never a tale, And the wind speaks never a word! Though it comes in the night with a sobbing wail, A cry of pain like a wounded bird: Though wind and cloud may daily pass Over a skeleton hid in the grass. 86 PRAIRIE SONGS SPRING RAINS. When the snow is sunk And the fields are bare, And the rising sun has a golden glare Through the window pane; And the crow flies over The smooth low hills, And all the air with his calling thrills All hearts leap up in song again To welcome spring and the spring-time rain. |N every side The golden stubble stretches, Looped and laced with silvery spiders' webs. From stalk to stalk the snapping insects leaping Add sparks of glittering fire to gold and silver haze. Their clicking flight the only sounds of living In all the deepening solemn hush Of flooding failing light through drooping dreamy grain. The sweet warm light grows every moment richer Ever more sonorous the damp and hollow air. And now there comes the clatter of the reaper And loud and cheery urging of the tired teams. Around, unseen, the choir of evening crickets Deepens and widens with the fading dusk, And distant calls to supper reach across the tangled grain. The over-arching majesty of purple clouds grows brighter Soaring above in seas of green and blue. 87 88 PRAIRIE SONGS A tumbled mountain land of cloud-crags, fired and lighted To glowing bronze, and red and yellow gold. And through the grain the reaper still goes forward And still the crickets chirp and insects leap. And overhead the glory of the sunlight turns to gray. PRAIRIE SONGS 89 THE NOONDAY PLAIN. The plain lay under the cloudless sky In utter and terrible silence. Not a sound, not a living soul, not a voice Broke from the russet reach of sod Save a cricket that cried from the deep Of his loneliness, like a lost soul. The grass under foot Was brittle as glass and dry as dust, It crumbled to powder under the heel. A lark's brave voice sounded near, once, And was silent with heat. The light was enormous, Incredible, world-flooding, insatiable as death! It was so fierce, the world of sod Grew dim with over-plus of light It silenced and withered. The wind came out of the West, Softly, silently, as if on tiptoe, And whispered in passing, as though It laid a finger on the lip. The dust of roads arose Like smoke from crevices of hidden fires, And sailed across the land Like banners. Teams crept beneath Like weary wingless beetles Crawling from cabin to cabin. 90 PRAIRIE SONGS Awe and terror rose within The waiting, watching soul, a horror Strange and wordless made the heart ache With wish to fly. The silence appalled And the light dazzled. MIDNIGHT SNOWS WITCHERY of the winter night, With broad moon shouldering to the West. Sometimes in city streets, at night I walk alone beneath the trees ; Before my feet in rustling flight The west wind sweeps The midnight snows in untracked heaps, Familiar, desolate and white. Hearing the wind's wild rune, I stand and wait with upturned eyes, Awed by the splendor of the skies And star-trained progress of the moon. The city vanishes like smoke 1 see the snow-clad prairie gleam Beneath the magic of the moon, And age falls from me like a cloak: 91 92 PRAIRIE SONGS 1 hear the sound of sleigh-bells and the croon Of loving voices. Through misty night I hear glad girlish laughter ring, Clear as some softly stricken string. The moon is setting toward tie West. The sleigh-bells clash in homeward flight, With frost each horse's breast is white, And tbe big moon sinking at the West ! The watch-dogs bark like sentinels To hear the passing of the bells. " O moon, you set to soon, too soon!" Go sailing on, go sailing slow, O moon, fast sinking at the West! The lovers fain would follow thee Beyond the farthest Western sea. Too fast the years of girlhood go, Too soon come toil and all unrest Across the diamond-dusted snow We'd ride forever in your light, O sovereign of the court of night! ***** "Good-night, Lucy!" " Good-night, Ben! " Tbe moon is setting at tbe West ! " Good-night, my sweetheart! " once again The parting kiss, while comrades wait Impatient at the roadside gate, And tbe red moon sets beyond tbe West. STAGKINGTIME 4f, "ITHIN the shelter of the towering stack I lie in shadow, blinking at the light; The sun-light floods the snow-rimmed purple clouds. I hear the glorious southern wind Sweep the sere stubble like a scythe, While dropping crickets patter 'round me, shaken down In flying showers from wind-tossed yellow grain. first ripe day of autumn! O memory half of pain and half of joy! As if the fate of some dead girl Haunted my heart, I dream and dream With aching throat, of dim but unforgotten days. O wind and light and cool high cloud! O smell of corn-leaves ripening! It is so sweet 94 PRAIRIE SONGS To lie here, taskless, dumb and rapt With wordless weight of reminiscent scenes and sounds, Weight of unremembered millions of autumns Filled with the wonder of a myriad varied years, Wonder of winds and woods and rivers, and the smell Of ripened yellow grain and nuts, and the joy Of sunset rest from toil in dim small fields In Anglo-Saxon days. And the shadows wheel and lengthen Across the level stubble-land, which glows A mat of gold inlaid with green The sun is sunk; sighing I rise to go, and the jocund call Of near-by street-boy breaks the spell Of cloud and sun and rustling sheaves And the sweep of the unresting mystical wind And overhead I hear the jar and throb Of giant presses, and the grinding roar Of ceaseless tumult in the street below Comes back and welters me again. ROM brown plowed hillocks In early red morning, They woke the tardy sower with their cheerful cry. A mellow boom and whoop That held a warning, A song that brought the seed-time very nigh. The circling, splendid anthem of their greeting, Ran like the morning beating Of a hundred mellow drums Boom, boom, boom! Each hillock's top repeating Like cannon answering cannon When the golden sunset comes. They drum no more! Those splendid spring-time pickets, The sweep of share and sickle Has thrust them from the hills; They have vanished from the prairie Like the partridge from the thickets, They have perished from the sportsman, Who kills, and kills, and kills! 95 96 PRAIRIE SONGS Often now, When seated at my writing, 1 lay my pencil down And fall to dreaming, still, Of the stern, hard days Of the old-time Iowa seeding, When the prairie chickens woke me With their chorus on the hill. A TOWN orttr PLAIN SHADELESS clump of yellow blocks, It stands upon the sod, ringed With level lands and draped in mist, Wavering in air so dry, it seems The very clouds might burn. A mighty wind roars from the south, Silencing all other tumult. Its wings Horizon-wide, welters the grass And tears the dust and stubble; And yet the mist remains. Beneath The wind, flat to earth, teams crawl Like beetles seeking shelter. In the glimmering offing Ricks of grain stand like walls Of scattered Spanish huts, and like The easy magic of dreams Lakes of gray-blue water, bloom On the hot palpitant plain, So sweet and fair, the heart Aches with longing deep as grief. They mock the eyes a moment And are gone and under the wind The teams crawl on blind with dust, And faint with thirst. 07 98 PRAIRIE SONGS IN THE GOLD COUNTRY A gray-blue stream that curves And strikes a high red cliff, lined With bronze-green pines on the farther side; Near by a cloud of gray, cold, naked asps And far beyond, green-spotted cliffs Of orange soil, with glittering mountains Filling the far vista. FROM WILD MEADOWS HROUGH cool dry dust the wagons rattle, Their talk subdued and grave and low. The horses walk with heads low hanging, Their footfalls muffled, rhythmical and slow. Upon the weedy load of rank fall grasses, I lie and watch the daylight wane, Hearing the distant thresher's howl and clatter And cow-bells moving down the dusty lane. The darkness deepens and the stars appearing Line out the march of coming night. And now I catch the sound of farm-yard's bustle And cross the kitchen's band of friendly, fragrant light. Familiar voices call, the falling neck-yokes rattle, The pump gives out its welcome squeal. The barn's gloom swallows team and drivers, And mother's call to supper rings a hearty peal. 99 100 PRAIRIE SONGS O fragrant waste of autumn grasses! prairie by the plowshare torn and rent! 1 think of you in days of heat and hurry, Like traveler in deserts lost and spent. I wonder if some future world or cycle Will bring again those radiant seas of bloom, Wherein all life seemed fair and peaceful, And bird and beast found generous room. I'll meet them ! They are not gone forever! They lie somewhere, those sun-lit prairie lands, Unstained of blood, possessed of peace and plenty Untouched by greed's all desolating hands. FIRE CREEPING serrate line of dusty red, That gnaws its way across a smooth low hill Toward long ricks of grain. Silhouetted against the murky light four men, With spades at back, stride singly With unhasting resolute action along the hill From left to right. Against the wall Of red and purple smoke Each form leans in sharp outline; The smell of burning hay fills the train; Then loosely, amply, as a curtain falls Swinging in the wind, the smoke shuts down And all is lost to sight. 102 PRAIRIE SONGS BOYISH SLEEP. And all night long we lie in sleep, Too sweet to sigh in, or to dream, Unnoting how the wild winds sweep, Or snow clouds through the darkness stream Above the trees that moan and sigh And clutch with naked hands the sky. Beneath the checkered counterpane We rest the soundlier for the storm; Its wrath is only lullaby, A far off, vast and dim refrain. PRAIRIE SONGS 103 THE HERDSMAN. A waste of grasses dry as hair; Stillness ; insects' buff, and glare Of white-hot sunshine everywhere! The herdsman like a statue sits Upon his panting horse. While far below The herd moves soundlessly as a shadow flits, The weak wind mumbles some mysterious word. The word grows louder, and a thrill Of action runs along the hot twin bands Of steel. A low roar quivers in the ear, and still No motion else in all the spotted sands. The roar grows brazen, and a yell Bursts from an unseen iron throat; The herdsman's eyes rest on a distant swell, Whence seems to come the savage welcome note. Sudden it comes! A crawling, thunderous thing, A monstrous serpent hot with haste, The cannon-ball express with rushing swing Circles the butte and roars across the waste. The embodied might of these our iron days, The glittering moving city rushes toward the east, Bringing for a single instant face to face Barbaric loneliness and a flying feast. 104 PRAIRIE SONGS A roguish maiden from an open window throws (Or drops) her handkerchief among the cacti spears, The herdsman plucks and wears it like a rose Upon his breast, and laughs to hide his grateful tears. Again the waste of grasses crisp as hair; Stillness; crickets chirp, and glare Of boundless sunshine everywhere ! RUSHING EAGLE WITH look so like a lion's frown, Savage but sovereign; sombre as Hamlet, Rebellious as Brutus, desperate as Leonidas, He fronts the world the chieftain of a race Condemned to die. What tragedy compares with this A racial death! Here and there A chieftain understands. Guiltless as the panther, Wild as the soul of every wronged And cheated man, he leaps upon The wall of circling flame, and falls and dies Like a trapped wolf. Here and there a leader goes among His enemies, and comprehends at last The height and breadth and pitilessness Of the flood that sweeps him away. Then his face settles in lines like those Of Lear, and his heart swells and breaks, 105 106 PRAIRIE SONGS And in the dim shelter of his tent He draws his rags about him And dies defiantly. Blessed be his faith in happy hunting-grounds. For nothing here is left but beggary And melancholy change. OOLNESS, ripeness and repose; The smell of gathered grains and fruits, The musky odor of melons everywhere. The very dust is fruity, and the click Of locusts' wings is like the close Of gates upon great stores of wheat. The gathered grain bleaches in shock, The corn breathes on me from the west, And the sky-line widens on and on, Until I see the waves of yellow-green Break on the hills that face the snow and lilac Peaks of Colorado mountains. The sun, half-sunk, Burns through the dusty crimson sky. Streamers of gold and green soar In radiating bands, like spokes Of God's immeasurable chariot wheels, , Half-sunk and falling. 107 108 PRAIRIE SONGS The cattle feed about me, here, Sociably, gnawing the scant dry grass. I hear their quick short sighs As one by one they settle for the night. All is peaceful save the dull report Of murderous, quick-repeating gun Of some insatiate sportsman. Through the hot haze The rapid rattle of a hay-rack goes, And as it passes leaves a trail Of boyish memories, fading, falling Like the yellow dust that drifts Behind the hay-rack's wheels. PRAIRIE SONGS 109 THE STAMPEDE. There's a roar in the depth of the darkness, There's the thunder of fast-flying feet, For the herd is awake and blind-rushing, Made mad with the wind and the sleet. They stream through the swale like a river, A flood of black mud on the white Of the snow-covered ground and their going Is wild as an army in flight. Above the mixed tumult and trample, Over clashing of horns in the dark Over bellowing of bulls, the herder Lifts voice like the song of the lark. Round, round in a circle he crowds them, Singing on, growing hoarse in his song; Still riding and singing till morning, Though it's cold and the night-time is long. He has saved the herd for another, And what is his hope, his reward? A dollar a day and a tent cloth To cover his sleep on the sward. His owner knows nothing and cares not That night he sat at the play And tossed a bouquet to the danseuse, Worth twice the brave herder's poor pay. 110 PRAIRIE SONGS SPORT. Somewhere, in deeps Of tangled ripening wheat, A little prairie-chicken cries Lost from its fellows, it pleads and weeps. Meanwhile, stained and mangled, With dust-filled eyes, The unreplying mother lies Limp and bloody at the sportman's feet. cool gray jug that touched the lips In kiss that softly closed and clung! No Spanish wine the tippler sips, Or Port the poet's praise has sung, Such pure, untainted sweetness yields As cool gray jug in harvest fields. 1 see it now! A clover leaf Outspread upon its sweating side As from the standing sheaf 1 pluck and swing it high, the wide Field glows with noon-day heat The winds are tangled in the wheat. 112 PRAIRIE SONGS The myriad crickets blithely cheep; Across the swash of ripened grain 1 see the burnished reaper creep The lunch-boy comes, and once again The jug its crystal coolness yields O cool gray jug in harvest fields! THE'GRAY-WQLF SHADOWY beast is the gaunt gray wolf, And his foot falls soft on a carpet of spines, Where the night shuts quick over coverts of firs; He haunts the deeps of the northern pines. His eyes are eager, his teeth are keen, As he slips at night through the brush like a snake, Crouching and cringing straight into the wind, To leap with a laugh on the fawn in the brake. He falls like a flash on the partridge hen Brooding her young in the wind-bent weeds, Or listens to hear, with a start of greed, The bittern booming from river reeds. When the chill, snow-laden roaring blast Swirls round the woodmen's camp at night, And beats like a spectral bird at the pane, The men sit circling the broad red light. 114 PRAIRIE SONGS Then the story is told by some, of a mate Or friend, long lost in the dark and snows, Who never came back, whose awful fate And scattered bones' sepulchre the wolf only knows. And the voices sink to a lower tone, As far in the deeps of the sighing pines A lone wolf's howl, blends with the moan Of the wind in the eaves as it sobs and whines. When the lights are out and the men asleep, The wolves, grown bolder, sniff and peer From the fartherest shades and vainly leap Round the tree in the clearing where hang the deer; Till afar in the darkness, signal yells And a scurrying chorus of yelps and cries, To the baffled watch on the clearing tells That a frantic deer through the tempest flies. Oh! a shadowy beast is the gray, grizzled wolf, Where his feet fall soft on a carpet of spines; When the night is dark and the storm sings high His voice is abroad in the tossing pines. He's the symbol of hunger the whole earth through, His specter sits at the door of care, And the homeless hear with a thrill of fear The sound of his wind-swept voice on the air. ~'~^ LONELY task it is to plow! All day the black and shining soil Rolls like a ribbon from the mold-board's Glistening curve. All day the horses toil And battle with the flies, and strain Their creaking harnesses. All day The crickets jeer from wind-blown shocks of grain. October brings the frosty dawn, The still warm noon and cold, clear night, When stiffened crickets make no sound And wild ducks in their southward flight Go by in haste and still the boy And toiling team gnaw round by round, On weather-beaten stubble band by band, Until at last, to his great joy, The winter's frost seals up the unplowed land. 116 PRAIRIE SONGS A TRIBUTE OF GRASSES. TO W. W. Serene, vast head, with silver cloud of hair Lined on the purple dusk of death, A stern medallion, velvet set Old Norseman, throned, not chained upon thy chair, Thy grasp of hand, thy hearty breath Of welcome thrills me yet As when 1 faced thee there! Loving my plain as thou thy sea, Facing the East as thou the West, I bring a handful of grass to thee The prairie grasses 1 know the best; Type of the wealth and width of the plain, Strong of the strength of the wind and sleet, Fragrant with sunlight and cool with rain, I bring it and lay it low at thy feet, Here by the eastern sea. PRAIRIE SONGS 117 MOODS OF THE PLAIN. The plain has moods like the sea: It is filled with voices and stir Of wings, when the dust-clouds flee On the burning wind, and the whirr Of the crickets is lost in the roar And the ramp of the southern gale; When the swash of the wheat runs high, And the querulous gulls are a-sail In the pitiless August sky. * * * And the next day rises fair With a threat of cloud in the West; And gentle and sweet through the air Steals the rustle of grain the winds rest. But far in the West, the loom Of cloud is half-concealed By sheen of sunlight till the boom Of thunder like a signal gun Shatters the veil and so revealed, The gathered tempest reels across the sun. The plain grows dark; like the sea It holds no shelter. Dwarfed to grains Of sand, the settlers' cabins cower Before the tempest, lost in the rain's Gray wall of dust and spray. The lower Of clouds makes mid-day night. The crash 118 PRAIRIE SONGS Of siege guns would be lost within The pulsing roar, the illimitable din Of sprangling lightning, flash on flash. The roar recedes. The eager eye Sees the darkness lighten. Each glare grows Each moment dimmer. A rift Of western sky a golden crescent shows. The wind lulls and dripping flowers lift And watch the daylight come again. The plain smells sweet, as the skies Broaden and lighten, and from the trampled grain The lark's exultant flutings rise. NORTHER HERE are voices of pain In the autumn rain, There are pipings drear in the grassy waste; There are lifting swells whose crests arise Till they touch and blend with the leaden skies IVhere massed clouds wildly haste. I sit on my horse in boot and spur As the night falls drear On the lonely plain. Afar I hear The cry of goose, and swift wings whirr Through the graying deeps of the upper air Like weary great birds the clouds sail low: The wind now wails like a woman in woe, Now mutters and growls like a lion in lair. Lost on the prairie ! All day alone With my boyish pride, my swift Ladrone And the shapes on the shadow my startled brain cast. 119 120 PRAIRIE SONGS Which way is north? Which way is west? I ask Ladrone, for he knows best, And he turns his head to the blast. He whinnies and turns at my voice's sound, And then impatiently paws the ground. The night's gray turns to a starless black, And the drifting mizzle and scurrying rack Have melted afar into rayless night. The wind, like an actor childish with age, Plays favorite characters, now sobs with rage, Now flees like a child in fright. I turn from the wind (a treacherous guide) And touch my knee to the glossy side Of my steaming horse, and the prairie wide Slips by like the sea under bounding keel; As I pat his neck and feel the reel Of his mighty chest and swift limbs' play, The sorrowful wind voice dies away. The coyote starts from a shivering sleep On the grassy edge of a gully deep And silently slips through the wind-bent weeds; The prairie hen from beneath our feet Springs up in haste, with swift wing's beat, And into the dark like a bullet speeds. Which way is east? Which way is south? Is not to be answered, when dark as the mouth Of a red-lipped wolf the night shuts down PRAIRIE SONGS 121 I look in vain for a star or light Ladrone speeds on with dull thud flight, His ears laid back in an anxious frown. The long grass breaks on my horse's breast As foam is dashed from the billow's crest By a keen-prowed ship; I see it not, but I hear the whip On my stirrup shield, and feel the rush And spiteful lash of the hazel brush. The night grows colder, the wind again Ab what's that! I pull at the rein And turn my face to the blast It was snow on my cbeek! Ay, thick and fast The startled snows through the darkness leapt, As massed on the mighty north wind's wing Like an air-borne army's rushing swing The awful shadow upon me swept. I bowed my bead till tbe floating mane Of my panting borse warmed cheek again, And plunged straight into tbe nigbt amain. Day came and found me slowly riding on With senses bound as in a chain. Through drifting deeps of snow, Ladrone, Dumbly faithful, plodded on, the rein Flung low upon his weary neck. 122 PRAIRIE SONGS I long had ceased to fear or reck Or death by cold or wolf or snow, Bent grimly on my saddle bow. My limbs were numb, I seemed to ride Upon some viewless rushing tide My hands hung helpless at my side. The multitudinous trampling snows With solemn, ceaseless myriad din Swept round and over me; far and wide, A roaring silence shut the senses in! Above me through the hurtling shrouds The far sky, red with morning, glows, Looked down at times And then was lost in clouds. But were my tongue with poet's spell Aflame and free, I could not tell The tale of biting hunger, cold, the hell Of frenzied thoughts that age-long night! How life seemed only in my brain; the wind The foam-white breeze of wintry seas That roared in wrath from left to right, Striking me helpless, deaf and blind. * # * The third morn broke upon my sight, Streamed through the window of the room In which I woke, I knew not how. Broke radiant in a golden bloom, As though God smiled away the night! PRAIRIE SONGS 123 Like an eternal changeless sea Of burnished marble lay the plain, In dazzling, moveless, soundless waste Horizon-girt, without a stain. The air was still. No breath of sound Came from the white expanse The whole earth seemed to wait in trance, In hushed expectant silence bound. And, O the beauty of the eastern sky, Where glowed the herald banners of the king! And as I looked with famished eye Lo! day came on me with a spring. Along the iridescent billows of the snow The sun shot slender, glancing beams Like flaming arrows from the bow They broke on every crest, and gleams Of radiant fire Alit on every spire Along the great king's pathway as he came. And cloudless, soft, serene as May, Opened the jocund day! LRDRONE ND what of Ladrone, do you ask? Ah, friend, I am sad at the name! My splendid fleet roan! the task You require is a hard one at best. Swift as the spectral coyote, as tame Tc my voice as a sweetheart an eye Like a pool in the woodland asleep, Brown, clear and calm, with color down deep Where his brave, proud soul seemed to lie. Ladrone! There's a spell in the name, The dank walls fade on my eye the roar Of the city grows dim, as a dream; My spirit leaps up as to soar; Once more I'm asweep on the plain, The summer wind sings in my hair; Once again I hear the wild crane Crying deep in the shimmering air; White clouds are adrift on the breeze, The flowers nod under our feet, 126 PRAIRIE SONGS And under my thighs 'twixt my knees, Again, as of old, I can feel The roll of Ladrone's vast muscles, the reel Of his chest see the thrust of fore-limb And hear the dull trample of heel ! We thunder behind the wild herd, My singing whip swirls like a snake; Hurrah! we swoop on like a bird, With Ladrone's proud record at stake For the shaggy, swift leader has stride Like the last of a long kingly line. Her eyes flash fire through her hair, She tosses her head in disdain, Her mane streams abroad in the air She leads the mad herd of the plain As a wolf leader leads his gaunt pack On the slot of the desperate deer Their exultant eyes savagely shine! But down on the leader's broad back Stings my lash like a rill of red flame Huzza, my wild beauty, your best! Will you teach my Ladrone a new pace ? Will you break his proud heart with a shame By spurning the dust in his face ? The herd falls behind and is lost As we race neck and neck, stride and stride Again the long whip hisses hot Along the gray mare's glossy side PRAIRIE SONGS 127 Aha, she is lost! She does not respond The storm of her speed's at its best Now I lean to the ear of my roan And shout, letting fall the tight rein: Like a hound from the leash my Ladrone Swoops ahead We're alone on the plain! Yes, alone on the wide, solemn prairie I ride with my rifle in hand, My eyes on the watch for the wary And beautiful antelope band; Or, sleeping at night in the grasses, I hear Ladrone grazing near in the gloom. His listening head on the sky Comes back, etched complete to the ear. From the river below comes the boom Of the bittern, the trill and the cry Of frogs in the pool, and shrill crickets' chime, Making ceaseless and marvelous rhyme. 'But what of his fate ? Did be die When that terrible tempest was done ? When he staggered with you to the light, And the fight with the Norther was won ? Did he live like a guest at your door ? No, friend, not so, I sold him outright. 128 PRAIRIE SONGS What, sold your preserver ? He who Through wind and -wild snow and detp night Brought you safe to a shelter at last ! Did you, when the danger had ended, Forget your dumb hero, your friend ? Forget? No, nor shall I why, man! It's little you know of such love As I felt for him you think that you feel The same deep regard for your span, Blanketed, shining, and clipped to the heel. But my horse was companion and friend, My playmate, my ship on the sea Of dun grasses; in all kinds of weather, Unhoused and hungry sometimes, he Served me for love, he needed no tether! No, I cannot forget; but who Is the master of fortune or fate? Who does as he wishes and not as he must? When I sold my preserver, my mate, My faithf ulest friend, man, I wept Yes, I own it! His beautiful eyes Seemed to ask what it meant, and he kept Them fixed on me in startled surprise, As another hand led him away, And the last that I heard of my roan Was the sound of his shrill, pleading neigh. PRAIRIE SONGS 129 O magic west wind of the mountain ! steed with the stinging mane! In sleep I draw rein at the fountain, But wake with a shiver of pain; For the heart and the heat of the city Are walls and prison and chain. Lost my Ladrone, gone the wild living 1 dream, but my dreaming is vain. I 3 PRAIRIE SONGS 131 ACROSS THE PICKET LINE. After we 'd been a-chasiir old Hood And penned him into Atlanty, Uncle Billy, doggone him ! stood Around behind us t' make us anty A-diggin' dirt and a-cuttin' ditches, F'r days and days ! an' top o' that, We slep', side-arms in our britches Ready t' fight at the drop o' the hat. Wai ! The rebel pickets got closer 'n' closer Till blame near we could almost see The kind o' fellers the Johnnies was, An' talk as easy as you an' me Out in the field here plowin' corn An'gassin' across the dividin' line. Yessir ! An' there we 'd set an' trade off lies About the war, and provisions, tell Some feller 'd sing out "Hunt y'r holes ! Give the last man sinjen' hell ! " Wai ! Every night we c'd hear 'em sing " Old Hundred," or " Salvation's Free," An' we 'd join in and make things ring An' so we got t' know, y' see, Jest when the Johnnies meant t' shell 'R charge next day, 'r spring a mine For when they 'd plan 'd t' give us hell They 'd sing of heaven all 'long the line. 132 PRAIRIE SONGS Fact ! Yesslr, sure's y'r born, 1 never see the singin' fail, Always brought a storm next day With bullets flyin' thick as hail, An' them there Rebs a-scramblin' right Straight up to our blessed eyes Teeth gritted, faces white An' yellin' fit to raise the skies. 'Fraid ? Not by a darn sight 1 They Didn't know what the word meant. No sir they 'd jest nacherly pray An' wherever a man 'ud go, they went; They wa'n't no discount on their grit, And I don't bear 'em any spite. We met like men, an' settled it, And I guess they think it's settled right. EN IfS SPRING HEN the hens begin a-squawkin' An' a-rollin' in the dust; When the rooster takes to talkin', An' a-crowin' fit to bust; When the crows are cawin', flockin' An' the chickuns boom and sing, Then it's spring! When the roads are jest one mud-hole And the worter tricklin' round, Makes the barn-yard like puddle, An' softens up the ground Till y'r ankle-deep in worter, Sayin' words y'r hadn't orter When the jay-birds swear an' sing, Then it's spring! 133 134 PRAIRIE SONGS LOGAN AT PEACH TREE CREEK. A VETERAN'S STORY. You know that day at Peach Tree Creek, When the Rebs with their circling, scorching wall Of smoke-hid cannon and sweep of flame Drove in our flanks, back! back! and all Our toil seemed lost in the storm of shell That desperate day McPherson fell! Our regiment stood in a little glade Set round with half-grown red oak trees An awful place to stand, in full fair sight, While the minie bullets hummed like bees, And comrades dropped on either side That fearful day McPherson died! The roar of the battle, steady, stern, Rung in our ears. Upon our eyes The belching cannon smoke, the half-hid swing Of deploying troops, the groans, the cries, The hoarse commands, the sickening smell That blood-red day McPherson fell! But we stood there! when out from the trees, Out of the smoke and dismay to the right Burst a rider His head was bare, his eye Had a blaze like a lion fain for fight; His long hair, black as the deepest night, Streamed out on the wind. And the might Of his plunging horse was a tale to tell, PRAIRIE SONGS 135 And his voice rang high like a bugle's swell; " Men, the enemy hem us on every side; We'll whip 'em yet! Close up that breach Remember your flag don't give an inch! The right flank's gaining and soon will reach- Forward, boys, and give 'em hell!" Said Logan, after McPherson fell. We laughed and cheered and the red ground shook, As the general plunged along the line Through the deadliest rain of screaming shells; For the sound of his voice refreshed us all, And we filled the gap like a roaring tide, And saved the day McPherson died! But that was twenty years ago, And part of a horrible dream now past. For Logan, the lion, the drums throb low And the flag swings low on the mast; He has followed his mighty chieftain through The mist-hung stream, where gray and blue One color stand, And North to South extends the hand. It's right that deeds of war and blood Should be forgot, but, spite of all, I think of Logan, now, as he rode That day across the field; I hear the call Of his trumpet voice see the battle shine In his stern, black eyes, aud down the line Of cheering men I see him ride, As on the day McPherson died. 136 PRAIRIE SONGS PAID HIS WAY. No, Steve, I aint complainin' any, I '11 go if y' think it 's right; I don't ask a single bite n'r a penny More n'r less 'n jest what 's white But son, bime by, when the old man 's done for, Jest remember my words to-day. Y' don't like to have me round h'yere, But I reckon I 've paid m' way! I was eighty-one last January Born in the Buckeye State, I 've opened two farms on the prairie, An' worked on 'em early and late. Come rain or come shine, a scrapin' t' earn Every mouthful we eat, an' want 'o say, That I never rode in no free concern That I did n't pay my way. Y'r mother and me worked mighty hard, How hard you '11 never know, In cold and heat a-standin' guard To keep off the rain and snow. The mortgige kep' eatin' in nearer to bone, And the war it come along too, But I went left mother alone With Sis in the cradle and you. Served my time; an' commenced agin On an loway prairie quarter, PRAIRIE SONGS 137 An' there I plowed an' sowed an' fenced, And nigged as no human orter, To raise you young ones and feed m' wife Y'r mothei scrimped and scrubbed till her hair was gray, And 1 reckon we paid our way. No! y'r high-toned tavern aint good enough F'r a man like me to die in, The work that 's made me crooked and rough Should 'a'earned me a bed to lie in Under the roof of my only son If his wife is proud 'an gay; For I boosted y' into the place y've won O I reckon I 've paid my way! Y'r wife I know is turrible set- She 's mighty hansom to see I'll admit, but it's a turrible fret This havin' to eat with me. She never speaks, and she never seems To be listnin' to what I say But the childern do! they don't know yet, Their grandad 's in the way. I'd know 's you 're very much to blame For wantin' to have me go, But, Steve, I'm glad y'r mother's dead 'Twould break her heart to know. She'd say I orter live here, What time I've got to stay, 138 PRAIRIE SONGS For, Stephen, I 've travelled for fifty years An' I've always paid my way. I ain't a-goin' to bother y' long, I'll be a pioneerin' further West Where mother is, and God '11 say Take it easy, Amos, y 've earned a rest So, Stevie, I want to stay with you I want 'o -work while I stay, Jes' give me a little sumpin' to do, I reckon I '11 pay my way. HORSES CHAVIN HAY TELL yeh whut! The chankin' Which the tired horses makes When you've slipped the harness off'm An' shoved the hay in flakes From the hay-mow overhead, Is jest about the equal of any pi-any; They's nothin" soun's s' cumftabul As horses chawin' hay. I love t' hear 'em chankin', Jest a-grindin' slow and low, With their snoots a-rootin' clover Deep as their ol' heads '11 go. It's kind o' sort o' restin' To a feller's bones, I say. It soun's s' mighty cumftabul The horsus chawin' hay. 139 140 PRAIRIE SONGS Gra-onk, gra-onk, gra-onk! In a stiddy kind o' tone, Not a tail a-waggin' to 'urn, N'r another sound 'r groan Per the flies is gone a-snoozin'. Then I loaf around an' watch 'em In a sleepy kind o' way, F'r they soun' so mighty cumftabul As they rewt and chaw their hay. An' it sets me thinkin' sober Of the days of '53, When we pioneered the prairies M' wife an' dad an' me, In a dummed ol' prairie schooner, In a rough-an'-tumble way, Sleepin' out at nights, to music Of the horsus chawin' hay. Or I'm thinkin' of my comrades In the fall of '63, When I rode with ol' Kilpatrick Through on' through ol' Tennessee. I'm a-layin' in m' blanket With my head agin a stone, Gazin' upwards towards the North Star- Billy Sykes and Davy Sloan A-snorin' in a buck-saw kind o' way, An' me a-layin', listenin' To the horsus chawin' hay. PRAIRIE SONGS 141 It strikes me turrible cur'ous That a little noise like that, Can float a feller backwards Like the droppin' of a hat; An' start his throat a-achin', Make his eyes wink that a-way They ain't no sound that gits me Like horsus chawin' hay! 142 PRAIRIE SONGS GROWING OLD. Fr forty years next Easter day, Him and me in wind and weather Have been a-gittin' bent 'n' gray Moggin' along together. We're not so very old, of course! But still, we ain't so awful spry As when we went to singin'-school Afoot and 'cross lots, him and 1 And walked back home the longest way An' the moon a-shinin' on the snow, Makin' the road as bright as day An' his voice talkin' low. Land sakes! Jest hear me talk F'r all the world, jest like a girl, Me nearly sixty! Well-a-well! I was so tall and strong, the curl In my hair, Sim said, was like The crinkles in a medder brook, So brown and bright! but there! I guess he got it from a book. His talk in them there days was full Of jest sech nonsense Don't you think I didn't like it, for I did! I walked along there, glad to drink His words in like the breath o' life Heavens and earth, what fools we women be! PRAIRIE SONGS 143 And when he asked me for his wife, I answered ' Yes ', of course, y' see. An' then come work, and trouble bit Not much time for love talk then! We bought a farm and mortgaged it, And worked and slaved like all possessed To lift that turrible grindin' weight. I washed and churned and sewed An' childurn come, till we had eight As han'some babes as ever growed To walk beside a mother's knee. They helped me bear it all, y' see. It ain't been nothin' else but scrub An' rub and bake and stew The hull, hull time, over stove or tub No time to rest as men folks do. I tell yeh, sometimes I sit and think How nice the grave 'II be, jest One nice, sweet, everlastin' rest ! O don't look scart! I mean Jest what 1 say. Ain't crazy yet, But it's enough to make me so Of course it ain't no use to fret Who said it was ? It's nacherl, though, But O, if I was only there In the past, and young once more An' had the crinkles in my hair 144 PRAIRIE SONGS An' arms as round and strong, and side As it was then! I'd I'd I'd do it all over again, like a fool, I s'pose! I'd take the pain An' work an' worry, babes and all. I s'pose things go by some big rule Of God's own book, but my ol' brain Can't fix 'urn up, so I'll just wait An' do my duty when it's clear, An' trust to Him to make it straight. Goodness ! noon is almost here, And there the men come through the gate! PRAIRIE SONGS 145 A FARMER'S WIFE. "Born an' scrubbed, suffered and died." That's all you need to say, elder. Never mind sayin' " made a bride," Nor when her hair got gray. Jes' say, born 'n worked t' death; That fits it save y'r breath. I knew M'tildy when a girl, 'N a darn purty girl she was ! Her hair was shiny 'n full o' curl, An' her eyes a kind o' spring-day blue. 0, 1 know ! Courted her once m'self, Till Brown he laid me on the shelf. I 've seen that woman once a week Ever since that very day in church, When Ben turned round 'n kissed her cheek And the preacher knelt to pray. I 've watched her growing old so fast Her breath just flickered toward the last. Made me think of a clock run down, Sure 's y'r born, that woman did; A workin' away for old Ben Brown Patient as Job an' meek as a kid, Till she sort o' stopped one day Heart quit tickin' a feller 'd say. 146 PRAIRIE SONGS Wasn't old, nuther, forty-six No, Jest got humpt, an' thin an' gray, Washin' an' churnin' an' sweepin', by Joe, F'r fourteen hours or more a day. Brats o' sickly children every year To drag the life plum out o' her. Worked to death. Starved to death. Died f'r lack of air an' sun Dyin' f'r rest, and f'r jest a breath O' simple praise fer what she'd done. An' many 's the woman this very day Elder, dyin' slow in that same way. UT on the snow the boys are springing, Shouting blithely at their play, Through the night their voices ringing Sound the cry, Pom, pull away! Up the sky the round moon stealing, Trails a robe of shimmering white; Overhead the Great Bear wheeling Round the pale stars' steady light. The air with frost is keen and stinging " Pom, pom, pull-away!" Big boys whistle, girls are singing: " Come away 'r I'll fetch ye 'way." Ah! the phrase has magic in it, Piercing frosty moon-lit air, And in about a half-a-minute I am part and parcel there. 148 PRAIRIE SONGS Across the road 1 once more scurry, Through the thickest of the fray, Sleeve ripped off by Andy Murray " Let 'er rip Pom, pull-away! " Mother'll mend it in the morning, (Dear old patient, smiling face!) One more patch my sleeve adorning " Wboop 'er up!" is no disgrace. Moonbeams on the snow-crust splinter, Air that stirs the blood like wine; What cared we for cold of winter Or for maiden's soft eyes' shine ? Give us but a score of skaters And the game Pom, pull-away, We were always girl-beraters, Forgot them wholly, truth to say. O voices through the night air ringing! O thoughtless happy boys at play! silver clouds the keen wind winging At the cry, Pom, pull away! 1 sit and dream with keenest longing For that star-lit magic night For my noisy playmates thronging And the slow moon's trailing light. PRAIRIE SONGS 149 COIN' BACK T'MORRER. (IN THE CITY.) I tell ye, Sue, it ain't no use ! I can't stay, and I won't W'y ! a feller 'd need the widder's cruse T" live back here an' stan' the brunt Of all expenses, thick and thin Too many men ain't land enough T' swing a feller's elbows in I 'spose you '11 take it kind a rough But I 'm goin' back t' morrer! It ain't no use t' talk t' me Of whut some other feller owns, I ain't got no grip at all, His fire don't warm my achin' bones, An' then I 'm ust t' walkin' where There ain't no p'lice 'r pavin' stones Of course you '11 think I 'm mighty sick But 1 'm goin' back t' morrer! Fact is, folks, I love the West ! They ain't no other place like home They ain't no other place t' rest, F'r mother 'n me but jest ol' Rome, Cedar County, up Basswood Run Lived there goin' on thirty years Come there spring o' sixty-one An' I 'm goin' back t' morrer ! ISO PRAIRIE SONGS I tell ye, things looked purty wild On that there prairie then ! We hadn't nary chick n'r child, An' we buckled down to work like men- Handsome land them two claims was As ever lay out doors ! Rich an' clean Of brush an' sloos. Y'r Uncle Daws He used t' say God done his best On that there land His level best. No, I jest can't stand it here, Nohow ain't room to swing my cap. Ye're all cooped up in this ere flat Jest like chickens in a trap I 'm mighty sorry, Sue, but I Can't stand it, an' mother can't If she was willin' wy I 'd try But 1 guess we '11 go t' morrer. 'N' when we jest get home agin, Back t' Cedar County, back t' Rome, Back t' Basswood Run an' home, Won't the neighbors jest drop in When we git settled down an' grin An' all shake han's an' Deacon White Drive up t' laff that laff o' hisn Mother, let's start back t'night ! PRAIRIE SONGS 151 The corn is jest a-rampin' now I c'n hear the leaves a-russlin' As they twist an' swing an' bow I c'n see the boys a-husslin' In the medder by the crick Forkin' hay f r all in sight An' the birds an' bees s' thick ! O we must start back t' night ! PRAIRIE SONGS 153 ON WING OF STEAM. Into the West Rain-brightened and fresh as if new From the Kingdom of God. Through the wide meadows, dressed In the glory of sun-lighted sod, Bright with the green of the grasses, As the heavens are bright with their blue. Into the WestI I laugh as we cling On the green ridges' crest, 1 exult and am glad; 1 swoop and I swing Like an eagle on wing Of the wind I shout and am mad With a wild sweet pain To meet the plain. Into the West! Beneath me the swells Slip by and are lost, As the foam-whitened wave Under keel of a ship, wells Like a fountain one instant, and tossed, As with plow, hisses white into spray, While the boat sweeps away. 154 PRAIRIE SONGS Into the West: The miles fall behind us; I am filled with wild joy That earth can not bind us. A league but a toy To be played with and tossed To the winds. I am part of the pride And the glory of man, As onward we sweep On the cloud-dappled deep Of the mighty green sea, In a swift and most marvelous ride Into the West. PRAIRIES LOVE my prairies, they are mine From zenith to horizon line Clipping a world of sky and sod Like the bended arm and wrist of God. I love their grasses. The skies Are larger, and my restless eyes Fasten on more of earth and air Than sea-shores furnish anywhere. I love the hazel thickets and the breeze, The never-resting prairie winds; the trees That stand like spear-points high Against the dark blue sky, Are wonderful to me. I love the gold Of newly shaven stubble, rolled A royal carpet, toward the sun, fit to be The pathway of a deity. 155 156 PRAIRIE SONGS I love the life of pasture lands, the songs of birds Are not more thrilling to me, than the herd's Mad bellowing or the shadow stride Of mounted herdsmen at my side. I love my prairies, they are mine, From high sun to horizon line. The mountains and the cold gray sea Are not for me, are naught to me. PRAIRIE SONGS 157 MIDWAY ON THE TRAIL. Fifty thousand miles in America! Fifty thousand miles of Mil and plain, Of levels by the sea, of wooded land, Circling loopings of a restless life. Midway on the trail! Here at the end of my book, I rest, And memories throng upon me Memories wide as seas, cool as streams, And lofty as the serrate rim Of mountain chains. Memories of fields And pleasant groves, rushing winds, and nights Of moon-lit splendid September. Imperishable memories of mighty days, Circling before me. O those days! They come and come Like thronging songs both sweet and sad. Days on the Dakota plain, in spring When the sod is green and velvet-smooth, Days on the mountains a!one with the eagles. Days on the Mississippi, feeling the jar and throb Of the engine's splendid beam, Days by the shining Western sea O splendor and power of days. All America is there! Memories of the Eastern sea, hearing the clang Of the lonely, dolorous bell-buoy's tongue, 158 PRAIRIE SONGS Memories of New England meadow lands, Memories of vineyards in Ohio, close beside I recall orchards in Delaware and the pink Of peach-trees on the slopes of Lookout Moun- tain. Memories of sinuous trails that braid The breasts of mountains. I feel again The shivering awe with which 1 faced The Spanish Peaks across the level land. Memories of orange orchards follow And the sunless deeps of Alabamian swamps, And the gleam of fire-flies in the hot still night. Thronging thick and orderless as dreams, Pictures come, looped on the thread Of shining, winding trails. I see once more King Shasta's violet-and-silver crown Set high against the winter stars, Illimitable as pride and cold as death. St. Helen's rises, a glorious moon Above deep-purple seas of trackless woods, A soaring semi-circular dome of rose-and-silve. Lit by the flaming sunset light, Marvellously beautiful. 1 descend again the mountain trail Toward a moon-lit mystery of land and sea Outspread below the canon water calls I smell the lemon-blooms, and oranges PRAIRIE SONGS 159 Spilled everywhere beneath the trees. Wild voices echo leaping from cliff to cliff. The purple landscape darkens swiftly, and lights below Glitter to stars above. O God! How beautiful! Memories of skies, Cloudless cobalt skies of level lands, Where only sun and sand are seen Radiant skies of Arizonian deserts. Californian skies of winter Gray skies where the eucalyptus trees Toss in warm unending rain. Memories of skies as blue as wrinkled seas At mid-day, when the winds blow. Sunny skies, Arching some silent Mexican town, Where dark-skinned children play Untroubled games before the walls Of crumbling Spanish missions. I drift on Columbia's cold gray water; 1 see the fir-clothed rimy peaks burst From the clouds, three thousand feet Above the narrows, where the river Churns itself to foam upon the lichen-spotted rocks. 1 ride through terrible forests, in gray Thick-falling rain, ride and ride, 160 PRAIRIE SONGS Shadowed by clinging gray-green moss; Feeling the drip of wet, wind-shaken firs, Lost in wastes of giant ferns, Where the wild deer feeds. The sunrise blooms again On the glorious Dakota sod. 1 plant my stake on untracked land, Thrilled with the wonder and marvel of it. I hear the gabble of weary geese at sunset, As they pass close to earth, hungry, and timid. I hear once more the jovial shout Of jubilant landseeker, and see The cranes dancing in shadowy row Beside the shallow pool. Over me the stars bloom out, And on my blanket falls the frost Of the clear midnight. O the irrevocable past! Other scenes come back. I walk behind the seeder on the mellow sod Of lowan prairies, warm with sun. Around and over me goes the northward flight Of millions of water-fowl; gophers whistle; I trace the awful circle of the calling crane Circling the sun in his flight. I hear The chorus of the prairie chicken. I toil on in the red sunset. PRAIRIE SONGS 161 Harvest days follow. The flaming sun rides high Above the gently moving fields of wheat Stretching to the sky's dim circling rim. I hear the purring reaper's far-off threat. The sheaf crackles again under my knee, My aching muscles roll and swell and strain; The joy of physical strength fades away. The sun declines, the dew falls, The level rays of light stream In unspeakable glory over the wheat; The crickets call in rapid repartee, The darkness sweeps swiftly from the east I stumble homeward, while the horses pass With heads wearily down-hanging The sun sets on harvest daysl September comes, And with it a roaring wind, hot and dry. A magnetic, splendid southern wind. Stacks of grain arise like plants of sudden growth The corn grows sere and dry, the air Is full of smell of ripening grain, the moon Is like a silver boat in sapphire seas. I walk behind the plow on still October days when the frost melts slowly From the shadowed leaves. The skies grow gray with snow And winter comes! 162 PRAIRIE SONGS Wild winter days rush over me. I see the woods teams slowly pass, I hear the low sweet jingle of the bells, The water drops from southern roofs, The mid-day sun, dazzlingly beautiful, Spills blue shadows on the unstained snow I hear the shouts of skaters in the swales, I hear the shouts of axemen in the pines, The wolf slips by Swift as winter days, In deep Wisconsin woods. I am on the prairies again; Seamless domes of cloud Rise in the West, heavy with wind and snow. Once again the swift snow, slides Fitfully, menacingly, and the Norther comes, Bringing sun-set at mid-day; and the weight Of all winter is on the pitiless blast. Blind and desperate 1 ride and ride! I lie beneath a shanty roof and hear The high-keyed, frenzied, piping, persistent howl Of the midnight wind, and the rushing roar Of the streaming, lashing snows. There is no earth, no sky, Nothing but snow. Snow! 1 saw it rest on sheltering arms of fir, I saw it lay old and sullen, in mountain pass PRAIRIE SONGS 163 Ten thousand feet above the sea. I saw It saffron with the wind-blown sands On old Mount Ouray, where the wind Had died at last of cold and weariness. Across a waste of lesser hills The College Group soars, a wall Of silver based in purple. Snow! I ride behind a swift young horse Beneath broad lowan oaks; the bells Make the clear night musical, the sky, Low-hung, splendid, is frosty with stars, And the moon sails on in silence; Her wake of light lies on the crusted snows, But she sails on and on beyond the skies, Beyond the land of youth and love, :nto the land of mystery Beyond the fartherest West. O glorious days! I cannot lose you. 1 will not. Here in the current of my song, Here I sweep you all together, The harvest of a continent, the fruit Of a thousand days of travel. Here where neither time nor change Can rob me of you. So When I am old, like a chained eagle I can sit and dream and dream 164 PRAIRIE SONGS Of splendid spaces and the gleam Of rivers, and the smell Of prairie flowers. So I can live again Above the clouds, and on The reeling horse, hear the wind Roaring from dark and wooded canons. So, when I have quite forgot The heritage of books I still shall know The splendor and majesty Of my native land. HERE ENDETH THE BOOK NAMED PRAIRIE SONGS . ' . PRINTED BY JOHN WILSON & SON . . AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS .'.IN CAMBRIDGE .'. FOR STONE & KIMBALL .'. THE YEAR OF OUR LORD MDCCCXCm Wind on the Wheat You ask me for the sweetest sound mine ears have ever heard? sweeter than the ripples' plash, or trilling of a bird, Than tapping of the rain-drops upon the roof at night, Than the sighing of the pine-trees on yonder mountain height/ And I tell you, these are tender, ye never quite so sweet As the murmur and the cadence o the wind across the wheat. MARGARET E. SANGSTER, in "On th Road -Homev" (THE BURROWS BROTHERS COMPANY, CLEVELAND, OHIO. UC SOUTHERN REGIONAL LIBRARY FACILITY A A 000271715 5 i! it! o c eS 5? s ggJ8 C 4> si -2 S O _w be C a! 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