Thursday, November 25, 2010

Waste Land / Madison Cawein

Waste Land

Briar and fennel and chincapin,
      And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
      Or dead of an old despair,
      Born of an ancient care.

The cricket's cry and the locust's whirr,
      And the note of a bird's distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
      Clung to the loneliness
      Like burrs to a trailing dress.

So sad the field, so waste the ground,
      So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck's burrow, a blind mole's mound,
      And a chipmunk's stony lair,
      Seemed more than it could bear.

So lonely, too, so more than sad,
      So droning-lone with bees 
I wondered what more could Nature add
      To the sum of its miseries . . .
      And then — I saw the trees.

Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
      Twisted and torn they rose 
The tortured bones of a perished race
      Of monsters no mortal knows,
      They startled the mind's repose.

And a man stood there, as still as moss,
      A lichen form that stared;
With an old blind hound that, at a loss,
      Forever around him fared
      With a snarling fang half bared.

I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
      Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again 
      And man and dog were gone,
      Like wisps of the graying dawn. . . .

Were they a part of the grim death there 
      Ragweed, fennel, and rue?
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
      That there into semblance grew
      Out of the grief I knew?

Madison Cawein
from Minions of the Moon, 1913

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

Madison Cawein biography

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