by Edgar Lee Masters
I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,
And the silence of a man and a maid,
And the silence of the sick
When their eyes roam about the room.
And I ask: For the depths,
Of what use is language?
A beast of the field moans a few times
When death takes its young.
And we are voiceless in the presence of realities —
We cannot speak.
A curious boy asks an old soldier
Sitting in front of the grocery store,
“How did you lose your leg?”
And the old soldier is struck with silence,
Or his mind flies away
Because he cannot concentrate it on Gettysburg.
It comes back jocosely
And he says, “A bear bit it off.”
And the boy wonders, while the old soldier
Dumbly, feebly lives over
The flashes of guns, the thunder of cannon,
The shrieks of the slain,
And himself lying on the ground,
And the hospital surgeons, the knives,
And the long days in bed.
But if he could describe it all
He would be an artist.
But if he were an artist there would be deeper wounds
Which he could not describe.
There is the silence of a great hatred,
And the silence of a great love,
And the silence of an embittered friendship.
There is the silence of a spiritual crisis,
Through which your soul, exquisitely tortured,
Comes with visions not to be uttered
Into a realm of higher life.
There is the silence of defeat.
There is the silence of those unjustly punished;
And the silence of the dying whose hand
Suddenly grips yours.
There is the silence between father and son,
When the father cannot explain his life,
Even though he be misunderstood for it.
There is the silence that comes between husband and wife.
There is the silence of those who have failed;
And the vast silence that covers
Broken nations and vanquished leaders.
There is the silence of Lincoln,
Thinking of the poverty of his youth.
And the silence of Napoleon
And the silence of Jeanne d’Arc
Saying amid the flames, “Blessed Jesus” —
Revealing in two words all sorrows, all hope.
And there is the silence of age,
Too full of wisdom for the tongue to utter it
In words intelligible to those who have not lived
The great range of life.
And there is the silence of the dead.
If we who are in life cannot speak
Of profound experiences,
Why do you marvel that the dead
Do not tell you of death?
Their silence shall be interpreted
As we approach them.
Vigil of the Immaculate Conception
A sword of silver cuts the fields asunder—
A silver sword to-night, a lake in June—
And plains of snow reflect, the maples under,
The silver arrows of a wintry moon.
The trees are white with moonlight and with ice-pearls;
The trees are white, like ghosts we see in dreams;
The air is still: there are no moaning wind-whirls;
And one sees silence in the quivering beams.
December night, December night, how warming
Is all thy coldness to the Christian soul:
Thy very peace at each true heart is storming
In potent waves of love that surging roll.
December night, December night, how glowing
Thy frozen rains upon our warm hearts lie:
Our God upon this vigil is bestowing
A thousand graces from the silver sky.
O moon, O symbol of our Lady’s whiteness;
O snow, O symbol of our Lady’s heart;
O night, chaste night, bejewelled with argent brightness,
How sweet, how bright, how loving, kind thou art.
O miracle: to-morrow and to-morrow,
In tender reverence shall no praise abate;
For from all seasons shall we new jewels borrow
To deck the Mother born Immaculate.
The Vigil at Arms
by Louise Imogen Guiney
Keep holy watch with silence, prayer, and fasting
Till morning break, and all the bugles play;
Unto the One aware from everlasting
Dear are the winners: thou art more than they.
Forth from this peace on manhood’s way thou goest,
Flushed with resolve, and radiant in mail;
Blessing supreme for men unborn thou sowest,
O knight elect! O soul ordained to fail!
by Arthur Guiterman
FRANCISCO CORONADO rode forth with all his train,
Eight hundred savage bowmen, three hundred spears of Spain,
To seek the rumored glory that pathless deserts hold —
The city of Quivira whose walls are rich with gold.
Oh, gay they rode with plume on crest and gilded spur at heel,
With gonfalon of Aragon and banner of Castile!
While High Emprise and Joyous Youth, twin marshals of the throng,
Awoke Sonora’s mountain peaks with trumpet-note and song.
Beside that brilliant army, beloved of serf and lord,
There walked as brave a soldier as ever smote with sword,
Though nought of knightly harness his russet gown revealed —
The cross he bore as weapon, the missal was his shield.
But rugged oaths were changed to prayers, and angry hearts grew tame,
And fainting spirits waxed in faith where Fray Padilla came;
And brawny spearmen bowed their heads to kiss the helpful hand
Of him who spake the simple truth that brave men understand.
What pen may paint their daring — those doughty cavaliers!
The cities of the Zuni were humbled by their spears.
Wild Arizona’s barrens grew pallid in the glow
Of blades that won Granada and conquered Mexico.
They fared by lofty Acoma; their rally-call was blown
Where Colorado rushes down through God-hewn walls of stone;
Still, North and East, where deserts spread, and treeless
A Fairy City lured them on with pinnacles of gold.
Through all their weary marches toward that flitting goal
They turned to Fray Padilla for aid of heart and soul.
He bound the wounds that lance-thrust and flinty arrow made;
He cheered the sick and failing; above the dead he prayed.
Two thousand miles of war and woe behind their banners lay:
And sadly fever, drought and toil had lessened their array,
When came a message fraught with hope to all the steadfast band:
“Good tidings from the northward, friends! Quivira lies at hand!”
How joyously they spurred them! How sadly drew the rein!
There shone no golden palace, there blazed no jewelled fane.
Rude tents of hide of bison, dog-guarded, met their view —
A squalid Indian village; the lodges of the Sioux!
Then Coronado bowed his head. He spake unto his men:
“Our quest is vain, true hearts of Spain! Now ride we home again.
And would to God that I might give that phantom city’s pride
In ransom for the gallant souls that here have sunk and died!”
Back, back to Compostela the wayworn handful bore;
But sturdy Fray Padilla took up the quest once more.
His soul still longed for conquest, though not by lance and sword;
He burned to show the Heathen the pathway to the Lord.
Again he trudged the flinty hills and dazzling desert sands,
And few were they that walked with him, and weaponless their hands —
But and the trusty man-at-arms, Docampo, rode him near
Like Great Heart, guarding Christian’s way through wastes
of Doubt and Fear.
Where still in silken harvests the prairie-lilies toss,
Among the dark Quiviras Padilla reared his cross.
Within its sacred shadow the warriors of the Kaw
In wonder heard the Gospel of Love and Peace and Law.
They gloried in their Brown-robed Priest; and oft in twilight’s gold
The warriors grouped, a silent ring, to hear the tale he told,
While round the gentle man-at-arms their lithe-limbed children played
And shot their arrows at his shield and rode his guarded blade.
When thrice the silver crescent had filled its curving shell,
The Friar rose at dawning and spake his flock farewell:
“– And if your Brothers northward be cruel, as ye say,
My Master bids me seek them — and dare I answer ‘Nay’?”
Again he strode the path of thorns; but ere the evening star
A savage cohort swept the plain in paint and plumes of war.
Then Fray Padilla spake to them whose hearts were most his own:
“My children, bear the tidings home — let me die here alone.”
He knelt upon the prairie, begirt by yelling Sioux. —
“Forgive them, oh, my Father! they know not what they do!”
The twanging bow-strings answered. Before his eyes, unrolled
The City of Quivira whose streets are paved with gold.
I went to the dances at Chandlerville,
And played snap-out at Winchester.
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis.
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed–
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you–
It takes life to love Life.