Verse > Anthologies > Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. > The Little Book of Modern Verse
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Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. (1869–1948).  The Little Book of Modern Verse.  1917.
 
84. “Scum o’ the Earth”
 
By Robert Haven Schauffler
 
 
I
AT the gate of the West I stand,
On the isle where the nations throng.
We call them “scum o’ the earth”;
 
Stay, are we doing you wrong,
Young fellow from Socrates’ land?        5
You, like a Hermes so lissome and strong
Fresh from the Master Praxiteles’ hand?
So you’re of Spartan birth?
Descended, perhaps, from one of the band—
Deathless in story and song—        10
Who combed their long hair at Thermopylæ’s pass?
Ah, I forget the straits, alas!
More tragic than theirs, more compassion-worth,
That have doomed you to march in our “immigrant class”
Where you’re nothing but “scum o’ the earth.”        15
 
II
You Pole with the child on your knee,
What dower bring you to the land of the free?
Hark! does she croon
That sad little tune
That Chopin once found on his Polish lea        20
And mounted in gold for you and for me?
Now a ragged young fiddler answers
In wild Czech melody
That Dvoak took whole from the dancers.
And the heavy faces bloom        25
In the wonderful Slavic way;
The little, dull eyes, the brows a-gloom,
Suddenly dawn like the day.
While, watching these folk and their mystery,
I forget that they’re nothing worth;        30
That Bohemians, Slovaks, Croatians,
And men of all Slavic nations
Are “polacks”—and “scum o’ the earth.”
 
III
Genoese boy of the level brow,
Lad of the lustrous, dreamy eyes        35
A-stare at Manhattan’s pinnacles now
In the first sweet shock of a hushed surprise;
Within your far-rapt seer’s eyes
I catch the glow of the wild surmise
That played on the Santa Maria’s prow        40
In that still gray dawn,
Four centuries gone,
When a world from the wave began to rise.
Oh, it’s bard to foretell what high emprise
Is the goal that gleams        45
When Italy’s dreams
Spread wing and sweep into the skies.
Cæsar dreamed him a world ruled well;
Dante dreamed Heaven out of Hell;
Angelo brought us there to dwell;        50
And you, are you of a different birth?—
You’re only a “dago,”—and “scum o’ the earth”!
 
IV
Stay, are we doing you wrong
Calling you “scum o’ the earth,”
Man of the sorrow-bowed head,        55
Of the features tender yet strong,—
Man of the eyes full of wisdom and mystery
Mingled with patience and dread?
Have not I known you in history,
Sorrow-bowed head?        60
Were you the poet-king, worth
Treasures of Ophir unpriced?
Were you the prophet, perchance, whose art
Foretold how the rabble would mock
That shepherd of spirits, erelong,        65
Who should carry the lambs on his heart
And tenderly feed his flock?
Man—lift that sorrow-bowed head.
Lo! ’t is the face of the Christ!
 
The vision dies at its birth.        70
You’re merely a butt for our mirth.
You’re a “sheeny”—and therefore despised
And rejected as “scum o’ the earth.”
 
V
Countrymen, bend and invoke
Mercy for us blasphemers,        75
For that we spat on these marvelous folk,
Nations of darers and dreamers,
Scions of singers and seers,
Our peers, and more than our peers.
“Rabble and refuse,” we name them        80
And “scum o the earth,” to shame them.
Mercy for us of the few, young years,
Of the culture so callow and crude,
Of the hands so grasping and rude,
The lips so ready for sneers        85
At the sons of our ancient more-than-peers.
Mercy for us who dare despise
Men in whose loins our Homer lies;
Mothers of men who shall bring to us
The glory of Titian, the grandeur of Huss;        90
Children in whose frail arms shall rest
Prophets and singers and saints of the West.
 
Newcomers all from the eastern seas,
Help us incarnate dreams like these.
Forget, and forgive, that we did you wrong.        95
Help us to father a nation, strong
In the comradeship of an equal birth,
In the wealth of the richest bloods of earth.
 

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