Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
The Ship’s Prow
By Andrea Hofer Proudfoot
 
STANDING out, as from the confusion
Of dark masses ebbing and flowing
In surging wastes on all sides,
I saw the signal figure of a man,
Standing as though        5
On the moving forepoint of a ship—
A sea-going dragon-like monster ship.
Always I saw this man figure:
The ship’s prow was always in the picture;
And the sea, blue and continent,        10
Swept its silhouette beyond and around him.
But I had my soul’s knapsack strapped on,
Ready for the brave climb
After the far-flung bloomy mass
That fringes every woman’s sky-line.        15
And so I passed by the ship’s prow
And its picture of power.
 
O wooing Wonder of Life,
You cast your spell upon me!
You swept over me with shivers of frightened delight,        20
And made every leaf and crevice
Turn into a fairy hiding-place and brownie fane;
You egged the trees to follow me,
And brought them to a standstill
When I turned and caught them;        25
You taught the bluffs and hills
To kneel and offer their breasts to me;
With spiring cyclones and flooding gullies
You whirled me out into the world-floods.
 
O wooing Wonder of Life!        30
Your spirit of adventure pushed me;
You rushed me with hot deeds
For humanity—that workshop where ever must
Young talent whittle itself into shape;
Where the only hindrance is the crawling hour of youth.        35
And oh, how I chafed like the steed of some boy Galahad,
Begging to be unleashed from the plow of Time.
 
But somehow I escaped you,
O wooing Wonder of Life,
For another wonder wooed me!        40
Always this massive figure of the man indeed,
Face outward toward the limitless,
Stood ready for the subduing leap into the blue,
Filling me with terror lest he take it.
 
One restless morning        45
Something made contact,
And the voiceless one broke into quiet words.
As though those words had called
To my heart’s Sesame,
A great wall lifted,        50
And I found myself behind it, shaking,
Like a lily that had nestled unwisely
A roistering bee. And then something was stolen,
Something that had swapped my honey for a bitter dew.
 
What had toppled?        55
What was broken?
What had been committed?—what wrong done
To the trust and charge that had been softly
Handed through the gate
When birth had kept its tryst with me?        60
 
There came a rust-gray swamp before me,
Where once the drowsy blueness of the day
Had lured me out into the shimmering mirage
That I had called my work.
Moonlights of promise and longing        65
Which had been opal before,
Turned to bronze-brown glare.
The warm rose of the cloud-edges
Of my daily doings shone off into a slimy silver void.
Haloes that had beckoned me to wear them        70
Fell into shivered icicles.
Roses I had reached for now were rags and sticks.
Songs that had called me to dizzy heights
Now tripped off in silly jingles.
Stories that had hungered me with plot-power died.        75
Garments that had helped me feel beauty and freedom
Fell as tatters, and I felt cold and naked….
For I saw my primal, self-swung orbit
Against the zenith of the myriad;
My solitary life against the solitary figure        80
On the ship’s prow,
With the whole sea to rest its shadow.
 
Then the shadow of the sea flooded from my eyes,
And, as though the whole of my future
Had gulped me in, I stood there, completed yet rebelling,        85
Lost in a boundless forest main.
For I realized his as a life that had the contour
Of the spreading prodigal English oak;
With a soul aspiring as the top-shoot
Of a Norwegian fir, tapping the sky for space;        90
With a fantasy complex as the cypresses of Lebanon;
With a power to structure itself,
Even as Lebanon’s blossomed into building
For a temple-ridden race, which bore David
In its lute-slumbering womb….        95
 
His ear and throat made the memory
Long for an hour to prowl
In the nightingale-haunted terraces
Of the Black Forest pines,
Where mix the scents of wine and resin.        100
And again like Lebanon’s planks
There was laid in him an everlasting sounding-board
Against which the mighty resonance
Of a choral heart might throw itself in song,
And sing as the Jehovah-mad Jew has sung to the ages—        105
A song which ever after mocked the little gods,
As his melody since has mocked my littleness….
 
His stern resolves were as the unfaltering spheres
That endless—forward, backward—thread their silver paths
Without a time-keeper or a score-line;        110
Since some paternal force, inhibiting,
Has seeded them with constancy.
 
A delirium of historic deeds ever battled
To break into the world through him;
Yet through the canyon of his fretless life        115
There threaded such a line of fine refreshment
That the merest weed and tiniest bird
Might lave itself—as I had learned to lave myself,
To lose my littleness.
 
And his untrammelled instinct        120
Swung him to the plumb of daily life.
Honor, sobriety and self-control
Were swallowed up in a rage of instinctive rightness
That held him ever at the ship’s prow,
Staying his acts as a relentless tide.        125
 
And the same tide caught me
And swayed my life,
And—fie for shame!—found me too small
Or else it might have made a poet of me.
 
 
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