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.
 
At the Turn of the Year
By John Gould Fletcher
 
I
ON the last day of the old year retreating,
  I walked upon a long flat road, apart.
Between the gaunt trees far away the sunset
  Sent its last shaft of crimson to my heart.
 
To eastward, between branches blue and lifeless,        5
  Were clouds encircling a pale ashen stain,
Wherein the moon peered like a sick old woman
  At a blurred window-pane.
 
The roadway, filled with drear grey puddles,
  Went stretching on, a smudge of dirty brown;        10
Dimmer and duller every instant
  As the last daylight faded down.
 
Faint lights gleamed from the sombre frowning house-fronts,
  But no one passed. The roadway was quite bare.
It seemed to me that all the lives about me        15
  Were flickering out before some great despair.
 
Horribly down the chill road the wind whistled
  As a dying man might breathe between clenched teeth.
I did not care, I knew the New Year coming
  Would be less happy than the year beneath.        20
 
II
Long ago my life had been a great sea raging
  With furious love and hate,
A lonely sea without a crag to break on,
  Or coast to bear its weight.
 
Long ago I madly longed for a settled purpose,        25
  For bounds to give my thought;
And lo! the purpose and the bounds were given,
  But not the ones I sought.
 
Long ago I had dreamed of distant unseen islands,
  Tipped with white peaks, covered with whispering pines;        30
But now I only found some straight dull mud-banks
  Empty of human signs.
 
Long ago I had lived as I would—the world lay open,
  There was no force to dread.
But now I was pushed along by a steady current        35
  Toward the gulf of the dead.
 
Till at last, at the turn of the year, the banks closed inwards,
  And I found I could only go
Whither the meaningless will of the years would take me,
  Far from the freedom of that long ago.        40
 
III
Destiny’s shadow settles on my forehead,
  It falls on me as on all men alike:
I suddenly know that youth is taken from me,
  Its hour will never strike.
 
I suddenly know the old wild will that hurried me        45
  Onwards through joy and sorrow, now is gone.
Under a sterner lash I drudge forever
  Toward my goal, alone.
 
Let other hearts enkindle every morning
  At the sun’s uplifted hands.        50
I must go on, alone, in treacherous twilight
  Toward the dismal lands:
 
Toward the kingdoms no man seeks to enter,
  While over me, each day,
Like a grey bird of the marshes, wheels and rises        55
  And glides away—
 
Glides away leaving the old ache in me burning
  More keen, more unsubdued;
While deeper and deeper still there spreads about me
  My final solitude.        60
 
IV
Water floats lazily through all the regions of heaven;
  It writhes and flutters and rolls before the wind.
It bursts from the earth in springs, it spreads in lakes and marshes;
  It is unconfined.
 
Strike it, it does not break; cut it, it does not alter;        65
  Throw torches upon it, it yet consumes the flame.
Pen it with mighty rocks, it rises ever higher;
  To it mere sand or granite are the same.
 
It trickles from the snows upon earth’s topmost summits,
  It pours in torrents through deep-wooded lands;        70
It spreads out, makes great lakes in lower valleys;
  In deserts it flows yet beneath the sands.
 
My soul in me is only moving water,
  Poured out upon the black and sterile earth
By thunder-clouds that burst and loosed their burden,        75
  Gathered for endless years before my birth.
 
My soul in me has grown a monstrous river
  That moves straight onwards towards an unseen sea;
Rushing and straight and turbid, never stopping,
  From long banks never free;        80
 
Perhaps I shall come to the desert, find about me
  Sand everywhere; no end.
Perhaps I shall sink in the dust, and all my being
  With formless earth shall blend.
 
Perhaps, with my current checked in its slow falling,        85
  I shall spread out, a broad lake for the sun;
Perhaps I shall wind about uneasy marshes
  For years, my task undone.
 
But neither desert nor lake nor marsh shall stop me
  From what I once began;        90
Free as the sea, exultant in my freedom,
  The life-work of a man.
 
And I shall work free at last, and aloft as a leaping dragon,
  To the sky I shall take my flight,
Flowing and reverberating through the empty halls of heaven        95
  Day after infinite day and night on endless night.
 
 
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