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 Firemen’s Ball
By Vachel Lindsay
 
I
In which the music of the Ball imitates the burning of a great building.

“Give the engines room—
Give the engines room!”To be read or sung in a heavy buzzing bass, as of fire-engines pumping
Louder, faster,
The little band-master
Whips up the fluting,        5
Hurries up the tooting.
He thinks that he stands,
The reins in his hands,
In the fire-chief’s place
In the night-alarm chase.        10
The cymbals whang,
The kettle-drums bang;
“Clear the street,
Clear the street,
Clear the street—boom, boom!        15
In the evening gloom,
In the evening gloom,
Give the engines room,
Give the engines room,
Lest souls be trapped        20
In a terrible tomb.”
 
The sparks and the pine-brandsShriller and higher
Whirl on high
From the black and reeking alleys
To the wide red sky.        25
Hear the hot glass crashing,
Hear the stone steps hissing—
Coal-black streams
Down the gutters pour.
There are cries for help        30
From a far fifth floor;
For a longer ladder
Hear the fire-chief call.
Listen to the music
Of the firemen’s ball—        35
Listen to the music
Of the firemen’s ball.
 
“’Tis the night of doom,”Heavy bass
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.
“Night of doom,”        40
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.
Faster, faster,
The red flames come.
“Hum grum,” say the engines,
“Hum grum grum.”        45
 
“Buzz buzz,”Shriller and higher
Says the crowd.
“See see,”
Calls the crowd.
“Look OUT!”        50
Yelps the crowd,
And the high walls fall.
Listen to the music
Of the firemen’s ball;
Listen to the music        55
Of the firemen’s ball.
 
“’Tis the night of doom,”Heavy bass
Say the ding-dong doom-bells;
“Night of doom,”
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.        60
Whangaranga, whangaranga,
Whang, whang, whang!
Clang, clang, clangaranga,
Clang, clang, clang!Bass—much slower
Clang……..a……..ranga,        65
Clang……..a……..ranga,
Clang……..clang……..clang!
Listen….to……the……..music….
Of….the….firemen’s……..ball.
 
II

        Many’s the heart that’s breaking,
If we could read them all,
After the ball is over..Old song.

Scornfully, gaily,
        70
The band-master sways,Slow and soft—in the manner of languorous, insinuating music
Changing the strain
That the wild band plays.
With a red and royal
Intoxication,        75
A tangle of sounds
And a syncopation,
Sweeping and bending
From side to side,
Master of dreams,        80
With a peacock pride.
A lord of the delicate
Flowers of delight,
He drives compunction
Back through the night;        85
Dreams he’s a soldier
Plumed and spurred,
And valiant lads
Arise at his word,
Flaying the sober        90
Thoughts he hates,
Driving them back
From the dream-town gates.
How can the languorous
Dancers know        95
The red dreams come
When the good dreams go?
“’Tis the night of love,”
Call the silver joy-bells,
“Night of love,”        100
Call the silver joy-bells.
Honey and wine—
Honey and wine:
Sing low now, violins,
Sing, sing low:        105
Blow gently, wood-wind,
Mellow and slow.
Like midnight poppies
The sweethearts bloom;
Their eyes flash power,        110
Their lips are dumb;
Faster and faster
Their pulses come,
Though softer now
The drum-beats fall:        115
“Honey and wine,
Honey and wine.”
’Tis the firemen’s ball—
’Tis the firemen’s ball.
 
“I am slain,”To be whispered        120
Cries True-Love,
There in the shadow.
“And I die,”
Cries True-Love,
There laid low.        125
“When the fire-dreams come
The wise dreams go.”
 
But his cry is drownedInterrupting with heavy bass
By the proud band-master.
And now great gongs whang        130
Sharper, faster,
And kettle-drums rattle,
And hide the shame
With a swish and a swirk
In dead Love’s name.        135
Red and crimson
And scarlet and rose,
Magical poppies
The sweethearts bloom.
Interrupting with heavy bass        140
The scarlet stays
When the rose-flush goes,
And Love lies low
In a marble tomb.
“’Tis the night of doom,”        145
Call the ding-dong doom-bells,
“Night of doom,”
Call the ding-dong doom-bells.
Hark how the piccolos still make cheer—
“’Tis a moonlight night in the spring of the year.”In a high key

Heavy bass
        150
Clangaranga, clangaranga,
Clang, clang, clang!
Clang……..a……..ranga….
Clang……..a……..ranga….
Clang, clang, clang!        155
Listen….to….the….music….
Of….the….firemen’s ball….
Listen….to….the….music….
Of….the….firemen’s……..ball.
 
III

            From the first Khandaka of the Mahavagga:—“There Buddha thus addressed his disciples:—‘Everything, O mendicants, is burning…. With what fire is it burning? I declare unto you it is burning with the fire of passion, with the fire of anger, with the fire of ignorance. It is burning with the anxieties of birth, decay and death, grief, lamentation, suffering and despair…. A disciple … becoming weary of all that … divests himself of passion. By absence of passion … he is made free.’”


I once knew a teacher
        160
Who turned from desire,To be intoned
Who said to the young men,
“Wine is a fire;”
Who said to the merchants,
“Gold is a flame        165
That sears and tortures
If you play at the game.”
I once knew a teacher
Who turned from desire,
Who said to the soldiers,        170
“Hate is a fire;”
Who said to the statesmen,
“Power is a flame
That flays and blisters
If you play at the game.”        175
I once knew a teacher
Who turned from desire,
Who said to the lordly,
“Pride is a fire;”
Who thus warned the revellers:        180
“Life is a flame;
Be cold as the dew
Would you win at the game—
With hearts like the stars,
With hearts like the stars.”        185
So beware,Very loud
So beware,
So beware of the fire!
Clear the streets—boom, boom!
Clear the streets—boom, boom!        190
Give the engines room,
Give the engines room,
Lest souls be trapped
In a terrible tomb.
Says the swift white horse        195
To the swift black horse,
“There goes the alarm,
There goes the alarm.”
They are hitched, they are off,
They are gone in a flash,        200
And they strain at the driver’s iron arm.
Clangaranga, clangaranga,
Clang, clang, clang……..
Clang….a….ranga….clangaranga….
Clang……..clang……..clang….        205
Clang……..a……..ranga….
Clang……..a……..ranga….
Clang……..clang……..CLANG….!
 
 
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