Here are three poems by a neglected (some would say deservedly so) Wisconsin born and raised American poet– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, whose late 19th and early 20th Century verse is full of rhyme and meter and “sentimental” Victorian optimism, the very thing the Modernists rebelled against. And yet many of her poems have a witty, whimsical forthrightness about them. Even the strident activism of her feminist and pacifist poems is not without a musical moral force that is bracing when compared to, say, Whitman’s paternal, prosy patriotism and Dickinson’s slanted inner obsessions. Let’s not disparage and discard what is best in Victorian verse.

Ella_Wheeler_Wilcox,_Custer,_1896,_frontispiece
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox (text), photographer unknown, 1896, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A short autobiography of Wheeler Wilcox can be found here, courtesy of the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society. And though the NY Times has recently been trying to make amends for failing to publish obituaries of many prominent women, here is the NY Times’s obituary for the “prolific versifier” dated Oct. 31, 1919.

 

How Like the Sea by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

How like the sea, the myriad-minded sea,
Is this large love of ours: so vast, so deep,
So full of myseries! it, too, can keep
Its secrets, like the ocean; and is free,
Free, as the boundless main. Now it may be
Calm like the brow of some sweet child asleep;
Again its seething billows surge and leap
And break in fulness of their ecstasy.

Each wave so like the wave which came before,
Yet never two the same! Imperative
And then persuasive as the cooing dove,
Encroaching ever on the yielding shore—
Ready to take; yet readier still to give—
How like the myriad-minded sea, is love.

 

Camouflage by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Camouflage is all the rage.
Ladies in their fight with age–
Soldiers in their fight with foes–
Demagogues who mask and pose
In the guise of statesmen–girls
Black of eyes with golden curls–
Politicians, votes in mind,
Smiling, affable and kind,
All use camouflage to-day.
As you go upon your way,
Walk with caution, move with care;
Camouflage is everywhere!

 

Disarmament by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We have outgrown the helmet and cuirass,
The spear, the arrow, and the javelin.
These crude inventions of a cruder age,
When men killed men to show their love of God,
And he who slaughtered most was greatest king.
We have outgrown the need of war! Should men
Unite in this one thought, all war would end.
Disarm the world; and let all Nations meet
Like Men, not monsters, when disputes arise.
When crossed opinions tangle into snarls,
Let Courts untie them, and not armies cut.
When State discussions breed dissentions, let
Union and Arbitration supersede
The hell-created implements of War.
Disarm the world! and bid destructive thought
Slip like a serpent from the mortal mind
Down through the marshes of oblivion and soon
A race of gods shall rise!. Disarm! Disarm!

 

[poems obtained from poets.org and the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society]

Within the White House the forecast is “Stormy.”
But the president swears that NOTHING porny

Ever happened with that woman hushed
With money that had NOTHING to do with slush.

Lawyers pay off porn stars all the time
Right before elections . . . with their own dime

Without the knowledge of the one was horny,
Don’t they?  No fury like a woman named Stormy.

[JK: An augury is an omen and this is a political poem because . . . today is Blake’s birthday and the poem details connections, relationships ecological and human we too often, especially in the halls of power, fail to acknowledge. The first four lines are famous but we often neglect the rest of this poem of transcendental justice.  Thanks to the Poetry Foundation from which I borrowed Blake’s bio and the poem.]
Songs_of_Innocence_and_of_Experience_copy_L_object_29_Frontispiece_to_Songs_of_Experience
William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Auguries of Innocence
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

[JFK: Here’s a poetic perspective on politics some may call cynical, some may say stoic. Jeffers referred to his philosophical distance from people as “inhumanism.” This should not, however, be confused with inhumane-ism. Jeffers built a house of stone in Carmel, CA overlooking the Pacific in the days before Carmel was a haven for wealth and tourists. My favorite lines are “the cold passion for truth/Hunts in no pack.” It’s a comforting poem in its way.]

By Robinson Jeffers

 

512px-Robinson_Jeffers_Hawk_Tower,_Tor_House,_Carmel,_CA_2008_Photo_by_Celeste_Davison
 Robinson Jeffers Hawk Tower, Tor House, Carmel, CA 2008 Photo by Celeste Davison at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Be Angry at the Sun

 

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante’s feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

 

By Rumple Oxbridge, liberal lyricist

 

Trump has a plan to fix Afghanistan:
more war will do what war has not before.
It is a plan not hard to understand
his “war cabinet” advises–War fails? Try more.
Eventually this war will have to end
but stopping war before we win is like
un-masculine and feminist. Pretend
(riding on a wheel-less warrior-bike)
we’re getting to the peace we want to know.
For one day even though we haven’t got there
(and we’ve been pedaling violently, you know)
we claim that where we are is just like there!
“In the end, we will win,” Donald said.
There’s death in war but war is never dead.