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By Vachel Lindsay

(In Springfield, Illinois)

It is portentous, and a thing of state

That here at midnight, in our little town

A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,

Near the old court-house pacing up and down.


Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards

He lingers where his children used to play,

Or through the market, on the well-worn stones

He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.


A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,

A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl

Make him the quaint great figure that men love,

The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.


He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.

He is among us:—as in times before!

And we who toss and lie awake for long

Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.


His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.

Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?

Too many peasants fight, they know not why,

Too many homesteads in black terror weep.


The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.

He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.

He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now

The bitterness, the folly and the pain.


He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn

Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free;

The league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,

Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.


It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,

That all his hours of travail here for men

Seem yet in vain.   And who will bring white peace

That he may sleep upon his hill again?


Notes:

The epigraph of this poem was originally omitted in the changeover to the new website. Because of this, reciting the epigraph is optional for the 2019-2020 Poetry Out Loud season.

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  • Mythology & Folklore
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Vachel Lindsay
Nearly forgotten today, Vachel Lindsay briefly enjoyed international acclaim. In 1920 the English Observer declared him “easily the most important living American poet.” He owed this fame to one of the most spellbinding recitation styles ever witnessed, and to poems like “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” and “The Congo,” which seem custom made for dramatic delivery. Lindsay was also one of the first movie critics. See More By This Poet

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