Boston Common


Slumped under the impressive genitals

Of the bronze charger, protected by bronze,

By darkness from patrols, by sleep from what

Assailed him earlier and left him here,

The man lies. Clothing and organs. These were once

Shoes. Faint in the orange light

Flooding the portico above: the whole

Front of the State House. On a February night.


Dramatic bivouac for the casual man!

Beyond the exedra the Common falls,

Famous and dark, away; a lashing wind;

Immortal heroes in a marble frame

Who broke their bodies on Fort Wagner's walls,

Robert Gould Shaw astride, and his

Negroes without name, who followed, who fell

Screaming or calm, wet cold, sick or oblivious.


Who now cares how? here they are in their prime, —

Paradigm, pitching imagination where

The crucible night all singularity,

Idiosyncrasy and creed, burnt out

And brought them, here, a common character.

Imperishable march below

The mounted man below the Angel, and

Under, the casual man, the possible hero.


Hero for whom under a sky of bronze,

Saint-Gaudens' sky? Passive he seems to lie,

The last straw of contemporary thought,

In shapeless failure; but may be this man

Before he came here, or he comes to die,

Blazing with force or fortitude

Superb of civil soul may stand or may

After young Shaw within that crucible have stood.


For past her assignation when night fell

And the men forward, — poise and shock of dusk

As daylight rocking passes the horizon, —

The Angel spread her wings still. War is the

Congress of adolescents, love in a mask,

Bestial and easy, issueless,

Or gets a man of bronze. No beating heart

Until the casual man can see the Angel's face.


Where shall they meet? what ceremony find,

Loose in the brothel of another war

This winter night? Can citizen enact

His timid will and expectation where,

Exact a wedding or her face O where

Tanks and guns, tanks and guns,

Move and must move to their conclusions, where

The will is mounted and gregarious and bronze?


For ceremony, in the West, in the East,

The pierced sky, iced air, and the rent of cloud

As, moving to his task at dawn, who'd been

Hobbledehoy of the cafeteria life

Swung like a hobby in the blue and rode

The shining body of his choice

To the eye and time of his bombardier; —

Stiffened in the racket, and relaxed beyond noise.


" Who now cares how? " — the quick, the index! Question

Your official heroes in a magazine,

Wry voices past the river. Dereliction,

Lust and bloodlust, error and goodwill, this one

Died howling, craven, this one was a swine

From childhood. Man and animal

Sit for their photographs to Fame, and dream

Barbershop hours . . . vain, compassionate parable.


" Accidents of history, memorials " —

A considering and quiet voice. " I see

Photograph and bronze upon another shore

Do not arrive; the light is where it is,

Indifferent to honour. Let honour be

Consolation to those who give,

None to the Hero, and no sign of him:

All unrecorded, flame-like, perish and live. "


Diminishing beyond the elms. Rise now

The chivalry and defenders of our time,

From Spain and China, the tortured continents,

Leningrad, Syria, Corregidor, —

Upon a primitive theme high variations

Like soaring Beethoven's. — Lost, lost

Whose eyes flung faultless to one horizon

Their fan look. Fiery night consumes a summoned ghost.


Images of the Possible, the top,

Their time they taxed, — after the tanks came through,

When orderless and by their burning homes'

Indelible light, with knee and nail they struck

(The improvised the real) man's common foe,

Misled blood-red statistical men.

Images of conduct in a crucible,

Their eyes, and nameless eyes, which will not come again.


We hope will not again . Therefore those eyes

Fix me again upon the terrible shape,

Defeated and marvellous of the man I know,

Jack under the stallion. We have passed him by,

Wandering, prone, and he is our whole hope,

Our fork's one tine and our despair,

The heart of the Future beating. How far far

We sent our subtle messengers! when he is here.


Who chides our clamour and who would forget

The death of heroes: never know the shore

Where, hair to the West, Starkatterus was burnt;

And undergo no more that spectacle —

Perpetually verdant the last pyre,

Fir, cypress, yew, the phoenix bay

And voluntary music — which to him

Threw never meat or truth. He looks another way.


Watching who labour O that all may see

And savour the blooming world, flower and sound,

Tending and tending to peace, — be what their blood,

Prayer, occupation may, — so tend for all:

A common garden in a private ground.

Who labour in the private dark

And silent dark for birthday music and light,

Fishermen, gardeners, about their violent work.


Lincoln, the lanky lonely and sad man

Who suffered in Washington his own, his soul;

Mao Tse-tung, Teng Fa, fabulous men,

Laughing and serious men; or Tracy Doll

Tracing the future on the wall of a cell —

There, there, on the wall of a cell

The face towards which we hope all history,

Institutions, tears move, there the Individual.


Ah, it may not be so. Still the crucial night

Fastens you all upon this frame of hope:

Each in his limited sick world with them,

The figures of his reverence, his awe,

His shivering devotion, — that they shape

Shelter, action, salvation.

. . . Legends and lies. Kneel if you will, but rise

Homeless, alone, and be the kicking working one.


None anywhere alone! The turning world

Brings unaware us to our enemies,

Artist to assassin, Saint-Gaudens' bronze

To a free shelter, images to end.

The cold and hard wind has tears in my eyes,

Long since, long since, I heard the last

Traffic unmeshing upon Boylston Street,

I halted here in the orange light of the Past,


Helpless under the great crotch lay this man

Huddled against woe, I had heard defeat

All day, I saw upon the sands assault,

I heard the voice of William James, the wind,

And poured in darkness or in my heartbeat

Across my hearing and my sight

Worship and love irreconcilable

Here to be reconciled. On a February night.

Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.