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James Whitcomb Riley

(7 October 1849 - 22 July 1916 / Greenfield, Indiana)

A New Year's Plaint


In words like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold;
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.
--TENNYSON.

The bells that lift their yawning throats
And lolling tongues with wrangling cries
Flung up in harsh, discordant notes,
As though in anger, at the skies,--
Are filled with echoings replete,
With purest tinkles of delight--
So I would have a something sweet
Ring in the song I sing to-night.

As when a blotch of ugly guise
On some poor artist's naked floor
Becomes a picture in his eyes,
And he forgets that he is poor,--
So I look out upon the night,
That ushers in the dawning year,
And in a vacant blur of light
I see these fantasies appear.

I see a home whose windows gleam
Like facets of a mighty gem
That some poor king's distorted dream
Has fastened in his diadem.
And I behold a throng that reels
In revelry of dance and mirth,
With hearts of love beneath their heels,
And in their bosoms hearts of earth.

O Luxury, as false and grand
As in the mystic tales of old,
When genii answered man's command,
And built of nothing halls of gold!
O Banquet, bright with pallid jets,
And tropic blooms, and vases caught
In palms of naked statuettes,
Ye can not color as ye ought!

For, crouching in the storm without,
I see the figure of a child,
In little ragged roundabout,
Who stares with eyes that never smiled--
And he, in fancy can but taste
The dainties of the kingly fare,
And pick the crumbs that go to waste
Where none have learned to kneel in prayer.

Go, Pride, and throw your goblet down--
The 'merry greeting' best appears
On loving lips that never drown
Its worth but in the wine of tears;
Go, close your coffers like your hearts,
And shut your hearts against the poor,
Go, strut through all your pretty parts
But take the 'Welcome' from your door.

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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