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James Whitcomb Riley

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

What The Wind Said


'I muse to-day, in a listless way,
In the gleam of a summer land;
I close my eyes as a lover may
At the touch of his sweetheart's hand,
And I hear these things in the whisperings
Of the zephyrs round me fanned':--

I am the Wind, and I rule mankind,
And I hold a sovereign reign
Over the lands, as God designed,
And the waters they contain:
Lo! the bound of the wide world round
Falleth in my domain!

I was born on a stormy morn
In a kingdom walled with snow,
Whose crystal cities laugh to scorn
The proudest the world can show;
And the daylight's glare is frozen there
In the breath of the blasts that blow.

Life to me was a jubilee
From the first of my youthful days:
Clinking my icy toys with glee--
Playing my childish plays;
Filling my hands with the silver sands
To scatter a thousand ways:

Chasing the flakes that the Polar shakes
From his shaggy coat of white,
Or hunting the trace of the track he makes
And sweeping it from sight,
As he turned to glare from the slippery stair
Of the iceberg's farthest height.

Till I grew so strong that I strayed ere long
From my home of ice and chill;
With an eager heart and a merry song
I traveled the snows until
I heard the thaws in the ice-crag's jaws
Crunched with a hungry will;

And the angry crash of the waves that dash
Themselves on the jagged shore
Where the splintered masts of the ice-wrecks flash,
And the frightened breakers roar
In wild unrest on the ocean's breast
For a thousand leagues or more.

And the grand old sea invited me
With a million beckoning hands,
And I spread my wings for a flight as free
As ever a sailor plans
When his thoughts are wild and his heart beguiled
With the dreams of foreign lands.

I passed a ship on its homeward trip,
With a weary and toil-worn crew;
And I kissed their flag with a welcome lip,
And so glad a gale I blew
That the sailors quaffed their grog and laughed
At the work I made them do.

I drifted by where sea-groves lie
Like brides in the fond caress
Of the warm sunshine and the tender sky--
Where the ocean, passionless
And tranquil, lies like a child whose eyes
Are blurred with drowsiness.

I drank the air and the perfume there,
And bathed in a fountain's spray;
And I smoothed the wings and the plumage rare
Of a bird for his roundelay,
And fluttered a rag from a signal-crag
For a wretched castaway.

With a sea-gull resting on my breast,
I launched on a madder flight:
And I lashed the waves to a wild unrest,
And howled with a fierce delight
Till the daylight slept; and I wailed and wept
Like a fretful babe all night.

For I heard the boom of a gun strike doom;
And the gleam of a blood-red star
Glared at me through the mirk and gloom
From the lighthouse tower afar;
And I held my breath at the shriek of death
That came from the harbor bar.

For I am the Wind, and I rule mankind,
And I hold a sovereign reign
Over the lands, as God designed,
And the waters they contain:
Lo! the bound of the wide world round
Falleth in my domain!

I journeyed on, when the night was gone,
O'er a coast of oak and pine;
And I followed a path that a stream had drawn
Through a land of vale and vine,
And here and there was a village fair
In a nest of shade and shine.

I passed o'er lakes where the sunshine shakes
And shivers his golden lance
On the glittering shield of the wave that breaks
Where the fish-boats dip and dance,
And the trader sails where the mist unveils
The glory of old romance.

I joyed to stand where the jeweled hand
Of the maiden-morning lies
On the tawny brow of the mountain-land.
Where the eagle shrieks and cries,
And holds his throne to himself alone
From the light of human eyes.

Adown deep glades where the forest shades
Are dim as the dusk of day--
Where only the foot of the wild beast wades,
Or the Indian dares to stray,
As the blacksnakes glide through the reeds and hide
In the swamp-depths grim and gray.

And I turned and fled from the place of dread
To the far-off haunts of men.
'In the city's heart is rest,' I said,--
But I found it not, and when
I saw but care and vice reign there
I was filled with wrath again:

And I blew a spark in the midnight dark
Till it flashed to an angry flame
And scarred the sky with a lurid mark
As red as the blush of shame:
And a hint of hell was the dying yell
That up from the ruins came.

The bells went wild, and the black smoke piled
Its pillars against the night,
Till I gathered them, like flocks defiled,
And scattered them left and right,
While the holocaust's red tresses tossed
As a maddened Fury's might.

'Ye overthrown!' did I jeer and groan--
'Ho! who is your master?--say!--
Ye shapes that writhe in the slag and moan
Your slow-charred souls away--
Ye worse than worst of things accurst--
Ye dead leaves of a day!'

I am the Wind, and I rule mankind,
And I hold a sovereign reign
Over the lands, as God designed,
And the waters they contain:
Lo! the bound of the wide world round
Falleth in my domain!

. . . . . . .

'I wake, as one from a dream half done,
And gaze with a dazzled eye
On an autumn leaf like a scrap of sun
That the wind goes whirling by,
While afar I hear, with a chill of fear,
The winter storm-king sigh.'

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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