Ina D. Coolbrith

Ina D. Coolbrith Poems

When the grass shall cover me,
Head to foot where I am lying;
When not any wind that blows,
Summer-blooms nor winter snows,

I will be glad to-day: the sun
Smiles all adown the land;
The lilies lean along the way;
Serene on either hand,

Thy satin vesture richer is than looms
Of Orient weave for raiment of her kings.
Not dyes of old Tyre, not precious things
Regathered from the long forgotten tombs

A breath of balm—of orange bloom!
By what strange fancy wafted me,
Through the lone starlight of the room?
And suddenly I seem to see

It’s O my heart, my heart,
To be out in the sun and sing-
To sing and shout in the fields about,
In the balm and the blossoming!


What were this human
World without woman?
Think –just a minute! –
Without one in it –

Night and the hill to me!
Silence no sound that jars;
Above, of stars a sea;
Below, a sea of stars!

Here’s the volume: stain nor blot
Mars a leaf to-day;
Sin and folly, they are not;
Sorrow is away.

After the winter rain,
Sing robin! -sing, swallow!
Grasses are in the lane,
Buds and flowers will follow.

Was it the sigh and shiver of the leaves?
Was it the murmer of the meadow brook,
That in and out the reeds and water weeds
Slipped silverly, and on their tremulous keys

O foolish wisdom sought in books!
O aimless fret of household tasks!
O chains that bind the hand and mind-
A fuller life my spirit asks.

O Mother Earth, how couldst thou let him go?
Thy son, whose every touch was a caress
To blossom into all of loveliness-
This gentle son of thine who loved thee so!

A pearl-foam at his feet
The waters leap and fall;
The sentry treads his beat
Upon the sun-girt wall.

“And love will stay-a summer’s day! ”
A long wave rippled up the strand;
She flashed a white hand through the spray,
And plucked a sea-shell form the sand.

Dawn on the fills, and in the quickening skies
In flooding splendor lies!
Primrose and daffodil, in shifting light,
Cresting the cresting height,

O soul! However sweet
The goal to which I hasten with swift feet-
If, just within my grasp,
I reach, and joy to clasp,


It befell me on a day-
Long ago; ah, long ago!
When my life was in its May,
In the May-month of the year.

The World sweeps by! It is the end of Time!
Nay, not the end, for Time can have no end:
A cycle of the illimitable chain
That makes the circle Eternity.

Ina D. Coolbrith Biography

Born Josephine Donna Smith, oldest daughter of Don Carlos and Agnes Coolbrith Smith, in Nauvoo, Illinois, March 10,1842, she entered California through the Beckwourth Pass in a covered wagon train in 1852. Her first poems were published in the Los Angeles Times in 1854. After a brief and tragic marriage at 17, and the death of her child, she moved to San Francisco in 1862 adopting a new name Ina and her mother’s maiden surname Coolbrith. Arriving with a reputation as a poet, she soon began writing for The Golden Era and The Californian, forming intimate friendships with Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Mark Twain, among others. She worked as a journalist on the Overland Monthly. Later she was librarian of the Mechanics Institute Library and the Bohemian Club library, and was the first librarian of the Oakland Public Library. She lost her San Francisco home and all her possessions in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Through the generosity of the best known California writers of the day, another home was built on Russian Hill, where she lived until the infirmities of age led her to share the home of her niece in Berkeley in 1923 until her death. Ina Coolbrith received many honors. She was the first person asked to write a Commencement Ode for the University of California, which she did on two occasions. She was the first woman member of San Francisco's Bohemian Club. In 1915, the president of the University of California and the Board of Regents presented her with the title “California’s loved, laurel-wreathed poet, ” and the California state legislator confirmed her position as (California’s first Poet Laureate) —the first in the United States—in 1918. She bore the honor until her death in 1928, , but she was quickly forgotten; her grave was unmarked until 1986, when the Ina Coolbrith Circle donated a headstone in her honor, and she is now acknowledged as a significant literary figure.She held correspondences throughout the nation and the world, including Tennyson, Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell and others. She counted amongst her close friends the likes of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Gertrude Atherton, Joaquin Miller, Charles Warren Stoddard, and William Keith. Jack London called her his 'literary mother.' Isadora Duncan recalled in her memoirs 'the beauty and fire of the poet's eyes.' At the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 she was appointed President of the Congress of Authors and Journalists; in arranging for the Congress she wrote over 4,000 letters to the leading writers and journalists in every country. At the Exposition a formal presentation of a laurel wreath was made to her by Dr. Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President of the University of California, and the Board of Regents, with the title 'loved, laurel-crowned poet of California.' The title of Poet Laureate was confirmed by the State Legislature. In 1924 Mills College awarded her the honorary degree of Master of Arts; as a young woman she had attended Mills, known at the time as Benicia College for Women. On the day of her funeral the Legislature adjourned in her memory and soon afterward named a 7,900 foot peak near Beckworth Pass 'Mount Ina Coolbrith.' Some of Ina Coolbrith's most powerful poems were written after her 80th birthday. Her published works include 'A Perfect Day and Other Poems, ' 'Songs from the Golden Gate, ' and the posthumously published 'Wings of Sunset.')

The Best Poem Of Ina D. Coolbrith

When The Grass Shall Cover Me

When the grass shall cover me,
Head to foot where I am lying;
When not any wind that blows,
Summer-blooms nor winter snows,
Shall awake me to your sighing:
Close above me as you pass,
You will say: 'How kind she was, '
You will say: 'How true she was, '
When the grass grows over me.

When the grass shall cover me,
Holden close to earth's warm bosom;
While I laugh, or weep, or sing,
Nevermore, for anything:
You will find in blade and blossom,
Sweet small voices, odorous,
Tender pleaders in my cause,
That shall speak me as I was -
When the grass grows over me.

When the grass shall cover me!
Ah, beloved, in my sorrow
Very patient, I can wait-
Knowing that, or soon or late,
There will dawn a clearer morrow:
When your heart will moan: 'Alas!
Now I know how true she was;
Now I know how dear she was' -
When the grass grows over me!

Ina D. Coolbrith Comments

Peter Whyte 23 January 2022

A fascinating biography and a great influence in the history of California lettres, sadly somewhat forgotten

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