Vachel Lindsay

(November 10, 1879 – December 5, 1931 / Springfield, Illinois)

The Firemen's Ball - Poem by Vachel Lindsay

SECTION ONE

"Give the engines room,
Give the engines room."
Louder, faster
The little band-master
Whips up the fluting,
Hurries up the tooting.
He thinks that he stands,
[*] The reins in his hands,
In the fire-chief's place
In the night alarm chase.
The cymbals whang,
The kettledrums bang: —
"Clear the street,
Clear the street,
Clear the street — Boom, boom.
In the evening gloom,
In the evening gloom,
Give the engines room,
Give the engines room.
Lest souls be trapped
In a terrible tomb."
The sparks and the pine-brands
Whirl on high
From the black and reeking alleys
To the wide red sky.
Hear the hot glass crashing,
Hear the stone steps hissing.
Coal black streams
Down the gutters pour.
There are cries for help
From a far fifth floor.
For a longer ladder
Hear the fire-chief call.
Listen to the music
Of the firemen's ball.
Listen to the music
Of the firemen's ball.
"'Tis the
NIGHT
Of doom,"
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.
"NIGHT
Of doom,"
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.

Faster, faster
The red flames come.
"Hum grum," say the engines,
"Hum grum grum."
"Buzz, buzz,"
Says the crowd.
"See, see,"
Calls the crowd.
And the high walls fall:—
Listen to the music
Of the firemen's ball
"'Tis the
NIGHT
Of doom,"
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.
NIGHT
Of doom,
Say the ding-dong doom-bells.
Whangaranga, whangaranga,
Whang, whang, whang,
Clang, clang, clangaranga,
Clang, clang, clang.
Clang—a—ranga—
Clang—a—ranga—
Clang,
Clang,
Clang.
Listen—to—the—music—
Of the firemen's ball—


SECTION TWO

"Many's the heart that's breaking
If we could read them all
After the ball is over."

(An old song.)

Scornfully, gaily
The bandmaster sways,
Changing the strain
That the wild band plays.
With a red and royal intoxication,
A tangle of sounds
And a syncopation,
Sweeping and bending
From side to side,
Master of dreams,
With a peacock pride.
A lord of the delicate flowers of delight
He drives compunction
Back through the night.
Dreams he's a soldier
Plumed and spurred,
And valiant lads
Arise at his word,
Flaying the sober
Thoughts he hates,
Driving them back
From the dream-town gates.
How can the languorous
Dancers know
The red dreams come
When the good dreams go?
'"Tis the
NIGHT
Of love,"
Call the silver joy-bells,
"NIGHT
Of love,"
Call the silver joy-bells.
"Honey and wine,
Honey and wine.
Sing low, now, violins,
Sing, sing low,
Blow gently, wood-wind,
Mellow and slow.
Like midnight poppies
The sweethearts bloom.
Their eyes flash power,
Their lips are dumb.
Faster and faster
Their pulses come,
Though softer now
The drum-beats fall.
Honey and wine,
Honey and wine.
'Tis the firemen's ball,
'Tis the firemen's ball.

"I am slain,"
Cries true-love
There in the shadow.
"And I die,"
Cries true-love,
There laid low.
"When the fire-dreams come,
The wise dreams go."
BUT HIS CRY IS DROWNED
BY THE PROUD BAND-MASTER.

And now great gongs whang,
Sharper, faster,
And kettledrums rattle
And hide the shame
With a swish and a swirk
In dead love's name.
Red and crimson
And scarlet and rose
Magical poppies
The sweethearts bloom.
The scarlet stays
When the rose-flush goes,
And love lies low
In a marble tomb.
"'Tis the
NIGHT
Of doom,"
Call the ding-dong doom-bells.
"NIGHT
Of Doom,"
Call the ding-dong doom-bells.
Hark how the piccolos still make cheer.
'Tis a moonlight night in the spring of the year."
CLANGARANGA, CLANGARANGA,
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG.
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA . . .
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG . . .
LISTEN . . . TO . . . THE . . . MUSIC . . .
OF . . . THE . . . FIREMEN'S BALL . . .
LISTEN . . . TO . . . THE . . . MUSIC . . .
OF . . . THE . . . FIREMEN'S . . . BALL . . .


SECTION THREE

In Which, contrary to Artistic Custom, the moral of the piece is placed before the reader.

(From the first Khandaka of the Mahavagga: "There Buddha thus addressed his disciples: 'Everything, O mendicants, is burning. With what fire is it burning? I declare unto you it is burning with the fire of passion, with the fire of anger, with the fire of ignorance. It is burning with the anxieties of birth, decay and death, grief, lamentation, suffering and despair. . . . A disciple, . . . becoming weary of all that, divests himself of passion. By absence of passion, he is made free.'")


I once knew a teacher,
Who turned from desire,
Who said to the young men
"Wine is a fire."
Who said to the merchants:—
"Gold is a flame
That sears and tortures
If you play at the game."
I once knew a teacher
Who turned from desire
Who said to the soldiers,
"Hate is a fire."
Who said to the statesmen:—
"Power is a flame
That flays and blisters
If you play at the game."
I once knew a teacher
Who turned from desire,
Who said to the lordly,
"Pride is a fire."
Who thus warned the revellers:—
"Life is a flame.
Be cold as the dew
Would you win at the game
With hearts like the stars,
With hearts like the stars."
SO BEWARE,
SO BEWARE,
SO BEWARE OF THE FIRE.
Clear the streets,
BOOM, BOOM,
Clear the streets,
BOOM, BOOM,
GIVE THE ENGINES ROOM,
GIVE THE ENGINES ROOM,
LEST SOULS BE TRAPPED
IN A TERRIBLE TOMB.
SAYS THE SWIFT WHITE HORSE
TO THE SWIFT BLACK HORSE:—
"THERE GOES THE ALARM,
THERE GOES THE ALARM.
THEY ARE HITCHED, THEY ARE OFF,
THEY ARE GONE IN A FLASH,
AND THEY STRAIN AT THE DRIVER'S IRON ARM."
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA, . . . CLANG.. A . . . RANGA. . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG. . . .
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . . CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG. . . .
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . . CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG . . . .


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Read poems about / on: teacher, fire, music, red, passion, night, horse, pride, silver, power, rose, soldier, joy, anger, despair, birth, grief, hate, spring, song



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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