Vachel Lindsay

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

The Golden Whales Of California - Poem by Vachel Lindsay

Part I.A Short Walk Along the Coast

Yes, I have walked in California,
And the rivers there are blue and white.
Thunderclouds of grapes hang on the mountains.
Bears in the meadows pitch and fight.
(Limber, double- jointed lords of fate,
Proud native sons of the Golden Gate.)
And flowers burst like bombs in California,
Exploding on tomb and tower.
And the panther-cats chase the red rabbits,
Scatter their young blood every hour.
And the cattle on the hills of California
And the very swine in the holes
Have ears of silk and velvet
And tusks like long white poles.
And the very swine, big hearted,
Walk with pride to their doom
For they feed on the sacred raisins
Where the great black agates loom.

Goshawfuls are Burbanked with the grizzly bears.
At midnight their children come clanking up the stairs.
They wriggle up the canyons,
Nose into the caves,
And swallow the papooses and the Indian braves.
The trees climb so high the crows are dizzy
Flying to their nests at the top.
While the jazz-birds screech, and storm the brazen beach
And the sea-stars turn flip flop.
The solid Golden Gate soars up to Heaven.
Perfumed cataracts are hurled
From the zones of silver snow
To the ripening rye below,
To the land of the lemon and the nut
And the biggest ocean in the world.
While the Native Sons, like lords tremendous
Lift up their heads with chants sublime,
And the band-stands sound the trombone, the saxophone and xylophone
And the whales roar in perfect tune and time.
And the chanting of the whales of California
I have set my heart upon.
It is sometimes a play by Belasco,
Sometimes a tale of Prester John.


Part II.The Chanting of the Whales

North to the Pole, south to the Pole
The whales of California wallow and roll.
They dive and breed and snort and play
And the sun struck feed them every day
Boatloads of citrons, quinces, cherries,
Of bloody strawberries, plums and beets,
Hogsheads of pomegranates, vats of sweets,
And the he-whales chant like a cyclone blares,
Proclaiming the California noons
So gloriously hot some days
The snake is fried in the desert
And the flea no longer plays.
There are ten gold suns in California
When all other lands have one,
For the Golden Gate must have due light
And persimmons be well-done.
And the hot whales slosh and cool in the wash
And the fume of the hollow sea.
Rally and roam in the loblolly foam
And whoop that their souls are free.
(Limber, double- jointed lords of fate,
Proud native sons of the Golden Gate.)
And they chant of the forty-niners

Who sailed round the cape for their loot
With guns and picks and washpans
And a dagger in each boot.
How the richest became the King of England,
The poorest became the King of Spain,
The bravest a colonel in the army,
And a mean one went insane.
The ten gold suns are so blasting
The sunstruck scoot for the sea
And turn to mermen and mermaids
And whoop that their souls are free.
(Limber, double- jointed lords of fate,
Proud native sons of the Golden Gate.)
And they take young whales for their bronchos
And old whales for their steeds,
Harnessed with golden seaweeds,
And driven with golden reeds.
They dance on the shore throwing rose-leaves.
They kiss all night throwing hearts.
They fight like scalded wildcats
When the least bit of fighting starts.
They drink, these belly-busting devils
And their tremens shake the ground.
And then they repent like whirlwinds

And never were such saints found.
They will give you their plug tobacco.
They will give you the shirts off their backs.
They will cry for your every sorrow,
Put ham in your haversacks.
And they feed the cuttlefishes, whales and skates
With dates and figs in bales and crates :
Shiploads of sweet potatoes, peanuts, rutabagas,
Honey in hearts of gourds:
Grapefruits and oranges barrelled with apples,
And spices like sharp sweet swords.


Part III.St. Francis of San Francisco

But the surf is white, down the long strange coast
With breasts that shake with sighs,
And the ocean of all oceans
Holds salt from weary eyes.
St. Francis comes to his city at night
And stands in the brilliant electric light
And his swans that prophesy night and day
Would soothe his heart that wastes away :
The giant swans of California
That nest on the Golden Gate
And beat through the clouds serenely

And on St. Francis wait.
But St. Francis shades his face in his cowl
And stands in the street like a lost grey owl.
He thinks of gold . . . gold.
He sees on far redwoods
Dewfall and dawning:
Deep in Yosemite
Shadows and shrines:
He hears from far valleys
Prayers by young Christians,
He sees their due penance
So cruel, so cold ;
He sees them made holy,
White-souled like young aspens
With whimsies and fancies untold:
The opposite of gold.
And the mighty mountain swans of California
Whose eggs are like mosque domes of Ind,
Cry with curious notes
That their eggs are good for boats
To toss upon the foam and the wind.
He beholds on far rivers
The venturesome lovers
Sailing for the sea
All night

In swanshells white.
He sees them far on the ocean prevailing
In a year and a month and a day of sailing
Leaving the whales and their whoop unfailing
On through the lightning, ice and confusion
North of the North Pole,
South of the jgouth Pole,
And west of the west of the west of the west,
To the shore of Heartache s Cure,
The opposite of gold,
On and on like Columbus
With faith and eggshell sure.


Part IV. The Voice of the Earthquake

But what is the earthquake s cry at last
Making St. Francis yet aghast:
' Oh the flashing cornucopia of haughty
From here on, the audience California joins in the

Is gold, gold, gold.
Their brittle speech and their clutching reach
Is gold, gold, gold.
What is the fire-engine s ding dong bell?
The burden of the burble of the bull-frog in the well?
Gold, gold, gold.

What is the color of the cup and plate
And knife and fork of the chief of state?
Gold, gold, gold.
What is the flavor of the Bartlett pear?
What is the savor of the salt sea air?
Gold, gold, gold.
What is the color of the sea-girl s hair?
Gold, gold, gold.
In the church of Jesus and the streets of Venus:
Gold, gold, gold.
What color are the cradle and the bridal bed?
What color are the coffins of the great grey dead?
Gold, gold, gold.
What is the hue of the big whales hide?
Gold, gold, gold.
What is the color, of their guts* inside?
Gold, gold, gold.
' What is the color of the pumpkins in the moonlight?
Gold, gold, gold.
The color of the moth and the worm in the starlight?
Gold, gold, gold.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010



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