Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CANTICLE OF THE RACE, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

CANTICLE OF THE RACE, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: How beautiful are the bodies of men
Last Line: The flesh made the word!
Subject(s): Mankind; Women; Human Race


How beautiful are the bodies of men --
The agonists!
Their hearts beat deep as a brazen gong
For their strength's behests.
Their arms are lithe as a seasoned thong
In games or tests
When they run or box or swim the long
Sea-waves crests
With their slender legs, and their hips so strong,
And their rounded chests.

I know a youth who raises his arms
Over his head.
He laughs and stretches and flouts alarms
Of flood or fire.
He springs renewed from a lusty bed
To his youth's desire.
He drowses, for April flames outspread
In his soul's attire.

The strength of men is for husbandry
Of woman's flesh:
Worker, soldier, magistrate
Of city or realm;
Artist, builder, wrestling Fate
Lest it overwhelm
The brood or the race, or the cherished state.
They sing at the helm
When the waters roar and the waves are great,
And the gale is fresh.

There are two miracles, women and men --
Yea, four there be:
A woman's flesh, and the strength of a man,
And God's decree.
And a babe from the womb in a little span
Ere the month be ten.
Their rapturous arms entwine and cling
In the depths of night;
He hunts for her face for his wondering,
And her eyes are bright.
A woman's flesh is soil, but the spring
Is man's delight.


How beautiful is the flesh of women --
Their throats, their breasts!
My wonder is a flame which burns,
A flame which rests;
It is a flame which no wind turns,
And a flame which quests.

I know a woman who has red lips,
Like coals which are fanned.
Her throat is tied narcissus, it dips
From her white-rose chin.
Her throat curves like a cloud to the land
Where her breasts begin.
I close my eyes when I put my hand
On her breast's white skin.

The flesh of women is like the sky
When bare is the moon:
Rhythm of backs, hollow of necks,
And sea-shell loins.
I know a woman whose splendors vex
Where the flesh joins --
A slope of light and a circumflex
Of clefts and coigns.
She thrills like the air when silence wrecks
An ended tune.

These are the things not made by hands in the earth:
Water and fire,
The air of heaven, and springs afresh,
And love's desire.
And a thing not made is a woman's flesh,
Sorrow and mirth!
She tightens the strings on the lyric lyre,
And she drips the wine.
Her breasts bud out as pink and nesh
As buds on the vine:
For fire and water and air are flesh,
And love is the shrine.


How beautiful is the human spirit
In its vase of clay!
It takes no thought of the chary dole
Of the light of day.
It labors and loves, as it were a soul
Whom the gods repay
With length of life, and a golden goal
At the end of the way.

There are souls I know who arch a dome,
And tunnel a hill.
They chisel in marble and fashion in chrome,
And measure the sky.
They find the good and destroy the ill,
And they bend and ply
The laws of nature out of a will
While the fates deny.
I wonder and worship the human spirit
When I behold
Numbers and symbols, and how they reach
Through steel and gold;
A harp, a battle-ship, thought and speech,
And an hour foretold.
It ponders its nature to turn and teach,
And itself to mould.

The human spirit is God, no doubt,
Is flesh made the word:
Jesus, Beethoven and Raphael,
And the souls who heard
Beyond the rim of the world the swell
Of an ocean stirred
By a Power on the waters inscrutable.
There are souls who gird
Their loins in faith that the world is well,
In a faith unblurred.
How beautiful is the human spirit --
The flesh made the word!

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