Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE MADONNA OF THE EARTH, by ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH



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THE MADONNA OF THE EARTH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I have grown wise with littleness
Last Line: If an apple's dropped from the apple tree.
Subject(s): Mothers


I HAVE grown wise with littleness.
The Lord of Might is full of prettiness.
I see the skies
And they are old no more,
But in its infancy all lies
Upon its mother's knee.
Her face I cannot see,
But I can see thy laughter and thy smiles,
Oh innocent heaven, when she sings to thee.
Fluttering faces shine,
All laughter, out of rock and pine.
Prettiness is abroad.
Thou lovest prettiness; dost Thou not, oh Lord?
Since Thou didst make it!
And small round things Thou hast shaped to cunningness.
Of old I thought Thee terrible and far
Lodged in a star.
But now I know that Thou art near to bless
And that Thy Hand can comfort and caress.
Come, little Lord,
And stroke the pretty water with thy hand.
So small, so fine,
So dainty sweet it is!
Soft stepping, gray, and full of mysteries.
In thy hand hold it --
Love it, enfold it,
Then let it go again!
Why now its voice is multiple as the rain.
A silly water -- yet mighty to withstand
Because my child has held it in his Hand.
Oh this new world I never saw before!
Thy world, my baby! Looking through thine eyes
I see such things to pleasure and surprise!
Of yore
'T was but an apple hanging on a tree,
But now I clap my hands with thee!
Wonderful!
Ah how well I see it now!
Beautiful!
Crimson on a gay green bough
Astonishing!
What art thou?
Whence camest thou?
Thou never wert before!
Canst thou sing?
Is it a bird that flies on a red wing?
My darling, we have seen a marvelous thing.
Oh thou new man!
I look around with thy delighted eyes
And old things have new graces.
And when thou smilest into haggard faces
Old, desolate, overwise, crafty, or full of scorn,
Thou seest another face beneath that one forlorn --
The look of a child;
And no one knew save thou
How it was lurking in the mouth and brow.
Oh I have cried
When in the weary folk that come to thee
I see the small child that they used to be
Take courage, and thinking it time to play,
Steal wistfully out,
And so forget
The unkind tale of death and sin and doubt
That sent them crying --
While thou wilt laugh aloud
To see so many children in a crowd --
Such sweets, such darlings!
Looking with these eyes
I find in all men dearnesses,
Sweet sounds, clearnesses,
That show their souls perfect as water or air.
The smiling earth reveals its secret to me --
I have grown wise,
And knowledge ever making all things fair
Shows me this common earth is Paradise.
Now I will sing thee a song
Of thy little brothers --
All things that haunt the field and wood,
Four-footed, furry, wild, and good!
And there are other loves beside.
Come hither, all ye loves that glide
Among the grasses; shadows of things,
And wonderful thin murmurings,
Memories of clouds lodged in the wings
Of birds at rest from the sky,
Light on the under side of flowers,
The subtly shining air begetting showers,
Gray weeds,
Flying seeds,
And here's a pebble shaped round and small,
Pink as a rose,
With its own shadow on the sand,
Which somehow seems as marvelous and grand
As a great mountain's. Ay -- no less
It seems to cool us, comfort us, and bless
For this enchanting spell of littleness
Around and over all.
These are thy playmates now --
Flower-fine pebble and the small brown seed.
Say, "I am little with thee! " to the weed,
And to the pebble, "Small and still as thou."
Strange peoples that live in the dust,
Call them up and share thy crust.
Wild folk with fretful eyes,
Ah, how tame that savage lies.
Plaintive folk, no more perplexed,
Play around my child unvexed.
And all the wandering clans of air and light,
And sullen tribes that take by stealth the night,
There's none so small, bewildered, far,
But that these thy brothers are.
Mother Beast, Mother Beast, with the wild, woeful eyes!
By that same milk by which we feed our young,
And the great peace that we alike have shared
After the bearing --
I bore him not alone,
Not only of the Spirit I got my Son,
But of the remembering flesh whose good, great pains
Did so pierce down into the roots of things
That when I gave him birth
I felt the dark and lamentable earth
Sluggishly bearing stones. I was dissolved
Into a pained element, and so
I felt stars in me grow.
I rocked with the sea,
Begetting mammoths; old and savage moods,
Birth pangs of animals in secret woods
I felt in me.
Am I not simple and great even as these?
Betwixt the breasts of the brown nourishing earth,
In the hallowed lap betwixt her bosom and knees,
I lie with a great mirth
Not like a maid, ashamed,
But full of pride
Laughing I spread my breasts for every one
To see them ample, boisterous, and wide,
With the strong earth milk that has nourished my Son.
For I was not one woman, I was many,
When Heaven descended to me from above
And like a cloud dropped softly on my breast,
Filled me with rest.
I had no fear before the Holy Ghost,
Freely my soul partook of Paradise.
Tolerable was the glory of thy wing,
Oh thou great Angel -- and thy breaking kiss
Was not so perilous to my flesh as this,
The terror of animals and our mortal need
That so possessed me, when,
Living in my body, the thousand hands of men
Received the stinging seed.
From the remembering flesh that in it bore
The thoughts of old dead peoples and their dreams
I made thee, O Lord.
From the remembering flesh that cried aloud
With the strong voice of Rahab the harlot's blood
I created Thee, God.
From the astonished flesh, pitifully wrought
With dreams and angers of despairing Cain,
I made Thee, O Lord.
Out of the sorrowing of wistful Eve
And from the tissue of her smiles and tears
I created Thee -- God.
From Adam's tumultuous body, whose lust and mirth
Danced heavily in him and from the great despair --
I made Thee, O Lord.
Out of the eagerness of boys and girls
hat long for kisses in the flower of spring
I created Thee, God.
(Thou shalt go to the dance in a scarlet robe, my Son.)
From the flesh of the fool that laughing in his heart
Cried with an empty voice, "There is no God,"
I made Thee, O Lord.
From the wistfulness of animals that die,
From our desire and from our mortal need,
From the prayer we raise and our delight in Thee,
I created Thee, God.
And perished races, rising up in me,
Fashioned thee wildly of my little dust
And breathed upon thy face the image of man,
And created Thee, God.
Thou hast forgotten how thou didst make the world
And how these hands
Did shape the planets. Burning they all have run
Between thy fingers.
Five fingers hast thou, sweet,
The first one says, I want some food.
The second says, A plum is good.
Ah -- hadst thou lived remote among the stars,
The Master of us, we had come to hate!
But now thou hast the need of us, and who
Can hurt a thing so helpless and so small!
The third one says, that won't do!
The fourth one hurries on its shoe.
How safe we are, tenderly wrought together!
How still we lie amid the strange sweet weather
That is the hollow of God's hand.
Yet now
My garments change to mine own eyes.
Mellow are they as with the bloom of years.
How long
Have I sat with Thee thus? Is it all time?
Lie still.
Thou hast no grief thy Mother cannot heal.
Yet lo --
Within my garments I hear a sound of woe,
Of sorrow and of everlasting tears.
Sleep Thou!
The fifth one whispers, I'll go see
If an apple's dropped from the apple tree.






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