Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CRAZY CHRISTOPHER, by ALICE CARY



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CRAZY CHRISTOPHER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Neighbored by a maple wood
Last Line: That could half believe him wise.
Subject(s): Solitude; Human Behavior; Insanity; Wisdom


NEIGHBORED by a maple wood,
Dim and dusty, old and low;
Thus our little school-house stood,
Two and twenty years ago.

On the roof of clapboards, dried
Smoothly in the summer heat,
Of the hundred boys that tried,
Never one could keep his feet.

Near the door the cross-roads were,
A stone's throw, perhaps, away,
And to read the sign-board there,
Made a pastime every day.

He who turned the index down,
So it pointed on the sign
To the nearest market-town,
Was, we thought, a painter fine:

And the childish wonder rose,
As we gazed with puzzled looks
On the letters, good as those
Printed in our spelling-books.

Near it was a well, -- how deep!
With its bucket warped and dry,
Broken curb, and leaning sweep,
And a plum-tree growing by,

Which, with low and tangly top,
Made the grass so bright and cool,
Travelers would sometimes stop,
For a half-hour's rest -- in school,

Not an eye could keep the place
Of the lesson then, -- intent
Each to con the stranger's face,
And to see the road he went.

Scattered are we far and wide, --
Careless, curious children then;
Wanderers some, and some have died;
Some, thank God, are honest men.

But, as playmates, large or small,
Noisy, thoughtful, or demure,
I can see them, one and all,
The great world in miniature.

Common flowers, with common names,
Filled the woods and meadows round:
Dandelions with their flames
Smothered flat against the ground;

Mullein stocks, with gray braids set
Full of yellow; thistles speared;
Violets, purple near to jet;
Crowfoot, and the old-man's-beard.

And along the dusty way,
Thick as prints of naked feet,
Iron-weeds and fennel gay
Blossomed in the summer heat.

Hedges of wild blackberries,
Pears, and honey-locusts tall,
Spice-wood, and "good apple-trees,"
Well enough we knew them all.

But the ripest blackberries,
Nor the mulleins topped with gold,
Peach nor honey-locust trees,
Nor the flowers, when all are told,

Pleased us like the cabin, near
Which a silver river ran,
And where lived, for many a year,
Christopher, the crazy man.

Hair as white as snow he had,
Mixing with a beard that fell
Down his breast; if he were mad,
Passed our little wits to tell.

In his eyes' unfathomed blue
Burned a ray so clear and bright,
Oftentimes we said we knew
It would shame the candlelight.

Mystic was the life he led;
Picking herbs in secret nooks, --
Finding, as the old folks said,
"Tongues in trees and books in brooks."

Waking sometimes in the gloom
Of the solemn middle night,
He had seen his narrow room
Full of angels dressed in white;

So he said in all good faith,
And one day, with tearful eye,
Told us that he heard old Death
Sharpening his scythe, close by.

Whether it were prophecy,
Or a dream, I cannot say;
But good little Emily
Died the evening of that day.

In the woods, where up and down
We had searched, and only seen
Adder's-tongue, with dull, dead brown,
Mottled with the heavy green;

May-apples, or wild birds sweet,
Going through the shadows dim,
Spirits, with white, noiseless feet,
Walked, he said, and talked with him.

"What is all the toiling for,
And the spinning?" he would say;
"See the lilies at my door, --
Never dressed a queen as they.

"He who gives the ravens food
For our wants as well will care;
O my children! He is good, --
Better than your fathers are."

So he lived from year to year,
Never toiling, mystery-clad, --
Spirits, if they did appear,
Being all the friends he had.

Alternating seasons sped,
And there fell no night so rough,
But his cabin fire, he said,
Made it light and warm enough.

Soft and slow our steps would be,
As the silver river ran,
Days when we had been to see
Christopher, the crazy man.

Soft and slow, to number o'er
The delights he said he had;
Wondering always, more and more,
Whether he were wise or mad.

On a hill-side next the sun,
Where the school-boys quiet keep,
And to seed the clovers run,
He is lying, fast asleep.

But at last (to Heaven be praise),
Gabriel his bed will find,
Giving love for lonely days,
And for visions, his right mind.

Sometimes, when I think about
How he lived among the flowers,
Gently going in and out,
With no cares nor fretful hours, --

Of the deep serene of light,
In his blue, unfathomed eyes, --
Seems the childish fancy right,
That could half believe him wise.





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