Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BORGER JORIS'S HAMMER, by ARTHUR GUITERMAN



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BORGER JORIS'S HAMMER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A landholding freeman, a burgher of pith
Last Line: "the mortals who wield them with power and will."
Subject(s): Blacksmiths; Gnomes; Iron & Steel Industry; New York City - Dutch Period


A LANDHOLDING freeman, a burgher of pith,
Is big Borger Joris, New Amsterdam's smith.
Just south of the Wall where the ferryboat swings,
His forge-fire blazes; his sledge-hammer rings
On plowshare, on coulter, on scythe, ax, and bill.
He beats the white iron that shapes to his will.
Thrice hard were the labors of forest and farm
If gone were the skill of that muscular arm.

The coals of the smithy to ashes have burned;
The daylight is ebbing; in leisure well earned
The smith's at the doorway, his face to the breeze
That blows from the harbor. Young Peter De Vries,

His curly-haired 'prentice, as eager for play
And chary of work as a boy of to-day --
Who lounges full-length on the turf at his side,
Heaves up the great hammer, stout Joris's pride,
And queries, "Good master, now tell me, I pray:
You've wrought on the anvil for many a day
Scythe, horseshoe, and anchor, the great and the small,
But who forged the hammer that forges them all?"

A huge, kindly hand like the paw of a bear
Is lost in the youth's tumbled masses of hair
As Joris makes answer: "That hammer was new
When I was a worthless apprentice like you.
But fill me a pipe and a tankard of ale,
My lad, and I'll tell you its wonderful tale.

"In fall when the maples were tinging with red,
When goldenrod waved, and the azure o'erhead
Was mellow with haze, like a slip-halter colt
I scampered free-footed through meadow and holt,
A truant; far better the fowl-haunted sedge
I loved than the anvil, the bellows, and sledge.

"Well north, on the sweep of the eddying kill
That limits our island, arises a hill,
A deep-fissured foreland of green-wooded glades
Where chestnuts are gathered by Indian maids
And cress in the summer. So mild is the air
That columbines bloom at the earliest there,
And bobolink chirrups his mellowest staves.
Oh, green are its laurels and mossy its caves
And clear are its wells -- may they never run dry! --
You rascal! you know the spot better than I.

"'Twas there that I loitered, too happy for words,
To chaff with the squirrels, to chirp to the birds,
To wander, high-souled and adventurous, fain
To search every nook of my lovely domain;
Then, stretched in the shade of a great tree that grows
Cliff-sheltered, spring-watered, I lay in a doze
To dream out my day-dream; when, ringing and clear,
The clink of a forge-hammer smote on my ear,
Sore blow to my conscience! I sprang to my feet
And marveled and trembled; it must be a cheat!
Yet, no; I saw clearly: The nave of the glen
Was filled with an army of little gray men
Not three feet in stature! They swarmed on the crags,
Their tasseled caps waving like little red flags,
Their buskined feet twinkling, their beards flowing free,
Their eyes in a riot of mischievous glee

"And this wore a jerkin and that wore a smock.
Some tended a blaze in a cup-shapen rock;
Some wheeled the black ore from the earth where it bides
To smelt out the iron; yet others, besides,
Made ready wee anvils, or heated thick wedges
Of metal to whiteness. Then, down came the sledges,
And up flew the sparkles! Oh, wonders they wrought
In well-tempered iron, and swifter than thought.
And never a gnome of them boggled or shirked,
And ever the Little Men sang as they worked:

"'Clang! cling! the hammers swing,
The flame-tongues leap, the anvils ring!
Commingling strength and craft and zeal
In welded bar and tempered steel
We frame our work with chanted spell
And cool it in the Wizard's Well.

"'Ho! ho! the bellows blow,
The coals awake, the forges glow!
Then let cold iron drink of fire
And weld the sledge that shall not tire,
The ax to lay the forest low,
The share to plow, the scythe to mow!

"'Hiss! hiss! the waters kiss
The finished tools, and naught's amiss.
Now stamp on each the elfin brand
That none shall ever fail the hand
In meadow, forest, forge, or mill,
That works with craft and might and will!'

"A gnome with a frown and a gnome with a smile
(Like Warning and Blessing) advanced; from the pile
A fire-new hammer, with handle complete,
They carried, and silently placed at my feet.
I gripped on the gift with a venturesome fist
And -- puff! -- all the pageantry passed like a mist!

"So, back from the wildwood, more earnest and strong,
I bore to the smithy the hammer and song.
And oft as I labor I think of the glen
And echo the chant of the Little Gray Men.
And still do I mark with their magical brand
Each scythe, ax, and plowshare that comes from my hand
To bless with the succor of elf-given skill
The mortals who wield them with power and will."





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