Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HENRY ELLEN, by LOUISE CRENSHAW RAY

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

HENRY ELLEN, by                    
First Line: Matthias went back to the mine
Last Line: "how coal gets in a fellow's blood!"
Subject(s): Mines And Miners

"Matthias went back to the mine,
Expects to work there all his life --"
She was quite young, this miner's wife
In faded gingham, twenty-nine,

Yet old and haggard to the eyes;
Romance had been a foreigner,
And beauty not a friend to her;
While marriage only proved disguise

For drab necessity. "He said
That digging coal was not as bad
As ploughing rocky land. I'm glad
He's back!" Somehow disquieted

To think her man held life so cheap --
Willing to burrow like a mole
For meager wages; shovel coal;
Face hazards; leave his wife to weep --

I lift her standing in the door
And took the downward-running road
To Henry Ellen. Autumn glowed
On gum and sumach; beeches wore

Their yellow with austerity;
Mountain and river drowsed in peace.
I watched the mule-drawn cars release
Their loads of splintered ebony

Beside the tipple. Cables drew
The cargo up the mountainside,
Discharged it on the rough divide.
"Yes, I'm Monette, the man that you

Are looking for --" his friendly tone
Was reassuring. "I can take
You through this morning, have to make
A trip down anyhow. I own

The mine, you know." He turned to give
An order and I looked around . . .
Tracks disappeared in blackened ground,
The tunnel seemed diminutive.

Below the slope were waiting cars,
And rattling through the haulways, lit
By points of light as exquisite
Against the dark, as single stars,

I felt the inward-sucking air
Upon my face, cleanly and cool
As water in a mountain pool.
Wet black coal; white fungus there

Upon the wall like banks of snow
Which touch reduced to silky strands
Of cobwebs clinging to my hands ...
Monette aroused me with his slow:

"A narrow seam in here -- two feet ..."
Men crouched upon their sides were loading
The shallow cars; negroes were goading
Indifferent mules whose plodding beat

In rhythm on the miry rails.
I sensed the blast of dynamite,
Machinery cutting coal, at night
When far above, wan sleep prevails;

Heard engines shrieking into space
On energy which lay concealed
For aeons in some buried field
Of ebony ... "You'd like this place

"In summer," interposed Monette,
"Named Henry Ellen for my mother.
My father owned a pair, another
Was called Belle Mina. Had to let

"It go ... Yes, yes, You'd think these men
Would hate the sight of coal. You're wrong!
They come to feel that they belong
In here. They quit. Come back again

"Upon a man. He understood --
"And stay. I've sunk a fortune in
These mines, but cannot get away
From them. I've heard my father say

That mining gets a hold like sin
How one is powerless to choose,
No matter if he win or lose --
How coal gets in a fellow's blood!"

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