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The Waggoner

ISSUE:  Winter 1930

At foggy dawn when all the ghostly lamps
Were ringed with yellow films, the waggoner went
And breathed from open roads a large content
And drank deep solace from the frosty damps;
And whistled with the perilous joy to feel
The grip of reins that hold a studded horse
From slipping on his darkling frosty course
When the road rattles like a plate of steel.
For he had known the rapid lunge, the thud
Of snapped-off shafts, the panting quivering mass
Of horse-flesh tumbled on a road of glass,
And eyes whirled dizzy in a haze of blood.
And though at breathless moments, tense within,
He watched, most wary of his turns and pulls,
As though the studs were crunching human skulls,
His whistling rose above the clicking din.
Nor did he curse the ironies of joys—
How one man’s rapture is another’s pain,
Nor how one’s fortune is another’s bane,
Nor how the ecstasies of sliding boys,
With all the roses reddening in their cheeks,
Who pray for ice and ringing skates require
And frozen sedge-pools ringed with orange fire-
Mean well to him more danger than he seeks.
But red and cheerful, as a robin pecks
The hollow straws that ridge a frozen road,
He ate his chilly meal upon the load,
Made one with stoic Nature, while the wrecks
Of what was dawn were blown about the meres:
The lights of ruined rose and flying gold
Dispetalled from celestial gardens cold,
And cloud-fleece flying as from windy shears.
So on, till gray and darkling afternoon,
When the sun dips, a glowering disc of red,
And snow comes down; and waggon-lamps ahead
Flood light in many a moving gold lagoon,
Below the strangeness of a muffled moon;
And battling shadows of dogged man and beast,
Still climbing uphill for the inns of rest
Stagger and toss like visions in a swoon;
Or dripping thaws make all the roads a-churn.
Sodden the reins along the horse a-steam Lie cold as sea-weed, till the home-lights gleam
On seas of mud and eyes too tired to yearn. . . .
In dark he rose, and ends in dark, yet he
Knows not with what nobility he dwells,
How Night loves uphill fighters, how she swells
His shadow to her own sublimity,
Nor how for us, grown faint in our desire,
His grim persistence lights our hearts with hope,
Like his far rear-light flowerwise on the slope
Spilling a crimson beauty on the mire.


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