New England Sketches


DOWNHILL the rutted road runs through meadows rimmed with birch,
To the village green that’s hedged in by the headstones of the dead;
Where old people sing in a white wooden church,
And the minister is saying what his grandfather said.
Across the square from the cotton mill the Sabbath has set free
Black-suited groups of mill hands who are garrulous and bored;
For they left the merry village inns and the wine of Tuscany
For a telephone, a radio, and a second-hand Ford.
The Higgins’ tend an antique shop, the Smiths a sausage stand,
Down where the oily factory waste defiles the swimming hole;
But the Perkins’ have a day of rest, they till ancestral land,
For the oldest child, Priscilla, is married to a Pole.


THERE’S a house across the hilltop that no one’s living in,
With rotten rafters falling and windows hollow-eyed,
With weeds upon the threshold and nothing left within
But the ruins of a bedstead where the last possessor died.
The goldenrod is smothering dilapidated pickets
That protected the dooryard where the children played,
And the cow pasture’s tangled with encroaching alder thickets
That obliterate the paths that the cattle made.
Strange incongruities the garden hedge encloses,
With rows of careful gardening obscured by random seeds,
With wild things from the meadows in the shadows of the roses,
And little Johnny-jump-ups that hardly top the weeds.
Birds in the dawn of day, dropping from the elm trees,
Call for the children that have wandered long ago;
And summer awakens it with riotous fertilities,
And winter makes it silent with a covering of snow.


THERE’S warm contentment in the barn to-night.
The tired mare munching her last sweet oats,
And a twittering in the rafters, from the throats
Of swallows waked by the swinging lantern light.
Come along, old hound, they are safe for the night and snug;
We are burned by the wind and somnolent from the sun.
Let us stretch our legs, saddle-weary and stiff from the run,
Mine by the fire and yours, just below, on the rug.
You’re a brave dog; still a dog, and unsentimental
In love as in hunting. You’ll muse of the fox in the ditch,
And grunt in your sleep as you dream of the spotted bitch.
But I am complex — in the field as in love, temperamental.
I’ll suffer — we call it — and drowse between waking and sleeping,
And hope I may break my neck to-morrow — but ride
With the mare well in hand and my thighs close pressed to her side,
And my precious suffering safe in my cautious keeping.
R. S.