John Charles McNeill.

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Produced by Alan R. Light


by John Charles McNeill

[American (North Carolina) poet. 1874-1907.]

("The Old Man")


The Bride
"Oh, Ask Me Not"
To - - -
To Melvin Gardner: Suicide
Away Down Home
For Jane's Birthday
A Secret
The Old Bad Woman
A Photograph
Jesse Covington
An Idyl
Home Songs
M. W. Ransom
Tommy Smith
Before Bedtime
"If I Could Glimpse Him"
Love's Fashion
An Easter Hymn
A Christmas Hymn
When I Go Home
Sunburnt Boys
Gray Days
An Invalid
A Caged Mocking-Bird
Two Pictures
The Old Clock
Tear Stains
A Prayer
She Being Young
Paul Jones
The Drudge
The Wife
Pardon Time
The Rattlesnake
The Prisoner
Folk Song
"97": The Fast Mail
At Sea


The Bride

The little white bride is left alone
With him, her lord; the guests have gone;
The festal hall is dim.
No jesting now, nor answering mirth.
The hush of sleep falls on the earth
And leaves her here with him.

Why should there be, O little white bride,
When the world has left you by his side,
A tear to brim your eyes?
Some old love-face that comes again,
Some old love-moment sweet with pain
Of passionate memories?

Does your heart yearn back with last regret
For the maiden meads of mignonette
And the fairy-haunted wood,
That you had not withheld from love,
A little while, the freedom of
Your happy maidenhood?

Or is it but a nameless fear,
A wordless joy, that calls the tear
In dumb appeal to rise,
When, looking on him where he stands,
You yield up all into his hands,
Pleading into his eyes?

For days that laugh or nights that weep
You two strike oars across the deep
With life's tide at the brim;
And all time's beauty, all love's grace
Beams, little bride, upon your face
Here, looking up at him.

"Oh, Ask Me Not"

Love, should I set my heart upon a crown,
Squander my years, and gain it,
What recompense of pleasure could I own?
For youth's red drops would stain it.

Much have I thought on what our lives may mean,
And what their best endeavor,
Seeing we may not come again to glean,
But, losing, lose forever.

Seeing how zealots, making choice of pain,
From home and country parted,
Have thought it life to leave their fellows slain,
Their women broken-hearted;

How teasing truth a thousand faces claims,
As in a broken mirror,
And what a father died for in the flames
His own son scorns as error;

How even they whose hearts were sweet with song
Must quaff oblivion's potion,
And, soon or late, their sails be lost along
The all-surrounding ocean:

Oh, ask me not the haven of our ships,
Nor what flag floats above you!
I hold you close, I kiss your sweet, sweet lips,
And love you, love you, love you!


When first I stood before you,
I stood there to adore you,
In your spell;
For all that grace composes,
And all that beauty knows is
Your face above the roses,

You knew the charm of flowers,
Which, like incarnate hours,
Rose and fell
At your bosom, glowed and gloried,
White and pale and pink and florid,
And you touched them with your forehead,

Amid the jest and laughter,
I saw you, and thereafter,
Ill or well,
There was nothing else worth seeing,
Worth following or fleeing,
And no reason else for being,

To - - -

Some time, far hence, when Autumn sheds
Her frost upon your hair,
And you together sit at dusk,
May I come to you there?
And lightly will our hearts turn back
To this, then distant, day
When, while the world was clad in flowers,
You two were wed in May.

When we shall sit about your board
Three old friends met again,
Joy will be with us, but not much
Of jest and laughter then;
For Autumn's large content and calm,
Like heaven's own smile, will bless
The harvest of your happy lives
With store of happiness.

May you, who, flankt about with flowers,
Will plight your faith to-day,
Hold, evermore enthroned, the love
Which you have crowned in May;
And Time will sleep upon his scythe,
The swallow rest his wing,
Seeing that you at autumntide
Still clasp the hands of spring.

To Melvin Gardner: Suicide

A flight of doves, with wanton wings,
Flash white against the sky.
In the leafy copse an oriole sings,
And a robin sings hard by.
Sun and shadow are out on the hills;
The swallow has followed the daffodils;
In leaf and blade, life throbs and thrills
Through the wild, warm heart of May.

To have seen the sun come back, to have seen
Children again at play,
To have heard the thrush where the woods are green
Welcome the new-born day,
To have felt the soft grass cool to the feet,
To have smelt earth's incense, heavenly sweet,
To have shared the laughter along the street,
And, then, to have died in May!

A thousand roses will blossom red,
A thousand hearts be gay,
For the summer lingers just ahead
And June is on her way;
The bee must bestir him to fill his cells,
The moon and the stars will weave new spells
Of love and the music of marriage bells -
And, oh, to be dead in May!

Away Down Home

'T will not be long before they hear
The bullbat on the hill,
And in the valley through the dusk
The pastoral whippoorwill.
A few more friendly suns will call
The bluets through the loam
And star the lanes with buttercups
Away down home.

"Knee-deep!" from reedy places
Will sing the river frogs.
The terrapins will sun themselves
On all the jutting logs.
The angler's cautious oar will leave
A trail of drifting foam
Along the shady currents
Away down home.

The mocking-bird will feel again
The glory of his wings,
And wanton through the balmy air
And sunshine while he sings,
With a new cadence in his call,
The glint-wing'd crow will roam
From field to newly-furrowed field
Away down home.

When dogwood blossoms mingle
With the maple's modest red,
And sweet arbutus wakes at last
From out her winter's bed,
'T would not seem strange at all to meet
A dryad or a gnome,
Or Pan or Psyche in the woods
Away down home.

Then come with me, thou weary heart!
Forget thy brooding ills,
Since God has come to walk among
His valleys and his hills!
The mart will never miss thee,
Nor the scholar's dusty tome,
And the Mother waits to bless thee,
Away down home.

For Jane's Birthday

If fate had held a careless knife
And clipped one line that drew,
Of all the myriad lines of life,
From Eden up to you;
If, in the wars and wastes of time,
One sire had met the sword,
One mother died before her prime
Or wed some other lord;

Or had some other age been blest,
Long past or yet to be,
And you had been the world's sweet guest
Before or after me:
I wonder how this rose would seem,
Or yonder hillside cot;
For, dear, I cannot even dream
A world where you are not!

Thus heaven forfends that I shall drink
The gall that might have been,
If aught had broken a single link
Along the lists of men;
And heaven forgives me, whom it loves,
For feigning such distress:
My heart is happiest when it proves
Its depth of happiness.

Enough to see you where you are,
Radiant with maiden mirth!
To bless whatever blessed star
Presided o'er your birth,
That, on this immemorial morn,
When heaven was bending low,
The gods were kind and you were born
Twenty sweet years ago!

A Secret

A little baby went to sleep
One night in his white bed,
And the moon came by to take a peep
At the little baby head.

A wind, as wandering winds will do,
Brought to the baby there
Sweet smells from some quaint flower that grew
Out on some hill somewhere.

And wind and flower and pale moonbeam
About the baby's bed
Stirred and woke the funniest dream
In the little sleepy head.

He thought he was all sorts of things
From a lion to a cat;
Sometimes he thought he flew on wings,
Or fell and fell, so that

When morning broke he was right glad
But much surprised to see
Himself a soft, pink little lad
Just like he used to be.

I would not give this story fame
If there were room to doubt it,
But when he learned to talk, he came
And told me all about it.

The Old Bad Woman

The Old Bad Woman was coming along,
Busily humming a sort of song.

You could barely see, below her bonnet,
Her chin where her long nose rested on it.

One tooth thrust out on her lower lip,
And she held one hand upon her hip.

Then we went to thinking mighty fast,
For we knew our time had come at last.

For what we had done and didn't do
The Old Bad Woman would put us through.

If you cried enough to fill your hat,
She wouldn't care; she was used to that.

Of the jam we had eaten, she would know;
How we ran barefooted in the snow;

How we cried when they made us take our bath;
How we tied the grass across the path;

How we bound together the cat and cur -
We couldn't deny these things to her.

She pulled her nose up off her chin
And blinked at us with an awful grin.

And we almost died, becaze and because
Her bony fingers looked like claws.

When she came on up to where we were,
How could we be polite to her?

You needn't guess how she put us through.
If you are bad, she'll visit you.

And when she leaves and hobbles off
You'll think that she has done enough;

For the Old Bad Woman will and can
Be just as bad as the Old Bad Man!


This is the time for birds to mate;
To-day the dove
Will mark the ancient amorous date
With moans of love;
The crow will change his call to prate
His hopes thereof.

The starling will display the red
That lights his wings;
The wren will know the sweet things said
By him who swings
And ducks and dips his crested head
And sings and sings.

They are obedient to their blood,
Nor ask a sign,
Save buoyant air and swelling bud,
At hands divine,
But choose, each in the barren wood,
His valentine.

In caution's maze they never wait
Until they die;
They flock the season's open gate
Ere time steals by.
Love, shall we see and imitate,
You, love, and I?

A Photograph

When in this room I turn in pondering pace
And find thine eyes upon me where I stand,
Led on, as by Enemo's silken strand,
I come and gaze and gaze upon thy face.

Framed round by silence, poised on pearl-white grace
Of curving throat, too sweet for beaded band,
It seems as if some wizard's magic wand
Had wrought thee for the love of all the race.

Dear face, that will not turn about to see
The tulips, glorying in the casement sun,
Or, other days, the drizzled raindrops run

Down the damp walls, but follow only me,
Would that Pygmalion's goddess might be won
To change this lifeless image into thee!

Jesse Covington

If I have had some merry times
In roaming up and down the earth,
Have made some happy-hearted rhymes
And had my brimming share of mirth,
And if this song should live in fame
When my brief day is dead and gone,
Let it recall with mine the name
Of old man Jesse Covington.

Let it recall his waggish heart -
Yeke-hey, yeke-hey, hey-diddle-diddle -
When, while the fire-logs fell apart,
He snatched the bow across his fiddle,
And looked on, with his eyes half shut,
Which meant his soul was wild with fun,
At our mad capers through the hut
Of old man Jesse Covington.

For all the thrilling tales he told,
For all the tunes the fiddle knew,
For all the glorious nights of old
We boys and he have rollicked through,
For laughter all unknown to wealth
That roared responsive to a pun,
A hale, ripe age and ruddy health
To old man Jesse Covington!

An Idyl

Upon a gnarly, knotty limb
That fought the current's crest,
Where shocks of reeds peeped o'er the brim,
Wild wasps had glued their nest.

And in a sprawling cypress' grot,
Sheltered and safe from flood,
Dirt-daubers each had chosen a spot
To shape his house of mud.

In a warm crevice of the bark
A basking scorpion clung,
With bright blue tail and red-rimmed eyes
And yellow, twinkling tongue.

A lunging trout flashed in the sun,
To do some petty slaughter,
And set the spiders all a-run
On little stilts of water.

Toward noon upon the swamp there stole
A deep, cathedral hush,
Save where, from sun-splocht bough and bole,
Sweet thrush replied to thrush.

An angler came to cast his fly
Beneath a baffling tree.
I smiled, when I had caught his eye,
And he smiled back at me.

When stretched beside a shady elm
I watched the dozy heat,
Nature was moving in her realm,
For I could hear her feet.

Home Songs

The little loves and sorrows are my song:
The leafy lanes and birthsteads of my sires,
Where memory broods by winter's evening fires
O'er oft-told joys, and ghosts of ancient wrong;
The little cares and carols that belong
To home-hearts, and old rustic lutes and lyres,
And spreading acres, where calm-eyed desires
Wake with the dawn, unfevered, fair, and strong.

If words of mine might lull the bairn to sleep,
And tell the meaning in a mother's eyes;
Might counsel love, and teach their eyes to weep
Who, o'er their dead, question unanswering skies,
More worth than legions in the dust of strife,
Time, looking back at last, should count my life.

M. W. Ransom

(Died October 8, 1904)

For him, who in a hundred battles stood
Scorning the cannon's mouth,
Grimy with flame and red with foeman's blood,
For thy sweet sake, O South;

Who, wise as brave, yielded his conquered sword
At a vain war's surcease,
And spoke, thy champion still, the statesman's word
In the calm halls of peace;

Who pressed the ruddy wine to thy faint lips,
Where thy torn body lay,
And saw afar time's white in-sailing ships
Bringing a happier day:

Oh, mourn for him, dear land that gave him birth!
Bow low thy sorrowing head!
Let thy seared leaves fall silent on the earth
Whereunder he lies dead!

In field and hall, in valor and in grace,
In wisdom's livery,
Gentle and brave, he moved with knightly pace,
A worthy son of thee!


Oh, I am weary, weary, weary
Of Pan and oaten quills
And little songs that, from the dictionary,
Learn lore of streams and hills,
Of studied laughter, mocking what is merry,
And calculated thrills!

Are we grown old and past the time of singing?
Is ardor quenched in art
Till art is but a formal figure, bringing
A money-measured heart,
Procrustean cut, and, with old echoes, ringing
Its bells about the mart?

The race moves on, and leaves no wildernesses
Where rugged voices cry;
It reads its prayer, and with set phrase it blesses
The souls of men who die,
And step by even step its rank progresses,
An army marshalled by.

If it be better so, that Babel noises,
Losing all course and ken,
And grief that wails and gladness that rejoices
Should never wake again
To shock a world of modulated voices
And mediocre men,

Then he is blest who wears the painted feather
And may not turn about
To dusks when muses romped the dewy heather
In unrestricted rout
And dawns when, if the stars had sung together,
The sons of God would shout!


Green moss will creep
Along the shady graves where we shall sleep.

Each year will bring
Another brood of birds to nest and sing.

At dawn will go
New ploughmen to the fields we used to know.

Night will call home
The hunter from the hills we loved to roam.

She will not ask,
The milkmaid, singing softly at her task,

Nor will she care
To know if I were brave or you were fair.

No one will think
What chalice life had offered us to drink,

When from our clay
The sun comes back to kiss the snow away.


Her brown hair knew no royal crest,
No gems nor jeweled charms,
No roses her bright cheek caressed,
No lilies kissed her arms.
In simple, modest womanhood
Clad, as was meet, in white,
The fairest flower of all, she stood
Amid the softest light.

It had been worth a perilous quest
To see the court she drew, -
My rose, my gem, my royal crest,
My lily moist with dew;
Worth heaven, when, with farewells from each
The gay throng let us be,
To see her turn at last and reach
Her white hands out to me.

Tommy Smith

When summer's languor drugs my veins
And fills with sleep the droning times,
Like sluggish dreams among my brains,
There runs the drollest sort of rhymes,
Idle as clouds that stray through heaven
And vague as if they were a myth,
But in these rhymes is always given
A health for old Bluebritches Smith.

Among my thoughts of what is good
In olden times and distant lands,
Is that do-nothing neighborhood
Where the old cider-hogshead stands
To welcome with its brimming gourd
The canny crowd of kin and kith
Who meet about the bibulous board
Of old Bluebritches Tommy Smith.

In years to come, when stealthy change
Hath stolen the cider-press away
And the gnarled orchards of the grange
Have fallen before a slow decay,
Were I so cunning, I would carve
From some time-scorning monolith
A sculpture that should well preserve
The fame of old Bluebritches Smith.

Before Bedtime

The cat sleeps in a chimney jam
With ashes in her fur,
An' Tige, from on the yuther side,
He keeps his eye on her.

The jar o' curds is on the hearth,
An' I'm the one to turn it.
I'll crawl in bed an' go to sleep
When maw begins to churn it.

Paw bends to read his almanax
An' study out the weather,
An' bud has got a gourd o' grease
To ile his harness leather.

Sis looks an' looks into the fire,
Half-squintin' through her lashes,
An' I jis watch my tater where
It shoots smoke through the ashes.

"If I Could Glimpse Him"

When in the Scorpion circles low
The sun with fainter, dreamier light,
And at a far-off hint of snow
The giddy swallows take to flight,
And droning insects sadly know
That cooler falls the autumn night;

When airs breathe drowsily and sweet,
Charming the woods to colors gay,
And distant pastures send the bleat
Of hungry lambs at break of day,
Old Hermes' wings grow on my feet,
And, good-by, home! I'm called away!

There on the hills should I behold,
Sitting upon an old gray stone
That humps its back up through the mold,
And piping in a monotone,
Pan, as he sat in days of old,
My joy would bid surprise begone!

Dear Pan! 'Tis he that calls me out;
He, lying in some hazel copse,
Where lazily he turns about
And munches each nut as it drops,
Well pleased to see me swamped in doubt
At sound of his much-changing stops.

If I could glimpse him by the vine
Where purple fox-grapes hang their store,
I'd tell him, in his leafy shrine,
How poets say he lives no more.
He'd laugh, and pluck a muscadine,
And fall to piping, as of yore!


He who wills life wills its condition sweet,
Having made love its mother, joy its quest,
That its perpetual sequence might not rest
On reason's dictum, cold and too discreet;

For reason moves with cautious, careful feet,
Debating whether life or death were best,
And why pale pain, not ruddy mirth, is guest
In many a heart which life hath set to beat.

But I will cast my fate with love, and trust
Her honeyed heart that guides the pollened bee
And sets the happy wing-seeds fluttering free;

And I will bless the law which saith, Thou must!
And, wet with sea or shod with weary dust,
Will follow back and back and back to thee!

Love's Fashion

Oh, I can jest with Margaret
And laugh a gay good-night,
But when I take my Helen's hand
I dare not clasp it tight.

I dare not hold her dear white hand
More than a quivering space,
And I should bless a breeze that blew
Her hair into my face.

'T is Margaret I call sweet names:
Helen is too, too dear
For me to stammer little words
Of love into her ear.

So now, good-night, fair Margaret,
And kiss me e'er we part!
But one dumb touch of Helen's hand,
And, oh, my heart, my heart!


Not long the living weep above their dead,
And you will grieve, Admetus, but not long.
The winter's silence in these desolate halls
Will break with April's laughter on your lips;
The bees among the flowers, the birds that mate,
The widowed year, grown gaunt with memory
And yearning toward the summer's fruits, will come
With lotus comfort, feeding all your veins.
The vining brier will crawl across my grave,
And you will woo another in my stead.
Those tender, foolish names you called me by,
Your passionate kiss that clung unsatisfied,
The pressure of your hand, when dark night hushed
Life's busy stir, and left us two alone,
Will you remember? or, when dawn creeps in,
And you bend o'er another's pillowed head,
Seeing sleep's loosened hair about her face,
Until her low love-laughter welcomes you,
Will you, down-gazing at her waking eyes,
So have I loved you, my Admetus,
I thank the cruel fates who clip my life
To lengthen yours, they tarry not for age
To dim my eye and blanch my cheek, but now
Take me, while my lips are sweet to you
And youth hides yet amid this hair of mine,
Brown in the shadow, golden in the light.

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Online LibraryJohn Charles McNeillSongs, Merry and Sad → online text (page 1 of 3)