All night, through the eternity of night,
Pain was my portion though I could not feel.
Deep in my humbled heart you ground your heel,
Till I was reft of even my inner light,
Till reason from my mind had taken flight,
And all my world went whirling in a reel.
And all my swarthy strength turned cold like steel,
A passive mass beneath your puny might.
Last night I gave you triumph over me,
So I should be myself as once before,
I marveled at your shallow mystery,
And haunted hungrily your temple door.
I gave you sum and substance to be free,
Oh, you shall never triumph any more!
I do not fear to face the fact and say,
How darkly-dull my living hours have grown,
My wounded heart sinks heavier than stone,
Because I loved you longer than a day!
I do not shame to turn myself away
From beckoning flowers beautifully blown,
To mourn your vivid memory alone
In mountain fastnesses austerely gray.
The mists will shroud me on the utter height,
The salty, brimming waters of my breast
Will mingle with the fresh dews of the night
To bathe my spirit hankering to rest.
But after sleep I’ll wake with greater might,
Once more to venture on the eternal quest.
Nay, why reproach each other, be unkind,
For there’s no plane on which we two may meet?
Let’s both forgive, forget, for both were blind,
And life is of a day, and time is fleet.
And I am fire, swift to flame and burn,
Melting with elements high overhead,
While you are water in an earthly urn,
All pure, but heavy, and of hue like lead.
To clasp you now and feel your head close-
Scented and warm against my beating breast;
To whisper soft and quivering your name,
And drink the passion burning in your frame;
To lie at full length, taut, with cheek to cheek,
And tease your mouth with kisses till you speak
Love words, mad words, dream words, sweet
Melodious like notes of mating birds;
To hear you ask if I shall love always,
And myself answer: Till the end of days;
To feel your easeful sigh of happiness
When on your trembling lips I murmur: Yes;
It is so sweet. We know it is not true.
What matters it? The night must shed her dew.
We know it is not true, but it is sweet—
The poem with this music is complete.
O word I love to sing! thou art too tender
For all the passions agitating me;
For all my bitterness thou art too tender,
I cannot pour my red soul into thee.
O haunting melody! thou art too slender,
Too fragile like a globe of crystal glass;
For all my stormy thoughts thou art too slender,
The burden from my bosom will not pass.
O tender word! O melody so slender!
O tears of passion saturate with brine,
O words, unwilling words, ye can not render
My hatred for the foe of me and mine.
For the dim regions whence my fathers came
My spirit, bondaged by the body, longs.
Words felt, but never heard, my lips would frame;
My soul would sing forgotten jungle songs.
I would go back to darkness and to peace,
But the great western world holds me in fee,
And I may never hope for full release
While to its alien gods I bend my knee.
Something in me is lost, forever lost,
Some vital thing has gone out of my heart,
And I must walk the way of life a ghost
Among the sons of earth, a thing apart;
For I was born, far from my native clime,
Under the white man’s menace, out of time.
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe !
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Read more about “If We Must Die”:
“If We Must Die” in context
“If We Must Die” in England
“If We Must Die” in America
Sweet life! how lovely to be here
And feel the soft sea-laden breeze
Strike my flushed face, the spruce’s fair
Free limbs to see, the lesser trees’
Bare hands to touch, the sparrow’s cheep
To heed, and watch his nimble flight
Above the short brown grass asleep.
Love glorious in his friendly might,
Music that every heart could bless,
And thoughts of life serene, divine,
Beyond my power to express,
Crowd round this lifted heart of mine!
But oh! to leave this paradise
For the city’s dirty basement room,
Where, beauty hidden from the eyes,
A table, bed, bureau and broom
In corner set, two crippled chairs
All covered up with dust and grim
With hideousness and scars of years,
And gaslight burning weird and dim,
Will welcome me . . . And yet, and yet
This very wind, the winter birds,
The glory of the soft sunset,
Come there to me in words.
Now the dead past seems vividly alive,
And in this shining moment I can trace,
Down through the vista of the vanished years,
Your faun-like form, your fond elusive face.
And suddenly some secret spring’s released,
And unawares a riddle is revealed,
And I can read like large, black-lettered print,
What seemed before a thing forever sealed.
I know the magic word, the graceful thought,
The song that fills me in my lucid hours,
The spirit’s wine that thrills my body through,
And makes me music-drunk, are yours, all
I cannot praise, for you have passed from praise,
I have no tinted thoughts to paint you true;
But I can feel and I can write the word;
The best of me is but the least of you.
O you would clothe me in silken frocks
And house me from the cold,
And bind with bright bands my glossy locks,
And buy me chains of gold;
And give me—meekly to do my will—
The hapless sons of men:—
But the wild goat bounding on the barren hill
Droops in the grassy pen.
There was a time when in late afternoon
The four-o’clocks would fold up at day’s close
Pink-white in prayer, and ‘neath the floating moon
I lay with them in calm and sweet repose.
And in the open spaces I could sleep,
Half-naked to the shining worlds above;
Peace came with sleep and sleep was long and
Gained without effort, sweet like early love.
But now no balm— nor drug nor weed nor wine—
Can bring true rest to cool my body’s fever,
Nor sweeten in my mouth the acid brine,
That salts my choicest drink and will forever.