6 poems by Jessie Redmon Fauset

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Dead Fires
If this is peace, this dead and leaden thing,
Then better far the hateful fret, the sting.
Better the wound forever seeking balm
Than this gray calm!
Is this pain’s surcease? Better far the ache,
The long-drawn dreary day, the night’s white wake,
Better the choking sigh, the sobbing breath
Than passion’s death!

 

Enigma

There is no peace with you,
Nor any rest!
Your presence is a torture to the brain.
Your words are barbed arrows to the breast,
And one but greets To wish you sped again.
Frustrate you make desire
And action vain.
There is no peace with you .
No peace . . .
Nor any rest.
Yet in your absence
Longing springs anew,
And hopefulness besets the baffled brain.
“If only you were you and yet not you!”
If you such joy could give as you give pain!
Then what an unguent for the burning breast!
And for the harassed heart
What rapture true!
“If only you were you and yet not you!”
There is no peace with you
Nor ever any rest!

 

La Vie C’est la Vie

On summer afternoons I sit
Quiescent by you in the park,
And idly watch the sunbeams gild
And tint the ash-trees’ bark.

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk
And chaffer in the grassy lane;
And all the while I mark your voice
Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give
Her chance of heaven to take my place
To see the love-light in your eyes,
The love-glow on your face!

And there’s a man whose lightest word
Can set my chilly blood afire;
Fulfilment of his least behest
Defines my life’s desire.

But he will none of me, Nor I
Of you. Nor you of her. ‘Tis said
The world is full of jests like these.–
I wish that I were dead.

 

Noblesse Oblige

Lolotte, who attires my hair,
Lost her lover. Lolotte weeps;
Trails her hand before her eyes;
Hangs her head and mopes and sighs,
Mutters of the pangs of hell.
Fills the circumambient air
With her plaints and her despair.
Looks at me:
“May you never know, Mam’selle,
Love’s harsh cruelty.”
Love’s dart lurks in my heart too,–
None may know the smart
Throbbing underneath my smile.
Burning, pricking all the while
That I dance and sing and spar,
Juggling words and making quips
To hide the trembling of my lips.
I must laugh
What time I moan to moon and star
To help me stand the gaff.

What a silly thing is pride!
Lolotte bares her heart.
Heedless that each runner reads
All her thoughts and all her needs.
What I hide with my soul’s life
Lolotte tells with tear and cry.
Blurs her pain with sob and sigh
Happy Lolotte, she!
I must jest while sorrow’s knife
Stabs in ecstasy.

“If I live, I shall outlive.”
Meanwhile I am barred
From expression of my pain.
Let my heart be torn in twain,
Only I may know the truth.
Happy Lolotte, blessed she
Who may tell her agony!
On me a seal is set.
Love is lost, and–bitter ruth–
Pride is with me yet!

 

Oblivion

I hope when I am dead that I shall lie
In some deserted grave–I cannot tell you why,
But I should like to sleep in some neglected spot
Unknown to every one, by every one forgot.

There lying I should taste with my dead breath
The utter lack of life, the fullest sense of death;
And I should never hear the note of jealousy or hate,
The tribute paid by passersby to tombs of state.

To me would never penetrate the prayers and tears
That futilely bring torture to dead and dying ears;
There I should lie annihilate and my dead heart would bless
Oblivion–the shroud and envelope of happiness.

 

Words! Words!

How did it happen that we quarreled?
We two who loved each other so!
Only the moment before we were one,
Using the language that lovers know.
And then of a sudden, a word, a phrase
That struck at the heart like a poignard’s blow.
And you went berserk, and I saw red,
And love lay between us, bleeding and dead!
Dead! When we’d loved each other so!
How could it happen that we quarreled!
Think of the things we used to say!
“What does it matter, dear, what you do?
Love such as ours has to last for aye!”
–“Try me! I long to endure your test!”
–“Love, we shall always love, come what may!”
What are the words the apostle saith?
“In the power of the tongue are Life and Death!”
Think of the things we used to say!

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