9 Poems by Rachel Field, Rediscovered American Author

Taxis and toadstools by Rachel field

Rachel Field (1894 – 1942) was a National Book Award winning novelist and a Newbery Medal winner. Her plays were produced all over the country, and she was a sought-after writer in Hollywood by the time her life ended abruptly in 1942. But when interviewers asked her which of her writings she liked best, she always said it was her poetry. I have to agree and perhaps you will, too, after sampling these poems by Rachel Field.

It was Rachel Field’s poetry that first caught my interest when I moved into her old summer house on an island in Maine in 1994, partly because so much of her poetry referenced both interior and exterior island scenes that were intimately familiar to me. She lived eight months of the year in New York City, and her urban poetry sparkles with the same genuine delight as her verses about the seaside. Rachel’s reverence for beauty ran deep.

She saw beauty equally in mossy woods and twinkling, nighttime skyscrapers, in a white gull’s wing and a sea of umbrellas dancing like a toadstool parade on a rain-spattered street. Whether her characters are elves and fairies, or the local seamstress and postman, an uplifting spirit presides in her early poetic collections: The Pointed People, Taxis and Toadstools, and Branches Green.

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Rachel Field, American author
Learn more about the life of Rachel Field
and 21 fascinating facts about Rachel Field
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And yet, Rachel Field’s beauty shimmers especially for its fragility. Life’s ambivalence – the juxtaposition of pain and beauty – often fueled the power of Field’s poetry. There are perpetual yearnings in Field’s poetry, often in conflict with each other –simplicity vs. adventure, the conforming good child vs the wild bad witch, a quiet church pew vs dancing barefoot in the grass.

But that doesn’t cover the breadth of Rachel’s poetic voice. She reveals profound wisdom through the simplicity of daily life. A spider spinning its web on a city clock, a dog chasing fireflies, the promise of an unexpected doorbell chime – all these things reveal some particular essence of human nature.

 

Rachel’s later poetry, particularly her collection titled Fear is the Thorn, published in 1936, reveals her greatest depths, the pain of romantic rejection, infertility, and the heartache of time’s relentless passage.

As Rachel Field’s biographer, I relished her poetry, which often mirrored events and conflicts expressed in her contiguous letters. Her archived writings and poetry taken together created a treasure trove of insight into the life of this gracious, delightful, deep-hearted writer and woman. I ache to think of the work she might have produced, had she been given more time.

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The Field House by Robin Clifford Wood

The Field House is the first full-scale biography of Rachel Field
Read this Q & A with Robin Wood and find the book:
The Field House on Bookshop.org* and The Field House on Amazon*

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If Once You Have Slept on an Island

If once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop;
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh, you won’t know why, and you can’t say how
Such change upon you came,
But – once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same!

Taxis and toadstools by Rachel field

Illustration by Rachel Field for If Once You Have Slept on an Island
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Good Green Bus

Rumbling and rattly good green Bus
Where are you going to carry us?
Up the shiny lengths of Avenue
Where lights keep company two by two;
Where windows glitter with things to buy,
And churches hold their steeples high.
Round the Circle and past the Park,
Still and shadowy, dim and dark,
Over the asphalt and into the Drive –
Isn’t it fun to be alive?
Look to the left and the River’s there
With ships and whistles and freshened air;
To the right – more windows row on row,
And every one like a picture show,
Or little stages where people play
At being themselves by night and day,
And never guess that they have us
For audience in the good green Bus!

 

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Sandwich Men

There’s something about Sandwich Men
That makes me want to cry:—
Not just because they’re mostly old
And dreary round the eye,
Or stooped between those painted boards
Their shoulders carry high,
It’s something that you seem to feel
When Sandwich Men go by.
You always know that they are there
No matter how you try
To turn your head the other way;
It’s not because they sigh
Or beg. They haven’t things to sell
And so you cannot buy.
You have to watch them shuffle past
In rainy streets or dry,
And feel that something that you feel
When Sandwich Men go by.

Sandwich men by Rachel field

Illustration by Rachel Field for Sandwich Men
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Something Told the Wild Geese

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, — “Snow.”
Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, — “Frost.”
All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.
Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,—
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

 

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For A Dog Chasing Fireflies

Why do we smile at one who goes
With eager paws and pointing nose;
With rolling eye, and frantic rush
On these small lights mysterious?
Are we more sensible or wise
Because we call them fireflies?
Because from our superior height
We watch you charge each phantom light,
Incredulous, and half afraid,
That such can shine and also fade
Out of your reach to reappear
Ever beyond and never near.
By what sure power do we place
Ourselves above such futile chase,
Who seek more fleeting lights than these
That glitter under darkening trees?

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A Rhyme for Greenwich Village

I walked on Eight Street in the Spring,
I thought I didn’t care.
I bought French pastry by the L,
Arbutus in the Square.
By Patchin Place I lingered
Beneath the Tower clock,
I had forgotten how lost things
Can throng a city block.
At Christopher and Gay Streets
My knees began to shake,
And I gave the organ-man a dime
For old time’s sake.

 

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October 14th

It was too much to ask
I know it now;
That slantwise light of afternoon
On the swamp maple bough;
That hump-backed, russet hill
And far white spire;
That smell of apples in the grass
And dry-leaf fire –
These should have been enough,
But, oh, my dear,—
If you had touched my hand or drawn
One step more near.

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Petition in Spring

Heaven help me now,
And every Spring, to bear
These too bright shapes
That throng the earth and air, —
The petal snow on bough,
The scillas’ early blue,
The wisps of straw and twigs
That nesting robins strew.
Help me past cowslip’s god
Fringing each marshy pool,
Past other people’s children
On the way to school.

 

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Not Every Bud…

Now that April is over;
Now that May is begun
I must bind my heart with sober thoughts
Lest petals in the sun
Should prove too prodigal and frail;
Lest flowering plum and pear
And peach trees wrapt in rosy mist
Should take me unaware.
I must remember roots in the dark,
And, even as I stare,
Whisper, —“Not every bud that blows,
Not every bud may bear.”

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ROBIN CLIFFORD WOOD has a BA from Yale University, an MA in English from the University of Rochester, and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. During twenty-five years as a full-time mom, she published local human-interest features in New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts and spent seven years as a regular columnist, first in Massachusetts, then for Maine’s Bangor Daily News. She began teaching college writing in 2015.

Her articles have appeared in Port City Life magazine, Bangor Metro, and Solstice literary magazine, which published her powerful essay “How Do You Help Your Parents Die?” in its spring 2019 issue. Her award-winning poetry received national recognition from the 2020 Writer’s Digest Competition. Wood lives in central Maine with her husband and dogs. The Field House is her first book. For more information, visit robincliffordwood.com

 

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2 Responses to “9 Poems by Rachel Field, Rediscovered American Author”

  1. I’ve always enjoyed the poems by Rachel Field and read them to my second grade class … and sometimes my second graders would use them as a penmanship exercise.

    • How great to hear this! Thanks for sharing. Rachel Field was such a talented writer; I’m hoping that there will be a revival of her work, as she truly deserves to be rediscovered.

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