Editor’s Note: The first five poems below appear in the Winter 1935 edition of Golden Verse, whose associate editor was Bernard Toll
I MUSED BENEATH AN APPLE TREE
I mused beneath an apple tree
Of all that trees and men must know–
The grass that grows upon the lea.
And musing thus, unknowingly,
An apple fell upon the ground—
Green and unripe, small and unsound;
The apple lay alongside me.
And then I thought of one who, too,
Had grown and died long ere his day—
The budding fruit that dropped away
Before it yet had gathered dew;
I think of him whom once I knew,
His thread cut ere it had been spun—
The life which had not yet begun,
Fell by the tree whereon he grew.
What shall remain for sad satiety
That dimly looks from out the furrowed brow
And faded cheek? To death I would endow
My sated soul. Take from it what there be.
What shall remain—I have ennui,
Full bloated to the skin, inside a bough
Thin-shrivelled as an empty core. Allow
The graves to open on the young, the free,
The active hearts, but give me all the world
To roam—to stench the air and foul the mind,
And leave to virtue what my soul resigned.
O, topsy-turvy world, to leave impearled
The noble hearts beneath, while aged Time
Allows his sons to tread the earth to slime!
If love should run before me and declare
My state to you, if in my searching eye
And parching lip you could anon descry
What lovely bonds hold me in thrall—is there
A spark within you that would kindle at
My earnest gaze? Would not your luscious lip
Look on my thirst and cleave in fellowship
To mine? Oh, do not play the toying cat!
Say, would you speak, or laugh, or weep—please say!
If I should humbly fall before your feet,
Would you upraise me with your kisses sweet,
And wish that night might never turn to day?
If there is naught of love to see in me,
Pray, give me love of cheerless misery!
–Benjamin Corday (Bernard Toll)
My eyes are not deceiving, for I see
Most things that lie beyond the casual view:
I know the rose takes on its vermeil hue
To fascinate the nectar-drawing bee
And butterfly. Yet there is that in me
Which cannot look on earth, or grass, or dew,
But looking, straightway does in me imbue
All countless beings of imagery.
All beauty has the entity of dreams
Within the compass of its gracious sphere,
And soon can form those thoughts so bleak and
In endless chains of gay fantastic schemes,
Once clear of earth, we shall on wings have
A beauty that is countenanced in thought.
–Gregory Anders (Bernard Toll)
How came I to this dreary cell,
Couched in this lonely citadel?
What brought me hence and bade me dwell?
What wrought upon my heart the spell?
What force was it could so compel
My brain in reeling, my heart in kneeling
Before a heaven housed in hell,
It is for God, not me, to tell!
–Herbert Rawles (Bernard Toll)
December 25, 1955
No gifts have I to fill some yearning needs:
No silver chalices, no wrought brocades,
No necklaces of pearl or diamond beads
That might from you exact warm accolades.
I have no diadems or fine array,
I have no offerings of golden hue
I could bestow which might in any way
Requite the debt of love I owe to you.
My gifts are fashioned from my gratitude,
They well up from the spirit and the heart;
And when my offerings are thus imbued
They have a price beyond the richest mart.
I only need a thoughtful word, a kiss,
To make me manufacture gifts like this.
What adds to life despite its strife
has meaning but for you;
Take any fault with a grain of salt
and add it to the stew.
TO MY WIFE ON HER BIRTHDAY
December 1, 1982
Your waters quench my drying roots;
Your nourishment affords me strength.
When I fall, your spirit raises me;
When I fall, you soothe the pain.
In all I do you succor me,
Nor do I count the times when I have
Taken more from you than you would give
And held back love that should have been
It is now I
Feel the pain of such omissions,
Regretting most the least of hurt my faults
Have caused. But here and now I vouch
You have my gratitude for all
The love you have so freely given.
I swear there is but one reality
I know in life—your constancy;
It is the rock of my existence;
It is my haven in the storm.
The wind unwound the convoluted leaves
out of niches found on barren soil
between some clumps of weed or flattened down
where lines of shrubbery defended their
terrain. Those that were not anchored so
the wind enveloped into eddies; the rest
it caused to cartwheel down the street like troops
on charge against an enemy redoubt.
Some hardy ones soared up in skies
where birds would not have been so bold to fly.
Then tiring of such sport they bedded down
behind some parapets or came to rest
where gutters held them fast on gable roofs.
Once autumn joy rides done they wait for spring
When resurrection shall have turned their souls to green.
The light that flickers low at best
needs rarest fuel to feed its flame;
there’s nothing less will work as well,
unless it be a friendly hand
to ward disturbing breezes off
or gentle breath to make it glow.
When I look back upon the years
and see how quickly they have flown,
the thought I cherish most of all
is how you have enriched my days.
Without your love to give me strength
to face what time and tide allow,
I would be less than I am now
and more a pawn of whim and chance.
I treasure what our life has been
and all we’ve known of dark and light;
I need not fear the coming night
when I have you to comfort me.
THE SILENT DEAD
The silent dead have left
imprinted on the present.
Reminders of their lives remain
in words and photographs
and goods devolved upon
And yet their heritage is more than these.
We note their features
in many mirrored glances,
and their attributes
are often seen in ways
all through their lives.
June 18, 1983
WHAT AGITATES THE WATER’S BREAST
What agitates the water’s breast
in those rapacious ones who lurk
and seek to pounce upon their prey.
If their victims could be heard above,
what cries of anguish might escape
the muffling blanket of the stream
would echo in the ear of heaven.
But He above who hears the cries
When even lowly sparrows fall;
has not the time for pleading calls
that rise from out those finny tribes
whose lives are unobserved by man.
The debits have been noted,
the credits have been toted,
and both are placed upon the scales;
and yet what finally remains,
despite our work and pains,
awaits a flip of heads or tails.
The joys of comfort are the least
reward for those who like to roam:
they travel far who seek the beast
whose counterpart is close to home.
Alike on earth, alike in space,
the phantom Time maintains his pace;
he may be last upon the vault,
yet is he first through your default.
He has no need of charm or grace
to meet the challenge of the race,
he cares not, if you’re fast or slow
or, if you have to stop or go;
He only knows he must survive
though all about him lose their drive,
lest halting once, his heart will meet
the expiration of its beat.
December 7, 1984
Ignoring undertows of awe
that suck beneath his dancing feet,
he navigates the glinting wire
inside a bathysphere of light.
With skills long honed in esoteric trial,
he parries thrusts of gravity,
and turns aside the cries of doom
that well up from the ocean floor.
But the warming breath that gushes from below
also props his art against the emptiness;
he is like some denizen of upper skies
who is lifted up by thermal tides.
Above that sea of upturned mouths,
he explores imponderables
with his impedimenta—his hoops and balls—
manipulated at the brink of space.
Who is there to tell what objects,
now unknown and alien, await
discovery at those heights
he plumbs and seeks to commandeer?
Perhaps some race of supermen
that walks the emptiness of space,
or just a vapor trail to mark
the path Infinity had trod.
December 7 1984
Although some fires can keep on burning,
despite the dousing chill of rain
what light they give depends on learning
that life itself cannot long remain.
The wonder is that what is woken
when an ashy residue is stirred
reborn as one more token
of the spark that fired the word.
December 7 1984
What counts for sleep when I arise
is wakening to find my eyes
had shut away what they had seen
while venturing in dream’s demesne.
In order to reclaim the cost
of knowledge that I thought I lost,
I lay awake for half the night
to snuff the wick that held my light.
December 7 1984
An empty stare
makes one aware
of thoughts that have no home.
What is the use
to feel abuse
when eyes have wish to roam?
surmise can fade,
or die like dew in sun;
Still, not for naught
are objects sought
abandoned when they’re won.
The fallow land
does not demand
more use than it denies;
it finds relief
in seasons brief
and partly sunny skies.
JUNE 9, 1985
When I was young my expectations
grew like weeds in summer rain;
my fantasies were as fruits
that hung just beyond my grasp.
I germinated then, and had
no one to satisfy except myself.
But now that youth has passed me by,
no longer to return,
I seek for sense of quiet joys
and silent victories,
cherishing what your love may bring.
I only ask that you will pray
for my deficiencies,
assuaging not with solace
what the hungry eye intends,
nor feeding me what yet remains
of feasts incalculable.
Teach me how I may survive
the drudgery that slows the pace,
that dulls the eye and shadows grace;
I see no end to such tyranny
unless you raise me up
and light the way.
My fantasies have left the stage,
what lies before I do not know
nor ask for more except your love–
In this I find all substance
and the favors that are yet to be.
Dedicated to Hilda on Her Birthday—12/1/85
The tree intruding horny boughs
throughout surrounding air
forfends the light it would replace
from reaching everywhere.
These actions are not undersigned
but have a certain flair
for building high into the sky successive tines in air.
It readily can oversee and relegate to air
the incandescence just beyond
its lifted arms in prayer.
There’s ecstasy for all to see,
for all who are aware,
how in the light there is no night,
but air is everywhere.
On Anniversary 46
What Have we Wrought?
In almost fifty years of married life, what have
All dreams of fame and fortune from my writing
skills have failed to materialize;
Neither of our sons, though moderately successful
in their chosen fields, have ever achieved
Our grandchildren do not give evidence of having
that special spark of character that could
likely be translated into future acclaim
And yet, on the other hand, we have sufficient
income and savings with which to lead a com-
fortable existence for the rest of our lives.
Even if I had realized the success I longed for,
the thought of being a public figure, with
all the attendant annoyances that possibility involves,
has made me grateful that I have remained unknown.
I console myself as well with the thought that the
mental effort expended on my writings has not entirely
been in vain. For through that exercise my intellect has been strengthened;
So much so, in fact, that I continually surprise
myself by discovering new methods to
accomplish results that were heretofore beyond my powers.
As regards our children and grandchildren, I believe
the greatest legacy we have passed on to them
is our own inheritance of physical well-being
we have derived from our own parents.
We are also fortunate in that our children and their
children lead moderate and sensible lives, never
having been influenced by those who would sway
them from paths of temperance and right conduct.
June 4, 1987
On the Occasion of Our 47th Anniversary
Note: While this poem has nothing to do with our marriage or the subject of our relationship, because its opening lines were conceived upon awakening a few days ago, it might have a special meaning for you at this moment.
Sleeping, my life seems to drift toward
some outer shore I vaguely see,
as though I were caught up in a dream
from which I find a difficult release.
When I finally wake and return to consciousness,
what passed has vanished with the night,
Yet was that dream only a remembrance that
came to haunt me again?
Or was it a temporary lapse into
I have no way of knowing this;
The passage of years has left no testament
to prove what I dimly understand.
Only my death will be the final arbiter
of what my sleeping sense seeks to know.
(December 1, 1990)
If love be life
and loving living,
is more than giving.
A kiss, a sigh
are things that life
should not pass by,
nor should we all assume the worst
of that which makes
our bubbles burst.
It’s better to believe in man
than worship any spirit,
for then we hold a grip on life
and need not ever fear it.
In sum, I would not have you see
beyond some vast eternity,
but live for what each morning brings—
a kiss, a sigh—all common things.
(December 1, 1991)
What remedy for yesterdays
that fled before their time?
How has the past been purged away,
remembering the present is so new?
Your lineaments are softer now
and droop where once they were so firm
but while your muscles may have lost their tone,
the aura of your love
is all-embracing and stronger far
than it has ever been
How fascinating to find
that while the body may decline,
the spirit, given love as sustenance,
expands as years go by!
(June 9, 1992)
How was it we were overcome
by signs inept of phrase?
How sad that we had grown so dumb,
we had no voice for praise?
Where cries of anguish once were heard
now is no shout, now is no word
to set the echoes free.
How like the tortoise slow of gait
our anxious fears arise
to challenge what we know of fate
or learn how to be wise.
God grant that we may find release
from what should be interred,
to see our hopes of inner peace
uplifted like a bird
3/12/17 Proofread, a few periods added, but not checked line by line