Henriette (Burchell) Clarke
30th Aug 2022Posted in: Henriette (Burchell) Clarke, Modernist Poets 0
Little Towns







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Dedicated to the Trails of

My Island Home

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FLUE DUST (Gary Post)

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                LITTLE TOWNS


                TWO WOMEN




                A SQUARE PEG






                FOAM PHANTOM






                WILD GEESE


                TWO NIGHTS



                UNSEEN BLOSSOMS


                A VISIT






                BLIND PIG




                MEN FISHING


                TROUT POOL




                COAL MINERS


                BEAUTY SHOPPE


                THE MOTHER


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                HER FIRST VISIT


                THE PAST


                RAPIER BLADES


                TWO MASTERS




                STRAIGHT STICK


                FÊTE DAY




                AVE MARIA


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THE sheltered farm had always been her home

Yet in her dwelt no liking for the loam.

A visionary child, it always seemed,

Her real world, the fantasy she dreamed.

When, climbing long green hills she found the sea,

Came seething urge and longing to be free;

The courtships of the village lovers left her cold.

Could life go on like this till she was old,

And would she always long and hope in vain?

Within her blood there ran an alien strain. [page 10]


ON gay mornings, foreign craft

Bring to the port their load

And the claque of wooden sabots sounds

Along the cobbled road.

Strange scents, strange tongues

Bring joy and mystery …

Little towns are never lonely

If they’re by the sea.

On grey mornings, old men sit

And rub tobacco in hardened hand

While telling tale of long ago

They look away from the land,

The youth of the village listens well

As they think of days to be …

Little towns are never lonely

If they’re by the sea.

Evening sunsets, afterglow

Long grey shadows creep,

As yellow sails of anchored fleet

Are molten gold in the deep;

And figures of lovers are patterned

And blended against the sky,

In the cool of evening scudding home

The native sea-birds fly.

Ah, hear the patter of children’s feet

As they fun the docks so free …

Little downs are never lonely

If they’re by the sea. [page 11]


A WOMAN watched from her house on the hill

A trim ship in from sea,

Her three tall masts stood slim and straight

And an anchor hung at the lee.

The sunlight glistened upon her bow

And a dory floated astern,

While the tired heart of the farmer’s wife

For distant lands must yearn.

Oh, that I were the captain’s wife

Sailing a foreign sea,

And not tied down to home and sod

And a family of three.

*        *        *

From the deck of the ship the captain’s wife

Saw a cottage on the hill

And into her eyes came tears of grief

That life should prove so ill.

If I could live a life shore

Like that lucky farmer’s wife,

Far from the creak and roll of ships

I’d be happy all my life.

I’m sick of the sight of foriegn ports

And an island upon the sea,

With never a neighbor to chat and call

For an afternoon cup of tea. [page 12]

So the ship sailed out from the harbor calm

And two women waved farewell.

While neither knew of the sullen thoughts

That within each mind must dwell.


THE lad was watching the sea.

Long combers blue and green,

Gilded by the sun,

Advanced and receded;

One moment white foam filled

Rocky crevices, then

An outward swirl left them

Grey, barren and unsatisfied;

Adolescent yearning obsessed him.

On the shore he heard

The swish and crash of the waves

And further out a deep drone

Followed by a sonorous murmur;

The booming undertow left on the shore

Slimy bunches of yellow weed and purple kelp;

The boy’s unfathomed thoughts fared out

Beyond the distant breakers. [page 13]


AND she said once more, “You cannot go.”

    Then he turned his face away

From beyond the rocks and the blue-green sea

    Where a full-rigged vessel lay.

At the farm the house was neat and trim

    With an orchard blooming near;

But today the whole place seemed to him

    As if filled with drastic fear,

With a fear no more to take his place

    At the wheel of outbound ships,

Or to know the breeze with stinging tang

    As toward the lea she dips.

When he dug the earth the clods were waves,

    In the sky, he saw a sail,

And he thought the hoe that burned his hands

    Was a tiller through a gale.

In the early dawn he crept away,

    She was left in her spoolwood bed;

And mile by mile, up hill, down dale,

    He ran where the pathways led.

He signed on at once for foreign ports,

    But he had agreed with fate …

Then the sea that now between them rolls

    Would not be unmeasured hate. [page 14]


SHE tugs her cables taut and strong

As the wind blows out to sea,

On high the sea-gulls screaming whirl

And strengthen her wish to be free.

She feels with pain the urge to sail

Far off from the town of her birth,

As day by day she creaks and strains

And longs for the ends of the earth.

Quite near the quay an office stands

Where a man with sea-blue eyes

Is watching the gulls in their noisy flight,

A flurry of wings on the skies.

He is stick of the sight of chair and desk,

He is longing for other lands,

For moon-drenched maidens pale and slim

And islands with coral sands.

A moment’s sin in years long past …

An unseen mooring holds him fast. [page 15]


IS it possible that I

Here in shallow waters lie,

Keeled to starboard on the sand

Far too near to be to land.

Three strong masts are misty white

Bleached by days of burning light;

Time indeed has done enough

But I’m made of stronger stuff

Than the other wrecks around,

Skeletons upon the sound.

Nothing but their shriveled bones

Through which tide-rip creeps and moans.

No, my hulk’s as strong to-day,

Strong as when the ladies day

Walked my decks with sailors bold

Telling tales of days of old,

Then my messroom heard a toast

Earth no finer one could boast.

Yes, it’s strange to think that I

Here in shallow waters lie,

I who sailed unfathomed seas

Should be lying here at ease. [page 16]


I LIGHTED a match, but its feeble flame

Went out in a gust of the stormy squall

So I stepped in the lea of a fishing house

And tried another. I heard a call.

The match lit quickly and brightly burned,

Now where before had I seen that face?

My world around me suddenly crashed.

Who could ever forget such grace?

My heartbeat quickened at what I saw,

She was standing flat against the wall;

Around her face damp copper curls,

Like a bas-relief in a foreign stall.

The matey hurried me into the night;

I scarcely had time to make my ship.

Was it dreamed or real? By the lantern gleam

I saw a filmy kerchief dip.

What has changed me now they cannot tell,

The crew who jostle and wonder and leer;

They little know of a strong man’s soul

Filled with sedulous longing and fear.

For at night when on watch I pace the deck

And the pungent, stinging wind blows cool,

As I think of a wharf and a fishing shed

I curse myself for a fool. [page 17]


THE hot dry wind comes over the plain

    And its arid taste on my tongue

Bring neither the rest nor the peace I need,

    It’s not long since I was young.

But far in the night when at last I sleep

    I see in my dreams a wave,

With its height and coolness it succors me—

    I have still a soul to save.

Then morning comes and another day

    With its same Gethsemane

How long can I live for the night alone

    Until death shall set me free?


NO sea-gulls fly in the ice-bound bay.

They feel that Spring is not yet here;

And they follow the sea-craft far away,

Longing daily for harbor and pier.

Had I learned the wisdom of such a bird

As I glimpsed the white expanse of your soul

And not rushed on — your beauty lured,

As I saw in the future the ultimate goal—

Had I waited until the ice was away,

This chilly mist would not rise each day. [page 18]



WILD geese flying together,

Flying to lands afar.

But we have parted, my love and I,

I know not where you are;

Under the spell of summer’s charm

I thought that you were mine,

Unseen magic ’round us both

Wove a charm sublime.

When the wild birds in the Spring return

Shall I find the answer for which I yearn?

Wild geese flying together,

Flying to lands unknown.

Dreaming and waiting night and day,

Longing for you alone.

High overhead they pass

Flying to fairer skies.

Is it, I wonder, for me alone that memory never dies.

When the wild birds in Spring return

Shall I find the answer for which I yearn? [page 19]


IN a luminous night a crystal moon

Cast its rays on a silver sea,

They shimmer there like a limpid wind

And beauty entrances me.

But I remember a night of storm

When the clouds rolls black on high;

And the waters below were thick with foam

While my answering voice was a sigh.

Yet the shriek of the storm was the song of my heart,

For my spirit leaped to its call,

As a blinding flame of lightning flashed

I was unified with it all.

For youth rejoices in nature’s strife;

In itself it’s akin to the bear

Of her stirring passions, noise and stress.

One who does not admit defeat.

On this quiet night I know the peace

Of a calm, enchanting sea …

And now I forget both storm and fire.

Where is that other me? [page 20]




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OFTEN one sees and orchard blooming bright

With blossoms clustering gaily on its boughs,

Beneath the shade the spotted cattle browse,

All tended well with work and proud delight.

The trees upon this farm are gnarled and grey,

Alone the ghostly chimney stern and tall

Now stands, and unseen petals softly fall

Where once the children joined to laugh and play.

Now, sad in this deserted spot, we wait

And deeply think upon the vacant farms

From virgin forests won by stalwart arms.

Small spruce again grow over the estate.

Through endless days of fortitude and skill

These pioneers had worked with faith and pride

And trusting still in that same faith they died.

The thoughts of gallant days inspire us still. [page 22]


THE house had once been painted green with trimmings white,

But rain and storm of many years had changed the sight.

And now it stood forlorn and grey opon the hill

Uncurtained windows looking out, foreboding ill.

The picket fence had many palings torn away

And grinned with wildly demonic leer through weeds and hay.

We knocked upon the blistered door in darkening gloom.

And quick sharp footsteps echoed through the empty room;

Serene and dressed in silk we saw her standing near

The rustling poplars gave a sudden chill of fear;

We spoke and through unanswered eerie silence knew

And quickly took the narrow path all wet with dew.

Once there our hurried feet like frightened swallows flew. [page 23]


UP the high hill in ecstasy we race,

Then turn around to gaze below its height,

Where flowing brooks and pastures interlace,

Pleasing and cool in early morning light.

Above the mist-enveloped glen

We feel the influence of fairy wands;

Damp smell of woods and odors of fen,

Bits of soft moss and tiny green curled fronds.

In little valleys snow still lingers on,

And under prickly boughs of rugged spruce

The King of Winter’s marks are not yet gone;

The Princess Spring is asking now for truce.

Beside an ancient rotting stump we find

A dainty mystery rousing fresh delight,

The small arbutus blossoms are entwined

With clinging tendrils, hidden from the sight.

It does not even feel the chill of snows,

And often blooms beside a rivulet

Where Springtime’s vibrant opalescence flows.

With me its piquant odor lingers yet. [page 24]


SMALL rivulets make crooked paths across streets

Recently covered with soiled snow,

The vapor arising from the sorrel ground

Exudes a steam of musty odors.

Across the way with heavy stooping figure

A foreign woman digs deftly

Into the tenacious loam,

Seeking a few edible roots

So mindful of the savory relish

Of her Homeland.


EVERY day he sits

Outdoors with his chair tipped back,

The same old derby

And cane; his small eyes blink,

Guarding a pig that is blind. [page 25]


TREES of brown and red and yellow

Flaunt their beauty beneath the skies,

Verdure far on distant hillsides

The thoughts of Autumn belies.

One vivid splurge on maple sapling

Flashes vermilion surprisingly bright,

Small but refulgent in sunset splendor

It bursts upon our sight.

To some heart that is crushed with loss and fear

Autumn has come though summer is here. [page 26]


I HAVE seen men fishing.

In the cool shade of the blue-shadowed hills

The water flowed over white-pebbles,

And the amber pools were hiding place for opal beauties,

The swish of a line, the gay trill of a bird on a sun-patterned tree,

Or the splash of a wary fish upstream were the only sounds.

I have seen men fishing for pleasure.

I have seen men fishing.

Off the Grand Banks, in the fog and cold

Men in dories, men hardy and strong, hauled in white-bellied cod.

The yellow boats rocked and rolled in the ocean swell

But work went steadfastly on.

As the fog lifted other craft came in sight,

Heavy laden with their silver prey managed deftly with rough hands.

While the rank air of the sea enveloped all.

I have seen men fishing for pay.

I have seen men fishing.

A grey line in a human queue passed down to the wharves;

Each shabbily dressed man carried a small can of bait,

All walked slowly. [page 27]

Sitting on the edge of a coal-blackened quay they fished for hours.

Sometimes a small fish was caught and pulled up

Where it flopped ungracefully over the rough boards.

No word was spoken, and sullen eyes were seldom listed to the cold chimneys across the bay.

The mills were closed.

I have seen men fishing for food.


BELOW a pastel-tinted sky

The trout brook flowed

Slowly over white pebbles.

Farther upstream deeper pools beckoned

Azure and cool.

Steep mountain-sides patterned

In brilliant maple and blue spruce

Resembled a rich tapestry.

The silence was broken only by the plunge

Of a heavy fish, the humming swirl of a line

Or the sharp staccato of bird calls. [page 28]


IT was true, the plant was closed …

Smoke belched no more from the tall straight stacks,

It seemed impossible to get away from the sight

Of their cold reminder of want.

Relief—with always someone hungry till the soul

As well as the body grew shriveled and hopeless.

A man could not stay in the house.

A woman, remembering her anger at smoke-smeared clothes,

Now prayed for a smudge of soot. [page 29]


OUT of the bowels of earth they come,

Blackened and smoky and grim,

Climbing the slope for the shift is done;

They stand erect on the rim.

Strong and husky their muscles show

Under the coating of black;

And they stretch their arms and blink in the sun

And wonder if tallies are slack.

With lights that glitter on shabby caps

They go their way without talk;

Their heavy pit-boots caked with clay

Give a thudding sound to their walk.

They walk, and think as they thud along

Of days that are turned into night,

These men who slave in endless gloom

To give us light. [page 30]


ALL day she toiled

Making beautiful the faces

Of other women,

Yet she herself was not beautiful.

Women of society demanded her services,

Knowing that with skilful fingers

She would smooth from faces the lines

Written there by trivial annoyances

And too much pursuing of pleasure’s gods.

It was not a lasting beauty

Yet it served for the time,

And they could return to her again …

Women being made beautiful,

Day after day,

By one who was beautiful

Only in spirit. [page 31]


(Poem written after reading “The Mother” by Pearl. S. Buck)

THE fields of rice in which she slaved

Were not unkind to her,

Her rhythmic body swayed with ease,

Her mind was all astir.

Soon she would know again the touch

Of coming baby hands;

Her time could not be far off now—

She looked across the land.

There undisturbed her husband lay

Content to watch her toil;

He never followed out the day,

It was she who tilled the soil.

From him it was she had her joy

And pride had lit her face;

So, kindled with thoughts like these, she seemed

United with all her race. [page 32]



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MY fireside is without charm tonight

For long ago you vanished from my sight;

But many recollections hide away

Where flickering lights and smoky shadows play.

I think of all the plans we made alone;

Around the eaves the wind sounds like a moan.

As now I sit, I watch the glowing flame

And in the embers’ red I see one name;

Grotesque and tiny forms march to and fro—

Dear heart of mine, return; I love you so.

Come before coals have died to ashy grey

And scattered far away. [page 34]


I SHOULD remember better …

Streets and high buildings

Filled with a million sounds

And the stress of life.

But most clearly I recall

My grandmother,

Knitting rapidly bright-colored yarn

Or hulling large strawberries

With my aid.

And I can remember walking,

Clinging tightly to giant fingers;

Our steps made a sharp noise

On the pavement, as we hurried along

For ice cream.


THE sun threw burning streaks of light

On the stately copper samovar.

Days of Russian glory

Dreamed in a second-hand store. [page 35]


YEARS ago and often times forgotten

Was the message sent into the night.

The paper crackled as it was thrust furtively

Into its heavy parchment envelope.

Cold sweat was on your brow

Though the room was hot;

The odor of the wax came to your nostrils

As you sealed it,

Having signed away your honor.

All this returns with harsh, vivid detail

As someone closes a missive with a purple seal.

Memories roused by odors are keen

As rapier blades.


I SAW in a case

Two crosses of ebony

Smalls things made by hand

And tipped with chaste gold.

Nearby lay two dice.

God and Mammon. [page 36]


THE firelight threw

Long soft shadows

On the old mahogany chest and wide table,

The tall grandfather clock ticked pleasantly.

Grouped around the fire were several figures,

Women and men.

Their manner seemed refined;

Soft, clinging gowns of latest mode

Made beauty still more beautiful,

The odor of cigarettes mixed with costly perfumes.

All seemed waiting for something …

Suddenly from a corver of the room

A harsh voice cried:

… The champions of the ring

Are here tonight to strive with all their power

For the title of the world.

A right clip to the head

And then a smashing blow

Directed to a face already streaked with blood;

A swinging left-cut follows

A hard right hit below the heart …

Strange to think that in an age

Advanced in art and science,

A cultured group had met

To hear with unfeigned brutal lust

A prize fight. [page 37]


IN the Spring through the forest her walk was quick

As she searched here and there for a straight grown stick;

When in Summer the forest lay hot in the sun

She still laboured on for her task not done;

For perfection is always hard to find,

Yet the thought of its promise obsessed all her mind.

Now she stands, while the winds of Autumn moan,

With regret as her gust in a field unsown. [page 38]


ON other days in nature’s bloom and grace

I see the semblance of your comely face.

Beyond the bay the sun’s rich golden rays

Bring back the thought of other sacred days,

And in the colored maze of Autumn’s flame

Down through the shaded sloped I trace your name.

Today, perhaps because it was your fête,

I know I saw you standing by the gate

And I knew once more the brightness of your smile,

Remembered radiance stayed with me awhile,

Now down the path when Winter comes I know

This newborn faith will never let you go.


YOU saw

Across the room,

I was one of the guests;

The other faded and we stood

Alone. [page 39]


NEAR convent walls on the terrace green

Gracefully Sisters walk to and fro,

Where the blue waters softly flow

Life still moves sedate and serene.

Placid and restful as though in a dream

Poplar leaves are heard to sigh

Over the river there comes a cry

Carried across the narrow stream.

An infant crying distinct and shrill

Comes to the ears of the stately nuns,

Thinking of youth and how fast time runs

Often these memories linger still.

Twilight fades and the day is long

Voices in Ave Maria ring;

Tired, the mother begins to sing,

Blended as one is the song. [page 40]

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