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Nora May French

I've recently run across a group of California poets I was previously unfamiliar with. The first of these is Nora May French, who reminds me in some ways of Muriel Stuart. Her life was short, eventful, and unhappy in many respects. Her poetry is concise, sometimes verging on imagist, with unexpected word choices. It is thoughtful, wistful, but not as somber or tragic as her actual life. I use 'tragic' here as it is appropriate in both the classical and modern senses. Several similar versions of her biography are available online. She started writing poems at age 12, and had written about 70 by the time of her death by suicide in 1907 at age 26. her friends published a number of her works in 1910.

A sampling:

Between Two Rains

IT IS a silver space between two rains;
The lulling storm has given to the day
An hour of windless air and riven grey;
The world is drained of color; light remains.
Beyond the curving shore a gull complains;
Unceasing , on the bastions of the bay,
With gleam of shields and veer of vaporing spray
The long seas fall, the grey tide wars and wanes.

It is a silver space between two rains:
A mood too sweet for tears, for joy too pale—
What stress has swept or nears us, thou and I?
This hour a mist of light is on the plains,
And seaward fares again with litten sail
Our laden ship of dreams adown the sky.

Ave Atque Vale

IT GATHERS where the moody sky is bending.
It stirs the air along familiar ways—
A sigh for strange things forever ending.
For beauty shrinking in these alien days.

Now nothing is the same; old visions move me:
I wander silent through the waning land.
And find for youth and little leaves to love me
The old, old lichen crumbling in my hand.

What shifting films of distance fold you, blind you.
The windy eve of dreams, I cannot tell.
I know they grope through some strange mist to find you.
My hands that give you Greeting and Farewell.

San Francisco New Year's, 1907

(Nora moved to san Francisco in the later part of 1906 - the great earthquake and resulting fires leveled much of the city in April of that year)

SAID the Old Year to the New: "They will never welcome you
As they sang me in and rang me in upon my birthday night—
All above the surging crowd, bells and voices calling loud—
A throng attunded to laughter and a city all alight.

"Kind had been the years of old, drowsy-lidded, zoned with gold;
They swept their purples down the bat and sped the homeward keel;
The years of fruits and peace, smiling days and rich increase—
Too indolent with wine and sun to grasp the slaying steel.

"As my brothers so I came, panther-treading, silken, tame;
The sword was light within my hand, I kept it sheathed and still—
The jeweled city prayed me and the laughing voices stayed me—
A little while I pleased them well and gave them all their will.

"As a panther strikes to slay, so I wrenched my shuttering prey.
I lit above the panic throng my torches' crimson flare;
For they made my coming bright and I gave them light for light—
I filled the night with flaming winds and Terror's streaming hair.

"They were stately walls and high—as I felled them so they lie—
Lie like bodies torn and broken, lie like faces seamed with scars;
Here where Beauty dwelt and Pride, ere my torches flamed and died,
The empty arches break the night to frame the tranquil stars.

"Though of all my brothers scorned, I, betrayer, go unmourned,
It is I who tower shoulder-high above the level years;
You who come to build anew, joy will live again with you,
But mightiest I who walked with Death and taught the sting of tears!"


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