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Category: Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty
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AUGUST 1, 1912. Standing up at the Postoffice desk, Pueblo, Colorado.

Several times since going over the Colorado border I have had such a cordial reception for the Gospel of Beauty that my faith in this method of propaganda is reawakened. I confess to feeling a new zeal. But there are other things I want to tell in this letter.

I have begged my way from Dodge City on, dead broke, and keeping all the rules of the road. I have been asked dozens of times by frantic farmers to help them at various tasks in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. I have regretfully refused all but half-day jobs, having firmly resolved not to harvest again till I have well started upon a certain spiritual enterprise, namely, the writing of certain new poems that have taken possession of me in this high altitude, despite the physical stupidity that comes with strenuous walking. Thereby hangs a tale that I have not room for here.

Resolutely setting aside all recent wonders, I have still a few impressions of the wheatfield to record. Harvesting time in Kansas is such a distinctive institution! Whole villages that are dead any other season blossom with new rooming signs, fifty cents a room, or when two beds are in a room, twenty-five cents a bed. The eating counters are generally separate from these. The meals are almost uniformly twenty-five cents each. The fact that Kansas has no bar-rooms makes these shabby food-sodden places into near-taverns, the main assembly halls for men wanting to be hired, or those spending their coin. Famous villages where an enormous amount of money changes hands in wages and the sale of wheat crops are thus nothing but marvelous lines of dirty restaurants. In front of the dingy hotels are endless ancient chairs. Summer after summer fidgety, sun-fevered, sticky harvesters have gossiped from chair to chair or walked toward the dirty band-stand in the public square, sure, as of old, to be encountered by the anxious farmer, making up his crew.

A few harvesters are seen, carrying their own bedding; grasshopper bitten quilts with all their colors flaunting and their cotton gushing out, held together by a shawl-strap or a rope. Almost every harvester has a shabby suitcase of the paste-board variety banging round his ankles. When wages are rising the harvester, as I have said before, holds out for the top price. The poor farmer walks round and round the village half a day before he consents to the three dollars. Stacker's wages may be three to five simoleons and the obdurate farmer may have to consent to the five lest his wheat go to seed on the ground. It is a hard situation for a class that is constitutionally tightwad, often wisely so.

The roundhouses, water tanks, and all other places where men stealing freight rides are apt to pass, have enticing cards tacked on or near them by the agents of the mayors of the various towns, giving average wages, number of men wanted, and urging all harvesters good and true to come to some particular town between certain dates. The multitude of these little cards keeps the harvester on the alert, and, as the saying is: "Independent as a hog on ice."

To add to the farmer's distractions, still fresher news comes by word of mouth that three hundred men are wanted in a region two counties to the west, at fifty cents more a day. It sweeps through the harvesters' hotels, and there is a great banging of suitcases, and the whole town is rushing for the train. Then there is indeed a nabbing of men at the station, and sudden surrender on the part of the farmers, before it is too late.

Harvesting season is inevitably placarded and dated too soon in one part of the State, and not soon enough in another. Kansas weather does not produce its results on schedule. This makes not one, but many hurry-calls. It makes the real epic of the muscle market.

Stand with me at the station. Behold the trains rushing by, hour after hour, freight-cars and palace cars of disheveled men! The more elegant the equipage the more do they put their feet on the seats. Behold a saturnalia of chewing tobacco and sunburn and hairy chests, disturbing the primness and crispness of the Santa Fé, jostling the tourist and his lovely daughter.

They are a happy-go-lucky set. They have the reverse of the tightwad's vices. The harvester, alas, is harvested. Gamblers lie in wait for him. The scarlet woman has her pit digged and ready. It is fun for the police to lock him up and fine him. No doubt he often deserves it. I sat half an afternoon in one of these towns and heard the local undertaker tell horrible stories of friendless field hands with no kinsfolk anywhere discoverable, sunstruck and buried in a day or so by the county. One man's story he told in great detail. The fellow had complained of a headache, and left the field. He fell dead by the roadside on the way to the house. He was face downward in an ant hill. He was eaten into an unrecognizable mass before they found him at sunset. The undertaker expatiated on how hard it was to embalm such folks. It was a discourse marshaled with all the wealth of detail one reads in _The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar_.

The harvester is indeed harvested. He gambles with sunstroke, disease and damnation. In one way or another the money trickles from his loose fingers, and he drifts from the wheat in Oklahoma north to the wheat in Nebraska. He goes to Canada to shock wheat there as the season recedes, and then, perhaps, turns on his tracks and makes for Duluth, Minnesota, we will say. He takes up lumbering. Or he may make a circuit of the late fruit crops of Colorado and California. He is, pretty largely, so much crude, loose, ungoverned human strength, more useful than wise. Looked at closely, he may be the boy from the machine-shop, impatient for ready money, the farmer failure turned farm-hand, the bank-clerk or machine-shop mechanic tired of slow pay, or the college student on a lark, in more or less incognito. He may be the intermittent criminal, the gay-cat or the traveling religious crank, or the futile tract-distributer.

And I was three times fraternally accosted by harvesters who thought my oil-cloth package of poems was a kit of burglar's tools. It _is_ a system of breaking in, I will admit.

A STORY LEFT OUT OF THE LETTERS

This ends the section of my letters home that in themselves make a consecutive story. But to finish with a bit of a nosegay, and show one of the unexpected rewards of troubadouring, let me tell the tale of the Five Little Children Eating Mush.

One should not be so vain as to recount a personal triumph. Still this is a personal triumph. And I shall tell it with all pride and vanity. Let those who dislike a conceited man drop the book right here.

I had walked all day straight west from Rocky Ford. It was pitch dark, threatening rain--the rain that never comes. It was nearly ten o'clock. At six I had entered a village, but had later resolved to press on to visit a man to whom I had a letter of introduction from my loyal friend Dr. Barbour of Rocky Ford.

There had been a wash-out. I had to walk around it, and was misdirected by the good villagers and was walking merrily on toward nowhere. Around nine o'clock I had been refused lodging at three different shanties. But from long experience I knew that something would turn up in a minute. And it did.

I walked right into the fat sides of a big country hotel on that interminable plain. It was not surrounded by a village. It was simply a clean hostelrie for the transient hands who worked at irrigating in that region.

I asked the looming figure I met in the dark: "Where is the boss of this place?"

"I am the boss." He had a Scandinavian twist to his tongue.

"I want a night's lodging. I will give in exchange an entertainment this evening, or half a day's work to-morrow."

"Come in."

I followed him up the outside stairway to the dining-room in the second story. There was his wife, a woman who greeted me cheerfully in the Scandinavian accent. She was laughing at her five little children who were laughing at her and eating their mush and milk.

Presumably the boarders had been delayed by their work, and had dined late. The children were at it still later.

They were real Americans, those little birds. And they had memories like parrots, as will appear.

"Wife," said the landlord, "here is a man that will entertain us to-night for his keep, or work for us tomorrow. I think we will take the entertainment to-night. Go ahead, mister. Here are the kids. Now listen, kids."

To come out of the fathomless, friendless dark and, almost in an instant, to look into such expectant fairy faces! They were laughing, laughing, laughing, not in mockery, but companionship. I recited every child-piece I had ever written--(not many).

They kept quite still till the end of each one. Then they pounded the table for more, with their tin spoons and their little red fists.

So, with misgivings, I began to recite some of my fairy tales for grown-ups. I spoke slowly, to make the externals of each story plain. The audience squealed for more.... I decided to recite six jingles about the moon, that I had written long ago: How the Hyæna said the Moon was a Golden Skull, and how the Shepherd Dog contradicted him and said it was a Candle in the Sky--and all that and all that.

The success of the move was remarkable because I had never pleased either grown folks or children to any extent with those verses. But these children, through the accumulated excitements of a day that I knew nothing about, were in an ecstatic imaginative condition of soul that transmuted everything.

The last of the series recounted what Grandpa Mouse said to the Little Mice on the Moon question. I arranged the ketchup bottle on the edge of the table for Grandpa Mouse. I used the salts and peppers for the little mice in circle round. I used a black hat or so for the swooping, mouse-eating owls that came down from the moon. Having acted out the story first, I recited it, slowly, mind you. Here it is:

 

WHAT GRANDPA MOUSE SAID

    "The moon's a holy owl-queen: She keeps them in a jar Under her arm till evening, Then sallies forth to war.

    She pours the owls upon us: They hoot with horrid noise And eat the naughty mousie-girls And wicked mousie-boys.

    So climb the moon-vine every night And to the owl-queen pray: Leave good green cheese by moonlit trees For her to take away.

    And never squeak, my children, Nor gnaw the smoke-house door. The owl-queen then will then love us And send her birds no more."

At the end I asked for my room and retired. I slept maybe an hour. I was awakened by those tireless little rascals racing along the dark hall and saying in horrible solemn tones, pretending to scare one another:

    "The moon's a holy owl-queen: She keeps them in a jar Under her arm till night, Then 'allies out to war! She sicks the owls upon us, They 'OOT with 'orrid noise And eat ... the naughty boys, And the MOON'S A HOLY OWL-QUEEN! SHE KEEPS THEM IN A JAR!"

And so it went on, over and over.

Thereupon I made a mighty and a rash resolve. I renewed that same resolve in the morning when I woke. I said within myself "_I shall write one hundred Poems on the Moon!_"

Of course I did not keep my resolve to write one hundred pieces about the moon. But here are a few of those I did write immediately after:

 

THE FLUTE OF THE LONELY

[To the tune of Gaily the Troubadour.]

    Faintly the ne'er-do-well Breathed through his flute: All the tired neighbor-folk, Hearing, were mute. In their neat doorways sat, Labors all done, Helpless, relaxed, o'er-wrought, Evening begun.

    None of them there beguiled Work-thoughts away, Like to this reckless, wild Loafer by day. (Weeds in his flowers upgrown! Fences awry! Rubbish and bottles heaped! Yard like a sty!)

    There in his lonely door, Leering and lean, Staggering, liquor-stained, Outlawed, obscene----Played he his moonlight thought, Mastered his flute. All the tired neighbor-folk, Hearing, were mute. None but he, in that block, Knew such a tune. All loved the strain, and all _Looked at the moon!_

 

THE SHIELD OF FAITH

    The full moon is the Shield of Faith, And when it hangs on high Another shield seems on my arm The hard world to defy.

    Yea, when the moon has knighted me, Then every poisoned dart Of daytime memory turns away From my dream-armored heart.

    The full moon is the Shield of Faith: As long as it shall rise, I know that Mystery comes again, That Wonder never dies.

    I know that Shadow has its place, That Noon is not our goal, That Heaven has non-official hours To soothe and mend the soul;

    That witchcraft can be angel-craft And wizard deeds sublime; That utmost darkness bears a flower, Though long the budding time.

 

THE ROSE OF MIDNIGHT

[What the Gardener's Daughter Said]

    The moon is now an opening flower, The sky a cliff of blue. The moon is now a silver rose; Her pollen is the dew.

    Her pollen is the mist that swings Across her face of dreams: Her pollen is the faint cold light That through the garden streams.

    All earth is but a passion-flower With blood upon his crown. And what shall fill his failing veins And lift his head, bowed down?

    This cup of peace, this silver rose Bending with fairy breath Shall lift that passion-flower, the earth, A million times from Death!

 

THE PATH IN THE SKY

    I sailed a little shallop Upon a pretty sea In blue and hazy mountains, Scarce mountains unto me; Their summits lost in wonder, They wrapped the lake around, And when my shallop landed I trod on a vague ground,

    And climbed and climbed toward heaven, Though scarce before my feet I found one step unveiled there The blue haze vast, complete, Until I came to Zion The gravel paths of God: My endless trail pierced the thick veil To flaming flowers and sod. I rested, looked behind me And saw where I had been. _My little lake. It was the moon._ Sky-mountains closed it in.

       *       *       *       *       *

PROCLAMATIONS

_Immediately upon my return from my journey the following Proclamations were printed in Farm and Fireside, through the great kindness of the editors, as another phase of the same crusade._

     A PROCLAMATION OF BALM IN GILEAD

     Go to the fields, O city laborers, till your wounds are healed. Forget the street-cars, the skyscrapers, the slums, the Marseillaise song.

     We proclaim to the broken-hearted, still able to labor, the glories of the plowed land. The harvests are wonderful. And there is a spiritual harvest appearing. A great agricultural flowering of art and song is destined soon to appear. Where corn and wheat are growing, men are singing the psalms of David, not the Marseillaise.

     You to whom the universe has become a blast-furnace, a coke-oven, a cinder-strewn freight-yard, to whom the history of all ages is a tragedy with the climax now, to whom our democracy and our flag are but playthings of the hypocrite,--turn to the soil, turn to the earth, your mother, and she will comfort you. Rest, be it ever so little, from your black broodings. Think with the farmer once more, as your fathers did. Revere with the farmer our centuries-old civilization, however little it meets the city's trouble. Revere the rural customs that have their roots in the immemorial benefits of nature.

     With the farmer look again upon the Constitution as something brought by Providence, prepared for by the ages. Go to church, the crossroads church, and say the Lord's Prayer again. Help them with their temperance crusade. It is a deeper matter than you think. Listen to the laughter of the farmer's children. Know that not all the earth is a-weeping. Know that so long as there is black soil deep on the prairie, so long as grass will grow on it, we have a vast green haven.

     The roots of some of our trees are still in the earth. Our mountains need not to be moved from their places. Wherever there is tillable land, there is a budding and blooming of old-fashioned Americanism, which the farmer is making splendid for us against the better day.

     There is perpetual balm in Gilead, and many city workmen shall turn to it and be healed. This by faith, and a study of the signs, we proclaim!

 

     PROCLAMATION

     _Of the New Time for Farmers and the New New England_

     Let it be proclaimed and shouted over all the ploughlands of the United States that the same ripening that brought our first culture in New England one hundred years ago is taking place in America to-day. Every State is to have its Emerson, its Whittier, its Longfellow, its Hawthorne and the rest.

     Our Puritan farmer fathers in our worthiest handful of States waited long for their first group of burnished, burning lamps. From the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 to the delivery of Emerson's address on the American Scholar was a weary period of gestation well rewarded.

     Therefore, let us be thankful that we have come so soon to the edge of this occasion, that the western farms, though scarcely settled, have the Chautauqua, which is New England's old rural lecture course; the temperance crusade, which is New England's abolitionism come again; the magazine militant, which is the old Atlantic Monthly combined with the Free-Soil Newspaper under a new dress; and educational reform, which is the Yankee school-house made glorious.

     All these, and more, electrify the farm-lands. Things are in that ferment where many-sided Life and Thought are born.

     Because our West and South are richer and broader and deeper than New England, so much more worth while will our work be. We will come nearer to repeating the spirit of the best splendors of the old Italian villages than to multiplying the prunes and prisms of Boston.

     The mystery-seeking, beauty-serving followers of Poe in their very revolt from democracy will serve it well. The Pan-worshipping disciples of Whitman will in the end be, perhaps, more useful brothers of the White Christ than all our coming saints. And men will not be infatuated by the written and spoken word only, as in New England. Every art shall have the finest devotion.

     Already in this more tropical California, this airier Colorado, this black-soiled Illinois, in Georgia, with her fire-hearted tradition of chivalry and her new and most romantic prosperity, men have learned to pray to the God of the blossoming world, men have learned to pray to the God of Beauty. They meditate upon His ways. They have begun to sing.

     As of old, their thoughts and songs begin with the land, and go directly back to the land. Their tap-roots are deep as those of the alfalfa. A new New England is coming, a New England of ninety million souls! An artistic Renaissance is coming. An America is coming such as was long ago prophesied in Emerson's address on the American Scholar. This by faith, and a study of the signs, we proclaim!

 

     PROCLAMATION

     _Of the New Village, and the New Country Community, as Distinct from the Village_

     This is a year of bumper crops, of harvesting festivals. Through the mists of the happy waning year, a new village rises, and the new country community, in visions revealed to the rejoicing heart of faith.

     And yet it needs no vision to see them. Walking across this land I have found them, little ganglions of life, promise of thousands more. The next generation will be that of the eminent village. The son of the farmer will be no longer dazzled and destroyed by the fires of the metropolis. He will travel, but only for what he can bring back. Just as his father sends half-way across the continent for good corn, or melon-seed, so he will make his village famous by transplanting and growing this idea or that. He will make it known for its pottery or its processions, its philosophy or its peacocks, its music or its swans, its golden roofs or its great union cathedral of all faiths. There are a thousand miscellaneous achievements within the scope of the great-hearted village. Our agricultural land to-day holds the ploughboys who will bring these benefits. I have talked to these boys. I know them. I have seen their gleaming eyes.

     And the lonely country neighborhood, as distinct from the village, shall make itself famous. There are river valleys that will be known all over the land for their tall men and their milk-white maidens, as now for their well-bred horses. There are mountain lands that shall cultivate the tree of knowledge, as well as the apple-tree. There are sandy tracts that shall constantly ripen red and golden citrus fruit, but as well, philosophers comforting as the moon, and strength-giving as the sun.

     These communities shall have their proud circles. They shall have families joined hand in hand, to the end that new blood and new thoughts be constantly brought in, and no good force or leaven be lost. The country community shall awaken illustrious. This by faith, and a study of the signs, we proclaim!

 

     PROCLAMATION

     _Welcoming the Talented Children of the Soil_

     Because of their closeness to the earth, the men on the farms increase in stature and strength.

     And for this very reason a certain proportion of their children are being born with a finer strength. They are being born with all this power concentrated in their nerves. They have the magnificent thoughts that might stir the stars in their courses, were they given voice.

     Yea, in almost every ranch-house is born one flower-like girl or boy, a stranger among the brothers and sisters. Welcome, and a thousand welcomes, to these fairy changelings! They will make our land lovely. Let all of us who love God give our hearts to these His servants. They are born with eyes that weep themselves blind, unless there is beauty to look upon. They are endowed with souls that are self-devouring, unless they be permitted to make rare music; with a desire for truth that will make them mad as the old prophets, unless they be permitted to preach and pray and praise God in their own fashion, each establishing his own dream visibly in the world.

     The land is being jeweled with talented children, from Maine to California: souls dewy as the grass, eyes wondering and passionate, lips that tremble. Though they be born in hovels, they have slender hands, seemingly lost amid the heavy hands. They have hands that give way too soon amid the bitter days of labor, but are everlastingly patient with the violin, or chisel, or brush, or pen.

     All these children as a sacred charge are appearing, coming down upon the earth like manna. Yet many will be neglected as the too-abundant mulberry, that is left upon the trees. Many will perish like the wild strawberries of Kansas, cut down by the roadside with the weeds. Many will be looked upon like an over-abundant crop of apples, too cheap to be hauled to market, often used as food for the beasts. There will be a great slaughter of the innocents, more bloody than that of Herod of old. But there will be a desperate hardy remnant, adepts in all the conquering necromancy of agricultural Song and democratic Craftsmanship. They will bring us our new time in its completeness.

     This by faith, and a study of the signs, we proclaim!

 

     PROCLAMATION

     _Of the Coming of Religion, Equality and Beauty_

     In our new day, so soon upon us, for the first time in the history of Democracy, art and the church shall be hand in hand and equally at our service. Neither craftsmanship nor prayer shall be purely aristocratic any more, nor at war with each other, nor at war with the State. The priest, the statesman and the singer shall discern one another's work more perfectly and give thanks to God.

     Even now our best churches are blossoming in beauty. Our best political life, whatever the howlers may say, is tending toward equality, beauty and holiness.

     Political speech will cease to turn only upon the price of grain, but begin considering the price of cross-roads fountains and people's palaces. Our religious life will no longer trouble itself with the squabbles of orthodoxy. It will give us the outdoor choral procession, the ceremony of dedicating the wheat-field or the new-built private house to God. That politician who would benefit the people will not consider all the world wrapped up in the defense or destruction of a tariff schedule. He will serve the public as did Pericles, with the world's greatest dramas. He will rebuild the local Acropolis. He will make his particular Athens rule by wisdom and philosophy, not trade alone. Our crowds shall be audiences, not hurrying mobs; dancers, not brawlers; observers, not restless curiosity-seekers. Our mobs shall becomes assemblies and our assemblies religious; devout in a subtle sense, equal in privilege and courtesy, delicate of spirit, a perfectly rounded democracy.

     All this shall come through the services of three kinds of men in wise coöperation: the priests, the statesmen and the artists. Our priests shall be religious men like St. Francis, or John Wesley, or General Booth, or Cardinal Newman. They shall be many types, but supreme of their type.

     Our statesmen shall find their exemplars and their inspiration in Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, as all good Americans devoutly desire.

     But even these cannot ripen the land without the work of men as versatile as William Morris or Leonardo. Our artists shall fuse the work of these other workers, and give expression to the whole cry and the whole weeping and rejoicing of the land. We shall have Shelleys with a heart for religion, Ruskins with a comprehension of equality.

     _Religion_, _equality_ and _beauty_! By these America shall come into a glory that shall justify the yearning of the sages for her perfection, and the prophecies of the poets, when she was born in the throes of Valley Forge.

     _This, by faith, and a study of the signs, we proclaim!_

       *       *       *       *       *

EPILOGUE

[_Written to all young lovers about to set up homes of their own--but especially to those of some far-distant day, and those of my home-village_]

    _Lovers, O lovers, listen to my call. Give me kind thoughts. I woo you on my knees. Lovers, pale lovers, when the wheat grows tall, When willow trees are Eden's incense trees:--_

    _I would be welcome as the rose in flower Or busy bird in your most secret fane. I would be read in your transcendent hour When book and rhyme seem for the most part vain._

    _I would be read, the while you kiss and pray. I would be read, ere the betrothal ring Circles the slender finger and you say Words out of Heaven, while your pulses sing._

    _O lovers, be my partisans and build Each home with a great fireplace as is meet. When there you stand, with royal wonder filled, In bridal peace, and comradeship complete,_

    _While each dear heart beats like a fairy drum--Then burn a new ripe wheat-sheaf in my name. Out of the fire my spirit-bread shall come And my soul's gospel swirl from that red flame._

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