Sea-island winds sweep through
Bringing with piney tang the old romance
Of Pirates and of smuggling gentlemen;
And tongues as languorous as southern France
Flow down her streets like water-talk at fords;
While through iron gates where pickaninnies sprawl,
The sound floats back, in rippled banjo chords,
From lush magnolia shade where mockers call.
Mornings, the flower-women hawk their wares—
Bronze caryatids of a genial race,
Bearing the bloom-heaped baskets on their heads;
Lithe, with their arms akimbo in wide grace,
Their jasmine nods jestingly at cares—
Turbaned they are, deep-chested, straight and tall,
Bandying old English words now seldom heard,
But sweet as Provencal.
Dreams peer like prisoners through her harp-like gates,
From molten gardens mottled with gray-gloom,
Where lichened sundials shadow ancient dates,
And deep piazzas loom.
Fringing her quays are frayed palmetto posts,
Where clipper ships once moored along the ways,
And fanlight doorways, sunstruck with old ghosts,
Sicken with loves of her lost yesterdays.
Often I halt upon some gabled walk,
Thinking I see the ear-ringed picaroons,
Slashed with a sash or Spanish folderols,
Gambling for moidores or for gold doubloons.
But they have gone where night goes after day,
And the old streets are gay with whistled tunes,
Bright with the lilt of scarlet parasols,
Carried by honey-voiced young octoroons.
Against the swart magnolias’
Pronged maples, like a stag’s new horn,
Stand gouted red upon the green,
In March when shaggy buds are shorn.
Then all a mist-streaked,
The long sea-islands lean to hear
A water harp that shallows play
To lull the beaches’ fluted ear.
When this same music wakes
Of pregnant beauty in the sod,
And makes the uneasy vultures shift
Like evil things afraid of God,
Then, then it is I love to
Upon the flood-tide’s lazy swirls,
While from the level rice fields lift
The spiritu’ls of darky girls.
I hear them singing in the
Like voices from the long-ago;
They speak to me of somber worlds
And sorrows that the humble know;
Of sorrow—yet their
A harmony of larger hours
From easy epochs long at peace
Amid an irony of flowers.
So if they sometimes seem
That cast a chill of doubt on spring,
They have still higher notes of fire
Like cardinals upon the wing.