Léonie Adams

A Selection of Poems

Lullaby -o- Kennst du das Land -o- Many Mansions -o- Thought's End

"Léonie Adams was born in Brooklyn in 1899 and graduated from Barnard College in 1922. Her first published poem appeared in a periodical in 1921, and in 1922 she became one of the editors of the poetry magazine The Measure. In 1928 Miss Adams was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing abroad which was renewed in 1929. Her first book of verse, Those Not Elect, was published in 1925, and her second, High Falcon, appeared in 1929. Miss Adams held the annual appointment as Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1948-49. She has taught at New York University, Bennington College, and the New Jersey College for Women, from which in 1950 she received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. She is now teaching in the School of Professional Writing at Columbia University."

"More than anyone else today she continues at the highest level the great lyrical tradition of the English Romantics, with whom in their own time she would have held her own." -- Allen Tate

-- Jacket copy from Poems: A Selection (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1954)


Hush, lullay.
Your treasures all
Encrust with rust,
Your trinket pleasures fall
        To dust.

Beneath the sapphire arch,
Upon the grassy floor,
Is nothing more
        To hold,
And play is over-old.
Your eyes
        In sleepy fever gleam,
Their lids droop
        To their dream.
You wander late alone,
The flesh frets on the bone,
Your love fails in your breast,
Here is the pillow.

Kennst du das Land

No, I have borne in mind this hill,
For once before I came its way
In hours when summer held her breath
Above her innocents at play;
Knew the leaves deepening the green ground
With their green shadows, there as still
And perfect as leaves stand in air;
The bird who takes delight in sound
Giving his young and watery call,
That is each time as if a fall
Flashed silver and were no more there.
And knew at last, when day was through,
That sky in which the boughs were dipped
More thick with stars than fields with dew;
And in December brought to mind
The laughing child to whom they gave
Among these slopes, upon this grass,
The summer-hearted name of love.
Still can you follow with your eyes,
Where on the green and gilded ground
The dancers will not break the round,
The beechtrunks carved of moonlight rise;
Still at their roots the violets burn
Lamps whose flame is soft as breath.
But turn not so, again, again,
They clap me in their wintry chain;
I know the land whereto you turn,
And know it for a land of death.

Note: The title is from Goethe's "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn?" (Know you the land where the lemon-trees bloom?").

Many Mansions

The last majority attained,
And shut from its small house of dust,
Into the heritage of air
The spirit goes because it must:
And halts before the multiple plane
To look more ways than left and right,
And weeping walks its father's house
Like something homeless in the night:
For now less largely let abroad,
Though but the world they say is mine,
I shiver as I take the road.

Thought's End

I'd watched the hills drink the last colour of light,
All shapes grow bright and wane on the pale air,
Till down the traitorous east there came the night
And swept the circle of my seeing bare;
Its intimate beauty like a wanton's veil
Tore from the void as from an empty face.
I felt at being's rim all being fail,
And my one body pitted against space.
O heart more frightened than a wild bird's wings
Beating at green, now is no fiery mark
Left on the quiet nothingness of things.
Be self no more against the flooding dark;
There thousandwise, sown in that cloudy blot,
Stars that are worlds look out and see you not.

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    Page posted by Seamus Cooney
    January 9, 1997