In Capacity

Maurice Thompson

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You ask me why
I long to fly
Out from your palace to the dreamy woods
And the summer solitudes,
Why I pine
In this cage of mine,
Why I fret,
Why I set
All manner of querulous echoes fluttering forth
From the cold North
And wandering Southward with beseeching pain
In every strain.

Ask me not,
Task me not
With such vain questions, but fling wide the door,
And hinder me no more;
Give back my wings to me,
And the wild currents of my liberty!

I pant,
I faint;
I die
For the trees so high
And the broad fields of luscious cane
And the grassy plain
And the red tiled villages so old and dull,
Where (through the unkempt gardens rung)
The timbre of the Creole tongue
Makes every close so beautiful.

Oh, if you please,
Give me release!
Open the gate
Of this cage of Fate
And let me mount the south wind and go down
To Bay Saint Louis town,
Where the brown bees hum
In amber mists of pollen and perfume;
And the roses gush abloom!

There in the oleander groves,
With drooping wings my dear mate moves
And wonders why I stay
So long, so long away,
While the spring in fervid prime
Has waxed to nesting time,
And the air once more, in pungent ecstasy,
Whirls the wasp and butterfly,
Flings the orange petals high,
And wrings a racy thrill from every tree!

My memory turns
To a place of vines and ferns
And a cabin daubed with clay,
Where many a day
And many a sweet night long,
In the old fig-tree and the scuppernong,
I made the whole world wonder at my song.

There the restless air
Flung bubbling waves of freshness to and fro,
The great japonica blossoms gleamed like snow,
While from the cabin's eaves
And from the waxen leaves
The long gray moss fell down,
Trailing like a gown.

The cabin was a home
Where naught but peace and happiness could come:
The floor was earth,
Well drained and cool, with loamy odor fine,
And on its hearth
Burned cedar boughs and knots of resinous pine
That filled the place with tender, balmy heat,
When the stout housewife broiled the juicy meat
And brewed the coffee bright and clear as wine.

There was a path down to a broad bayou,
Whose waters blue
The master of the cabin loved to sail,
In breeze or gale,
And overhead
The huge arms of an ancient live-oak spread
On high
Between the roof-rib and the violet sky.

A rout
Of noisy, wild, black children, in and out,
Ran and tumbled, leaped and sang,
Till the brakes and thickets rang
With the joy
Of girl and boy,
Who feel (and yet know not) what perfect bliss
The careless way of utter freedom is.

In the dusk of eve I heard
(Sweeter than voice of any singing bird,
Or strain of flute, or breathing of hautbois)
The ditties in patois
Warbled by two voices rich and deep,
When the brood of children had been lulled to sleep,
And man and wife sat by the cabin door,
With the rose-vine drooping o'er,
And the leaf-sounds creeping in
With a rippling soft and thin.

A banjo!
Never was other music quite so good
For the night and the solitude,
And the fragrant, fruity silence of a Southern wood,
And the black man's humble lot,
With its curves of simple thought,
Rounded to such rich fragments of conceit
As only nature's genius may complete.

Meantime, steadily,
In the night-light vague and high,
Angles of water-fowl winnowed the purple sky,
Clanging their trumpet-notes
As if from brazen throats,
And seeming to fan the star-dust with their wings,
And the breeze was like a flute,
(A Pan-flute in the reeds) blown by the lips hirsute
Of the jovial god who loves to be where the humblest minstrel sings.

Love-music and love-song,
Half-heathen and half-Christian, racy, strong,
Vibrant with joy, flooded with humor droll,
And rich with yearnings of the human soul,
Washed round and over me
And my sweet mate, brooding silently,
On her nest in the old fig tree--
Open the gate and let me go!

Elusive hints
And wavering tints
Of citron blooms,
And orange foliage and the soft perfumes
Of violet and acacia come to me
On some stray current, and I hear the sea
Foaming and warm,
After a storm
And a rain,
Softening down to sleep and dreams again,
With the pelicans a-wing,
And the white gulls hovering,
And the great globe caught in the balmy palms of Spring!

I long to be once more,
On the warm Gulf-shore,
In the dark magnolia foliage hidden quite,
With the foam-capped waves in sight,
And the vessels, wing by wing,
Gleaming and wavering
On the far horizon line,
And the sun, right overhead,
Flaring red,
And flooding with flame divine
The deep blue hollow of the sky,
And gilding the vagrant gulf-caps gloriously.
Oh, the shimmer and the sheen
On the bay and the myrtle green!
Oh, the keen bouquet
From the wax-berry fruit!
Oh, wafts that stray
O'er vines all wine from top to root!
Oh, the dull red gold in the lemon-tree!
Oh, open the cage and let me go!

Free me or I die,
Give me sweet liberty,
Whose every pulse was mine so long ago,
Down by the sea.
I feel--I feel so faint, my heart beats low,
My throat is dry and harsh--
Oh, give me back my thicket by the marsh!
Let me see the herons wade
In the watery glade,
And let me see the water-fowl go by
Glimmering against the sky.

Fainter, fainter--so,
My life-stream sinks--runs low.
Open the cage and let me go,
Floating, dreaming, reveling, dying, down
To my mate, my queen, my love
In the fragrant, drowsy grove
Beyond the flowery closes of Bay Saint Louis town.

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