by Frank Earle Schermerhorn
SWAYING masts of pinetrees,
Beyond my great-grandfather’s barn –
Masts for old New England ports,
Forgotten here, sighing
Their wave-falls in the wind –
Broad with mazy forest tops, and
Sails of pine-needles, woven,
Bent on cross-yard branches,
High with tasseled rigging;
No boughs below; no leafy corded ladders;
Just upward-splashing foam
Of undergrowth: the hemlock, the alder,
Berry bushes, and woodland flowers –
Billowy, tidal, undulating
A forest, separate, majestic,
Free of the fields, the hills, that gaze upon it
Fearing the moan of its voice in the tempest
But loving the gleam of its sunlit tossing.
And close inside the forest border,
Where shadows always fall,
Green shadows, purple shadows,
A settler’s home of ancient days had stood,
By misadventure burned, perhaps,
Or Indian wars had come:
Naught but a cellar today,
Yet strangely eloquent,
With lichened stones, each
Upon each, vertical, regular,
Laid by deft hands, gone, unknown –
Stones half-buried in leaves,
Pine-leaves, ivied, earthy, and solemn.
Then farther in, along the ruined ox-team road,
Past rocky mounds, and beds of sloping fern,
And deep, wild niches in the hemlock screen,
Mysterious though beautiful,
A small, reflecting water lay,
Welling in softened ripples, like a bosom,
Necklaced with white pebble-beads
And coral of the partridge-vine.
Within this fairy place,
Where columbine and gentian loitered,
Unvalued hours I spent, long years ago.
Through shafted, clear, slow openings aloft,
I saw the friendly, high-flung blue,
And thought the sky was near –
The sky of young ambition:
I could not dream what seas
Of alien ether rolled, deceiving,
Against those still-unconquered worlds of mine.
In after-years, with all the beauty there,
I felt again that forest-presence,
The spirit-wavering of the wood;
I saw the roadside spring, unchanged;
The gentian and the partridge-vine;
The blue within the shaded water;
The white, round-pebbled necklace –
And through the mazy forest-top
The leaves were vistaed as of old. But calmly
It would come to me, though unregretting,
That slow with fate my days had passed,
For now, above the sailing pines,
The sky was deep and far,
Verging with rays of endless light
A strange infinitude.
by Ellen A. Butterworth
OUR LITTLE TOWN had no fire protection, so father said to us, “If the house catches fire, run for the trunk. Save it first.”
As a child it was impressed on me that the trunk was of great value, but I only saw a shabby, old-fashioned trunk, covered with hair. What would be in it? It fascinated me as it stood under the sloping roof of the attic. My curiosity ran high, but I dared not lift the lid.
Later in life I was told father kept money there, as our town, very primitive, very far west, did not possess a bank.
Father had bought his trunk in Goffstown, New Hampshire, when a young lad, working long hours as a farm hand.
After his death it was my privilege reverently to go through its contents. On the top of the till was a picture of a young girl named Dora, her pretty face framed in short hanging curls. How I’d like to know her! In a mahogany box, that father had made, which had an inlaid border of very light wood, I found a large linen towel, woven in squares. Mother Martin, his foster mother, raised the flax, spun it, and wove the towel.
There were a bundle of old letters, a wallet containing several canceled notes, a deed written in longhand, date 1840, also a paper of four pages, written for the Good Templars Lodge, of which father, in his youth, had been a member. He had carefully sketched the heading and lettering of each page. I found an engraving of a mother and two children, taken from Godey’s Lady’s Book of 1857; I have it framed, hanging on my wall. In a small white pasteboard box, reposing on pink cotton, lay a tiny ebony heart, and a pair of cuff links.
The only things of real value were his manuscripts, which I read over and over. Father’s scrapbook held precious gems of poetry and prose. One poem he wrote was a eulogy of a mother. Reading it I could know how father had wanted a real mother, not a borrowed one.
There was a fineness, an exquisite beauty of mind emanating from that little old trunk. As I sat before it, going over the few keepsakes, reading his poems, the sadness of a life gone forever came to me, and I wanted him back for a heart to heart talk; but only his spirit hovered over me. Father’s little old trunk is mine.
by Thomas B. Whitbread
WILFRED and I were seedling friends
Born the same day, one year apart;
We spent the youth a hill lad spends,
Carefree at play, guileless of art.
He for his shortness, I for my brain,
We braved our schoolmates’ taunts together,
And conquered them, for I could feign,
And he was swift as a wind-blown feather.
We knew our river and knew its ways,
Deep dive in water, crisp glide on ice;
We shared our mists and cloudless days
Without distortion by device.
This lasted till our blossom time:
Then I moved off to a town and books,
While he, save a year of guns and grime,
Remained in the land of moody brooks.
Now we are flowered; and I fear
To find out what man he may be:
It is without surprise I hear
That Wilfred has inquired of me.
Soon, it is fated, we must meet,
With faltering greetings, smiles unsound,
As strangers who cannot retreat
To what was once our common ground,
But knowing this will not stop shock
And we shall share a newfound pain
When in our emptiness we knock
Upon a time-locked door – in vain.
The Oak an Acorn Drew
WITH easy mastery of the obvious, and with the trustfulness of inexperience, this journal’s juvenile predecessor called itself The Acorn, just as have done I know not how many other juvenile publications, each supposing it had hit upon a name unique and somehow deeply satisfying. The allusion, about how little acorns are what great big oak trees grow from, seems quite inescapable. But, lest the significance elude some hasty reader, it was made explicit in a banner-line.
The thing was to get on with production. No time was to be wasted in idle speculation about whether all acorns grow into oaks, granting that all oaks have grown from acorns; or about which came first, the chicken or the egg, the acorn or the oak; or about just how rewarding may be the life of a minor oak. The Kelsey was standing by; sturdy and capable, ready and willing, it beckoned and would not be denied.
Acquisition of the Kelsey had not marked the editor’s introduction into the delights of bedroom letterpress. The graduation from the lowly hectograph had occurred earlier, when a perceptive and indulgent uncle had taken him shopping and they had come back with a Baltimorean, the most exciting thing in life up to that time – self-inking (one roller) and large enough for a thumbnail paper and for business cards in variety.
Before long it became apparent that the business card and thumbnail book field has distinct limitations. If full scope were to be allowed for journalistic leanings, nothing less than a five by eight Kelsey could supply the necessary plant. Surely the uncle would understand that, and would not charge him with disloyalty to the Baltimorean.
To show that he did understand, and also to induce some hard thinking about logical fallacies, such as the undistributed middle, and non sequitur, and post hoc, ergo propter hoc, the uncle decided to get out an amateur paper of his own. It lapsed after one number. One-issue papers are not unknown in amateur journalism. Less usual is an issue of only one copy. To give the paper wider circulation, it was republished in The Acorn. Out of print for nearly fifty years, here goes another reprint, though in slightly condensed form.
Fathers from their sons don’t grow
Vol. 1, No. 1, Troy, N. Y., March 1902
by John Frisk
I WAS sauntering through the halls of a home on the Pacific Slope. The cadet of the house was amateur editor of The Acorn, an ambitious little monthly. I was distressed to observe its editorial and publication room. The dignity of the publication must be vindicated by the selection of a more adequate office. I proceeded to the sanctum with sedate step suited to my benign purpose.
The sun was, apparently, about to take its evening dip in the neighboring sea, and as I entered, his latest rays were stealing from the room. The bath was of course a ruse, though the sky was blushing and reflecting through the windows an embarrassed and spectral light. With the gathering shadows labor had already ceased, and silence was brooding. Nature was saying goodnight, coupled with a fond benediction. With his head lying in his folded arms on his desk the editor slept. Tired hands and brain were sharing the rest that is the normal use of darkness. There was no other mortal there. I could see only dim outlines, where presses and type cases and tools were merging into shadows.
The weird hour with its vague light and still air impressed me not so much, perhaps, with awe, as with an aptitude to hear unusual voices. A sound from me would have seemed treachery to the time and place, and I held back all my thoughts to listen.
Presently in sprightly tones an old and disused press on an upper shelf addressed a copy of The Acorn lying near. “Who are you, pretty one?” it said. “Have you ever worked, or are you but the plaything of the editor’s idle hours? What do you expect to do?”
Its gilt emblazoned cover reflecting a little more of the fading light, The Acorn, a little hurt, replied in subdued voice and cultured tones: “I am an Acorn. From such as I there grow great oaks. The oak is the prince of a kingdom. Many trees are taller; other trees are larger; some are more graceful, some have greater beauty; but of all the trees of the forest the oak is monarch, and from acorns grow even the greatest of the oaks. I am The Acorn. The oak that springs from me shall be greater than any tree, than all the trees. The king of the forest shall be the slave of the oak that shall have had in his youth my nurture and support. A useful manhood is germinating in me.”
After a brief interval I heard again the sprightly voice of the old press, saying: “You should be proud indeed to bear upon your little page so true a boast, ‘Tall oaks from little acorns grow,’ but be not too proud. In my day I helped, and you see my humility is even in the dust. If I were to print The Acorn I might change the motto to ‘Few oaks from many acorns grow,’ or ‘Most acorns do not grow an oak.’ But I would rather emphasize the fact that ‘Only oaks grow acorns.’ Acorns are either hangers-on of oaks or fall from the trees for the very richness of their lives. In my time I have seen many acorns and I have known but a single oak. That one is but a slip of a tree and a young one at that. It is the same sprout that you seem to think germinated in you. Let me tell you, pretty one, that you are still depending from an oak and no one can tell whether anything will ever grow from you. Your only hope is to stick close to the parent tree. There, down there is your oak and my oak sleeping on the desk. Take my word for it, tall oaks grow from little oaks, while acorns mostly decay. Do not claim again to be the parent of your own father.”
“Who are you?” The Acorn cried.
For answer I heard in the sprightly voice: “You ask who I am? You? I am the spirit of a little old press. Moreover, I drew my life from the same youth I have called your oak. I haunt this place not as a gruesome ghost but as a joyous sprite in whom survive many memories of the boyhood of my young master – your editor.”
As I stood listening intently for more, the mother of the editor-oak entered with a lamp and broke the spell. I did not mention my errand but arranged, in a business way, to see all future Acorns.
by John Smith Kendall
WHEN at the end of life’s long pilgrimage
To Death’s dark, distant island I shall come,
There in a corner to sit down and dream
The dream that I so long have wished to dream,
There shall I find again the trees I love –
The pines made dear by sorrow and by joy,
By their aromas, by their monkish garb,
Their flying grace, their wisdom and their birds.
Oh pines, my brothers, rooted in good earth,
Pines of the West, that think and suffer, touched
By day’s last light, that murmur in your sleep
Of broken spears and Spanish epics old!
Pines of the East, that by abandoned fanes
Rise like green flames on the oasis’ verge –
You that tall masts have been, and thrones, and bars,
And harem windows closing beauty in!
Pines of the South, oh pines of Italy,
That on Posilipo look seaward, still
Waiting for one who comes not through the years –
Virgilian pines, that sigh amidst the flowers!
And you who, shadowy, bereft of day,
Amidst the glacial mists, on hills of cloud,
Nocturnal pines, that sway, and croon, and drowse –
Pines of the North, you, too, are beautiful!
Oh ghosts of trees, that by yon silent shore
Await my coming through the tardy years,
I love you! You are stern, and good, and wise!
I love you! You are dark, and kind, and true!
Yet when I pass into that lonely isle
Oh may the pines remember left behind!
Oh may the moon spill silver on their boughs,
And sing a requiem there the mocking-bird!
to an Old Letter from Ernest A. Edkins
A PUBLISHER is properly hesitant about invading the privacy of a private correspondence, especially if the writer is not around to give his consent. The letter printed elsewhere in these pages is private only in that it was not offered by the author for publication and perhaps in its spontaneity lacks some of the polish it would have been given had publication been intended. Certainly it contains nothing confidential or unworthy. It deals with no personalities. Like anything and everything from the pen of Ernest A. Edkins, it deserves the attention of the amateur fraternity. And it has a peculiar relevance here, in the very same number of this journal where it is our privilege to present the poem, Pine Forest, by N. A. P. A. ex-President Schermerhorn.
This poem, written in the middle thirties, Mr. Schermerhorn had submitted in manuscript to Edkins for criticism. Edkins’ reply is printed with Mr. Schermerhorn’s permission, given at our urgent request. Its significance lies not only in its pertinence to the poem. It shows Edkins’ respect for the discipline of prosody, and for its occasional intricacy. It casts new light on his competence as a critic, and on his feeling toward poetry, whether his own or another’s. It should encourage those of the present generation who perceive in amateur journalism something else, along with the reporting of entertaining ephemera and the concocting of sprightly trivia – the opportunity for serious literary effort and for fellowship with others engaged in like endeavor.
In the third numberFar Afield mention was made of the 1893 World’s Fair convention of the N. A. P. A. We count it a fortunate coincidence that the contents of this fifth number can include first printing of items by three gifted amateurs who were of the little group that met there in Chicago in 1893: besides the Edkins letter, two poems, grave and notable, and very different – the one, by Frank Earle Schermerhorn of Philadelphia, on which Edkins commented in his letter, and also one by John Smith Kendall, now again comfortably settled in his New Orleans, at 1230 Lowerline Street. Professor Kendall’s The Golden Age of the New Orleans Theatre, an impressive and readable volume of 624 pages, has just been published by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge.
Letter from Coral Gables
November 24, 1937
MY DEAR SCHERMERHORN:
Many thanks for your helpful criticism. I am sure that you are quite right about the meter. Unfortunately, my library was sold with the house, and the lines were written when I didn’t have a prosody handy. I am always getting into difficulties with my meters, because I generally have to depend on an inaccurate ear and a very poor memory. The singular “ecstasy” was, as you surmised, a typographical error. As for the sonnet form, that was somewhat of an accident; the first stanza composed itself in fourteen lines, without any thought of the sonnet form, and then I wrote the other two to correspond. There is no precedent for the rhyme arrangement. It was a deliberate experiment, to see how far the echo could be carried while still preserving the sense. Rhymed couplets are the simplest form of verse; as you make the marriage more and more remote, you increase the technical difficulties, don’t you see?
“The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
Sugar is sweet, and so are you!”
Kindergarten rhyme. But suppose you continue the lines without rhyme and then at the fifth or sixth line attempt to find a rhyme for “blue” without dislocating the continuity of the thought, and without achieving a rhyme that, in Swinburne’s phrase, is “far-fetched and dear-bought”? That’s what I was attempting; an exercise in the mechanics of the art. In short, I tried to rhyme fourteen lines so intricately, – and to repeat the pattern exactly in three stanzas, – that few if anyone would detect the rhyme sequence. A damned silly thing to do, because there was no particular point to it, but some of the highly involuted forms of French vers d’occasion are open to the same criticism, – rondels, rondeaus, chants royal, etc. Even the ordinary sonnet with its set pattern is frightfully difficult to compose with fluency: hence the stilted effect of most sonnets. Your Pine Forest represents the form of maximum poetic freedom; the sonnet represents the minimum.
Pine Forest is perhaps the best thing you have ever written, and it is the best amateur poem I have read in many moons. I would call it a prose poem, because it partakes of the character of Whitman’s swinging lines; there is little attempt to preserve a metrical pattern, nor is such uniformity necessary in this sort of verse. It is beautiful in thought, essentially poetic and imaginative; to shackle it with meter would be to deprive it of much of its charm. I have read it again, carefully, and as it now stands I would not change a word of it.
Your patriotic verses are of another genre; very well done, sincere and eloquent without being, as most patriotic verses are, somewhat flamboyant. But I prefer your muse in her forest haunts. Alas, we must go to the past for patriotic inspiration. What deeds of today can be sung? The world is a sorry mess, and patriotism is a word that has almost lost its meaning.
I am glad to report that my health continues good, and that I am having a very happy winter, with golf, swimming, books, bridge, and quite a lot of plain loafing. The daily mail is an event, and fortunately my correspondents are kind to me.
My wife impatiently awaits the completion of this note, so that we can go to the library and do our shopping.
Best regards. Cordially,
P. S. I agree with you that “entity” should be omitted. You might consider a variant, such as
A forest inviolate, secret, majestic
or something of that sort, to soften the present line, which is just a bit abrupt. Also, if you are bent on polishing, the juxtaposition of the two compound endings, “pebble-beads” and “partridge-vine,” is capable of some improvement. “Necklaces” implies “beads”; this could be bettered by recasting the line, as
Necklaced with shimmering pebbles
Necklaced with pebbles translucent
And the coral of flowering vines.
But perhaps that would be more metrical than is called for by the general prosodic scheme. You might consider it.
UPPER DWIGHT WAY, in 1899, was a quiet street, and pleasant. Large elms on each side interlaced their branches overhead. The floor of the leafy arcade was macadam, protection from dust or mud, giving traction for the horses that drew the surrey of Jacobson’s livery, or the wagon of poet-expressman Boyd, self- styled “bold baggage-buster of Beautiful Berkeley.”
Upper Dwight may be said to have been that part of the way extending from Mrs. Goodrich, at one end, down to Mrs. King, at the other. At Piedmont Avenue, Mrs. Goodrich, besides being a good neighbor, had a porte cochere and did her part to maintain the tone of the neighborhood. At Telegraph Avenue, Mrs. King, also a good neighbor, went in more for usefulness than tone: her general store could supply all requirements, from notions to items less in the realm of conceit, such as barley and baled hay.
Each of these good ladies would have been surprised to find herself associated with the other, even in a paragraph. They were indeed some distance apart, separated by a good many vacant lots and by a good many houses. To some extent the houses reflected their occupants: unpretentious but substantial, comfortable, established and well kept up.
It was permissible to keep chickens, if one fancied chickens (some persons do), and a dog or two, and Belgian hares, and a donkey. Fresh vegetables were brought to your kitchen door by a Chinaman, with his queer pace, half walk and half trot, shouldering a long pole with a large basket on each end, heavy with variety for your selection. There was even a burglar, for those (so ran the howler) who did not subscribe for the services of the private watchman.
If you wanted to go to San Francisco, it was an easy walk to Shattuck Avenue where, at not too frequent intervals, you could catch the steam train for the mole and the ferry.
If to Oakland you would go, the new trolley line, that of the Oakland Transit Company, was already in operation on Telegraph Avenue, with its “welded rails” and its fresh and pert little cars, each partly open and partly closed, to suit any weather or preference, stealing the business from the older line. Or, if you were not in a hurry, it was fun to walk a block farther down, to Dana Street, and to take one of the Oakland Traction Company’s grinding, narrow-gauge cars that groped around corner after corner, in tired and bewildered peregrination, finally turning into Grove Street, jerkily and impulsively, as if hitting upon a discovery and making sudden and unexpected decision – though all the time you, with superior intuition, knew perfectly well just what was going to happen.
Upper Dwight was a neighborhood – in the sense of place, and also in the quality of neighborliness. There was not much borrowing back and forth of kitchen supplies, not a great deal of back fence gossip. But neither was there any trace of that studied aloofness with which city apartment dwellers think they have to protect themselves. The ladies specified their at-home days on their calling cards, and served each other prodigious amounts of tea and cookies, informally but not too informally. The families were genuinely friendly, without being either effusive or intrusive. There were the LeContes and the Goodriches, Madame Paget, the Suttons and the Bunnells, the Merrills, the Perrys, the Greens, to mention a few.
And, at the northeast corner of College Avenue, the Shepards had settled, after the destruction by fire of their large home on San Pablo Avenue. Uncle John and “Auntie Shepard” were still living, he with his reddish-gray beard always kept trimmed, as became a man of affairs, she enthroned in her great chair by the fire, her white hair topped by a lace doily called a “cap.” Two of the unmarried daughters were living at home. The house was comfortably commodious, a gracious home. The back yard was cut off from the avenue by a high cypress hedge, so thick a young neighbor could walk and play among its upper branches, fifteen feet above the ground – this was done, though, without pronounced encouragement by the owners. Uncle John still owned the San Pablo Avenue place, and kept a man there, and some livestock. The stock included a Jerusalem jenny ass named Chefoo. She had been brought over from Chefoo, China, on a Pacific Mail steamer. Now she was temporarily without any boy to be her devoted master. In no time at all, Mrs. King had a new customer for her barley and baled hay department.
Quite a few of the habitants had seen one of those horseless carriages in actual operation at a circus. Most of the homes were getting around to the telephone. To a degree kerosene lamps were still useful, in subordination to illuminating gas – and the Welsbach mantel. Electric 220-volt current was available; and incandescent bulbs, usually suspended from the ceiling by the wire “cords,” were finding pretty general acceptance, for the newer houses and to supplement rather than supersede the gas in the older houses. In some homes the gas jets could be lighted without striking a match; a contrivance connected with batteries provided a wall-button whereon one could keep his finger for some seconds and by re- mote control turn on the gas and ignite it with an electric spark – and whenever it was in working order it worked, nearly every time.
Quarrels were few, and those few lay in the field of ideas, as befitted a college town. So far as within the grasp of young fry they were nice, debatable differences, safely short of Great Perplexities.
Would the Twentieth Century commence at midnight, December 31, 1899, as some stubbornly and persistently maintained? Or would it have to be waited for until midnight, December 31, 1900, as others asserted, dogmatically and with an irritating air of superiority?
It mattered, for civilization, on the march, was becoming more and ever more civilized, century by century. A glorious human progress, slow but steady and inevitable. No question about that, and something to watch for. To observe it adequately, one should know the milestones, the points and half-way points – the markers. By another half-century any of us still living would surely mark a marked improvement wherever we looked, in Upper Dwight and beyond – throughout the State, the Land, the World. A gradual good-bye to crime, to indigence, ignorance, incompetence, uncouthness, to strained or angry relations between persons, between peoples. Wait and see. Wait until 1950 or until 1951, whichever way you count. Yes, sir, just you wait and see!
An exercise in Amateur Printing and Publishing carried on (with some oversight, and a deal of overlooking, on the part of Alice Paine Thomas) by Frederick Folger Thomas, Jr., Berkeley, California. Handset and printed at the Arundo Press, out here in the garage. (Ah,… equitare in arundine longa…! What Horace said about it, though, were here best left untold.) With grateful acknowledgment to the contributors, for their respective shares of the contents; to Nora Thomas Bray, for her drawing, a reproduction from which decorates our cover; and to Percival B. and Esther Fay, who again consented to read proof. Distributed to interested friends and acquaintance – mainly those among The Fossils and in the National Amateur Press Association.