Ash Wednesday

By Louis Untermeyer 1885–1977 Louis Untermeyer
(Vienna)

I

Shut out the light or let it filter through
These frowning aisles as penitentially
As though it walked in sackcloth. Let it be
Laid at the feet of all that ever grew
Twisted and false, like this rococo shrine
Where cupids smirk from candy clouds and where
The Lord, with polished nails and perfumed hair,
Performs a parody of the divine.

The candles hiss; the organ-pedals storm;
Writhing and dark, the columns leave the earth
To find a lonelier and darker height.
The church grows dingy while the human swarm
Struggles against the impenitent body’s mirth.
Ashes to ashes. . . . Go. . . . Shut out the light.


(Hinterbrühl)

II

And so the light runs laughing from the town,
Pulling the sun with him along the roads
That shed their muddy rivers as he goads
Each blade of grass the ice had flattened down.
At every empty bush he stops to fling
Handfuls of birds with green and yellow throats;
While even the hens, uncertain of their notes,
Stir rusty vowels in attempts to sing.

He daubs the chestnut-tips with sudden reds
And throws an olive blush on naked hills
That hoped, somehow, to keep themselves in white.
Who calls for sackcloth now? He leaps and spreads
A carnival of color, gladly spills
His blood: the resurrection—and the light.

Louis Untermeyer, “Ash Wednesday” from Burning Bush (New York: Harcourt, 1928). Permission is granted by arrangement with the Estate of Louis Untermeyer, Norma Anchin Untermeyer c/o Professional Publishing Services. The reprint is granted with the expressed permission by Laurence S. Untermeyer.

Source: Burning Bush (1928)

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Poet Louis Untermeyer 1885–1977

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects Christianity, Religion

Holidays Easter

Poetic Terms Sonnet

 Louis  Untermeyer

Biography

Louis Untermeyer was the author, editor or compiler, and translator of more than one hundred books for readers of all ages. He will be best remembered as the prolific anthologist whose collections have introduced students to contemporary American poetry since 1919. The son of an established New York jeweler, Untermeyer's interest in poetry led to friendships with poets from three generations, including many of the century's . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Christianity, Religion

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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