The Figurehead

By Léonie Adams 1899–1988 Leonie Adams
This that is washed with weed and pebblestone   
Curved once a dolphin’s length before the prow,   
And I who read the land to which we bore   
In its grave eyes, question my idol now,
What cold and marvelous fancy it may keep,   
Since the salt terror swept us from our course,   
Or if a wisdom later than the storm,
For old green ocean’s tinctured it so deep;   
And with some reason to me on this strand   
The waves, the ceremonial waves have come,   
And stooped their barbaric heads, and all flung out   
Their glittering arms before them, and are gone,   
Leaving the murderous tribute lodged in sand.

Léonie Adams, “The Figurehead” from Poems: A Selection (New York: The Noonday Press, 1959). Used by permission of Judith Farr, Literary Executrix of the Estate of Léonie Adams.

Source: Poems: A Selection (1959)

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Poet Léonie Adams 1899–1988

Subjects Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams


An educator, consultant, editor, and poet, Leonie Adams was best known for her lyric poetry reminiscent of both the Romantic and Metaphysical periods. Her poetry won her several awards, including the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and the Bollingen Prize. She served in editorial capacities for both Wilson Publishing and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City during the 1920s and later taught . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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