To me, Vachel Lindsay has always been the epitome of an American poet. Best known for Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight and General William Booth Enters into Heaven, which was set to music by Charles Ives, his work, according to Wikipedia, “lacked elements that encouraged the attention of academic scholarship” and he is mostly forgotten today. This bittersweet little gem illustrates perfectly what I find so appealing in his poetry (besides the fact that he wrote a poem entitled Why I Voted the Socialist Ticket).
THE TIGER ON PARADE
The Sparrow and the Robin on a toot
Drunk on honey-dew and violet’s breath
Came knocking at the brazen bars of Death.
And Death, no other than a tiger caged,
In a street parade that had no ending,
Roared at them and clawed at them and raged —
Whose chirping was the height of their offending.
His paws too big — their fluttering bodies small
Escaped unscathed above the City Hall.
They learned new dances, scattering birdy laughter,
And filled again their throats with honey-dew.
A Maltese kitten killed them, two days after.
But they had had their fill. It was enough: —
Had quarreled, made up, on many a lilac swayed,
Darted through sunny thunder-clouds and rainbows,
High above that tiger on parade.