Wasteland

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Bri­ar and fen­nel and chin­quapin,
And rue and rag­weed every­where;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
Or dead of an old despair,
Born of an ancient care.

The cricket’s cry and the locust’s whirr,
And the note of a bird’s dis­tress,
With the rasp­ing sound of a grasshop­per,
Clung to the lone­li­ness
Like burrs to a ragged dress.

So sad the field, so waste the ground,
So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck’s bur­row, a blind mole’s mound,
And a chipmunk’s stony lair,
Seemed more than it could bear.

So solemn too, so more than sad,
So dron­ing-lone with bees—
I won­dered what more could Nature add
To the sum of its mis­eries
And then I saw the trees.

Skele­tons gaunt, that gnarled the place,
Twist­ed and torn they rose,
The tor­tured bones of a per­ished race
Of mon­sters no mor­tal knows.
They star­tled the mind’s repose.

And a man stood there, as still as moss,
A lichen form that stared;
And an old blind hound, that seemed at loss,
For­ev­er around him fared
With a snarling fang half-bared.

I looked at the man. I saw him plain.
Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. —I looked again—
And man and dog were gone—
Like wisps o’ the gray­ing dawn.…

Were they a part of the grim death there?—
Rag­weed, fen­nel, and rue?—
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
That there into sem­blance grew
Out of the grief I knew?

CaweincutoutMadi­son J. Cawein (March 23, 1865-Decem­ber 8, 1914) was a pro­lif­ic Ken­tucky poet who authored over 30 vol­umes of poet­ry, many of which con­cern nature and mythol­o­gy. The poem ‘Waste­land’ orig­i­nal­ly appeared in the 1912 edi­tion of THE REVELATOR, and was sub­se­quent­ly reprint­ed in Cawein’s 1913 book Min­ions of the Moon, a poet­ry col­lec­tion focused on the fan­tas­tic and the faery. The poem’s appear­ance in the Jan­u­ary 1913 edi­tion of Poet­ry mag­a­zine (as ‘Waste Land’), under the edi­tor­ship of Ezra Pound, is now con­sid­ered an influ­ence on the imagery found in T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land.” Astute read­ers of THE REVELATOR will right­ly sus­pect that we have reprint­ed the poem in this issue in hon­or of Richard Bowes, and his 1998 nov­el Min­ions of the Moon.