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Poem by Amy Lowell
The Coal Picker
He perches in the slime, inert, Bedaubed with iridescent dirt. The oil upon the puddles dries To colours like a peacock’s eyes, And half-submerged tomato-cans Shine scaly, as leviathans Oozily crawling through the mud. The ground is here and there bestud With lumps of only part-burned coal. His duty is to glean the whole, To pick them from the filth, each one, To hoard them for the hidden sun Which glows within each fiery core And waits to be made free once more. Their sharp and glistening edges cut His stiffened fingers. Through the smut Gleam red the wounds which will not shut. Wet through and shivering he kneels And digs the slippery coals; like eels They slide about. His force all spent, He counts his small accomplishment. A half-a-dozen clinker-coals Which still have fire in their souls. Fire! And in his thought there burns The topaz fire of votive urns. He sees it fling from hill to hill, And still consumed, is burning still. Higher and higher leaps the flame, The smoke an ever-shifting frame. He sees a Spanish Castle old, With silver steps and paths of gold. From myrtle bowers comes the plash Of fountains, and the emerald flash Of parrots in the orange trees, Whose blossoms pasture humming bees. He knows he feeds the urns whose smoke Bears visions, that his master-stroke Is out of dirt and misery To light the fire of poesy. He sees the glory, yet he knows That others cannot see his shows. To them his smoke is sightless, black, His votive vessels but a pack Of old discarded shards, his fire A peddler’s; still to him the pyre Is incensed, an enduring goal! He sighs and grubs another coal.
Amy Lowell's other poems:
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