The Poet In The Desert*

Charles Erskine Scott Wood


Extracts from the Prologue

I have come into the desert because my soul is athirst as the desert is athirst;
My soul which is the soul of all; universal, not different.
We are athirst for the waters which make beautiful the path
And entice the grass, the willows and poplars,
So that in the heat of the day we may lie in a cool shadow,
Soothed as by the hands of quiet women, listening to the discourse of running waters
     as the voices of women, exchanging the confidences of love.

The mountains afar girdle the desert as a zone of amethyst;
Pale translucent walls of opal,
Girdling the desert' as life is girt by eternity.
They lift their heads high above our tribulation
Into the azure vault of Time;
Theirs are the airy castles which are set upon foundations of
My soul goes out to them as the bird to her secret nest. They are the abode of peace.

The flowers bloom in the desert joyously -
They do not weary themselves with questioning;
     They are careless whether they be seen, or praised.

They blossom unto life perfectly and unto death perfectly, leaving nothing unsaid.
They spread a voluptuous carpet for the feet-of the wind,
And to the frolic breezes which overleap them they whisper:
     "Stay a moment, brother; plunder us of our passion;
     Our day is short, but our beauty is eternal."

Never have I found a place, or a season, without beauty.
Neither the sea, where the white stallions champ their bits and rear against their bridles,
Nor the desert, bride of the sun, which sits scornful, apart,
Like an unwooed princess, careless, indifferent.
She spreads her garments, wonderful beyond estimation,
And embroiders continually her mantle. She is a queen, seated on a throne of gold
In the hall of silence.

She is a courtesan, wearing jewels,
Enticing, smiling a bold smile;
Adjusting her brilliant raiment negligently,
Lying brooding upon her floor which is richly carpeted;
Her brown thighs beautiful and naked.
She toys with: the dazzelry of her diadems,
Smiling inscrutably.
She is a nun, withdrawing behind her veil;
Gray, subdued, silent, mysterious, meditative; unapproachable.
She is fair as a goddess sitting beneath a flowering peach tree beside a clear river.
Her body is tawny with the eagerness of the sun
And her eyes are like pools which shine in deep canyons.
She is beautiful as a swart woman, with opals at her throat,
Rubies on her wrists and topaz about her ankles.
Her breasts are like the evening and the day stars;
She sits upon her throne of light, proud and silent, indifferent to
     her wooers.
The sun is her servitor, the stars are her attendants, running
     before her.
She sings a song unto her own ears, solitary, but it is sufficient
It is the song of her being. Oh, if I may sing the song of my being
it will be sufficient.
She is like a jeweled dancer, dancing upon a pavement of gold;
Dazzling, so that the eyes must be shaded.
She wears the stars upon her bosom and braids her hair with the

I know the desert is beautiful for I have lain in her arms and she
     has kissed me.
I have come to her, that I may know freedom
That I may lie upon the breast of the Mother and breathe the air of primal conditions.
I have come out from the haunts of men;
From the struggle of wolves upon a carcass,
To be melted in Creation's crucible and be made clean
To know that the law of Nature is freedom.


Editors comments:


Charles Erskine Scott Wood was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in I852. He was graduated at West Point in I874, and took two degrees at Columbia in 1883. While a lieutenant he engaged in the Nez Perces and Piute campaigns, and he was one of the first white men to go down the Yukon. In I884, having resigned from the army, he was admitted to the Bar and practiced in Portland, Oregon, becoming one of the most distinguished lawyers along the   Coast. Since his retirement in 1919, he has devoted himself chiefly to literature, voicing in a number of books his protests against social tyrannies and economic injustices. He has used both rhyme and free verse in his poems. The Poet in the Desert, here quoted, probably his most important poem, is in long swinging Whitmanic rhythms.

The Masque of Love.............................................Walter Hill, Chicago: 1904
The Poet in the Desert.......................................... Privately printed, Portland, Ore.: 1915
The Poet in the Desert (new version)......................Privately printed, Portland: 19I8
Maia: a Sonnet Sequence (limited illustrated.. ..........Privately printed, Portland, Ore.: 1918
In Poetry: Sept. 1919 (Vol. XIV); Dec. 1920 (XVII); Feb. 1924 (XXIII).

*The New Poetry, H. Monroe & A. Henderson, eds., The Macmillan Company, New York, 1946


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