Sonnets on Great Men and Women
by Washington Van Dusen (1857-?)
Below are all of the sonnets from the volume Sonnets on Great Men and Women, including several sonnets that are not biographical.
Born in a cabin in the forest wild,
With old Kentucky pioneers he found
A life to penury and hardship bound,
With little schooling for the ardent child;
But skies grew brighter when Romance beguiled,
And books gave dreams that charmed the bloody ground
Like roses in the clearings all around--
Then came the Law, and with it Fortune smiled.
Years brought on War, and like an angel sent
To save, the Great Emancipator came;
And daily watched its course as President,
Till Gettysburg rolled back the sea of flame;
And there he rose sublimely eloquent,
With those immortal words that crown his fame.
Perhaps to one of us may come the day
When we must stand for principle and rise
Like some lone peak against the silent skies,
With none to lean upon and none to sway;
But would we help our brothers on the way,
We must come down to earth with kindly aim,
Not coldly stand aloof and watch the game,
But play with zest as little children may.
We cannot lead, said he, a life apart,
Nor turn away from men for faults that mar;
While good remains there's hope to reach the heart,
And lead our comrades like a steadfast star;
Hold up the light for them in hall or mart,
And take them all and use them as they are.
Memories of Roosevelt
As we look back and scan life's hazy prime
Across the waste of long-forgotten years,
Some gleam divine breaks through the night and clears
The clouds, that veil the beacon lights of Time,
Making appeal to every age and clime
While all else in the darkness disappears;
The past is lost with all its joys and tears;
But here and there a star with look sublime
Shines on our days with gleams from long ago.
And so will Roosevelt crown the skies to be
Like some great mountain in an afterglow,
That shades its lower slopes as tenderly
As Time hides lives we do not care to know,
While all the Highest glows in memory.
A Kindly Light from Edison
Born with a passion from his boyhood days
To mould great nature to his vast desire,
He strung his incandescent lamps on wire,
And telegraphed on single lines four ways,
Wrought day and night in God's eternal maze
To find the clues that set the world on fire,
With phones and motion pictures to inspire
And phonographs--the marvels of his age.
Then Fortune placed him in a mansion fair
Where love shed on his heart a light divine;
For looking on his home and garden rare
He said unto a friend: This is too fine
For me, but not too fine for one I care
The most of all--this little wife of mine.
The parsonage o'erlooked the barren moors,
The little garden and the graveyard there,
With all the country round it bleak and bare
Yet even desolation had its lures,
And like the flower that blossoms and endures
Among the rocks, here spirit, too, grew fair,
And found its heaven in the bracing air
Of Haworth midst the villagers and boors.
She loved the tempest and the driving rain,
Her very loneliness inspired her sight,
The winds expressed her longing and her pain,
And gave her fancy weird the wings for flight;
But all the beauty round her shone in vain,
Unless the home folks shared with her its light.
Joan of Arc
She was untaught, like peasants of her age,
But in her father's garden when a child
She heard the Voices and at first was wild
With fear, but acted on their counsels sage,
And mounted on her charger like a page
In armor clad, this maid so young, so mild,
Now led an army at which people smiled,
Or vented on the "sorceress" their rage.
She was inspired if mortal e'er could be,
Foretold events and led by light divine
She captured forts and Orleans set free,
Crowned Charles at Rheims; then came her sad decline,
But death hallowed the Flower of Chivalry,
On fields of France forevermore to shine.
Petrarch and Laura
Unmoved, he passed a million faces by,
When all at once he saw at church one day
A form whose beauty never passed away,
But like a guardian spirit ever nigh,
Gave life new dreams and aspirations high,
And fired his soul to many a tender lay,
That still lifts men above the common clay
With thoughts to near divinity to die.
But she who ever kept her own in sight,
Gave no response to his impassioned heart,
But like a star forever pure and bright,
In cold and silent splenfdor shone apart,
Divinely set beyond his reach, to light
A great ideal for his life and art.
Who were the heads of that great company
Where Lamb toiled as a clerk the livelong day?
Their proud imperial names have passed away,
Like ships long sunk beneath Oblivion's sea;
Yet his fair life looms up triumphantly,
And o'er the buried past holds kingly sway;
As ivy climbs an abbey in decay,
Forever keeping green a memory.
For Nature's heart on beauty is so set
She would not lose a flower the Past once gave,
But keeps the mould with dews of heaven wet.
Divinely cherishing what Time should save;
As when our loved ones fade and we forget,
The rose still scents the long-forgotten grave.
He saw the world from many points of view--
The clouds, the strife, the beauty and the light,
But life to him was mainly but a fight
Where men gain strength from all that they subdue.
And he was brave enough to see it through,
With no misgivings for the coming night,
Like one who views earth's shadows from a height,
Lost in a light beneficent and true.
For while he saw the wreck and ruin there,
The flower of youth cut down, the fields forlorn,
He looked beyond with faith and courage rare,
To see apparent failure rise new born,
Full sure the night would give earth's clouds and care
The glory and the freshness of the morn.
His youth was like the bloom of early May,
With all its freshness and its sweetness, too,
Yet with a promise richer as it grew,
Like roses budding for a summer day!
But Autumn came too soon, in garments gay,
With russet, red and gold and skies of blue,
Yet over all a melancholy hue--
A hectic beauty soon to fade away!
And now how strange it seems to you and me,
That even those who loved him passed the light;
That years rolled by in scorn and mockery
Before his star rose clear above the Night;
As if those ultra rays men could not see
Were rays divine, too fine for human sight.
Some climb the heights and like the crests grow cold,
Wrapped in the splendor of their own proud view;
Forgetful of the crowd whose toils untold
Have dressed the very soil on which they grew;
But thou, O woman with a soul as fine,
Hadst still the all-embracing heart to see
The light of Heaven pour out its beams devine
On all the humbler lives so dear to thee;
And there they shine from pages ever fair,
Untouched by time, in living pictures bright;
Where freedom breathes a pure, ampler air,
And kindness mellows all the searching light
Poured by a great heart's loving sympathy--
O heart that beat for all humanity!
I hear a voice heroic speak to me:
Wake from thy sleep; they closet dreams and lies;
And come with me beneath the open skies,
And face the foe! God calls the hour to thee
To sacrifice divine, if need there be;
And some fair day the mists from earth will rise
And Time look up to see with happy eyes
A better world for all humanity.
And so the poet-soldier heard God's call,
Blessing the day Fate threw her bloody gage;
His love for England rising over all,
He voiced the cry that thrills his noblest page;
Glad Honor reigns again in cot and hall,
And "we have come into our heritage."
The organ rises with a yearning tone,
And soon the picture flashes on the screen,
While thousands thrill to watch the touching scene
Where Mary battles with the world alone,
An orphan child deserted and unknown.
But with the soul and grace of Nature's queen,
She glorifies the lowly and the mean
With light and truth and beauty all her own.
And there she plays, an angel in her art,
Whose face with all its changes still is fine;
As perfect as a dream that grips the heart
When those we loved come in our sleep and shine,
Just as we knew them, true to live's old part,
And flawless in a light that makes divine.
No beauty could escape his loving eyes,
Not even ruthless war could hide from view
The smiling fields where crimson poppies grew,
Nor mar the sunset's rose and purple dyes;
He watched a vine-clad slope, with glad surprise
To hear grapepickers sing, although they knew
Just on the other side the cannon threw
Their deadly shells and woke the startled skies.
But over all that made Champagne so fair
He saw the grandeur of the field of strife,
Exulting in the cause that placed him there.
He felt a calm, mid all the carnage rife,
And faced the battle with a spirit rare,
"For death may be more wonderful than life."
His life and art were never far apart,
But like a happy couple they were one,
The poet and the man in unison,
And everywhere at home, in hall or mart,
He met his fellows with a kindly heart,
And voiced their dreams, in verse so finely done,
He thrilled the world as with a clarion
Till Fame, in many lands, acclaimed his art.
Then came detraction for the humble lay
That he had sung with dignity and grace;
But he pursued the bright and cheerful way,
That kept the sunshine on his noble face,
While he unveiled before the light of day
The truth and beauty of the commonplace.
I heard a poet here once speak in praise
Of men who opened up horizons new,
That filled his mind with fresher points of view,
And happy dreams whose beauty ne'er decays,
But gilds the memories of Harvard days,
When James and Royce taught here, his teachers true,
Who walked these grounds one summer eve and threw
Some starry gleams of hope on life's dark maze.
Who found it good to leave closed rooms that night
And come out here where endless vistas rise;
Where faith in all things beautiful gives sight
To scan the darkest depths with fearless eyes,
If we are loyal to the highest light
That burns in us, responsive to the skies.
Shakespeare the Richest Man
The treasures that come down to us from old
Are not the treasures of the sea and land,
But human thought, more worth than all the Rand,
That gave man power to blossom and unfold;
And Shakespeare like a sun with light untold
Used his imagination as a wand,
Whose rays lit sea and sky on every hand,
And touched life's vast encircling shores with gold.
No El Dorado opens up such mines;
No Golden Fleece nor far-famed Odyssey
Shines half so fair as his creation shines
With all its beauty voiced ineffably;
Forever precious in his jeweled lines--
The richest soil in all humanity.
Sir Oliver Lodge
A hint may guide us on a chartless sea,
As birds of passage on the Western main
Led great Columbus o'er the watery plain;
Or as the golden dreams of alchemy
Once blazed the way for modern chemistry
With all the growing wonders that we know;
And now the psychic's wireless flashes throw
A glimmer on the tide of destiny.
For we are slowly working towards the light
And breaking down the prison walls that hide.
Says Lodge, our loved ones passed from earthly sight,
Like men who in a tunnell, sundered wide,
Hear muffled voices strange, yet sense aright
Their lost companions on the other side.
He lived in wonderland where fancy kind
Came at his beck and call, and led him through