On opening his posthumous volume of poems one feels that this slender sheaf of songs was the poet's last escape from reality before he reached the final liberation, which was death. To Madison Cawein art was, as with Wagner, his prayer. In his own words it was "the voice and vision of the soul of man,"--something to be treated reverently and approached with ear attuned to beauty. For beauty, as Howells and many of Cawein's earlier critics have affirmed, was Cawein's preoccupation, his religion. No other American poet has sung so earnestly of the magic and wonder of field and forest and season's change. The idolatry of nature was a passion with him. And as a result we have the heritage of his many previous volumes of nature poetry.But in these later poems there is a diminution of the twilight imagery. Cawein strikes deeper into the pulse of human feeling, and draws his themes from life itself.
ing low a word that's true,
Of shapes that haunt its avenue,
Clad as in days of belle and beau,
Who come and go
Around its ancient portico.
At first, in stock and beaver-hat,
With flitting of the moth and bat,
An old man, leaning on a cane,
Comes slowly down the locust lane;
Looks at the house; then, groping, goes
Into the garden where the rose
Still keeps sweet tryst with moth and moon;
And, humming to himself a tune,
--"Lorena" or "Ben Bolt" we'll say,--
Waits, bent and gray,
For some fair ghost of Yesterday.
The Yesterday that holds his all--
More real to him than is the wall
Of mossy stone near which he stands,
Still reaching out for her his hands--
For her, the girl, who waits him there,
A lace-gowned phantom, dark of hair,
Whose loveliness still keeps those walks,
And with whose Memory he talks;
Upon his heart her happy head,--
So it is said,--
The girl, now half a century dead.