The American poet John Crowe Ransom wrote in a fastidious, ornate style that may sometimes seem to put too much distance between poem and reader but at its best produces work that combines great formal elegance with a uniquely bittersweet, elegiac flavour. I was torn between this one, ‘Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter’ and ‘Vision By Sweetwater’. But we can always come back…
The little cousin is dead, by foul subtraction,
A green bough from Virginia’s aged tree,
And none of the county kin like the transaction,
Nor some of the world of outer dark, like me.
A boy not beautiful, nor good, nor clever,
A black cloud full of storms too hot for keeping,
A sword beneath his mother’s heart — yet never
Woman bewept her babe as this is weeping.
A pig with a pasty face, so I had said,
Squealing for cookies, kinned by poor pretense
With a noble house. But the little man quite dead,
I see the forbears’ antique lineaments.
The elder men have strode by the box of death
To the wide flag porch, and muttering low send round
The bruit of the day. O friendly waste of breath!
Their hearts are hurt with a deep dynastic wound.
He was pale and little, the foolish neighbors say;
The first-fruits, saith the Preacher, the Lord hath taken;
But this was the old tree’s late branch wrenched away,
Grieving the sapless limbs, the shorn and shaken.
John Crowe Ransom