Adelaide Crapsey

Cinquains (1911-1913)

November Night

Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.


Look up . . .
From bleakening hills
Blows down the light, first breath
Of wintry wind . . . look up, and scent
The snow!


Keep thou
Thy tearless watch
All night but when blue-dawn
Breathes on the silver moon, then weep!
Then weep!


Well and
If day on day
Follows and weary year
On year . . . and ever days and years . . .

The Guarded Wound

If it
Were lighter touch
Than petal of flower resting
On grass, oh still too heavy it were,
Too heavy!




Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) was not the first English-language poet to appropriate models from translation of the classical poetry of Japan, but for a time she was among the most famous for having done so. She wrote many of the poems that appeared in her only volume, Verse, in the last year of her life, and in the knowledge that she was dying of tuberculosis. Their publication in the year following her death was met with critical acclaim, particularly for the brevity, poise, and metrical sophistication of those she called Cinquains. As early as 1919 Louis Untermeyer had called attention to the debts of these to Japanese poetics, and the point has received considerable attention in subsequent scholarship. See the Bibliography CA4 for an overview of this and related matters.

Complete Poems and Collected Letters of Adelaide Crapsey is in print and available in the US here, the UK here.

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