Mary Keelan Meisel
Mary Keelan Meisel (deceased) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the second child of immigrant Irish parents who settled in the copper mining town of Butte, Montana, at the turn of the Century.
Shortly after the birth of a second child, she had a nervous breakdown. Although physically disabled, she spent her waking hours on avid and voluminous reading and the study of rhyme and rhythm. Her illness taught her to observe the beauty of everyday living which most of us take for granted.
In her writings, there appear many incidents of a historical nature as well as universal and local interest. It would be reasonable to assume that the expressed emotions and often detailed narrations contained in ... the author's works were the result of a seasoned world traveler's observations. However, ... [as an adult, at] no time did she venture further than several hundred miles from the San Francisco Bay Area.
After a very slow process covering over 20 years, the author recovered her health and continued to study, read and rework her poems over and over ...
Mary Keelan Meisel expressed the firm belief that most good writers went
unappreciated during their lifetime of effort, but eventually gained recognition
many years after their demise ... maybe so in this instance.
Bio (excerpted above)
By: Harry J. Meisel, copyright owner & son of the deceased
Notes & Acknowledgements (excerpted below)
By: Joe M. Ruggier
In various issues of my poetry journal [The Eclectic Muse], over the last 13 years, I have penned appreciative words, critical insights, and words of praise for Mary Meisel's work. These various comments are combined below in one compact prefatory note together with professional acknowledgments to her legitimate heirs as well as publishers ...
Aware as she was of her gift, Meisel insisted that recognition for her work was not to be sought till after her passing. Following her death in '65, her family, who cherish her work with affection, released nine titles by Mary Meisel, four of which were published by Brenda Klebba of Pierpont Press, and the other five by Bristol Banner Books, the poetry imprint of Wyndham Hall Press.
[Unfortunately] her publishers were unable to market work by this outstanding artist, in view of which ... Mr. Meisel requested my assistance in the hope that her work may be distributed to readers who will read the poetry and preserve it. For Harry J. Meisel, son of the deceased and copyright owner, recovering money is not the issue so much as preserving his mother's work and saving the books from being shredded ...
For reasons outlined above the honour of successfully launching Meisel's poetry with the reading public has devolved on me: considering the high quality of her writing, I regard this to be a wonderful task indeed! Mary Meisel wrote from a woman's point of view, and a woman's point of view is often different from a man's, but she was a sensible woman and ... I am positively captivated by her work. I am still as impressed as ever by the pathos and melody of her sensitive and intelligent verse ...
In Vol 3, No 1, of my poetry journal (January 1992), I [commented]: "...
Hers was a sensitive soul and rare indeed: she felt love keenly and she knew
sorrow, and whatever she felt she felt intensely, and passion did not fail her.
Her simple delight in the sheer music of words and the sheer beauty of well-done
rhetoric, and her bold experiments with all kinds of metre ... testify to the
truth, before which any true artist has always knelt and lit a candle, that
human passion is a beautiful thing ... Having lived with Meisel's verse for more
than a year, I am in tears over her poetry. In spite of the fact that they are
at times uneven, I find these poems as remarkable for their intelligence,
clarity and perceptive subtlety as for their passionate, lyrical intensity,"
I Have Loved Little
I have loved little, who would now love well,
but can one take a heart and make it over.
I have run lightly through the asphodel
and danced among the blue bells and the clover.
I have lived lightly loving as I went
as lightly as I lived, but now with grieving
I see the wasted years -- the discontent
and unregenerate past that I am leaving.
I would love now, who have been late in loving
and love more deeply than I ever could
in that gay past, when I was prone to shoving
your gentle heart away, and since you stood
my dalliance then, I beg you to be tender,
and take my foolish heart, for I surrender.
Your love is like a rushlight that in dying
recovers sudden glory ere it dies;
impassioned ardor gone, it sinks down sighing
and is dissolved within its final sighs.
And there are ashes there instead of glowing,
and litter that my broom must sweep away,
so take your heart before the ember showing,
ere I, too, am consumed by its false ray.
I Would Go Out
I would go out in some high vaulted place --
Some Gothic shrine, perhaps, domed like the sky
Or lacking this, let me be sure of space,
Who would not be imprisoned when I die.
Cramped I have been so many years, and I yearn
To stretch my arms in luxury and let
My eyes so long unused to distance, burn
With beauties that my soul could not forget.
Just once I would have space in which to grow,
Though growth must stop when breath itself shall cease;
This slow stagnation ended, I would know
The joy of being unconfined, the peace
Of perfect freedom after narrow rooms,
And crowding ceilings and one window light.
I must have space when Death's swift shadow falls
So that my wings may spread for their last flight.
Published in The Eclectic Muse 1:3, Fall 1990, pp. 11, 12.
Tell Me Spirit
I have lived so long with this
body that I've learned to love it;
tell me, Spirit, shall I miss
its soft contours when above it
I, a spirit too, shall soar
and, disembodied see it lying
cold upon the burial floor,
shall I mind so much its dying;
mind the slow disintegration
of these long-familiar features --
loathed and bitter consummation
to the vanity of creatures.
Tell me, Spirit, you who know
who has seen your beauty go.
When the leprous flesh shall drop
from its structure and the marrow
will be punctured with a crop
of grim ghouls that tear and harrow
ligaments and stretching tissue,
shall I shudder as they squirm
and from eyeless sockets issue --
writhing worm and writhing worm.
Can I stand by at the feast
of corruption without sadness
when this thwartless maggot yeast
makes a vertigo of madness.
Tell me, Spirit, you have seen
supple bones picked dry and clean.
Will there be an end of hope
when the firm pink flesh is rotten
and unconscious will may grope
back no farther than forgotten,
or will hope look forth to see
in the charnel house of death,
where faith tells me there will be
a resurgence of new breath;
so that I who surge above
dissolution shall return
to the body that I love --
to the flesh that I must spurn,
learning then that glory must
first dissolve itself in death.
Published in The Eclectic Muse 3:1, January 1992, p. 31.
I am mounting the last flight of stairs
to the goal that my heart has desired;
I am reaching to Heaven with prayers,
but already, my spirit is tired.
There's a pull from the earth as I rise,
And the steps become harder to reach;
but while Hope ignominiously dies,
Desire stops not at the breach,
but insistently urges me on,
through the dizzying heights to the goal,
and ever when vision is gone,
and courage is drained from the soul
its forthright demands that I go,
keep forcing each weary step higher;
and I dare not look back nor below,
who am burned with unquenchable fire;
it scorches me ever with flame,
the white heat of infinite love,
and I dare not look back whence I came
while One waits at the turning above.
Published in The Eclectic Muse 3:1,
January 1992, p. 33
This Cool Delight
I wouldn't want to bring back summer
if I could make the snow birds sing;
for there are lovely things in winter,
as lovely as the dreams of spring.
December days are drawing closer,
and they are shortening with the year;
there are no stars upon the osier,
no mallards light upon the weir.
The northern skies are gray and cheerless,
the moon shows in a weary space;
there's nothing left of summer's peerless
blooms, upon earth's lonely face.
But soon the flakes of snow will hover
above the countryside--all white,
and pure, and clean; and it will cover
the bare, brown earth in cool delight.
And then I will not care if summer
delays her visit many moons;
for this first snowfall in November
is worth ten thousand sultry moons.
So soft it falls, so like a feather
each crystal lights upon the ground;
unfettered now by wind or weather,
they settle slowly all around.
Like motes of light, the flakes are tumbling
so gently through the placid air;
no thrust of motion ... just the crumbling
drift of petals everywhere.
Timid little mendicant, high in the cypress tree,
timidly enquiring how to win some nuts from me;
running out upon a branch, in fitful spurts and starts,
teetering upon a twig, and using all his arts.
Always with his gentle eyes upon me, as I sit,
even when he slithers down the brown bole, bit by bit.
Cautiously he edges down, with many a pause between,
slyly and expertly agile, in his own demesne.
Down at last, upon the ground, he postures for my sake,
while still advancing guardedly, his eyes upon the take.
Getting bold and bolder, as I make a gay pretense
of unconcern, he tries to pierce my feigned indifference.
He poses quietly, forepaws crossed upon his little breast,
as though transfixed, by hope deferred: a most intriguing guest.
Sitting upright on the sward, a truly begging stance;
his bushy tail a question mark, a question in his glance.
Nearer now, and nearer yet, he edges with his plea
in little running leaps and starts, that feign anxiety.
And then his little byplay ends, and quickly is it done;
and there he is beside me, soft and tawny in the sun.
Exploring paws, and sniffing nose, and there's a peanut found;
and if his hunger is appeased, it's buried in the ground.
Another, and another one, he takes back to his cache,
the safe and secret place he has beneath a groundling ash.
Thrifty, little garnerer of treasures for his hoard,
he's gathering his harvest for his scanty winter's board:
and if he uses wile, and guile, he still deserves a toast;
for he gives a meed of pleasure to his not reluctant host.
The Wee House
I had a little cottage once, upon the city's edge,
and there a wee fine garden was, within a wild rose hedge;
and peonies and poppies grew, and geraniums in a box,
and there were red nasturtiums, and flags and hollyhocks.
Oh! it was a lovely house--this little house I had,
and with me lived two small ones, and a fine upstanding lad;
but the wee ones grew up straight and tall, and himself went off with tears;
and there are strangers living there, these many many years.
But sometimes when I'm lonely-like, my soul bides there a wee,
and I don't believe they'd like it, if they knew that it was me
who walks across the doorsill, when the wind is riding high,
and sets the wicker rocking chair to rock a lullaby,
and takes the blue delft from the shelf, and puts the pewter there:
the delft goes on the dresser, near the newel of the stair;
and takes the horsehair sofa from the spare room through the hall,
and puts it in its proper place against the chimney wall.
They're careless of these little things, the ones that live there now;
and I look around the sitting room, and often wonder how
the place would look without me, if I couldn't come of nights,
when the family's upstairs sleeping, and put everything to rights.
So often when I'm lonely-like, my soul bides there a bit,
and I watch the dying embers of the fire, as I sit
upon the lonely ingle seat, and dream of long ago
when himself was there beside me in the fire's ruddy glow.
The gentle Galilean
is weaving down the lane.
His sacred eyes, unseeing,
are filmed with mists of pain.
help Him to see again.
His mud-grimed face is bleeding
where thorns through tissues plow;
and drops of sweat are beading
upon His chalk-pale brow.
bring linens for Him now.
His blessed eyes are blinding
with ruby drops in flood;
and tears of pain are winding
through clotted sweat and mud.
preserve His precious blood.
No penitential grieving
will soothe His body's ache;
but, oh! when all are leaving,
the difference it will make--
to have you near to slake
His burning thirst! His yearning need
for solacing and cheer!
to wipe the gushing wounds that bleed
while you are standing near--
when anguish rides with fear!
bring spices for the dead.
His mother stands beneath the cross,
her heart uncomforted.
make smooth His final bed,
And help her lay her Son thereon,
and fold the winding sheet;
and lead the grieving Mary down
the sad deserted street,
and kneel beside her in the dark
with unguents for her feet!
For she, too, walked the road of pain,
and weary was the trail--
and you can comfort Him again,
Dear Lady of the veil:
through Mary of the wounded heart--
Madonna of the Grail!
These are the hours in which He hung suspended,
high on the cross, upon a windy hill.
These are the hours of anguish that were ended
on Calvary, yet are enduring still.
These are the hours that cannot be forgotten,
though millenniums shall pass, while men shall live;
for in these hours, so grim and ill-begotten,
Divinity gave all He had to give.
These are the tragic hours, the epic hours,
the cataclysmic hours that had to be;
the hours when Principalities and Powers
saw their beloved God upon a tree.
These are the hours when even nature trembled
at Eve's surrender of her pristine grace.
These are the hours when Adam's sons assembled
to hurl defiance at an anguished Face.
These are the hours when ribald maledictions
poisoned the air drawn in by ruptured lungs.
These are the hours of shameful derelictions,
of traitorous taunts, and shrill deriding tongues.
These are the hours that shame the past and present,
and mark the future with a scarlet stain.
These are the hours when nobleman and peasant
meet at the altar where a Lamb was slain.
These are the awful hours of the Passion;
the dreadful hours when the gentle Savior died.
These are the hours when God, in His compassion,
let His Beloved Son be crucified.
Each Swift Adventure
I am so glad that life withholds some pleasures,
lest I be surfeited with too much joy.
I like to think that all my golden treasures
are made enduring with some base alloy.
For I would plumb the depths of pain, to waken
to understanding of another's need;
and drink the dregs of sorrow's cup--if taken,
another heart would have less cause to bleed.
Affliction has such potency in moulding
seraphic loveliness, and I would know
each swift adventure, reaching out and holding
the fragile things that are too soon to go.
I know I cannot grow into new beauty
without the touch of fire, the sting of loss;
nor take the sharp and bitter edge from duty,
until I learn the sweetness of the cross.
So I am glad that pleasures are not given
with lavish hand, lest they should mean too much,
and leave me with a heart that is unshriven
by Sorrow's gentle, melancholy touch.
Be Still, Little Feet
Close your eyes, little Pet, do not cry, do not fret,
cuddle close, little Golden Hair:
we will go rock-a-bye to an old lullabye,
as we rock in my old rocking chair.
All is still in your world, as you lie softly curled
in my arms, as we rock to and fro.
Rest, my little One! Keep all your dreams for your sleep,
as to Lullabye Town we will go.
Out to Rock-a-bye Land, where my rocking chair goes,
with a lilting and tilting refrain;
down to Sleepy Tot Town, with star dust sifting down,
on the highroad to Nodding Head Lane.
There is sand in your eyes, from the Sandman's goodbyes,
as he sprinkles the town with a will;
there's a star-sparkled street, where the highways all meet,
and the houses are shuttered and still.
Close your eyes, little Dear, do not fret, do not fear,
cuddle down with your head against mine;
and I'll rock you to sleep, while the angels all keep
a watch, that is tender and fine.
For they love to remain down in Sleepy Town Lane,
where my rocking chair goes with its crew;
and they love each small face in this wonderful place,
and will see that their dreams all come true.
So hush, little Sweet, and be still, little Feet,
you have wandered enough for today;
there's a place of repose where my rocking chair goes,
out the Highstreet and down Blanket Way.
How foolishly they speak who know You not--
these feeble, erring men Love chose to make--
whose hounding intellects leave them untaught
of life's stupendous miracles. They take
strange comfort in their certitudes, and set
no limits to their knowledge; and they write
their theories on the world, while they forget
You are the source--the only source of Light!
They are so busy proving You are not--
frail, foolish men who know not what they miss,
and stubborn willful children with whom thought,
however false, is better far than this
sweet Faith, as old as man's initial breath:
how they will start to see You after death!
Order is His Law
Each has his work that only he can do,
his niche in time that only he can fill;
and at the reckoning he alone will rue
the task unfinished, or the work done ill.
Each is assigned his one and special task,
and given freedom to perform it well:
and in the doing he should never ask
why he, of all his fellows, should excel
in this one thing that is allotted him,
out of all others he himself would choose--
if he could choose to follow every whim,
and chase each bubble for its varied hues.
Some call it destiny, and some disclaim
the Planner and the Planned, and they would say
there is no scheme of things, nor One to name
who should do this, or that, or in what way.
"We make our own way"--so they say--"and build
the kind of life that we ourselves desire;
ours is the fault, and ours the hand that killed
the hopes we had, or quenched the inner fires."
But Who caused hope to be? Who lit the spark
by which desire comes? What is the name
of Him Who, out of chaos and the dark,
brought order and the sun's unquenching flame?
And would this Mind, that counts the farthest star,
let one small Atom on a planet stray
when Order is His Law? And we--who are
held in His hand for this, our little day--
Plea for Living
I who have never been, never will be,
because you refuse your heart's shelter to me,
I shall be formless, and moaning this death,
until I am given the tissue of breath,
like a gray woodsmoke I wind overhead,
as faint as the specter of one who is dead:
a baby soul, aching to live near your heart,
instead of uncounted oblivions apart.
I have been seeking for ages the bliss
of the fold of your arms, and the heat of your kiss,
and, in the wide passage where Time sometimes stands,
I wait for you often with outreaching hands--
and with each frustration, the corridor grows
colder than winding sheets, bitterer than those
burial cerements in which you bed,
in rich reliquaries, the bones of your dead.
But the departed one bears on his soul
the proud testimonial that once he was whole,
and the place whence he goes, and the visions he sees,
are denied the Unborn's inarticulate pleas.
We swim in vast silence--in emptiness soar--
there will be no Hereafter--there has been no Before--
we fumble for life, and the good boon of living
is yours to bestow, and you withhold the giving.
More tragic than scorn is this bodiless gloom
that is locked in oblivion deep as the tomb.
For existence I plead--for a place among men--
for the flesh that will clothe this frail wraith that has been
predestined from Time for the springs of your breast:
but, thwarted of these, must be doomed to unrest
in a night without hours, unsonant and strange,
where forever the sad inarticulate range.
Why do you doom me to bondage, behind
the veil of this death, without body or mind?
Why this injustice? More bitter because
you were destined to be, by immutable laws,
the framer of life and the shaper of clay--
co-Creator with God! Who had chosen this way
by which He would people the cities of earth!
Oh Mother! Your lost little child would have birth!
As a Woman Wills
A man may live to a ripe old age,
without knowing that love can bless;
but a woman must live in a songbird's cage
to find her happiness.
But there are some who are parakeets,
squawking their lives away;
and the beautiful hopes, and the dear conceits,
have all gone with their wedding day.
A man may wander about the earth,
from the countryside back to the town;
but a woman was made to be queen of the hearth,
and must wear her love as a crown.
But, instead of a crown of love, some wear
a conqueror's laurel and bay;
and the man whom they promised to honor must bear
the lash of their tongue each day.
But when a man weds he must cherish the maid,
and be kind and gentle of speech;
and she in her turn must never upbraid,
for such is the law for each.
But far too many harangue and scold,
and they peevishly nag and complain:
and love so ill-treated grows weary and cold;
and how could it ever remain?
Some men there are who have never wed,
and are free as the birds of the air;
and some have married a doll and fled
from the tirades they had to bear.
But there are ever so many more
whose years are many and good;
with happiness waiting inside the door,
where a woman acts as she should.
An Afterword by THT editor Mike Burch:
Mary Keelan Meisel died in 1965, but fortunately her poetry is still with us today. Meisel's best poems will delight many a reader into saying, along with the poet: " I have run lightly through the asphodel / and danced among the blue bells and the clover." But Meisel does not allow the reader to linger long in any garden of Edenic delights: her poems intently and resolutely explore not only nature, but also the human conundrums of flesh and spirit, of apathy and love, of gravity and levity, of earthly stagnation and heavenward flight. Meisel, who was physically disabled and suffered a nervous breakdown, was able to look both deeply into and wildly beyond her precarious mortal condition; like all good poets, she compels the reader to travel with her, to the point of seeing something in himself of what she saw in herself. Poems like "Consummation," "I Would Go Out" and "Tell Me Spirit" challenge us to consider ourselves as full-fledged spiritual beings, not mere sacks of sagging decaying flesh. If you too "would know / the joy of being unconfined, the peace / of perfect freedom after narrow rooms," then reading Meisel's poetry is an avenue, perhaps even a flight plan, to liberation: the kind of liberation seldom found in poetry today. But she will also confront you with hard truths, as she saw them. Whether or not you agree with her, we think you'll agree with us that her voice deserves to be heard.