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Prologue to "Rhymes to be Traded for Bread" -- Vachel Lindsay

(Poem #1718) Prologue to "Rhymes to be Traded for Bread"
 Even the shrewd and bitter,
 Gnarled by the old world's greed,
 Cherished the stranger softly
 Seeing his utter need.
 Shelter and patient hearing,
 These were their gifts to him,
 To the minstrel chanting, begging,
 As the sunset-fire grew dim.
 The rich said "you are welcome."
 Yea, even the rich were good.
 How strange that in their feasting
 His songs were understood!
 The doors of the poor were open,
 The poor who had wandered too,
 Who slept with never a roof-tree
 Under the wind and dew.
 The minds of the poor were open,
 There dark mistrust was dead:
 They loved his wizard stories,
 They bought his rhymes with bread.

 Those were his days of glory,
 Of faith in his fellow-men.
 Therefore to-day the singer
 Turns beggar once again.
-- Vachel Lindsay
Commenting on Stevenson's "The Vagabond" [Poem #780], a less-than-charmed
reader said

  I think the poem stinks! It is the tale of a totally selfish bum!  It
  speaks of an existence that leads no where, with no purpose........not
  even a desire for love!  Pure trash IMO. Perhaps value can be salvaged by
  making it the example of 'what not to

Well, I don't agree with him, but nor can I deny that it is a perfectly
valid reading of the poem. However, I was also reminded of today's poem,
which sings of a much more "human" aspect of the joys of the road, of the
kindness extended to a stranger and the appreciation of the wandering
minstrel's art.

Lindsay's poetry is very reminiscent of Kipling's, both for his appreciation
of the rhythmic aspects of poetry and for the nature and diversity of the
subjects he tackled. (And, in passing, for the accusations of racism
levelled against him by a more enlightened generation; accusations that are
often founded in little more than his being a product of his times, and for
having had the temerity to outlast them.) Unlike with Kipling, I can't read
too much of Lindsay in one sitting, but in short doses I find him both
pleasurable and thought provoking. Today's quietly restrained poem is an
excellent example of both aspects.


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