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Altar Smoke — grace in the common things

July 12, 2009

old house in springtimeI heard this poem on NPR and thought I would share.  (The author, Rosalie Grayer, was 17 when she wrote it, in 1946)

Altar Smoke

Somewhere inside me
There must have always been
A tenderness
For the little, lived-with things
A man crowds upon his worn fistful of earth.
Somewhere inside of me
There must have always been
A love
Made to fill the square aggressiveness of new-cut hedges,
And feed the pursed green mouths of baby leaves;
A love made to understand
The way grass cuddles up to porch steps leaned upon by time,
And why dandelions nudge the stones along the walk;
A love for garden hose curled sleeping in the noon hush,
Coolness trickling lazily from its open mouth,
For shingles starched and saucy in white paint,
And an old rake rusty with dreams of tangled grass and butterflies.
A love
For candle flames, like pointed blossoms on their ghostly stems,
And frost-forests breathing wonder on the parlor windows.
Somewhere inside of me
There must have always been
An altar of hewn stones
Upon which my love casts these —
Burnt offerings —
To make a sweet savor
Unto my soul.

Give me the strength my God,
To scatter my fires and tumble the altar stones in confusion;
Give me the strength to raise my eyes,
So that hard and sharp across my heart
Like shadow cut on mountain rock,
Will fall the agony of sunset —
So that I can see
The laughter of clouds spun into the blue web of infinity,
So that my soul can reach out
And melt in the sweep of forever
Above all these.

– Rosalie Grayer

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Caroline permalink
    January 31, 2010 9:27 pm

    Thanks for posting this. It is my favourite poem. I found it as a kid in a Children’s Anthology of poetry edited by Louis Untermeyer (the title of which escapes me). It gives me a kick to think such a beautful unassuming piece or writing is out there on the net and on the radio. Cheers, Caroline – Auckland, New Zealand.

  2. lorie Miller Hansen permalink
    March 7, 2010 6:14 pm

    Also, one of my favorite poems. I smiled when I read Caroline’s comment–the Louis Untermeyer anthology in the same place I first read this poem when I was a kid; and I’ve loved it, and identified with it ever since.

  3. Judy Olsen permalink
    January 9, 2011 5:05 pm

    I’m with Caroline and Lorie – read this poem from the same collection, The Golden Treasury of Poetry, selected by Louis Untermeyer and illustrated beautifully by Joan Walsh Anglund. One of my all-time favorite poems!

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      January 9, 2011 5:09 pm

      You know, this thread of comments suddenly made me flash back to when I received a prize from my fourth grade teacher for memorizing and reciting “You Are Old Father William” in front of our class — the prize was a small paperback edition of the book you all are talking about! I will have to go see if I still have it and have another read-through.

  4. January 21, 2013 11:55 pm

    Yes, that’s where I came across it too — my grandmother gave me the Golden Treasury for my 9th birthday

  5. March 25, 2015 11:38 pm

    Thanks for this, I first found Grayer’s poem in a digest form of Untermeyer’s anthology when I was in junior high.

  6. Julia Rutter permalink
    January 14, 2017 12:57 pm

    I bought The Golden Treasury of Poetry, selected and edited by Louis Untermeyer many years ago. As a teacher, I wanted to introduce the children to the joy of poetry. Altar Smoke took me by surprise. It is quite beautiful. I have introduced it to many friends and acquaintances since, more recently to a U3A poetry group.

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