Poets and Poetry: I See the Hills

April is National Poetry Month, so it seems fitting to share  the work of a few of our local poets each week.

George Cram Cook, author and playwright, was born in Davenport on October 7, 1873.   Although he considered Greece his “cultural home,” a few of Mr. Cook’s poems showed his affection for the Midwest:

I see the Hills

Southward from my window I see the hills of Illinois.
The river spreads between—a frozen tumult of jagged blocks of ice.
The slopes of the hills rise sunlit, covered with snow,
The crests of the hills and black with woods;
The valleys are black with the shadow of the hills.

Last week the ice-floes formed; the water crystallized.
Sheets of ice slid, ground, crunched, crackled, split into fragments that
        twisted, sank, thrust into the air, and fell piling one upon another,
Pushed gulfward by the unswerving weight of the Mississippi.
For weeks that water will slide down its bed of salt and sand and gravel in
        order to be at peace in the sea—a thousand feet nearer the center of the earth.
Unseen the water slides between the unmoving ice, the river’s roof
Built without hands by the cold of rushing air
Whose floor the ice is now.
The ice is man’s bridge. He has chopped a road for the wagon-sleds and
        horses of teamsters hauling loads of black and glittering coal from the coal banks.
The ice fascinated me,
I see the lines of force that broke the floes and thrust their fragments up
        in apparent confusion.
But I see more that what is apparent.
I see the unseen current;
I feel the mathematics of its forces,
The exactitude of position of each fragment,
The inexorable and flawless logic of each ice block in the river, each
        crystal in the block, each molecule in the crystal.
It is all true.
There is no error in it.
There has been no mistake.
Each inch and each iota of the ice
Is where it has to be—
Its present state and location the resultant of its history, indissolubly
        part of the history of the eternal universe,
I look from the rough wide fields of ice to the hills beyond,
I look carelessly, not prying into the secrets of the hills,
But they come to me
The secrets of the hills come giving themselves to me,
They lay off veil after veil for me—the veils of ages,
They are bare to the comprehension of my soul;
I see the lines of force that thrust them up.
I see the wear of the ages of frost and rain that wore them down.
My vision sweeps back to the days when the rock lay hardening beneath the sea;
And on to the days when the black and glittering coal was alive.
Mighty ferns waved slowly in mist,
The hot dampness of vapor sifted through giant fronds.
Forests of fern covered all the part of the earth where coal lies buried now,
The warmth of the earth rose in exhalations,
The envelope of cloud shut in the warmth of the earth,
Shut out the light of the sun,
And in the dim warm misty air grew giant fronds
The dying made the black and glittering coal.


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