Raymond C. Harding Poems from 1965


Robert Frost at the Inauguration

Of JFK, Jan. 20, 1961. (As he was

Installed as Poet Laureate.)


I saw the gaunt, lined face

With craggy brows, troubled silver hair

The puzzled peering eyes fight back

The tears born of the wintry chill.

There he stood before the world

From his platform where the wind

Kept whipping at his rueful pages

While he groped for old familiar words,

With voice that fumbled on the lines

He knew so well, and all the while

Those knowing, “North of Boston,”

“Boys’ Ways” swinging birch boughs,

“Two Roads” and the “Woods at Night”,

Awaited, and a brand new President

Behind him leaning forward

As though to prompt encouragement.

The voice found sound.

“We were the land’s before the land was ours”..

He fought the tears but then

With breaking voice he turned

Finding the struggle just too much,

“I can’t see to read this any more.”

Folded his papers and slowly turned away.




Here where the morning mists arise

Above the ice-splashed winding river,

I hear the leader’s sound

Vibrant, exultant end the echo call

Of the vanguard in the wedge.

Here where the marshland makes a fringe

For mountain shadows, here they come

Clamoring for the northern reach,

For Alberta’s welcome plains

The old-time home, so well-remembered.

Returning to ancestral nests

To start again the pulsing life strain

Of these dauntless masters of the air,

Winged arrowheads of feathered grace

Keep full the cycle of migration awe.

Now the rising mists have cleared

I had no sight of them but knew

They passed this way; that Spring

Has come and all is well.



[“One swallow does not make a summer” but one skein of geese clearing the murk of a Marsh thaw, is the Spring.”  Leopold]



When all his fellows had gone by,

I saw this straggler in a tree,

Plain black and white against the sky:

Heard him sing exultingly

“The other warblers left last week

You see I’m really quite unique,

Last in the Spring; last in the Fall

I am the vanguard of them all”.



[“I think we were sorry to see the Blackpoll (as he) “forms the rear guard of the northward parade of the spring warblers” e.w.teale, “Circle of the Seasons” May 14th P. 94.

  The Blackpoll delays into June before leaving the area south of the breeding range—Again in the Fall the Bp. seems loath to leave, waiting behind the other warblers.  He does not leave the northern states before October.  L.M. Nelson, Birds of America, Sect. 3, p. 137.]



This is the sight I thrill to most of all,

A rising cavalcade of wings,

Triggered by a hidden leader’s call

The feeding flock of pipers springs

Up in frantic tousled flight

Close ranks, then whilst in unison

Flashing patterns black and white

Climb up to brush against the sun,

The signature of Spring spelled out

In vibrant letters on an April sky.

I watched them with no room for doubt.

Come October they will spell “good-bye.”





These things the Lord made plenty of,

Weeds, sparrows and the myriad poor.

And in His special way His love

Has seemed to make them all secure.

Ignored by gentry these unwanted three

Bid well to cover all the earth,

A hardy vibrant trilogy,

His saving grace their own true worth.



 [The hardiest perennials in the vegetable kingdom are the weeds, one of which our Lord called “the lilies of the field”; Of the birds he named only the sparrows; of the world he said, “The poor you shall have with you always.”]

  [While the term “Sparrow” is an English root “Spearive,” The bird of Israel must have been a small common type. I am not sure that our common House, or English sparrow existed in Palestine in our Lord’s time.  The name is apt.]




I do not have the grace of some

Whose magic touch makes all things bloom,

Mine is a different colored thumb

And in my garden there is room

For filling where some plants have died.

They all elude my tender care,

Sweet Baby’s breath and hardy phlox,

But for the one thing I have a flair,

My rock garden’s full of rocks

A salvage for my waning pride.


But I’m a gardener with a will,

Each failing plant gives way to hope,

And so I keep on planting still

And like my buried seed I hope

For flowering and Lord knows I tried.











Ah sin sits before his orchard gates

And looks so very wise,

And as Ah Sin sits there and waits

There comes before his eyes

The vision of his long past youth,

The pleasures he had known

And he who only speaks of truth

Recalls the wild plums sown.


The village folk who see him there

Dare not disturb his reverie.

The wise one with the studied air

Does not encourage company.

“He thinks upon the ancient ways,”

Each villager agrees

“For he is wise and full of years,”

As Ah Sin counts his trees.




I thought the story had been told

Of my boyhood maple tree

But now I find I must unfold

The epilogue that you may see

What time has wrought and how

The unkind years and nature too

Conspired against my tree, and now

It brings a sorry sight to view.

A photo taken recently

Shows a torn off upper part

Of what should be maturity.

A half tree lanced by lightning dart.

Despite the grievous wound it grows

Sturdy, vibrant, heartwood sound

Aged, infirm, it proudly shows

Its leafy greenness all around.

Sometimes I thought it must have died.

Would be no wonder if it had,

But it lives on still sound inside

And somehow I am glad.




Most anthropologists agree

That twenty million years ago

A monkey clambered down a tree

And started all this human show.

Accompanied by, no doubt, a she.

But there’s one thing I’d like to know,

The theory’s not quite clear

When their companions saw them go

Did all the other monkeys cheer?

Perhaps they saw the awful fate

These later years would bring,

Preferred by far their own estate

And went back to their swing.

Now when a monkey stares at me

From his refuge in a zoo,

A faint resemblance I can see,

He could be me or you.

Except that on that fateful day

Some twenty million years ago

His ancestor said he would stay

While ours chirped up, “I’ll go.”

Which one made the better choice?

Maybe we’ll never know.



Too bad we didn’t have a voice

Back twenty million years ago.

But maybe it is just as well

No choice was left to me

The way I choose things – what the hell

I’d likely still be up a tree.





This reach

Of curving sand,

This principal beach,

This glacial land

Ancient, new,

Blue sky above

Wide ocean view

I come to love

Tho lately, true

This narrow land.




The wind clipped pines

Huddled in leeward dunes

Trailing branches, tracing lines

In restless sand; and the tunes

The south wind brings

Softer than the grey gulls wings,

Respite from the winter knife

Pruning all green struggling life.

Stunted trees that seem to know

There is always time to grow,

Lean against the wind and sigh

There is always time to die.


 [The dwarf pine of the outer Cape described by Edwin May Teale, “North

with the Spring,” which I have seen at Calhoun’s Hollow.  Trees barely two

feet tall, yet often fifteen to twenty years old.]



Along an old New Hampshire road

We sped, that bright and sunny day,

When suddenly I heard explode

A blur of brown and black and gray

From out the wayside brush.

I had no chance to swerve or slow

My auto’s hurtling rush.

Then came the fatal blow.

My car window showed me then

Wild tumbling feathers of a bird

That would not rise to wing again,

Whose drumming would no more be heard.

I stopped, went back, for a feather or two

which now rest here in my house

Still give a sad remembrance view

Though they looked better on the grouse.


 [On a trip to Jaffrey a few years ago on a visit to Dick, along route 124 near Jaffrey, we had the above experience.  I kept the feathers until today, when I decided to mount them since I could not salvage the grouse.]



I’ve harvested my yesterdays

Except for one small plot

I somehow hope to raise,

But then like as not

I’ll not be round for reaping.

Stuff ain’t worth much any more

So there seems no point to keeping

Goods you can’t sell at the store.

But there still will come a day

I’ll have to pay the cost

For all the ones I threw away,

For others I have lost.

My sorry crop cannot compare

With others bright and new

I only hope that at the Fair

The Judge will give a kindly view.

I know I’ll never win a prize

At that last convention,

I’d even view with great surprise

A word of favored mention.




I have no winter crops to sow,

No frosty chores that cannot wait

Till all the world is clear of snow,

So I’ll just sit and hibernate.


Let the farmer mind his farm

And till his latest furrow,

I’ll find a spot all snug and warm

To shame a hedgehog’s burrow.

I’ll venture out doors now and then,

Catch the nice days when they come,

Just to watch the busy men

Make the work wheels spin and hum.

When I tire of this diversion

And I hear the sleigh bells ring

I’ll revert to my conversion,

Safely snooze again till spring.




I saw October’s golden flame

Slowly growing up the hill,

By-passing evergreens

And merely scorching oaks.

But maples make prime targets

Tall sumach rush to fiery red,

Birches  show a  yellow fright

While silvered deadwood snags

Immune, display their skeletons.

They have been through all this before.




I have to see some friends of mine

Each morning at the garden fence.

They keep sharp watch from six to nine

To see the snow of crumbs commence.


They show some very human traits,

Self preservation is the rule.

That nothing comes to him who waits,

A lesson learned well at their school.


Nor do they lack a certain guile, –

One swiftly breaks from out the pack,

The others scatter for a while

Then comes alarmist, first one back.


The bully bird exploits the weak

Not chancing on direct assault,

Grabs purloined crumbs with greedy beak,

The loser gives up by default.


And some again resort to stealth

Disdaining all the fare that’s near,

Feast on the almost hidden wealth

Of crumbs dropped at my rear.




I guess because I know them well

(I think it’s always true with friends)

He learned it well, the Prodigal,

Deserted when the feeding ends.





I’m going to buy

A scarlet tree

And even try

My luck and see

If it will grow,

So small a thing

Will winter’s snow

Nurse it till spring

And make it green

With warming rain

Till autumn’s scene

Turns red again?


 [I bought a Burning Bush to plant in back of St. Francis’ shrine, but gave it to Phil, and

planted instead a red beech sapling we dug up together with a maple, on a lot off Long Road.]



November’s chill is yet a month away,

October nights no hint of snowstorm bring.

Each northern barn still holds its dusty sleigh,

And yet my soul keeps yearning for next spring.


The winter months are yet to come I know.

The icy North wind’s bound to have his fling

And make our world a prisoner of snow,

But vaulting over this I come to spring.


I’ve had too many winters anyhow

And missed too many months that sing.

But calendars have little meaning now.

I’ll close my eyes and dream a while till spring.


These are the last entries in our family collection of Ray (C ) Philip Harding’s poems. In hind-sight it would be too easy to read some sense of heightened mortality in some of these lines. He had a history of heart problems going back to 1955 and family were often focused on any signs or symptoms that he might be in danger of another heart attack. No one knows for sure what he was experiencing during those years.

He complained simply of not feeling well one October evening and of having pains in his stomach. He went to lie down on the living room couch  but things got worse. An ambulance came to take him to St.Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, MA. He apparently died on the way from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, October 25, 1965.


The house in Fairhaven, MA, owned by his son Philip and wife Irene, where Ray C. and Florence(Mahoney) lived with them and grand-children, Joseph, Raymond, Philip and Anne.  Florence, or Fla, his wifep and very patient typist, died January 25, 1992..



Searching a Different View

photo by Laura N (Harding) Tallen






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