Songs Along The Missouri


"Harry Benoist Davis writes of profound religious experience in a way that captures the humanity and sometime doubt of the Protestant cleric, a visionary seeker in the embrace of a God who can be both comforting and merciless."
-Stephen Davis, New York Times bestselling author (Hammer of the Gods and Walk This Way)

Harry Benoist Davis began writing poetry while growing up near the bluff-lined banks of his beloved Missouri river. He continued to write well into his eighties. This...

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"Harry Benoist Davis writes of profound religious experience in a way that captures the humanity and sometime doubt of the Protestant cleric, a visionary seeker in the embrace of a God who can be both comforting and merciless."
-Stephen Davis, New York Times bestselling author (Hammer of the Gods and Walk This Way)

Harry Benoist Davis began writing poetry while growing up near the bluff-lined banks of his beloved Missouri river. He continued to write well into his eighties. This second edition of Songs Along the Missouri introduces previously unpublished poems and sonnets, many from his last twenty-five years, written while he served as a minister near Kansas City.

Deeply spiritual, yet completely accessible, Songs Along the Missouri encompasses many emotions including the ache for love lost or never experienced, the serenity of ice and snow, Davis's strong sense of place and belonging, and the gentle love of family. His poetry speaks of his profound involvement with community and family-Harry was one of six siblings who grew up in the Great Depression of the 1930s-as well as an almost mystic sense of place: along the wide, often turbulent, always majestic Missouri River.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781450294959
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/10/2011
  • Pages: 180
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Songs Along the Missouri

By Harry Benoist Davis

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Harry Benoist Davis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-9496-6

Chapter One

Songs of Missouri


    Out of the north flows the river mysteriously,
    Out from the source of the dragon-like storms,
    Out of the fogs and the mist lands imperiously,
    Roaring, or noiseless through prairie land farms.

    Often the herders of sheep in the pasture lands
    Pause to behold on a lowering sky
    Watery sheets closing in on the valley sands
    Drenching them all as a storm races by.

    Eastward pursuing its course gravitational
    Onward the river traverses the state
    Named for and naming the stream inspirational,
    Blending the charm they together create.

    Splendid in springtime are sights which the river land
    Gives to the child who, along by the shore,
    Walks with bare feet in the cool-feeling river sand
    Lifting charmed eyes to the gray bluffs before.

    Pleasant in summer the willows adjacently
    Murmur through leaves adding joy to the swirl
    Of the gliding Missouri whose waters complacently
    Delight a vacationing youth and a girl.

    High on the bluffs after oaks suffer autumn-freeze,
    Across-stream they cast a red show to enthrall
    Parents exploring with children for hickory trees,
    Walnuts or bittersweet, ripe in the fall.

    When comes the winter and valleys are blanketed
    White with the snow, and with ice in the stream,
    Those who are aging and white-crowned hear trumpeted—
    Time and the river are parts of one dream.


    From on my throne of rocks I view
    The bluffs that rise to the endless blue
    From the river Missouri's banks.
        For a moment I make them a monument
    To a love as full as the firmament,
    And from here I return my thanks.


    A plane cleared the Missouri with a loud
    uprising as it soared into the grey
    Oblivion of lostness in a cloud
    Of kansas City fog across the way.
    I watched, then gazed through rain and boisterous wind
    Toward Trinity Hospital in mid-town
    Where Robert Church, who long had been my friend
    Lay with life's final curtain closing down.
    As through the rain the giant plane soared on,
    He left his runway, too, in unseen flight
    Into a cloud-obscured and misty dawn
    Beyond our help, our knowledge, or our sight.


    I stand in a doorway from the lightning
    And watch a cloudburst as it pours
    From skies of a leaden cast
    The miracle of rain in August.
    Rain, though briefly inconvenient
    And a spoiler to those who walk outdoors
    Brings to us food and wealth and the brightening
    Of a world fresh-washed and new.


    Hold back, hold back, you flowing winds of time,
    Too swift, too swift, the colors lose their prime
    As bright October leaves which burn the sky
    With crimson, gold, and scarlet soon shall fly
    Before autumnal motion, wind and breeze,
    And lie in scattered heaps beneath the trees.
    One gladdened with a red oak's deep maroon
    Must feel some pain to know that all too soon
    This rich mysterious foliage shall be found
    Below denuded branches on the ground.
    Blow wild, blow wild, you winds of autumn blow!
    Rain leaves, whirl leaves, in one majestic show!
    Be gone, be gone, the last of summer's breath
    And blow the flowers their first foretaste of death.
    Make haste and bring the fruits of harvest in.
    Creak, wagons, hauling grain into the bin.
    Let be cleaned out and strawed the sheds where sleep
    On winter nights the huddled flocks of sheep,
    The lordly rams and all their docile ewes
    That in chill spring their lambs they may not lose.
    The young fowls which once stretched out in the sun
    And grew strong wings out in the pasture run,
    Let be housed now from storms, enclosed in pens
    To scratch beneath their straw-lined nests as hens,
    While we within our wind-rocked homes defy
    The face-benumbing blizzards of the sky.


    Adventures that must transcend time
    Are best preserved expressed in rhyme,
    And yesterday, not far away
    I went to see Augusta play
    Our Matson team.
    You stood with bat in hand as I
    Came, watching sizzling balls go by,
    And with that smile you greeted me
    Who you alone had come to see
    Or it would seem!
    You had a pleasant day at bat,
    Five hundred batted, for all that,
    But on the field our shortstop keen
    Was over, under, or between
    Most balls that came.
    You were not feeling at your best;
    What should be fun became a test.
    Dull, slow, and tired you seemed to me
    But then, when worst, you'll ever be
    To me the same.
    I sat beside you on the ground
    With known and unknown all around,
    And joyed to have your teammates near
    For nothing is to youth more dear
    Than having friends.
    Angelic are the ties that bind
    Admiring comrades of the mind,
    And strong the loyalty of youth
    And rich the search for life and truth
    Which never ends.


    I stood in Nelson's Gallery of Art
    And gazed upon a portrait etched in stone
    Almost three thousand years before the Christ
    And near five thousand years before our own
    Showing a husband standing by his wife
    Whose more luxuriant hair and finer face
    Still bear their imprint on these latter days,
    As we and our descendants see her there.
    They lived and loved, and somewhere surely live,
    And still endure as do their likenesses
    upon this ancient slab of Nile-hewn stone.


    Wild winter whiteness, covering the park,
    Stay hard, freeze hard, for soon it will be dark
    And bitter cold will then preserve the awe
    Of your pure whiteness from the threat of thaw.
    Would we could crush forever to our hearts
    This beauty, or preserve it through the arts,
    That this horizon clad in crystal trees
    And diamond-covered branches we could freeze
    And could possess together in some hold
    Where summer heat could not destroy the cold.
    But since this is impossible, at least
    Let us look long upon the fields and feast,
    Lest we should in reflection and repose
    Lose ever this white treasure of the snows.


    Though the sun is farthest south of here
    On December twenty-first, the year
    Does not receive the full impact
    Nor coldest days become a fact
    until around the fifteenth day
    Of January, records say.
    This is the time we must appraise
    The frigid joys of shortened days
    And of the early falling dusk.
    Now cardinals throw off the husk
    Of sunflower seed on window sill,
    And titmice flit in for their fill,
    Exchanging beauty for a meal
    And warming winter with their zeal.


    As a little boy I heard the deep thunder
    Heard it from the pulpit at Eureka
    In the peaceful outskirts of St. Louis,
    With the red-robed Christ in the window behind
    Lending the sermon celestial enforcement,
    Calling as a mighty lion to its young.
    Out of Zion the voice of the Lord
    Roared as the voice of a conquering lion
    And I heard his call from my luminous pew
    And forward I went to the altar kneeling,
    Not once, not twice, but often returning
    As the conquering lion of the tribe of Judah
    Roared to its young, and the young lion heard.
    Then I came to the voice of the roaring
    And lent my voice to the mighty waters
    And lent the young lion's roar to his elder's,
    Took up the calling, renewing the voice
    That to the generation around me
    There might never be lack of the thunder,
    That with the departure of him, my father,
    Voice of the Lord to his people calling,
    I the younger should see that from Zion,
    Sounding to those of my nation hearing
    Should be the roar of the Word of the Lord.


    On Christmas with the children bundled warm
    We drove up north with visions of the food
    Grandmother had awaiting at the farm
    Whereon their mother grew to womanhood.

    Our Kansas City home on Cambridge Street
    We left by Sni-A-Bar and by Blue Ridge,
    Then where the freeway and Missouri meet
    We paid our toll at the Paseo Bridge.

    We glanced down on the legendary stream
    Whose cold December flood is little changed
    From rural boyhood's recollected dream
    Though seen now with the background rearranged.

    Missouri's greatest tower, the Power and Light,
    Its color-changing dome now stilled and gray,
    Which after dark provides the city night
    Its most esteemed electrical display,

    The City Hall whose grand ascending shaft
    Sweeps upward past the mayor's lofty nest
    And forms a walkway in the winter's draft
    Whose view of all the city's is the best,

    The Court House which one sees across the street
    Made famous by the song, "The Twelfth Street Rag,"
    Where upper jail cells and cold courtrooms meet,
    Where abject inmates feel the long days drag,

    The two great buildings of the Telephone,
    The old one's ghostly tower now just a part
    Of a communicating system grown
    Beyond the bounds it planned for at the start,
    The new library building where the Board
    Of Education's architectural mask
    Conceals an ancient literary hoard
    To cast new light upon the current task,

    And to the east of these the massive hulk,
    The building which the federal government
    Has thrown up with its monolithic bulk
    Against an unbelieving firmament,

    The Muehlebach in whose Presidential Suite
    The Eisenhowers and Trumans found their rest,
    And where the kaw and the Missouri meet,
    An airport flinging planes against the West,

    The Auditorium whose games and bouts
    Attract great throngs, which also forms the stage
    Where culture, art, and pageants by the Scouts
    With politics and circuses engage,

    The high Fidelity, whose tall twin towers
    Above the maze by roads and rivers crossed,
    Whose clocks, so seldom right, suggest the hours
    Which our swift-flowing lives so soon exhaust,

    The Commerce Tower whose sheer illumined height
    Embraces sky-high dining joys by day,
    Or, viewed from Briarcliff, throws out on the night
    A galaxy of light across the way,

    All loomed above us hymning to the skies
    Their giant concert wrought in steel and stone
    As we drove northward toward the joy that lies
    In cherished fellowship and love alone.

    Our children live inside the city's bounds,
    Yet love their fond grandparents' welcome farm,
    The Holt estate which holds within its grounds
    Just north of Galt, a rich ancestral charm.

    Though generations pass and cannot stay
    And time sees city skylines even move,
    Though new ones rise, all things shall pass away
    Except mankind's remembrances of love.


    This is the last day of October
    And never in the world, it seems,
    Was there more beauty everywhere
    With trees aflame, bushes on fire
    Crimson vines creeping over
    Scarlet branches, and still some green
    To let the Christmas colors
    Glow, bright upon a single bough.

    There is a tree I call my own
    A tree maroon with red so rich
    As to astonish all who look
    Ahead and glimpse its beauty
    Like a precious stone within the woods
    Which border Highway Fifty in
    The place where Fairway Drive conjuncts
    And where we have to stop to join the traffic flow.

    We look ahead
    Straight into this red tree across
    The traffic perpendicular. Each autumn
    That brief stop allows a glimpse
    Of this old oak so deeply red
    That this eleventh year I glow within
    With more appreciation than I knew
    Eleven falls ago when first I saw
    Its wonder and pretended it was mine.


    May second is my day of birth,
    A time when here and there on earth
    The lilacs are in bloom.
    How happy when each blue grenade
    Explodes in bloom, and if it fade
    There is a touch of gloom.

    Some lilac bushes used to be
    Behind the farmstead home where we
    Once lived outside Saint James,
    And on my fourteenth birthday they
    Provided background for our play
    Like Moses' bush in flames.

    A generation with its years
    Has passed us by since we with tears
    Were taken from the charm
    Which we had known through months of joy
    Where in a lilac yard a boy
    Enjoyed a woodland farm.

    Yet through the years I still recall
    The times when lilac bushes all
    Brought forth their purple mirth,
    As in that legendary May
    When Mother brought the second day
    A Sunday boy to birth.


    One could scarcely imagine a cloud
    Of cardinals in mass
    Red in the sky,
    Or hearing explosions of loud
    Redbird twitter harass
    For Nature provides a parity,
    One lone-crested darling,
    Scarlet in song,
    Equaling in its rarity
    Blackened skies of starling
    Or sparrow throng.


    This morning looking from the door
    To watch the glow of daylight pour
    Across the woods that edge our lawn,
    I saw a fox against the dawn.

    He walked out where the okra grows,
    On past tomato plants in rows
    Toward the denser undergrowth
    Where larger elms lend shade to both.

    He sought a meal of hen, but mine
    Were housed so that he could not dine,
    And as the red one vainly crept
    Our cocks and hens securely slept.

    But we within the city's bounds
    Were glad that in escape of hounds
    So wild a creature could contrive
    To walk in beauty still alive.


    In early morning, walking toward the church
    Against a glaring sun that made one blind,
    I held my hand before me that behind
    Its shadow might be seen a half-grown birch.
    Then suddenly I saw some young birds lurch
    Out of the grass, into the air, to find
    Some refuge in its branches from the ground
    Of shoes and rocks, too near their former perch.
    Against the rising sun I saw their wings
    Translucent to transparent in the light
    That streamed with clearness through their fluttering
    As they flew toward a refuge from their fright.
    At last may we, like these transparent things,
    Rise up some morning, clear in heaven's sight.


    This summer, nineteen seventy-five, has brought
    No rain, and wide cracks in the earth
    Yawn pleadingly for some late-coming draught
    Of rain to end the present dearth.

    I can remember nineteen thirty-six
    When in the town, Defiance, every day
    Wore the same glare and nature seemed to fix
    upon the land its rainless parching sway.

    But joyfully this rainy August dawn
    Brought cool and damp-blown clouds across the dome
    Of sky above our garden, and our lawn
    And now pours floods of water on our home.


    The winter struck in March its greatest blow
    When on the eighth the flakes began to pelt
    The earth with soft accumulation felt
    By all who love the beauty of the snow.
    With Spring so near it is a joy to know
    Once more the wild barbaric beauty spelt
    By drifts of pathless white which soon must melt
    So flowers may bloom again and warm winds blow.
    Then let the lessons of the seasons teach
    us patience to await each changing time
    And be enriched by ice as well as flowers.
    And let our love for all of nature reach
    The whole creation, sensing the sublime,
    That all earth's wondrous beauties may be ours.


    The trees turn crimson, red, and gold
    In this autumnal time of burning leaves,
    And Forest Hill whose cemetery walls
    Enclose a maple-studded road which leads
    up to its royal mausoleum crown
    Has trees ablaze with flames on every bough.
    Now must October lovers look amazed
    To see such conflagration as they pass
    Along Troost Avenue and hear the cry,
    Silent but optically shouting, "Fire!"
    And pause to watch the flaming bushes burn
    And marvel that the trees are not consumed.


    April rains, April rains, steady the downpour!
    April rains, refreshing the world!
    Miracles descending, bring with them gladness,
    Share with us pleasure as we in the downpour
    Wade shoeless the culvert at road edge,
    Wet bare feet, primitive, enjoying
    The rivulets through toes and over ankles
    Steadily flowing. April rains, April rains!
    There shall be food; there shall be flowers;
    There shall be pasture. The colt kicks
    High in the bluegrass. The cow gives
    Nourishment for her calf and for us.
    Women in cities glean in the stores.
    Babies chortle in young loving arms.
    The legs of the athlete bulging with strength
    Soar high over bars, race swift on the turf.
    Scholars, legislators, toilers, and presidents
    All are sustained by the thriving terrain
    Hailing the rains, the April rains,
    All perfect gifts from the Father of lights
    And the Father of love and of life and of food
    And of April rains, April rains, April rains!


    Today snowbound Jefferson City
    Sees a Democrat inaugurated
    Which seems to many a pity
    With Governor Bond denigrated.
    Young Bond, much too brilliant to fail
    And a person attractive as light
    Was edged by the forceful Teasdale
    Who appropriated by right
    Through a campaign in which he had put
    With a virile and magnetic stride,
    First a walk through Missouri on foot
    Then a win on a Democratic tide.
    These men, young and handsome and decent,
    Bring hope through these river-crossed lands
    That things future as well as things recent
    Are in skillful, responsible hands.


Excerpted from Songs Along the Missouri by Harry Benoist Davis Copyright © 2011 by Harry Benoist Davis. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Songs of Missouri....................1
The Cambridge Street Poems....................41
Songs of Love and Admiration....................69
Songs of Faith....................93
Songs of Remembrance....................127
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