The First Reformer, by Nathalia Crane

Janet Weight Reed - magical hummingbird
Janet Weight Reed – magical hummingbird – from

The fourth part of Lava Lane, and Other Poems (1925), titled Saints and Reformers, contains six poems. Three of them explicitly mock religion. “Sunday Morning” tells of God’s activities at that moment, such as “Counting the Yiddish babies” or “Waving the popcorn scepter,” and finally “God, on a Sunday morning, / Reaching the dotage stage.” In “The Making of a Saint,” a woman dies in a garret, so “The lords of the rafters were sorry— / The spider, the moth, and the mouse,” and they manage to obtain some advantages for themselves and their garret by making her a saint. In “The Edict,” an editor advises a saint on how to write his story, so that it will be widely read.

“The First Reformer” is the first poem in that part. This reformer has nothing to do with bigots like Calvin and Luther, as he teaches the only true religion, that of love and physical intimacy. Flowers take off their clothes because of the heat; then a hummingbird arrives, and persuades them by his sweet words, kisses and caresses, not to be ashamed and to remain naked.

As all poems of that volume, Nathalia Crane probably wrote it at age eleven or twelve.

by Nathalia Crane

It was a primal twilight tense,
Heat swathed the steaming downs,
When suddenly a flower cried:
“Oh, let’s take off our gowns.”

No arrogance of modesty—
The time was all too hot;
The sap was pouring from the trees,
The pools began to clot.

A passionate poinsettia stripped
Herself of sarcenet green,
A lily shook her sindon off,
A rose her gabardine,

The honeysuckle cast her sheath,
Strove hard to hide a mole,
The poppy ripped her chemisette
And screamed: “I have a soul.”

Across the downs a hummingbird
Came dipping through the bowers,
He pivoted on emptiness
To scrutinize the flowers.

But as he paused to clarify
Amazing visionings,
The perfumes drew him down unto
The loveliest of things.

Bewildered the poinsettia blushed
And grabbed a bit of grass,
The honeysuckle held her breath,
The poppy sighed, “Alas.”

The roses called him renegade,
The lilies shut their eyes;
Down rushed that ruby-throated wretch—
A sultan from the skies.

He wooed the daunted odalisques,
He kissed each downcast nude,
He whispered that an angel’s robe
Was merely attitude.

He sang of love’s own liveries,
Of sunburn, tan and verve,
Of little Nordic freckles posed
To punctuate a curve.

He begged them not to gown again,
Caressed away their shame.
He was the first reformer crowned
With accidental fame.

Source: Nathalia Clara Ruth Crane, Lava Lane, and Other Poems. Thomas Seltzer, New York (1925).

This post was previously published on Agapeta, 2017/10/31. This date has been celebrated as the 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, but the coincidence was completely unintentional.

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