(Not like a wood fire which is only
The end of summer, or a life)
But something of darkness, heat
From the time before there was fire
And I have come here
To warn that blackness into forms of light,
To set free a captive prince
From the sunken kingdom of the father coal.
A warming company of the cold-blooded--
These carbon serpents of bituminous gardens,
These inflammable tunnels of dead song from the black pit,
This sparkling end of the great beasts, these blazing
Stone flowers diamond fire incandescent fruit.
And out of all that death, now,
At midnight, my love and I are riding
Down the old high roads of inexhaustible light.
* * * * *
Born and raised on a North Dakota farm, poet Thomas McGrath (1916-1990) has been described as “as close to Whitman as anyone since Whitman himself,” by Terrence Des Pres in TriQuarterly. As another critic writes, McGrath “depicts the life and struggle of working people who face the necessity of remaking themselves within capitalist society.”
In addition to poetry, McGrath wrote novels, children's books and documentary film scripts. His most famous work, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, is a book-length "revolutionary poem of the American heartland." It was written after McGrath was blacklisted in 1953 from teaching by Joseph McCarthy for testifying as an unfriendly witness before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. A complete edition of Letter was reprinted in 1997, including all four parts of the epic and making use of the poet's previously unavailable drafts and notes.
Some of McGrath's poetry can be found in the collection Timber Bonds, a reproduction of a pre-1923 collection.