Tabb’s Poetry XXIX

The Seed

Bearing a life unseen,
Thou lingerest between
   A flower withdrawn,
And—what thou ne’er shalt see—
A blossom yet to be
   When thou art gone.

Unto the feast of Spring
Thy broken heart shall bring
   What most it craved,
To find, like Magdalen
In tears, a life again
   Love-lost—and saved!


Behold, in summer’s parching thirst,
The while the waters pass them by,
The hills, like Tantalus accurst,
   In silent anguish lie;
Nor look they to the lowly vale
Wherein their famished shadows glide,
But, with uplifted glances pale,
   The will of Heaven abide.


This is the way that the sap-river ran
From the root to the top of the tree—
            Silent and dark,
            Under the bark,
Working a wonderful plan
   That the leaves never know,
   And the branches that grow
On the brink of the tide never see.

The Acorn

I am the heir—the Acorn small,
To whom as tributaries all,
The root, the stem, the branches tall,
Do homage round my castle wall.

And yet, obedient to the call
Of Earth, through Death’s opposing thrall—
Of wealth a seeming prodigal—
To Life’s dominion must I fall.


I give what ne’er was mine—
   To every seed the power
   Of stem and leaf and flower,
Of fruit or fragrance fine;

And take what others loathe—
   Of death the foulest forms,
   Wherewith to feed my worms,
And thus the world reclothe.

John B. Tabb

For a recitation, click the play button:

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“The Seed”: Lyrics, p. 15; Poetry, p. 95. March 1895. Magdalen is St. Mary Magadalene. The allusion is to the Gospel story of the sinful woman washing the Lord’s feet with her hair, Luke 7:36-50; traditionally, the woman has often been identified as the Saint, though the identification is not much more than conjecture.

“Resignation”: Lyrics, p. 52; Poetry, p. 98. 1897. In Greek mythology, Tantalus was a miscreant whose punishment was to stand in a pool beneath branches laden with fruit: when reaching for the branches to satisfy his hunger, they pull away; when reaching for water to quench his thirst, it recedes. Thus, his story personifies temptation without satisfaction, and his name is the source of the English word tantalize.

“Wood-Grain”: Later Lyrics, p. 25; Poetry, p. 28. July 1901.

“The Acorn”: Later Lyrics, p. 74; Poetry, p. 30. May 1906. Thrall means slavery or compulsion; a prodigal is one who spends extravagantly. This is a poem remarkable for having all lines with the same rhyme.

“Soil-Song”: Later Lyrics, p. 53; Poetry, p. 104. September 1898.

A convert to the Catholic faith, Rev. John Banister Tabb (1845-1909) was a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, and Professor of English at St. Charles’ College, Ellicott City, Maryland. Poems selected, arranged, and annotated by E.L. Core.
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