In the Twenties and Thirties, almost every subscription magazine offered a monthly poem. Even periodicals devoted to only needlework printed editorials, letters from readers, and the obligatory poem of the month. I opened my May magazine from yesteryear and my eyes fell on the poem, Hurdy-Gurdy Days, by Martha Haskell Clark. And I realized I wanted to share it.
Then I wondered. Who was Martha Haskell Clark? Where did she live? What did she do? Here’s what I found out with a little poking around.
Martha Gay Haskell was born in 1885 in Minneapolis. Her father founded the Minneapolis Times, spent several years as publisher of the Boston Herald, and then six years as the vice president of the International Paper Company. Martha married a Dartmouth professor, Eugene Clark, in 1906. Her poetry appeared in Scribner’s, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. Sadly, she died in 1922 following an appendectomy. She was only about 36 years old. At her death she left a ten-year-old son.
But while she was alive, healthy, and full of life, she wrote poetry. Here is her poem Hurdy-Gurdy Days for your enjoyment.
by Martha H. Clark
April walks beside us still in budded cloak of brown, Primrose gold above the hill the lengthened sunsets burn; Every wind, a minstrel, goes singing through the town, For hurdy-gurdy days are here––and May is at the turn! May is at the turning in a blur of hill-blue haze, There's the hint of leaf-smoke drifting down the dingy city ways; There's a flash of bluebird weather through a rift of rainy skies, And the dawn of dreams remembered in a gray world's eyes. A battered hurdy-gurdy at the corner of the street, Old tunes, forgotten tunes, and lilac breath and fern, Where grimy venders' baskets spill their fragrance, haunting-sweet, And every day is yesterday––and Youth is at the turn! May is at the turning like a Gipsy in the lane, With leaf-mist at her girdle, and her brown hair pearled with rain; There's the green of the new grass creeping up the roadways from the south, And the curve of love and laughter on a gray world's mouth. March ran whistling down the hill, the gamin of the year; April's but a child at school, with life and love to learn; Sudden through the city-gray, riotous and dear, Hurdy-gurdies strum the dusk––and May is at the turn! May is at the turning in a burst of tulip-flame, With a spattering of cowslip gold to show the road she came; There's a young moon's silver sickle-gleam through orchard-boughs astart, And forgotten love-songs throbbing in a gray world's heart.
Not much of Clark’s poetry appears online to the general searcher. As far as I know, only one book of poetry, called The Home Road, exists. It was published two years after her death, and contains poems collected from the various publications they appeared in. It also contains a short biography that tells you more about Martha and reveals her personality and interests. You can find it at Google Books. If you download it to take a look, be sure to read To a Kitten, Red Geraniums, and Trains –– three very different types of poems from a gifted hearthside poet.