Presenting poetry and publications by
Charlotte E. Keyes (1914-1980)
Our mother, Charlotte E. Keyes (nee Shachmann; nickname Chet) was a lifelong writer, poet, and peace activist. In honor of her memory, we are devoting a section in our respective websites to some of her verse and publications. Her 1966 McCall‘s article “Suppose They Gave a War and No One Came” helped popularize this phrase of Carl Sandburg’s. She also published young-adult biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Herman Melville.
(with encouragement from our other two siblings, Stephen and Nicolette)
Some published poems
Gene’s favorite of hers, an antiwar poem originally published in the pacifist Fellowship magazine, July 1952, p. 14:
In the Museum
Can it be in the chromosomes?
I’ve never shared with him the tomes
I’ve read or thoughts on war or death.
Yet gazing long with quiet breath
At the soldier dolls in museum case,
My five year old lifts tortured face—
“They all have guns!” “Of course they do.”
“But why?” “They have to shoot.” “At who?”
“Oh . . . other men.” I stammer here.
“And will they die?” “Some will” I steer
Him to another nook, of ships
And sailors gathering way. His lips
Still brood upon the ones behind—
“I don’t like soldiers.”Now his mind
Takes in the new display. “Are those
Men shooting people too?” He knows,
And without waiting for my “Yes,”
Has judged them all. He’s pitiless.
“I don’t like sailors.” “Dear . . . ” what will
I tell him? “They don’t like to kill.
They’re made to by the government.”
The case is little different.
“Then governments I don’t like either.”
Our thoughts are brooding, child and mother.
From New Athenaeum, Winter 1957:
Without you. I was still water. When you
Came to me, your every gesture threw
A stone in my quiet depths. And in
My pulse the wind and the rain shuddered.
You gave me a sun to burn in my hands,
And the mirrored sky poured over me.
Take care, as you seek to best me into eddies.
Beware the flesh you drink to slake your
The flesh that licks about you now itself
Burst into flame, as water never was.
From Poetry Digest April-May 1958:
Polarity for a Young Son
He’s breathless, learning to skip.
Tripping over his feet,
With the left never waiting its turn
And the right off beat.
Till in weariness they falter,
And the right and left are swinging
In the pulse of a dance.
If later he plunges in flight,
Wings wild with a ravelling beat.
Will he rest, as they tire and sag
In ebbing retreat,
Till the currents in which he whirled
Bear him up in rebirth,
And the dance of his wings is one
With the pulse of the earth?
From Poetry Digest, January 1959:
The Poet and the Economist
Who writes a poem, he or I?
My words, I like to think, can fly,
While his, pedetrian, must trudge.
He has to drudge
With chart and graph, with slippery fact.
I watch him, see him backed
Into a corner in his quest.
He stops to rest.
I taunt perhaps: “You work too slow.
Take wing. Give in to fancy. Oh,
Stop grubbing in the solid deed.
A higher sphere –” He does not heed.
He’s found his parallel, his rhyme,
And back to work, he’s lost to time
And place. He sees a world
Obscure to me, furled
From the grossness of my economic
Sense, a world so large yet so atomic
— Perhaps in verse I can depict the sight:
We dip our pens into ourselves and write.
Some love poems
Written in high school; published in the Chester Times, Dec. 16 1931
Written while studying with Theodore Roethke, ca. 1951:
|For her 38th anniversary with Scott, Chet composed this poem in 1977:|
And see article below . . .
Some magazine articles
“I Breast-Fed my Four” (Baby Post, February 1960)
Chet had originally entitled this article “Four at the Breast”.
“Suppose They Gave a War and No One Came.” (McCall’s, October 1966)
Because he is the subject of this article, Gene was reluctant to have it posted on his own website, but agreed with his siblings that one could not omit such a signal contribution of their mother to the antiwar feelings of the Vietnam era.
p.1 of 4:
[Above addresses obsolete.—GK]
Books by Charlotte E. Keyes
The Experimenter: a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson
(New Haven: College and University Press, 1962) 156 p.
High on the Mainmast: a biography of Herman Melville
(New Haven: College and University Press, 1966) 158 p.