Riders In The Night

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

I.

Masks

Death rides black-masked to-night; and through the land
Madness beside him brandishes a torch.
The peaceful farmhouse with its vine-wreathed porch
Lies in their way. Death lifts a bony hand
And knocks, and Madness makes a wild demand
Of fierce Defiance: then the night's deep arch
Reverberates, and under beech and latch
A dead face stares; shot where one took his stand.
Then down the night wild hoofs; the darkness beats;
And like a torrent through the startled town
Destruction sweeps; high overhead a flame;
And Violence that shoots amid the streets.
A piercing whistle: one who gallops down:
And Death and Madness go the way they came.

II.

The Raid

Rain and black night. Beneath the covered bridge
The rushing Fork that roars among its rocks.
Nothing is out. Nothing? What's that which blocks
The long grey road upon the rain-swept ridge?
A horseman! No! A mask! As hewn from jet
With ready gun he waits and sentinels
The open way. Far off he hears wild bells;
And now a signal shrills through wind and wet.
Was that the thunder, or the rushing stream?
The tunnel of the bridge throbs with mad hoofs;
Now its black throat pours out a midnight cloud
Riders! behind whom steadily a gleam
Grows to a glare that silhouettes dark roofs,
Whence armed Pursuit gathers and gallops loud.

III.

The Rendezvous

A lonely barn, lost in a field of weeds;
A fallen fence, where partly hangs a gate:
The skies are darkening and the hour is late;
The Indian dusk comes, red in rainy beads.
Along a path, which from a woodland leads,
Horsemen come riding who dismount and wait:
Here Anarchy conspires with Crime and Hate,
And Madness masks and on its business speeds.
Another Kuklux in another war
Of blacker outrage down the night they ride,
Brandishing a torch and gun before each farm.
Is Law asleep then? Does she fear? Where are
The servants of her strength, the Commonweath's pride?
And where the steel of her restraining arm?

IV.

In Black And Red

The hush of death is on the night. The corn,
That loves to whisper to the wind; the leaves,
That dance with it, are silent: one perceives
No motion mid the fields, as dry as horn.
What light is that? It cannot be the morn!
Yet in the east it seems its witchcraft weaves
A fiery rose. Look! how it grows! it heaves
And flames and tosses! 'Tis a burning barn!
And now the night is rent with shouts and shots.
Dark forms and faces hurry past. The gloom
Gallops with riders. Homes are less than straw
Before this madness: human lives, mere lots
Flung in and juggled from the cap of Doom,
Where Crime stamps yelling on the face of Law.

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