Poems Dark and Dangerous 

by Vachel Lindsay and Francis G. Okie

I reproduce two poems here: “The Congo” by Vachel Lindsay, an American poet who died in 1931, and an untitled body of work by Francis G. Okie, whom I knew personally. As poets, they were quite different except for their originality and the darkness of theme. Lindsay was inspired by the rhythms of Africa. Okie was inspired by the mathematical formulae of Gematria, an ancient science alluded to in the book of Revelation. The theme of darkness appears in quite different ways in these two poems.

With respect to danger, “The Congo” suggests the dark jungles of Africa and of frightening witch doctors. The verses of Okie’s poetry hearken back to frightening themes in the book of Revelation where humanity experiences unprecedented suffering and persecution before Christ arrives. That mood mirrors what was happening in Germany in the 1930s, with more horrors to come. Francis Okie was not dangerous but was, to the contrary, with his invention of wet-or-dry sandpaper which cut down on dust in factories in the early 20th century, a person who did much to improve occupational safety. Neither was Lindsay a dangerous person except that he took his own life.

Vachel Lindsay was a type of poet seldom seen today. A native of Springfield, Illinois, he was not attached to an academic institution but instead walked on foot about the United States, from Illinois to New Mexico, supporting himself through his poetry. He was a performing poet, a person who recited his verse; and that gave Lindsay’s poems a rhythmic quality seldom found in poetry in modern times. One of America’s best known poets at the time, he is ignored today. That may be in part because of his interest in and poetic treatment of black Americans who were beginning to become politically active and powerful in the second decade of the 20th century when Lindsay’s career peaked.

“The Congo” began with a section describing the “basic savagery” of the Negro race, a theme that would not be tolerated today. On the other hand, Lindsay took a personal interest in black American poets. He is credited with “discovering” Langston Hughes, then a busboy at a Washington D.C. restaurant who had slipped Lindsay copies of his poems. As the Great Depression set in, Vachel Lindsay became depressed. He swallowed a bottle of Lysol on December 5, 1931.

I remember Francis G. Okie as a kindly old man who wore a tweed jacket each day as he went to work producing mathematically correct verse. He would write down words and then calculate their mathematical value by adding numbers on a yellow pad of paper. He did this for thirty years.

Previously, Okie had been director of research at Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) during the 1920s and early 1930s. Before that, he was a manufacturer of printing ink in Philadelphia who had contacted William McKnight of the Minnesota company asking for samples of sand to use in a new product that he was developing. McKnight recognized the value of this product, Okie came to Minnesota, and the rest is history. Wet-or-dry sandpaper, Okie’s invention, has been described as the “acorn” from which the mighty 3M corporate “oak” developed. It also substantially reduced the incidence of silicosis, a dust-related disease that had previous killed thousands of industrial workers, in allowing metal or wooden parts to be sanded under a stream of water.

Well, so much for introductions. Now let the poets themselves speak. Mr. Lindsay, the stage is yours.

The Congo

(A Study of the Negro Race)

by Vachel Lindsay


FAT black bucks in a wine-barrel room,
Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
A deep rolling bass.

Pounded on the table,
Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,

Hard as they were able.
Boom, boom, BOOM,
With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
THEN I had religion, THEN I had a vision.

I could not turn from their revel in derision.
More deliberate. Solemnly chanted.

Then along that riverbank
A thousand miles
Tattooed cannibals danced in files;
Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong.
A rapidly piling climax of speed and racket.

And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,
"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,

“Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle,
Harry the uplands,
Steal all the cattle,
Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle,

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.”
A roaring, epic, rag-time tune
With a philosophic pause.

From the mouth of the Congo
To the Mountains of the Moon.
Death is an Elephant,

Torch-eyed and horrible,
Shrilly and with a heavily accented meter.

Foam-flanked and terrible.
BOOM, steal the pygmies,
BOOM, kill the Arabs,
BOOM, kill the white men,
Like the wind in the chimney.

Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
Listen to the creepy proclamation,
Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation,
Blown past the white-ants' hill of clay,
Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play:—
"Be careful what you do,

Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
All the o sounds very golden. Heavy accents very heavy. Light accents very light. Last line whispered.

And all of the other
Gods of the Congo,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,

Mumbo-Jmbo will hoo-doo you.”


Wild crap-shooters with a whoop and a call
Rather shrill and high.

Danced the juba in their gambling-hall
And laughed fit to kill, and shook the town,
And guyed the policemen and laughed them down
With a boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM....
Read exactly as in first section.

A negro fairyland swung into view,
Lay emphasis on the delicate ideas. Keep as light-footed as possible.

A minstrel river

Where dreams come true.
The ebony palace soared on high
Through the blossoming trees to the evening sky.
The inlaid porches and casements shone
With gold and ivory and elephant-bone.
And the black crowd laughed till their sides were sore
At the baboon butler in the agate door,
And the well-known tunes of the parrot band
That trilled on the bushes of that magic land.
A troupe of skull-faced witch-men came
With pomposity.

Through the agate doorway in suits of flame,
Yea, long-tailed coats with a gold-leaf crust
And hats that were covered with diamond-dust.
And the crowd in the court gave a whoop and a call
And danced the juba from wall to wall.
But the witch-men suddenly stilled the throng
With a great deliberation and ghostliness.

With a stern cold glare, and a stern old song:—
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you."...
Just then from the doorway, as fat as shotes,
With overwhelming assurance, good cheer, and pomp.

Came the cake-walk princes in their long red coats,

Shoes with a patent leather shine,
And tall silk hats that were red as wine.
And they pranced with their butterfly partners there,
With growing speed and sharply marked dance-rhythm.

Coal-black maidens with pearls in their hair,
Knee-skirts trimmed with the jessamine sweet,
And bells on their ankles and little black feet.
And the couples railed at the chant and the frown
Of the witch-men lean, and laughed them down.
(O rare was the revel, and well worth while
That made those glowering witch-men smile.)
The cake-walk royalty then began
To walk for a cake that was tall as a man
To the tune of "Boomlay, boomlay, BOOM,"
While the witch-men laughed, with a sinister air,
With a touch of negro dialect, and as rapidly as possible toward the end.

And sang with the scalawags prancing there:—
Walk with care, walk with care,
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
And all of the other
Gods of the Congo,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
Beware, beware, walk with care,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom.
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom,
Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay,

Oh rare was the revel, and well worth while
Slow philosophic calm.

That made those glowering witch-men smile.


A good old negro in the slums of the town
Heavy bass. With a literal imitation of camp-meeting racket, and trance.

Preached at a sister for her velvet gown.

Howled at a brother for his low-down ways,
His prowling, guzzling, sneak-thief days.
Beat on the Bible till he wore it out,
Starting the jubilee revival shout.
And some had visions, as they stood on chairs,

And sang of Jacob, and the golden stairs.
And they all repented, a thousand strong,
From their stupor and savagery and sin and wrong
And slammed their hymn books till they shook the room
With "Glory, glory, glory,"

And”Boom, boom, BOOM.”
Exactly as in the first section.

And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil
And showed the apostles with their coats of mail.

In bright white steel they were seated round
And their fire-eyes watched where the Congo wound.
And the twelve apostles, from their thrones on high,
Thrilled all the forest with their heavenly cry:—
"Mumbo-Jumbo will die in the jungle;
Sung to the tune of "Hark, ten thousand harps and voices."

Never again will he hoo-doo you,
Never again will he hoo-doo you."
Then along that river, a thousand miles,
With growing deliberation and joy.

The vine-snared trees fell down in files.
Pioneer angels cleared the way

For a Congo paradise, for babes at play,
For sacred capitals, for temples clean.
Gone were the skull-faced witch-men lean.
There, where the wild ghost-gods had wailed
In a rather high key—as delicately as possible.

A million boats of the angels sailed

With oars of silver, and prows of blue
And silken pennants that the sun shone through.
'Twas a land transfigured, 'twas a new creation.
Oh, a singing wind swept the negro nation;
And on through the backwoods clearing flew:—

"Mumbo-Jumbo is dead in the jungle.
To the tune of "Hark, ten thousand harps and voices."

Never again will he hoo-doo you.
Never again will he hoo-doo you."
Redeemed were the forests, the beasts and the men,
And only the vulture dared again

By the far, lone mountains of the moon
To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune:—
"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
Dying off into a penetrating, terrified whisper.

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Mumbo ... Jumbo ... will ... hoo-doo ... you."


Redemption, at last. And now the mystical verse of Francis G. Okie recalls a time of Roman persecution when the early Christian community feared for its continued existence. This latest verse has patiently been produced over a period of several decades, patiently like the pearl in an oyster formed deep beneath the waves. Hitlerian fury is raging across the Atlantic. What will humanity’s fate be? Read the answer by the light of Gematria.

The key is found in the 13th chapter of Revelation, verse 18:

“Here is wisdom.
He that hath understanding,
Let him count the number of the beast;
For it is the number of a man;
And his number is six hundred and sixty and six.”

The poetic words of Francis Okie speak to us now:

“A HIGH metaphysical
Millenium is here
And another cycle.
A beginning and end of people
A depopulation
Sudden coming death
and life resurgence
and high recrudescence
In the spirit,
And a being not ourselves
Which is the ancient of days.
THE BEING wakes us of a morn
Saying, listen and apprehend
What parable brings to mind
In the language of numbers,
God’s language of symbolism.
Here is the Father counting
In the spirit counting
Into consciousness
Articulate apocalypse.
Singled out in grace, I AM THAT I AM,
In all time and space and matter hid,
Saith the Lord of Hosts.
Pursuing the sky,
Giving names to stars,
I am all in all; I am Alpha and Omega for
I am a beginning and end.
BACK THE HOUR is struck
To our pristine era.
From that original dark void
The stimulating sun
Measures the full oceans.
Mysterious day
And the mysteries of night alike
Cause the methodic hours.

And the minutes and seconds
Prophetically count
For the day and morrow.

Arithmetic from the clock of ages
And grace notwithstanding,
Compassionately planned.

BACK FROM the sun’s bright beam
Pregnant in her single action
The pale moon wills the tide.

The waves of words
Their music lit within
Disintegrating crests
Articulate their essence
Pouring balm upon us.

Images in crests and trough
Another and another speaks
And to the sky’s refrain
Rising and falling and rising and falling again.

Color the light of the sun
And the bowstring shining
And the keystone of the arch
And the very first man,

Weaving a pattern planned
Threading aeons, ages, years,
In liquid syllables of light
And crystallizing sand,
Molding the sapphire throne,
Strewing him stars,
No dearth in guidance hinders long
Earth’s ray inviolate.
All this and more at revelation’s hour
Waits upon motion
And alphabetic relativity.
By SIX, six, six
In sighs and portents die
Named of a grand cycle of the sky
God’s revelation from on high
Is in language of the stars.
The son’s science of phonetic
Is arithmetic in rhythm.
The decibels of sound united,
Aid ghostly strength,
And the esoteric echo of the doom,
Abstraction counts,
Is in language of the stars.
WHEN UPON the great circle
The just master bends his universal mathematic
Tendered in that semantics
Whose coaxial scale is light,
Superseding language comes
The spiritual dimension.

CONSIDER THE images of the night,
The mystifying cipher
That begets the hours,
Shining a faith in things to come,
In the tides of the final things,

The light that seeks action,
The need which evokes the law
Reflections from the emblems,
Pulsations of the flood,

Ere time was, I AM, in power.
And has any other made a sky?
TIME AND PLACE together and the goal
Mark at the wheel’s full circle
The stars’ grand climacteric
Relating to divine event,
Off his scroll of heaven’s book
Who reads by indirection,
Meditating on the stars
How symbols might become
The instruments of grace,
Reminiscent of tongues
In memory’s deep concerns,
In a rhythmic alphabet diffused,
From which all languages derive.
AS NUMERAL and sacred word
In his belief conjointly spell
The supreme criterion that best defines Jesus,
Long in the sky of Chaldean learning,
Carried from the past to be,
Unto Greek and Hebrew song,
Lingual felicity’s basic key,
Line by line and link by link in cipher,
Punctuating light and fire
To the miracle of tongues,
Punctuating spins
The fabric of our counting.
THESE WORD GROUPS that run on and on aright
Are numbers and are all alike
Spatially conceived, each and all final,
Under earth and sea and sky,
Under the smitten rock.

IN ALPHABETICAL chains of thought,
A cadence upon the pillar of a cloud,
Comes the same which led Moses,
A testimony old and new
Nourished and kept alive
In a parable faithful and true,
The alphabet wherein a book is hid
Is in language of the stars,
Lighting from Genesis to John
The faith of a consecrated earth,
In characters of clay united
Teaching the earth a knowledge of God.

SHALL NO MAN read the little book
Bearing witness to good,
Nor wake his fatal inner light
Before the holy trump
Gird back the blessing of his sight?
Is the loom of language lost?
Read on, thou child of measure.
IF YE WOULD read the emblems
If ye would read the dragon
And if you would read the danger,
As feeling a thing before it happens,
Search the high scripture
By the pole star’s light,
Read, through the aid of Gematria
Dream, beside the spring of dove,
And the emblem of the eagle in the sky.
And to search history
Take the pen and write from
Motion and an empty space,
Aloof from the world, the echo
Whence comes the Lord Messiah.
ERE SAINT or any image speak
Before a wheel with spokes
Spins out the parallel,
Behind the face no man dare see, burns
Earth’s ray inviolate.
BY LIGHT A lightning chain is born
From the voice of thunder,
Light from the integer of light
By integrant of motion,

Poised and counterpoised,
Positive kindling negative,
Negative kindling positive,
Fathering the radiant ooze

FOR IN THE good garden of the Lord
A man in robes of light arrayed,
Under the tree of knowledge,
Nature and spirit meet,
And where lake and river join,
Father, Son, and spirit grace
The divine expression.

HERE IN THE fair harmonies of time
And light through ages sifted,
Bides the essential spring,
In stem and leaf and flower,
The divine metronome of hope,
Which is a high immortality,
Thy continuity
Thy living waters.

BY A SPIRIT stirred,
Now is Adam made a living soul
And in the book of life, together
Unto the man and his helpmeet,
Has the Father reared an edifice of light
To measure truth
To measure destiny
And to measure the sun.

In the hand of the angel serving God,
In John’s great Revelation,
Ever mindful of Boanerges’ aid
And conscious of the dreams
Where through the cipher
He institutes his grace,
Authenticating nature
Into divination’s thread,

Against God’s fervent heat
Objects coupled and inseparable
Echo things burning to be said.

Within his church in Philadelphia,
And to his seven churches
Foremost in their parallel,
John burns the little candle,
Sublime through faith alone,
And reads the seven stars
In the harmonies of spheres.
Through a cosmic vista
Rises a mystic church,
A light alight to light she fares,
The silent word reflected,
The silent holy word
HE THAT HATH the love of the Lamb
Who draws this parable
In parable he issues forth,
St. John the Divine speaking,
Ideal his melody of silence sings,
Ideal the gateway of the Lord.
Gentle John of Patmos ancient,
Blessed aid in quiet waiting,
He knows a language of creation
Of the rhythmics of the Lamb.
Here is a door opened and a key
To the miracle of tongues,
A long forgotten wisdom
Once a searchlight of the soul,
So in signs and wonders,
John shows the way.
IN JOHN’S great Revelation
Is a revelation sealed in cipher,
Cipher is mystery,
The image is mystery
And on the pallid cipher hangs the mind
To clothe in words a demon
Written of the signs.

It is high time in humility
To think with relation
To thy words, John,
Foretelling this darkness
Which besets the Master.

At revelation’s hour,
A Book and a code of bitter taste
And the precept of a golden rule,
The Book of a divine solicitude
Written of the signs.

Searching the heart, this Book
Must needs be rhythmic
Relating things to action
Concordant with a sky.

Presently this Book,
Personalized in the wind,
Waits upon motion
And alphabetical relativity.

HE THAT IS the event of it,
He binds with the bonds of it,
Substance and a blessed form,
To presuppose it
And put it to test
And use it in the parable of the Babe.

And as ye watch and pray
As if while yet ye may
By God’s grace avert night,
Charged with fresh power,
A cause illuminates the Book,
A mean reconciling faith with science.

Saith the Spirit of Light,
Uttermost right,
Than Eden’s time, light, force amplified
Since Him there is none other
Named our Lord and Savior.

Which is fact and which is fancy
Or when fact and fancy disagree,
Beware the voice of fact
Speaking more than he knows.

What images the mind rejects
A mystic word affirms.

Fancy runs in verse
Counting the word elect
And spins it out a cipher.

What parable brings to mind
The fatal code devours
And spins it out a cipher
In the harmony of spheres.

Impromptu, and the emblems
Comprehensive past belief, echo
A voice ye wot not of.

So being, the solar tongue
Spins out the parallel
And tersely tells the man
His prospering way.

WHEN THE PRINCE of Darkness,
In a sky of arc and sine and chord,
Overturns earth
At her point of zero,
Right angles from the meridian and back,
A B C and 1 2 3 make parallel straight lines;
The Prince of the tempest
And the chaos of the tempest
To rhythmic balance tuned.

WE ARE A JOB walking in darkness
While we do walk beside Satan
Drunk with his power,
Babel reiterates the past.

Counting the paradise lost
Thou seest the beast,
The creature of an evil mark
Coming a thousand years
In decadence to desecrate the earth.

The dragon is a hunter of men,
The black angel of destruction
Encompasses the great earth
In the apocalypse of war.

HELL SHAKES the earth today
With repercussion;
From the voice of thunder
Caesar makes hideous the night
Lucifer tilts the skies.

Apollyon is put aside
And he grieves in the abyss
Sunk where his love is.
“ In the Hebrew tongue Abaddon,
Apollyon turns again.”

IN THE PRINCE of the Lemming people
Vengeance takes his turn.
The Prince of the tempest,
The Prince, epitome of evils,
A counterfeit of Jesus,
Minted in coin of dross, abominable,
Contemporary now,
Vies against the world.

In his fatal footprints
“As breath to each other,”
Says a scripture,
The second beast follows.

In the eye of Taurus,
Thou seest a beast
Kindling the great red star.

A demon the same of a different name,
A name and a killer with a sword
Shake men’s foundations.

For it is the iron messiah
The enigma of authority,
Master for a little while,

And the bear that walks as a man,
And the red star of the dragon
Of the dance of destruction,
Written of the signs.

HE THAT HATH understanding,
He sees the die in his own forehead,
The creature of an evil self.

He sees the great red star
The scythe of the reaper,
The horns of the bull.

Bitter to take is death’s
Self-made divinity of war.

ABIDE THOU READER of the signs!
Blessed is he who readeth to
Disclose the false prophet.

Blessed is he that waiteth
By the faith in the vision
To amplify the saints;
Thy vision is Earth.

A part of us we sing,
The while another weeps.

Multiply power and
Their course is run
Awhile unaccountable to God,

In a finger writing in the sand,
A Babel written on the wall
Like image patterns in the sand,
He spells them out to die
And a pattern in the sand is all.

HE THAT HATH understanding,
After the earthquake’s menace
While again the earth trembles,

Let him read by his spirit
So as before God let him find his ark,
His spirit ark of saving,
In the still, small voice in man.”


The fury passed; and now there is silence. The poems of darkness and danger have come to an end.


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