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Featured Poem: The Common Street by Helen Gray Cone

Written by The Reader, 1st October 2018

We begin our week with an ordinary moment made extraordinary by Helen Gray Cone in The Common Street.

Born in New York in 1859, Helen Gray Cone was a poet and professor of English Literature at Hunter College in her home state.

Her first book,Oberon and Puck: Versus Grave and Gay was published in 1885 and well received by the New York Times who commended Cone's "rare talent of compression" and commended the debut author for not attempting "too high a flight at first".

When she was elected to the Professorship in English at Hunter College (then Normal College) in 1899, she was the first woman to hold such a role there, despite the college only admitting female students at the time.

Soldiers of Light, the collection from which today's Featured Poem comes, was published in 1910 and The Common Street featured in the Times the following year. The poem captures a sunset which emblazons the dull New York landscape with a sudden and surprising brilliance.

The Common Street

The common street climbed up against the sky,
Gray meeting gray; and wearily to and fro
I saw the patient, common people go,
Each with his sordid burden trudging by.
And the rain dropped; there was not any sigh
Or stir of a live wind; dull, dull and slow
All motion; as a tale told long ago
The faded world; and creeping night drew nigh.
Then burst the sunset, flooding far and fleet,
Leavening the whole of life with magic leaven.
Suddenly down the long wet glistening hill
Pure splendor poured—and lo! the common street,
A golden highway into golden heaven,
With the dark shapes of men ascending still.
Helen Gray Cone

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