God Ties Scarlet

I wish I could remember his name!  He handed each of us in that college class a poem, mimeographed in purple ink.  Not a word was said as we each read silently.  I felt my tears well up as I read, and my burdened heart was touched with longing to help that tormented grey gull.  I was filled with compassion for anyone who was marginalized in any way.

The title and author were on the little mimeographed handout, but I have not found more about this poem.  What I know about the author, William Hodding Carter, II is this:  He was born February 3, 1907, and died April 4, 1972.  He was a prominent Southern U.S. progressive journalist and author.  Carter was valedictorian of his high school class and then graduated Columbia University.   He taught university briefly, but spent most of his life as a journalist.  He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 for his editorials. His passion was fighting social and economic intolerance.  Late in life, Carter attended the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in 1965.  He often used Reverend Henry Ward Beecher’s quote, “There are two things we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings,” which is also a favorite of mine.

Palette by Hodding Carter

See those grey gulls balance against the sky?

As like as like, aren’t they?  It’s better so.

I saw some fisherman snare one and tie

Red flannel to its leg, then let it go;

I watched it rise again, briefly to soar

Until its wheeling mates, catching the brave

Glint of the pennon, screamed their rage and tore

Its life away above a sobbing wave.

Never will I forgive them for that day

They sent a tortured sea gull up to die;

Yet in our town the most of us are gray

And don’t like unasked colors in our sky

And, God be witness, there are few we spare

Whenever He ties scarlet here and there.


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