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Presenting poetry and publications by
Charlotte E. Keyes (1914-1980)

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.
Gene and Ralph Keyes   http://www.genekeyes.com   http://www.ralphkeyes.com

(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:

Poetry Digest April-May 1958, cover
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,
Losing vigilance;
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

You built a throne for me of all your love,
And called me princess in your mad delight
To tread earth with you, drink rain and stroke your hand —
That was my wish — not from this great height,

To smile into your raptured eyes and gaze
In splendor given by you, be never jesting
You whisper: "Queen," and gently kissed my hand
Even once smoothed my tangled hair   Were you attesting

A wish, with my lips so near to yours, to kiss them?
You did not wish to go, I think, at the end.
You left me lest you break that golden dais.
And snatch my fragile crown from me to rend

Its delicate shape.  If I had kissed you
In a mad desire, would you have paused with me?
And been content — no, more — ecstatic?
Why did you go?   Was it a plea

You needed that you do not leave?
If I had -- but it was you.  It is so
Clear.  If you had pulled my hair,
I'd have taken off my crown for you.

Written while studying with Theodore Roethke, ca. 1951

Now dusk has come, and for me you are glowing
    and fragrant.
With quivering wing, alight,
I poise above you.

Your petals reach up
And deep into your corolla, deep to your roots
Plunges my uncoiled tongue,
Till I am part of you.

For her 38th anniversary with Scott, Chet composed this poem in 1977:

The years they are
And every one
Has been just great
With my Scott
My love, my mate.

Light verse

And see article below . . .

Here I lie,
On mama's breast.
When she smokes
She is a pest.

Some magazine articles

"I Breast-Fed my Four" (Baby Post, February 1960)

Chet had originally entitled this article "Four at the Breast".

 I Breast-Fed My Four

"I Breast-Fed My Four" p. 1

"I Breast-Fed My Four" p. 2

"I Breast-Fed My Four" p. 3

“Suppose They Gave a War and No One Came.” (McCall's, October 1966)

Charlotte Keyes was the one who put this phrase into circulation in 1966, borrowing a line from Carl Sandburg 30 years earlier. It appeared on posters, bumper stickers, buttons, in a 1968 Monkees song (YouTube here; lyrics here), and even a 1970 movie title. (And now yields 14,000 results in Google, using the first five words.) As Ralph Keyes explains in his book The Quote Verifier (N.Y: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006) p. 239:
“Suppose they gave a war and no one came?” Carl Sandburg’s epic poem The People, Yes (1936) included a line that, in a different form, became one of America’s best-known antiwar slogans. Sandburg’s poem portrayed a little girl who, while watching her first military parade, observes, “Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” This thought didn’t attract much attention when it first appeared, nor for many years thereafter. In 1961 Scientific American editor James R. Newman wrote a letter to the Washington Post in which he misremembered Sandburg’s line as “Suppose they gave a war and no one came?” Writer Charlotte E. Keyes saw Newman’s letter and filed it away for future reference. In 1966 Keyes wrote an article for McCall’s magazine about her war protester son Gene, using Newman’s misrecollection of Sandburg’s line as its title. This title soon showed up on a bumper sticker that was held up by news anchor David Brinkley on his NBC newscast. After that the saying caught fire, with little awareness of its origins. It has been misattributed to Arlo Guthrie, Allen Ginsberg, Bertolt Brecht, and others. Some think the saying originated with Sandburg’s colleague Thornton Wilder, but no evidence has been offered to confirm this.

Verdict: James Newman’s adaptation of Carl Sandburg, publicized by Charlotte Keyes.
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:
"Suppose They Gave a War" p. 1
p.2 of 4:

p.3 of 4:
"Suppose They Gave a War" p. 3
p.4 of 4:
"Suppose They Gave a War" p. 4
[Above addresses obsolete.—GK]                        


Books by Charlotte E. Keyes

These are her two biographies for teen-agers:

The Experimenter: a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson
(New Haven: College and University Press, 1962) 156 p.

[Amazon link for used copies]

Ralph Waldo Emerson biography cover

Emerson biography jacket flaps

High on the Mainmast: a biography of Herman Melville

(New Haven: College and University Press, 1966) 158 p.

[Amazon link for used copies]

Herman Melville biography cover

Herman Melville biography jacket flaps

Archive from RK; scans by Muriel Keyes & Mary Jo Graça; other scanning & page design by GK.

Go back to Gene Keyes website

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