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The Poet in the Clouds

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

By sixth grade, most boys and girls have come to think of poets as people who stick their heads in the clouds and see blithe spirits instead of real birds. That must have posed a problem for Marjorie Allen Seiffert of Moline, an aspiring poet who was already in the clouds when she was born.

Well, perhaps not clouds, exactly, but at least a mansion on the hill in Moline. Marjorie's grandfather was a prominent industrialist, head of the Moline Plow Works. She was educated in prep schools and graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts. She lived with her parents in "Allendale," an immense English Tudor mansion high on a Moline bluff. Here in 1910, she was married to Otto Seiffert in a brilliant society wedding, moved just across the street from Allendale, where she managed a large staff of servants and began a whirl of social activities expected of the upper classes.

In her twenties, she discovered a talent for poetry. More than a talent, really, a gift. She won two prestigious prizes awarded by the avant-garde Poetry magazine and went on to publish four books of poems during the 1920s and 30s.

And what did Marjorie Allen Seiffert write about? Not blithe spirits, or Grecian urns or ill-fated love. Her best poems were those about the factories and blue-collar homes she could see from her high window in the clouds. Life "down there," where, she wrote in a poem called "Dingy Street" December is harsh and bitter, and every house is brown, where "there is no trace of beauty anywhere." But then, as evening falls in the poem, lights come on in the small homes. She writes, "Windows bloom like golden flowers" to welcome bundled-up workers home for supper.

Listen to the last stanza: "There is magic in it. There once more, / body and spirit, they are warmed and fed; / There, as a thousand times before, / The ancient feast is spread, / The simple miracles of love and bread... / They stumble into beauty at the door."

And given human nature, at that very moment, no doubt, those workers trudging home had their heads in the clouds, looking up with envy at Allendale, listening to the music of a party drifting down the hill.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.