Emma Goldman's Tribute to Voltarine de Clyre
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there are strangers? And it gets worse all the time. Don’t mind it.”
Only on rare occasions could could Voltairine de Cleyre freely communicate herself, give out of her rich soul to those who loved and understood her. She was a keen observer of a man and his ways, quickly detecting sham and able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Her comments on such occasions were full of penetration, interspersed with a quiet, rippling humor. She used to tell an interesting anecdote about some detectives who had come to arrest her. It was 1907, in Philadelphia, when the guards of law descended upon her home. They were much surprised to fins that Voltairine did not look like the traditional newspaper Anarchist. They seemed sorry to arrest her, but “them’s orders”, they apologetically declared. They made a search for her appartment, scattering her papers and books and, finally, discovering a copy of her revolutionary poems entitled: THE WORM TURNS. With contempt they threw it aside. “Hell, it’s only a book about worms”, they remarked.
They were rare moments when Voltairine could overcome her shyness and reserve, and really feel at home with a few selected friends. Ordinarily, her natural disposition aggravated by constant physical pain, and the deafening roar in her ears, made her taciturn and extremely uncommunicative. She was sombre, the woes of the world weighing heavily upon her. She saw life mostly in greys and blacks and painted it accordingly. It is this which prevented Voltairine from becoming one of the greatest writers of her time.
But no one who can appreciate literary quality and musical prose will deny that Voltairine de Cleyre’s greatness after reading the stories and sketches already mentioned and the others contained in her collected works.* Particularly, her CHAIN GANG, picturing the negro convicts slaving on the highways of the south, is for beauty of style, feeling and descriptive power, a literary gem that has few equals in English literature. Her essays are most forceful, of extreme clarity and thought and original expression. And even in her poems, though
*SELECTED WORKS, by Voltairine de Clyre, published by Mother Earth Publishing Association, New York, 1914.