Here’s a poem by Christian K. Binkley, written 100 years ago today: the day after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, to which he was an eye-witness.
April 19, 1906
Courage! not all is lost! The better part
Remains, and shall remain.
The quiet riches of the heart
Are not in vain.
Above the noises of the heated air,
The coming crash and din,
Above wan faces and the wide despair
From the whole world shut in,
Poised on the wreck and ruin with her book
And inextinguishable flame
The goddess of the onward look
Stands yet the same.
Courage! Though goods are gone the one high good
Remaineth as of old,
Whose works are wrought of rectitude
And not of gold.
Courage! for mighty Love and mighty Death,
All the heroic pain,
The world-heart knit into our blind despair,
These still remain.
During the San Francisco fire the colossal statue surmounting the City Hall was sometimes visible standing above the desolation like a great angel in mid air.
CKB lost a lot in that fire: the print run of his book of poetry A House of Days was destroyed in his brother-in-law Thaddeus Barr’s print shop, in which he owned an interest. The Binkleys were living in a rented house at Beresford, just south of San Francisco between San Mateo and Bellmont. According to Uncle Charles’ recollections, the earthquake did little damage to the house. CKB went into the city to see if he could save anything from the print shop or from Cogswell Polytechnical College (then located in the Mission), where he was teaching. Everything was destroyed, and CKB was pressed into service to help with rescue work. The fire also destroyed the landlord’s house along with papers regarding their rights to the rented house (they intended to buy it), and the Binkleys were forced to move.
CKB followed this poem with three more, written in 1909, 1913, and 1915, dealing with the rebuilding of the city. The exclamation “Courage!” appears frequently: “Courage! to stroke of hammers overhead, / And swing of beams, a maze of steel begun!” He grouped them under the heading “Four Songs of a City” in his unpublished poetry collection The Voice of the Past.