The Three Taverns A Book of Poems By Edwin Arlington Robinson [American (Maine) Poet. 1869-1935.]
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The Three Taverns A Book of Poems By Edwin Arlington Robinson Author of "The Man Against the Sky", "Merlin, A Poem", etc.
To THOMAS SERGEANT PERRY and LILLA CABOT PERRY
The Valley of the Shadow The Wandering Jew Neighbors The Mill The Dark Hills The Three Taverns Demos I Demos II The Flying Dutchman Tact On the Way John Brown The False Gods Archibald's Example London Bridge Tasker Norcross A Song at Shannon's Souvenir Discovery Firelight The New Tenants Inferential The Rat Rahel to Varnhagen Nimmo Peace on Earth Late Summer An Evangelist's Wife The Old King's New Jester Lazarus
Several poems included in this book appeared originally in American periodicals, as follows: The Three Taverns, London Bridge, A Song at Shannon's, The New Tenants, Discovery, John Brown; Archibald's Example, The Valley of the Shadow; Nimmo; The Wandering Jew, Souvenir; Neighbors, Tact; Demos; The Mill, An Evangelist's Wife; Firelight; Late Summer; Inferential; The Flying Dutchman; On the Way, The False Gods; Peace on Earth; The Old King's New Jester.
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The Valley of the Shadow
There were faces to remember in the Valley of the Shadow, There were faces unregarded, there were faces to forget; There were fires of grief and fear that are a few forgotten ashes, There were sparks of recognition that are not forgotten yet. For at first, with an amazed and overwhelming indignation At a measureless malfeasance that obscurely willed it thus, They were lost and unacquainted — till they found themselves in others, Who had groped as they were groping where dim ways were perilous.
There were lives that were as dark as are the fears and intuitions Of a child who knows himself and is alone with what he knows; There were pensioners of dreams and there were debtors of illusions, All to fail before the triumph of a weed that only grows. There were thirsting heirs of golden sieves that held not wine or water, And had no names in traffic or more value there than toys: There were blighted sons of wonder in the Valley of the Shadow, Where they suffered and still wondered why their wonder made no noise.
There were slaves who dragged the shackles of a precedent unbroken, Demonstrating the fulfilment of unalterable schemes, Which had been, before the cradle, Time's inexorable tenants Of what were now the dusty ruins of their father's dreams. There were these, and there were many who had stumbled up to manhood, Where they saw too late the road they should have taken long ago: There were thwarted clerks and fiddlers in the Valley of the Shadow, The commemorative wreckage of what others did not know.
And there were daughters older than the mothers who had borne them, Being older in their wisdom, which is older than the earth; And they were going forward only farther into darkness, Unrelieved as were the blasting obligations of their birth; And among them, giving always what was not for their possession, There were maidens, very quiet, with no quiet in their eyes: There were daughters of the silence in the Valley of the Shadow, Each an isolated item in the family sacrifice.
There were creepers among catacombs where dull regrets were torches, Giving light enough to show them what was there upon the shelves — Where there was more for them to see than pleasure would remember Of something that had been alive and once had been themselves. There were some who stirred the ruins with a solid imprecation, While as many fled repentance for the promise of despair: There were drinkers of wrong waters in the Valley of the Shadow, And all the sparkling ways were dust that once had led them there.
There were some who knew the steps of Age incredibly beside them, And his fingers upon shoulders that had never felt the wheel; And their last of empty trophies was a gilded cup of nothing, Which a contemplating vagabond would not have come to steal. Long and often had they figured for a larger valuation, But the size of their addition was the balance of a doubt: There were gentlemen of leisure in the Valley of the Shadow, Not allured by retrospection, disenchanted, and played out.
And among the dark endurances of unavowed reprisals There were silent eyes of envy that saw little but saw well; And over beauty's aftermath of hazardous ambitions There were tears for what had vanished as they vanished where they fell. Not assured of what was theirs, and always hungry for the nameless, There were some whose only passion was for Time who made them cold: There were numerous fair women in the Valley of the Shadow, Dreaming rather less of heaven than of hell when they were old.
Now and then, as if to scorn the common touch of common sorrow, There were some who gave a few the distant pity of a smile; And another cloaked a soul as with an ash of human embers, Having covered thus a treasure that would last him for a while. There were many by the presence of the many disaffected, Whose exemption was included in the weight that others bore: There were seekers after darkness in the Valley of the Shadow, And they alone were there to find what they were looking for.
So they were, and so they are; and as they came are coming others, And among them are the fearless and the meek and the unborn; And a question that has held us heretofore without an answer May abide without an answer until all have ceased to mourn. For the children of the dark are more to name than are the wretched, Or the broken, or the weary, or the baffled, or the shamed: There are builders of new mansions in the Valley of the Shadow, And among them are the dying and the blinded and the maimed.
The Wandering Jew
I saw by looking in his eyes That they remembered everything; And this was how I came to know That he was here, still wandering. For though the figure and the scene Were never to be reconciled, I knew the man as I had known His image when I was a child.
With evidence at every turn, I should have held it safe to guess That all the newness of New York Had nothing new in loneliness; Yet here was one who might be Noah, Or Nathan, or Abimelech, Or Lamech, out of ages lost, — Or, more than all, Melchizedek.
Assured that he was none of these, I gave them back their names again, To scan once more those endless eyes Where all my questions ended then. I found in them what they revealed That I shall not live to forget, And wondered if they found in mine Compassion that I might regret.
Pity, I learned, was not the least Of time's offending benefits That had now for so long impugned The conservation of his wits: Rather it was that I should yield, Alone, the fealty that presents The tribute of a tempered ear To an untempered eloquence.
Before I pondered long enough On whence he came and who he was, I trembled at his ringing wealth Of manifold anathemas; I wondered, while he seared the world, What new defection ailed the race, And if it mattered how remote Our fathers were from such a place.
Before there was an hour for me To contemplate with less concern The crumbling realm awaiting us Than his that was beyond return, A dawning on the dust of years Had shaped with an elusive light Mirages of remembered scenes That were no longer for the sight.
For now the gloom that hid the man Became a daylight on his wrath, And one wherein my fancy viewed New lions ramping in his path. The old were dead and had no fangs, Wherefore he loved them — seeing not They were the same that in their time Had eaten everything they caught.
The world around him was a gift Of anguish to his eyes and ears, And one that he had long reviled As fit for devils, not for seers. Where, then, was there a place for him That on this other side of death Saw nothing good, as he had seen No good come out of Nazareth?
Yet here there was a reticence, And I believe his only one, That hushed him as if he beheld A Presence that would not be gone. In such a silence he confessed How much there was to be denied; And he would look at me and live, As others might have looked and died.
As if at last he knew again That he had always known, his eyes Were like to those of one who gazed On those of One who never dies. For such a moment he revealed What life has in it to be lost; And I could ask if what I saw, Before me there, was man or ghost.
He may have died so many times That all there was of him to see Was pride, that kept itself alive As too rebellious to be free; He may have told, when more than once Humility seemed imminent, How many a lonely time in vain The Second Coming came and went.
Whether he still defies or not The failure of an angry task That relegates him out of time To chaos, I can only ask. But as I knew him, so he was; And somewhere among men to-day Those old, unyielding eyes may flash, And flinch — and look the other way.
As often as we thought of her, We thought of a gray life That made a quaint economist Of a wolf-haunted wife; We made the best of all she bore That was not ours to bear, And honored her for wearing things That were not things to wear.
There was a distance in her look That made us look again; And if she smiled, we might believe That we had looked in vain. Rarely she came inside our doors, And had not long to stay; And when she left, it seemed somehow That she was far away.
At last, when we had all forgot That all is here to change, A shadow on the commonplace Was for a moment strange. Yet there was nothing for surprise, Nor much that need be told: Love, with his gift of pain, had given More than one heart could hold.
The miller's wife had waited long, The tea was cold, the fire was dead; And there might yet be nothing wrong In how he went and what he said: "There are no millers any more," Was all that she had heard him say; And he had lingered at the door So long that it seemed yesterday.
Sick with a fear that had no form She knew that she was there at last; And in the mill there was a warm And mealy fragrance of the past. What else there was would only seem To say again what he had meant; And what was hanging from a beam Would not have heeded where she went.
And if she thought it followed her, She may have reasoned in the dark That one way of the few there were Would hide her and would leave no mark: Black water, smooth above the weir Like starry velvet in the night, Though ruffled once, would soon appear The same as ever to the sight.
The Dark Hills
Dark hills at evening in the west, Where sunset hovers like a sound Of golden horns that sang to rest Old bones of warriors under ground, Far now from all the bannered ways Where flash the legions of the sun, You fade — as if the last of days Were fading, and all wars were done.
The Three Taverns
When the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The Three Taverns. (Acts 28:15)
Herodion, Apelles, Amplias, And Andronicus? Is it you I see — At last? And is it you now that are gazing As if in doubt of me? Was I not saying That I should come to Rome? I did say that; And I said furthermore that I should go On westward, where the gateway of the world Lets in the central sea. I did say that, But I say only, now, that I am Paul — A prisoner of the Law, and of the Lord A voice made free. If there be time enough To live, I may have more to tell you then Of western matters. I go now to Rome, Where Caesar waits for me, and I shall wait, And Caesar knows how long. In Caesarea There was a legend of Agrippa saying In a light way to Festus, having heard My deposition, that I might be free, Had I stayed free of Caesar; but the word Of God would have it as you see it is — And here I am. The cup that I shall drink Is mine to drink — the moment or the place Not mine to say. If it be now in Rome, Be it now in Rome; and if your faith exceed The shadow cast of hope, say not of me Too surely or too soon that years and shipwreck, And all the many deserts I have crossed That are not named or regioned, have undone Beyond the brevities of our mortal healing The part of me that is the least of me. You see an older man than he who fell Prone to the earth when he was nigh Damascus, Where the great light came down; yet I am he That fell, and he that saw, and he that heard. And I am here, at last; and if at last I give myself to make another crumb For this pernicious feast of time and men — Well, I have seen too much of time and men To fear the ravening or the wrath of either.
Yes, it is Paul you see — the Saul of Tarsus That was a fiery Jew, and had men slain For saying Something was beyond the Law, And in ourselves. I fed my suffering soul Upon the Law till I went famishing, Not knowing that I starved. How should I know, More then than any, that the food I had — What else it may have been — was not for me? My fathers and their fathers and their fathers Had found it good, and said there was no other, And I was of the line. When Stephen fell, Among the stones that crushed his life away, There was no place alive that I could see For such a man. Why should a man be given To live beyond the Law? So I said then, As men say now to me. How then do I Persist in living? Is that what you ask? If so, let my appearance be for you No living answer; for Time writes of death On men before they die, and what you see Is not the man. The man that you see not — The man within the man — is most alive; Though hatred would have ended, long ago, The bane of his activities. I have lived, Because the faith within me that is life Endures to live, and shall, till soon or late, Death, like a friend unseen, shall say to me My toil is over and my work begun.
How often, and how many a time again, Have I said I should be with you in Rome! He who is always coming never comes, Or comes too late, you may have told yourselves; And I may tell you now that after me, Whether I stay for little or for long, The wolves are coming. Have an eye for them, And a more careful ear for their confusion Than you need have much longer for the sound Of what I tell you — should I live to say More than I say to Caesar. What I know Is down for you to read in what is written; And if I cloud a little with my own Mortality the gleam that is immortal, I do it only because I am I — Being on earth and of it, in so far As time flays yet the remnant. This you know; And if I sting men, as I do sometimes, With a sharp word that hurts, it is because Man's habit is to feel before he sees; And I am of a race that feels. Moreover, The world is here for what is not yet here For more than are a few; and even in Rome, Where men are so enamored of the Cross That fame has echoed, and increasingly, The music of your love and of your faith To foreign ears that are as far away As Antioch and Haran, yet I wonder How much of love you know, and if your faith Be the shut fruit of words. If so, remember Words are but shells unfilled. Jews have at least A Law to make them sorry they were born If they go long without it; and these Gentiles, For the first time in shrieking history, Have love and law together, if so they will, For their defense and their immunity In these last days. Rome, if I know the name, Will have anon a crown of thorns and fire Made ready for the wreathing of new masters, Of whom we are appointed, you and I, — And you are still to be when I am gone, Should I go presently. Let the word fall, Meanwhile, upon the dragon-ridden field Of circumstance, either to live or die; Concerning which there is a parable, Made easy for the comfort and attention Of those who preach, fearing they preach in vain. You are to plant, and then to plant again Where you have gathered, gathering as you go; For you are in the fields that are eternal, And you have not the burden of the Lord Upon your mortal shoulders. What you have Is a light yoke, made lighter by the wearing, Till it shall have the wonder and the weight Of a clear jewel, shining with a light Wherein the sun and all the fiery stars May soon be fading. When Gamaliel said That if they be of men these things are nothing, But if they be of God they are for none To overthrow, he spoke as a good Jew, And one who stayed a Jew; and he said all. And you know, by the temper of your faith, How far the fire is in you that I felt Before I knew Damascus. A word here, Or there, or not there, or not anywhere, Is not the Word that lives and is the life; And you, therefore, need weary not yourselves With jealous aches of others. If the world Were not a world of aches and innovations, Attainment would have no more joy of it. There will be creeds and schisms, creeds in creeds, And schisms in schisms; myriads will be done To death because a farthing has two sides, And is at last a farthing. Telling you this, I, who bid men to live, appeal to Caesar. Once I had said the ways of God were dark, Meaning by that the dark ways of the Law. Such is the glory of our tribulations; For the Law kills the flesh that kills the Law, And we are then alive. We have eyes then; And we have then the Cross between two worlds — To guide us, or to blind us for a time, Till we have eyes indeed. The fire that smites A few on highways, changing all at once, Is not for all. The power that holds the world Away from God that holds himself away — Farther away than all your works and words Are like to fly without the wings of faith — Was not, nor ever shall be, a small hazard Enlivening the ways of easy leisure Or the cold road of knowledge. When our eyes Have wisdom, we see more than we remember; And the old world of our captivities May then become a smitten glimpse of ruin, Like one where vanished hewers have had their day Of wrath on Lebanon. Before we see, Meanwhile, we suffer; and I come to you, At last, through many storms and through much night.
Yet whatsoever I have undergone, My keepers in this instance are not hard. But for the chance of an ingratitude, I might indeed be curious of their mercy, And fearful of their leisure while I wait, A few leagues out of Rome. Men go to Rome, Not always to return — but not that now. Meanwhile, I seem to think you look at me With eyes that are at last more credulous Of my identity. You remark in me No sort of leaping giant, though some words Of mine to you from Corinth may have leapt A little through your eyes into your soul. I trust they were alive, and are alive Today; for there be none that shall indite So much of nothing as the man of words Who writes in the Lord's name for his name's sake And has not in his blood the fire of time To warm eternity. Let such a man — If once the light is in him and endures — Content himself to be the general man, Set free to sift the decencies and thereby To learn, except he be one set aside For sorrow, more of pleasure than of pain; Though if his light be not the light indeed, But a brief shine that never really was, And fails, leaving him worse than where he was, Then shall he be of all men destitute. And here were not an issue for much ink, Or much offending faction among scribes.
The Kingdom is within us, we are told; And when I say to you that we possess it In such a measure as faith makes it ours, I say it with a sinner's privilege Of having seen and heard, and seen again, After a darkness; and if I affirm To the last hour that faith affords alone The Kingdom entrance and an entertainment, I do not see myself as one who says To man that he shall sit with folded hands Against the Coming. If I be anything, I move a driven agent among my kind, Establishing by the faith of Abraham, And by the grace of their necessities, The clamoring word that is the word of life Nearer than heretofore to the solution Of their tomb-serving doubts. If I have loosed A shaft of language that has flown sometimes A little higher than the hearts and heads Of nature's minions, it will yet be heard, Like a new song that waits for distant ears. I cannot be the man that I am not; And while I own that earth is my affliction, I am a man of earth, who says not all To all alike. That were impossible, Even as it were so that He should plant A larger garden first. But you today Are for the larger sowing; and your seed, A little mixed, will have, as He foresaw, The foreign harvest of a wider growth, And one without an end. Many there are, And are to be, that shall partake of it, Though none may share it with an understanding That is not his alone. We are all alone; And yet we are all parcelled of one order — Jew, Gentile, or barbarian in the dark Of wildernesses that are not so much As names yet in a book. And there are many, Finding at last that words are not the Word, And finding only that, will flourish aloft, Like heads of captured Pharisees on pikes, Our contradictions and discrepancies; And there are many more will hang themselves Upon the letter, seeing not in the Word The friend of all who fail, and in their faith A sword of excellence to cut them down.
As long as there are glasses that are dark — And there are many — we see darkly through them; All which have I conceded and set down In words that have no shadow. What is dark Is dark, and we may not say otherwise; Yet what may be as dark as a lost fire For one of us, may still be for another A coming gleam across the gulf of ages, And a way home from shipwreck to the shore; And so, through pangs and ills and desperations, There may be light for all. There shall be light. As much as that, you know. You cannot say This woman or that man will be the next On whom it falls; you are not here for that. Your ministration is to be for others The firing of a rush that may for them Be soon the fire itself. The few at first Are fighting for the multitude at last; Therefore remember what Gamaliel said Before you, when the sick were lying down In streets all night for Peter's passing shadow. Fight, and say what you feel; say more than words. Give men to know that even their days of earth To come are more than ages that are gone. Say what you feel, while you have time to say it. Eternity will answer for itself, Without your intercession; yet the way For many is a long one, and as dark, Meanwhile, as dreams of hell. See not your toil Too much, and if I be away from you, Think of me as a brother to yourselves, Of many blemishes. Beware of stoics, And give your left hand to grammarians; And when you seem, as many a time you may, To have no other friend than hope, remember That you are not the first, or yet the last.
The best of life, until we see beyond The shadows of ourselves (and they are less Than even the blindest of indignant eyes Would have them) is in what we do not know. Make, then, for all your fears a place to sleep With all your faded sins; nor think yourselves Egregious and alone for your defects Of youth and yesterday. I was young once; And there's a question if you played the fool With a more fervid and inherent zeal Than I have in my story to remember, Or gave your necks to folly's conquering foot, Or flung yourselves with an unstudied aim, Less frequently than I. Never mind that. Man's little house of days will hold enough, Sometimes, to make him wish it were not his, But it will not hold all. Things that are dead Are best without it, and they own their death By virtue of their dying. Let them go, — But think you not the world is ashes yet, And you have all the fire. The world is here Today, and it may not be gone tomorrow; For there are millions, and there may be more, To make in turn a various estimation Of its old ills and ashes, and the traps Of its apparent wrath. Many with ears That hear not yet, shall have ears given to them, And then they shall hear strangely. Many with eyes That are incredulous of the Mystery Shall yet be driven to feel, and then to read Where language has an end and is a veil, Not woven of our words. Many that hate Their kind are soon to know that without love Their faith is but the perjured name of nothing. I that have done some hating in my time See now no time for hate; I that have left, Fading behind me like familiar lights That are to shine no more for my returning, Home, friends, and honors, — I that have lost all else For wisdom, and the wealth of it, say now To you that out of wisdom has come love, That measures and is of itself the measure Of works and hope and faith. Your longest hours Are not so long that you may torture them And harass not yourselves; and the last days Are on the way that you prepare for them, And was prepared for you, here in a world Where you have sinned and suffered, striven and seen. If you be not so hot for counting them Before they come that you consume yourselves, Peace may attend you all in these last days — And me, as well as you. Yes, even in Rome. Well, I have talked and rested, though I fear My rest has not been yours; in which event, Forgive one who is only seven leagues From Caesar. When I told you I should come, I did not see myself the criminal You contemplate, for seeing beyond the Law That which the Law saw not. But this, indeed, Was good of you, and I shall not forget; No, I shall not forget you came so far To meet a man so dangerous. Well, farewell. They come to tell me I am going now — With them. I hope that we shall meet again, But none may say what he shall find in Rome.
All you that are enamored of my name And least intent on what most I require, Beware; for my design and your desire, Deplorably, are not as yet the same. Beware, I say, the failure and the shame Of losing that for which you now aspire So blindly, and of hazarding entire The gift that I was bringing when I came.
Give as I will, I cannot give you sight Whereby to see that with you there are some To lead you, and be led. But they are dumb Before the wrangling and the shrill delight Of your deliverance that has not come, And shall not, if I fail you — as I might.
So little have you seen of what awaits Your fevered glimpse of a democracy Confused and foiled with an equality Not equal to the envy it creates, That you see not how near you are the gates Of an old king who listens fearfully To you that are outside and are to be The noisy lords of imminent estates.
Rather be then your prayer that you shall have Your kingdom undishonored. Having all, See not the great among you for the small, But hear their silence; for the few shall save The many, or the many are to fall — Still to be wrangling in a noisy grave.
The Flying Dutchman
Unyielding in the pride of his defiance, Afloat with none to serve or to command, Lord of himself at last, and all by Science, He seeks the Vanished Land.
Alone, by the one light of his one thought, He steers to find the shore from which we came, — Fearless of in what coil he may be caught On seas that have no name.
Into the night he sails; and after night There is a dawning, though there be no sun; Wherefore, with nothing but himself in sight, Unsighted, he sails on.
At last there is a lifting of the cloud Between the flood before him and the sky; And then — though he may curse the Power aloud That has no power to die —
He steers himself away from what is haunted By the old ghost of what has been before, — Abandoning, as always, and undaunted, One fog-walled island more.
Observant of the way she told So much of what was true, No vanity could long withhold Regard that was her due: She spared him the familiar guile, So easily achieved, That only made a man to smile And left him undeceived.
Aware that all imagining Of more than what she meant Would urge an end of everything, He stayed; and when he went, They parted with a merry word That was to him as light As any that was ever heard Upon a starry night.
She smiled a little, knowing well That he would not remark The ruins of a day that fell Around her in the dark: He saw no ruins anywhere, Nor fancied there were scars On anyone who lingered there, Alone below the stars.
On the Way
Note. — The following imaginary dialogue between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, which is not based upon any specific incident in American history, may be supposed to have occurred a few months previous to Hamilton's retirement from Washington's Cabinet in 1795 and a few years before the political ingenuities of Burr — who has been characterized, without much exaggeration, as the inventor of American politics — began to be conspicuously formidable to the Federalists. These activities on the part of Burr resulted, as the reader will remember, in the Burr-Jefferson tie for the Presidency in 1800, and finally in the Burr-Hamilton duel at Weehawken in 1804.
Hamilton, if he rides you down, remember That I was here to speak, and so to save Your fabric from catastrophe. That's good; For I perceive that you observe him also. A President, a-riding of his horse, May dust a General and be forgiven; But why be dusted — when we're all alike, All equal, and all happy. Here he comes — And there he goes. And we, by your new patent, Would seem to be two kings here by the wayside, With our two hats off to his Excellency. Why not his Majesty, and done with it? Forgive me if I shook your meditation, But you that weld our credit should have eyes To see what's coming. Bury me first if -I- do.
There's always in some pocket of your brain A care for me; wherefore my gratitude For your attention is commensurate With your concern. Yes, Burr, we are two kings; We are as royal as two ditch-diggers; But owe me not your sceptre. These are the days When first a few seem all; but if we live, We may again be seen to be the few That we have always been. These are the days When men forget the stars, and are forgotten.
But why forget them? They're the same that winked Upon the world when Alcibiades Cut off his dog's tail to induce distinction. There are dogs yet, and Alcibiades Is not forgotten.
Yes, there are dogs enough, God knows; and I can hear them in my dreams.
Never a doubt. But what you hear the most Is your new music, something out of tune With your intention. How in the name of Cain, I seem to hear you ask, are men to dance, When all men are musicians. Tell me that, I hear you saying, and I'll tell you the name Of Samson's mother. But why shroud yourself Before the coffin comes? For all you know, The tree that is to fall for your last house Is now a sapling. You may have to wait So long as to be sorry; though I doubt it, For you are not at home in your new Eden Where chilly whispers of a likely frost Accumulate already in the air. I think a touch of ermine, Hamilton, Would be for you in your autumnal mood A pleasant sort of warmth along the shoulders.
If so it is you think, you may as well Give over thinking. We are done with ermine. What I fear most is not the multitude, But those who are to loop it with a string That has one end in France and one end here. I'm not so fortified with observation That I could swear that more than half a score Among us who see lightning see that ruin Is not the work of thunder. Since the world Was ordered, there was never a long pause For caution between doing and undoing.
Go on, sir; my attention is a trap Set for the catching of all compliments To Monticello, and all else abroad That has a name or an identity.
I leave to you the names — there are too many; Yet one there is to sift and hold apart, As now I see. There comes at last a glimmer That is not always clouded, or too late. But I was near and young, and had the reins To play with while he manned a team so raw That only God knows where the end had been Of all that riding without Washington. There was a nation in the man who passed us, If there was not a world. I may have driven Since then some restive horses, and alone, And through a splashing of abundant mud; But he who made the dust that sets you on To coughing, made the road. Now it seems dry, And in a measure safe.
Here's a new tune From Hamilton. Has your caution all at once, And over night, grown till it wrecks the cradle? I have forgotten what my father said When I was born, but there's a rustling of it Among my memories, and it makes a noise About as loud as all that I have held And fondled heretofore of your same caution. But that's affairs, not feelings. If our friends Guessed half we say of them, our enemies Would itch in our friends' jackets. Howsoever, The world is of a sudden on its head, And all are spilled — unless you cling alone With Washington. Ask Adams about that.
We'll not ask Adams about anything. We fish for lizards when we choose to ask For what we know already is not coming, And we must eat the answer. Where's the use Of asking when this man says everything, With all his tongues of silence?
I dare say. I dare say, but I won't. One of those tongues I'll borrow for the nonce. He'll never miss it. We mean his Western Majesty, King George.
I mean the man who rode by on his horse. I'll beg of you the meed of your indulgence If I should say this planet may have done A deal of weary whirling when at last, If ever, Time shall aggregate again A majesty like his that has no name.
Then you concede his Majesty? That's good, And what of yours? Here are two majesties. Favor the Left a little, Hamilton, Or you'll be floundering in the ditch that waits For riders who forget where they are riding. If we and France, as you anticipate, Must eat each other, what Caesar, if not yourself, Do you see for the master of the feast? There may be a place waiting on your head For laurel thick as Nero's. You don't know. I have not crossed your glory, though I might If I saw thrones at auction.
Yes, you might. If war is on the way, I shall be — here; And I've no vision of your distant heels.
I see that I shall take an inference To bed with me to-night to keep me warm. I thank you, Hamilton, and I approve Your fealty to the aggregated greatness Of him you lean on while he leans on you.
This easy phrasing is a game of yours That you may win to lose. I beg your pardon, But you that have the sight will not employ The will to see with it. If you did so, There might be fewer ditches dug for others In your perspective; and there might be fewer Contemporary motes of prejudice Between you and the man who made the dust. Call him a genius or a gentleman, A prophet or a builder, or what not, But hold your disposition off the balance, And weigh him in the light. Once (I believe I tell you nothing new to your surmise, Or to the tongues of towns and villages) I nourished with an adolescent fancy — Surely forgivable to you, my friend — An innocent and amiable conviction That I was, by the grace of honest fortune, A savior at his elbow through the war, Where I might have observed, more than I did, Patience and wholesome passion. I was there, And for such honor I gave nothing worse Than some advice at which he may have smiled. I must have given a modicum besides, Or the rough interval between those days And these would never have made for me my friends, Or enemies. I should be something somewhere — I say not what — but I should not be here If he had not been there. Possibly, too, You might not — or that Quaker with his cane.
Possibly, too, I should. When the Almighty Rides a white horse, I fancy we shall know it.
It was a man, Burr, that was in my mind; No god, or ghost, or demon — only a man: A man whose occupation is the need Of those who would not feel it if it bit them; And one who shapes an age while he endures The pin pricks of inferiorities; A cautious man, because he is but one; A lonely man, because he is a thousand. No marvel you are slow to find in him The genius that is one spark or is nothing: His genius is a flame that he must hold So far above the common heads of men That they may view him only through the mist Of their defect, and wonder what he is. It seems to me the mystery that is in him That makes him only more to me a man Than any other I have ever known.
I grant you that his worship is a man. I'm not so much at home with mysteries, May be, as you — so leave him with his fire: God knows that I shall never put it out. He has not made a cripple of himself In his pursuit of me, though I have heard His condescension honors me with parts. Parts make a whole, if we've enough of them; And once I figured a sufficiency To be at least an atom in the annals Of your republic. But I must have erred.
You smile as if your spirit lived at ease With error. I should not have named it so, Failing assent from you; nor, if I did, Should I be so complacent in my skill To comb the tangled language of the people As to be sure of anything in these days. Put that much in account with modesty.
What in the name of Ahab, Hamilton, Have you, in the last region of your dreaming, To do with "people"? You may be the devil In your dead-reckoning of what reefs and shoals Are waiting on the progress of our ship Unless you steer it, but you'll find it irksome Alone there in the stern; and some warm day There'll be an inland music in the rigging, And afterwards on deck. I'm not affined Or favored overmuch at Monticello, But there's a mighty swarming of new bees About the premises, and all have wings. If you hear something buzzing before long, Be thoughtful how you strike, remembering also There was a fellow Naboth had a vineyard, And Ahab cut his hair off and went softly.
I don't remember that he cut his hair off.
Somehow I rather fancy that he did. If so, it's in the Book; and if not so, He did the rest, and did it handsomely.
Commend yourself to Ahab and his ways If they inveigle you to emulation; But where, if I may ask it, are you tending With your invidious wielding of the Scriptures? You call to mind an eminent archangel Who fell to make him famous. Would you fall So far as he, to be so far remembered?
Before I fall or rise, or am an angel, I shall acquaint myself a little further With our new land's new language, which is not — Peace to your dreams — an idiom to your liking. I'm wondering if a man may always know How old a man may be at thirty-seven; I wonder likewise if a prettier time Could be decreed for a good man to vanish Than about now for you, before you fade, And even your friends are seeing that you have had Your cup too full for longer mortal triumph. Well, you have had enough, and had it young; And the old wine is nearer to the lees Than you are to the work that you are doing.
When does this philological excursion Into new lands and languages begin?
Anon — that is, already. Only Fortune Gave me this afternoon the benefaction Of your blue back, which I for love pursued, And in pursuing may have saved your life — Also the world a pounding piece of news: Hamilton bites the dust of Washington, Or rather of his horse. For you alone, Or for your fame, I'd wish it might have been so.
Not every man among us has a friend So jealous for the other's fame. How long Are you to diagnose the doubtful case Of Demos — and what for? Have you a sword For some new Damocles? If it's for me, I have lost all official appetite, And shall have faded, after January, Into the law. I'm going to New York.
No matter where you are, one of these days I shall come back to you and tell you something. This Demos, I have heard, has in his wrist A pulse that no two doctors have as yet Counted and found the same, and in his mouth A tongue that has the like alacrity For saying or not for saying what most it is That pullulates in his ignoble mind. One of these days I shall appear again, To tell you more of him and his opinions; I shall not be so long out of your sight, Or take myself so far, that I may not, Like Alcibiades, come back again. He went away to Phrygia, and fared ill.
There's an example in Themistocles: He went away to Persia, and fared well.
So? Must I go so far? And if so, why so? I had not planned it so. Is this the road I take? If so, farewell.
Quite so. Farewell.
Though for your sake I would not have you now So near to me tonight as now you are, God knows how much a stranger to my heart Was any cold word that I may have written; And you, poor woman that I made my wife, You have had more of loneliness, I fear, Than I — though I have been the most alone, Even when the most attended. So it was God set the mark of his inscrutable Necessity on one that was to grope, And serve, and suffer, and withal be glad For what was his, and is, and is to be, When his old bones, that are a burden now, Are saying what the man who carried them Had not the power to say. Bones in a grave, Cover them as they will with choking earth, May shout the truth to men who put them there, More than all orators. And so, my dear, Since you have cheated wisdom for the sake Of sorrow, let your sorrow be for you, This last of nights before the last of days, The lying ghost of what there is of me That is the most alive. There is no death For me in what they do. Their death it is They should heed most when the sun comes again To make them solemn. There are some I know Whose eyes will hardly see their occupation, For tears in them — and all for one old man; For some of them will pity this old man, Who took upon himself the work of God Because he pitied millions. That will be For them, I fancy, their compassionate Best way of saying what is best in them To say; for they can say no more than that, And they can do no more than what the dawn Of one more day shall give them light enough To do. But there are many days to be, And there are many men to give their blood, As I gave mine for them. May they come soon!
May they come soon, I say. And when they come, May all that I have said unheard be heard, Proving at last, or maybe not — no matter — What sort of madness was the part of me That made me strike, whether I found the mark Or missed it. Meanwhile, I've a strange content, A patience, and a vast indifference To what men say of me and what men fear To say. There was a work to be begun, And when the Voice, that I have heard so long, Announced as in a thousand silences An end of preparation, I began The coming work of death which is to be, That life may be. There is no other way Than the old way of war for a new land That will not know itself and is tonight A stranger to itself, and to the world A more prodigious upstart among states Than I was among men, and so shall be Till they are told and told, and told again; For men are children, waiting to be told, And most of them are children all their lives. The good God in his wisdom had them so, That now and then a madman or a seer May shake them out of their complacency And shame them into deeds. The major file See only what their fathers may have seen, Or may have said they saw when they saw nothing. I do not say it matters what they saw. Now and again to some lone soul or other God speaks, and there is hanging to be done, — As once there was a burning of our bodies Alive, albeit our souls were sorry fuel. But now the fires are few, and we are poised Accordingly, for the state's benefit, A few still minutes between heaven and earth. The purpose is, when they have seen enough Of what it is that they are not to see, To pluck me as an unripe fruit of treason, And then to fling me back to the same earth Of which they are, as I suppose, the flower — Not given to know the riper fruit that waits For a more comprehensive harvesting.
Yes, may they come, and soon. Again I say, May they come soon! — before too many of them Shall be the bloody cost of our defection. When hell waits on the dawn of a new state, Better it were that hell should not wait long, — Or so it is I see it who should see As far or farther into time tonight Than they who talk and tremble for me now, Or wish me to those everlasting fires That are for me no fear. Too many fires Have sought me out and seared me to the bone — Thereby, for all I know, to temper me For what was mine to do. If I did ill What I did well, let men say I was mad; Or let my name for ever be a question That will not sleep in history. What men say I was will cool no cannon, dull no sword, Invalidate no truth. Meanwhile, I was; And the long train is lighted that shall burn, Though floods of wrath may drench it, and hot feet May stamp it for a slight time into smoke That shall blaze up again with growing speed, Until at last a fiery crash will come To cleanse and shake a wounded hemisphere, And heal it of a long malignity That angry time discredits and disowns. Tonight there are men saying many things; And some who see life in the last of me Will answer first the coming call to death; For death is what is coming, and then life. I do not say again for the dull sake Of speech what you have heard me say before, But rather for the sake of all I am, And all God made of me. A man to die As I do must have done some other work Than man's alone. I was not after glory, But there was glory with me, like a friend, Throughout those crippling years when friends were few, And fearful to be known by their own names When mine was vilified for their approval. Yet friends they are, and they did what was given Their will to do; they could have done no more. I was the one man mad enough, it seems, To do my work; and now my work is over. And you, my dear, are not to mourn for me, Or for your sons, more than a soul should mourn In Paradise, done with evil and with earth. There is not much of earth in what remains For you; and what there may be left of it For your endurance you shall have at last In peace, without the twinge of any fear For my condition; for I shall be done With plans and actions that have heretofore Made your days long and your nights ominous With darkness and the many distances That were between us. When the silence comes, I shall in faith be nearer to you then Than I am now in fact. What you see now Is only the outside of an old man, Older than years have made him. Let him die, And let him be a thing for little grief. There was a time for service, and he served; And there is no more time for anything But a short gratefulness to those who gave Their scared allegiance to an enterprise That has the name of treason — which will serve As well as any other for the present. There are some deeds of men that have no names, And mine may like as not be one of them. I am not looking far for names tonight. The King of Glory was without a name Until men gave him one; yet there He was, Before we found Him and affronted Him With numerous ingenuities of evil, Of which one, with His aid, is to be swept And washed out of the world with fire and blood.
Once I believed it might have come to pass With a small cost of blood; but I was dreaming — Dreaming that I believed. The Voice I heard When I left you behind me in the north, — To wait there and to wonder and grow old Of loneliness, — told only what was best, And with a saving vagueness, I should know Till I knew more. And had I known even then — After grim years of search and suffering, So many of them to end as they began — After my sickening doubts and estimations Of plans abandoned and of new plans vain — After a weary delving everywhere For men with every virtue but the Vision — Could I have known, I say, before I left you That summer morning, all there was to know — Even unto the last consuming word That would have blasted every mortal answer As lightning would annihilate a leaf, I might have trembled on that summer morning; I might have wavered; and I might have failed.
And there are many among men today To say of me that I had best have wavered. So has it been, so shall it always be, For those of us who give ourselves to die Before we are so parcelled and approved As to be slaughtered by authority. We do not make so much of what they say As they of what our folly says of us; They give us hardly time enough for that, And thereby we gain much by losing little. Few are alive to-day with less to lose Than I who tell you this, or more to gain; And whether I speak as one to be destroyed For no good end outside his own destruction, Time shall have more to say than men shall hear Between now and the coming of that harvest Which is to come. Before it comes, I go — By the short road that mystery makes long For man's endurance of accomplishment. I shall have more to say when I am dead.
The False Gods
"We are false and evanescent, and aware of our deceit, From the straw that is our vitals to the clay that is our feet. You may serve us if you must, and you shall have your wage of ashes, — Though arrears due thereafter may be hard for you to meet.
"You may swear that we are solid, you may say that we are strong, But we know that we are neither and we say that you are wrong; You may find an easy worship in acclaiming our indulgence, But your large admiration of us now is not for long.
"If your doom is to adore us with a doubt that's never still, And you pray to see our faces — pray in earnest, and you will. You may gaze at us and live, and live assured of our confusion: For the False Gods are mortal, and are made for you to kill.
"And you may as well observe, while apprehensively at ease With an Art that's inorganic and is anything you please, That anon your newest ruin may lie crumbling unregarded, Like an old shrine forgotten in a forest of new trees.
"Howsoever like no other be the mode you may employ, There's an order in the ages for the ages to enjoy; Though the temples you are shaping and the passions you are singing Are a long way from Athens and a longer way from Troy.
"When we promise more than ever of what never shall arrive, And you seem a little more than ordinarily alive, Make a note that you are sure you understand our obligations — For there's grief always auditing where two and two are five.
"There was this for us to say and there was this for you to know, Though it humbles and it hurts us when we have to tell you so. If you doubt the only truth in all our perjured composition, May the True Gods attend you and forget us when we go."
Old Archibald, in his eternal chair, Where trespassers, whatever their degree, Were soon frowned out again, was looking off Across the clover when he said to me:
"My green hill yonder, where the sun goes down Without a scratch, was once inhabited By trees that injured him — an evil trash That made a cage, and held him while he bled.
"Gone fifty years, I see them as they were Before they fell. They were a crooked lot To spoil my sunset, and I saw no time In fifty years for crooked things to rot.
"Trees, yes; but not a service or a joy To God or man, for they were thieves of light. So down they came. Nature and I looked on, And we were glad when they were out of sight.
"Trees are like men, sometimes; and that being so, So much for that." He twinkled in his chair, And looked across the clover to the place That he remembered when the trees were there.
"Do I hear them? Yes, I hear the children singing — and what of it? Have you come with eyes afire to find me now and ask me that? If I were not their father and if you were not their mother, We might believe they made a noise. . . . What are you — driving at!"
"Well, be glad that you can hear them, and be glad they are so near us, — For I have heard the stars of heaven, and they were nearer still. All within an hour it is that I have heard them calling, And though I pray for them to cease, I know they never will; For their music on my heart, though you may freeze it, will fall always, Like summer snow that never melts upon a mountain-top. Do you hear them? Do you hear them overhead — the children — singing? Do you hear the children singing? . . . God, will you make them stop!"
"And what now in his holy name have you to do with mountains? We're back to town again, my dear, and we've a dance tonight. Frozen hearts and falling music? Snow and stars, and — what the devil! Say it over to me slowly, and be sure you have it right."
"God knows if I be right or wrong in saying what I tell you, Or if I know the meaning any more of what I say. All I know is, it will kill me if I try to keep it hidden — Well, I met him. . . . Yes, I met him, and I talked with him — today."
"You met him? Did you meet the ghost of someone you had poisoned, Long ago, before I knew you for the woman that you are? Take a chair; and don't begin your stories always in the middle. Was he man, or was he demon? Anyhow, you've gone too far To go back, and I'm your servant. I'm the lord, but you're the master. Now go on with what you know, for I'm excited."
"Do you mean — Do you mean to make me try to think that you know less than I do?"
"I know that you foreshadow the beginning of a scene. Pray be careful, and as accurate as if the doors of heaven Were to swing or to stay bolted from now on for evermore."
"Do you conceive, with all your smooth contempt of every feeling, Of hiding what you know and what you must have known before? Is it worth a woman's torture to stand here and have you smiling, With only your poor fetish of possession on your side? No thing but one is wholly sure, and that's not one to scare me; When I meet it I may say to God at last that I have tried. And yet, for all I know, or all I dare believe, my trials Henceforward will be more for you to bear than are your own; And you must give me keys of yours to rooms I have not entered. Do you see me on your threshold all my life, and there alone? Will you tell me where you see me in your fancy — when it leads you Far enough beyond the moment for a glance at the abyss?"
"Will you tell me what intrinsic and amazing sort of nonsense You are crowding on the patience of the man who gives you — this? Look around you and be sorry you're not living in an attic, With a civet and a fish-net, and with you to pay the rent. I say words that you can spell without the use of all your letters; And I grant, if you insist, that I've a guess at what you meant."
"Have I told you, then, for nothing, that I met him? Are you trying To be merry while you try to make me hate you?"
"Think again, My dear, before you tell me, in a language unbecoming To a lady, what you plan to tell me next. If I complain, If I seem an atom peevish at the preference you mention — Or imply, to be precise — you may believe, or you may not, That I'm a trifle more aware of what he wants than you are. But I shouldn't throw that at you. Make believe that I forgot. Make believe that he's a genius, if you like, — but in the meantime Don't go back to rocking-horses. There, there, there, now."
"Make believe! When you see me standing helpless on a plank above a whirlpool, Do I drown, or do I hear you when you say it? Make believe? How much more am I to say or do for you before I tell you That I met him! What's to follow now may be for you to choose. Do you hear me? Won't you listen? It's an easy thing to listen. . . ."
"And it's easy to be crazy when there's everything to lose."
"If at last you have a notion that I mean what I am saying, Do I seem to tell you nothing when I tell you I shall try? If you save me, and I lose him — I don't know — it won't much matter. I dare say that I've lied enough, but now I do not lie."
"Do you fancy me the one man who has waited and said nothing While a wife has dragged an old infatuation from a tomb? Give the thing a little air and it will vanish into ashes. There you are — piff! presto!"
"When I came into this room, It seemed as if I saw the place, and you there at your table, As you are now at this moment, for the last time in my life; And I told myself before I came to find you, 'I shall tell him, If I can, what I have learned of him since I became his wife.' And if you say, as I've no doubt you will before I finish, That you have tried unceasingly, with all your might and main, To teach me, knowing more than I of what it was I needed, Don't think, with all you may have thought, that you have tried in vain; For you have taught me more than hides in all the shelves of knowledge Of how little you found that's in me and was in me all along. I believed, if I intruded nothing on you that I cared for, I'd be half as much as horses, — and it seems that I was wrong; I believed there was enough of earth in me, with all my nonsense Over things that made you sleepy, to keep something still awake; But you taught me soon to read my book, and God knows I have read it — Ages longer than an angel would have read it for your sake. I have said that you must open other doors than I have entered, But I wondered while I said it if I might not be obscure. Is there anything in all your pedigrees and inventories With a value more elusive than a dollar's? Are you sure That if I starve another year for you I shall be stronger To endure another like it — and another — till I'm dead?"
"Has your tame cat sold a picture? — or more likely had a windfall? Or for God's sake, what's broke loose? Have you a bee-hive in your head? A little more of this from you will not be easy hearing. Do you know that? Understand it, if you do; for if you won't. . . . What the devil are you saying! Make believe you never said it, And I'll say I never heard it. . . . Oh, you. . . . If you. . . ."
"If I don't?"
"There are men who say there's reason hidden somewhere in a woman, But I doubt if God himself remembers where the key was hung."
"He may not; for they say that even God himself is growing. I wonder if he makes believe that he is growing young; I wonder if he makes believe that women who are giving All they have in holy loathing to a stranger all their lives Are the wise ones who build houses in the Bible. . . ."
"Stop — you devil!"
". . . Or that souls are any whiter when their bodies are called wives. If a dollar's worth of gold will hoop the walls of hell together, Why need heaven be such a ruin of a place that never was? And if at last I lied my starving soul away to nothing, Are you sure you might not miss it? Have you come to such a pass That you would have me longer in your arms if you discovered That I made you into someone else. . . . Oh! . . . Well, there are worse ways. But why aim it at my feet — unless you fear you may be sorry. . . . There are many days ahead of you."
"I do not see those days."
"I can see them. Granted even I am wrong, there are the children. And are they to praise their father for his insight if we die? Do you hear them? Do you hear them overhead — the children — singing? Do you hear them? Do you hear the children?"
"Damn the children!"
"Why? What have THEY done? . . . Well, then, — do it. . . . Do it now, and have it over."
"Oh, you devil! . . . Oh, you. . . ."
"No, I'm not a devil, I'm a prophet — One who sees the end already of so much that one end more Would have now the small importance of one other small illusion, Which in turn would have a welcome where the rest have gone before. But if I were you, my fancy would look on a little farther For the glimpse of a release that may be somewhere still in sight. Furthermore, you must remember those two hundred invitations For the dancing after dinner. We shall have to shine tonight. We shall dance, and be as happy as a pair of merry spectres, On the grave of all the lies that we shall never have to tell; We shall dance among the ruins of the tomb of our endurance, And I have not a doubt that we shall do it very well. There! — I'm glad you've put it back; for I don't like it. Shut the drawer now. No — no — don't cancel anything. I'll dance until I drop. I can't walk yet, but I'm going to. . . . Go away somewhere, and leave me. . . . Oh, you children! Oh, you children! . . . God, will they never stop!"
"Whether all towns and all who live in them — So long as they be somewhere in this world That we in our complacency call ours — Are more or less the same, I leave to you. I should say less. Whether or not, meanwhile, We've all two legs — and as for that, we haven't — There were three kinds of men where I was born: The good, the not so good, and Tasker Norcross. Now there are two kinds."
"Meaning, as I divine, Your friend is dead," I ventured.
Ferguson, Who talked himself at last out of the world He censured, and is therefore silent now, Agreed indifferently: "My friends are dead — Or most of them."
"Remember one that isn't," I said, protesting. "Honor him for his ears; Treasure him also for his understanding." Ferguson sighed, and then talked on again: "You have an overgrown alacrity For saying nothing much and hearing less; And I've a thankless wonder, at the start, How much it is to you that I shall tell What I have now to say of Tasker Norcross, And how much to the air that is around you. But given a patience that is not averse To the slow tragedies of haunted men — Horrors, in fact, if you've a skilful eye To know them at their firesides, or out walking, —"
"Horrors," I said, "are my necessity; And I would have them, for their best effect, Always out walking."
Ferguson frowned at me: "The wisest of us are not those who laugh Before they know. Most of us never know — Or the long toil of our mortality Would not be done. Most of us never know — And there you have a reason to believe In God, if you may have no other. Norcross, Or so I gather of his infirmity, Was given to know more than he should have known, And only God knows why. See for yourself An old house full of ghosts of ancestors, Who did their best, or worst, and having done it, Died honorably; and each with a distinction That hardly would have been for him that had it, Had honor failed him wholly as a friend. Honor that is a friend begets a friend. Whether or not we love him, still we have him; And we must live somehow by what we have, Or then we die. If you say chemistry, Then you must have your molecules in motion, And in their right abundance. Failing either, You have not long to dance. Failing a friend, A genius, or a madness, or a faith Larger than desperation, you are here For as much longer than you like as may be. Imagining now, by way of an example, Myself a more or less remembered phantom — Again, I should say less — how many times A day should I come back to you? No answer. Forgive me when I seem a little careless, But we must have examples, or be lucid Without them; and I question your adherence To such an undramatic narrative As this of mine, without the personal hook."
"A time is given in Ecclesiastes For divers works," I told him. "Is there one For saying nothing in return for nothing? If not, there should be." I could feel his eyes, And they were like two cold inquiring points Of a sharp metal. When I looked again, To see them shine, the cold that I had felt Was gone to make way for a smouldering Of lonely fire that I, as I knew then, Could never quench with kindness or with lies. I should have done whatever there was to do For Ferguson, yet I could not have mourned In honesty for once around the clock The loss of him, for my sake or for his, Try as I might; nor would his ghost approve, Had I the power and the unthinking will To make him tread again without an aim The road that was behind him — and without The faith, or friend, or genius, or the madness That he contended was imperative.
After a silence that had been too long, "It may be quite as well we don't," he said; "As well, I mean, that we don't always say it. You know best what I mean, and I suppose You might have said it better. What was that? Incorrigible? Am I incorrigible? Well, it's a word; and a word has its use, Or, like a man, it will soon have a grave. It's a good word enough. Incorrigible, May be, for all I know, the word for Norcross. See for yourself that house of his again That he called home: An old house, painted white, Square as a box, and chillier than a tomb To look at or to live in. There were trees — Too many of them, if such a thing may be — Before it and around it. Down in front There was a road, a railroad, and a river; Then there were hills behind it, and more trees. The thing would fairly stare at you through trees, Like a pale inmate out of a barred window With a green shade half down; and I dare say People who passed have said: 'There's where he lives. We know him, but we do not seem to know That we remember any good of him, Or any evil that is interesting. There you have all we know and all we care.' They might have said it in all sorts of ways; And then, if they perceived a cat, they might Or might not have remembered what they said. The cat might have a personality — And maybe the same one the Lord left out Of Tasker Norcross, who, for lack of it, Saw the same sun go down year after year; All which at last was my discovery. And only mine, so far as evidence Enlightens one more darkness. You have known All round you, all your days, men who are nothing — Nothing, I mean, so far as time tells yet Of any other need it has of them Than to make sextons hardy — but no less Are to themselves incalculably something, And therefore to be cherished. God, you see, Being sorry for them in their fashioning, Indemnified them with a quaint esteem Of self, and with illusions long as life. You know them well, and you have smiled at them; And they, in their serenity, may have had Their time to smile at you. Blessed are they That see themselves for what they never were Or were to be, and are, for their defect, At ease with mirrors and the dim remarks That pass their tranquil ears."
"Come, come," said I; "There may be names in your compendium That we are not yet all on fire for shouting. Skin most of us of our mediocrity, We should have nothing then that we could scratch. The picture smarts. Cover it, if you please, And do so rather gently. Now for Norcross."
Ferguson closed his eyes in resignation, While a dead sigh came out of him. "Good God!" He said, and said it only half aloud, As if he knew no longer now, nor cared, If one were there to listen: "Have I said nothing — Nothing at all — of Norcross? Do you mean To patronize him till his name becomes A toy made out of letters? If a name Is all you need, arrange an honest column Of all the people you have ever known That you have never liked. You'll have enough; And you'll have mine, moreover. No, not yet. If I assume too many privileges, I pay, and I alone, for their assumption; By which, if I assume a darker knowledge Of Norcross than another, let the weight Of my injustice aggravate the load That is not on your shoulders. When I came To know this fellow Norcross in his house, I found him as I found him in the street — No more, no less; indifferent, but no better. 'Worse' were not quite the word: he was not bad; He was not . . . well, he was not anything. Has your invention ever entertained The picture of a dusty worm so dry That even the early bird would shake his head And fly on farther for another breakfast?"
"But why forget the fortune of the worm," I said, "if in the dryness you deplore Salvation centred and endured? Your Norcross May have been one for many to have envied."
"Salvation? Fortune? Would the worm say that? He might; and therefore I dismiss the worm With all dry things but one. Figures away, Do you begin to see this man a little? Do you begin to see him in the air, With all the vacant horrors of his outline For you to fill with more than it will hold? If so, you needn't crown yourself at once With epic laurel if you seem to fill it. Horrors, I say, for in the fires and forks Of a new hell — if one were not enough — I doubt if a new horror would have held him With a malignant ingenuity More to be feared than his before he died. You smile, as if in doubt. Well, smile again. Now come into his house, along with me: The four square sombre things that you see first Around you are four walls that go as high As to the ceiling. Norcross knew them well, And he knew others like them. Fasten to that With all the claws of your intelligence; And hold the man before you in his house As if he were a white rat in a box, And one that knew himself to be no other. I tell you twice that he knew all about it, That you may not forget the worst of all Our tragedies begin with what we know. Could Norcross only not have known, I wonder How many would have blessed and envied him! Could he have had the usual eye for spots On others, and for none upon himself, I smile to ponder on the carriages That might as well as not have clogged the town In honor of his end. For there was gold, You see, though all he needed was a little, And what he gave said nothing of who gave it. He would have given it all if in return There might have been a more sufficient face To greet him when he shaved. Though you insist It is the dower, and always, of our degree Not to be cursed with such invidious insight, Remember that you stand, you and your fancy, Now in his house; and since we are together, See for yourself and tell me what you see. Tell me the best you see. Make a slight noise Of recognition when you find a book That you would not as lief read upside down As otherwise, for example. If there you fail, Observe the walls and lead me to the place, Where you are led. If there you meet a picture That holds you near it for a longer time Than you are sorry, you may call it yours, And hang it in the dark of your remembrance, Where Norcross never sees. How can he see That has no eyes to see? And as for music, He paid with empty wonder for the pangs Of his infrequent forced endurance of it; And having had no pleasure, paid no more For needless immolation, or for the sight Of those who heard what he was never to hear. To see them listening was itself enough To make him suffer; and to watch worn eyes, On other days, of strangers who forgot Their sorrows and their failures and themselves Before a few mysterious odds and ends Of marble carted from the Parthenon — And all for seeing what he was never to see, Because it was alive and he was dead — Here was a wonder that was more profound Than any that was in fiddles and brass horns.
"He knew, and in his knowledge there was death. He knew there was a region all around him That lay outside man's havoc and affairs, And yet was not all hostile to their tumult, Where poets would have served and honored him, And saved him, had there been anything to save. But there was nothing, and his tethered range Was only a small desert. Kings of song Are not for thrones in deserts. Towers of sound And flowers of sense are but a waste of heaven Where there is none to know them from the rocks And sand-grass of his own monotony That makes earth less than earth. He could see that, And he could see no more. The captured light That may have been or not, for all he cared, The song that is in sculpture was not his, But only, to his God-forgotten eyes, One more immortal nonsense in a world Where all was mortal, or had best be so, And so be done with. 'Art,' he would have said, 'Is not life, and must therefore be a lie;' And with a few profundities like that He would have controverted and dismissed The benefit of the Greeks. He had heard of them, As he had heard of his aspiring soul — Never to the perceptible advantage, In his esteem, of either. 'Faith,' he said, Or would have said if he had thought of it, 'Lives in the same house with Philosophy, Where the two feed on scraps and are forlorn As orphans after war. He could see stars, On a clear night, but he had not an eye To see beyond them. He could hear spoken words, But had no ear for silence when alone. He could eat food of which he knew the savor, But had no palate for the Bread of Life, That human desperation, to his thinking, Made famous long ago, having no other. Now do you see? Do you begin to see?"
I told him that I did begin to see; And I was nearer than I should have been To laughing at his malign inclusiveness, When I considered that, with all our speed, We are not laughing yet at funerals. I see him now as I could see him then, And I see now that it was good for me, As it was good for him, that I was quiet; For Time's eye was on Ferguson, and the shaft Of its inquiring hesitancy had touched him, Or so I chose to fancy more than once Before he told of Norcross. When the word Of his release (he would have called it so) Made half an inch of news, there were no tears That are recorded. Women there may have been To wish him back, though I should say, not knowing, The few there were to mourn were not for love, And were not lovely. Nothing of them, at least, Was in the meagre legend that I gathered Years after, when a chance of travel took me So near the region of his nativity That a few miles of leisure brought me there; For there I found a friendly citizen Who led me to his house among the trees That were above a railroad and a river. Square as a box and chillier than a tomb It was indeed, to look at or to live in — All which had I been told. "Ferguson died," The stranger said, "and then there was an auction. I live here, but I've never yet been warm. Remember him? Yes, I remember him. I knew him — as a man may know a tree — For twenty years. He may have held himself A little high when he was here, but now . . . Yes, I remember Ferguson. Oh, yes." Others, I found, remembered Ferguson, But none of them had heard of Tasker Norcross.
A Song at Shannon's
Two men came out of Shannon's having known The faces of each other for as long As they had listened there to an old song, Sung thinly in a wastrel monotone By some unhappy night-bird, who had flown Too many times and with a wing too strong To save himself, and so done heavy wrong To more frail elements than his alone.
Slowly away they went, leaving behind More light than was before them. Neither met The other's eyes again or said a word. Each to his loneliness or to his kind, Went his own way, and with his own regret, Not knowing what the other may have heard.
A vanished house that for an hour I knew By some forgotten chance when I was young Had once a glimmering window overhung With honeysuckle wet with evening dew. Along the path tall dusky dahlias grew, And shadowy hydrangeas reached and swung Ferociously; and over me, among The moths and mysteries, a blurred bat flew.
Somewhere within there were dim presences Of days that hovered and of years gone by. I waited, and between their silences There was an evanescent faded noise; And though a child, I knew it was the voice Of one whose occupation was to die.
We told of him as one who should have soared And seen for us the devastating light Whereof there is not either day or night, And shared with us the glamour of the Word That fell once upon Amos to record For men at ease in Zion, when the sight Of ills obscured aggrieved him and the might Of Hamath was a warning of the Lord.
Assured somehow that he would make us wise, Our pleasure was to wait; and our surprise Was hard when we confessed the dry return Of his regret. For we were still to learn That earth has not a school where we may go For wisdom, or for more than we may know.
Ten years together without yet a cloud, They seek each other's eyes at intervals Of gratefulness to firelight and four walls For love's obliteration of the crowd. Serenely and perennially endowed And bowered as few may be, their joy recalls No snake, no sword; and over them there falls The blessing of what neither says aloud.
Wiser for silence, they were not so glad Were she to read the graven tale of lines On the wan face of one somewhere alone; Nor were they more content could he have had Her thoughts a moment since of one who shines Apart, and would be hers if he had known.
The New Tenants
The day was here when it was his to know How fared the barriers he had built between His triumph and his enemies unseen, For them to undermine and overthrow; And it was his no longer to forego The sight of them, insidious and serene, Where they were delving always and had been Left always to be vicious and to grow.
And there were the new tenants who had come, By doors that were left open unawares, Into his house, and were so much at home There now that he would hardly have to guess, By the slow guile of their vindictiveness, What ultimate insolence would soon be theirs.
Although I saw before me there the face Of one whom I had honored among men The least, and on regarding him again Would not have had him in another place, He fitted with an unfamiliar grace The coffin where I could not see him then As I had seen him and appraised him when I deemed him unessential to the race.
For there was more of him than what I saw. And there was on me more than the old awe That is the common genius of the dead. I might as well have heard him: "Never mind; If some of us were not so far behind, The rest of us were not so far ahead."
As often as he let himself be seen We pitied him, or scorned him, or deplored The inscrutable profusion of the Lord Who shaped as one of us a thing so mean — Who made him human when he might have been A rat, and so been wholly in accord With any other creature we abhorred As always useless and not always clean.
Now he is hiding all alone somewhere, And in a final hole not ready then; For now he is among those over there Who are not coming back to us again. And we who do the fiction of our share Say less of rats and rather more of men.
Rahel to Varnhagen
Note. — Rahel Robert and Varnhagen von Ense were married, after many protestations on her part, in 1814. The marriage — so far as he was concerned, at any rate — appears to have been satisfactory.
Now you have read them all; or if not all, As many as in all conscience I should fancy To be enough. There are no more of them — Or none to burn your sleep, or to bring dreams Of devils. If these are not sufficient, surely You are a strange young man. I might live on Alone, and for another forty years, Or not quite forty, — are you happier now? — Always to ask if there prevailed elsewhere Another like yourself that would have held These aged hands as long as you have held them, Not once observing, for all I can see, How they are like your mother's. Well, you have read His letters now, and you have heard me say That in them are the cinders of a passion That was my life; and you have not yet broken Your way out of my house, out of my sight, — Into the street. You are a strange young man. I know as much as that of you, for certain; And I'm already praying, for your sake, That you be not too strange. Too much of that May lead you bye and bye through gloomy lanes To a sad wilderness, where one may grope Alone, and always, or until he feels Ferocious and invisible animals That wait for men and eat them in the dark. Why do you sit there on the floor so long, Smiling at me while I try to be solemn? Do you not hear it said for your salvation, When I say truth? Are you, at four and twenty, So little deceived in us that you interpret The humor of a woman to be noticed As her choice between you and Acheron? Are you so unscathed yet as to infer That if a woman worries when a man, Or a man-child, has wet shoes on his feet She may as well commemorate with ashes The last eclipse of her tranquillity? If you look up at me and blink again, I shall not have to make you tell me lies To know the letters you have not been reading. I see now that I may have had for nothing A most unpleasant shivering in my conscience When I laid open for your contemplation The wealth of my worn casket. If I did, The fault was not yours wholly. Search again This wreckage we may call for sport a face, And you may chance upon the price of havoc That I have paid for a few sorry stones That shine and have no light — yet once were stars, And sparkled on a crown. Little and weak They seem; and they are cold, I fear, for you. But they that once were fire for me may not Be cold again for me until I die; And only God knows if they may be then. There is a love that ceases to be love In being ourselves. How, then, are we to lose it? You that are sure that you know everything There is to know of love, answer me that. Well? . . . You are not even interested.
Once on a far off time when I was young, I felt with your assurance, and all through me, That I had undergone the last and worst Of love's inventions. There was a boy who brought The sun with him and woke me up with it, And that was every morning; every night I tried to dream of him, but never could, More than I might have seen in Adam's eyes Their fond uncertainty when Eve began The play that all her tireless progeny Are not yet weary of. One scene of it Was brief, but was eternal while it lasted; And that was while I was the happiest Of an imaginary six or seven, Somewhere in history but not on earth, For whom the sky had shaken and let stars Rain down like diamonds. Then there were clouds, And a sad end of diamonds; whereupon Despair came, like a blast that would have brought Tears to the eyes of all the bears in Finland, And love was done. That was how much I knew. Poor little wretch! I wonder where he is This afternoon. Out of this rain, I hope.
At last, when I had seen so many days Dressed all alike, and in their marching order, Go by me that I would not always count them, One stopped — shattering the whole file of Time, Or so it seemed; and when I looked again, There was a man. He struck once with his eyes, And then there was a woman. I, who had come To wisdom, or to vision, or what you like, By the old hidden road that has no name, — I, who was used to seeing without flying So much that others fly from without seeing, Still looked, and was afraid, and looked again. And after that, when I had read the story Told in his eyes, and felt within my heart The bleeding wound of their necessity, I knew the fear was his. If I had failed him And flown away from him, I should have lost Ingloriously my wings in scrambling back, And found them arms again. If he had struck me Not only with his eyes but with his hands, I might have pitied him and hated love, And then gone mad. I, who have been so strong — Why don't you laugh? — might even have done all that. I, who have learned so much, and said so much, And had the commendations of the great For one who rules herself — why don't you cry? — And own a certain small authority Among the blind, who see no more than ever, But like my voice, — I would have tossed it all To Tophet for one man; and he was jealous. I would have wound a snake around my neck And then have let it bite me till I died, If my so doing would have made me sure That one man might have lived; and he was jealous. I would have driven these hands into a cage That held a thousand scorpions, and crushed them, If only by so poisonous a trial I could have crushed his doubt. I would have wrung My living blood with mediaeval engines Out of my screaming flesh, if only that Would have made one man sure. I would have paid For him the tiresome price of body and soul, And let the lash of a tongue-weary town Fall as it might upon my blistered name; And while it fell I could have laughed at it, Knowing that he had found out finally Where the wrong was. But there was evil in him That would have made no more of his possession Than confirmation of another fault; And there was honor — if you call it honor That hoods itself with doubt and wears a crown Of lead that might as well be gold and fire. Give it as heavy or as light a name As any there is that fits. I see myself Without the power to swear to this or that That I might be if he had been without it. Whatever I might have been that I was not, It only happened that it wasn't so. Meanwhile, you might seem to be listening: If you forget yourself and go to sleep, My treasure, I shall not say this again. Look up once more into my poor old face, Where you see beauty, or the Lord knows what, And say to me aloud what else there is Than ruins in it that you most admire.
No, there was never anything like that; Nature has never fastened such a mask Of radiant and impenetrable merit On any woman as you say there is On this one. Not a mask? I thank you, sir, But you see more with your determination, I fear, than with your prudence or your conscience; And you have never met me with my eyes In all the mirrors I've made faces at. No, I shall never call you strange again: You are the young and inconvincible Epitome of all blind men since Adam. May the blind lead the blind, if that be so? And we shall need no mirrors? You are saying What most I feared you might. But if the blind, Or one of them, be not so fortunate As to put out the eyes of recollection, She might at last, without her meaning it, Lead on the other, without his knowing it, Until the two of them should lose themselves Among dead craters in a lava-field As empty as a desert on the moon. I am not speaking in a theatre, But in a room so real and so familiar That sometimes I would wreck it. Then I pause, Remembering there is a King in Weimar — A monarch, and a poet, and a shepherd Of all who are astray and are outside The realm where they should rule. I think of him, And save the furniture; I think of you, And am forlorn, finding in you the one To lavish aspirations and illusions Upon a faded and forsaken house Where love, being locked alone, was nigh to burning House and himself together. Yes, you are strange, To see in such an injured architecture Room for new love to live in. Are you laughing? No? Well, you are not crying, as you should be. Tears, even if they told only gratitude For your escape, and had no other story, Were surely more becoming than a smile For my unwomanly straightforwardness In seeing for you, through my close gate of years Your forty ways to freedom. Why do you smile? And while I'm trembling at my faith in you In giving you to read this book of danger That only one man living might have written — These letters, which have been a part of me So long that you may read them all again As often as you look into my face, And hear them when I speak to you, and feel them Whenever you have to touch me with your hand, — Why are you so unwilling to be spared? Why do you still believe in me? But no, I'll find another way to ask you that. I wonder if there is another way That says it better, and means anything. There is no other way that could be worse? I was not asking you; it was myself Alone that I was asking. Why do I dip For lies, when there is nothing in my well But shining truth, you say? How do you know? Truth has a lonely life down where she lives; And many a time, when she comes up to breathe, She sinks before we seize her, and makes ripples. Possibly you may know no more of me Than a few ripples; and they may soon be gone, Leaving you then with all my shining truth Drowned in a shining water; and when you look You may not see me there, but something else That never was a woman — being yourself. You say to me my truth is past all drowning, And safe with you for ever? You know all that? How do you know all that, and who has told you? You know so much that I'm an atom frightened Because you know so little. And what is this? You know the luxury there is in haunting The blasted thoroughfares of disillusion — If that's your name for them — with only ghosts For company? You know that when a woman Is blessed, or cursed, with a divine impatience (Another name of yours for a bad temper) She must have one at hand on whom to wreak it (That's what you mean, whatever the turn you give it), Sure of a kindred sympathy, and thereby Effect a mutual calm? You know that wisdom, Given in vain to make a food for those Who are without it, will be seen at last, And even at last only by those who gave it, As one or more of the forgotten crumbs That others leave? You know that men's applause And women's envy savor so much of dust That I go hungry, having at home no fare But the same changeless bread that I may swallow Only with tears and prayers? Who told you that? You know that if I read, and read alone, Too many books that no men yet have written, I may go blind, or worse? You know yourself, Of all insistent and insidious creatures, To be the one to save me, and to guard For me their flaming language? And you know That if I give much headway to the whim That's in me never to be quite sure that even Through all those years of storm and fire I waited For this one rainy day, I may go on, And on, and on alone, through smoke and ashes, To a cold end? You know so dismal much As that about me? . . . Well, I believe you do.