TOWARD THE GULF
EDGAR LEE MASTERS
TOWARD THE GULF THE LAKE BOATS CITIES OF THE PLAIN EXCLUDED MIDDLE SAMUEL BUTLER, ET AL JOHNNY APPLESEED THE LOOM DIALOGUE AT PERKO'S SIR GALAHAD ST. DESERET HEAVEN IS BUT THE HOUR VICTOR RAFOLSKI ON ART THE LANDSCAPE TO-MORROW IS MY BIRTHDAY SWEET CLOVER SOMETHING BEYOND THE HILL FRONT THE AGES WITH A SMILE POOR PIERROT MIRAGE OF THE DESERT DAHLIAS THE GRAND RIVER MARSHES DELILAH THE WORLD-SAVER RECESSIONAL THE AWAKENING IN THE GARDEN AT THE DAWN HOUR FRANCE BERTRAND AND GOURGAUD TALK OVER OLD TIMES DRAW THE SWORD, O REPUBLIC DEAR OLD DICK THE ROOM OF MIRRORS THE LETTER CANTICLE OF THE RACE BLACK EAGLE RETURNS TO ST. JOE MY LIGHT WITH YOURS THE BLIND "I PAY MY DEBT FOR LAFAYETTE AND ROCHAMBEAU" CHRISTMAS AT INDIAN POINT WIDOW LA RUE DR. SCUDDER'S CLINICAL LECTURE FRIAR YVES THE EIGHTH CRUSADE THE BISHOP'S DREAM OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE NEANDERTHAL THE END OF THE SEARCH BOTANICAL GARDENS
TO WILLIAM MARION REEDY
It would have been fitting had I dedicated Spoon River Anthology to you. Considerations of an intimate nature, not to mention a literary encouragement which was before yours, crowded you from the page. Yet you know that it was you who pressed upon my attention in June, 1909, the Greek Anthology. It was from contemplation of its epitaphs that my hand unconsciously strayed to the sketches of "Hod Putt," "Serepta The Scold" ("Serepta Mason" in the book), "Amanda Barker" ("Amanda" in the book), "Ollie McGee" and "The Unknown," the first written and the first printed sketches of The Spoon River Anthology. The Mirror of May 29th, 1914, is their record.
I take one of the epigrams of Meleager with its sad revealment and touch of irony and turn it from its prose form to a verse form, making verses according to the breath pauses:
"The holy night and thou, O Lamp, we took as witness of our vows; and before thee we swore, he that would love me always and I that I would never leave him. We swore, and thou wert witness of our double promise. But now he says that our vows were written on the running waters. And thou, O Lamp, thou seest him in the arms of another."
In verse this epigram is as follows:
The holy night and thou, O Lamp, We took as witness of our vows; And before thee we swore, He that would love me always And I that I would never leave him. We swore, And thou wert witness of our double promise. But now he says that our vows were written on the running waters. And thou, O Lamp, Thou seest him in the arms of another.
It will be observed that iambic feet prevail in this translation. They merely become noticeable and imperative when arranged in verses. But so it is, even in the briefest and starkest rendering of these epigrams from the Greek the humanism and dignity of the original transfer themselves, making something, if less than verse, yet more than prose; as Byron said of Sheridan's speeches, neither poetry nor oratory, but better than either. It was no difficult matter to pass from Chase Henry:
"In life I was the town drunkard. When I died the priest denied me burial In holy ground, etc."
to the use of standard measures, or rhythmical arrangements of iambics or what not, and so to make a book, which for the first third required a practiced voice or eye to yield the semblance of verse; and for the last two-thirds, or nearly so, accommodated itself to the less sensitive conception of the average reader. The prosody was allowed to take care of itself under the emotional requirements and inspiration of the moment. But there is nothing new in English literature for some hundreds of years in combinations of dactyls, anapests or trochees, and without rhyme. Nor did I discover to the world that an iambic pentameter can be lopped to a tetrameter without the verse ceasing to be an iambic; though it be no longer the blank verse which has so ennobled English poetry. A great deal of unrhymed poetry is yet to be written in the various standard rhythms and in carefully fashioned metres.
But obviously a formal resuscitation of the Greek epigrams, ironical and tender, satirical and sympathetic, as casual experiments in unrelated themes would scarcely make the same appeal that an epic rendition of modern life would do, and as it turned out actually achieved.
The response of the American press to Spoon River Anthology during the summer of 1914 while it was appearing in the Mirror is my warrant for saying this. It was quoted and parodied during that time in the country and in the metropolitan newspapers. Current Opinion in its issue of September, 1914, reproduced from the Mirror some of the poems. Though at this time the schematic effect of the Anthology could not be measured, Edward J. Wheeler, that devoted patron of the art and discriminating critic of its manifestations, was attracted, I venture to say, by the substance of "Griffy, The Cooper," for that is one of the poems from the Anthology which he set forth in his column "The Voice of Living Poets" in the issue referred to. Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, followed in its issue of October, 1914, with a reprinting from the Mirror. In a word, the Anthology went the rounds over the country before it was issued in book form. And a reception was thus prepared for the complete work not often falling to the lot of a literary production. I must not omit an expression of my gratitude for the very high praise which John Cowper Powys bestowed on the Anthology just before it appeared in book form and the publicity which was given his lecture by the New York Times. Nathan Haskell Dole printed an article in the Boston Transcript of June 30, 1915, in which he contrasted the work with the Greek Anthology, pointing in particular to certain epitaphs by Carphylides, Kallaischros and Pollianos. The critical testimony of Miss Harriet Monroe in her editorial comments and in her preface to "The New Poetry" has greatly strengthened the judgment of to-day against a reversal at the hands of a later criticism.
This response to the Anthology while it was appearing in the Mirror and afterwards when put in the book was to nothing so much as to the substance. It was accepted as a picture of our life in America. It was interpreted as a transcript of the state of mind of men and women here and elsewhere. You called it a Comedy Humaine in your announcement of my identity as the author in the Mirror of November 20, 1914. If the epitaphic form gave added novelty I must confess that the idea was suggested to me by the Greek Anthology. But it was rather because of the Greek Anthology than from it that I evolved the less harmonious epitaphs with which Spoon River Anthology was commenced. As to metrical epitaphs it is needless to say that I drew upon the legitimate materials of authentic English versification. Up to the Spring of 1914, I had never allowed a Spring to pass without reading Homer; and I feel that this familiarity had its influence both as to form and spirit; but I shall not take the space now to pursue this line of confessional.
What is the substance of which I have spoken if it be not the life around us as we view it through eyes whose vision lies in heredity, mode of life, understanding of ourselves and of our place and time? You have lived much. As a critic and a student of the country no one understands America better than you do. As a denizen of the west, but as a surveyor of the east and west you have brought to the country's interpretation a knowledge of its political and literary life as well as a proficiency in the history of other lands and other times. You have seen and watched the unfolding of forces that sprang up after the Civil War. Those forces mounted in the eighties and exploded in free silver in 1896. They began to hit through the directed marksmanship of Theodore Roosevelt during his second term. You knew at first hand all that went with these forces of human hope, futile or valiant endeavor, articulate or inarticulate expression of the new birth. You saw and lived, but in greater degree, what I have seen and lived. And with this back-ground you inspired and instructed me in my analysis. Standing by you confirmed or corrected my sculpturing of the clay taken out of the soil from which we both came. You did this with an eye familiar with the secrets of the last twenty years, familiar also with the relation of those years to the time which preceded and bore them.
So it is, that not only because I could not dedicate Spoon River to you, but for the larger reasons indicated, am I impelled to do you whatever honor there may be in taking your name for this book. By this outline confession, sometime perhaps to be filled in, do I make known what your relation is to these interpretations of mine resulting from a spirit, life, thought, environment which have similarly come to us and have similarly affected us.
I call this book "Toward the Gulf," a title importing a continuation of the attempts of Spoon River and The Great Valley to mirror the age and the country in which we live. It does not matter which one of these books carries your name and makes these acknowledgments; so far, anyway, as the opportunity is concerned for expressing my appreciation of your friendship and the great esteem and affectionate interest in which I hold you.
EDGAR LEE MASTERS.
The following poems were first printed in the publications indicated:
Toward the Gulf, The Lake Boats, The Loom, Tomorrow is my Birthday, Dear Old Dick, The Letter, My Light with Yours, Widow LaRue, Neanderthal, in Reedy's Mirror.
Draw the Sword, Oh Republic, in the Independent.
Canticle of the Race, in Poetry, a Magazine of Verse.
Friar Yves, in the Cosmopolitan Magazine.
"I pay my debt for Lafayette and Rochambeau," in Fashions of the Hour.
TOWARD THE GULF
Dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt
From the Cordilleran Highlands, From the Height of Land Far north. From the Lake of the Woods, From Rainy Lake, From Itasca's springs. From the snow and the ice Of the mountains, Breathed on by the sun, And given life, Awakened by kisses of fire, Moving, gliding as brightest hyaline Down the cliffs, Down the hills, Over the stones. Trickling as rills; Swiftly running as mountain brooks; Swirling through runnels of rock; Curving in sphered silence Around the long worn walls of granite gorges; Storming through chasms; And flowing for miles in quiet over the Titan basin To the muddled waters of the mighty river, Himself obeying the call of the gulf, And the unfathomed urge of the sea!
* * * * *
Waters of mountain peaks, Spirits of liberty Leaving your pure retreats For work in the world. Soiling your crystal springs With the waste that is whirled to your breast as you run, Until you are foul as the crawling leviathan That devours you, And uses you to carry waste and earth For the making of land at the gulf, For the conquest of land for the feet of men.
* * * * *
De Soto, Marquette and La Salle Planting your cross in vain, Gaining neither gold nor ivory, Nor tribute For France or Spain. Making land alone For liberty! You could proclaim in the name of the cross The dominion of kings over a world that was new. But the river has altered its course: There are fertile fields For a thousand miles where the river flowed that you knew. And there are liberty and democracy For thousands of miles Where in the name of kings, and for the cross You tramped the tangles for treasure.
* * * * *
The Falls of St. Anthony tumble the waters In laughter and tumult and roaring of voices, Swirling, dancing, leaping, foaming, Spirits of caverns, of canyons and gorges: Waters tinctured by star-lights, sweetened by breezes Blown over snows, out of the rosy northlands, Through forests of pine and hemlock, Whisperings of the Pacific grown symphonic. Voices of freedom, restless, unconquered, Mad with divinity, fearless and free:— Hunters and choppers, warriors, revelers, Laughers, dancers, fiddlers, freemen, Climbing the crests of the Alleghenies, Singing, chopping, hunting, fighting Erupting into Kentucky and Tennessee, Into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Sweeping away the waste of the Indians, As the river carries mud for the making of land. And taking the land of Illinois from kings And handing its allegiance to the Republic. What riflemen with Daniel Boone for leader, And conquerors with Clark for captain Plunge down like melted snows The rocks and chasms of forbidden mountains, And make more land for freemen! Clear-eyed, hard-muscled, dauntless hunters, Choppers of forests and tillers of fields Meet at last in a field of snow-white clover To make wise laws for states, And to teach their sons of the new West That suffrage is the right of freemen. Until the lion of Tennessee, Who crushes king-craft near the gulf. Where La Salle proclaimed the crown, And the cross, Is made the ruler of the republic By freeman suffragans, And winners of the West!
* * * * *
Father of Waters! Ever recurring symbol of wider freedom, Even to the ocean girdled earth, The out-worn rule of Florida rots your domain. But the lion of Tennessee asks: Would you take from Spain The land she has lost but in name? It shall be done in a month if you loose my sword. It was done as he said. And the sick and drunken power of Spain that clung, And sucked at the life of Chile, Peru, Argentina, Loosened under the blows of San Martin and Bolivar, Breathing the lightning thrown by Napoleon the Great On the thrones of Europe. Father of Waters! 'twas you who made us say: No kings this side of the earth forever! One-half of the earth shall be free By our word and the might that is back of our word!
* * * * *
The falls of St. Anthony tumble the waters In laughter and tumult and roaring of voices! And the river moves in its winding channel toward the gulf, Over the breast of De Soto, By the swamp grave of La Salle! The old days sleep, the lion of Tennessee sleeps With Daniel Boone and the hunters, The rifle men, the revelers, The laughers and dancers and choppers Who climbed the crests of the Alleghenies, And poured themselves into Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, the bountiful West. But the river never sleeps, the river flows forever, Making land forever, reclaiming the wastes of the sea. And the race never sleeps, the race moves on forever. And wars must come, as the waters must sweep away Drift-wood, dead wood, choking the strength of the river— For Liberty never sleeps!
* * * * *
The lion of Tennessee sleeps! And over the graves of the hunters and choppers The tramp of troops is heard! There is war again, O, Father of Waters! There is war, O, symbol of freedom! They have chained your giant strength for the cause Of trade in men. But a man of the West, a denizen of your shore, Wholly American, Compact, clear-eyed, nerved like a hunter, Who knew no faster beat of the heart, Except in charity, forgiveness, peace; Generous, plain, democratic, Scarcely appraising himself at full, A spiritual rifleman and chopper, Of the breed of Daniel Boone— This man, your child, O, Father of Waters, Waked from the winter sleep of a useless day By the rising sun of a Freedom bright and strong, Slipped like the loosened snows of your mountain streams Into a channel of fate as sure as your own— A fate which said: till the thing be done Turn not back nor stop. Ulysses of the great Atlantis, Wholly American, Patient, silent, tireless, watchful, undismayed Grant at Fort Donelson, Grant at Vicksburg, Leading the sons of choppers and riflemen, Pushing on as the hunters and farmers Poured from the mountains into the West, Freed you, Father of Waters, To flow to the Gulf and be one With the earth-engirdled tides of time. And gave us states made ready for the hands Wholly American: Hunters, choppers, tillers, fighters For epochs vast and new In Truth, in Liberty, Posters from land to land and sea to sea Till all the earth be free!
* * * * *
Ulysses of the great Atlantis, Dream not of disaster, Sleep the sleep of the brave In your couch afar from the Father of Waters! A new Ulysses arises, Who turns not back, nor stops Till the thing is done. He cuts with one stroke of the sword The stubborn neck that keeps the Gulf And the Caribbean From the luring Pacific. Roosevelt the hunter, the pioneer, Wholly American, Winner of greater wests Till all the earth be free!
* * * * *
And forever as long as the river flows toward the Gulf Ulysses reincarnate shall come To guard our places of sleep, Till East and West shall be one in the west of heaven and earth!
* * * * *
In an old print I see a thicket of masts on the river. But in the prints to be There will be lake boats, With port holes, funnels, rows of decks, Huddled like swans by the docks, Under the shadows of cliffs of brick. And who will know from the prints to be, When the Albatross and the Golden Eagle, The flying craft which shall carry the vision Of impatient lovers wounded by Spring To the shaded rivers of Michigan, That it was the Missouri, the Iowa, And the City of Benton Harbor Which lay huddled like swans by the docks?
You are not Lake Leman, Walled in by Mt. Blanc. One sees the whole world round you, And beyond you, Lake Michigan. And when the melodious winds of March Wrinkle you and drive on the shore The serpent rifts of sand and snow, And sway the giant limbs of oaks, Longing to bud, The boats put forth for the ports that began to stir, With the creak of reels unwinding the nets, And the ring of the caulking wedge. But in the June days— The Alabama ploughs through liquid tons Of sapphire waves. She sinks from hills to valleys of water, And rises again, Like a swimming gull! I wish a hundred years to come, and forever All lovers could know the rapture Of the lake boats sailing the first Spring days To coverts of hepatica, With the whole world sphering round you, And the whole of the sky beyond you.
I knew the captain of the City of Grand Rapids. He had sailed the seas as a boy. And he stood on deck against the railing Puffing a cigar, Showing in his eyes the cinema flash of the sun on the waves. It was June and life was easy. ... One could lie on deck and sleep, Or sit in the sun and dream. People were walking the decks and talking, Children were singing. And down on the purser's deck A man was dancing by himself, Whirling around like a dervish. And this captain said to me: "No life is better than this. I could live forever, And do nothing but run this boat From the dock at Chicago to the dock at Holland And back again."
One time I went to Grand Haven On the Alabama with Charley Shippey. It was dawn, but white dawn only, Under the reign of Leucothea, As we volplaned, so it seemed, from the lake Past the lighthouse into the river. And afterward laughing and talking Hurried to Van Dreezer's restaurant For breakfast. (Charley knew him and talked of things Unknown to me as he cooked the breakfast.) Then we fished the mile's length of the pier In a gale full of warmth and moisture Which blew the gulls about like confetti, And flapped like a flag the linen duster Of a fisherman who paced the pier— (Charley called him Rip Van Winkle). The only thing that could be better Than this day on the pier Would be its counterpart in heaven, As Swedenborg would say— Charley is fishing somewhere now, I think.
There is a grove of oaks on a bluff by the river At Berrien Springs. There is a cottage that eyes the lake Between pines and silver birches At South Haven. There is the inviolable wonder of wooded shore Curving for miles at Saugatuck. And at Holland a beach like Scheveningen's. And at Charlevoix the sudden quaintness Of an old-world place by the sea. There are the hills around Elk Lake Where the blue of the sky is so still and clear It seems it was rubbed above them By the swipe of a giant thumb. And beyond these the little Traverse Bay Where the roar of the breeze goes round Like a roulette ball in the groove of the wheel, Circling the bay, And beyond these Mackinac and the Cheneaux Islands— And beyond these a great mystery!—
Neither ice floes, nor winter's palsy Stays the tide in the river.
And under the shadows of cliffs of brick The lake boats Huddled like swans Turn and sigh like sleepers—— They are longing for the Spring!
CITIES OF THE PLAIN
Where are the cabalists, the insidious committees, The panders who betray the idiot cities For miles and miles toward the prairie sprawled, Ignorant, soul-less, rich, Smothered in fumes of pitch?
* * * * *
Rooms of mahogany in tall sky scrapers See the unfolding and the folding up Of ring-clipped papers, And letters which keep drugged the public cup. The walls hear whispers and the semi-tones Of voices in the corner, over telephones Muffled by Persian padding, gemmed with brass spittoons. Butts of cigars are on the glass topped table, And through the smoke, gracing the furtive Babel, The bishop's picture blesses the picaroons, Who start or stop the life of millions moving Unconscious of obedience, the plastic Yielders to satanic and dynastic Hands of reproaching and approving.
* * * * *
Here come knights armed, But with their arms concealed, And rubber heeled. Here priests and wavering want are charmed. And shadows fall here like the shark's In messages received or sent. Signals are flying from the battlement. And every president Of rail, gas, coal and oil, the parks, The receipt of custom knows, without a look, Their meaning as the code is in no book. The treasonous cracksmen of the city's wealth Watch for the flags of stealth!
* * * * *
Acres of coal lie fenced along the tracks. Tracks ribbon the streets, and beneath the streets Wires for voices, fire, thwart the plebiscites, And choke the counsels and symposiacs Of dreamers who have pity for the backs That bear and bleed. All things are theirs: tracks, wires, streets and coal, The church's creed, The city's soul, The city's sea girt loveliness, The merciless and meretricious press.
* * * * *
Far up in a watch-tower, where the news is printed, Gray faces and bright eyes, weary and cynical Discuss fresh wonders of the old cabal. But nothing of its work in type is hinted: Taxes are high! The mentors of the town Must keep their taxes down On buildings, presses, stocks In gas, oil, coal and docks. The mahogany rooms conceal a spider man Who holds the taxing bodies through the church, And knights with arms concealed. The mentors search The spider man, the master publican, And for his friendship silence keep, Letting him herd the populace like sheep For self and for the insatiable desires Of coal and tracks and wires, Pick judges, legislators, And tax-gatherers. Or name his favorites, whom they name: The slick and sinistral, Servitors of the cabal, For praise which seems the equivalent of fame: Giving to the delicate handed crackers Of priceless safes, the spiritual slackers, The flash and thunder of front pages! And the gulled millions stare and fling their wages Where they are bidden, helpless and emasculate. And the unilluminate, Whose brows are brass, Who weep on every Sabbath day For Jesus riding on an ass, Scarce know the ass is they, Now ridden by his effigy, The publican with Jesus' painted mask, Along a way where fumes of odorless gas First spur then fell them from the task.
* * * * *
Through the parade runs swift the psychic cackle Like thorns beneath a boiling pot that crackle. And the angels say to Yahveh looking down From the alabaster railing, on the town, O, cackle, cackle, cackle, crack and crack We wish we had our little Sodom back!
Out of the mercury shimmer of glass Over these daguerreotypes The balloon-like spread of a skirt of silk emerges With its little figure of flowers. And the enameled glair of parted hair Lies over the oval brow, From under which eyes of fiery blackness Look through you. And the only repose of spirit shown Is in the hands Lying loosely one in the other, Lightly clasped somewhat below the breast. ... And in the companion folder of this case Of gutta percha Is the shape of a man. His brow is oval too, but broader. His nose is long, but thick at the tip. His eyes are blue Wherein faith burns her signal lights, And flashes her convictions. His mouth is tense, almost a slit. And his face is a massive Calvinism Resting on a stock tie.
They were married, you see. The clasp on this gutta percha case Locks them together. They were locked together in life. And a hasp of brass Keeps their shadows face to face in the case Which has been handed down— (The pictures of noble ancestors, Showing what strains of gentle blood Flow in the third generation)— From Massachusetts to Illinois. ...
Long ago it was over for them, Massachusetts has done its part, She raised the seed And a wind blew it over to Illinois Where it has mixed, multiplied, mutated Until one soul comes forth: But a soul all striped and streaked, And a soul self-crossed and self-opposed, As it were a tree which on one branch Bears northern spies, And on another thorn apples. ...
Come Weissmann, Von Baer and Schleiden, And you Buffon and De Vries, Come with your secrets of sea shore asters Night-shade, henbanes, gloxinias, Veronicas, snap-dragons, Danebrog, And show us how they cross and change, And become hybrids. And show us what heredity is, And how it works. For the secret of these human beings Locked in this gutta percha case Is the secret of Mephistos and red Campions.
Let us lay out the facts as far as we can. Her eyes were black, His eyes were blue. She saw through shadows, walls and doors, She knew life and hungered for more. But he lived in the mists, and climbed to high places To feel clouds about his face, and get the lights Of supernal sun-sets. She was reason, and he was faith. She had an illumination, but of the intellect. And he had an illumination but of the soul. And she saw God as merciless law, And he knew God as divine love. And she was a man, and he in part was a woman. He stood in a pulpit and preached the Christ, And the remission of sins by blood, And the literal fall of man through Adam, And the mystical and actual salvation of man Through the coming of Christ.
And she sat in a pew shading her great eyes To hide her scorn for it all. She was crucified, And raged to the last like the impenitent thief Against the fate which wasted and trampled down Her wisdom, sagacity, versatile skill, Which would have piled up gold or honors For a mate who knew that life is growth, And health, and the satisfaction of wants, And place and reputation and mansion houses, And mahogany and silver, And beautiful living. She hated him, and hence she pitied him. She was like the gardener with great pruners Deciding to clip, sometimes not clipping Just for the dread. She had married him—but why? Some inscrutable air Wafted his pollen to her across a wide garden— Some power had crossed them. And here is the secret I think: (As we would say here is electricity) It is the vibration inhering in sex That produces devils or angels, And it is the sex reaction in men and women That brings forth devils or angels, And starts in them the germs of powers or passions, Becoming loves, ferocities, gifts and weaknesses, Till the stock dies out. So now for their hybrid children:— She gave birth to four daughters and one son.
But first what have we for the composition of these daughters? Reason opposed and becoming keener therefor. Faith mocked and drawing its mantel closer. Love thwarted and becoming acid. Hatred mounting too high and thinning into pity. Hunger for life unappeased and becoming a stream under-ground Where only blind things swim. God year by year removing himself to remoter thrones Of inexorable law. God coming closer even while disease And total blindness came between him and God And defeated the mercy of God. And a love and a trust growing deeper in him As she in great thirst, hanging on the cross, Mocked his crucifixion, And talked philosophy between the spasms of pain, Till at last she is all satirist, And he is all saint.
And all the children were raised After the strictest fashion in New England, And made to join the church, And attend its services. And these were the children:
Janet was a religious fanatic and a virago, She debated religion with her husband for ten years, Then he refused to talk, and for twenty years Scarcely spoke to her. She died a convert to Catholicism. They had two children: The boy became a forgerer Of notorious skill. The daughter married, but was barren.
Miranda married a rich man And spent his money so fast that he failed. She lashed him with a scorpion tongue And made him believe at last With her incessant reasonings That he was a fool, and so had failed. In middle life he started over again, But became tangled in a law-suit. Because of these things he killed himself.
Louise was a nymphomaniac. She was married twice. Both husbands fled from her insatiable embraces. At thirty-two she became a woman on a telephone list, Subject to be called, And for two years ran through a daily orgy of sex, When blindness came on her, as it came on her father before her, And she became a Christian Scientist, And led an exemplary life.
Deborah was a Puritan of Puritans, Her list of unmentionable things Tabooed all the secrets of creation, Leaving politics, religion, and human faults, And the mistakes most people make, And the natural depravity of man, And his freedom to redeem himself if he chooses, As the only subjects of conversation. As a twister of words and meanings, And a skilled welder of fallacies, And a swift emerger from ineluctable traps of logic, And a wit with an adder's tongue, And a laugher, And an unafraid facer of enemies, Oppositions, hatreds, She never knew her equal. She was at once very cruel, and very tender, Very selfish and very generous Very little and very magnanimous. Scrupulous as to the truth, and utterly disregardless of the truth.
Of the keenest intuitions, yet gullible, Easily used at times, of erratic judgment, Analytic but pursuing with incredible swiftness The falsest trails to her own undoing— All in all the strangest mixture of colors and scent Derived from father and mother, But mixed by whom, and how, and why?
Now for the son named Herman, rebel soul. His brow was like a loaf of bread, his eyes Turned from his father's blue to gray, his nose Was like his mother's, skin was dark like hers. His shapely body, hands and feet belonged To some patrician face, not to Marat's. And his was like Marat's, fanatical, Materialistic, fierce, as it might guide A reptile's crawl, but yet he crawled to peaks Loving the hues of mists, but not the mists His father loved. And being a rebel soul He thought the world all wrong. A nothingness Moving as malice marred the life of man. 'Twas man's great work to fight this Giant Fraud, And all who praise and serve Him. 'Tis for man To free the world from error, suffer, die For liberty of thought. You see his mother Is in possession of one part of him, Or all of him for some time.
So he lives Nursing the dream (like father he's a dreamer) That genius fires him. All the while a gift For analytics stored behind that brow, That bulges like a loaf of bread, is all Of which he well may boast above the man He hates as but a slave of faith and fear. He feeds luxurious doubt with Omar Khyam, But for long years neglects the jug of wine. And as for "thou" he does not wake for years, Is a pure maiden when he weds, the grains Run counter in him, end in knots at times. He takes from father certain tastes and traits, From mother certain others, one can see His mother's sex re-actions to his father, Not passed to him to make him celibate, But holding back in sleeping passions which Burst over bounds at last in lust, not love. Not love since that great engine in the brow Tears off the irised wings of love and bares The poor worm's body where the wings had been: What is it but desire? Such stuff in rhyme In music over what is but desire, And ends when that is satisfied!
He's a crank. And follows all the psychic thrills which run To cackles o'er the world. It's Looking Backward, Or Robert Elsmere, Spencer's Social Statics, It's socialism, Anarchism, Peace, It's non-resistance with a swelling heart, As who should say how truer to the faith Of Jesus am I, without hope or faith, Than churchmen. He's a prohibitionist, The poor's protagonist, the knight at arms Of fallen women, yelling at the rich Whose wicked greed makes all the prostitutes— No prostitutes without the wicked rich! But as he ages, as the bitter days Approach with perorations: O ye vipers, The engine in him changes all the world, Reverses all the wheels of thought behind. For Nietzsche comes, and makes him superman. He dumps the truth of Jesus over—there It lies with his youth's textual skepticism, And laughter at the supernatural.
Now what's the motivating principle Of such a mind? In youth he sought for rules Wherewith to trail and capture truths. He found it In James McCosh's Logic, it was this: Lex Exclusi Tertii aut Medii, Law of Excluded Middle speaking plain: A thing is true, or not true, never a third Hypothesis, so God is or is not. That's very good to start with, how to end And how to know which of the two is false— He hunted out the false, as mother did— Requires a tool. He found it in this book, Reductio ad absurdum; let us see Excluded middle use reductio. God is or God is not, but then what God? Excluded Middle never sought a God To suffer demolition at his hands Except the God of Illinois, the God Grown but a little with his followers Since Moses lived and Peter fished. So now God is or God is not. Let us assume God is and use reductio ad absurdum, Taking away the rotten props, the posts That do not fit or hold, and let Him fall. For if he falls, the other postulate That God is not is demonstrated. See A universe of truth pass on the way Cleared by Excluded Middle through the stuff Of thought and visible things, a way that lets A greater God escape, uncaught by all The nippers of reductio ad absurdum. But to resume his argument was this: God is or God is not, but if God is Why pestilence and war, earthquake and famine? He either wills them, or cannot prevent them, But if he wills them God is evil, if He can't prevent them, he is limited.
But God, you say, is good, omnipotent, And here I prove Him evil, or too weak To stay the evil. Having shown your God Lacking in what makes God, the proposition Which I oppose to this, that God is not Stands proven. For as evil is most clear In sickness, pain and death, it cannot be There is a Power with strength to overcome them, Yet suffers them to be.
And so this man Went through the years of life, and stripped the fields Of beauty and of thought with mandibles Insatiable as the locust's, which devours A season's care and labor in an hour. He stripped these fields and ate them, but they made No meat or fat for him. And so he lived On his own thought, as starving men may live On stored up fat. And so in time he starved. The thought in him no longer fed his life, And he had withered up the outer world Of man and nature, stripped it to the bone, Nothing but skull and cross-bones greeted him Wherever he turned—the world became a bottle Filled with a bitter essence he could drink From long accustomed doses—labeled poison And marked with skull and cross-bones. Could he laugh As mother laughed? No more! He tried to find The mother's laugh and secret for the laugh Which kept her to the end—but did she laugh? Or if she laughed, was it so hollow, forced As all his laughter now was. He had proved Too much for laughter. Nothing but himself Remained to keep himself, he lived alone Upon his stored up fat, now daily growing To dangerous thinness.
So with love of woman. He had found "thou" the jug of wine as well, "Thou" "thou" had come and gone too many times. For what is sex but touch of flesh, the hand Is flesh and hands may touch, if so, the loins— Reductio ad absurdum, O you fools, Who see a wrong in touch of loins, no wrong In clasp of hands. And so again, again With his own tools of thought he bruised his hands Until they grew too callous to perceive When they were touched.
So by analysis He turned on everything he once believed. Let's make an end!
Men thought Excluded Middle Was born for great things. Why that bulging brow And analytic keen if not for greatness?
In those old days they thought so when he fought For lofty things, a youthful radical Come here to change the world! But now at last He lectures in back halls to youths who are What he was in his youth, to acid souls Who must have bitterness, can take enough To kill a healthy soul, as fiends for dope Must have enough to kill a body clean. And so upon a night Excluded Middle Is lecturing to prove that life is evil, Not worth the living—when his auditors Behold him pale and sway and take his seat, And later quit the hall, the lecture left Half finished.
This had happened in a twinkling: He had made life a punching bag, with fists, Excluded Middle and Reductio, Had whacked it back and forth. But just as often As he had struck it with an argument That it is not worth living, snap, the bag Would fly back for another punch. For life Just like a punching bag will stand your whacks Of hatred and denial, let you punch Almost at will. But sometime, like the bag, The strap gives way, the bag flies up and falls And lies upon the floor, you've knocked it out. And this is what Excluded Middle does This night, the strap breaks with his blows. He proves His strength, his case and for the first he sees Life is not worth the living. Life gives up, Resists no more, flys back no more to him, But hits the ceiling, snap the strap gives way! The bag falls to the floor, and lies there still— Who now shall pick it up, re-fasten it? And so his color fades, it well may be The crisis of a long neurosis, well What caused it? But his eyes are wondrous clear Perceiving life knocked out. His heart is sick, He takes his seat, admiring friends swarm round him, Conduct him to a carriage, he goes home And sitting by the fire (O what is fire? The miracle of fire dawns on his thought, Fire has been near him all these years unseen, How wonderful is fire!) which warms and soothes Neuritic pains, he takes the rubber case Which locks the images of father, mother. And as he stares upon the oval brow, The eyes of blue which flash the light of faith, Preserved like dendrites in this silver shimmer, Some spectral speculations fill his brain, Float like a storm above the sorry wreck Of all his logic tools, machines; for now Since pains in back and shoulder like to father's Fall to him at the age that father had them, Father has entered him, has settled down To live with him with those neuritic pangs. Thus are his speculations. Over all How comes it that a sudden feel of life, Its wonder, terror, beauty is like father's? As if the soul of father entered in him And made the field of consciousness his own, Emotions, powers of thought his instruments. That is a horrible atavism, when You find yourself reverting to a soul You have not loved, despite yourself becoming That other soul, and with an out-worn self Crying for burial on your hands, a life Not yours till now that waits your new found powers— Live now or die indeed!
SAMUEL BUTLER ET AL.
Let me consider your emergence From the milieu of our youth: We have played all the afternoon, grown hungry. No meal has been prepared, where have you been? Toward sun's decline we see you down the path, And run to meet you, and perhaps you smile, Or take us in your arms. Perhaps again You look at us, say nothing, are absorbed, Or chide us for our dirty frocks or faces. Of running wild without our meals You do not speak.
Then in the house, seized with a sudden joy, After removing gloves and hat, you run, As with a winged descending flight, and cry, Half song, half exclamation, Seize one of us, Crush one of us with mad embraces, bite Ears of us in a rapture of affection. "You shall have supper," then you say. The stove lids rattle, wood's poked in the fire, The kettle steams, pots boil, by seven o'clock We sit down to a meal of hodge-podge stuff. I understand now how your youth and spirits Fought back the drabness of the village, And wonder not you spent the afternoons With such bright company as Eugenia Turner— And I forgive you hunger, loneliness.
But when we asked you where you'd been, Complained of loneliness and hunger, spoke of children Who lived in order, sat down thrice a day To cream and porridge, bread and meat. We think to corner you—alas for us! Your anger flashes swords! Reasons pour out Like anvil sparks to justify your way: "Your father's always gone—you selfish children, You'd have me in the house from morn till night." You put us in the wrong—our cause is routed. We turn to bed unsatisfied in mind, You've overwhelmed us, not convinced us. Our sense of wrong defeat breeds resolution To whip you out when minds grow strong.
Up in the moon-lit room without a light, (The lamps have not been filled,) We crawl in unmade beds. We leave you pouring over paper backs. We peek above your shoulder. It is "The Lady in White" you read. Next morning you are dead for sleep, You've sat up more than half the night. We have been playing hours when you arise, It's nine o'clock when breakfast's served at last, When school days come I'm always late to school.
Shy, hungry children scuffle at your door, Eye through the crack, maybe, at nine o'clock, Find father has returned during the night. You are all happiness, his idlest word Provokes your laughter. He shows us rolls of precious money earned; He's given you a silk dress, money too For suits and shoes for us—all is forgiven. You run about the house, As with a winged descending flight and cry Half song, half exclamation.
We're sick so much. But then no human soul Could be more sweet when one of us is sick. We run to colds, have measles, mumps, our throats Are weak, the doctor says. If rooms were warmer, And clothes were warmer, food more regular, And sleep more regular, it might be different. Then there's the well. You fear the water. He laughs at you, we children drink the water, Though it tastes bitter, shows white particles: It may be shreds of rats drowned in the well. The village has no drainage, blights and mildews Get in our throats. I spend a certain spring Bent over, yellow, coughing blood at times, Sick to somnambulistic sense of things. You blame him for the well, that's just one thing. You seem to differ about everything— You seem to hate each other—when you quarrel We cry, take sides, sometimes are whipped For taking sides.
Our broken school days lose us clues, Some lesson has been missed, the final meaning And wholeness of the grammar are disturbed— That shall not be made up in all our life. The children, save a few, are not our friends, Some taunt us with your quarrels. We learn great secrets scrawled in signs or words Of foulness on the fences. So it is An American village, in a great Republic, Where men are free, where therefore goodness, wisdom Must have their way!
We reach the budding age. Sweet aches are in our breasts: Is it spring, or God, or music, is it you? I am all tenderness for you at times, Then hate myself for feeling so, my flesh Crawls by an instinct from you. You repel me Sometimes with an insidious smile, a look. What are these phantasies I have? They breed Strange hatred for you, even while I feel My soul's home is with you, must be with you To find my soul's rest. ...
I must go back a little. At ten years I play with Paula. I plait her crowns of flowers, carry her books, Defend her, watch her, choose her in the games. You overhear us under the oak tree Calling her doll our child. You catch my coat And draw me in the house. When I resist you whip me cruelly. To think of whipping me at such time, And mix the shame of smarting legs and back With love of Paula! So I lose Paula.
I am a man at last. I now can master what you are and see What you have been. You cannot rout me now, Or put me in the wrong. Out of old wounds, Remembrance of your baffling days, I take great strength and show you Where you have been untruthful, where a hater, Where narrow, bitter, growing in on self, Where you neglected us, Where you heaped fast destruction on our father— For now I know that you devoured his soul, And that no soul that you could not devour Could have its peace with you. You've dwindled to a quiet word like this: "You are unfilial." Which means at last That I have conquered you, at least it means That you could not devour me.
Yet am I blind to you? Let me confess You are the world's whole cycle in yourself: You can be summer rich and luminous; You can be autumn, mellow, mystical; You can be winter with a cheerful hearth; You can be March, bitter, bright and hard, Pouring sharp sleet, and showering cutting hail; You can be April of the flying cloud, And intermittent sun and musical air. I am not you while being you, While finding in myself so much of you. It tears my other self, which is not you. My tragedy is this: I do not love you. Your tragedy is this: my other self Which triumphs over you, you hate at heart. Your solace is you have no faith in me.
All quiet now, no March days with you now, Only the soft coals slumbering in your face, I saw you totter over a ravine! Your eyes averted, watching steps, A light of resignation on your brow. Your thin-spun hair all gray, blown by the wind Which swayed the blossomed cherry trees, Bent last year's reeds, Shook early dandelions, and tossed a bird That left a branch with song— I saw you totter over a ravine!
What were you at the start? What soul dissatisfaction, sense of wrong, Of being thwarted, stung you? What was your shrinking of the flesh; What fear of being soiled, misunderstood, What wrath for loneliness which constant hope Saw turned to fine companionship; What in your marriage, what in seeing me, The fruit of marriage, recreated traits Of face or spirit which you loathed; What in your father and your mother, And in the chromosomes from which you grew, By what mitosis could result at last In you, in issues of such moment, In our dissevered beings, In what the world will take from me In children, in events? All quiet now, no March days with you now, Only the soft coals slumbering in your face, I saw you totter over a ravine, And back of you the Furies!
When the air of October is sweet and cold as the wine of apples Hanging ungathered in frosted orchards along the Grand River, I take the road that winds by the resting fields and wander From Eastmanville to Nunica down to the Villa Crossing.
I look for old men to talk with, men as old as the orchards, Men to tell me of ancient days, of those who built and planted, Lichen gray, branch broken, bent and sighing, Hobbling for warmth in the sun and for places to sit and smoke.
For there is a legend here, a tale of the croaking old ones That Johnny Appleseed came here, planted some orchards around here, When nothing was here but the pine trees, oaks and the beeches, And nothing was here but the marshes, lake and the river.
Peter Van Zylen is ninety and this he tells me: My father talked with Johnny Appleseed there on the hill-side, There by the road on the way to Fruitport, saw him Clearing pines and oaks for a place for an apple orchard.
Peter Van Zylen says: He got that name from the people For carrying apple-seed with him and planting orchards All the way from Ohio, through Indiana across here, Planting orchards, they say, as far as Illinois.
Johnny Appleseed said, so my father told me: I go to a place forgotten, the orchards will thrive and be here For children to come, who will gather and eat hereafter. And few will know who planted, and none will understand.
I laugh, said Johnny Appleseed: Some fellow buys this timber Five years, perhaps from to-day, begins to clear for barley. And here in the midst of the timber is hidden an apple orchard. How did it come here? Lord! Who was it here before me?
Yes, I was here before him, to make these places of worship, Labor and laughter and gain in the late October. Why did I do it, eh? Some folks say I am crazy. Where do my labors end? Far west, God only knows!
Said Johnny Appleseed there on the hill-side: Listen! Beware the deceit of nurseries, sellers of seeds of the apple. Think! You labor for years in trees not worth the raising. You planted what you knew not, bitter or sour for sweet.
No luck more bitter than poor seed, but one as bitter: The planting of perfect seed in soil that feeds and fails, Nourishes for a little, and then goes spent forever. Look to your seed, he said, and remember the soil.
And after that is the fight: the foe curled up at the root, The scale that crumples and deadens, the moth in the blossoms Becoming a life that coils at the core of a thing of beauty: You bite your apple, a worm is crushed on your tongue!
And it's every bit the truth, said Peter Van Zylen. So many things love an apple as well as ourselves. A man must fight for the thing he loves, to possess it: Apples, freedom, heaven, said Peter Van Zylen.
My brother, the god, and I grow sick Of heaven's heights. We plunge to the valley to hear the tick Of days and nights. We walk and loiter around the Loom To see, if we may, The Hand that smashes the beam in the gloon To the shuttle's play; Who grows the wool, who cards and spins, Who clips and ties; For the storied weave of the Gobelins, Who draughts and dyes.
But whether you stand or walk around You shall but hear A murmuring life, as it were the sound Of bees or a sphere. No Hand is seen, but still you may feel A pulse in the thread, And thought in every lever and wheel Where the shuttle sped, Dripping the colors, as crushed and urged— Is it cochineal?— Shot from the shuttle, woven and merged A tale to reveal. Woven and wound in a bolt and dried As it were a plan. Closer I looked at the thread and cried The thread is man!
Then my brother curious, strong and bold, Tugged hard at the bolt Of the woven life; for a length unrolled The cryptic cloth. He gasped for labor, blind for the moult Of the up-winged moth. While I saw a growth and a mad crusade That the Loom had made; Land and water and living things, Till I grew afraid For mouths and claws and devil wings, And fangs and stings, And tiger faces with eyes of hell In caves and holes. And eyes in terror and terrible For awakened souls.
I stood above my brother, the god Unwinding the roll. And a tale came forth of the woven slain Sequent and whole, Of flint and bronze, trowel and hod, The wheel and the plane, The carven stone and the graven clod Painted and baked. And cromlechs, proving the human heart Has always ached; Till it puffed with blood and gave to art The dream of the dome; Till it broke and the blood shot up like fire In tower and spire.
And here was the Persian, Jew and Goth In the weave of the cloth; Greek and Roman, Ghibelline, Guelph, Angel and elf. They were dyed in blood, tangled in dreams Like a comet's streams. And here were surfaces red and rough In the finished stuff, Where the knotted thread was proud and rebelled As the shuttle proved The fated warp and woof that held When the shuttle moved; And pressed the dye which ran to loss In a deep maroon Around an altar, oracle, cross Or a crescent moon. Around a face, a thought, a star In a riot of war!
Then I said to my brother, the god, let be, Though the thread be crushed, And the living things in the tapestry Be woven and hushed; The Loom has a tale, you can see, to tell, And a tale has told. I love this Gobelin epical Of scarlet and gold. If the heart of a god may look in pride At the wondrous weave It is something better to Hands which guide— I see and believe.
DIALOGUE AT PERKO'S
Look here, Jack: You don't act natural. You have lost your laugh. You haven't told me any stories. You Just lie there half asleep. What's on your mind?
What time is it? Where is my watch?
Your watch Under your pillow! You don't think I'd take it. Why, Jack, what talk for you.
Well, never mind, Let's pack no ice.
No quarreling— What is the time?
Look over towards my dresser— My clock says half-past eleven.
Listen to that— That hurdy-gurdy's playing Holy Night, And on this street.
And why not on this street?
You may be right. It may as well be played Where you live as in front of where I work, Some twenty stories up. I think you're right.
Say, Jack, what is the matter? Come! be gay. Tell me some stories. Buy another bottle. Just think you make a lot of money, Jack. You're young and prominent. They all know you. I hear your name all over town. I see Your picture in the papers. What's the matter?
I've lost my job for one thing.
You don't mean it!
They used me and then fired me, same as you. If you don't make the money, out you go.
Yes, out I go. But, there are other places.
On further down the street.
Not yet a while.
Not yet for me, but still the question is Whether to fight it out for up or down, Or run from everything, be free.
You can't do that.
No more than I. Oh well perhaps, if a nice man came by To marry me then I could get away. It happens all the time. Last week in fact Christ Perko married Rachel who lived here. He's rich as cream.
What corresponds to marriage To take me from slavery?
Money is everything.
Yes, everything and nothing. Christ Perko's rich, Christ Perko runs this house, The madam merely acts as figure-head; Keeps check upon the girls and on the wine. She's just the editor, and yet I'd rather Be editor than owner. I was editor. My Perko was the owner of a pulp mill, Incorporate through some multi-millionaires, And all our lesser writers were the girls, Like you and Rachel.
But you know before He married Rachel, he was lover to The madam here.
The stories tally, for The pulp mill took my first assistant editor To wife by making him the editor. And I was fired just as the madam here Lost out with Perko.
This is growing funny... Ahem! I'll ask you something— As if I were a youth and you a girl— How were you ruined first?
The same as you: You ran away from school. It was romance. You thought you loved this flashy travelling man. And I—I loved adventure, loved the truth. I wanted to destroy the force called "They." There is no "They"—we're all together here, And everyone must live, Christ Perko too, The pulp-mill, the policeman, magistrate, The alderman, the precinct captain too, And you the girls, myself the editor, And all the lesser writers. Here we are Thrown in one integrated lot. You see There is no "They," except the terms, the thought Which ramifies and vivifies the whole. ... So I came to the city, went to work Reporting for a paper. Having said There is no "They"—I've freed myself to say What bitter things I choose. For how they drive you, And terrify you, mock you, ridicule you, And call you cub and greenhorn, send you round To courts and dirty places, make you risk Your body and your life, and make you watch The rules about your writing; what's tabooed, What names are to be cursed or to be praised, What interests, policies to be subserved, And what to undermine. So I went through, Until I had a desk, wrote editorials— Now said I to myself, I'm free at last. But no, my manager, your madam, mark you, Kept eye on me, for he was under watch Of some Christ Perko. So my manager Blue penciled me when I touched certain subjects. But, as he was a just man, loved me too. He gave me things to write where he could let My conscience have full scope, as you might live In this house where you saw the man you loved, And no one else, though living in this hell. For I lived in a hell, who saw around me Such lying, hatred, malice, prostitution. And when this offer came to be an editor Of a great magazine, I seemed to feel My courage and my virtue given reward. Now, I should pass on poems, and on stories, Creations of free souls. It was not so. The poems and the stories one could see Were written to be sold, to please a taste, Placate a prejudice, keep still alive An era dying, ready for the tomb, Already smelling. And that was not all. Just as the madam here must make report To Perko, so the magazine had to run To suit the pulp mill. As the madam here, Assistant to Christ Perko, must keep friends With alderman, policemen, magistrates, So I was just a wheel in a machine To keep it running with such larger wheels, And by them run, of policies, and politics Of State and Nation. Here was I locked in And given dope to keep me still lest I Cry out and wake the copper-who's the copper For such as I was? If he heard me cry How could he raid the magazine? If he raided Where was the court to take me and the rest— That's it, where is the court?
It seems to me You're bad as I am.
I am worse than you: I poison minds with thoughts they take as good. I drug an era, make it foul or dull— You only sicken bodies here and there. But you know how it is. You have remorse, You fight it down, hush it with sophistry. You think about the world, about your fellows: You see that everyone is selling self, Little or much somehow. You feed your body, Try to be hearty, take things as they come. You take athletics, try to keep your strength, As you hear music, laugh, drink wine, and smoke, Are bathed and coifed to keep your beauty fresh. And through it all the soul's and body's needs, The pleasures, interests, passions of our life, The cry that comes from somewhere: "Live, O Soul, The time is passing," move and claim your strength. Till you forget yourself, forget the boy And man you were, forget the dreams you had, The creed you wished to live by—yes, what's worse, See dreams you had, grown tawdry, see your creed Cracked through and crumbled like a falling house. And then you say: What is the difference? As you might ask what virtue is and why Should woman keep it.
I have reached this place Save for one truth I hold to, shall still hold to: As long as I have breath: The man who sees not, Or cares not for the Truth that keeps the world From vast disintegration is a brute, And marked for a brute's death—that is his hell. 'Twas loyalty to this truth that made me lose My place as editor. For when they came And tried to make me pass an article To poison millions with, I said, "I won't, I won't by God. I'll quit before I do." And then they said, "You quit," and so I quit.
And so you took to drink and came to me! And that's the same as if I came to you And used you as an editor. I am nothing But just a poor reporter in this house— But now I quit.
Where are you going, Florence?
I'm going to a village or a farm Where I'll get up at six instead of twelve, Where I'll wear calico instead of silk, And where there'll be no furnace in the house. And where the carpet which has kept me here And keeps you here as editor is not. I'm going to economize my life By freeing it of systems which grow rich By using me, and for the privilege Bestow these gaudy clothes and perfumed bed. I hate you now, because I hate my life.
Wait! Wait a minute.
Dinah, call a cab!
I met Hosea Job on Randolph Street Who said to me: "I'm going for the train, I want you with me."
And it happened then My mind was hard, as muscles of the back Grow hard resisting cold or shock or strain And need the osteopath to be made supple, To give the nerves and streams of life a chance. Hosea Job was just the osteopath To loose, relax my mood. And so I said "All right"—and went.
Hosea was a man Whom nothing touched of danger, or of harm. His life was just a rare-bit dream, where some one Seems like to fall before a truck or train— Instead he walks across them. Or you see Shadows of falling things, great buildings topple, Pianos skid like bulls from hellish corners And chase the oblivious fool who stands and smiles. The buildings slant and sway like monstrous searchlights, But never touch him. And the mad piano Comes up to him, puts down its angry head, Runs out a friendly tongue and licks his hand, And lows a symphony.
By which I mean Hosea had some money, and would sign A bond or note for any man who asked him. He'd rent a house and leave it, rent another, Then rent a farm, move out from town and in. He'd have the leases of superfluous places Cancelled some how, was never sued for rent. One time he had a fancy he would see South Africa, took ship with a load of mules, First telegraphing home from New Orleans He'd be back in the Spring. Likewise he went To Klondike with the rush. I think he owned More kinds of mining stock than there were mines. He had more quaint, peculiar men for friends Than one could think were living. He believed In every doctrine in its time, that promised Salvation for the world. He took no thought For life or for to-morrow, or for health, Slept with his windows closed, ate what he wished. And if he cut his finger, let it go. I offered him peroxide once, he laughed. And when I asked him if his soul was saved He only said: "I see things. I lie back And take it easy. Nothing can go wrong In any serious sense."
So many thought Hosea was a nut, and others thought, That I was just a nut for liking him. And what would any man of business say If he knew that I didn't ask a question, But simply went with him to take the train That day he asked me.
And the train had gone Five miles or so when I said: "Where you going?" Hosea answered, and it made me start— Hosea answered simply, "We are going To see Sir Galahad."
It made me start To hear Hosea say this, for I thought He was now really off. But, I looked at him And saw his eyes were sane.
"Sir Galahad? Who is Sir Galahad?"
Hosea answered: "I'm going up to see Sir Galahad, And sound him out about re-entering The game and run for governor again."
So then I knew he was the man our fathers Worked with and knew and called Sir Galahad, Now in retirement fifteen years or so. Well, I was twenty-five when he was famous. Sir Galahad was forty then, and now Must be some fifty-five while I am forty. So flashed across my thought the matter of time And ages. So I thought of all he did: Of how he went from faith to faith in politics And ran for every office up to governor, And ran for governor four times or so, And never was elected to an office. He drew more bills to remedy injustice, Improve the courts, relieve the poor, reform Administration, than the legislature Could read, much less digest or understand. The people beat him and the leaders flogged him. They shut the door against his face until He had no place to go except a farm Among the stony hills, and there he went. And thither we were going to see the knight, And call him from his solitude to the fight Against injustice, greed.
So we got off The train at Alden, just a little village Of fifty houses lying beneath the sprawl Of hills and hills. And here there was a stillness Made lonelier by an anvil ringing, by A plow-man's voice at intervals.
Here Hosea Engaged a horse and buggy, and we drove And wound about a crooked road between Great hills that stood together like the backs Of elephants in a herd, where boulders lay As thick as hail in places. Ruined pines Stood like burnt matches. There was one which stuck Against a single cloud so white it seemed A bursted bale of cotton.
We reached the summit And drove along past orchards, past a field Level and green, kept like a garden, rich Against the coming harvest. Here we met A scarecrow man, driving a scarecrow horse Hitched to a wobbly wagon. And we stopped, The scarecrow stopped. The scarecrow and Hosea Talked much of people and of farming—I Sat listening, and I gathered from the talk, And what Hosea told me as we drove, That once this field so level and so green The scarecrow owned. He had cleaned out the stumps, And tried to farm it, failed, and lost the field, But raged to lose it, thought he might succeed In further time. Now having lost the field So many years ago, could be a scarecrow, And drive a scarecrow horse, yet laugh again And have no care, the sorrow healed.
It seemed The clearing of the stumps was scarce a starter Toward a field of profit. For in truth, The soil possessed a secret which the scarecrow Never went deep enough to learn about. His problem was all stumps. Not solving that, He sold it to a farmer who out-slaved The busiest bee, but only half succeeded. He tried to raise potatoes, made a failure. He planted it in beans, had half a crop. He sowed wheat once and reaped a stack of straw. The secret of the soil eluded him. And here Hosea laughed: "This fellow's failure Was just the thing that gave another man The secret of the soil. For he had studied The properties of soils and fertilizers. And when he heard the field had failed to raise Potatoes, beans and wheat, he simply said: There are other things to raise: the question is Whether the soil is suited to the things He tried to raise, or whether it needs building To raise the things he tried to raise, or whether It must be builded up for anything. At least he said the field is clear of stumps. Pass on your field, he said. If I lose out I'll pass it on. The field is his, he said Who can make something grow.
And so this field Of waving wheat along which we were driving Was just the very field the scarecrow man Had failed to master, as that other man Had failed to master after him.
Hosea Kept talking of this field as we drove on. That field, he said, is economical Of men compared with many fields. You see It only used two men. To grub the stumps Took all the scarecrow's strength. That other man Ran off to Oklahoma from this field. I have known fields that ate a dozen men In country such as this. The field remains And laughs and waits for some one who divines The secret of the field. Some farmers live To prove what can't be done, and narrow down The guess of what is possible. It's right A certain crop should prosper and another Should fail, and when a farmer tries to raise A crop before it's time, he wastes himself And wastes the field to try.
We now were climbing To higher hills and rockier fields. Hosea Had fallen into silence. I was thinking About Sir Galahad, was wondering Which man he was, the scarecrow, or the farmer Who didn't know the seed to sow, or whether He might still prove the farmer raising wheat, Now we were come to give him back the field With all the stumps grubbed out, the secret lying Revealed and ready for the appointed hands.
We passed an orchard growing on a knoll And saw a barn perked on a rocky hill, And near the barn a house. Hosea said: "This is Sir Galahad's." We tied the horse. And we were in the silence of the country At mid-day on a day in June. No bird Was singing, fowl was cackling, cow was lowing, No dog was barking. All was summer stillness. We crossed a back-yard past a windlass well, Dodged under clothes lines through a place of chips, Walked in a path along the house. I said: "Sir Galahad is ploughing, or perhaps Is mending fences, cutting weeds." It seemed Too bad to come so far and not to find him. "We'll find him," said Hosea. "Let us sit Under that tree and wait for him."
And then We turned the corner of the house and there Under a tree an old man sat, his head Bowed down upon his breast, locked fast in sleep. And by his feet a dog half blind and fat Lay dozing, too inert to rise and bark.
Hosea gripped my arm. "Be still" he said. "Let's ask him where Sir Galahad is," said I. And then Hosea whispered, "God forgive me, I had forgotten, you too have forgotten. The man is old, he's very old. The years Go by unnoticed. Come! Sir Galahad Should sleep and not be waked."
We tip-toed off And hurried back to Alden for the train.
You wonder at my bright round eyes, my lips Pressed tightly like a venomous rosette. Thus do me honor by so much, fond wretch, And praise my Persian beauty, dulcet voice. But oh you know me, read me, passion blinds Your vision not at all, and you have passion For me and what I am. How can you be so? Hold me so bear-like, take my lips with yours, Bury your face in these my russet tresses, And yet not lose your vision? So I love you, And fear you too. How idle to deny it To you who know I fear you.
Here am I Who answer you what e'er you choose to ask. You stride about my rooms and open books, And say when did he give you this? You pick His photograph from mantels, dressers, drawl Out of ironic strength, and smile the while: "You did not love this man." You probe my soul About his courtship, how I ran away, How he pursued with gifts from city to city, Threw bouquets to me from the pit, or stood
Like Cleopatra's Giant negro guard, Watchful and waiting at the green-room door. So, devil, that you are, with needle pricks, One little question at a time, you've inked The story in my flesh. And now at last You smile and say I killed him. Well, it's true. But what a death he had! Envy him that. Your frigid soul can never win the death I gave him.
Listen since you know already All but the subtlest matters. How you laugh! You know these too? Well, only I can tell them.
First 'twas a piteous thing to see a man So love a woman, see a living thing So love another. Why he could not touch My hand but that his heart went up ten beats. His eyes would grow as bright as flames, his breath Come short when speaking. When he felt my breast Crush soft around him he would reel and walk Away from me, while I stood like a snake Poised for the strike, as quiet and possessed As a dead breeze. And you can have me wholly, And pet and pat me like a favored child, And let me go my way, while you turn back To what you left for me.
Not so with him: I was all through his blood, had made his flesh My flesh, his nerves, brain, soul all mine at last, Dreams, thoughts, emotions, hungers all my own. So that he lived two lives, his own and mine, With one poor body, which he gave to me. Save that he could not give what I pushed back Into his hands to use for me and live My pities, hatreds, loves and passions with. I loved all this and thrived upon it, still I did not love him. Then why marry him? Why don't you see? It meant so much to him. And 'twas a little thing for me to do. His loneliness, his hunger, his great passion That showed in his poor eyes, his broken breath, His chivalry, his gifts, his poignant letters, His failing health, why even woman's cruelty Cannot deny such passion. Woman's cruelty Takes other means for finding its expression. And mine found its expression—you have guessed And so I tell you all.
We were married then. He made a sacrament of our nuptials, Knelt with closed eyes beside the bed, my lips Pressed to his brow and throat. Unveiled my breast And looked, then closed his eyes. He did not take me As man takes his possession, nature's way, In triumph of life, in lightning, no, he came A suppliant, a worshipper, and whispered: "What angel child may lie upon the breast Of this it's angel mother."
Well, you see The tears came in my eyes, for pity of him, Who made so much of what I had to give, And could give easily whether 'twas my rapture To give or to withhold. And in that moment Contempt of which I had been scarcely conscious Lying diffused like dew around my heart Drained down itself into my heart's dark cup To one bright drop of vital power, where He could not see it, scarcely knew that something Gradually drugged the potion that he drank In life with me.
So we were wed a year, And he was with me hourly, till at last I could not breathe for him, while he could breathe No where but where I was. Then the bazaar Was coming on where I was to dance, and he Had long postponed a trip to England where Great interests waited for him, and with kisses I pushed him to his duty, and he went Shame stricken for a duty long postponed, Unable to retort against my words When I said "You must go;" for well he knew He should have gone before. And as for going I pleaded the bazaar and hate of travel, And got him off, and freed myself to breathe.
His life had been too fast, his years too many To stand the strain that came. There was the worry About the business, and the labor over it. There was the war, and all the fear and turmoil In London for the war. But most of all There was the separation. And his letters! You've read them, wretch. Such letters never were Of aching loneliness and pining love And hope that lives across three thousand miles, And waits the day to travel them, and fear Of something which may bar the way forever: A storm, a wreck, a submarine and no day Without a letter or a cablegram. And look at the endearments—oh you fiend To pick their words to pieces like a botanist Who cuts a flower up for his microscope. And oh myself who let you see these letters. Why did I do it? Rather why is it You master me, even as I mastered him?
At last he finished, got his passage back. He had been gone three months. And all these letters Showed how he starved for me, and scarce could wait To take me in his arms again, would choke With fast and heavy feeding.
Well, you see The contempt I spoke of which lay long diffused Like dew around my heart, and which at once Drained down itself into my heart's dark cup Grew brighter, bitterer, for this obvious hunger, This thirst which could not wait, the piteous trembling. And all the while it seemed he thought his love Grew sacreder as it grew uncontrolled, And marked by trembling, choking, tears and sighs. This is not love which should be, has no use In this or any world. And as for me I could not stand it longer. And I thought Of what was best to do: if 'twas not best To kill him as the queen bee kills the mate In rapture's own excess.
Then he arrived. I went to meet him in the car, pretended The feed pipe broke while I was on the way. I was not at the station when he came. I got back to the house and found him gone. He had run through the rooms calling my name, So Mary told me. Then he went around From place to place, wherever in the village He thought to find me.
Soon I heard his steps, The key in the door, his winded breath, his call, His running, stumbling up the stairs, while I Stood silent as a shadow in our room, My round bright eyes grown brighter for the light His life was feeding them. And then he stood Breathless and trembling in the door-way, stood Transfixed with ecstacy, then rushed and caught me And broke into loud tears.
It had to end. One or the other of us had to die. I could not die but by a violence, And he could die by love alone, and love I gave him to his death.
Why tell you details And ways with which I maddened him, and whipped The energies of love? You have extracted The secret in the main, that 'twas from love He came to death. His life had been too fast, His years too many for the daily rapture I gave him after three months' separation. And so he died one morning, made me free Of nothing but his presence in the flesh. His love is on me yet, and its effect. And now you're here to slave me differently— No soul is ever free.
HEAVEN IS BUT THE HOUR
Eyes wide for wisdom, calm for joy or pain, Bright hair alloyed with silver, scarcely gold. And gracious lips flower pressed like buds to hold The guarded heart against excess of rain. Hands spirit tipped through which a genius plays With paints and clays, And strings in many keys— Clothed in an aura of thought as soundless as a flood Of sun-shine where there is no breeze. So is it light in spite of rhythm of blood, Or turn of head, or hands that move, unite— Wind cannot dim or agitate the light. From Plato's idea stepping, wholly wrought From Plato's dream, made manifest in hair, Eyes, lips and hands and voice, As if the stored up thought From the earth sphere Had given down the being of your choice Conjured by the dream long sought.
* * * * *
For you have moved in madness, rapture, wrath In and out of the path Drawn by the dream of a face. You have been watched, as star-men watch a star That leaves its way, returns and leaves its way, Until the exploring watchers find, can trace A hidden star beyond their sight, whose sway Draws the erratic star so long observed— So have you wandered, swerved.
* * * * *
Always pursued and lost, Sometimes half found, half-faced, Such years we waste With the almost: The lips flower pressed like buds to hold Guarded the heart of the flower, But over them eyes not hued as the Dream foretold. Or to find the lips too rich and the dower Of eyes all gaiety Where wisdom scarce can be. Or to find the eyes, but to find offence In fingers where the sense Falters with colors, strings, Not touching with closed eyes, out of an immanence Of flame and wings. Or to find the light, but to find it set behind An eye which is not your dream, nor the shadow thereof, As it were your lamp in a stranger's window. And so almost to find In the great weariness of love.
* * * * *
Now this is the tragedy: If the Idea did not move Somewhere in the realm of Love, Clothing itself in flesh at last for you to see, You could scarcely follow the gleam. And the tragedy is when Life has made you over, And denied you, and dulled your dream, And you no longer count the cost, Nor the past lament, You are sitting oblivious of your discontent Beside the Almost— And then the face appears Evoked from the Idea by your dead desire, And blinds and burns you like fire. And you sit there without tears, Though thinking it has come to kill you, or mock your youth With its half of the truth.
* * * * *
A beach as yellow as gold Daisied with tents for a lovely mile. And a sea that edges and walls the sand with blue, Matching the heaven without a seam, Save for the threads of foam that hold With stitches the canopy rare as the tile Of old Damascus. And O the wind Which roars to the roaring water brightened By the beating wings of the sun! And here I walk, not seeking the Dream, As men walk absent of heart or mind Who have no wish for a sorrow lightened Since all things now seem lost or won. And here it is that your face appears! Like a star brushed out from leaves by a breeze When day's in the sky, though evening nears. You are here by a tent with your little brood, And I approach in a quiet mood And see you, know that the Destinies Have surrendered you at last. Voice, lips and hands and the light of the eyes.
* * * * *
And I who have asked so much discover That you find in me the man and lover You have divined and visualized, In quiet day dreams. And what is strange Your boy of eight is subtly guised In fleeting looks that half resemble Something in me. Two souls may range Mid this earth's billion souls for life, And hide their hunger or dissemble. For there are two at least created, Endowed with alien powers that draw, And kindred powers that by some law Bind souls as like as sister, brother. There are two at least who are for each other. If we are such, it is not fated You are for him, howe'er belated The time's for us.
* * * * *
And yet is not the time gone by? Your garden has been planted, dear. And mine with weeds is over-grown. Oh yes! 'tis only late July! We can replant, ere frosts appear, Gather the blossoms we have sown. And I have preached that hearts should seize The hour that brings realities. ...
Yes, I admit it all, we crush Under our feet the world's contempt. But when I raise the cup, it's blush Reveals the snake's eyes, there's a hush While a hand writes upon the wall: Life cannot be re-made, exempt From life that has been, something's gone Out of the soil, in life updrawn To growths that vine, and tangle, crawl, Withered in part, or gone to seed. 'Tis not the same, though you have freed The soil from what was grown. ...
* * * * *
Heaven is but the hour Of the planting of the flower. But heaven is the blossom to be, Of the one Reality. And heaven cannot undo the once sown ground. But heaven is love in the pursuing, And in the memory of having found. ...
The rocks in the river make light and sound And show that the waters search and move. And what is time but an infinite whole Revealed by the breaks in thought, desire? To put it away is to know one's soul. Love is music unheard and fire Too rare for eyes; between hurt beats The heart detects it, sees how pure Its essence is, through heart defeats.— You are the silence making sure The sound with which it has to cope, My sorrow and as well my hope.
VICTOR RAFOLSKI ON ART
You dull Goliaths clothed in coats of blue, Strained and half bursted by the swell of flesh, Topped by Gorilla heads. You Marmoset, Trained scoundrel, taught to question and ensnare, I hate you, hate your laws and hate your courts. Hands off, give me a chair, now let me be. I'll tell you more than you can think to ask me. I love this woman, but what is love to you? What is it to your laws or courts? I love her. She loves me, if you'd know. I entered her room— She stood before me naked, shrank a little, Cried out a little, calmed her sudden cry When she saw amiable passion in my eyes— She loves me, if you'd know. I saw in her eyes More in those moments than whole hours of talk From witness stands exculpate could make clear My innocence.
But if I did a crime My excuse is hunger, hunger for more life. Oh what a world, where beauty, rapture, love Are walled in and locked up like coal or food And only may he had by purchasers From whose fat fingers slip the unheeded gold. Oh what a world where beauty lies in waste, While power and freedom skulk with famished lips Too tightly pressed for curses.
So do men, Save for the thousandth man, deny themselves And live in meagreness to make sure a life Of meagreness by hearth stones long since stale; And live in ways, companionships as fixed As the geared figures of the Strassburg clock. You wonder at war? Why war lets loose desires, Emotions long repressed. Would you stop war? Then let men live. The moral equivalent Of war is freedom. Art does not suffice— Religion is not life, but life is living. And painted cherries to the hungry thrush Is art to life. The artist lived his work. You cannot live his life who love his work. You are the thrush that pecks at painted cherries Who hope to live through art. Beer-soaked Goliaths, The story's coming of her nakedness Be patient for a time.
All this I learned While painting pictures no one ever bought, Till hunger drove me to this servile work As butler in her father's house, with time On certain days to walk the galleries And look at pictures, marbles. For I saw I was not living while I painted pictures. I was not living working for a crust, I was not living walking galleries: All this was but vicarious life which felt Through gazing at the thing the artist made, In memory of the life he lived himself: As we preserve the fragrance of a flower By drawing off its essence in a bottle, Where color, fluttering leaves, are thrown away To get the inner passion of the flower Extracted to a bottle that a queen May act the flower's part.