Part 18 out of 21
My heart, I cannot still it,
Nest that had song-birds in it;
And when the last shall go,
The dreary days, to fill it,
Instead of lark or linnet,
Shall whirl dead leaves and snow.
Had they been swallows only,
Without the passion stronger
That skyward longs and sings,--
Woe's me, I shall be lonely
When I can feel no longer
The impatience of their wings!
A moment, sweet delusion,
Like birds the brown leaves hover;
But it will not be long
Before their wild confusion
Fall wavering down to cover
The poet and his song.
THE PREGNANT COMMENT
Opening one day a book of mine,
I absent, Hester found a line
Praised with a pencil-mark, and this
She left transfigured with a kiss.
When next upon the page I chance,
Like Poussin's nymphs my pulses dance,
And whirl my fancy where it sees
Pan piping 'neath Arcadian trees,
Whose leaves no winter-scenes rehearse,
Still young and glad as Homer's verse.
'What mean,' I ask, 'these sudden joys?
This feeling fresher than a boy's?
What makes this line, familiar long,
New as the first bird's April song?
I could, with sense illumined thus,
Clear doubtful texts in AEeschylus!'
Laughing, one day she gave the key,
My riddle's open-sesame;
Then added, with a smile demure,
Whose downcast lids veiled triumph sure,
'If what I left there give you pain,
You--you--can take it off again;
'Twas for _my_ poet, not for him,
Your Doctor Donne there!'
Earth grew dim
And wavered in a golden mist,
As rose, not paper, leaves I kissed.
Donne, you forgive? I let you keep
Her precious comment, poet deep.
I sat and watched the walls of night
With cracks of sudden lightning glow,
And listened while with clumsy might
The thunder wallowed to and fro.
The rain fell softly now; the squall,
That to a torrent drove the trees,
Had whirled beyond us to let fall
Its tumult on the whitening seas.
But still the lightning crinkled keen,
Or fluttered fitful from behind
The leaden drifts, then only seen,
That rumbled eastward on the wind.
Still as gloom followed after glare,
While bated breath the pine-trees drew,
Tiny Salmoneus of the air,
His mimic bolts the firefly threw.
He thought, no doubt, 'Those flashes grand,
That light for leagues the shuddering sky,
Are made, a fool could understand,
By some superior kind of fly.
'He's of our race's elder branch,
His family-arms the same as ours.
Both born the twy-forked flame to launch,
Of kindred, if unequal, powers.'
And is man wiser? Man who takes
His consciousness the law to be
Of all beyond his ken, and makes
God but a bigger kind of Me?
SCIENCE AND POETRY
He who first stretched his nerves of subtile wire
Over the land and through the sea-depths still,
Thought only of the flame-winged messenger
As a dull drudge that should encircle earth
With sordid messages of Trade, and tame
Blithe Ariel to a bagman. But the Muse
Not long will be defrauded. From her foe
Her misused wand she snatches; at a touch,
The Age of Wonder is renewed again,
And to our disenchanted day restores
The Shoes of Swiftness that give odds to Thought,
The Cloak that makes invisible; and with these
I glide, an airy fire, from shore to shore,
Or from my Cambridge whisper to Cathay.
A NEW YEAR'S GREETING
The century numbers fourscore years;
You, fortressed in your teens,
To Time's alarums close your ears,
And, while he devastates your peers,
Conceive not what he means.
If e'er life's winter fleck with snow
Your hair's deep shadowed bowers,
That winsome head an art would know
To make it charm, and wear it so
As 'twere a wreath of flowers.
If to such fairies years must come,
May yours fall soft and slow
As, shaken by a bee's low hum,
The rose-leaves waver, sweetly dumb,
Down to their mates below!
I watched a moorland torrent run
Down through the rift itself had made,
Golden as honey in the sun,
Of darkest amber in the shade.
In this wild glen at last, methought,
The magic's secret I surprise;
Here Celia's guardian fairy caught
The changeful splendors of her eyes.
All else grows tame, the sky's one blue,
The one long languish of the rose,
But these, beyond prevision new,
Shall charm and startle to the close.
WITH A SEASHELL
Shell, whose lips, than mine more cold,
Might with Dian's ear make bold,
Seek my Lady's; if thou win
To that portal, shut from sin,
Where commissioned angels' swords
Startle back unholy words,
Thou a miracle shalt see
Wrought by it and wrought in thee;
Thou, the dumb one, shalt recover
Speech of poet, speech of lover.
If she deign to lift you there,
Murmur what I may not dare;
In that archway, pearly-pink
As the Dawn's untrodden brink,
Murmur, 'Excellent and good,
Beauty's best in every mood,
Never common, never tame,
Changeful fair as windwaved flame'--
Nay, I maunder; this she hears
Every day with mocking ears,
With a brow not sudden-stained
With the flush of bliss restrained,
With no tremor of the pulse
More than feels the dreaming dulse
In the midmost ocean's caves,
When a tempest heaps the waves.
Thou must woo her in a phrase
Mystic as the opal's blaze,
Which pure maids alone can see
When their lovers constant be.
I with thee a secret share,
Half a hope, and half a prayer,
Though no reach of mortal skill
Ever told it all, or will;
Say, 'He bids me--nothing more--
Tell you what you guessed before!'
I have a fancy: how shall I bring it
Home to all mortals wherever they be?
Say it or sing it? Shoe it or wing it,
So it may outrun or outfly ME,
Merest cocoon-web whence it broke free?
Only one secret can save from disaster,
Only one magic is that of the Master:
Set it to music; give it a tune,--
Tune the brook sings you, tune the breeze brings you,
Tune the wild columbines nod to in June!
This is the secret: so simple, you see!
Easy as loving, easy as kissing,
Easy as--well, let me ponder--as missing,
Known, since the world was, by scarce two or three.
IV. HUMOR AND SATIRE
FITZ ADAM'S STORY
The next whose fortune 'twas a tale to tell
Was one whom men, before they thought, loved well,
And after thinking wondered why they did,
For half he seemed to let them, half forbid,
And wrapped him so in humors, sheath on sheath,
'Twas hard to guess the mellow soul beneath:
But, once divined, you took him to your heart,
While he appeared to bear with you as part
Of life's impertinence, and once a year
Betrayed his true self by a smile or tear, 10
Or rather something sweetly shy and loath,
Withdrawn ere fully shown, and mixed of both.
A cynic? Not precisely: one who thrust
Against a heart too prone to love and trust,
Who so despised false sentiment he knew
Scarce in himself to part the false and true,
And strove to hide, by roughening-o'er the skin,
Those cobweb nerves he could not dull within.
Gentle by birth, but of a stem decayed,
He shunned life's rivalries and hated trade; 20
On a small patrimony and larger pride,
He lived uneaseful on the Other Side
(So he called Europe), only coming West
To give his Old-World appetite new zest;
Yet still the New World spooked it in his veins,
A ghost he could not lay with all his pains;
For never Pilgrims' offshoot scapes control
Of those old instincts that have shaped his soul.
A radical in thought, he puffed away
With shrewd contempt the dust of usage gray, 30
Yet loathed democracy as one who saw,
In what he longed to love, some vulgar flaw,
And, shocked through all his delicate reserves,
Remained a Tory by his taste and nerves,
His fancy's thrall, he drew all ergoes thence,
And thought himself the type of common sense;
Misliking women, not from cross or whim,
But that his mother shared too much in him,
And he half felt that what in them was grace
Made the unlucky weakness of his race. 40
What powers he had he hardly cared to know,
But sauntered through the world as through a show;
A critic fine in his haphazard way,
A sort of mild La Bruyere on half-pay.
For comic weaknesses he had an eye
Keen as an acid for an alkali,
Yet you could feel, through his sardonic tone,
He loved them all, unless they were his own.
You might have called him, with his humorous twist,
A kind of human entomologist; 50
As these bring home, from every walk they take,
Their hat-crowns stuck with bugs of curious make,
So he filled all the lining of his head
With characters impaled and ticketed,
And had a cabinet behind his eyes
For all they caught of mortal oddities.
He might have been a poet--many worse--
But that he had, or feigned, contempt of verse;
Called it tattooing language, and held rhymes
The young world's lullaby of ruder times. 60
Bitter in words, too indolent for gall,
He satirized himself the first of all,
In men and their affairs could find no law,
And was the ill logic that he thought he saw.
Scratching a match to light his pipe anew,
With eyes half shut some musing whiffs he drew
And thus began: 'I give you all my word,
I think this mock-Decameron absurd;
Boccaccio's garden! how bring that to pass
In our bleak clime save under double glass? 70
The moral east-wind of New England life
Would snip its gay luxuriance like a knife;
Mile-deep the glaciers brooded here, they say,
Through aeons numb; we feel their chill to-day.
These foreign plants are but half-hardy still,
Die on a south, and on a north wall chill.
Had we stayed Puritans! _They_ had some heat,
(Though whence derived I have my own conceit,)
But you have long ago raked up their fires;
Where they had faith, you've ten sham-Gothic spires. 80
Why more exotics? Try your native vines,
And in some thousand years you _may_ have wines;
Your present grapes are harsh, all pulps and skins,
And want traditions of ancestral bins
That saved for evenings round the polished board
Old lava fires, the sun-steeped hillside's hoard.
Without a Past, you lack that southern wall
O'er which the vines of Poesy should crawl;
Still they're your only hope: no midnight oil
Makes up for virtue wanting in the soil; 90
Manure them well and prune them; 'twon't be France,
Nor Spain, nor Italy, but there's your chance.
You have one story-teller worth a score
Of dead Boccaccios,--nay, add twenty more,--
A hawthorn asking spring's most dainty breath,
And him you're freezing pretty well to death.
However, since you say so, I will tease
My memory to a story by degrees,
Though you will cry, "Enough!" I'm wellnigh sure,
Ere I have dreamed through half my overture. 100
Stories were good for men who had no books,
(Fortunate race!) and built their nests like rooks
In lonely towers, to which the Jongleur brought
His pedler's-box of cheap and tawdry thought,
With here and there a fancy fit to see
Wrought in quaint grace in golden filigree,--
Some ring that with the Muse's finger yet
Is warm, like Aucassin and Nicolete;
The morning newspaper has spoilt his trade,
(For better or for worse, I leave unsaid,) 110
And stories now, to suit a public nice,
Must be half epigram, half pleasant vice.
'All tourists know Shebagog County: there
The summer idlers take their yearly stare,
Dress to see Nature In a well-bred way,
As 'twere Italian opera, or play,
Encore the sunrise (if they're out of bed).
And pat the Mighty Mother on the head:
These have I seen,--all things are good to see.--
And wondered much at their complacency. 120
This world's great show, that took in getting-up
Millions of years, they finish ere they sup;
Sights that God gleams through with soul-tingling force
They glance approvingly as things of course.
Say, "That's a grand rock," "This a pretty fall."
Not thinking, "Are we worthy?" What if all
The scornful landscape should turn round and say,
"This is a fool, and that a popinjay"?
I often wonder what the Mountain thinks
Of French boots creaking o'er his breathless brinks, 130
Or how the Sun would scare the chattering crowd,
If some fine day he chanced to think aloud.
I, who love Nature much as sinners can,
Love her where she most grandeur shows,--in man:
Here find I mountain, forest, cloud, and sun,
River and sea, and glows when day is done;
Nay, where she makes grotesques, and moulds in jest
The clown's cheap clay, I find unfading zest.
The natural instincts year by year retire,
As deer shrink northward from the settler's fire, 140
And he who loves the wild game-flavor more
Than city-feasts, where every man's a bore
To every other man, must seek it where
The steamer's throb and railway's iron blare
Have not yet startled with their punctual stir
The shy, wood-wandering brood of Character.
'There is a village, once the county town,
Through which the weekly mail rolled dustily down,
Where the courts sat, it may be, twice a year,
And the one tavern reeked with rustic cheer; 150
Cheeshogquesumscot erst, now Jethro hight,
Red-man and pale-face bore it equal spite.
The railway ruined it, the natives say,
That passed unwisely fifteen miles away,
And made a drain to which, with steady ooze,
Filtered away law, stage-coach, trade, and news.
The railway saved it: so at least think those
Who love old ways, old houses, old repose.
Of course the Tavern stayed: its genial host
Thought not of flitting more than did the post 160
On which high-hung the fading signboard creaks,
Inscribed, "The Eagle Inn, by Ezra Weeks."
'If in life's journey you should ever find
An inn medicinal for body and mind,
'Tis sure to be some drowsy-looking house
Whose easy landlord has a bustling spouse:
He, if he like you, will not long forego
Some bottle deep in cobwebbed dust laid low,
That, since the War we used to call the "Last,"
Has dozed and held its lang-syne memories fast: 170
From him exhales that Indian-summer air
Of hazy, lazy welcome everywhere,
While with her toil the napery is white,
The china dustless, the keen knife-blades bright,
Salt dry as sand, and bread that seems as though
'Twere rather sea-foam baked than vulgar dough.
'In our swift country, houses trim and white
Are pitched like tents, the lodging of a night;
Each on its bank of baked turf mounted high
Perches impatient o'er the roadside dry, 180
While the wronged landscape coldly stands aloof,
Refusing friendship with the upstart roof.
Not so the Eagle; on a grass-green swell
That toward the south with sweet concessions fell
It dwelt retired, and half had grown to be
As aboriginal as rock or tree.
It nestled close to earth, and seemed to brood
O'er homely thoughts in a half-conscious mood,
As by the peat that rather fades than burns
The smouldering grandam nods and knits by turns, 190
Happy, although her newest news were old
Ere the first hostile drum at Concord rolled.
If paint it e'er had known, it knew no more
Than yellow lichens spattered thickly o'er
That soft lead-gray, less dark beneath the eaves
Which the slow brush of wind and weather leaves.
The ample roof sloped backward to the ground,
And vassal lean-tos gathered thickly round,
Patched on, as sire or son had felt the need,
Like chance growths sprouting from the old roofs seed, 200
Just as about a yellow-pine-tree spring
Its rough-barked darlings in a filial ring.
But the great chimney was the central thought
Whose gravitation through the cluster wrought;
For 'tis not styles far-fetched from Greece or Rome,
But just the Fireside, that can make a home;
None of your spindling things of modern style,
Like pins stuck through to stay the card-built pile,
It rose broad-shouldered, kindly, debonair,
Its warm breath whitening in the October air, 210
While on its front a heart in outline showed
The place it filled in that serene abode.
'When first I chanced the Eagle to explore.
Ezra sat listless by the open door;
One chair careened him at an angle meet,
Another nursed his hugely slippered feet;
Upon a third reposed a shirt-sleeved arm,
And the whole man diffused tobacco's charm.
"Are you the landlord?" "Wahl, I guess I be,"
Watching the smoke he answered leisurely. 220
He was a stoutish man, and through the breast
Of his loose shirt there showed a brambly chest;
Streaked redly as a wind-foreboding morn,
His tanned cheeks curved to temples closely shorn;
Clean-shaved he was, save where a hedge of gray
Upon his brawny throat leaned every way
About an Adam's-apple, that beneath
Bulged like a boulder from a brambly heath.
The Western World's true child and nursling he,
Equipt with aptitudes enough for three: 230
No eye like his to value horse or cow,
Or gauge the contents of a stack or mow;
He could foretell the weather at a word,
He knew the haunt of every beast and bird,
Or where a two-pound trout was sure to lie,
Waiting the flutter of his homemade fly;
Nay, once in autumns five, he had the luck
To drop at fair-play range a ten-tined buck;
Of sportsmen true he favored every whim,
But never cockney found a guide in him; 240
A natural man, with all his instincts fresh,
Not buzzing helpless in Reflection's mesh,
Firm on its feet stood his broad-shouldered mind,
As bluffly honest as a northwest wind;
Hard-headed and soft-hearted, you'd scarce meet
A kindlier mixture of the shrewd and sweet;
Generous by birth, and ill at saying "No,"
Yet in a bargain he was all men's foe,
Would yield no inch of vantage in a trade,
And give away ere nightfall all he made. 250
"Can I have lodging here?" once more I said.
He blew a whiff, and, leaning back his head,
"You come a piece through Bailey's woods, I s'pose,
Acrost a bridge where a big swamp-oak grows?
It don't grow, neither; it's ben dead ten year,
Nor th' ain't a livin' creetur, fur nor near,
Can tell wut killed it; but I some misdoubt
'Twas borers, there's sech heaps on 'em about.
You didn' chance to run ag'inst my son,
A long, slab-sided youngster with a gun? 260
He'd oughto ben back more 'n an hour ago,
An' brought some birds to dress for supper--sho!
There he comes now. 'Say, Obed, wut ye got?
(He'll hev some upland plover like as not.)
Wal, them's real nice uns, an'll eat A 1,
Ef I can stop their bein' overdone;
Nothin' riles _me_ (I pledge my fastin' word)
Like cookin' out the natur' of a bird;
(Obed, you pick 'em out o' sight an' sound,
Your ma'am don't love no feathers cluttrin' round;) 270
Jes' scare 'em with the coals,--thet's _my_ idee."
Then, turning suddenly about on me,
"Wal, Square, I guess so. Callilate to stay?
I'll ask Mis' Weeks; 'bout _thet_ it's hern to say."
'Well, there I lingered all October through,
In that sweet atmosphere of hazy blue,
So leisurely, so soothing, so forgiving,
That sometimes makes New England fit for living.
I watched the landscape, erst so granite glum,
Bloom like the south side of a ripening plum, 280
And each rock-maple on the hillside make
His ten days' sunset doubled in the lake;
The very stone walls draggling up the hills
Seemed touched, and wavered in their roundhead wills.
Ah! there's a deal of sugar in the sun!
Tap me in Indian summer, I should run
A juice to make rock-candy of,--but then
We get such weather scarce one year in ten.
'There was a parlor in the house, a room
To make you shudder with its prudish gloom. 290
The furniture stood round with such an air,
There seemed an old maid's ghost in every chair,
Which looked as it had scuttled to its place
And pulled extempore a Sunday face,
Too smugly proper for a world of sin,
Like boys on whom the minister comes in.
The table, fronting you with icy stare,
Strove to look witless that its legs were bare,
While the black sofa with its horse-hair pall
Gloomed like a bier for Comfort's funeral. 300
Each piece appeared to do its chilly best
To seem an utter stranger to the rest,
As if acquaintanceship were deadly sin,
Like Britons meeting in a foreign inn.
Two portraits graced the wall in grimmest truth,
Mister and Mistress W. in their youth,--
New England youth, that seems a sort of pill,
Half wish-I-dared, half Edwards on the Will,
Bitter to swallow, and which leaves a trace
Of Calvinistic colic on the face. 310
Between them, o'er the mantel, hung in state
Solomon's temple, done in copperplate;
Invention pure, but meant, we may presume,
To give some Scripture sanction to the room.
Facing this last, two samplers you might see,
Each, with its urn and stiffly weeping tree,
Devoted to some memory long ago
More faded than their lines of worsted woe;
Cut paper decked their frames against the flies,
Though none e'er dared an entrance who were wise, 320
And bushed asparagus in fading green
Added its shiver to the franklin clean.
'When first arrived, I chilled a half-hour there,
Nor dared deflower with use a single chair;
I caught no cold, yet flying pains could find
For weeks in me,--a rheumatism of mind.
One thing alone imprisoned there had power
To hold me in the place that long half-hour:
A scutcheon this, a helm-surmounted shield,
Three griffins argent on a sable field; 330
A relic of the shipwrecked past was here,
And Ezra held some Old-World lumber dear.
Nay, do not smile; I love this kind of thing,
These cooped traditions with a broken wing,
This freehold nook in Fancy's pipe-blown ball,
This less than nothing that is more than all!
Have I not seen sweet natures kept alive
Amid the humdrum of your business hive,
Undowered spinsters shielded from all harms,
By airy incomes from a coat of arms?' 340
He paused a moment, and his features took
The flitting sweetness of that inward look
I hinted at before; but, scarcely seen,
It shrank for shelter 'neath his harder mien,
And, rapping his black pipe of ashes clear,
He went on with a self-derisive sneer:
'No doubt we make a part of God's design,
And break the forest-path for feet divine;
To furnish foothold for this grand prevision
Is good, and yet--to be the mere transition, 350
That, you will say, is also good, though I
Scarce like to feed the ogre By-and-By.
Raw edges rasp my nerves; my taste is wooed
By things that are, not going to be, good,
Though were I what I dreamed two lustres gone,
I'd stay to help the Consummation on,
Whether a new Rome than the old more fair,
Or a deadflat of rascal-ruled despair;
But _my_ skull somehow never closed the suture
That seems to knit yours firmly with the future, 360
So you'll excuse me if I'm sometimes fain
To tie the Past's warm nightcap o'er my brain;
I'm quite aware 'tis not in fashion here,
But then your northeast winds are _so_ severe!
'But to my story: though 'tis truly naught
But a few hints in Memory's sketchbook caught,
And which may claim a value on the score
Of calling back some scenery now no more.
Shall I confess? The tavern's only Lar
Seemed (be not shocked!) its homely-featured bar. 370
Here dozed a fire of beechen logs, that bred
Strange fancies in its embers golden-red,
And nursed the loggerhead whose hissing dip,
Timed by nice instinct, creamed the mug of flip
That made from mouth to mouth its genial round,
Nor left one nature wholly winter-bound;
Hence dropt the tinkling coal all mellow-ripe
For Uncle Reuben's talk-extinguished pipe;
Hence rayed the heat, as from an indoor sun,
That wooed forth many a shoot of rustic fun. 380
Here Ezra ruled as king by right divine;
No other face had such a wholesome shine,
No laugh like his so full of honest cheer;
Above the rest it crowed like Chanticleer.
'In this one room his dame you never saw,
Where reigned by custom old a Salic law;
Here coatless lolled he on his throne of oak,
And every tongue paused midway if he spoke.
Due mirth he loved, yet was his sway severe;
No blear-eyed driveller got his stagger here; 390
"Measure was happiness; who wanted more,
Must buy his ruin at the Deacon's store;"
None but his lodgers after ten could stay,
Nor after nine on eves of Sabbath-day.
He had his favorites and his pensioners,
The same that gypsy Nature owns for hers:
Loose-ended souls, whose skills bring scanty gold,
And whom the poor-house catches when they're old;
Rude country-minstrels, men who doctor kine,
Or graft, and, out of scions ten, save nine; 400
Creatures of genius they, but never meant
To keep step with the civic regiment,
These Ezra welcomed, feeling in his mind
Perhaps some motions of the vagrant kind;
These paid no money, yet for them he drew
Special Jamaica from a tap they knew,
And, for their feelings, chalked behind the door
With solemn face a visionary score.
This thawed to life in Uncle Reuben's throat
A torpid shoal of jest and anecdote, 410
Like those queer fish that doze the droughts away,
And wait for moisture, wrapped in sun-baked clay;
This warmed the one-eyed fiddler to his task,
Perched in the corner on an empty cask,
By whose shrill art rapt suddenly, some boor
Rattled a double-shuffle on the floor;
"Hull's Victory" was, indeed, the favorite air,
Though "Yankee Doodle" claimed its proper share.
''Twas there I caught from Uncle Reuben's lips,
In dribbling monologue 'twixt whiffs and sips, 420
The story I so long have tried to tell;
The humor coarse, the persons common,--well,
From Nature only do I love to paint,
Whether she send a satyr or a saint;
To me Sincerity's the one thing good,
Soiled though she be and lost to maidenhood.
Quompegan is a town some ten miles south
From Jethro, at Nagumscot river-mouth,
A seaport town, and makes its title good
With lumber and dried fish and eastern wood. 430
Here Deacon Bitters dwelt and kept the Store,
The richest man for many a mile of shore;
In little less than everything dealt he,
From meeting-houses to a chest of tea;
So dextrous therewithal a flint to skin,
He could make profit on a single pin;
In business strict, to bring the balance true
He had been known to bite a fig in two,
And change a board-nail for a shingle-nail.
All that he had he ready held for sale, 440
His house, his tomb, whate'er the law allows,
And he had gladly parted with his spouse.
His one ambition still to get and get,
He would arrest your very ghost for debt.
His store looked righteous, should the Parson come,
But in a dark back-room he peddled rum,
And eased Ma'am Conscience, if she e'er would scold,
By christening it with water ere he sold.
A small, dry man he was, who wore a queue,
And one white neckcloth all the week-days through,-- 450
On Monday white, by Saturday as dun
As that worn homeward by the prodigal son.
His frosted earlocks, striped with foxy brown,
Were braided up to hide a desert crown;
His coat was brownish, black perhaps of yore;
In summer-time a banyan loose he wore;
His trousers short, through many a season true,
Made no pretence to hide his stockings blue;
A waistcoat buff his chief adornment was,
Its porcelain buttons rimmed with dusky brass. 460
A deacon he, you saw it in each limb,
And well he knew to deacon-off a hymn,
Or lead the choir through all its wandering woes
With voice that gathered unction in his nose,
Wherein a constant snuffle you might hear,
As if with him 'twere winter all the year.
At pew-head sat he with decorous pains,
In sermon-time could foot his weekly gains,
Or, with closed eyes and heaven-abstracted air,
Could plan a new investment in long-prayer. 470
A pious man, and thrifty too, he made
The psalms and prophets partners in his trade,
And in his orthodoxy straitened more
As it enlarged the business at his store;
He honored Moses, but, when gain he planned,
Had his own notion of the Promised Land.
'Soon as the winter made the sledding good,
From far around the farmers hauled him wood,
For all the trade had gathered 'neath his thumb.
He paid in groceries and New England rum, 480
Making two profits with a conscience clear,--
Cheap all he bought, and all he paid with dear.
With his own mete-wand measuring every load,
Each somehow had diminished on the road;
An honest cord in Jethro still would fail
By a good foot upon the Deacon's scale,
And, more to abate the price, his gimlet eye
Would pierce to cat-sticks that none else could spy;
Yet none dared grumble, for no farmer yet
But New Year found him in the Deacon's debt. 490
'While the first snow was mealy under feet,
A team drawled creaking down Quompegan street.
Two cords of oak weighed down the grinding sled,
And cornstalk fodder rustled overhead;
The oxen's muzzles, as they shouldered through,
Were silver-fringed; the driver's own was blue
As the coarse frock that swung below his knee.
Behind his load for shelter waded he;
His mittened hands now on his chest he beat,
Now stamped the stiffened cowhides of his feet, 500
Hushed as a ghost's; his armpit scarce could hold
The walnut whipstock slippery-bright with cold.
What wonder if, the tavern as he past,
He looked and longed, and stayed his beasts at last,
Who patient stood and veiled themselves in steam
While he explored the bar-room's ruddy gleam?
'Before the fire, in want of thought profound,
There sat a brother-townsman weather-bound:
A sturdy churl, crisp-headed, bristly-eared,
Red as a pepper; 'twixt coarse brows and beard 510
His eyes lay ambushed, on the watch for fools,
Clear, gray, and glittering like two bay-edged pools;
A shifty creature, with a turn for fun,
Could swap a poor horse for a better one,--
He'd a high-stepper always in his stall;
Liked far and near, and dreaded therewithal.
To him the in-comer, "Perez, how d' ye do?"
"Jest as I'm mind to, Obed; how do you?"
Then, his eyes twinkling such swift gleams as run
Along the levelled barrel of a gun 520
Brought to his shoulder by a man you know
Will bring his game down, he continued, "So,
I s'pose you're haulin' wood? But you're too late;
The Deacon's off; Old Splitfoot couldn't wait;
He made a bee-line las' night in the storm
To where he won't need wood to keep him warm.
'Fore this he's treasurer of a fund to train
Young imps as missionaries; hopes to gain
That way a contract that he has in view
For fireproof pitchforks of a pattern new, 530
It must have tickled him, all drawbacks weighed,
To think he stuck the Old One in a trade;
His soul, to start with, wasn't worth a carrot.
And all he'd left 'ould hardly serve to swear at."
'By this time Obed had his wits thawed out,
And, looking at the other half in doubt,
Took off his fox-skin cap to scratch his head,
Donned it again, and drawled forth, "Mean he's dead?"
"Jesso; he's dead and t'other _d_ that follers
With folks that never love a thing but dollars. 540
He pulled up stakes last evening, fair and square,
And ever since there's been a row Down There.
The minute the old chap arrived, you see,
Comes the Boss-devil to him, and says he,
'What are you good at? Little enough, I fear;
We callilate to make folks useful here.'
'Well,' says old Bitters, 'I expect I can
Scale a fair load of wood with e'er a man.'
'Wood we don't deal in; but perhaps you'll suit,
Because we buy our brimstone by the foot: 550
Here, take this measurin'-rod, as smooth as sin,
And keep a reckonin' of what loads comes in.
You'll not want business, for we need a lot
To keep the Yankees that you send us hot;
At firin' up they're barely half as spry
As Spaniards or Italians, though they're dry;
At first we have to let the draught on stronger,
But, heat 'em through, they seem to hold it longer.'
'"Bitters he took the rod, and pretty soon
A teamster comes, whistling an ex-psalm tune. 560
A likelier chap you wouldn't ask to see,
No different, but his limp, from you or me"--
"No different, Perez! Don't your memory fail?
Why, where in thunder was his horns and tail?"
"They're only worn by some old-fashioned pokes;
They mostly aim at looking just like folks.
Sech things are scarce as queues and top-boots here;
'Twould spoil their usefulness to look too queer.
Ef you could always know 'em when they come,
They'd get no purchase on you: now be mum. 570
On come the teamster, smart as Davy Crockett,
Jinglin' the red-hot coppers in his pocket,
And clost behind, ('twas gold-dust, you'd ha' sworn,)
A load of sulphur yallower 'n seed-corn;
To see it wasted as it is Down There
Would make a Friction-Match Co. tear its hair!
'Hold on!' says Bitters, 'stop right where you be;
You can't go in athout a pass from me.'
'All right,' says t'other, 'only step round smart;
I must be home by noon-time with the cart.' 580
Bitters goes round it sharp-eyed as a rat,
Then with a scrap of paper on his hat
Pretends to cipher. 'By the public staff,
That load scarce rises twelve foot and a half.'
'There's fourteen foot and over,' says the driver,
'Worth twenty dollars, ef it's worth a stiver;
Good fourth-proof brimstone, that'll make 'em squirm,--
I leave it to the Headman of the Firm;
After we masure it, we always lay
Some on to allow for settlin' by the way. 590
Imp and full-grown, I've carted sulphur here,
And gi'n fair satisfaction, thirty year.'
With that they fell to quarrellin' so loud
That in five minutes they had drawed a crowd,
And afore long the Boss, who heard the row,
Comes elbowin' in with 'What's to pay here now?'
Both parties heard, the measurin'-rod he takes,
And of the load a careful survey makes.
'Sence I have bossed the business here,' says he,
'No fairer load was ever seen by me.' 600
Then, turnin' to the Deacon, 'You mean cus.
None of your old Quompegan tricks with us!
They won't do here: we're plain old-fashioned folks,
And don't quite understand that kind o' jokes.
I know this teamster, and his pa afore him,
And the hard-working Mrs. D. that bore him;
He wouldn't soil his conscience with a lie,
Though he might get the custom-house thereby.
Here, constable, take Bitters by the queue.
And clap him into furnace ninety-two, 610
And try this brimstone on him; if he's bright,
He'll find the masure honest afore night.
He isn't worth his fuel, and I'll bet
The parish oven has to take him yet!'"
'This is my tale, heard twenty years ago
From Uncle Reuben, as the logs burned low,
Touching the walls and ceiling with that bloom
That makes a rose's calyx of a room.
I could not give his language, wherethrough ran
The gamy flavor of the bookless man 620
Who shapes a word before the fancy cools,
As lonely Crusoe improvised his tools.
I liked the tale,--'twas like so many told
By Rutebeuf and his Brother Trouveres bold;
Nor were the hearers much unlike to theirs,
Men unsophisticate, rude-nerved as bears.
Ezra is gone and his large-hearted kind,
The landlords of the hospitable mind;
Good Warriner of Springfield was the last;
An inn is now a vision of the past; 630
One yet-surviving host my mind recalls,--
You'll find him if you go to Trenton Falls.'
THE ORIGIN OF DIDACTIC POETRY
When wise Minerva still was young
And just the least romantic,
Soon after from Jove's head she flung
That preternatural antic,
'Tis said, to keep from idleness
Or flirting, those twin curses,
She spent her leisure, more or less,
In writing po----, no, verses.
How nice they were! to rhyme with _far_
A kind _star_ did not tarry;
The metre, too, was regular
As schoolboy's dot and carry;
And full they were of pious plums,
For sucking Virtue's tender gums
Most tooth-enticing coral.
A clean, fair copy she prepares,
Makes sure of moods and tenses,
With her own hand,--for prudence spares
A man-(or woman-)-uensis;
Complete, and tied with ribbons proud,
She hinted soon how cosy a
Treat it would be to read them loud
After next day's Ambrosia.
The Gods thought not it would amuse
So much as Homer's Odyssees,
But could not very well refuse
The properest of Goddesses;
So all sat round in attitudes
Of various dejection,
As with a _hem!_ the queen of prudes
Began her grave prelection.
At the first pause Zeus said, 'Well sung!--
I mean--ask Phoebus,--_he_ knows.'
Says Phoebus, 'Zounds! a wolf's among
Fine! very fine! but I must go;
They stand in need of me there;
Excuse me!' snatched his stick, and so
Plunged down the gladdened ether.
With the next gap, Mars said, 'For me
Don't wait,--naught could be finer,
But I'm engaged at half past three,--
A fight in Asia Minor!'
Then Venus lisped, 'I'm sorely tried,
These duty-calls are vip'rous;
But I _must_ go; I have a bride
To see about in Cyprus.'
Then Bacchus,--'I must say good-by,
Although my peace it jeopards;
I meet a man at four, to try
A well-broke pair of leopards.'
His words woke Hermes. 'Ah!' he said,
'I _so_ love moral theses!'
Then winked at Hebe, who turned red,
And smoothed her apron's creases.
Just then Zeus snored,--the Eagle drew
His head the wing from under;
Zeus snored,--o'er startled Greece there flew
The many-volumed thunder.
Some augurs counted nine, some, ten;
Some said 'twas war, some, famine;
And all, that other-minded men
Would get a precious----.
Proud Pallas sighed, 'It will not do;
Against the Muse I've sinned, oh!'
And her torn rhymes sent flying through
Olympus's back window.
Then, packing up a peplus clean,
She took the shortest path thence,
And opened, with a mind serene,
A Sunday-school in Athens.
The verses? Some in ocean swilled,
Killed every fish that bit to 'em;
Some Galen caught, and, when distilled,
Found morphine the residuum;
But some that rotted on the earth
Sprang up again in copies,
And gave two strong narcotics birth,
Didactic verse and poppies.
Years after, when a poet asked
The Goddess's opinion,
As one whose soul its wings had tasked
In Art's clear-aired dominion,
'Discriminate,' she said, 'betimes;
The Muse is unforgiving;
Put all your beauty in your rhymes,
Your morals in your living.'
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
Don't believe in the Flying Dutchman?
I've known the fellow for years;
My button I've wrenched from his clutch, man:
I shudder whenever he nears!
He's a Rip van Winkle skipper,
A Wandering Jew of the sea,
Who sails his bedevilled old clipper
In the wind's eye, straight as a bee.
Back topsails! you can't escape him;
The man-ropes stretch with his weight,
And the queerest old toggeries drape him,
The Lord knows how long out of date!
Like a long-disembodied idea,
(A kind of ghost plentiful now,)
He stands there; you fancy you see a
Coeval of Teniers or Douw.
He greets you; would have you take letters:
You scan the addresses with dread,
While he mutters his _donners_ and _wetters_,--
They're all from the dead to the dead!
You seem taking time for reflection,
But the heart fills your throat with a jam,
As you spell in each faded direction
An ominous ending in _dam_.
Am I tagging my rhymes to a legend?
That were changing green turtle to mock:
No, thank you! I've found out which wedge-end
Is meant for the head of a block.
The fellow I have in my mind's eye
Plays the old Skipper's part here on shore,
And sticks like a burr, till he finds I
Have got just the gauge of his bore.
This postman 'twist one ghost and t'other,
With last dates that smell of the mould,
I have met him (O man and brother,
Forgive me!) in azure and gold.
In the pulpit I've known of his preaching,
Out of hearing behind the time,
Some statement of Balaam's impeaching,
Giving Eve a due sense of her crime.
I have seen him some poor ancient thrashing
Into something (God save us!) more dry,
With the Water of Life itself washing
The life out of earth, sea, and sky.
O dread fellow-mortal, get newer
Despatches to carry, or none!
We're as quick as the Greek and the Jew were
At knowing a loaf from a stone.
Till the couriers of God fail in duty,
We sha'n't ask a mummy for news,
Nor sate the soul's hunger for beauty
With your drawings from casts of a Muse.
CREDIDIMUS JOVEM REGNARE
O days endeared to every Muse,
When nobody had any Views,
Nor, while the cloudscape of his mind
By every breeze was new designed,
Insisted all the world should see
Camels or whales where none there be!
O happy days, when men received
From sire to son what all believed,
And left the other world in bliss,
Too busy with bedevilling this! 10
Beset by doubts of every breed
In the last bastion of my creed,
With shot and shell for Sabbath-chime,
I watch the storming-party climb,
Panting (their prey in easy reach),
To pour triumphant through the breach
In walls that shed like snowflakes tons
Of missiles from old-fashioned guns,
But crumble 'neath the storm that pours
All day and night from bigger bores. 20
There, as I hopeless watch and wait
The last life-crushing coil of Fate,
Despair finds solace in the praise
Of those serene dawn-rosy days
Ere microscopes had made us heirs
To large estates of doubts and snares,
By proving that the title-deeds,
Once all-sufficient for men's needs,
Are palimpsests that scarce disguise
The tracings of still earlier lies, 30
Themselves as surely written o'er
An older fib erased before.
So from these days I fly to those
That in the landlocked Past repose,
Where no rude wind of doctrine shakes
From bloom-flushed boughs untimely flakes;
Where morning's eyes see nothing strange,
No crude perplexity of change,
And morrows trip along their ways
Secure as happy yesterdays. 40
Then there were rulers who could trace
Through heroes up to gods their race,
Pledged to fair fame and noble use
By veins from Odin filled or Zeus,
And under bonds to keep divine
The praise of a celestial line.
Then priests could pile the altar's sods,
With whom gods spake as they with gods,
And everywhere from haunted earth
Broke springs of wonder, that had birth 50
In depths divine beyond the ken
And fatal scrutiny of men;
Then hills and groves and streams and seas
Thrilled with immortal presences,
Not too ethereal for the scope
Of human passion's dream or hope.
Now Pan at last is surely dead,
And King No-Credit reigns instead,
Whose officers, morosely strict,
Poor Fancy's tenantry evict, 60
Chase the last Genius from the door,
And nothing dances any more.
Nothing? Ah, yes, our tables do,
Dramming the Old One's own tattoo,
And, if the oracles are dumb,
Have we not mediums! Why be glum?
Fly thither? Why, the very air
Is full of hindrance and despair!
Fly thither? But I cannot fly;
My doubts enmesh me if I try, 70
Each Liliputian, but, combined,
Potent a giant's limbs to bind.
This world and that are growing dark;
A huge interrogation mark,
The Devil's crook episcopal.
Still borne before him since the Fall,
Blackens with its ill-omened sign
The old blue heaven of faith benign.
Whence? Whither? Wherefore? How? Which? Why?
All ask at once, all wait reply. 80
Men feel old systems cracking under 'em;
Life saddens to a mere conundrum
Which once Religion solved, but she
Has lost--has Science found?--the key.
What was snow-bearded Odin, trow,
The mighty hunter long ago,
Whose horn and hounds the peasant hears
Still when the Northlights shake their spears?
Science hath answers twain, I've heard;
Choose which you will, nor hope a third; 90
Whichever box the truth be stowed in,
There's not a sliver left of Odin.
Either he was a pinchbrowed thing,
With scarcely wit a stone to fling,
A creature both in size and shape
Nearer than we are to the ape,
Who hung sublime with brat and spouse
By tail prehensile from the boughs,
And, happier than his maimed descendants,
The culture-curtailed _in_dependents, 100
Could pluck his cherries with both paws,
And stuff with both his big-boned jaws;
Or else the core his name enveloped
Was from a solar myth developed,
Which, hunted to its primal shoot,
Takes refuge in a Sanskrit root,
Thereby to instant death explaining
The little poetry remaining.
Try it with Zeus, 'tis just the same;
The thing evades, we hug a name; 110
Nay, scarcely that,--perhaps a vapor
Born of some atmospheric caper.
All Lempriere's fables blur together
In cloudy symbols of the weather,
And Aphrodite rose from frothy seas
But to illustrate such hypotheses.
With years enough behind his back,
Lincoln will take the selfsame track,
And prove, hulled fairly to the cob,
A mere vagary of Old Prob. 120
Give the right man a solar myth,
And he'll confute the sun therewith.
They make things admirably plain,
But one hard question _will_ remain:
If one hypothesis you lose,
Another in its place you choose,
But, your faith gone, O man and brother,
Whose shop shall furnish you another?
One that will wash, I mean, and wear,
And wrap us warmly from despair? 130
While they are clearing up our puzzles,
And clapping prophylactic muzzles
On the Actaeon's hounds that sniff
Our devious track through But and If,
Would they'd explain away the Devil
And other facts that won't keep level,
But rise beneath our feet or fail,
A reeling ship's deck in a gale!
God vanished long ago, iwis,
A mere subjective synthesis; 140
A doll, stuffed out with hopes and fears,
Too homely for us pretty dears,
Who want one that conviction carries,
Last make of London or of Paris.
He gone, I felt a moment's spasm,
But calmed myself, with Protoplasm,
A finer name, and, what is more,
As enigmatic as before;
Greek, too, and sure to fill with ease
Minds caught in the Symplegades 150
Of soul and sense, life's two conditions,
Each baffled with its own omniscience.
The men who labor to revise
Our Bibles will, I hope, be wise,
And print it without foolish qualms
Instead of God in David's psalms:
Noll had been more effective far
Could he have shouted at Dunbar,
'Rise, Protoplasm!' No dourest Scot
Had waited for another shot. 160
And yet I frankly must confess
A secret unforgivingness,
And shudder at the saving chrism
Whose best New Birth is Pessimism;
My soul--I mean the bit of phosphorus
That fills the place of what that was for us--
Can't bid its inward bores defiance
With the new nursery-tales of science.
What profits me, though doubt by doubt,
As nail by nail, be driven out, 170
When every new one, like the last,
Still holds my coffin-lid as fast?
Would I find thought a moment's truce,
Give me the young world's Mother Goose
With life and joy in every limb,
The chimney-corner tales of Grimm!
Our dear and admirable Huxley
Cannot explain to me why ducks lay,
Or, rather, how into their eggs
Blunder potential wings and legs 180
With will to move them and decide
Whether in air or lymph to glide.
Who gets a hair's-breadth on by showing
That Something Else set all agoing?
Farther and farther back we push
From Moses and his burning bush;
Cry, 'Art Thou there?' Above, below,
All Nature mutters _yes_ and _no!_
'Tis the old answer: we're agreed
Being from Being must proceed, 190
Life be Life's source. I might as well
Obey the meeting-house's bell,
And listen while Old Hundred pours
Forth through the summer-opened doors,
From old and young. I hear it yet,
Swelled by bass-viol and clarinet,
While the gray minister, with face
Radiant, let loose his noble bass.
If Heaven it reached not, yet its roll
Waked all the echoes of the soul, 200
And in it many a life found wings
To soar away from sordid things.
Church gone and singers too, the song
Sings to me voiceless all night long,
Till my soul beckons me afar,
Glowing and trembling like a star.
Will any scientific touch
With my worn strings achieve as much?
I don't object, not I, to know
My sires were monkeys, if 'twas so; 210
I touch my ear's collusive tip
And own the poor-relationship.
That apes of various shapes and sizes
Contained their germs that all the prizes
Of senate, pulpit, camp, and bar win
May give us hopes that sweeten Darwin.
Who knows but from our loins may spring
(Long hence) some winged sweet-throated thing
As much superior to us
As we to Cynocephalus? 220
This is consoling, but, alas,
It wipes no dimness from the glass
Where I am flattening my poor nose,
In hope to see beyond my toes,
Though I accept my pedigree,
Yet where, pray tell me, is the key
That should unlock a private door
To the Great Mystery, such no more?
Each offers his, but one nor all
Are much persuasive with the wall 230
That rises now as long ago,
Between I wonder and I know,
Nor will vouchsafe a pin-hole peep
At the veiled Isis in its keep.
Where is no door, I but produce
My key to find it of no use.
Yet better keep it, after all,
Since Nature's economical,
And who can tell but some fine day
(If it occur to her) she may, 240
In her good-will to you and me,
_Make_ door and lock to match the key?
The world turns mild; democracy, they say,
Rounds the sharp knobs of character away,
And no great harm, unless at grave expense
Of what needs edge of proof, the moral sense;
For man or race is on the downward path
Whose fibre grows too soft for honest wrath,
And there's a subtle influence that springs
From words to modify our sense of things.
A plain distinction grows obscure of late:
Man, if he will, may pardon; but the State 10
Forgets its function if not fixed as Fate.
So thought our sires: a hundred years ago,
If men were knaves, why, people called them so,
And crime could see the prison-portal bend
Its brow severe at no long vista's end.
In those days for plain things plain words would serve;
Men had not learned to admire the graceful swerve
Wherewith the AEsthetic Nature's genial mood
Makes public duty slope to private good;
No muddled conscience raised the saving doubt; 20
A soldier proved unworthy was drummed out,
An officer cashiered, a civil servant
(No matter though his piety were fervent)
Disgracefully dismissed, and through the land
Each bore for life a stigma from the brand
Whose far-heard hiss made others more averse
To take the facile step from bad to worse.
The Ten Commandments had a meaning then,
Felt in their bones by least considerate men,
Because behind them Public Conscience stood, 30
And without wincing made their mandates good.
But now that 'Statesmanship' is just a way
To dodge the primal curse and make it pay,
Since office means a kind of patent drill
To force an entrance to the Nation's till,
And peculation something rather less
Risky than if you spelt it with an _s_;
Now that to steal by law is grown an art,
Whom rogues the sires, their milder sons call smart,
And 'slightly irregular' dilutes the shame 40
Of what had once a somewhat blunter name.
With generous curve we draw the moral line:
Our swindlers are permitted to resign;
Their guilt is wrapped in deferential names,
And twenty sympathize for one that blames.
Add national disgrace to private crime,
Confront mankind with brazen front sublime,
Steal but enough, the world is un-severe,--
Tweed is a statesman, Fisk a financier;
Invent a mine, and he--the Lord knows what; 50
Secure, at any rate, with what you've got.
The public servant who has stolen or lied,
If called on, may resign with honest pride:
As unjust favor put him in, why doubt
Disfavor as unjust has turned him out?
Even it indicted, what is that but fudge
To him who counted-in the elective judge?
Whitewashed, he quits the politician's strife
At ease in mind, with pockets filled for life;
His 'lady' glares with gems whose vulgar blaze 60
The poor man through his heightened taxes pays,
Himself content if one huge Kohinoor
Bulge from a shirt-front ampler than before,
But not too candid, lest it haply tend
To rouse suspicion of the People's Friend.
A public meeting, treated at his cost,
Resolves him back more virtue than he lost;
With character regilt he counts his gains;
What's gone was air, the solid good remains;
For what is good, except what friend and foe 70
Seem quite unanimous in thinking so,
The stocks and bonds which, in our age of loans,
Replace the stupid pagan's stocks and stones?
With choker white, wherein no cynic eye
Dares see idealized a hempen tie,
At parish-meetings he conducts in prayer,
And pays for missions to be sent elsewhere;
On 'Change respected, to his friends endeared,
Add but a Sunday-school class, he's revered,
And his too early tomb will not be dumb 80
To point a moral for our youth to come.
IN THE HALF-WAY HOUSE
At twenty we fancied the blest Middle Ages
A spirited cross of romantic and grand,
All templars and minstrels and ladies and pages,
And love and adventure in Outre-Mer land;
But ah, where the youth dreamed of building a minster,
The man takes a pew and sits reckoning his pelf,
And the Graces wear fronts, the Muse thins to a spinster,
When Middle-Age stares from one's glass at oneself!
Do you twit me with days when I had an Ideal,
And saw the sear future through spectacles green?
Then find me some charm, while I look round and see all
These fat friends of forty, shall keep me nineteen;
Should we go on pining for chaplets of laurel
Who've paid a perruquier for mending our thatch,
Or, our feet swathed in baize, with our Fate pick a quarrel,
If, instead of cheap bay-leaves, she sent a dear scratch?
We called it our Eden, that small patent-baker,
When life was half moonshine and half Mary Jane;
But the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker!--
Did Adam have duns and slip down a back-lane?
Nay, after the Fall did the modiste keep coming
With the last styles of fig-leaf to Madam Eve's bower?
Did Jubal, or whoever taught the girls thrumming,
Make the patriarchs deaf at a dollar the hour?
As I think what I was, I sigh _Desunt nonnulla!_
Years are creditors Sheridan's self could not bilk;
But then, as my boy says, 'What right has a fullah
To ask for the cream, when himself spilt the milk?'
Perhaps when you're older, my lad, you'll discover
The secret with which Auld Lang Syne there is gilt,--
Superstition of old man, maid, poet, and lover,--
That cream rises thickest on milk that was spilt!
We sailed for the moon, but, in sad disillusion,
Snug under Point Comfort are glad to make fast,
And strive (sans our glasses) to make a confusion
'Twixt our rind of green cheese and the moon of the past.
Ah, Might-have-been, Could-have-been, Would-have-been! rascals,
He's a genius or fool whom ye cheat at two-score,
And the man whose boy-promise was likened to Pascal's
Is thankful at forty they don't call him bore!
With what fumes of fame was each confident pate full!
How rates of insurance should rise on the Charles!
And which of us now would not feel wisely grateful,
If his rhymes sold as fast as the Emblems of Quarles?
E'en if won, what's the good of Life's medals and prizes?
The rapture's in what never was or is gone;
That we missed them makes Helens of plain Ann Elizys,
For the goose of To-day still is Memory's swan.
And yet who would change the old dream for new treasure?
Make not youth's sourest grapes the best wine of our life?
Need he reckon his date by the Almanac's measure
Who is twenty life-long in the eyes of his wife?
Ah, Fate, should I live to be nonagenarian,
Let me still take Hope's frail I.O.U.'s upon trust,
Still talk of a trip to the Islands Macarian,
And still climb the dream-tree for--ashes and dust!
AT THE BURNS CENTENNIAL
A hundred years! they're quickly fled,
With all their joy and sorrow;
Their dead leaves shed upon the dead,
Their fresh ones sprung by morrow!
And still the patient seasons bring
Their change of sun and shadow;
New birds still sing with every spring,
New violets spot the meadow.
A hundred years! and Nature's powers
No greater grown nor lessened! 10
They saw no flowers more sweet than ours,
No fairer new moon's crescent.
Would she but treat us poets so,
So from our winter free us,
And set our slow old sap aflow
To sprout in fresh ideas!
Alas, think I, what worth or parts
Have brought me here competing,
To speak what starts in myriad hearts
With Burns's memory beating! 20
Himself had loved a theme like this;
Must I be its entomber?
No pen save his but's sure to miss
Its pathos or its humor.
As I sat musing what to say,
And how my verse to number,
Some elf in play passed by that way,
And sank my lids in slumber;
And on my sleep a vision stole.
Which I will put in metre, 30
Of Burns's soul at the wicket-hole
Where sits the good Saint Peter.
The saint, methought, had left his post
That day to Holy Willie,
Who swore, 'Each ghost that comes shall toast
In brunstane, will he, nill he;
There's nane need hope with phrases fine
Their score to wipe a sin frae;
I'll chalk a sign, to save their tryin',--
A hand ([Illustration of a hand]) and "_Vide infra!_"' 40
Alas! no soil's too cold or dry
For spiritual small potatoes,
Scrimped natures, spry the trade to ply
Of _diaboli advocatus_;
Who lay bent pins in the penance-stool
Where Mercy plumps a cushion,
Who've just one rule for knave and fool,
It saves so much confusion!
So when Burns knocked, Will knit his brows,
His window gap made scanter, 50
And said, 'Go rouse the other house;
We lodge no Tam O'Shanter!'
'_We_ lodge!' laughed Burns. 'Now well I see
Death cannot kill old nature;
No human flea but thinks that he
May speak for his Creator!
'But, Willie, friend, don't turn me forth,
Auld Clootie needs no gauger;
And if on earth I had small worth,
You've let in worse I'se wager!' 60
'Na, nane has knockit at the yett
But found me hard as whunstane;
There's chances yet your bread to get
Wi Auld Nick, gaugin' brunstane.'
Meanwhile, the Unco' Guid had ta'en
Their place to watch the process,
Flattening in vain on many a pane
Their disembodied noses.
Remember, please, 'tis all a dream;
One can't control the fancies 70
Through sleep that stream with wayward gleam,
Like midnight's boreal dances.
Old Willie's tone grew sharp 's a knife:
'_In primis_, I indite ye,
For makin' strife wi' the water o' life,
And preferrin' _aqua vitae!_'
Then roared a voice with lusty din,
Like a skipper's when 'tis blowy,
'If _that's_ a sin, _I_'d ne'er got in,
As sure as my name's Noah!' 80
Baulked, Willie turned another leaf,--
'There's many here have heard ye,
To the pain and grief o' true belief,
Say hard things o' the clergy!'
Then rang a clear tone over all,--
'One plea for him allow me:
I once heard call from o'er me, "Saul,
Why persecutest thou me?"'
To the next charge vexed Willie turned,
And, sighing, wiped his glasses: 90
'I'm much concerned to find ye yearned
O'er-warmly tow'rd the lasses!'
Here David sighed; poor Willie's face
Lost all its self-possession:
'I leave this case to God's own grace;
It baffles _my_ discretion!'
Then sudden glory round me broke,
And low melodious surges
Of wings whose stroke to splendor woke
Creation's farthest verges; 100
A cross stretched, ladder-like, secure
From earth to heaven's own portal,
Whereby God's poor, with footing sure,
Climbed up to peace immortal.
I heard a voice serene and low
(With my heart I seemed to hear it,)
Fall soft and slow as snow on snow,
Like grace of the heavenly spirit;
As sweet as over new-born son
The croon of new-made mother, 110
The voice begun, 'Sore tempted one!'
Then, pausing, sighed, 'Our brother!
'If not a sparrow fall, unless
The Father sees and knows it,
Think! recks He less his form express,
The soul his own deposit?
If only dear to Him the strong,
That never trip nor wander,
Where were the throng whose morning song
Thrills his blue arches yonder? 120
'Do souls alone clear-eyed, strong-kneed,
To Him true service render,
And they who need his hand to lead,
Find they his heart untender?
Through all your various ranks and fates
He opens doors to duty,
And he that waits there at your gates
Was servant of his Beauty.
'The Earth must richer sap secrete,
(Could ye in time but know it!) 130
Must juice concrete with fiercer heat,
Ere she can make her poet;
Long generations go and come,
At last she bears a singer,
For ages dumb of senses numb
'Her cheaper broods in palaces
She raises under glasses,
But souls like these, heav'n's hostages,
Spring shelterless as grasses: 140
They share Earth's blessing and her bane,
The common sun and shower;
What makes your pain to them is gain,
Your weakness is their power.
'These larger hearts must feel the rolls
Of stormier-waved temptation;
These star-wide souls between their poles
Bear zones of tropic passion.
He loved much!--that is gospel good,
Howe'er the text you handle; 150
From common wood the cross was hewed,
By love turned priceless sandal.
'If scant his service at the kirk,
He _paters_ heard and _aves_
From choirs that lurk in hedge and birk,
From blackbird and from mavis;
The cowering mouse, poor unroofed thing,
In him found Mercy's angel;
The daisy's ring brought every spring
To him love's fresh evangel! 160
'Not he the threatening texts who deals
Is highest 'mong the preachers,
But he who feels the woes and weals
Of all God's wandering creatures.
He doth good work whose heart can find
The spirit 'neath the letter;
Who makes his kind of happier mind,
Leaves wiser men and better.
'They make Religion be abhorred
Who round with darkness gulf her, 170
And think no word can please the Lord
Unless it smell of sulphur,
Dear Poet-heart, that childlike guessed
The Father's loving kindness,
Come now to rest! Thou didst his hest,
If haply 'twas in blindness!'
Then leapt heaven's portals wide apart,
And at their golden thunder
With sudden start I woke, my heart
Still throbbing-full of wonder. 180
'Father,' I said, ''tis known to Thee
How Thou thy Saints preparest;
But this I see,--Saint Charity
Is still the first and fairest!'
Dear Bard and Brother! let who may
Against thy faults be railing,
(Though far, I pray, from us be they
That never had a failing!)
One toast I'll give, and that not long,
Which thou wouldst pledge if present, 190
To him whose song, in nature strong,
Makes man of prince and peasant!
IN AN ALBUM
The misspelt scrawl, upon the wall
By some Pompeian idler traced,
In ashes packed (ironic fact!)
Lies eighteen centuries uneffaced,
While many a page of bard and sage,
Deemed once mankind's immortal gain,
Lost from Time's ark, leaves no more mark
Than a keel's furrow through the main.
O Chance and Change! our buzz's range
Is scarcely wider than a fly's;
Then let us play at fame to-day,
To-morrow be unknown and wise;
And while the fair beg locks of hair,
And autographs, and Lord knows what,
Quick! let us scratch our moment's match,
Make our brief blaze, and be forgot!
Too pressed to wait, upon her slate
Fame writes a name or two in doubt;
Scarce written, these no longer please,
And her own finger rubs them out:
It may ensue, fair girl, that you
Years hence this yellowing leaf may see,
And put to task, your memory ask
In vain, 'This Lowell, who was he?'
AT THE COMMENCEMENT DINNER, 1866
IN ACKNOWLEDGING A TOAST TO THE SMITH PROFESSOR
I rise, Mr. Chairman, as both of us know,
With the impromptu I promised you three weeks ago,
Dragged up to my doom by your might and my mane,
To do what I vowed I'd do never again:
And I feel like your good honest dough when possest
By a stirring, impertinent devil of yeast.
'You must rise,' says the leaven. 'I can't,' says the dough;
'Just examine my bumps, and you'll see it's no go.'
'But you must,' the tormentor insists, ''tis all right;
You must rise when I bid you, and, what's more, be light.' 10
'Tis a dreadful oppression, this making men speak
What they're sure to be sorry for all the next week;
Some poor stick requesting, like Aaron's, to bud
Into eloquence, pathos, or wit in cold blood,
As if the dull brain that you vented your spite on
Could be got, like an ox, by mere poking, to Brighton.
They say it is wholesome to rise with the sun,
And I dare say it may be if not overdone;
(I think it was Thomson who made the remark
'Twas an excellent thing in its way--for a lark;) 20
But to rise after dinner and look down the meeting
On a distant (as Gray calls it) prospect of Eating,
With a stomach half full and a cerebrum hollow
As the tortoise-shell ere it was strung for Apollo,
Undercontract to raise anerithmon gelasma
With rhymes so hard hunted they gasp with the asthma,
And jokes not much younger than Jethro's phylacteries,
Is something I leave you yourselves to characterize.
I've a notion, I think, of a good dinner speech,
Tripping light as a sandpiper over the beach, 30
Swerving this way and that as the wave of the moment
Washes out its slight trace with a dash of whim's foam on 't,
And leaving on memory's rim just a sense
Something graceful had gone by, a live present tense;
Not poetry,--no, not quite that, but as good,
A kind of winged prose that could fly if it would.
'Tis a time for gay fancies as fleeting and vain
As the whisper of foam-beads on fresh-poured champagne,
Since dinners were not perhaps strictly designed
For manoeuvring the heavy dragoons of the mind. 40
When I hear your set speeches that start with a pop,
Then wander and maunder, too feeble to stop,
With a vague apprehension from popular rumor
There used to be something by mortals called humor,
Beginning again when you thought they were done,
Respectable, sensible, weighing a ton,
And as near to the present occasions of men
As a Fast Day discourse of the year eighteen ten,
I--well, I sit still, and my sentiments smother,
For am I not also a bore and a brother? 50
And a toast,--what should that, be? Light, airy, and free,
The foam-Aphrodite of Bacchus's sea,
A fancy-tinged bubble, an orbed rainbow-stain,
That floats for an instant 'twixt goblet and brain;
A breath-born perfection, half something, half naught,
And breaks if it strike the hard edge of a thought.
Do you ask me to make such? Ah no, not so simple;
Ask Apelles to paint you the ravishing dimple
Whose shifting enchantment lights Venus's cheek,
And the artist will tell you his skill is to seek; 60
Once fix it, 'tis naught, for the charm of it rises
From the sudden bopeeps of its smiling surprises.
I've tried to define it, but what mother's son
Could ever yet do what he knows should be done?
My rocket has burst, and I watch in the air
Its fast-fading heart's-blood drop back in despair;
Yet one chance is left me, and, if I am quick,
I can palm off, before you suspect me, the stick.
Now since I've succeeded--I pray do not frown--
To Ticknor's and Longfellow's classical gown, 70
And profess four strange languages, which, luckless elf,
I speak like a native (of Cambridge) myself,
Let me beg, Mr. President, leave to propose
A sentiment treading on nobody's toes,
And give, in such ale as with pump-handles _we_ brew,
Their memory who saved us from all talking Hebrew,--
A toast that to deluge with water is good,
For in Scripture they come in just after the flood:
I give you the men but for whom, as I guess, sir,
Modern languages ne'er could have had a professor, 80
The builders of Babel, to whose zeal the lungs
Of the children of men owe confusion of tongues;
And a name all-embracing I couple therewith,
Which is that of my founder--the late Mr. Smith.
An ass munched thistles, while a nightingale
From passion's fountain flooded all the vale.
'Hee-haw!' cried he, 'I hearken,' as who knew
For such ear-largess humble thanks were due.
'Friend,' said the winged pain, 'in vain you bray,
Who tunnels bring, not cisterns, for my lay;
None but his peers the poet rightly hear,
Nor mete we listeners by their length of ear.'
In life's small things be resolute and great
To keep thy muscle trained: know'st thou when Fate
Thy measure takes, or when she'll say to thee,
'I find thee worthy; do this deed for me'?
A camel-driver, angry with his drudge,
Beating him, called him hunchback; to the hind
Thus spake a dervish: 'Friend, the Eternal Judge
Dooms not his work, but ours, the crooked mind.'
Swiftly the politic goes: is it dark?--he borrows a lantern;
Slowly the statesman and sure, guiding his steps by the stars.
'Where lies the capital, pilgrim, seat of who governs the Faithful?'
'Thither my footsteps are bent: it is where Saadi is lodged.'
FOR A BELL AT CORNELL UNIVERSITY
I call as fly the irrevocable hours,
Futile as air or strong as fate to make
Your lives of sand or granite; awful powers,
Even as men choose, they either give or take.
FOR A MEMORIAL WINDOW TO SIR WALTER RALEIGH, SET UP IN ST. MARGARET'S,
WESTMINSTER, BY AMERICAN CONTRIBUTORS
The New World's sons, from England's breasts we drew
Such milk as bids remember whence we came;
Proud of her Past, wherefrom our Present grew,
This window we inscribe with Raleigh's name.
PROPOSED FOR A SOLDIERS' AND SAILORS' MONUMENT IN BOSTON
To those who died for her on land and sea,
That she might have a country great and free,
Boston builds this: build ye her monument
In lives like theirs, at duty's summons spent.
B, taught by Pope to do his good by stealth,
'Twixt participle and noun no difference feeling,
In office placed to serve the Commonwealth,
Does himself all the good he can by stealing.
Skilled to pull wires, he baffles Nature's hope,