Ballads of a Bohemian
Robert W. Service
Part 1 out of 4
Ballads of a Bohemian
Robert W. Service [British-born Canadian Poet -- 1874-1958.]
Author of "The Spell of the Yukon", "Ballads of a Cheechako",
"Rhymes of a Red Cross Man", etc.
[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are marked by tildes (~).
Lines longer than 78 characters are broken (according to metre)
and the continuation is indented two spaces. Some obvious errors
may have been corrected.]
[Note on accents: Due to the great number of French words used in this text,
accents are marked as followed: "/", "\", "^", or "," immediately *follows*
the character it accents. "Cafe/", "fe^te", "cha^teau", "garc,on",
and "me^le/e" are given without accents as they have been absorbed
into the English language. "Finiste\re", "Fourrage\re" and "mo^me"
are given without accents due to excessive repetition.]
Ballads of a Bohemian
By Robert W. Service
Julot the ~Apache~
It Is Later Than You Think
On the Boulevard
The Joy of Little Things
The Absinthe Drinkers
The Wee Shop
The Philistine and the Bohemian
The Bohemian Dreams
A Domestic Tragedy
The Pencil Seller
Fi-Fi in Bed
Gods in the Gutter
The Death of Marie Toro
The Auction Sale
The Joy of Being Poor
Room 4: The Painter Chap
Room 6: The Little Workgirl
Room 5: The Concert Singer
Room 7: The Coco-Fiend
The ~Petit Vieux~
A Song of Sixty-Five
The Wistful One
If You Had a Friend
The Contented Man
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe
Old David Smail
Oh, It Is Good
I Have Some Friends
The Other One
The Blood-Red ~Fourragere~
Kelly of the Legion
The Three Tommies
The Twa Jocks
A Lapse of Time and a Word of Explanation
Was It You?
~Les Grands Mutiles~
The Sightless Man
The Legless Man
The Faceless Man
Ballads of a Bohemian
~Alas! upon some starry height,
The Gods of Excellence to please,
This hand of mine will never smite
The Harp of High Serenities.
Mere minstrel of the street am I,
To whom a careless coin you fling;
But who, beneath the bitter sky,
Blue-lipped, yet insolent of eye,
Can shrill a song of Spring;
A song of merry mansard days,
The cheery chimney-tops among;
Of rolics and of roundelays
When we were young . . . when we were young;
A song of love and lilac nights,
Of wit, of wisdom and of wine;
Of Folly whirling on the Heights,
Of hunger and of hope divine;
Of Blanche, Suzette and Celestine,
And all that gay and tender band
Who shared with us the fat, the lean,
The hazard of Illusion-land;
When scores of Philistines we slew
As mightily with brush and pen
We sought to make the world anew,
And scorned the gods of other men;
When we were fools divinely wise,
Who held it rapturous to strive;
When Art was sacred in our eyes,
And it was Heav'n to be alive. . . .
O days of glamor, glory, truth,
To you to-night I raise my glass;
O freehold of immortal youth,
Bohemia, the lost, alas!
O laughing lads who led the romp,
Respectable you've grown, I'm told;
Your heads you bow to power and pomp,
You've learned to know the worth of gold.
O merry maids who shared our cheer,
Your eyes are dim, your locks are gray;
And as you scrub I sadly fear
Your daughters speed the dance to-day.
O windmill land and crescent moon!
O Columbine and Pierrette!
To you my old guitar I tune
Ere I forget, ere I forget. . . .
So come, good men who toil and tire,
Who smoke and sip the kindly cup,
Ring round about the tavern fire
Ere yet you drink your liquor up;
And hear my simple songs of earth,
Of youth and truth and living things;
Of poverty and proper mirth,
Of rags and rich imaginings;
Of cock-a-hoop, blue-heavened days,
Of hearts elate and eager breath,
Of wonder, worship, pity, praise,
Of sorrow, sacrifice and death;
Of lusting, laughter, passion, pain,
Of lights that lure and dreams that thrall . . .
And if a golden word I gain,
Oh, kindly folks, God save you all!
And if you shake your heads in blame . . .
Good friends, God love you all the same.~
All day the sun has shone into my little attic, a bitter sunshine
that brightened yet did not warm. And so as I toiled and toiled
doggedly enough, many were the looks I cast at the three faggots I had saved
to cook my evening meal. Now, however, my supper is over, my pipe alight,
and as I stretch my legs before the embers I have at last a glow of comfort,
a glimpse of peace.
Here is my Garret up five flights of stairs;
Here's where I deal in dreams and ply in fancies,
Here is the wonder-shop of all my wares,
My sounding sonnets and my red romances.
Here's where I challenge Fate and ring my rhymes,
And grope at glory -- aye, and starve at times.
Here is my Stronghold: stout of heart am I,
Greeting each dawn as songful as a linnet;
And when at night on yon poor bed I lie
(Blessing the world and every soul that's in it),
Here's where I thank the Lord no shadow bars
My skylight's vision of the valiant stars.
Here is my Palace tapestried with dreams.
Ah! though to-night ten ~sous~ are all my treasure,
While in my gaze immortal beauty gleams,
Am I not dowered with wealth beyond all measure?
Though in my ragged coat my songs I sing,
King of my soul, I envy not the king.
Here is my Haven: it's so quiet here;
Only the scratch of pen, the candle's flutter;
Shabby and bare and small, but O how dear!
Mark you -- my table with my work a-clutter,
My shelf of tattered books along the wall,
My bed, my broken chair -- that's nearly all.
Only four faded walls, yet mine, all mine.
Oh, you fine folks, a pauper scorns your pity.
Look, where above me stars of rapture shine;
See, where below me gleams the siren city . . .
Am I not rich? -- a millionaire no less,
If wealth be told in terms of Happiness.
Ten ~sous~. . . . I think one can sing best of poverty when one is holding it
at arm's length. I'm sure that when I wrote these lines,
fortune had for a moment tweaked me by the nose. To-night, however,
I am truly down to ten ~sous~. It is for that I have stayed in my room
all day, rolled in my blankets and clutching my pen with clammy fingers.
I must work, work, work. I must finish my book before poverty crushes me.
I am not only writing for my living but for my life. Even to-day
my Muse was mutinous. For hours and hours anxiously I stared
at a paper that was blank; nervously I paced up and down my garret;
bitterly I flung myself on my bed. Then suddenly it all came.
Line after line I wrote with hardly a halt. So I made another
of my Ballads of the Boulevards. Here it is:
Julot the ~Apache~
You've heard of Julot the ~apache~, and Gigolette, his ~mome~. . . .
Montmartre was their hunting-ground, but Belville was their home.
A little chap just like a boy, with smudgy black mustache, --
Yet there was nothing juvenile in Julot the ~apache~.
From head to heel as tough as steel, as nimble as a cat,
With every trick of twist and kick, a master of ~savate~.
And Gigolette was tall and fair, as stupid as a cow,
With three combs in the greasy hair she banged upon her brow.
You'd see her on the Place Pigalle on any afternoon,
A primitive and strapping wench as brazen as the moon.
And yet there is a tale that's told of Clichy after dark,
And two ~gendarmes~ who swung their arms with Julot for a mark.
And oh, but they'd have got him too; they banged and blazed away,
When like a flash a woman leapt between them and their prey.
She took the medicine meant for him; she came down with a crash . . .
"Quick now, and make your get-away, O Julot the ~apache~!" . . .
But no! He turned, ran swiftly back, his arms around her met;
They nabbed him sobbing like a kid, and kissing Gigolette.
Now I'm a reckless painter chap who loves a jamboree,
And one night in Cyrano's bar I got upon a spree;
And there were trollops all about, and crooks of every kind,
But though the place was reeling round I didn't seem to mind.
Till down I sank, and all was blank when in the bleary dawn
I woke up in my studio to find -- my money gone;
Three hundred francs I'd scraped and squeezed to pay my quarter's rent.
"Some one has pinched my wad," I wailed; "it never has been spent."
And as I racked my brains to seek how I could raise some more,
Before my cruel landlord kicked me cowering from the door:
A knock . . . "Come in," I gruffly groaned; I did not raise my head,
Then lo! I heard a husky voice, a swift and silky tread:
"You got so blind, last night, ~mon vieux~, I collared all your cash --
Three hundred francs. . . . There! ~Nom de Dieu~," said Julot the ~apache~.
And that was how I came to know Julot and Gigolette,
And we would talk and drink a ~bock~, and smoke a cigarette.
And I would meditate upon the artistry of crime,
And he would tell of cracking cribs and cops and doing time;
Or else when he was flush of funds he'd carelessly explain
He'd biffed some bloated ~bourgeois~ on the border of the Seine.
So gentle and polite he was, just like a man of peace,
And not a desperado and the terror of the police.
Now one day in a ~bistro~ that's behind the Place Vendo^me
I came on Julot the ~apache~, and Gigolette his ~mome~.
And as they looked so very grave, says I to them, says I,
"Come on and have a little glass, it's good to rinse the eye.
You both look mighty serious; you've something on the heart."
"Ah, yes," said Julot the ~apache~, "we've something to impart.
When such things come to folks like us, it isn't very gay . . .
It's Gigolette -- she tells me that a ~gosse~ is on the way."
Then Gigolette, she looked at me with eyes like stones of gall:
"If we were honest folks," said she, "I wouldn't mind at all.
But then . . . you know the life we lead; well, anyway I mean
(That is, providing it's a girl) to call her Angeline."
"Cheer up," said I; "it's all in life. There's gold within the dross.
Come on, we'll drink another ~verre~ to Angeline the ~gosse~."
And so the weary winter passed, and then one April morn
The worthy Julot came at last to say the babe was born.
"I'd like to chuck it in the Seine," he sourly snarled, "and yet
I guess I'll have to let it live, because of Gigolette."
I only laughed, for sure I saw his spite was all a bluff,
And he was prouder than a prince behind his manner gruff.
Yet every day he'd blast the brat with curses deep and grim,
And swear to me that Gigolette no longer thought of ~him~.
And then one night he dropped the mask; his eyes were sick with dread,
And when I offered him a smoke he groaned and shook his head:
"I'm all upset; it's Angeline . . . she's covered with a rash . . .
She'll maybe die, my little ~gosse~," cried Julot the ~apache~.
But Angeline, I joy to say, came through the test all right,
Though Julot, so they tell me, watched beside her day and night.
And when I saw him next, says he: "Come up and dine with me.
We'll buy a beefsteak on the way, a bottle and some ~brie~."
And so I had a merry night within his humble home,
And laughed with Angeline the ~gosse~ and Gigolette the ~mome~.
And every time that Julot used a word the least obscene,
How Gigolette would frown at him and point to Angeline:
Oh, such a little innocent, with hair of silken floss,
I do not wonder they were proud of Angeline the ~gosse~.
And when her arms were round his neck, then Julot says to me:
"I must work harder now, ~mon vieux~, since I've to work for three."
He worked so very hard indeed, the police dropped in one day,
And for a year behind the bars they put him safe away.
So dark and silent now, their home; they'd gone -- I wondered where,
Till in a laundry near I saw a child with shining hair;
And o'er the tub a strapping wench, her arms in soapy foam;
Lo! it was Angeline the ~gosse~, and Gigolette the ~mome~.
And so I kept an eye on them and saw that all went right,
Until at last came Julot home, half crazy with delight.
And when he'd kissed them both, says he: "I've had my fill this time.
I'm on the honest now, I am; I'm all fed up with crime.
You mark my words, the page I turn is going to be clean,
I swear it on the head of her, my little Angeline."
And so, to finish up my tale, this morning as I strolled
Along the boulevard I heard a voice I knew of old.
I saw a rosy little man with walrus-like mustache . . .
I stopped, I stared. . . . By all the gods! 'twas Julot the ~apache~.
"I'm in the garden way," he said, "and doing mighty well;
I've half an acre under glass, and heaps of truck to sell.
Come out and see. Oh come, my friend, on Sunday, wet or shine . . .
Say! -- ~it's the First Communion of that little girl of mine.~"
~Chez Moi~, Montparnasse,
~The same evening~.
To-day is an anniversary. A year ago to-day I kicked over an office stool
and came to Paris thinking to make a living by my pen. I was twenty then,
and in my pocket I had twenty pounds. Of that, my ten ~sous~
are all that remain. And so to-night I am going to spend them,
not prudently on bread, but prodigally on beer.
As I stroll down the Boul' Mich' the lingering light has all
the exquisite tenderness of violet; the trees are in their first
translucent green; beneath them the lamps are lit with purest gold,
and from the Little Luxembourg comes a silver jangle of tiny voices.
Taking the gay side of the street, I enter a cafe. Although it isn't
its true name, I choose to call my cafe --
O Tavern of the Golden Snail!
Ten ~sous~ have I, so I'll regale;
Ten ~sous~ your amber brew to sip
(Eight for the ~bock~ and two the tip),
And so I'll sit the evening long,
And smoke my pipe and watch the throng,
The giddy crowd that drains and drinks,
I'll watch it quiet as a sphinx;
And who among them all shall buy
For ten poor ~sous~ such joy as I?
As I who, snugly tucked away,
Look on it all as on a play,
A frolic scene of love and fun,
To please an audience of One.
O Tavern of the Golden Snail!
You've stuff indeed for many a tale.
All eyes, all ears, I nothing miss:
Two lovers lean to clasp and kiss;
The merry students sing and shout,
The nimble ~garcons~ dart about;
Lo! here come Mimi and Musette
With: "~S'il vous plait, une cigarette?~"
Marcel and Rudolf, Shaunard too,
Behold the old rapscallion crew,
With flowing tie and shaggy head . . .
Who says Bohemia is dead?
Oh shades of Murger! prank and clown,
And I will watch and write it down.
O Tavern of the Golden Snail!
What crackling throats have gulped your ale!
What sons of Fame from far and near
Have glowed and mellowed in your cheer!
Within this corner where I sit
Banville and Coppe/e clashed their wit;
And hither too, to dream and drain,
And drown despair, came poor Verlaine.
Here Wilde would talk and Synge would muse,
Maybe like me with just ten ~sous~.
Ah! one is lucky, is one not?
With ghosts so rare to drain a pot!
So may your custom never fail,
O Tavern of the Golden Snail!
There! my pipe is out. Let me light it again and consider.
I have no illusions about myself. I am not fool enough to think I am a poet,
but I have a knack of rhyme and I love to make verses.
Mine is a tootling, tin-whistle music. Humbly and afar I follow
in the footsteps of Praed and Lampson, of Field and Riley, hoping that in time
my Muse may bring me bread and butter. So far, however, it has been
all kicks and no coppers. And to-night I am at the end of my tether.
I wish I knew where to-morrow's breakfast was coming from.
Well, since rhyming's been my ruin, let me rhyme to the bitter end.
It Is Later Than You Think
Lone amid the cafe's cheer,
Sad of heart am I to-night;
Dolefully I drink my beer,
But no single line I write.
There's the wretched rent to pay,
Yet I glower at pen and ink:
Oh, inspire me, Muse, I pray,
~It is later than you think!~
Hello! there's a pregnant phrase.
Bravo! let me write it down;
Hold it with a hopeful gaze,
Gauge it with a fretful frown;
Tune it to my lyric lyre . . .
Ah! upon starvation's brink,
How the words are dark and dire:
It is later than you think.
Weigh them well. . . . Behold yon band,
Students drinking by the door,
Madly merry, ~bock~ in hand,
Saucers stacked to mark their score.
Get you gone, you jolly scamps;
Let your parting glasses clink;
Seek your long neglected lamps:
It is later than you think.
Look again: yon dainty blonde,
All allure and golden grace,
Oh so willing to respond
Should you turn a smiling face.
Play your part, poor pretty doll;
Feast and frolic, pose and prink;
There's the Morgue to end it all,
And it's later than you think.
Yon's a playwright -- mark his face,
Puffed and purple, tense and tired;
Pasha-like he holds his place,
Hated, envied and admired.
How you gobble life, my friend;
Wine, and woman soft and pink!
Well, each tether has its end:
Sir, it's later than you think.
See yon living scarecrow pass
With a wild and wolfish stare
At each empty absinthe glass,
As if he saw Heaven there.
Poor damned wretch, to end your pain
There is still the Greater Drink.
Yonder waits the sanguine Seine . . .
It is later than you think.
Lastly, you who read; aye, you
Who this very line may scan:
Think of all you planned to do . . .
Have you done the best you can?
See! the tavern lights are low;
Black's the night, and how you shrink!
God! and is it time to go?
Ah! the clock is always slow;
It is later than you think;
Sadly later than you think;
Far, far later than you think.
Scarcely do I scribble that last line on the back of an old envelope
when a voice hails me. It is a fellow free-lance, a short-story man
called MacBean. He is having a feast of ~Marennes~ and he asks me
to join him.
MacBean is a Scotsman with the soul of an Irishman. He has a keen, lean,
spectacled face, and if it were not for his gray hair he might be taken for
a student of theology. However, there is nothing of the Puritan in MacBean.
He loves wine and women, and money melts in his fingers.
He has lived so long in the Quarter he looks at life from the Parisian angle.
His knowledge of literature is such that he might be a Professor,
but he would rather be a vagabond of letters. We talk shop.
We discuss the American short story, but MacBean vows
they do these things better in France. He says that some of the ~contes~
printed every day in the ~Journal~ are worthy of Maupassant. After that
he buys more beer, and we roam airily over the fields of literature,
plucking here and there a blossom of quotation. A fine talk, vivid and eager.
It puts me into a kind of glow.
MacBean pays the bill from a handful of big notes, and the thought
of my own empty pockets for a moment damps me. However, when we rise to go,
it is well after midnight, and I am in a pleasant daze.
The rest of the evening may be summed up in the following jingle:
Zut! it's two o'clock.
See! the lights are jumping.
Finish up your ~bock~,
Time we all were humping.
Waiters stack the chairs,
Pile them on the tables;
Let us to our lairs
Underneath the gables.
Up the old Boul' Mich'
Climb with steps erratic.
Steady . . . how I wish
I was in my attic!
Full am I with cheer;
In my heart the joy stirs;
Couldn't be the beer,
Must have been the oysters.
In obscene array
Garbage cans spill over;
How I wish that they
Smelled as sweet as clover!
Charing women wait;
Cafes drop their shutters;
Up and down the gutters.
Down the darkened street
Market carts are creeping;
Horse with wary feet,
Red-faced driver sleeping.
Loads of vivid greens,
Carrots, leeks, potatoes,
Cabbages and beans,
Turnips and tomatoes.
Pair of dapper chaps,
Cigarettes and sashes,
Stare at me, perhaps
"Needn't bother me,
Jolly well you know it;
~Parceque je suis
Quartier Latin poe\te.~
"Give you villanelles,
Madrigals and lyrics;
Ballades and rondels,
Odes and panegyrics.
Poet pinched and poor,
Pricked by cold and hunger;
Think how queer it is!
Every move I'm making,
Center I am shaking;
Oh, how droll to feel
(As I now am feeling),
Even as I reel,
All the world is reeling.
Reeling too the stars,
Neptune and Uranus,
Jupiter and Mars,
Mercury and Venus;
Suns and moons with me,
As I'm homeward straying,
All in sympathy
Swaying, swaying, swaying.
Lord! I've got a head.
Well, it's not surprising.
I must gain my bed
Ere the sun be rising;
When the merry lark
In the sky is soaring,
I'll refuse to hark,
I'll be snoring, snoring.
Strike a sulphur match . . .
Ha! at last my garret.
Fumble at the latch,
Close the door and bar it.
Bed, you graciously
Wait, despite my scorning . . .
Mad old world, good morning.
My Garret, Montparnasse,
Heigh ho! to sleep I vainly try;
Since twelve I haven't closed an eye,
And now it's three, and as I lie,
From Notre Dame to St. Denis
The bells of Paris chime to me;
"You're young," they say, "and strong and free."
I do not turn with sighs and groans
To ease my limbs, to rest my bones,
As if my bed were stuffed with stones,
No peevish murmur tips my tongue --
Ah no! for every sound upflung
Says: "Lad, you're free and strong and young."
And so beneath the sheet's caress
My body purrs with happiness;
Joy bubbles in my veins. . . . Ah yes,
My very blood that leaps along
Is chiming in a joyous song,
Because I'm young and free and strong.
Maybe it is the springtide. I am so happy I am afraid. The sense of living
fills me with exultation. I want to sing, to dance; I am dithyrambic
I think the moon must be to blame:
It fills the room with fairy flame;
It paints the wall, it seems to pour
A dappled flood upon the floor.
I rise and through the window stare . . .
Ye gods! how marvelously fair!
From Montrouge to the Martyr's Hill,
A silver city rapt and still;
Dim, drowsy deeps of opal haze,
And spire and dome in diamond blaze;
The little lisping leaves of spring
Like sequins softly glimmering;
Each roof a plaque of argent sheen,
A gauzy gulf the space between;
Each chimney-top a thing of grace,
Where merry moonbeams prank and chase;
And all that sordid was and mean,
Just Beauty, deathless and serene.
O magic city of a dream!
From glory unto glory gleam;
And I will gaze and pity those
Who on their pillows drowse and doze . . .
And as I've nothing else to do,
Of tea I'll make a rousing brew,
And coax my pipes until they croon,
And chant a ditty to the moon.
There! my tea is black and strong. Inspiration comes with every sip.
Now for the moon.
The moon peeped out behind the hill
As yellow as an apricot;
Then up and up it climbed until
Into the sky it fairly got;
The sky was vast and violet;
The poor moon seemed to faint in fright,
And pale it grew and paler yet,
Like fine old silver, rinsed and bright.
And yet it climbed so bravely on
Until it mounted heaven-high;
Then earthward it serenely shone,
A silver sovereign of the sky,
A bland sultana of the night,
Surveying realms of lily light.
A child saw in the morning skies
The dissipated-looking moon,
And opened wide her big blue eyes,
And cried: "Look, look, my lost balloon!"
And clapped her rosy hands with glee:
"Quick, mother! Bring it back to me."
A poet in a lilied pond
Espied the moon's reflected charms,
And ravished by that beauty blonde,
Leapt out to clasp her in his arms.
And as he'd never learnt to swim,
Poor fool! that was the end of him.
A rustic glimpsed amid the trees
The bluff moon caught as in a snare.
"They say it do be made of cheese,"
Said Giles, "and that a chap bides there. . . .
That Blue Boar ale be strong, I vow --
The lad's a-winkin' at me now."
Two lovers watched the new moon hold
The old moon in her bright embrace.
Said she: "There's mother, pale and old,
And drawing near her resting place."
Said he: "Be mine, and with me wed,"
Moon-high she stared . . . she shook her head.
A soldier saw with dying eyes
The bleared moon like a ball of blood,
And thought of how in other skies,
So pearly bright on leaf and bud
Like peace its soft white beams had lain;
~Like Peace!~ . . . He closed his eyes again.
Child, lover, poet, soldier, clown,
Ah yes, old Moon, what things you've seen!
I marvel now, as you look down,
How can your face be so serene?
And tranquil still you'll make your round,
Old Moon, when we are underground.
"And now, blow out your candle, lad, and get to bed.
See, the dawn is in the sky. Open your window and let its freshness
rouge your cheek. You've earned your rest. Sleep."
Aye, but before I do so, let me read again the last of my ~Ballads~.
The humble garret where I dwell
Is in that Quarter called the Latin;
It isn't spacious -- truth to tell,
There's hardly room to swing a cat in.
But what of that! It's there I fight
For food and fame, my Muse inviting,
And all the day and half the night
You'll find me writing, writing, writing.
Now, it was in the month of May
As, wrestling with a rhyme rheumatic,
I chanced to look across the way,
And lo! within a neighbor attic,
A hand drew back the window shade,
And there, a picture glad and glowing,
I saw a sweet and slender maid,
And she was sewing, sewing, sewing.
So poor the room, so small, so scant,
Yet somehow oh, so bright and airy.
There was a pink geranium plant,
Likewise a very pert canary.
And in the maiden's heart it seemed
Some fount of gladness must be springing,
For as alone I sadly dreamed
I heard her singing, singing, singing.
God love her! how it cheered me then
To see her there so brave and pretty;
So she with needle, I with pen,
We slaved and sang above the city.
And as across my streams of ink
I watched her from a poet's distance,
She stitched and sang . . . I scarcely think
She was aware of my existence.
And then one day she sang no more.
That put me out, there's no denying.
I looked -- she labored as before,
But, bless me! she was crying, crying.
Her poor canary chirped in vain;
Her pink geranium drooped in sorrow;
"Of course," said I, "she'll sing again.
Maybe," I sighed, "she will to-morrow."
Poor child; 'twas finished with her song:
Day after day her tears were flowing;
And as I wondered what was wrong
She pined and peaked above her sewing.
And then one day the blind she drew,
Ah! though I sought with vain endeavor
To pierce the darkness, well I knew
My sewing-girl had gone for ever.
And as I sit alone to-night
My eyes unto her room are turning . . .
I'd give the sum of all I write
Once more to see her candle burning,
Once more to glimpse her happy face,
And while my rhymes of cheer I'm ringing,
Across the sunny sweep of space
To hear her singing, singing, singing.
Heigh ho! I realize I am very weary. It's nice to be so tired,
and to know one can sleep as long as one wants. The morning sunlight
floods in at my window, so I draw the blind, and throw myself on my bed. . . .
My Garret, Montparnasse,
Hurrah! As I opened my eyes this morning to a hard, unfeeling world,
little did I think what a surprise awaited me. A big blue envelope
had been pushed under my door. Another rejection, I thought,
and I took it up distastefully. The next moment I was staring
at my first cheque.
It was an express order for two hundred francs, in payment of a bit of verse.
. . . So to-day I will celebrate. I will lunch at the D'Harcourt,
I will dine on the Grand Boulevard, I will go to the theater.
Well, here's the thing that has turned the tide for me.
It is somewhat in the vein of "Sourdough" Service, the Yukon bard.
I don't think much of his stuff, but they say he makes heaps of money.
I can well believe it, for he drives a Hispano-Suiza in the Bois
every afternoon. The other night he was with a crowd at the Dome Cafe,
a chubby chap who sits in a corner and seldom speaks. I was disappointed.
I thought he was a big, hairy man who swore like a trooper and mixed brandy
with his beer. He only drank Vichy, poor fellow!
Of course you've heard of the ~Nancy Lee~, and how she sailed away
On her famous quest of the Arctic flea, to the wilds of Hudson's Bay?
For it was a foreign Prince's whim to collect this tiny cuss,
And a golden quid was no more to him than a copper to coves like us.
So we sailed away and our hearts were gay as we gazed on the gorgeous scene;
And we laughed with glee as we caught the flea of the wolf and the wolverine;
Yea, our hearts were light as the parasite of the ermine rat we slew,
And the great musk ox, and the silver fox, and the moose and the caribou.
And we laughed with zest as the insect pest of the marmot crowned our zeal,
And the wary mink and the wily "link", and the walrus and the seal.
And with eyes aglow on the scornful snow we danced a rigadoon,
Round the lonesome lair of the Arctic hare, by the light of the silver moon.
But the time was nigh to homeward hie, when, imagine our despair!
For the best of the lot we hadn't got -- the flea of the polar bear.
Oh, his face was long and his breath was strong, as the Skipper he says to me:
"I wants you to linger 'ere, my lad, by the shores of the Hartic Sea;
I wants you to 'unt the polar bear the perishin' winter through,
And if flea ye find of its breed and kind, there's a 'undred quid for you."
But I shook my head: "No, Cap," I said; "it's yourself I'd like to please,
But I tells ye flat I wouldn't do that if ye went on yer bended knees."
Then the Captain spat in the seething brine, and he says: "Good luck to you,
If it can't be did for a 'undred quid, supposin' we call it two?"
So that was why they said good-by, and they sailed and left me there --
Alone, alone in the Arctic Zone to hunt for the polar bear.
Oh, the days were slow and packed with woe,
till I thought they would never end;
And I used to sit when the fire was lit, with my pipe for my only friend.
And I tried to sing some rollicky thing, but my song broke off in a prayer,
And I'd drowse and dream by the driftwood gleam; I'd dream of a polar bear;
I'd dream of a cloudlike polar bear that blotted the stars on high,
With ravenous jaws and flenzing claws, and the flames of hell in his eye.
And I'd trap around on the frozen ground, as a proper hunter ought,
And beasts I'd find of every kind, but never the one I sought.
Never a track in the white ice-pack that humped and heaved and flawed,
Till I came to think: "Why, strike me pink! if the creature ain't a fraud."
And then one night in the waning light, as I hurried home to sup,
I hears a roar by the cabin door, and a great white hulk heaves up.
So my rifle flashed, and a bullet crashed; dead, dead as a stone fell he,
And I gave a cheer, for there in his ear -- Gosh ding me! -- a tiny flea.
At last, at last! Oh, I clutched it fast, and I gazed on it with pride;
And I thrust it into a biscuit-tin, and I shut it safe inside;
With a lid of glass for the light to pass, and space to leap and play;
Oh, it kept alive; yea, seemed to thrive, as I watched it night and day.
And I used to sit and sing to it, and I shielded it from harm,
And many a hearty feed it had on the heft of my hairy arm.
For you'll never know in that land of snow how lonesome a man can feel;
So I made a fuss of the little cuss, and I christened it "Lucille".
But the longest winter has its end, and the ice went out to sea,
And I saw one day a ship in the bay, and there was the ~Nancy Lee~.
So a boat was lowered and I went aboard, and they opened wide their eyes --
Yes, they gave a cheer when the truth was clear,
and they saw my precious prize.
And then it was all like a giddy dream; but to cut my story short,
We sailed away on the fifth of May to the foreign Prince's court;
To a palmy land and a palace grand, and the little Prince was there,
And a fat Princess in a satin dress with a crown of gold on her hair.
And they showed me into a shiny room, just him and her and me,
And the Prince he was pleased and friendly-like,
and he calls for drinks for three.
And I shows them my battered biscuit-tin, and I makes my modest spiel,
And they laughed, they did, when I opened the lid,
and out there popped Lucille.
Oh, the Prince was glad, I could soon see that, and the Princess she was too;
And Lucille waltzed round on the tablecloth as she often used to do.
And the Prince pulled out a purse of gold, and he put it in my hand;
And he says: "It was worth all that, I'm told, to stay in that nasty land."
And then he turned with a sudden cry, and he clutched at his royal beard;
And the Princess screamed, and well she might -- for Lucille had disappeared.
"She must be here," said his Noble Nibbs, so we hunted all around;
Oh, we searched that place, but never a trace of the little beast we found.
So I shook my head, and I glumly said: "Gol darn the saucy cuss!
It's mighty queer, but she isn't here; so . . . she must be on one of us.
You'll pardon me if I make so free, but -- there's just one thing to do:
If you'll kindly go for a half a mo' I'll search me garments through."
Then all alone on the shiny throne I stripped from head to heel;
In vain, in vain; it was very plain that I hadn't got Lucille.
So I garbed again, and I told the Prince, and he scratched his august head;
"I suppose if she hasn't selected you, it must be me," he said.
So ~he~ retired; but he soon came back, and his features showed distress:
"Oh, it isn't you and it isn't me." . . . Then we looked at the Princess.
So ~she~ retired; and we heard a scream, and she opened wide the door;
And her fingers twain were pinched to pain, but a radiant smile she wore:
"It's here," she cries, "our precious prize.
Oh, I found it right away. . . ."
Then I ran to her with a shout of joy, but I choked with a wild dismay.
I clutched the back of the golden throne, and the room began to reel . . .
What she held to me was, ah yes! a flea, but . . . ~it wasn't my Lucille~.
After all, I did not celebrate. I sat on the terrace of the Cafe Napolitain
on the Grand Boulevard, half hypnotized by the passing crowd.
And as I sat I fell into conversation with a god-like stranger
who sipped some golden ambrosia. He told me he was an actor
and introduced me to his beverage, which he called a "Suze-Anni".
He soon left me, but the effect of the golden liquid remained,
and there came over me a desire to write. ~C'e/tait plus fort que moi.~
So instead of going to the Folies Berge\re I spent all evening
in the Omnium Bar near the Bourse, and wrote the following:
On the Boulevard
Oh, it's pleasant sitting here,
Seeing all the people pass;
You beside your ~bock~ of beer,
I behind my ~demi-tasse~.
Chatting of no matter what.
You the Mummer, I the Bard;
Oh, it's jolly, is it not? --
Sitting on the Boulevard.
More amusing than a book,
If a chap has eyes to see;
For, no matter where I look,
Stories, stories jump at me.
Moving tales my pen might write;
Poems plain on every face;
Monologues you could recite
With inimitable grace.
(Ah! Imagination's power)
See yon ~demi-mondaine~ there,
Idly toying with a flower,
Smiling with a pensive air . . .
Well, her smile is but a mask,
For I saw within her muff
Such a wicked little flask:
Vitriol -- ugh! the beastly stuff.
Now look back beside the bar.
See yon curled and scented ~beau~,
Puffing at a fine cigar --
~Sale espe\ce de maquereau~.
Well (of course, it's all surmise),
It's for him she holds her place;
When he passes she will rise,
Dash the vitriol in his face.
Quick they'll carry him away,
Pack him in a Red Cross car;
Her they'll hurry, so they say,
To the cells of St. Lazare.
What will happen then, you ask?
What will all the sequel be?
Ah! Imagination's task
Isn't easy . . . let me see . . .
She will go to jail, no doubt,
For a year, or maybe two;
Then as soon as she gets out
Start her bawdy life anew.
He will lie within a ward,
Harmless as a man can be,
With his face grotesquely scarred,
And his eyes that cannot see.
Then amid the city's din
He will stand against a wall,
With around his neck a tin
Into which the pennies fall.
She will pass (I see it plain,
Like a cinematograph),
She will halt and turn again,
Look and look, and maybe laugh.
Well, I'm not so sure of that --
Whether she will laugh or cry.
He will hold a battered hat
To the lady passing by.
He will smile a cringing smile,
And into his grimy hold,
With a laugh (or sob) the while,
She will drop a piece of gold.
"Bless you, lady," he will say,
And get grandly drunk that night.
She will come and come each day,
Fascinated by the sight.
Then somehow he'll get to know
(Maybe by some kindly friend)
Who she is, and so . . . and so
Bring my story to an end.
How his heart will burst with hate!
He will curse and he will cry.
He will wait and wait and wait,
Till again she passes by.
Then like tiger from its lair
He will leap from out his place,
Down her, clutch her by the hair,
Smear the vitriol on her face.
(Ah! Imagination rare)
See . . . he takes his hat to go;
Now he's level with her chair;
Now she rises up to throw. . . .
~God! and she has done it too~ . . .
Oh, those screams; those hideous screams!
I imagined and . . . it's true:
How his face will haunt my dreams!
What a sight! It makes me sick.
Seems I am to blame somehow.
~Garcon~, fetch a brandy quick . . .
There! I'm feeling better now.
Let's collaborate, we two,
You the Mummer, I the Bard;
Oh, what ripping stuff we'll do,
Sitting on the Boulevard!
It is strange how one works easily at times. I wrote this so quickly
that I might almost say I had reached the end before I had come
to the beginning. In such a mood I wonder why everybody
does not write poetry. Get a Roget's ~Thesaurus~, a rhyming dictionary:
sit before your typewriter with a strong glass of coffee at your elbow,
and just click the stuff off.
So easy 'tis to make a rhyme,
That did the world but know it,
Your coachman might Parnassus climb,
Your butler be a poet.
Then, oh, how charming it would be
If, when in haste hysteric
You called the page, you learned that he
Was grappling with a lyric.
Or else what rapture it would yield,
When cook sent up the salad,
To find within its depths concealed
A touching little ballad.
Or if for tea and toast you yearned,
What joy to find upon it
The chambermaid had coyly laid
A palpitating sonnet.
Your baker could the fashion set;
Your butcher might respond well;
With every tart a triolet,
With every chop a rondel.
Your tailor's bill . . . well, I'll be blowed!
Dear chap! I never knowed him . . .
He's gone and written me an ode,
Instead of what I ~owed~ him.
So easy 'tis to rhyme . . . yet stay!
Oh, terrible misgiving!
Please do not give the game away . . .
I've got to make my living.
Another day of toil and strife,
Another page so white,
Within that fateful Log of Life
That I and all must write;
Another page without a stain
To make of as I may,
That done, I shall not see again
Until the Judgment Day.
Ah, could I, could I backward turn
The pages of that Book,
How often would I blench and burn!
How often loathe to look!
What pages would be meanly scrolled;
What smeared as if with mud;
A few, maybe, might gleam like gold,
Some scarlet seem as blood.
O Record grave, God guide my hand
And make me worthy be,
Since what I write to-day shall stand
To all eternity;
Aye, teach me, Lord of Life, I pray,
As I salute the sun,
To bear myself that every day
May be a Golden One.
I awoke this morning to see the bright sunshine flooding my garret.
No chamber in the palace of a king could have been more fair.
How I sang as I dressed! How I lingered over my coffee, savoring every drop!
How carefully I packed my pipe, gazing serenely over the roofs of Paris.
Never is the city so lovely as in this month of May, when all the trees
are in the fullness of their foliage. As I look, I feel a freshness of vision
in my eyes. Wonder wakes in me. The simplest things move me to delight.
The Joy of Little Things
It's good the great green earth to roam,
Where sights of awe the soul inspire;
But oh, it's best, the coming home,
The crackle of one's own hearth-fire!
You've hob-nobbed with the solemn Past;
You've seen the pageantry of kings;
Yet oh, how sweet to gain at last
The peace and rest of Little Things!
Perhaps you're counted with the Great;
You strain and strive with mighty men;
Your hand is on the helm of State;
Colossus-like you stride . . . and then
There comes a pause, a shining hour,
A dog that leaps, a hand that clings:
O Titan, turn from pomp and power;
Give all your heart to Little Things.
Go couch you childwise in the grass,
Believing it's some jungle strange,
Where mighty monsters peer and pass,
Where beetles roam and spiders range.
'Mid gloom and gleam of leaf and blade,
What dragons rasp their painted wings!
O magic world of shine and shade!
O beauty land of Little Things!
I sometimes wonder, after all,
Amid this tangled web of fate,
If what is great may not be small,
And what is small may not be great.
So wondering I go my way,
Yet in my heart contentment sings . . .
O may I ever see, I pray,
God's grace and love in Little Things.
So give to me, I only beg,
A little roof to call my own,
A little cider in the keg,
A little meat upon the bone;
A little garden by the sea,
A little boat that dips and swings . . .
Take wealth, take fame, but leave to me,
O Lord of Life, just Little Things.
Yesterday I finished my tenth ballad. When I have done about a score
I will seek a publisher. If I cannot find one, I will earn, beg or steal
the money to get them printed. Then if they do not sell I will hawk them
from door to door. Oh, I'll succeed, I know I'll succeed.
And yet I don't want an easy success; give me the joy of the fight,
the thrill of the adventure. Here's my last ballad:
The Absinthe Drinkers
He's yonder, on the terrace of the Cafe de la Paix,
The little wizened Spanish man, I see him every day.
He's sitting with his Pernod on his customary chair;
He's staring at the passers with his customary stare.
He never takes his piercing eyes from off that moving throng,
That current cosmopolitan meandering along:
Dark diplomats from Martinique, pale Rastas from Peru,
An Englishman from Bloomsbury, a Yank from Kalamazoo;
A poet from Montmartre's heights, a dapper little Jap,
Exotic citizens of all the countries on the map;
A tourist horde from every land that's underneath the sun --
That little wizened Spanish man, he misses never one.
Oh, foul or fair he's always there, and many a drink he buys,
And there's a fire of red desire within his hollow eyes.
And sipping of my Pernod, and a-knowing what I know,
Sometimes I want to shriek aloud and give away the show.
I've lost my nerve; he's haunting me; he's like a beast of prey,
That Spanish man that's watching at the Cafe de la Paix.
Say! Listen and I'll tell you all . . . the day was growing dim,
And I was with my Pernod at the table next to him;
And he was sitting soberly as if he were asleep,
When suddenly he seemed to tense, like tiger for a leap.
And then he swung around to me, his hand went to his hip,
My heart was beating like a gong -- my arm was in his grip;
His eyes were glaring into mine; aye, though I shrank with fear,
His fetid breath was on my face, his voice was in my ear:
"Excuse my ~brusquerie~," he hissed; "but, sir, do you suppose --
That portly man who passed us had a ~wen upon his nose?~"
And then at last it dawned on me, the fellow must be mad;
And when I soothingly replied: "I do not think he had,"
The little wizened Spanish man subsided in his chair,
And shrouded in his raven cloak resumed his owlish stare.
But when I tried to slip away he turned and glared at me,
And oh, that fishlike face of his was sinister to see:
"Forgive me if I startled you; of course you think I'm queer;
No doubt you wonder who I am, so solitary here;
You question why the passers-by I piercingly review . . .
Well, listen, my bibacious friend, I'll tell my tale to you.
"It happened twenty years ago, and in another land:
A maiden young and beautiful, two suitors for her hand.
My rival was the lucky one; I vowed I would repay;
Revenge has mellowed in my heart, it's rotten ripe to-day.
My happy rival skipped away, vamoosed, he left no trace;
And so I'm waiting, waiting here to meet him face to face;
For has it not been ever said that all the world one day
Will pass in pilgrimage before the Cafe de la Paix?"
"But, sir," I made remonstrance, "if it's twenty years ago,
You'd scarcely recognize him now, he must have altered so."
The little wizened Spanish man he laughed a hideous laugh,
And from his cloak he quickly drew a faded photograph.
"You're right," said he, "but there are traits (oh, this you must allow)
That never change; Lopez was fat, he must be fatter now.
His paunch is senatorial, he cannot see his toes,
I'm sure of it; and then, behold! that wen upon his nose.
I'm looking for a man like that. I'll wait and wait until . . ."
"What will you do?" I sharply cried; he answered me: "Why, kill!
He robbed me of my happiness -- nay, stranger, do not start;
I'll firmly and politely put -- a bullet in his heart."
And then that little Spanish man, with big cigar alight,
Uprose and shook my trembling hand and vanished in the night.
And I went home and thought of him and had a dreadful dream
Of portly men with each a wen, and woke up with a scream.
And sure enough, next morning, as I prowled the Boulevard,
A portly man with wenny nose roamed into my regard;
Then like a flash I ran to him and clutched him by the arm:
"Oh, sir," said I, "I do not wish to see you come to harm;
But if your life you value aught, I beg, entreat and pray --
Don't pass before the terrace of the Cafe de la Paix."
That portly man he looked at me with such a startled air,
Then bolted like a rabbit down the rue Michaudie\re.
"Ha! ha! I've saved a life," I thought; and laughed in my relief,
And straightway joined the Spanish man o'er his ~ape/ritif~.
And thus each day I dodged about and kept the strictest guard
For portly men with each a wen upon the Boulevard.
And then I hailed my Spanish pal, and sitting in the sun,
We ordered many Pernods and we drank them every one.
And sternly he would stare and stare until my hand would shake,
And grimly he would glare and glare until my heart would quake.
And I would say: "Alphonso, lad, I must expostulate;
Why keep alive for twenty years the furnace of your hate?
Perhaps his wedded life was hell; and you, at least, are free . . ."
"That's where you've got it wrong," he snarled; "the fool she took was ~me~.
My rival sneaked, threw up the sponge, betrayed himself a churl:
'Twas he who got the happiness, I only got -- the girl."
With that he looked so devil-like he made me creep and shrink,
And there was nothing else to do but buy another drink.
Now yonder like a blot of ink he sits across the way,
Upon the smiling terrace of the Cafe de la Paix;
That little wizened Spanish man, his face is ghastly white,
His eyes are staring, staring like a tiger's in the night.
I know within his evil heart the fires of hate are fanned,
I know his automatic's ready waiting to his hand.
I know a tragedy is near. I dread, I have no peace . . .
Oh, don't you think I ought to go and call upon the police?
Look there . . . he's rising up . . . my God!
He leaps from out his place . . .
Yon millionaire from Argentine . . . the two are face to face . . .
A shot! A shriek! A heavy fall! A huddled heap! Oh, see
The little wizened Spanish man is dancing in his glee. . . .
I'm sick . . . I'm faint . . . I'm going mad. . . .
Oh, please take me away . . .
There's BLOOD upon the terrace of the Cafe de la Paix. . . .
And now I'll leave my work and sally forth. The city is ~en fete~.
I'll join the crowd and laugh and sing with the best.
The sunshine seeks my little room
To tell me Paris streets are gay;
That children cry the lily bloom
All up and down the leafy way;
That half the town is mad with May,
With flame of flag and boom of bell:
For Carnival is King to-day;
So pen and page, awhile farewell.
To-day within a grog-shop near
I saw a newly captured linnet,
Who beat against his cage in fear,
And fell exhausted every minute;
And when I asked the fellow there
If he to sell the bird were willing,
He told me with a careless air
That I could have it for a shilling.
And so I bought it, cage and all
(Although I went without my dinner),
And where some trees were fairly tall
And houses shrank and smoke was thinner,
The tiny door I open threw,
As down upon the grass I sank me:
Poor little chap! How quick he flew . . .
He didn't even wait to thank me.
Life's like a cage; we beat the bars,
We bruise our breasts, we struggle vainly;
Up to the glory of the stars
We strain with flutterings ungainly.
And then -- God opens wide the door;
Our wondrous wings are arched for flying;
We poise, we part, we sing, we soar . . .
Light, freedom, love. . . . Fools call it -- Dying.
Yes, that wretched little bird haunted me. I had to let it go.
Since I have seized my own liberty I am a fanatic for freedom.
It is now a year ago I launched on my great adventure. I have had hard times,
been hungry, cold, weary. I have worked harder than ever I did
and discouragement has slapped me on the face. Yet the year has been
the happiest of my life.
And all because I am free. By reason of filthy money no one can say to me:
Do this, or do that. "Master" doesn't exist in my vocabulary.
I can look any man in the face and tell him to go to the devil.
I belong to myself. I am not for sale. It's glorious to feel like that.
It sweetens the dry crust and warms the heart in the icy wind.
For that I will hunger and go threadbare; for that I will live austerely
and deny myself all pleasure. After health, the best thing in life
Here is the last of my ballads. It is by way of being an experiment.
Its theme is commonplace, its language that of everyday.
It is a bit of realism in rhyme.
The Wee Shop
She risked her all, they told me, bravely sinking
The pinched economies of thirty years;
And there the little shop was, meek and shrinking,
The sum of all her dreams and hopes and fears.
Ere it was opened I would see them in it,
The gray-haired dame, the daughter with her crutch;
So fond, so happy, hoarding every minute,
Like artists, for the final tender touch.
The opening day! I'm sure that to their seeming
Was never shop so wonderful as theirs;
With pyramids of jam-jars rubbed to gleaming;
Such vivid cans of peaches, prunes and pears;
And chocolate, and biscuits in glass cases,
And bon-bon bottles, many-hued and bright;
Yet nothing half so radiant as their faces,
Their eyes of hope, excitement and delight.
I entered: how they waited all a-flutter!
How awkwardly they weighed my acid-drops!
And then with all the thanks a tongue could utter
They bowed me from the kindliest of shops.
I'm sure that night their customers they numbered;
Discussed them all in happy, breathless speech;
And though quite worn and weary, ere they slumbered,
Sent heavenward a little prayer for each.
And so I watched with interest redoubled
That little shop, spent in it all I had;
And when I saw it empty I was troubled,
And when I saw them busy I was glad.
And when I dared to ask how things were going,
They told me, with a fine and gallant smile:
"Not badly . . . slow at first . . . There's never knowing . . .
'Twill surely pick up in a little while."
I'd often see them through the winter weather,
Behind the shutters by a light's faint speck,
Poring o'er books, their faces close together,
The lame girl's arm around her mother's neck.
They dressed their windows not one time but twenty,
Each change more pinched, more desperately neat;
Alas! I wondered if behind that plenty
The two who owned it had enough to eat.
Ah, who would dare to sing of tea and coffee?
The sadness of a stock unsold and dead;
The petty tragedy of melting toffee,
The sordid pathos of stale gingerbread.
Ignoble themes! And yet -- those haggard faces!
Within that little shop. . . . Oh, here I say
One does not need to look in lofty places
For tragic themes, they're round us every day.
And so I saw their agony, their fighting,
Their eyes of fear, their heartbreak, their despair;
And there the little shop is, black and blighting,
And all the world goes by and does not care.
They say she sought her old employer's pity,
Content to take the pittance he would give.
The lame girl? yes, she's working in the city;
She coughs a lot -- she hasn't long to live.
Last night MacBean introduced me to Saxon Dane the Poet.
Truly, he is more like a blacksmith than a Bard -- a big bearded man
whose black eyes brood somberly or flash with sudden fire.
We talked of Walt Whitman, and then of others.
"The trouble with poetry," he said, "is that it is too exalted.
It has a phraseology of its own; it selects themes that are quite outside
of ordinary experience. As a medium of expression it fails to reach
the great mass of the people."
Then he added: "To hell with the great mass of the people!
What have they got to do with it? Write to please yourself,
as if not a single reader existed. The moment a man begins
to be conscious of an audience he is artistically damned.
You're not a Poet, I hope?"
I meekly assured him I was a mere maker of verse.
"Well," said he, "better good verse than middling poetry.
And maybe even the humblest of rhymes has its uses. Happiness is happiness,
whether it be inspired by a Rossetti sonnet or a ballad by G. R. Sims.
Let each one who has something to say, say it in the best way he can,
and abide the result. . . . After all," he went on, "what does it matter?
We are living in a pygmy day. With Tennyson and Browning
the line of great poets passed away, perhaps for ever. The world to-day
is full of little minstrels, who echo one another and who pipe away
tunefully enough. But with one exception they do not matter."
I dared to ask who was his one exception. He answered, "Myself, of course."
Here's a bit of light verse which it amused me to write to-day,
as I sat in the sun on the terrace of the Closerie de Lilas:
The Philistine and the Bohemian
She was a Philistine spick and span,
He was a bold Bohemian.
She had the ~mode~, and the last at that;
He had a cape and a brigand hat.
She was so ~riant~ and ~chic~ and trim;
He was so shaggy, unkempt and grim.
On the rue de la Paix she was wont to shine;
The rue de la Gai^te/ was more his line.
She doted on Barclay and Dell and Caine;
He quoted Mallarme/ and Paul Verlaine.
She was a triumph at Tango teas;
At Vorticist's suppers he sought to please.
She thought that Franz Lehar was utterly great;
Of Strauss and Stravinsky he'd piously prate.
She loved elegance, he loved art;
They were as wide as the poles apart:
Yet -- Cupid and Caprice are hand and glove --
They met at a dinner, they fell in love.
Home he went to his garret bare,
Thrilling with rapture, hope, despair.
Swift he gazed in his looking-glass,
Made a grimace and murmured: "Ass!"
Seized his scissors and fiercely sheared,
Severed his buccaneering beard;
Grabbed his hair, and clip! clip! clip!
Off came a bunch with every snip.
Ran to a tailor's in startled state,
Suits a dozen commanded straight;
Coats and overcoats, pants in pairs,
Everything that a dandy wears;
Socks and collars, and shoes and ties,
Everything that a dandy buys.
Chums looked at him with wondering stare,
Fancied they'd seen him before somewhere;
A Brummell, a D'Orsay, a ~beau~ so fine,
A shining, immaculate Philistine.
Home she went in a raptured daze,
Looked in a mirror with startled gaze,
Didn't seem to be pleased at all;
Savagely muttered: "Insipid Doll!"
Clutched her hair and a pair of shears,
Cropped and bobbed it behind the ears;
Aimed at a wan and willowy-necked
Sort of a Holman Hunt effect;
Robed in subtile and sage-green tones,
Like the dames of Rossetti and E. Burne-Jones;
Girdled her garments billowing wide,
Moved with an undulating glide;
All her frivolous friends forsook,
Cultivated a soulful look;
Gushed in a voice with a creamy throb
Over some weirdly Futurist daub --
Did all, in short, that a woman can
To be a consummate Bohemian.
A year went past with its hopes and fears,
A year that seemed like a dozen years.
They met once more. . . . Oh, at last! At last!
They rushed together, they stopped aghast.
They looked at each other with blank dismay,
They simply hadn't a word to say.
He thought with a shiver: "Can this be she?"
She thought with a shudder: "This can't be he?"
This simpering dandy, so sleek and spruce;
This languorous lily in garments loose;
They sought to brace from the awful shock:
Taking a seat, they tried to talk.
She spoke of Bergson and Pater's prose,
He prattled of dances and ragtime shows;
She purred of pictures, Matisse, Cezanne,
His tastes to the girls of Kirchner ran;
She raved of Tchaikovsky and Caesar Franck,
He owned that he was a jazz-band crank!
They made no headway. Alas! alas!
He thought her a bore, she thought him an ass.
And so they arose and hurriedly fled;
Perish Illusion, Romance, you're dead.
He loved elegance, she loved art,
Better at once to part, to part.
And what is the moral of all this rot?
Don't try to be what you know you're not.
And if you're made on a muttonish plan,
Don't seek to seem a Bohemian;
And if to the goats your feet incline,
Don't try to pass for a Philistine.
A Small Cafe in a Side Street,
The Bohemian Dreams
Because my overcoat's in pawn,
I choose to take my glass
Within a little ~bistro~ on
The rue du Montparnasse;
The dusty bins with bottles shine,
The counter's lined with zinc,
And there I sit and drink my wine,
And think and think and think.
I think of hoary old Stamboul,
Of Moslem and of Greek,
Of Persian in coat of wool,
Of Kurd and Arab sheikh;
Of all the types of weal and woe,
And as I raise my glass,
Across Galata bridge I know
They pass and pass and pass.
I think of citron-trees aglow,
Of fan-palms shading down,
Of sailors dancing heel and toe
With wenches black and brown;
And though it's all an ocean far
From Yucatan to France,
I'll bet beside the old bazaar
They dance and dance and dance.
I think of Monte Carlo, where
The pallid croupiers call,
And in the gorgeous, guilty air
The gamblers watch the ball;
And as I flick away the foam
With which my beer is crowned,
The wheels beneath the gilded dome
Go round and round and round.
I think of vast Niagara,
Those gulfs of foam a-shine,
Whose mighty roar would stagger a
More prosy bean than mine;
And as the hours I idly spend
Against a greasy wall,
I know that green the waters bend
And fall and fall and fall.
I think of Nijni Novgorod
And Jews who never rest;
And womenfolk with spade and hod
Who slave in Buda-Pest;
Of squat and sturdy Japanese
Who pound the paddy soil,
And as I loaf and smoke at ease
They toil and toil and toil.
I think of shrines in Hindustan,
Of cloistral glooms in Spain,
Of minarets in Ispahan,
Of St. Sophia's fane,
Of convent towers in Palestine,
Of temples in Cathay,
And as I stretch and sip my wine
They pray and pray and pray.
And so my dreams I dwell within,
And visions come and go,
And life is passing like a Cin-
Till just as surely as my pipe
Is underneath my nose,
Amid my visions rich and ripe
I doze and doze and doze.
Alas! it is too true. Once more I am counting the coppers,
living on the ragged edge. My manuscripts come back to me like boomerangs,
and I have not the postage, far less the heart, to send them out again.
MacBean seems to take an interest in my struggles. I often sit in his room
in the rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, smoking and sipping whisky
into the small hours. He is an old hand, who knows the market
and frankly manufactures for it.
"Give me short pieces," he says; "things of three verses that will fill
a blank half-page of a magazine. Let them be sprightly, and, if possible,
have a snapper at the end. Give me that sort of article.
I think I can place it for you."
Then he looked through a lot of my verse: "This is the kind of stuff
I might be able to sell," he said:
A Domestic Tragedy
Clorinda met me on the way
As I came from the train;
Her face was anything but gay,
In fact, suggested pain.
"Oh hubby, hubby dear!" she cried,
"I've awful news to tell. . . ."
"What is it, darling?" I replied;
"Your mother -- is she well?"
"Oh no! oh no! it is not that,
It's something else," she wailed,
My heart was beating pit-a-pat,
My ruddy visage paled.
Like lightning flash in heaven's dome
The fear within me woke:
"Don't say," I cried, "our little home
Has all gone up in smoke!"
She shook her head. Oh, swift I clasped
And held her to my breast;
"The children! Tell me quick," I gasped,
"Believe me, it is best."
Then, then she spoke; 'mid sobs I caught
These words of woe divine:
"It's coo-coo-cook has gone and bought
~A new hat just like mine.~"
At present I am living on bread and milk. By doing this I can rub along
for another ten days. The thought pleases me. As long as I have a crust
I am master of my destiny. Some day, when I am rich and famous,
I shall look back on all this with regret. Yet I think I shall always
remain a Bohemian. I hate regularity. The clock was never made for me.
I want to eat when I am hungry, sleep when I am weary,
drink -- well, any old time.
I prefer to be alone. Company is a constraint on my spirit.
I never make an engagement if I can avoid it. To do so is to put a mortgage
on my future. I like to be able to rise in the morning with the thought
that the hours before me are all mine, to spend in my own way --
to work, to dream, to watch the unfolding drama of life.
Here is another of my ballads. It is longer than most,
and gave me more trouble, though none the better for that.
The Pencil Seller
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