Ballads of a Bohemian
Robert W. Service
Part 2 out of 4
A pencil, sir; a penny -- won't you buy?
I'm cold and wet and tired, a sorry plight;
Don't turn your back, sir; take one just to try;
I haven't made a single sale to-night.
Oh, thank you, sir; but take the pencil too;
I'm not a beggar, I'm a business man.
Pencils I deal in, red and black and blue;
It's hard, but still I do the best I can.
Most days I make enough to pay for bread,
A cup o' coffee, stretching room at night.
One needs so little -- to be warm and fed,
A hole to kennel in -- oh, one's all right . . .
Excuse me, you're a painter, are you not?
I saw you looking at that dealer's show,
The ~crou^tes~ he has for sale, a shabby lot --
What do I know of Art? What do I know . . .
Well, look! That David Strong so well displayed,
"White Sorcery" it's called, all gossamer,
And pale moon-magic and a dancing maid
(You like the little elfin face of her?) --
That's good; but still, the picture as a whole,
The values, -- Pah! He never painted worse;
Perhaps because his fire was lacking coal,
His cupboard bare, no money in his purse.
Perhaps . . . they say he labored hard and long,
And see now, in the harvest of his fame,
When round his pictures people gape and throng,
A scurvy dealer sells this on his name.
A wretched rag, wrung out of want and woe;
A soulless daub, not David Strong a bit,
Unworthy of his art. . . . How should I know?
How should I know? I'm ~Strong~ -- I painted it.
There now, I didn't mean to let that out.
It came in spite of me -- aye, stare and stare.
You think I'm lying, crazy, drunk, no doubt --
Think what you like, it's neither here nor there.
It's hard to tell so terrible a truth,
To gain to glory, yet be such as I.
It's true; that picture's mine, done in my youth,
Up in a garret near the Paris sky.
The child's my daughter; aye, she posed for me.
That's why I come and sit here every night.
The painting's bad, but still -- oh, still I see
Her little face all laughing in the light.
So now you understand. -- I live in fear
Lest one like you should carry it away;
A poor, pot-boiling thing, but oh, how dear!
"Don't let them buy it, pitying God!" I pray!
And hark ye, sir -- sometimes my brain's awhirl.
Some night I'll crash into that window pane
And snatch my picture back, my little girl,
And run and run. . . .
I'm talking wild again;
A crab can't run. I'm crippled, withered, lame,
Palsied, as good as dead all down one side.
No warning had I when the evil came:
It struck me down in all my strength and pride.
Triumph was mine, I thrilled with perfect power;
Honor was mine, Fame's laurel touched my brow;
Glory was mine -- within a little hour
I was a god and . . . what you find me now.
My child, that little, laughing girl you see,
She was my nurse for all ten weary years;
Her joy, her hope, her youth she gave for me;
Her very smiles were masks to hide her tears.
And I, my precious art, so rich, so rare,
Lost, lost to me -- what could my heart but break!
Oh, as I lay and wrestled with despair,
I would have killed myself but for her sake. . . .
By luck I had some pictures I could sell,
And so we fought the wolf back from the door;
She painted too, aye, wonderfully well.
We often dreamed of brighter days in store.
And then quite suddenly she seemed to fail;
I saw the shadows darken round her eyes.
So tired she was, so sorrowful, so pale,
And oh, there came a day she could not rise.
The doctor looked at her; he shook his head,
And spoke of wine and grapes and Southern air:
"If you can get her out of this," he said,
"She'll have a fighting chance with proper care."
"With proper care!" When he had gone away,
I sat there, trembling, twitching, dazed with grief.
Under my old and ragged coat she lay,
Our room was bare and cold beyond belief.
"Maybe," I thought, "I still can paint a bit,
Some lilies, landscape, anything at all."
Alas! My brush, I could not steady it.
Down from my fumbling hand I let it fall.
"With proper care" -- how could I give her that,
Half of me dead? . . . I crawled down to the street.
Cowering beside the wall, I held my hat
And begged of every one I chanced to meet.
I got some pennies, bought her milk and bread,
And so I fought to keep the Doom away;
And yet I saw with agony of dread
My dear one sinking, sinking day by day.
And then I was awakened in the night:
"Please take my hands, I'm cold," I heard her sigh;
And soft she whispered, as she held me tight:
"Oh daddy, we've been happy, you and I!"
I do not think she suffered any pain,
She breathed so quietly . . . but though I tried,
I could not warm her little hands again:
And so there in the icy dark she died. . . .
The dawn came groping in with fingers gray
And touched me, sitting silent as a stone;
I kissed those piteous lips, as cold as clay --
I did not cry, I did not even moan.
At last I rose, groped down the narrow stair;
An evil fog was oozing from the sky;
Half-crazed I stumbled on, I knew not where,
Like phantoms were the folks that passed me by.
How long I wandered thus I do not know,
But suddenly I halted, stood stock-still --
Beside a door that spilled a golden glow
I saw a name, ~my name~, upon a bill.
"A Sale of Famous Pictures," so it read,
"A Notable Collection, each a gem,
Distinguished Works of Art by painters dead."
The folks were going in, I followed them.
I stood upon the outskirts of the crowd,
I only hoped that none might notice me.
Soon, soon I heard them call my name aloud:
"A `David Strong', his ~Fete in Brittany~."
(A brave big picture that, the best I've done,
It glowed and kindled half the hall away,
With all its memories of sea and sun,
Of pipe and bowl, of joyous work and play.
I saw the sardine nets blue as the sky,
I saw the nut-brown fisher-boats put out.)
"Five hundred pounds!" rapped out a voice near by;
"Six hundred!" "Seven!" "Eight!" And then a shout:
"A thousand pounds!" Oh, how I thrilled to hear!
Oh, how the bids went up by leaps, by bounds!
And then a silence; then the auctioneer:
"It's going! Going! Gone! ~Three thousand pounds!~"
Three thousand pounds! A frenzy leapt in me.
"That picture's mine," I cried; "I'm David Strong.
I painted it, this famished wretch you see;
I did it, I, and sold it for a song.
And in a garret three small hours ago
My daughter died for want of Christian care.
Look, look at me! . . . Is it to mock my woe
You pay three thousand for my picture there?" . . .
O God! I stumbled blindly from the hall;
The city crashed on me, the fiendish sounds
Of cruelty and strife, but over all
"Three thousand pounds!" I heard; "Three thousand pounds!"
There, that's my story, sir; it isn't gay.
Tales of the Poor are never very bright . . .
You'll look for me next time you pass this way . . .
I hope you'll find me, sir; good-night, good-night.
On a late afternoon, when the sunlight is mellow on the leaves,
I often sit near the Fontaine de Medicis, and watch the children
at their play. Sometimes I make bits of verse about them, such as:
Fi-Fi in Bed
Up into the sky I stare;
All the little stars I see;
And I know that God is there
O, how lonely He must be!
Me, I laugh and leap all day,
Till my head begins to nod;
He's so great, He cannot play:
I am glad I am not God.
Poor kind God upon His throne,
Up there in the sky so blue,
Always, always all alone . . .
"~Please, dear God, I pity You.~"
Or else, sitting on the terrace of a cafe on the Boul' Mich',
I sip slowly a Dubonnet or a Byrrh, and the charm of the Quarter possesses me.
I think of men who have lived and loved there, who have groveled and gloried,
who have drunk deep and died. And then I scribble things like this:
Gods in the Gutter
I dreamed I saw three demi-gods who in a cafe sat,
And one was small and crapulous, and one was large and fat;
And one was eaten up with vice and verminous at that.
The first he spoke of secret sins, and gems and perfumes rare;
And velvet cats and courtesans voluptuously fair:
"Who is the Sybarite?" I asked. They answered: "Baudelaire."
The second talked in tapestries, by fantasy beguiled;
As frail as bubbles, hard as gems, his pageantries he piled;
"This Lord of Language, who is he?" They whispered "Oscar Wilde."
The third was staring at his glass from out abysmal pain;
With tears his eyes were bitten in beneath his bulbous brain.
"Who is the sodden wretch?" I said. They told me: "Paul Verlaine."
Oh, Wilde, Verlaine and Baudelaire, their lips were wet with wine;
Oh poseur, pimp and libertine! Oh cynic, sot and swine!
Oh votaries of velvet vice! . . . Oh gods of light divine!
Oh Baudelaire, Verlaine and Wilde, they knew the sinks of shame;
Their sun-aspiring wings they scorched at passion's altar flame;
Yet lo! enthroned, enskied they stand, Immortal Sons of Fame.
I dreamed I saw three demi-gods who walked with feet of clay,
With cruel crosses on their backs, along a miry way;
Who climbed and climbed the bitter steep to which men turn and pray.
And while I am on the subject of the Quarter, let me repeat this,
which is included in my Ballads of the Boulevards:
The Death of Marie Toro
We're taking Marie Toro to her home in Pe\re-La-Chaise;
We're taking Marie Toro to her last resting-place.
Behold! her hearse is hung with wreaths till everything is hid
Except the blossoms heaping high upon her coffin lid.
A week ago she roamed the street, a draggle and a slut,
A by-word of the Boulevard and everybody's butt;
A week ago she haunted us, we heard her whining cry,
We brushed aside the broken blooms she pestered us to buy;
A week ago she had not where to rest her weary head . . .
But now, oh, follow, follow on, for Marie Toro's dead.
Oh Marie, she was once a queen -- ah yes, a queen of queens.
High-throned above the Carnival she held her splendid sway.
For four-and-twenty crashing hours she knew what glory means,
The cheers of half a million throats, the ~de/lire~ of a day.
Yet she was only one of us, a little sewing-girl,
Though far the loveliest and best of all our laughing band;
Then Fortune beckoned; off she danced, amid the dizzy whirl,
And we who once might kiss her cheek were proud to kiss her hand.
For swiftly as a star she soared; she had her every wish;
We saw her roped with pearls of price, with princes at her call;
And yet, and yet I think her dreams were of the old Boul' Mich',
And yet I'm sure within her heart she loved us best of all.
For one night in the Purple Pig, upon the rue Saint-Jacques,
We laughed and quaffed . . . a limousine came swishing to the door;
Then Raymond Jolicoeur cried out: "It's Queen Marie come back,
In satin clad to make us glad, and witch our hearts once more."
But no, her face was strangely sad, and at the evening's end:
"Dear lads," she said; "I love you all, and when I'm far away,
Remember, oh, remember, little Marie is your friend,
And though the world may lie between, I'm coming back some day."
And so she went, and many a boy who's fought his way to Fame,
Can look back on the struggle of his garret days and bless
The loyal heart, the tender hand, the Providence that came
To him and all in hour of need, in sickness and distress.
Time passed away. She won their hearts in London, Moscow, Rome;
They worshiped her in Argentine, adored her in Brazil;
We smoked our pipes and wondered when she might be coming home,
And then we learned the luck had turned, the things were going ill.
Her health had failed, her beauty paled, her lovers fled away;
And some one saw her in Peru, a common drab at last.
So years went by, and faces changed; our beards were sadly gray,
And Marie Toro's name became an echo of the past.
You know that old and withered man, that derelict of art,
Who for a paltry franc will make a crayon sketch of you?
In slouching hat and shabby cloak he looks and is the part,
A sodden old Bohemian, without a single ~sou~.
A boon companion of the days of Rimbaud and Verlaine,
He broods and broods, and chews the cud of bitter souvenirs;
Beneath his mop of grizzled hair his cheeks are gouged with pain,
The saffron sockets of his eyes are hollowed out with tears.
Well, one night in the D'Harcourt's din I saw him in his place,
When suddenly the door was swung, a woman halted there;
A woman cowering like a dog, with white and haggard face,
A broken creature, bent of spine, a daughter of Despair.
She looked and looked, as to her breast she held some withered bloom;
"Too late! Too late! . . . they all are dead and gone," I heard her say.
And once again her weary eyes went round and round the room;
"Not one of all I used to know . . ." she turned to go away . . .
But quick I saw the old man start: "Ah no!" he cried, "not all.
Oh Marie Toro, queen of queens, don't you remember Paul?"
"Oh Marie, Marie Toro, in my garret next the sky,
Where many a day and night I've crouched with not a crust to eat,
A picture hangs upon the wall a fortune couldn't buy,
A portrait of a girl whose face is pure and angel-sweet."
Sadly the woman looked at him: "Alas! it's true," she said;
"That little maid, I knew her once. It's long ago -- she's dead."
He went to her; he laid his hand upon her wasted arm:
"Oh, Marie Toro, come with me, though poor and sick am I.
For old times' sake I cannot bear to see you come to harm;
Ah! there are memories, God knows, that never, never die. . . ."
"Too late!" she sighed; "I've lived my life of splendor and of shame;
I've been adored by men of power, I've touched the highest height;
I've squandered gold like heaps of dirt -- oh, I have played the game;
I've had my place within the sun . . . and now I face the night.
Look! look! you see I'm lost to hope; I live no matter how . . .
To drink and drink and so forget . . . that's all I care for now."
And so she went her heedless way, and all our help was vain.
She trailed along with tattered shawl and mud-corroded skirt;
She gnawed a crust and slept beneath the bridges of the Seine,
A garbage thing, a composite of alcohol and dirt.
The students learned her story and the cafes knew her well,
The Pascal and the Panthe/on, the Sufflot and Vachette;
She shuffled round the tables with the flowers she tried to sell,
A living mask of misery that no one will forget.
And then last week I missed her, and they found her in the street
One morning early, huddled down, for it was freezing cold;
But when they raised her ragged shawl her face was still and sweet;
Some bits of broken bloom were clutched within her icy hold.
That's all. . . . Ah yes, they say that saw: her blue, wide-open eyes
Were beautiful with joy again, with radiant surprise. . . .
A week ago she begged for bread; we've bought for her a stone,
And a peaceful place in Pe\re-La-Chaise where she'll be well alone.
She cost a king his crown, they say; oh, wouldn't she be proud
If she could see the wreaths to-day, the coaches and the crowd!
So follow, follow, follow on with slow and sober tread,
For Marie Toro, gutter waif and queen of queens, is dead.
The Cafe de Deux Magots,
Up in my garret bleak and bare
I tilted back on my broken chair,
And my three old pals were with me there,
Hunger and Thirst and Cold;
Hunger scowled at his scurvy mate:
Cold cowered down by the hollow grate,
And I hated them with a deadly hate
As old as life is old.
So up in my garret that's near the sky
I smiled a smile that was thin and dry:
"You've roomed with me twenty year," said I,
"Hunger and Thirst and Cold;
But now, begone down the broken stair!
I've suffered enough of your spite . . . so there!"
Bang! Bang! I slapped on the table bare
A glittering heap of gold.
"Red flames will jewel my wine to-night;
I'll loose my belt that you've lugged so tight;
Ha! Ha! Dame Fortune is smiling bright;
The stuff of my brain I've sold;
~Canaille~ of the gutter, up! Away!
You've battened on me for a bitter-long day;
But I'm driving you forth, and forever and aye,
Hunger and Thirst and Cold."
So I kicked them out with a scornful roar;
Yet, oh, they turned at the garret door;
Quietly there they spoke once more:
"The tale is not all told.
It's ~au revoir~, but it's not good-by;
We're yours, old chap, till the day you die;
Laugh on, you fool! Oh, you'll never defy
Hunger and Thirst and Cold."
Hurrah! The crisis in my financial career is over. Once more
I have weathered the storm, and never did money jingle so sweetly
in my pocket. It was MacBean who delivered me. He arrived
at the door of my garret this morning, with a broad grin of pleasure
on his face.
"Here," said he; "I've sold some of your rubbish. They'll take more too,
of the same sort."
With that he handed me three crisp notes. For a moment I thought
that he was paying the money out of his own pocket, as he knew
I was desperately hard up; but he showed me the letter enclosing the cheque
he had cashed for me.
So we sought the Grand Boulevard, and I had a Pernod, which rose to my head
in delicious waves of joy. I talked ecstatic nonsense, and seemed to walk
like a god in clouds of gold. We dined on frogs' legs and Vouvray,
and then went to see the Revue at the Marigny. A very merry evening.
Such is the life of Bohemia, up and down, fast and feast;
its very uncertainty its charm.
Here is my latest ballad, another attempt to express
the sentiment of actuality:
The Auction Sale
Her little head just topped the window-sill;
She even mounted on a stool, maybe;
She pressed against the pane, as children will,
And watched us playing, oh so wistfully!
And then I missed her for a month or more,
And idly thought: "She's gone away, no doubt,"
Until a hearse drew up beside the door . . .
I saw a tiny coffin carried out.
And after that, towards dusk I'd often see
Behind the blind another face that looked:
Eyes of a young wife watching anxiously,
Then rushing back to where her dinner cooked.
She often gulped it down alone, I fear,
Within her heart the sadness of despair,
For near to midnight I would vaguely hear
A lurching step, a stumbling on the stair.
These little dramas of the common day!
A man weak-willed and fore-ordained to fail . . .
The window's empty now, they've gone away,
And yonder, see, their furniture's for sale.
To all the world their door is open wide,
And round and round the bargain-hunters roam,
And peer and gloat, like vultures avid-eyed,
Above the corpse of what was once a home.
So reverent I go from room to room,
And see the patient care, the tender touch,
The love that sought to brighten up the gloom,
The woman-courage tested overmuch.
Amid those things so intimate and dear,
Where now the mob invades with brutal tread,
I think: "What happiness is buried here,
What dreams are withered and what hopes are dead!"
Oh, woman dear, and were you sweet and glad
Over the lining of your little nest!
What ponderings and proud ideas you had!
What visions of a shrine of peace and rest!
For there's his easy-chair upon the rug,
His reading-lamp, his pipe-rack on the wall,
All that you could devise to make him snug --
And yet you could not hold him with it all.
Ah, patient heart, what homelike joys you planned
To stay him by the dull domestic flame!
Those silken cushions that you worked by hand
When you had time, before the baby came.
Oh, how you wove around him cozy spells,
And schemed so hard to keep him home of nights!
Aye, every touch and turn some story tells
Of sweet conspiracies and dead delights.
And here upon the scratched piano stool,
Tied in a bundle, are the songs you sung;
That cozy that you worked in colored wool,
The Spanish lace you made when you were young,
And lots of modern novels, cheap reprints,
And little dainty knick-knacks everywhere;
And silken bows and curtains of gay chintz . . .
~And oh, her tiny crib, her folding chair!~
Sweet woman dear, and did your heart not break,
To leave this precious home you made in vain?
Poor shabby things! so prized for old times' sake,
With all their memories of love and pain.
Alas! while shouts the raucous auctioneer,
And rat-faced dames are prying everywhere,
The echo of old joy is all I hear,
All, all I see just heartbreak and despair.
Imagination is the great gift of the gods. Given it, one does not need
to look afar for subjects. There is romance in every face.
Those who have Imagination live in a land of enchantment
which the eyes of others cannot see. Yet if it brings marvelous joy
it also brings exquisite pain. Who lives a hundred lives
must die a hundred deaths.
I do not know any of the people who live around me. Sometimes I pass them
on the stairs. However, I am going to give my imagination rein,
and string some rhymes about them.
Before doing so, having money in my pocket and seeing the prospect
of making more, let me blithely chant about
The Joy of Being Poor
Let others sing of gold and gear, the joy of being rich;
But oh, the days when I was poor, a vagrant in a ditch!
When every dawn was like a gem, so radiant and rare,
And I had but a single coat, and not a single care;
When I would feast right royally on bacon, bread and beer,
And dig into a stack of hay and doze like any peer;
When I would wash beside a brook my solitary shirt,
And though it dried upon my back I never took a hurt;
When I went romping down the road contemptuous of care,
And slapped Adventure on the back -- by Gad! we were a pair;
When, though my pockets lacked a coin, and though my coat was old,
The largess of the stars was mine, and all the sunset gold;
When time was only made for fools, and free as air was I,
And hard I hit and hard I lived beneath the open sky;
When all the roads were one to me, and each had its allure . . .
Ye Gods! these were the happy days, the days when I was poor.
Or else, again, old pal of mine, do you recall the times
You struggled with your storyettes, I wrestled with my rhymes;
Oh, we were happy, were we not? -- we used to live so "high"
(A little bit of broken roof between us and the sky);
Upon the forge of art we toiled with hammer and with tongs;
You told me all your rippling yarns, I sang to you my songs.
Our hats were frayed, our jackets patched, our boots were down at heel,
But oh, the happy men were we, although we lacked a meal.
And if I sold a bit of rhyme, or if you placed a tale,
What feasts we had of tenderloins and apple-tarts and ale!
And yet how often we would dine as cheerful as you please,
Beside our little friendly fire on coffee, bread and cheese.
We lived upon the ragged edge, and grub was never sure,
But oh, these were the happy days, the days when we were poor.
Alas! old man, we're wealthy now, it's sad beyond a doubt;
We cannot dodge prosperity, success has found us out.
Your eye is very dull and drear, my brow is creased with care,
We realize how hard it is to be a millionaire.
The burden's heavy on our backs -- you're thinking of your rents,
I'm worrying if I'll invest in five or six per cents.
We've limousines, and marble halls, and flunkeys by the score,
We play the part . . . but say, old chap, oh, isn't it a bore?
We work like slaves, we eat too much, we put on evening dress;
We've everything a man can want, I think . . . but happiness.
Come, let us sneak away, old chum; forget that we are rich,
And earn an honest appetite, and scratch an honest itch.
Let's be two jolly garreteers, up seven flights of stairs,
And wear old clothes and just pretend we aren't millionaires;
And wonder how we'll pay the rent, and scribble ream on ream,
And sup on sausages and tea, and laugh and loaf and dream.
And when we're tired of that, my friend, oh, you will come with me;
And we will seek the sunlit roads that lie beside the sea.
We'll know the joy the gipsy knows, the freedom nothing mars,
The golden treasure-gates of dawn, the mintage of the stars.
We'll smoke our pipes and watch the pot, and feed the crackling fire,
And sing like two old jolly boys, and dance to heart's desire;
We'll climb the hill and ford the brook and camp upon the moor . . .
Old chap, let's haste, I'm mad to taste the Joy of Being Poor.
My Garret, Montparnasse,
~To rest my fagged brain now and then,
When wearied of my proper labors,
I lay aside my lagging pen
And get to thinking on my neighbors;
For, oh, around my garret den
There's woe and poverty a-plenty,
And life's so interesting when
A lad is only two-and-twenty.
Now, there's that artist gaunt and wan,
A little card his door adorning;
It reads: "Je ne suis pour personne",
A very frank and fitting warning.
I fear he's in a sorry plight;
He starves, I think, too proud to borrow,
I hear him moaning every night:
Maybe they'll find him dead to-morrow.~
Room 4: The Painter Chap
He gives me such a bold and curious look,
That young American across the way,
As if he'd like to put me in a book
(Fancies himself a poet, so they say.)
Ah well! He'll make no "document" of me.
I lock my door. Ha! ha! Now none shall see. . . .
Pictures, just pictures piled from roof to floor,
Each one a bit of me, a dream fulfilled,
A vision of the beauty I adore,
My own poor glimpse of glory, passion-thrilled . . .
But now my money's gone, I paint no more.
For three days past I have not tasted food;
The jeweled colors run . . . I reel, I faint;
They tell me that my pictures are no good,
Just crude and childish daubs, a waste of paint.
I burned to throw on canvas all I saw --
Twilight on water, tenderness of trees,
Wet sands at sunset and the smoking seas,
The peace of valleys and the mountain's awe:
Emotion swayed me at the thought of these.
I sought to paint ere I had learned to draw,
And that's the trouble. . . .
Ah well! here am I,
Facing my failure after struggle long;
And there they are, my ~croutes~ that none will buy
(And doubtless they are right and I am wrong);
Well, when one's lost one's faith it's time to die. . . .
This knife will do . . . and now to slash and slash;
Rip them to ribands, rend them every one,
My dreams and visions -- tear and stab and gash,
So that their crudeness may be known to none;
Poor, miserable daubs! Ah! there, it's done. . . .
And now to close my little window tight.
Lo! in the dusking sky, serenely set,
The evening star is like a beacon bright.
And see! to keep her tender tryst with night
How Paris veils herself in violet. . . .
Oh, why does God create such men as I? --
All pride and passion and divine desire,
Raw, quivering nerve-stuff and devouring fire,
Foredoomed to failure though they try and try;
Abortive, blindly to destruction hurled;
Unfound, unfit to grapple with the world. . . .
And now to light my wheezy jet of gas;
Chink up the window-crannies and the door,
So that no single breath of air may pass;
So that I'm sealed air-tight from roof to floor.
There, there, that's done; and now there's nothing more. . . .
Look at the city's myriad lamps a-shine;
See, the calm moon is launching into space . . .
There will be darkness in these eyes of mine
Ere it can climb to shine upon my face.
Oh, it will find such peace upon my face! . . .
City of Beauty, I have loved you well,
A laugh or two I've had, but many a sigh;
I've run with you the scale from Heav'n to Hell.
Paris, I love you still . . . good-by, good-by.
Thus it all ends -- unhappily, alas!
It's time to sleep, and now . . . ~blow out the gas~. . . .
~Now there's that little ~midinette~
Who goes to work each morning daily;
I choose to call her Blithe Babette,
Because she's always humming gaily;
And though the Goddess "Comme-il-faut"
May look on her with prim expression,
It's Pagan Paris where, you know,
The queen of virtues is Discretion.~
Room 6: The Little Workgirl
Three gentlemen live close beside me --
A painter of pictures bizarre,
A poet whose virtues might guide me,
A singer who plays the guitar;
And there on my lintel is Cupid;
I leave my door open, and yet
These gentlemen, aren't they stupid!
They never make love to Babette.
I go to the shop every morning;
I work with my needle and thread;
Silk, satin and velvet adorning,
Then luncheon on coffee and bread.
Then sewing and sewing till seven;
Or else, if the order I get,
I toil and I toil till eleven --
And such is the day of Babette.
It doesn't seem cheerful, I fancy;
The wage is unthinkably small;
And yet there is one thing I can say:
I keep a bright face through it all.
I chaff though my head may be aching;
I sing a gay song to forget;
I laugh though my heart may be breaking --
It's all in the life of Babette.
That gown, O my lady of leisure,
You begged to be "finished in haste."
It gives you an exquisite pleasure,
Your lovers remark on its taste.
Yet . . . oh, the poor little white faces,
The tense midnight toil and the fret . . .
I fear that the foam of its laces
Is salt with the tears of Babette.
It takes a brave heart to be cheery
With no gleam of hope in the sky;
The future's so utterly dreary,
I'm laughing -- in case I should cry.
And if, where the gay lights are glowing,
I dine with a man I have met,
And snatch a bright moment -- who's going
To blame a poor little Babette?
And you, Friend beyond all the telling,
Although you're an ocean away,
Your pictures, they tell me, are selling,
You're married and settled, they say.
Such happiness one wouldn't barter;
Yet, oh, do you never regret
The Springtide, the roses, Montmartre,
Youth, poverty, love and -- Babette?
~That blond-haired chap across the way
With sunny smile and voice so mellow,
He sings in some cheap cabaret,
Yet what a gay and charming fellow!
His breath with garlic may be strong,
What matters it? his laugh is jolly;
His day he gives to sleep and song:
His night's made up of song and folly.~
Room 5: The Concert Singer
I'm one of these haphazard chaps
Who sit in cafes drinking;
A most improper taste, perhaps,
Yet pleasant, to my thinking.
For, oh, I hate discord and strife;
I'm sadly, weakly human;
And I do think the best of life
Is wine and song and woman.
Now, there's that youngster on my right
Who thinks himself a poet,
And so he toils from morn to night
And vainly hopes to show it;
And there's that dauber on my left,
Within his chamber shrinking --
He looks like one of hope bereft;
He lives on air, I'm thinking.
But me, I love the things that are,
My heart is always merry;
I laugh and tune my old guitar:
~Sing ho! and hey-down-derry.~
Oh, let them toil their lives away
To gild a tawdry era,
But I'll be gay while yet I may:
I'm sure you know that picture well,
A monk, all else unheeding,
Within a bare and gloomy cell
A musty volume reading;
While through the window you can see
In sunny glade entrancing,
With cap and bells beneath a tree
A jester dancing, dancing.
Which is the fool and which the sage?
I cannot quite discover;
But you may look in learning's page
And I'll be laughter's lover.
For this our life is none too long,
And hearts were made for gladness;
Let virtue lie in joy and song,
The only sin be sadness.
So let me troll a jolly air,
Come what come will to-morrow;
I'll be no ~cabotin~ of care,
No ~souteneur~ of sorrow.
Let those who will indulge in strife,
To my most merry thinking,
The true philosophy of life
Is laughing, loving, drinking.
~And there's that weird and ghastly hag
Who walks head bent, with lips a-mutter;
With twitching hands and feet that drag,
And tattered skirts that sweep the gutter.
An outworn harlot, lost to hope,
With staring eyes and hair that's hoary
I hear her gibber, dazed with dope:
I often wonder what's her story.~
Room 7: The Coco-Fiend
I look at no one, me;
I pass them on the stair;
Shadows! I don't see;
Haunting, taunting, staring, glaring,
Shadows! I don't care.
Once my room I gain
Then my life begins.
Shut the door on pain;
How the Devil grins!
Grin with might and main;
Grin and grin in vain;
Here's where Heav'n begins:
A whiff! Ah, that's the thing.
How it makes me gay!
Now I want to sing,
Leap, laugh, play.
Ha! I've had my fling!
Mistress of a king
In my day.
Just another snuff . . .
Oh, the blessed stuff!
How the wretched room
Rushes from my sight;
Misery and gloom
Melt into delight;
Fear and death and doom
Vanish in the night.
No more cold and pain,
I am young again,
Oh, I was made to be good, to be good,
For a true man's love and a life that's sweet;
Fireside blessings and motherhood.
Little ones playing around my feet.
How it all unfolds like a magic screen,
Tender and glowing and clear and glad,
The wonderful mother I might have been,
The beautiful children I might have had;
Romping and laughing and shrill with glee,
Oh, I see them now and I see them plain.
Darlings! Come nestle up close to me,
You comfort me so, and you're just . . . Cocaine.
It's Life that's all to blame:
We can't do what we will;
She robes us with her shame,
She crowns us with her ill.
I do not care, because
I see with bitter calm,
Life made me what I was,
Life makes me what I am.
Could I throw back the years,
It all would be the same;
Hunger and cold and tears,
Misery, fear and shame,
And then the old refrain,
A love-child I, so here my mother came,
Where she might live in peace with none to blame.
And how she toiled! Harder than any slave,
What courage! patient, hopeful, tender, brave.
We had a little room at Lavilette,
So small, so neat, so clean, I see it yet.
Poor mother! sewing, sewing late at night,
Her wasted face beside the candlelight,
This Paris crushed her. How she used to sigh!
And as I watched her from my bed I knew
She saw red roofs against a primrose sky
And glistening fields and apples dimmed with dew.
Hard times we had. We counted every ~sou~,
We sewed sacks for a living. I was quick . . .
Four busy hands to work instead of two.
Oh, we were happy there, till she fell sick. . . .
My mother lay, her face turned to the wall,
And I, a girl of sixteen, fair and tall,
Sat by her side, all stricken with despair,
Knelt by her bed and faltered out a prayer.
A doctor's order on the table lay,
Medicine for which, alas! I could not pay;
Medicine to save her life, to soothe her pain.
I sought for something I could sell, in vain . . .
All, all was gone! The room was cold and bare;
Gone blankets and the cloak I used to wear;
Bare floor and wall and cupboard, every shelf --
Nothing that I could sell . . . except myself.
I sought the street, I could not bear
To hear my mother moaning there.
I clutched the paper in my hand.
'Twas hard. You cannot understand . . .
I walked as martyr to the flame,
Almost exalted in my shame.
They turned, who heard my voiceless cry,
"For Sale, a virgin, who will buy?"
And so myself I fiercely sold,
And clutched the price, a piece of gold.
Into a pharmacy I pressed;
I took the paper from my breast.
I gave my money . . . how it gleamed!
How precious to my eyes it seemed!
And then I saw the chemist frown,
Quick on the counter throw it down,
Shake with an angry look his head:
"Your ~louis d'or~ is bad," he said.
Dazed, crushed, I went into the night,
I clutched my gleaming coin so tight.
No, no, I could not well believe
That any one could so deceive.
I tried again and yet again --
Contempt, suspicion and disdain;
Always the same reply I had:
"Get out of this. Your money's bad."
Heart broken to the room I crept,
To mother's side. All still . . . she slept . . .
I bent, I sought to raise her head . . .
"Oh, God, have pity!" she was dead.
That's how it all began.
Said I: Revenge is sweet.
So in my guilty span
I've ruined many a man.
They've groveled at my feet,
I've pity had for none;
I've bled them every one.
Oh, I've had interest for
That worthless ~louis d'or~.
But now it's over; see,
I care for no one, me;
Only at night sometimes
In dreams I hear the chimes
Of wedding-bells and see
A woman without stain
With children at her knee.
Ah, how you comfort me,
Cocaine! . . .
The Omnium Bar, near the Bourse,
Late July 1914.
MacBean, before he settled down to the manufacture of mercantile fiction,
had ideas of a nobler sort, which bore their fruit in a slender book of poems.
In subject they are either erotic, mythologic, or descriptive of nature.
So polished are they that the mind seems to slide over them:
so faultless in form that the critics hailed them with highest praise,
and as many as a hundred copies were sold.
Saxon Dane, too, has published a book of poems, but he, on the other hand,
defies tradition to an eccentric degree. Originality is his sin.
He strains after it in every line. I must confess I think
much of the free verse he writes is really prose, and a good deal of it
blank verse chopped up into odd lengths. He talks of assonance and color,
of stress and pause and accent, and bewilders me with his theories.
He and MacBean represent two extremes, and at night, as we sit
in the Cafe du Do^me, they have the hottest of arguments.
As for me, I listen with awe, content that my medium is verse,
and that the fashions of Hood, Thackeray and Bret Harte
are the fashions of to-day.
Of late I have been doing light stuff, "fillers" for MacBean.
Here are three of my specimens:
Oh, have you forgotten those afternoons
With riot of roses and amber skies,
When we thrilled to the joy of a million Junes,
And I sought for your soul in the deeps of your eyes?
I would love you, I promised, forever and aye,
And I meant it too; yet, oh, isn't it odd?
When we met in the Underground to-day
I addressed you as Mary instead of as Maude.
Oh, don't you remember that moonlit sea,
With us on a silver trail afloat,
When I gracefully sank on my bended knee
At the risk of upsetting our little boat?
Oh, I vowed that my life was blighted then,
As friendship you proffered with mournful mien;
But now as I think of your children ten,
I'm glad you refused me, Evangeline.
Oh, is that moment eternal still
When I breathed my love in your shell-like ear,
And you plucked at your fan as a maiden will,
And you blushed so charmingly, Guenivere?
Like a worshiper at your feet I sat;
For a year and a day you made me mad;
But now, alas! you are forty, fat,
And I think: What a lucky escape I had!
Oh, maidens I've set in a sacred shrine,
Oh, Rosamond, Molly and Mignonette,
I've deemed you in turn the most divine,
In turn you've broken my heart . . . and yet
It's easily mended. What's past is past.
To-day on Lucy I'm going to call;
For I'm sure that I know true love at last,
And ~She~ is the fairest girl of all.
The ~Petit Vieux~
"Sow your wild oats in your youth," so we're always told;
But I say with deeper sooth: "Sow them when you're old."
I'll be wise till I'm about seventy or so:
Then, by Gad! I'll blossom out as an ancient ~beau~.
I'll assume a dashing air, laugh with loud Ha! ha! . . .
How my grandchildren will stare at their grandpapa!
Their perfection aureoled I will scandalize:
Won't I be a hoary old sinner in their eyes!
Watch me, how I'll learn to chaff barmaids in a bar;
Scotches daily, gayly quaff, puff a fierce cigar.
I will haunt the Tango teas, at the stage-door stand;
Wait for Dolly Dimpleknees, bouquet in my hand.
Then at seventy I'll take flutters at roulette;
While at eighty hope I'll make good at poker yet;
And in fashionable togs to the races go,
Gayest of the gay old dogs, ninety years or so.
"Sow your wild oats while you're young," that's what you are told;
Don't believe the foolish tongue -- sow 'em when you're old.
Till you're threescore years and ten, take my humble tip,
Sow your nice tame oats and then . . . Hi, boys! Let 'er rip.
It's slim and trim and bound in blue;
Its leaves are crisp and edged with gold;
Its words are simple, stalwart too;
Its thoughts are tender, wise and bold.
Its pages scintillate with wit;
Its pathos clutches at my throat:
Oh, how I love each line of it!
That Little Book I Never Wrote.
In dreams I see it praised and prized
By all, from plowman unto peer;
It's pencil-marked and memorized,
It's loaned (and not returned, I fear);
It's worn and torn and travel-tossed,
And even dusky natives quote
That classic that the world has lost,
The Little Book I Never Wrote.
Poor ghost! For homes you've failed to cheer,
For grieving hearts uncomforted,
Don't haunt me now. . . . Alas! I fear
The fire of Inspiration's dead.
A humdrum way I go to-night,
From all I hoped and dreamed remote:
Too late . . . a better man must write
That Little Book I Never Wrote.
Talking about writing books, there is a queer character
who shuffles up and down the little streets that neighbor the Place Maubert,
and who, they say, has been engaged on one for years. Sometimes I see him
cowering in some cheap ~bouge~, and his wild eyes gleam at me
through the tangle of his hair. But I do not think he ever sees me.
He mumbles to himself, and moves like a man in a dream.
His pockets are full of filthy paper on which he writes from time to time.
The students laugh at him and make him tipsy; the street boys
pelt him with ordure; the better cafes turn him from their doors.
But who knows? At least, this is how I see him:
Before I drink myself to death,
God, let me finish up my Book!
At night, I fear, I fight for breath,
And wake up whiter than a spook;
And crawl off to a ~bistro~ near,
And drink until my brain is clear.
Rare Absinthe! Oh, it gives me strength
To write and write; and so I spend
Day after day, until at length
With joy and pain I'll write The End:
Then let this carcase rot; I give
The world my Book -- my Book will live.
For every line is tense with truth,
There's hope and joy on every page;
A cheer, a clarion call to Youth,
A hymn, a comforter to Age:
All's there that I was meant to be,
My part divine, the God in me.
It's of my life the golden sum;
Ah! who that reads this Book of mine,
In stormy centuries to come,
Will dream I rooted with the swine?
Behold! I give mankind my best:
What does it matter, all the rest?
It's this that makes sublime my day;
It's this that makes me struggle on.
Oh, let them mock my mortal clay,
My spirit's deathless as the dawn;
Oh, let them shudder as they look . . .
I'll be immortal in my Book.
And so beside the sullen Seine
I fight with dogs for filthy food,
Yet know that from my sin and pain
Will soar serene a Something Good;
Exultantly from shame and wrong
A Right, a Glory and a Song.
How charming it is, this Paris of the summer skies! Each morning
I leap up with joy in my heart, all eager to begin the day of work.
As I eat my breakfast and smoke my pipe, I ponder over my task.
Then in the golden sunshine that floods my little attic I pace up and down,
absorbed and forgetful of the world. As I compose I speak the words aloud.
There are difficulties to overcome; thoughts that will not fit their mold;
rebellious rhymes. Ah! those moments of despair and defeat.
Then suddenly the mind grows lucid, imagination glows, the snarl unravels.
In the end is always triumph and success. O delectable ~me/tier~!
Who would not be a rhymesmith in Paris, in Bohemia, in the heart of youth!
I have now finished my twentieth ballad. Five more and they will be done.
In quiet corners of cafes, on benches of the Luxembourg, on the sunny Quays
I read them over one by one. Here is my latest:
Day after day behold me plying
My pen within an office drear;
The dullest dog, till homeward hieing,
Then lo! I reign a king of cheer.
A throne have I of padded leather,
A little court of kiddies three,
A wife who smiles whate'er the weather,
A feast of muffins, jam and tea.
The table cleared, a romping battle,
A fairy tale, a "Children, bed,"
A kiss, a hug, a hush of prattle
(God save each little drowsy head!)
A cozy chat with wife a-sewing,
A silver lining clouds that low'r,
Then she too goes, and with her going,
I come again into my Hour.
I poke the fire, I snugly settle,
My pipe I prime with proper care;
The water's purring in the kettle,
Rum, lemon, sugar, all are there.
And now the honest grog is steaming,
And now the trusty briar's aglow:
Alas! in smoking, drinking, dreaming,
How sadly swift the moments go!
Oh, golden hour! 'twixt love and duty,
All others I to others give;
But you are mine to yield to Beauty,
To glean Romance, to greatly live.
For in my easy-chair reclining . . .
~I feel the sting of ocean spray;
And yonder wondrously are shining
The Magic Isles of Far Away.
Beyond the comber's crashing thunder
Strange beaches flash into my ken;
On jetties heaped head-high with plunder
I dance and dice with sailor-men.
Strange stars swarm down to burn above me,
Strange shadows haunt, strange voices greet;
Strange women lure and laugh and love me,
And fling their bastards at my feet.
Oh, I would wish the wide world over,
In ports of passion and unrest,
To drink and drain, a tarry rover
With dragons tattooed on my chest,
With haunted eyes that hold red glories
Of foaming seas and crashing shores,
With lips that tell the strangest stories
Of sunken ships and gold moidores;
Till sick of storm and strife and slaughter,
Some ghostly night when hides the moon,
I slip into the milk-warm water
And softly swim the stale lagoon.
Then through some jungle python-haunted,
Or plumed morass, or woodland wild,
I win my way with heart undaunted,
And all the wonder of a child.
The pathless plains shall swoon around me,
The forests frown, the floods appall;
The mountains tiptoe to confound me,
The rivers roar to speed my fall.
Wild dooms shall daunt, and dawns be gory,
And Death shall sit beside my knee;
Till after terror, torment, glory,
I win again the sea, the sea. . . .~
Oh, anguish sweet! Oh, triumph splendid!
Oh, dreams adieu! my pipe is dead.
My glass is dry, my Hour is ended,
It's time indeed I stole to bed.
How peacefully the house is sleeping!
Ah! why should I strange fortunes plan?
To guard the dear ones in my keeping --
That's task enough for any man.
So through dim seas I'll ne'er go spoiling;
The red Tortugas never roam;
Please God! I'll keep the pot a-boiling,
And make at least a happy home.
My children's path shall gleam with roses,
Their grace abound, their joy increase.
And so my Hour divinely closes
With tender thoughts of praise and peace.
The Garden of the Luxembourg,
Late July 1914.
When on some scintillating summer morning I leap lightly
up to the seclusion of my garret, I often think of those lines:
"In the brave days when I was twenty-one."
True, I have no loving, kind Lisette to pin her petticoat across the pane,
yet I do live in hope. Am I not in Bohemia the Magical,
Bohemia of Murger, of de Musset, of Verlaine? Shades of Mimi Pinson,
of Trilby, of all that immortal line of laughterful grisettes,
do not tell me that the days of love and fun are forever at an end!
Yes, youth is golden, but what of age? Shall it too not testify
to the rhapsody of existence? Let the years between be those of struggle,
of sufferance -- of disillusion if you will; but let youth and age
affirm the ecstasy of being. Let us look forward all to a serene sunset,
and in the still skies "a late lark singing".
This thought comes to me as, sitting on a bench near the band-stand,
I see an old savant who talks to all the children. His clean-shaven face
is alive with kindliness; under his tall silk hat his white hair falls
to his shoulders. He wears a long black cape over a black frock-coat,
very neat linen, and a flowing tie of black silk. I call him
"Silvester Bonnard". As I look at him I truly think the best of life
are the years between sixty and seventy.
A Song of Sixty-Five
Brave Thackeray has trolled of days when he was twenty-one,
And bounded up five flights of stairs, a gallant garreteer;
And yet again in mellow vein when youth was gaily run,
Has dipped his nose in Gascon wine, and told of Forty Year.
But if I worthy were to sing a richer, rarer time,
I'd tune my pipes before the fire and merrily I'd strive
To praise that age when prose again has given way to rhyme,
The Indian Summer days of life when I'll be Sixty-five;
For then my work will all be done, my voyaging be past,
And I'll have earned the right to rest where folding hills are green;
So in some glassy anchorage I'll make my cable fast, --
Oh, let the seas show all their teeth, I'll sit and smile serene.
The storm may bellow round the roof, I'll bide beside the fire,
And many a scene of sail and trail within the flame I'll see;
For I'll have worn away the spur of passion and desire. . . .
Oh yes, when I am Sixty-five, what peace will come to me.
I'll take my breakfast in my bed, I'll rise at half-past ten,
When all the world is nicely groomed and full of golden song;
I'll smoke a bit and joke a bit, and read the news, and then
I'll potter round my peach-trees till I hear the luncheon gong.
And after that I think I'll doze an hour, well, maybe two,
And then I'll show some kindred soul how well my roses thrive;
I'll do the things I never yet have found the time to do. . . .
Oh, won't I be the busy man when I am Sixty-five.
I'll revel in my library; I'll read De Morgan's books;
I'll grow so garrulous I fear you'll write me down a bore;
I'll watch the ways of ants and bees in quiet sunny nooks,
I'll understand Creation as I never did before.
When gossips round the tea-cups talk I'll listen to it all;
On smiling days some kindly friend will take me for a drive:
I'll own a shaggy collie dog that dashes to my call:
I'll celebrate my second youth when I am Sixty-five.
Ah, though I've twenty years to go, I see myself quite plain,
A wrinkling, twinkling, rosy-cheeked, benevolent old chap;
I think I'll wear a tartan shawl and lean upon a cane.
I hope that I'll have silver hair beneath a velvet cap.
I see my little grandchildren a-romping round my knee;
So gay the scene, I almost wish 'twould hasten to arrive.
Let others sing of Youth and Spring, still will it seem to me
The golden time's the olden time, some time round Sixty-five.
From old men to children is but a step, and there too,
in the shadow of the Fontaine de Medicis, I spend much of my time
watching the little ones. Childhood, so innocent, so helpless, so trusting,
is somehow pathetic to me.
There was one jolly little chap who used to play with a large
white Teddy Bear. He was always with his mother, a sweet-faced woman,
who followed his every movement with delight. I used to watch them both,
and often spoke a few words.
Then one day I missed them, and it struck me I had not seen them for a week,
even a month, maybe. After that I looked for them a time or two
and soon forgot.
Then this morning I saw the mother in the rue D'Assas.
She was alone and in deep black. I wanted to ask after the boy,
but there was a look in her face that stopped me.
I do not think she will ever enter the garden of the Luxembourg again.
O Teddy Bear! with your head awry
And your comical twisted smile,
You rub your eyes -- do you wonder why
You've slept such a long, long while?
As you lay so still in the cupboard dim,
And you heard on the roof the rain,
Were you thinking . . . what has become of ~him~?
And when will he play again?
Do you sometimes long for a chubby hand,
And a voice so sweetly shrill?
O Teddy Bear! don't you understand
Why the house is awf'ly still?
You sit with your muzzle propped on your paws,
And your whimsical face askew.
Don't wait, don't wait for your friend . . . because
He's sleeping and dreaming too.
Aye, sleeping long. . . . You remember how
He stabbed our hearts with his cries?
And oh, the dew of pain on his brow,
And the deeps of pain in his eyes!
And, Teddy Bear! you remember, too,
As he sighed and sank to his rest,
How all of a sudden he smiled to you,
And he clutched you close to his breast.
I'll put you away, little Teddy Bear,
In the cupboard far from my sight;
Maybe he'll come and he'll kiss you there,
A wee white ghost in the night.
But me, I'll live with my love and pain
A weariful lifetime through;
And my Hope: will I see him again, again?
Ah, God! If I only knew!
After old men and children I am greatly interested in dogs.
I will go out of my way to caress one who shows any desire to be friendly.
There is a very filthy fellow who collects cigarette stubs
on the Boul' Mich', and who is always followed by a starved yellow cur.
The other day I came across them in a little side street.
The man was stretched on the pavement brutishly drunk and dead to the world.
The dog, lying by his side, seemed to look at me with sad, imploring eyes.
Though all the world despise that man, I thought, this poor brute
loves him and will be faithful unto death.
From this incident I wrote the verses that follow:
A wild and woeful race he ran
Of lust and sin by land and sea;
Until, abhorred of God and man,
They swung him from the gallows-tree.
And then he climbed the Starry Stair,
And dumb and naked and alone,
With head unbowed and brazen glare,
He stood before the Judgment Throne.
The Keeper of the Records spoke:
"This man, O Lord, has mocked Thy Name.
The weak have wept beneath his yoke,
The strong have fled before his flame.
The blood of babes is on his sword;
His life is evil to the brim:
Look down, decree his doom, O Lord!
Lo! there is none will speak for him."
The golden trumpets blew a blast
That echoed in the crypts of Hell,
For there was Judgment to be passed,
And lips were hushed and silence fell.
The man was mute; he made no stir,
Erect before the Judgment Seat . . .
When all at once a mongrel cur
Crept out and cowered and licked his feet.
It licked his feet with whining cry.
Come Heav'n, come Hell, what did it care?
It leapt, it tried to catch his eye;
Its master, yea, its God was there.
Then, as a thrill of wonder sped
Through throngs of shining seraphim,
The Judge of All looked down and said:
"Lo! here is ONE who pleads for him.
"And who shall love of these the least,
And who by word or look or deed
Shall pity show to bird or beast,
By Me shall have a friend in need.
Aye, though his sin be black as night,
And though he stand 'mid men alone,
He shall be softened in My sight,
And find a pleader by My Throne.
"So let this man to glory win;
From life to life salvation glean;
By pain and sacrifice and sin,
Until he stand before Me -- ~clean~.
For he who loves the least of these
(And here I say and here repeat)
Shall win himself an angel's pleas
For Mercy at My Judgment Seat."
I take my exercise in the form of walking. It keeps me fit and leaves me
free to think. In this way I have come to know Paris like my pocket.
I have explored its large and little streets, its stateliness and its slums.
But most of all I love the Quays, between the leafage and the sunlit Seine.
Like shuttles the little steamers dart up and down, weaving the water
into patterns of foam. Cigar-shaped barges stream under
the lacework of the many bridges and make me think of tranquil days
and willow-fringed horizons.
But what I love most is the stealing in of night, when the sky takes on
that strange elusive purple; when eyes turn to the evening star
and marvel at its brightness; when the Eiffel Tower becomes
a strange, shadowy stairway yearning in impotent effort to the careless moon.
Here is my latest ballad, short if not very sweet:
Walking, walking, oh, the joy of walking!
Swinging down the tawny lanes with head held high;
Striding up the green hills, through the heather stalking,
Swishing through the woodlands where the brown leaves lie;
Marveling at all things -- windmills gaily turning,
Apples for the cider-press, ruby-hued and gold;
Tails of rabbits twinkling, scarlet berries burning,
Wedge of geese high-flying in the sky's clear cold,
Light in little windows, field and furrow darkling;
Home again returning, hungry as a hawk;
Whistling up the garden, ruddy-cheeked and sparkling,
Oh, but I am happy as I walk, walk, walk!
Walking, walking, oh, the curse of walking!
Slouching round the grim square, shuffling up the street,
Slinking down the by-way, all my graces hawking,
Offering my body to each man I meet.
Peering in the gin-shop where the lads are drinking,
Trying to look gay-like, crazy with the blues;
Halting in a doorway, shuddering and shrinking
(Oh, my draggled feather and my thin, wet shoes).
Here's a drunken drover: "Hullo, there, old dearie!"
No, he only curses, can't be got to talk. . . .
On and on till daylight, famished, wet and weary,
God in Heaven help me as I walk, walk, walk!
The Cafe de la Source,
Late in July 1914.
The other evening MacBean was in a pessimistic mood.
"Why do you write?" he asked me gloomily.
"Obviously," I said, "to avoid starving. To produce something
that will buy me food, shelter, raiment."
"If you were a millionaire, would you still write?"
"Yes," I said, after a moment's thought. "You get an idea. It haunts you.
It seems to clamor for expression. It begins to obsess you.
At last in desperation you embody it in a poem, an essay, a story.
There! it is disposed of. You are at rest. It troubles you no more.
Yes; if I were a millionaire I should write, if it were only to escape
from my ideas."
"You have given two reasons why men write," said MacBean: "for gain,
for self-expression. Then, again, some men write to amuse themselves,
some because they conceive they have a mission in the world;
some because they have real genius, and are conscious they can enrich
the literature of all time. I must say I don't know of any
belonging to the latter class. We are living in an age of mediocrity.
There is no writer of to-day who will be read twenty years after he is dead.
That's a truth that must come home to the best of them."
"I guess they're not losing much sleep over it," I said.
"Take novelists," continued MacBean. "The line of first-class novelists
ended with Dickens and Thackeray. Then followed some of the second class,
Stevenson, Meredith, Hardy. And to-day we have three novelists
of the third class, good, capable craftsmen. We can trust ourselves
comfortably in their hands. We read and enjoy them, but do you think
our children will?"
"Yours won't, anyway," I said.
"Don't be too sure. I may surprise you yet. I may get married
and turn ~bourgeois~."
The best thing that could happen to MacBean would be that.
It might change his point of view. He is so painfully discouraging.
I have never mentioned my ballads to him. He would be sure
to throw cold water on them. And as it draws near to its end
the thought of my book grows more and more dear to me.
How I will get it published I know not; but I will.
Then even if it doesn't sell, even if nobody reads it, I will be content.
Out of this brief, perishable Me I will have made something concrete,
something that will preserve my thought within its dusty covers
long after I am dead and dust.
Here is one of my latest:
Blind Peter Piper used to play
All up and down the city;
I'd often meet him on my way,
And throw a coin for pity.
But all amid his sparkling tones
His ear was quick as any
To catch upon the cobble-stones
The jingle of my penny.
And as upon a day that shone
He piped a merry measure:
"How well you play!" I chanced to say;
Poor Peter glowed with pleasure.
You'd think the words of praise I spoke
Were all the pay he needed;
The artist in the player woke,
The penny lay unheeded.
Now Winter's here; the wind is shrill,
His coat is thin and tattered;
Yet hark! he's playing trill on trill
As if his music mattered.
And somehow though the city looks
Soaked through and through with shadows,
He makes you think of singing brooks
And larks and sunny meadows.
Poor chap! he often starves, they say;
Well, well, I can believe it;
For when you chuck a coin his way
He'll let some street-boy thieve it.
I fear he freezes in the night;
My praise I've long repented,
Yet look! his face is all alight . . .
Blind Peter seems contented.
~A day later~.
On the terrace of the Closerie de Lilas I came on Saxon Dane.
He was smoking his big briar and drinking a huge glass of brown beer.
The tree gave a pleasant shade, and he had thrown his sombrero on a chair.
I noted how his high brow was bronzed by the sun and there were golden lights
in his broad beard. There was something massive and imposing in the man
as he sat there in brooding thought.
MacBean, he told me, was sick and unable to leave his room.
Rheumatism. So I bought a cooked chicken and a bottle of Barsac,
and mounting to the apartment of the invalid, I made him eat and drink.
MacBean was very despondent, but cheered up greatly.
I think he rather dreads the future. He cannot save money,
and all he makes he spends. He has always been a rover,
often tried to settle down but could not. Now I think he wishes for security.
I fear, however, it is too late.
The Wistful One
I sought the trails of South and North,
I wandered East and West;
But pride and passion drove me forth
And would not let me rest.
And still I seek, as still I roam,
A snug roof overhead;
Four walls, my own; a quiet home. . . .
"You'll have it -- ~when you're dead~."
MacBean is one of Bohemia's victims. It is a country of the young.
The old have no place in it. He will gradually lose his grip,
go down and down. I am sorry. He is my nearest approach to a friend.
I do not make them easily. I have deep reserves. I like solitude.
I am never so surrounded by boon companions as when I am all alone.
But though I am a solitary I realize the beauty of friendship,
and on looking through my note-book I find the following:
If You Had a Friend
If you had a friend strong, simple, true,
Who knew your faults and who understood;
Who believed in the very best of you,
And who cared for you as a father would;
Who would stick by you to the very end,
Who would smile however the world might frown:
I'm sure you would try to please your friend,
You never would think to throw him down.
And supposing your friend was high and great,
And he lived in a palace rich and tall,
And sat like a King in shining state,
And his praise was loud on the lips of all;
Well then, when he turned to you alone,
And he singled you out from all the crowd,
And he called you up to his golden throne,
Oh, wouldn't you just be jolly proud?
If you had a friend like this, I say,
So sweet and tender, so strong and true,
You'd try to please him in every way,
You'd live at your bravest -- now, wouldn't you?
His worth would shine in the words you penned;
You'd shout his praises . . . yet now it's odd!
You tell me you haven't got such a friend;
You haven't? I wonder . . . ~What of God?~
To how few is granted the privilege of doing the work which lies
closest to the heart, the work for which one is best fitted.
The happy man is he who knows his limitations, yet bows to no false gods.
MacBean is not happy. He is overridden by his appetites,
and to satisfy them he writes stuff that in his heart he despises.
Saxon Dane is not happy. His dream exceeds his grasp.
His twisted, tortured phrases mock the vague grandiosity of his visions.
I am happy. My talent is proportioned to my ambition.
The things I like to write are the things I like to read.
I prefer the lesser poets to the greater, the cackle of the barnyard fowl
to the scream of the eagle. I lack the divinity of discontent.
True Contentment comes from within. It dominates circumstance.
It is resignation wedded to philosophy, a Christian quality seldom attained
except by the old.
There is such an one I sometimes see being wheeled about in the Luxembourg.
His face is beautiful in its thankfulness.
The Contented Man
"How good God is to me," he said;
"For have I not a mansion tall,
With trees and lawns of velvet tread,
And happy helpers at my call?
With beauty is my life abrim,
With tranquil hours and dreams apart;
You wonder that I yield to Him
That best of prayers, a grateful heart?"
"How good God is to me," he said;
"For look! though gone is all my wealth,
How sweet it is to earn one's bread
With brawny arms and brimming health.
Oh, now I know the joy of strife!
To sleep so sound, to wake so fit.
Ah yes, how glorious is life!
I thank Him for each day of it."
"How good God is to me," he said;
"Though health and wealth are gone, it's true;
Things might be worse, I might be dead,
And here I'm living, laughing too.
Serene beneath the evening sky
I wait, and every man's my friend;
God's most contented man am I . . .
He keeps me smiling to the End."
To-day the basin of the Luxembourg is bright with little boats.
Hundreds of happy children romp around it. Little ones everywhere;
yet there is no other city with so many childless homes.
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe peered through the window-pane,
Peered through the window-pane that glowed like beacon in the night;
For, oh, the sky was desolate and wild with wind and rain;
And how the little room was crammed with coziness and light!
Except the flirting of the fire there was no sound at all;
The Woman sat beside the hearth, her knitting on her knee;
The shadow of her husband's head was dancing on the wall;
She looked with staring eyes at it, she looked yet did not see.
She only saw a childish face that topped the table rim,
A little wistful ghost that smiled and vanished quick away;
And then because her tender eyes were flooding to the brim,
She lowered her head. . . . "Don't sorrow, dear," she heard him softly say;
"It's over now. We'll try to be as happy as before
(Ah! they who little children have, grant hostages to pain).
We gave Life chance to wound us once, but never, never more. . . ."
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe fled through the night again.
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe went wildered in the dark;
Like termagants the winds tore down and whirled it with the snow.
And then amid the writhing storm it saw a tiny spark,
A window broad, a spacious room all goldenly aglow,
A woman slim and Paris-gowned and exquisitely fair,
Who smiled with rapture as she watched her jewels catch the blaze;
A man in faultless evening dress, young, handsome, debonnaire,
Who smoked his cigarette and looked with frank admiring gaze.
"Oh, we are happy, sweet," said he; "youth, health, and wealth are ours.
What if a thousand toil and sweat that we may live at ease!
What if the hands are worn and torn that strew our path with flowers!
Ah, well! we did not make the world; let us not think of these.
Let's seek the beauty-spots of earth, Dear Heart, just you and I;
Let other women bring forth life with sorrow and with pain.
Above our door we'll hang the sign: `~No children need apply~. . . .'"
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe sped through the night again.
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe went whirling on and on;
It soared above a city vast, it swept down to a slum;
It saw within a grimy house a light that dimly shone;
It peered in through a window-pane and lo! a voice said: "Come!"
And so a little girl was born amid the dirt and din,
And lived in spite of everything, for life is ordered so;
A child whose eyes first opened wide to swinishness and sin,
A child whose love and innocence met only curse and blow.
And so in due and proper course she took the path of shame,
And gladly died in hospital, quite old at twenty years;
And when God comes to weigh it all, ah! whose shall be the blame
For all her maimed and poisoned life, her torture and her tears?
For oh, it is not what we do, but what we have not done!
And on that day of reckoning, when all is plain and clear,
What if we stand before the Throne, blood-guilty every one? . . .
Maybe the blackest sins of all are Selfishness and Fear.
The Cafe de la Paix,
August 1, 1914.
Paris and I are out of tune. As I sit at this famous corner the faint breeze
is stale and weary; stale and weary too the faces that swirl around me;
while overhead the electric sign of Somebody's Chocolate appears and vanishes
with irritating insistency. The very trees seem artificial,
gleaming under the arc-lights with a raw virility that rasps my nerves.
"Poor little trees," I mutter, "growing in all this grime and glare,
your only dryads the loitering ladies with the complexions
of such brilliant certainty, your only Pipes of Pan
orchestral echoes from the clamorous cafes. Exiles of the forest!
what know you of full-blossomed winds, of red-embered sunsets,
of the gentle admonition of spring rain! Life, that would fain be a melody,
seems here almost a malady. I crave for the balm of Nature,
the anodyne of solitude, the breath of Mother Earth. Tell me,
O wistful trees, what shall I do?"
Then that stale and weary wind rustles the leaves of the nearest sycamore,
and I am sure it whispers: "Brittany."
So to-morrow I am off, off to the Land of Little Fields.
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