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Christopher Morley was an American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet. He also produced stage productions for a few years and gave college lectures.Collection of 10 Works of Christopher Morley________________________________________ChimneysmokeIn the Sweet Dry and DryKathleenParnassus on WheelsPipefulsPlum PuddingShandygaffSongs for a Little HouseThe Haunted BookshopWhere the Blue Begins
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The Premium Complete Collection of Christopher Morley
Detailed Biography of Christopher Morley
In the Sweet Dry and Dry
Parnassus on Wheels
Songs for a Little House
The Haunted Bookshop
Where the Blue Begins
Christopher Morley, in full Christopher Darlington Morley (born May 5, 1890, Haverford, Pa., U.S.—died March 28, 1957, Roslyn Heights, Long Island, N.Y.), American writer whose versatile works are lighthearted, vigorous displays of the English language.
Morley’s father was a mathematician and his mother a musician and poet. They were both immigrants from England. The young Morley studied at Haverford College (B.A., 1910) and was a Rhodes scholar at New College, Oxford (1910–13). Over the years he found success in several fields. He gained popularity with his literary columns in the New York Evening Post (1920–24) and the Saturday Review of Literature (1924–41) and from collections of essays and columns such as Shandygaff (1918). His first novel was the popular Parnassus on Wheels (1917), about an itinerant bookseller’s adventures and romance. His other novels include the innovative The Trojan Horse (1937), a combination of prose, verse, and dramatic dialogue that satirized human devotion to luxury, and the sentimental best-seller Kitty Foyle (1939), about an office girl and a socialite youth. The Old Mandarin (1947) is a collection of witty free verse. Morley also edited Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1937, 1948).
Christopher MorleyGarden City, New YorkDoubleday, Page & Co.1927
COPYRIGHT, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1921 BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
[vi]"How can I turn from any fireOn any man's hearthstone?I know the wonder and desireThat went to build my own."—Rudyard Kipling; "The Fires"
There are a number of poems in this collection that have not previously appeared in book form. But, as a few readers may discern, many of the verses are reprinted from Songs for a Little House (1917), The Rocking Horse (1919) and Hide and Seek (1920). There is also one piece revived from the judicious obscurity of an early escapade, The Eighth Sin, published in Oxford in 1912. It is on Mr. Thomas Fogarty's delightful and sympathetic drawings that this book rests its real claim to be considered a new venture. To Mr. Fogarty, and to Mr. George H. Doran, whose constant kindness and generosity contradict all the traditions about publishers and minor poets, the author expresses his permanent gratitude.
Roslyn, Long Island.
[xv]IllustrationsPAGEThis hearth was built for thy delight—FrontispieceAnd by a friend's bright gift of wine,I dedicate this house of mine23And of all man's felicities—33A little world he feels and sees:His mother's arms, his mother's knees—39The 5:4247And Daddy once said he would like to be meHaving cocoa and animals once more for tea!53But heavy feeding complicatesThe task by soiling many plates59How ill avail, on such a frosty night65The old swimmer69But Katie, the cook, is more splendid than all—73Perhaps it's a ragged child crying79The Balloon Peddler85If you appreciate it moreThan I—why don't return it!87And then one night—93The human cadence and the subtle chimeOf little laughters—95What years of youthful ills and pangs and bumps—103A Birthday109You must be rigid servant of your art!123You came, and impudent and deuce-may-careDanced where the gutter flamed with footlight fire127Hostages135My eyes still pine for the comely lineOf an outbound vessel's hull155A man ain't so secretive, never caresWhat kind of private papers he leaves lay—165Mounted Police177Courtesy183The Plumpuppets189... It's hard to have to tellHow unresponsive I have found her195... When you see, this Great First Time,Lit candles on a Christmas Tree!201The music box207Solugubrious217In the midnight, like yourself,I explore the pantry shelf!221The Twins227O praise me not the country233The wail of sickly children—239Ah, does the butcher—heartless clown—Beget that shadow on her brow?245
Dear little house, dear shabby street, Dear books and beds and food to eat! How feeble words are to express The facets of your tenderness. How white the sun comes through the pane! In tinkling music drips the rain! How burning bright the furnace glows! What paths to shovel when it snows! O dearly loved Long Island trains! O well remembered joys and pains.... How near the housetops Beauty leans Along that little street in Queens! Let these poor rhymes abide for proof Joy dwells beneath a humble roof; Heaven is not built of country seats But little queer suburban streets! March, 1917.
This is a sacrament, I think!
Holding the bottle toward the light,
As blue as lupin gleams the ink;
May Truth be with me as I write!
That small dark cistern may afford
Reunion with some vanished friend,—
And with this ink I have just poured
May none but honest words be penned!
This hearth was built for thy delight,
For thee the logs were sawn,
For thee the largest chair, at night,
Is to the chimney drawn.
For thee, dear lass, the match was lit
To yield the ruddy blaze—
May Jack Frost give us joy of it
For many, many days
To make this house my very own Could not be done by law alone. Though covenant and deed convey Absolute fee, as lawyers say, There are domestic rites beside By which this house is sanctified. By kindled fire upon the hearth, By planted pansies in the garth, By food, and by the quiet rest Of those brown eyes that I love best, And by a friend's bright gift of wine, I dedicate this house of mine. When all but I are soft abed I trail about my quiet stead A wreath of blue tobacco smoke (A charm that evil never broke) And bring my ritual to an end By giving shelter to a friend. These done, O dwelling, you become Not just a house, but truly Home!
And by a friend's bright gift of wine, I dedicate this house of mine
It was the House of Quietness
To which I came at dusk;
The garth was lit with roses
And heavy with their musk.
The tremulous tall poplar trees
Stood whispering around,
The gentle flicker of their plumes
More quiet than no sound.
And as I wondered at the door
What magic might be there,
The Lady of Sweet Silences
Came softly down the stair.
Down-slipping Time, sweet, swift, and shallow stream, Here, like a boulder, lies this afternoon Across your eager flow. So you shall stay, Deepened and dammed, to let me breathe and be. Your troubled fluency, your running gleam Shall pause, and circle idly, still and clear: The while I lie and search your glassy pool Where, gently coiling in their lazy round, Unseparable minutes drift and swim, Eddy and rise and brim. And I will see How many crystal bubbles of slack Time The mind can hold and cherish in one Now! Now, for one conscious vacancy of sense, The stream is gathered in a deepening pond, Not a mere moving mirror. Through the sharp Correct reflection of the standing scene The mind can dip, and cleanse itself with rest, And see, slow spinning in the lucid gold, Your liquid motes, imperishable Time.
It cannot be. The runnel slips away: The clear smooth downward sluice begins again, More brightly slanting for that trembling pause, Leaving the sense its conscious vague unease As when a sonnet flashes on the mind, Trembles and burns an instant, and is gone.
Truth is enough for prose: Calmly it goes To tell just what it knows. For verse, skill will suffice— Delicate, nice Casting of verbal dice. Poetry, men attain By subtler pain More flagrant in the brain— An honesty unfeigned, A heart unchained, A madness well restrained.
It should be yours, if I could build The quaint old dwelling I desire, With books and pictures bravely filled And chairs beside an open fire, White-panelled rooms with candles lit— I lie awake to think of it! A dial for the sunny hours, A garden of old-fashioned flowers— Say marigolds and lavender And mignonette and fever-few, And Judas-tree and maidenhair And candytuft and thyme and rue— All these for you to wander in. A Chinese carp (called Mandarin) Waving a sluggish silver fin Deep in the moat: so tame he comes To lip your fingers offering crumbs. Tall chimneys, like long listening ears, White shutters, ivy green and thick, And walls of ruddy Tudor brick Grown mellow with the passing years. And windows with small leaded panes, Broad window-seats for when it rains; A big blue bowl of pot pourri And—yes, a Spanish chestnut tree To coin the autumn's minted gold. A summer house for drinking tea— All these (just think!) for you and me. A staircase of the old black wood Cut in the days of Robin Hood, And banisters worn smooth as glass Down which your hand will lightly pass; A piano with pale yellow keys For wistful twilight melodies, And dusty bottles in a bin— All these for you to revel in! But when? Ah well, until that time We'll habit in this house of rhyme. 1912
When I a householder became
I had to give my house a name.
I thought I'd call it "Poplar Trees," Or "Widdershins" or "Velvet Bees,"
Or "Just Beneath a Star."
I thought of "House Where Plumbings Freeze," Or "As You Like it," "If You Please," Or "Nicotine" or "Bread and Cheese,"
"Full Moon" or "Doors Ajar."
But still I sought some subtle charm, Some rune to guard my roof from harm
And keep the devil far;
I thought of this, and I was saved! I had my letter-heads engraved
The House Where Brown Eyes Are.
Do you remember, Heart's Desire,
The night when Hallowe'en first came?
The newly dedicated fire,
The hearth unsanctified by flame?
How anxiously we swept the bricks
(How tragic, were the draught not right!)
And then the blaze enwrapped the sticks
And filled the room with dancing light.
We could not speak, but only gaze,
Nor half believe what we had seen—
Our home, our hearth, our golden blaze,
Our cider mugs, our Hallowe'en!
And then a thought occurred to me—
We ran outside with sudden shout
And looked up at the roof, to see
Our own dear smoke come drifting out.
And of all man's felicities
The very subtlest one, say I,
Is when, for the first time, he sees
His hearthfire smoke against the sky.
And of all man's felicities The very subtlest one, say I, Is when, for the first time, he sees His hearthfire smoke against the sky.
If I should tell, unstinted,
Your beauty and your grace,
All future lads would whisper
Traditions of your face;
If I made public tumult
Your mirth, your queenly state,
Posterity would grumble
That it was born too late.
I will not frame your beauty
In bright undying phrase,
Nor blaze it as a legend
For unborn men to praise—
For why should future lovers
Be saddened and depressed?
Deluded, let them fancy
Their own girls loveliest!
Dear sweet, when dusk comes up the hill,
The fire leaps high with golden prongs;
I place along the chimneysill
The tiny candles of my songs.
And though unsteadily they burn,
As evening shades from gray to blue
Like candles they will surely learn
To shine more clear, for love of you.
"I had a secret laughter." —Walter de la Mare.
There is a secret laughter
That often comes to me,
And though I go about my work As humble as can be, There is no prince or prelate
I envy—no, not one.
No evil can befall me—
By God, I have a son!
He is so small, he does not know The summer sun, the winter snow; The spring that ebbs and comes again, All this is far beyond his ken. A little world he feels and sees: His mother's arms, his mother's knees; He hides his face against her breast, And does not care to learn the rest.
A little world he feels and sees: His mother's arms, his mother's knees—
For Our New Fireplace, To Stop Its Smoking
O wood, burn bright; O flame, be quick; O smoke, draw cleanly up the flue— My lady chose your every brick And sets her dearest hopes on you! Logs cannot burn, nor tea be sweet, Nor white bread turn to crispy toast, Until the charm be made complete By love, to lay the sooty ghost. And then, dear books, dear waiting chairs, Dear china and mahogany, Draw close, for on the happy stairs My brown-eyed girl comes down for tea!
My pipe is old And caked with soot; My wife remarks: "How can you put That horrid relic, So unclean, Inside your mouth? The nicotine Is strong enough To stupefy A Swedish plumber." I reply: "This is the kind Of pipe I like: I fill it full Of Happy Strike, Or Barking Cat Or Cabman's Puff, Or Brooklyn Bridge (That potent stuff) Or Chaste Embraces, Knacker's Twist, Old Honeycomb Or Niggerfist.
I clamp my teeth Upon its stem— It is my bliss, My diadem. Whatever Fate May do to me, This is my favorite
B B. For this dear pipe You feign to scorn I smoked the night The boy was born."
Lilac, violet, and rose Ardently the city glows; Sunset glory, purely sweet, Gilds the dreaming byway-street, And, above the Avenue, Winter dusk is deepening blue.
(Then, across Long Island meadows, Darker, darker, grow the shadows: Patience, little waiting lass! Laggard minutes slowly pass; Patience, laughs the yellow fire: Homeward bound is heart's desire!)
Hark, adown the canyon street Flows the merry tide of feet; High the golden buildings loom Blazing in the purple gloom; All the town is set with stars,Homeward chant the Broadway cars!
All down Thirty-second StreetHomeward, Homeward, say the feet! Tramping men, uncouth to view, Footsore, weary, thrill anew; Gone the ringing telephones, Blessed nightfall now atones, Casting brightness on the snow Golden the train windows go.
Then (how long it seems) at last All the way is overpast. Heart that beats your muffled drum, Lo, your venturer is come! Wide the door! Leap high, O fire! Home at length is heart's desire! Gone is weariness and fret, At the sill warm lips are met. Once again may be renewed The conjoined beatitude.
"The boy for whom Barrie wrote Peter Pan—the original of Peter Pan—has died in battle."
—New York Times.
And Peter Pan is dead? Not so! When mothers turn the lights down low And tuck their little sons in bed, They know that Peter is not dead.... That little rounded blanket-hill; Those prayer-time eyes, so deep and still— However wise and great a man He grows, he still is Peter Pan. And mothers' ways are often queer: They pause in doorways, just to hear A tiny breathing; think a prayer; And then go tiptoe down the stair.
Taffy, the topaz-colored cat, Thinks now of this and now of that, But chiefly of his meals. Asparagus, and cream, and fish, Are objects of his Freudian wish; What you don't give, he steals. His gallant heart is strongly stirred By clink of plate or flight of bird, He has a plumy tail; At night he treads on stealthy pad As merry as Sir Galahad A-seeking of the Grail. His amiable amber eyes Are very friendly, very wise; Like Buddha, grave and fat, He sits, regardless of applause, And thinking, as he kneads his paws, What fun to be a cat!
Her mind is like her cedar chest Wherein in quietness do rest The wistful dreamings of her heart In fragrant folds all laid apart. There, put away in sprigs of rhyme Until her life's full blossom-time, Flutter (like tremulous little birds) Her small and sweet maternal words.
Once we read Tennyson aloud
In our great fireside chair;
Between the lines, my lips could touch
Her April-scented hair.
How very fond I was, to think
The printed poems fair,
When close within my arms I held
A living lyric there!
Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink, That is the finest of suppers, I think; When I'm grown up and can have what I please I think I shall always insist upon these. What do you choose when you're offered a treat? When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?" Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast? It's cocoa and animals that I love most! The kitchen's the cosiest place that I know: The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow, And there in the twilight, how jolly to see The cocoa and animals waiting for me. Daddy and Mother dine later in state, With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait; But they don't have nearly as much fun as I Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by; And Daddy once said, he would like to be me Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!
And Daddy once said he would like to be me Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!
Early in the morning, when the dawn is on the roofs, You hear his wheels come rolling, you hear his horse's hoofs; You hear the bottles clinking, and then he drives away: You yawn in bed, turn over, and begin another day! The old-time dairy maids are dear to every poet's heart— I'd rather be the dairy man and drive a little cart, And bustle round the village in the early morning blue, And hang my reins upon a hook, as I've seen Casey do.
At night the gas lamps light our street,
Electric bulbs our homes;
The gas is billed in cubic feet,
Electric light in ohms.
But one illumination still
Is brighter far, and sweeter;
It is not figured in a bill,
Nor measured by a meter.
More bright than lights that money buys,
More pleasing to discerners,
The shining lamps of Helen's eyes,
Those lovely double burners!
At night I opened
The furnace door:
The warm glow brightened
The cellar floor.
The fire that sparkled
Blue and red,
Kept small toes cosy
In their bed.
As up the stair
So late I stole,
I said my prayer:
Thank God for coal!
When we on simple rations sup How easy is the washing up! But heavy feeding complicates The task by soiling many plates. And though I grant that I have prayed That we might find a serving-maid, I'd scullion all my days, I think, To see Her smile across the sink! I wash, She wipes. In water hot I souse each dish and pan and pot; While Taffy mutters, purrs, and begs, And rubs himself against my legs. The man who never in his life Has washed the dishes with his wife Or polished up the silver plate— He still is largely celibate. One warning: there is certain ware That must be handled with all care: The Lord Himself will give you up If you should drop a willow cup!
But heavy feeding complicates The task by soiling many plates.
As I went by the church to-day
I heard the organ cry;
And goodly folk were on their knees,
But I went striding by.
My minster hath a roof more vast:
My aisles are oak trees high;
My altar-cloth is on the hills,
My organ is the sky.
I see my rood upon the clouds,
The winds, my chanted choir;
My crystal windows, heaven-glazed,
Are stained with sunset fire.
The stars, the thunder, and the rain,
White sands and purple seas—
These are His pulpit and His pew,
My God of Unbent Knees!
The furnace tolls the knell of falling steam,
The coal supply is virtually done,
And at this price, indeed it does not seem
As though we could afford another ton.
Now fades the glossy, cherished anthracite;
The radiators lose their temperature:
How ill avail, on such a frosty night,
The "short and simple flannels of the poor."
Though in the icebox, fresh and newly laid,
The rude forefathers of the omelet sleep,
No eggs for breakfast till the bill is paid:
We cannot cook again till coal is cheap.
Can Morris-chair or papier-mâché bust
Revivify the failing pressure-gauge?
Chop up the grand piano if you must,
And burn the East Aurora parrot-cage!
Full many a can of purest kerosene
The dark unfathomed tanks of Standard Oil
Shall furnish me, and with their aid I mean
To bring my morning coffee to a boil.
How ill avail, on such a frosty night....
I often wander on the beach Where once, so brown of limb, The biting air, the roaring surf Summoned me to swim. I see my old abundant youth Where combers lean and spill, And though I taste the foam no more Other swimmers will. Oh, good exultant strength to meet The arching wall of green, To break the crystal, swirl, emerge Dripping, taut, and clean. To climb the moving hilly blue, To dive in ecstasy And feel the salty chill embrace Arm and rib and knee. What brave and vanished laughter then And tingling thighs to run, What warm and comfortable sands Dreaming in the sun. The crumbling water spreads in snow, The surf is hissing still, And though I kiss the salt no more Other swimmers will.
The Old Swimmer
The moon seems like a docile sheep, She pastures while all people sleep; But sometimes, when she goes astray, She wanders all alone by day. Up in the clear blue morning air We are surprised to see her there, Grazing in her woolly white, Waiting the return of night. When dusk lets down the meadow bars She greets again her lambs, the stars!
Why is it that the poets tell So little of the sense of smell? These are the odors I love well: The smell of coffee freshly ground; Or rich plum pudding, holly crowned; Or onions fried and deeply browned. The fragrance of a fumy pipe; The smell of apples, newly ripe; And printers' ink on leaden type. Woods by moonlight in September Breathe most sweet; and I remember Many a smoky camp-fire ember. Camphor, turpentine, and tea, The balsam of a Christmas tree, These are whiffs of gramarye ...A ship smells best of all to me!
My Daddy smells like tobacco and books,
Mother, like lavender and listerine;
Uncle John carries a whiff of cigars,
Nannie smells starchy and soapy and clean.
Shandy, my dog, has a smell of his own
(When he's been out in the rain he smells most);
But Katie, the cook, is more splendid than all—
She smells exactly like hot buttered toast!
But Katie, the cook, is more splendid than all—
I like the Chinese laundryman: He smokes a pipe that bubbles, And seems, as far as I can tell, A man with but few troubles. He has much to do, no doubt, But also much to think about. Most men (for instance I myself) Are spending, at all times, All our hard-earned quarters, Our nickels and our dimes: With Mar Quong it's the other way— He takes in small change every day. Next time you call for collars In his steamy little shop, Observe how tight his pigtail Is coiled and piled on top. But late at night he lets it hang And thinks of the Yang-tse-kiang.
On Saturdays, after the baby
Is bathed, fed, and sleeping serene,
His mother, as quickly as may be,
Arranges the household routine.
She rapidly makes herself pretty
And leaves the young limb with his nurse,
Then gaily she starts for the city,
And with her the fat little purse.
She trips through the crowd at the station,
To the rendezvous spot where we meet,
And keeping her eyes from temptation,
She avoids the most windowy street!
She is off for the Weekly Adventure;
To her comrade for better and worse
She says, "Never mind, when you've spent your
Last bit, here's the fat little purse."
Apart, in her thrifty exchequer,
She has hidden what must not be spent:
Enough for the butcher and baker,
Katie's wages, and milkman, and rent;
But the rest of her brave little treasure
She is gleeful and prompt to disburse—
What a richness of innocent pleasure
Can come from her fat little purse!
But either by giving or buying,
The little purse does not stay fat—
Perhaps it's a ragged child crying,
Perhaps it's a "pert little hat."
And the bonny brown eyes that were brightened
By pleasures so quaint and diverse,
Look up at me, wistful and frightened,
To see such a thin little purse.
The wisest of all financiering
Is that which is done by our wives:
By some little known profiteering
They add twos and twos and make fives;
And, husband, if you would be learning
The secret of thrift, it is terse:
Invest the great part of your earning
In her little, fat little purse.
Perhaps it's a ragged child crying
I have not heard her voice, nor seen her face,
Nor touched her hand;
And yet some echo of her woman's grace
I have no picture of her lovelihood,
Her smile, her tint;
But that she is both beautiful and good
I have true hint.
In all that my friend thinks and says, I see
Her mirror true;
His thought of her is gentle; she must be
All gentle too.
In all his grief or laughter, work or play,
Each mood and whim,
How brave and tender, day by common day,
She speaks through him!
Therefore I say I know her, be her face>
Or dark or fair—
For when he shows his heart's most secret place
I see her there!
Who is the man on Chestnut street
With colored toy balloons?
I see him with his airy freight
On sunny afternoons—
A peddler of such lovely goods!
The heart leaps to behold
His mass of bubbles, red and green
And blue and pink and gold.
For sure that noble peddler man
Hath antic merchandise:
His toys that float and swim in air
Attract my eager eyes.
Perhaps he is a changeling prince
Bewitched through magic moons
To tempt us solemn busy folk
With meaningless balloons.
Beware, oh, valiant merchantman,
Tread cautious on the pave!
Lest some day come some realist,
Some haggard soul and grave,
A puritan efficientist
Who deems thy toys a sin—
He'll stalk thee madly from behind
And prick them with a pin!
The Balloon Peddler
To use my books all friends are bid:
My shelves are open for 'em;
And in each one, as Grolier did,
I write Et Amicorum.
All lovely things in truth belong
To him who best employs them;
The house, the picture and the song
Are his who most enjoys them.
Perhaps this book holds precious lore,
And you may best discern it.
If you appreciate it more
Than I—why don't return it!
If you appreciate it more Than I—why don't return it!
How many humble hearts have dipped In you, and scrawled their manuscript! Have shared their secrets, told their cares, Their curious and quaint affairs! Your pool of ink, your scratchy pen, Have moved the lives of unborn men, And watched young people, breathing hard, Put Heaven on a postal card.
I sought immortality
Here and there—
I sent my rockets
Into the air:
I gave my name
A hostage to ink;
I dined a critic
And bought him drink.
I spurned the weariness
Of the flesh;
And began afresh—
If men knew all,
How they would laugh!
I even planned
And then one night
When the dusk was thin
I heard the nursery
I heard the tender
Over a crib, and
A small sweet head.
Then in a flash
It came to me
That there was my
And then one night When the dusk was thin I heard the nursery Rites begin—
The barren music of a word or phrase,
The futile arts of syllable and stress,
He sought. The poetry of common days
He did not guess.
The simplest, sweetest rhythms life affords—
Unselfish love, true effort truly done,
The tender themes that underlie all words—
He knew not one.
The human cadence and the subtle chime
Of little laughters, home and child and wife,
He knew not. Artist merely in his rhyme,
Not in his life.
The human cadence and the subtle chime Of little laughters—
[TN: Mirror Image Translated below.]
Dear glass, before your silver pane
My lady used to tend her hair;
And yet I search your disc in vain
To find some shadow of her there.
I thought your magic, deep and bright,
Might still some dear reflection hold:
Some glint of eyes or shoulders white,
Some flash of gowns she wore of old.
Your polished round must still recall
The laughing face, the neck like snow—
Remember, on your lonely wall,
That Helen used you long ago!
The greatest poem ever known Is one all poets have outgrown: The poetry, innate, untold, Of being only four years old. Still young enough to be a part Of Nature's great impulsive heart, Born comrade of bird, beast and tree And unselfconscious as the bee— And yet with lovely reason skilled Each day new paradise to build; Elate explorer of each sense, Without dismay, without pretence! In your unstained transparent eyes There is no conscience, no surprise: Life's queer conundrums you accept, Your strange divinity still kept. Being, that now absorbs you, all Harmonious, unit, integral, Will shred into perplexing bits,— Oh, contradictions of the wits! And Life, that sets all things in rhyme, May make you poet, too, in time— But there were days, O tender elf, When you were Poetry itself!
My child, what painful vistas are before you!
What years of youthful ills and pangs and bumps—
Indignities from aunts who "just adore" you,
And chicken-pox and measles, croup and mumps!
I don't wish to dismay you,—it's not fair to,
Promoted now from bassinet to crib,—
But, O my babe, what troubles flesh is heir to
Since God first made so free with Adam's rib!
Laboriously you will proceed with teething;
When teeth are here, you'll meet the dentist's chair;
They'll teach you ways of walking, eating, breathing,
That stoves are hot, and how to brush your hair;
And so, my poor, undaunted little stripling,
By bruises, tears, and trousers you will grow,
And, borrowing a leaf from Mr. Kipling,
I'll wish you luck, and moralize you so:
If you can think up seven thousand methods
Of giving cooks and parents heart disease;
Can rifle pantry-shelves, and then give death odds
By water, fire, and falling out of trees;
If you can fill your every boyish minute
With sixty seconds' worth of mischief done,
Yours is the house and everything that's in it,
And, which is more, you'll be your father's son!
What years of youthful ills and pangs and bumps—
(Lizette Woodworth Reese)
Most tender poet, when the gods confer
They save your gracile songs a nook apart,
And bless with Time's untainted lavender
The ageless April of your singing heart.
You, in an age unbridled, ne'er declined
The appointed patience that the Muse decrees,
Until, deep in the flower of the mind
The hovering words alight, like bridegroom bees.
By casual praise or casual blame unstirred
The placid gods grant gifts where they belong:
To you, who understand, the perfect word,
The recompensed necessities of song.
When withered leaves are lost in flame
Their eddying ghosts, a thin blue haze,
Blow through the thickets whence they came
On amberlucent autumn days.
The cool green woodland heart receives
Their dim, dissolving, phantom breath;
In young hereditary leaves
They see their happy life-in-death.
My minutes perish as they glow—
Time burns my crazy bonfire through;
But ghosts of blackened hours still blow,
Eternal Beauty, back to you!
These are folios of April,
All the library of spring,
Missals gilt and rubricated
With the frost's illumining.
Ruthless, we destroy these treasures,
Set the torch with hand profane—
Gone, like Alexandrian vellums,
Like the books of burnt Louvain!
Yet these classics are immortal:
O collectors, have no fear,
For the publisher will issue
New editions every year.
(For Two Players)
They have a game, thus played: He says unto his maid
What are those shining things So brown, so golden brown?
And she, in doubt, replies
How now, what shining things So brown?
But then, she coming near, To see more clear, He looks again, and cries (All startled with surprise)
Sweet wretch, they are your eyes, So brown, so brown!
The climax and the end consist In kissing, and in being kissed.
At two years old the world he sees Must seem expressly made to please! Such new-found words and games to try, Such sudden mirth, he knows not why,
So many curiosities!
As life about him, by degrees Discloses all its pageantries He watches with approval shy
At two years old.
With wonders tired he takes his ease At dusk, upon his mother's knees: A little laugh, a little cry, Put toys to bed, then "seepy-bye"— The world is made of such as these
At two years old.
When sometimes, on a moony night, I've passed
A street-lamp, seen my doubled shadow flee,
I've noticed how much darker, clearer cast,
The full moon poured her silhouette of me.
Just so of spirits. Beauty's silver light
Limns with a ray more pure, and tenderer too:
Men's clumsy gestures, to unearthly sight,
Surpass the shapes they show by human view.
On this brave world, where few such meteors fell,
Her youngest son, to save us, Beauty flung.
He suffered and descended into hell—
And comforts yet the ardent and the young.
Drunken of moonlight, dazed by draughts of sky,
Dizzy with stars, his mortal fever ran:
His utterance a moon-enchanted cry
Not free from folly—for he too was man.
 And now and here, a hundred years away,
Where topless towers shadow golden streets,
The young men sit, nooked in a cheap café,
Perfectly happy ... talking about Keats.
This is a day for sonnets: Oh how clear
Our splendid cliffs and summits lift the gaze—
If all the perfect moments of the year
Were poured and gathered in one sudden blaze, Then, then perhaps, in some endowered phrase
My flat strewn words would rise and come more near
To tell of you. Your beauty and your praise
Would fall like sunlight on this paper here. Then I would build a sonnet that would stand
Proud and perennial on this pale bright sky;
So tall, so steep, that it might stay the hand
Of Time, the dusty wrecker. He would sigh
To tear my strong words down. And he would say: "That song he built for her, one summer day."
Such little, puny things are words in rhyme:
Poor feeble loops and strokes as frail as hairs;
You see them printed here, and mark their chime,
And turn to your more durable affairs. Yet on such petty tools the poet dares
To run his race with mortar, bricks and lime,
And draws his frail stick to the point, and stares
To aim his arrow at the heart of Time. Intangible, yet pressing, hemming in,
This measured emptiness engulfs us all,
And yet he points his paper javelin
And sees it eddy, waver, turn, and fall,
And feels, between delight and trouble torn, The stirring of a sonnet still unborn.
To writea sonnet needs a quiet mind.... I paused and pondered, tried again. To write.... Raising the sash, I breathed the winter night: Papers and small hot room were left behind. Against the gusty purple, ribbed and spined With golden slots and vertebræ of light Men's cages loomed. Down sliding from a height An elevator winked as it declined. Coward! There is no quiet in the brain— If pity burns it not, then beauty will: Tinder it is for every blowing spark. Uncertain whether this is bliss or pain The unresting mind will gaze across the sill From high apartment windows, in the dark.
I. Broadway, 103rd to 96th.
Lights foam and bubble down the gentle grade: Bright shine chop sueys and rôtisseries; In pink translucence glowingly displayed See camisole and stocking and chemise. Delicatessen windows full of cheese— Above, the chimes of church-bells toll and fade— And then, from off some distant Palisade That gluey savor on the Jersey breeze! The burning bulbs, in green and white and red, Spell out a Change of Program Sun., Wed., Fri., A clicking taxi spins with ruby spark. There is a sense of poising near the head Of some great flume of brightness, flowing by To pour in gathering torrent through the dark.
II. Below 96th
The current quickens, and in golden flow Hurries its flotsam downward through the night— Here are the rapids where the undertow Whirls endless motors in a gleaming flight. From blazing tributaries, left and right, Influent streams of blue and amber grow. Columbus Circle eddies: all below Is pouring flame, a gorge of broken light. See how the burning river boils in spate, Channeled by cliffs of insane jewelry, Painting a rosy roof on cloudy air— And just about ten minutes after eight, Tossing a surf of color to the sky It bursts in cataracts upon Times Square!
The city's mad: through her prodigious veins What errant, strange, eccentric humors thrill: Day, when her cataracts of sunlight spill— Night, golden-panelled with her window panes; The toss of wind-blown skirts; and who can drill Forever his fierce heart with checking reins? Cruel and mad, my statisticians say— Ah, but she raves in such a gallant way! Brave madness, built for beauty and the sun— In such a town who can be sane? Not I. Of clashing colors all her moods are spun— A scarlet anger and a golden cry. This frantic town where madcap mischiefs run They ask to take the veil, and be a nun!
(Letter of John Keats to Fanny Browne, Anderson Galleries, March 15, 1920.)
To Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach.
How about this lot? said the auctioneer;One hundred, may I say, just for a start? Between the plum-red curtains, drawn apart, A written sheet was held.... And strange to hear (Dealer, would I were steadfast as thou art) The cold quick bids. (Against you in the rear!) The crimson salon, in a glow more clear Burned bloodlike purple as the poet's heart. Song that outgrew the singer! Bitter Love That broke the proud hot heart it held in thrall; Poor script, where still those tragic passions move—Eight hundred bid: fair warning: the last call: The soul of Adonais, like a star....Sold for eight hundred dollars—Doctor R.!
"It is said that a poet has died young in the breast of the most stolid."—Robert Louis Stevenson.
What was the service of this poet? He Who blinked the blinding dazzle-rays that run Where life profiles its edges to the sun, And still suspected much he could not see. Clay-stopped, yet in his taciturnity There lay the vein of glory, known to none; And moods of secret smiling, only won When peace and passion, time and sense, agree. Fighting the world he loved for chance to brood, Ignorant when to embrace, when to avoid His loves that held him in their vital clutch— This was his service, his beatitude; This was the inward trouble he enjoyed Who knew so little, and who felt so much.
Few things are perfect: we bear Eden's scar; Yet faulty man was godlike in design That day when first, with stick and length of twine, He drew me on the sand. Then what could mar His joy in that obedient mystic line; And then, computing with a zeal divine, He called π 3-point-14159 And knew my lovely circuit 2 π r! A circle is a happy thing to be— Think how the joyful perpendicular Erected at the kiss of tangency Must meet my central point, my avatar! They talk of 14 points: yet only 3 Determine every circle: Q. E. D.
Three times a day—at two, at seven, at nine— O terrier, you play your little part: Absurd in coat and skirt you push a cart, With inner anguish walk a tight-rope line. Up there, before the hot and dazzling shine You must be rigid servant of your art, Nor watch those fluffy cats—your doggish heart Might leap and then betray you with a whine! But sometimes, when you've faithfully rehearsed, Your trainer takes you walking in the park, Straining to sniff the grass, to chase a frog. The leash is slipped, and then your joy will burst— Adorable it is to run and bark, To be—alas, how seldom—just a dog!
You must be rigid servant of your art!
(For Lloyd Williams.)
I like to dream of some established spot Where you and I, old friend, an evening through Under tobacco's fog, streaked gray and blue, Might reconsider laughters unforgot. Beside a hearth-glow, golden-clear and hot, I'd hear you tell the oddities men do. The clock would tick, and we would sit, we two— Life holds such meetings for us, does it not? Happy are men when they have learned to prize The sure unvarnished virtue of their friends, The unchanged kindness of a well-known face: On old fidelities our world depends, And runs a simple course in honest wise, Not a mere taxicab shot wild through space!
Upstage the great high-shafted beefy choir
Squawked in 2000 watts of orange glare— You came, and impudent and deuce-may-care
Danced where the gutter flamed with footlight fire. Flung from the roof, spots red and yellow burned
And followed you. The blatant brassy clang Of instruments drowned out the words you sang,
But goldenly you capered, twirled and turned. Boyish and slender, child-limbed, quick and proud,
A sprite of irresistible disdain, Fair as a jonquil in an April rain,
You seemed too sweet an imp for that dull crowd.... And then, behind the scenes, I heard you say, "O Gawd, I got a hellish cold to-day!"
You came, and impudent and deuce-may-care Danced where the gutter flamed with footlight fire.
The sonnet is a trunk, and you must pack
With care, to ship frail baggage far away; The octet is the trunk; sestet, the tray;
Tight, but not overloaded, is the knack. First, at the bottom, heavy thoughts you stack,
And in the chinks your adjectives you lay— Your phrases, folded neatly as you may,
Stowing a syllable in every crack. Then, in the tray, your daintier stuff is hid:
The tender quatrain where your moral sings—
Be careful, though, lest as you close the lid
You crush and crumple all these fragile things.
Your couplet snaps the hasps and turns the key— Ship to The Editor, marked C. O. D.
I have seen streets where strange enchantment broods: Old ruddy houses where the morning shone In seemly quiet on their tranquil moods, Across the sills white curtains outward blown. Their marble steps were scoured as white as bone Where scrubbing housemaids toiled on wounded knee— And yet, among all streets that I have known These placid byways give least peace to me. In such a house, where green light shining through (From some back garden) framed her silhouette I saw a girl, heard music blithely sung. She stood there laughing, in a dress of blue, And as I went on, slowly, there I met An old, old woman, who had once been young.
I have no hope to make you live in rhyme Or with your beauty to enrich the years— Enough for me this now, this present time; The greater claim for greater sonneteers. But O how covetous I am of NOW— Dear human minutes, marred by human pains— I want to know your lips, your cheek, your brow, And all the miracles your heart contains, I wish to study all your changing face, Your eyes, divinely hurt with tenderness; I hope to win your dear unstinted grace For these blunt rhymes and what they would express. Then may you say, when others better prove:— "Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love."
When all my trivial rhymes are blotted out, Vanished our days, so precious and so few, If some should wonder what we were about And what the little happenings we knew: I wish that they might know how, night by night, My pencil, heavy in the sleepy hours, Sought vainly for some gracious way to write How much this love is ours, and only ours. How many evenings, as you drowsed to sleep, I read to you by tawny candle-glow, And watched you down the valley dim and deep Where poppies and the April flowers grow. Then knelt beside your pillow with a prayer, And loved the breath of pansies in your hair.
My thoughts beat out in sonnets while I walk, And every evening on the homeward street I find the rhythm of my marching feet Throbs into verses (though the rhyme may balk). I think the sonneteers were walking men: The form is dour and rigid, like a clamp, But with the swing of legs the tramp, tramp, tramp Of syllables begins to thud, and then— Lo! while you seek a rhyme for hook or crook shed your shabby coat, and you are kith To all great walk-and-singers—Meredith, And Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, and Rupert Brooke! Free verse is poor for walking, but a sonnet— O marvellous to stride and brood upon it!
"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune."—Bacon.
Aye, Fortune, thou hast hostage of my best!
I, that was once so heedless of thy frown, Have armed thee cap-à-pie to strike me down,
Have given thee blades to hold against my breast. My virtue, that was once all self-possessed,
Is parceled out in little hands, and brown Bright eyes, and in a sleeping baby's gown:
To threaten these will put me to the test. Sure, since there are these pitiful poor chinks
Upon the makeshift armor of my heart,
For thee no honor lies in such a fight!
And thou wouldst shame to vanquish one, me-thinks,
Who came awake with such a painful start
To hear the coughing of a child at night.
How many evenings, walking soberly Along our street all dappled with rich sun, I please myself with words, and happily Time rhymes to footfalls, planning how they run; And yet, when midnight comes, and paper lies Clean, white, receptive, all that one can ask, Alas for drowsy spirit, weary eyes And traitor hand that fails the well loved task! Who ever learned the sonnet's bitter craft But he had put away his sleep, his ease, The wine he loved, the men with whom he laughed To brood upon such thankless tricks as these? And yet, such joy does in that craft abide He greets the paper as the groom the bride!
("O. Henry" once worked in a drug-store in Greensboro, N. C.)
Where once he measured camphor, glycerine, Quinine and potash, peppermint in bars, And all the oils and essences so keen That druggists keep in rows of stoppered jars— Now, blender of strange drugs more volatile, The master pharmacist of joy and pain Dispenses sadness tinctured with a smile And laughter that dissolves in tears again. O brave apothecary! You who knew What dark and acid doses life prefers And yet with friendly face resolved to brew These sparkling potions for your customers— In each prescription your Physician writ You poured your rich compassion and your wit!
"On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer."
I knew a scientist, an engineer, Student of tensile strengths and calculus, A man who loved a cantilever truss And always wore a pencil on his ear. My friend believed that poets all were queer, And literary folk ridiculous; But one night, when it chanced that three of us Were reading Keats aloud, he stopped to hear. Lo, a new planet swam into his ken! His eager mind reached for it and took hold. Ten years are by: I see him now and then, And at alumni dinners, if cajoled, He mumbles gravely, to the cheering men:—Much have I travelled in the realms of gold.
Night after night goes by: and clocks still chime
And stars are changing patterns in the dark,
And watches tick, and over-puissant Time
Benumbs the eager brain. The dogs that bark,
The trains that roar and rattle in the night,
The very cats that prowl, all quiet find
And leave the darkness empty, silent quite:
Sleep comes to chloroform the fretting mind.
So all things end: and what is left at last?
Some scribbled sonnets tossed upon the floor,
A memory of easy days gone past,
A run-down watch, a pipe, some clothes we wore—
And in the darkened room I lean to know
How warm her dreamless breath does pause and flow.
Ah very sweet! If news should come to you Some afternoon, while waiting for our eve, That the great Manager had made me leave To travel on some territory new; And that, whatever homeward winds there blew, I could not touch your hand again, nor heave The logs upon our hearth and bid you weave Some wistful tale before the flames that grew.... Then, when the sudden tears had ceased to blind Your pansied eyes, I wonder if you could Remember rightly, and forget aright? Remember just your lad, uncouthly good, Forgetting when he failed in spleen or spite? Could you remember him as always kind?
I read in our old journals of the days When our first love was April-sweet and new, How fair it blossomed and deep-rooted grew Despite the adverse time; and our amaze At moon and stars and beauty beyond praise That burgeoned all about us: gold and blue The heaven arched us in, and all we knew Was gentleness. We walked on happy ways. They said by now the path would be more steep, The sunsets paler and less mild the air; Rightly we heeded not: it was not true. We will not tell the secret—let it keep. I know not how I thought those days so fair These being so much fairer, spent with you.
When we were parted, sweet, and darkness came, I used to strike a match, and hold the flame Before your picture and would breathless mark The answering glimmer of the tiny spark That brought to life the magic of your eyes, Their wistful tenderness, their glad surprise. Holding that mimic torch before your shrine I used to light your eyes and make them mine; Watch them like stars set in a lonely sky, Whisper my heart out, yearning for reply; Summon your lips from far across the sea Bidding them live a twilight hour with me. Then, when the match was shrivelled into gloom, Lo—you were with me in the darkened room.
(December 27, 1834.)
Lamb died just before I left town, and Mr. Ryle of the E. India House, one of his extors., notified it to me.... He said Miss L. was resigned and composed at the event, but it was from her malady, then in mild type, so that when she saw her brother dead, she observed on his beauty when asleep and apprehended nothing further.
—Letter of John Rickman, 24 January, 1835.
I hear their voices still: the stammering one Struggling with some absurdity of jest; Her quiet words that puzzle and protest Against the latest outrage of his fun. So wise, so simple—has she never guessed That through his laughter, love and terror run? For when her trouble came, and darkness pressed, He smiled, and fought her madness with a pun. Through all those years it was his task to keep Her gentle heart serenely mystified. If Fate's an artist, this should be his pride— When, in that Christmas season, he lay dead, She innocently looked. "I always said That Charles is really handsome when asleep."
At six o'clock in the evening,
The time for lullabies,
My son lay on my mother's lap
With sleepy, sleepy eyes!
(O drowsy little manny boy,
With sleepy, sleepy eyes!)
I heard her sing, and rock him,
And the creak of the swaying chair,
And the old dear cadence of the words
Came softly down the stair.
And all the years had vanished,
All folly, greed, and stain—
The old, old song, the creaking chair,
The dearest arms again!
(O lucky little manny boy,
To feel those arms again!)
They catalogue their minutes: Now, now, now,
Is Actual, amid the fugitive;
Take ink and pen (they say) for that is how
We snare this flying life, and make it live.
So to their little pictures, and they sieve
Their happinesses: fields turned by the plough,
The afterglow that summer sunsets give,
The razor concave of a great ship's bow.
O gallant instinct, folly for men's mirth!
Type cannot burn and sparkle on the page.
No glittering ink can make this written word
Shine clear enough to speak the noble rage
And instancy of life. All sonnets blurred
The sudden mood of truth that gave them birth.
Suppose one knew that never more might one Put pen to sonnet, well loved task; that now These fourteen lines were all he could allow To say his message, be forever done; How he would scan the word, the line, the rhyme, Intent to sum in dearly chosen phrase The windy trees, the beauty of his days, Life's pride and pathos in one verse sublime. How bitter then would be regret and pang For former rhymes he dallied to refine, For every verse that was not crystalline.... And if belike this last one feebly rang, Honor and pride would cast it to the floor Facing the judge with what was done before.
Civilization causes me Alternate fits: disgust and glee. Buried in piles of glass and stone My private spirit moves alone, Where every day from eight to six I keep alive by hasty tricks. But I am simple in my soul; My mind is sullen to control. At dusk I smell the scent of earth, And I am dumb—too glad for mirth. I know the savors night can give, And then, and then, I live, I live! No man is wholly pure and free, For that is not his destiny, But though I bend, I will not break: And still be savage, for Truth's sake. God damns the easily convinced (Like Pilate, when his hands he rinsed).
I stood on the pavement
Where I could admire
Behind the brown chapel
The cream and gold spire.
Above, gilded Lightning
Swam high on his ball—
I saw the noon shadow
The church of St. Paul.
And was there a meaning?
(My fancy would run),
Saint Paul in the shadow,
Saint Frank in the sun!
O city, cage your poets! Hem them in
And roof them over from the April sky—
Clatter them round with babble, ceaseless din,
And drown their voices with your thunder cry.
Forbid their free feet on the windy hills,
And harness them to daily ruts of stone—
(In florists' windows lock the daffodils)
And never, never let them be alone!
For they are curst, said poets, curst and lewd,
And freedom gives their tongues uncanny wit,
And granted silence, thought and solitude
They (absit omen!) might make Song of it.
So cage them in, and stand about them thick,
And keep them busy with their daily bread;
And should their eyes seem strange, ah, then be quick
To interrupt them ere the word be said....
For, if their hearts burn with sufficient rage,
With wasted sunsets and frustrated youth,
Some day they'll cry, on some disturbing page,
The savage, sweet, unpalatable truth!
No Malory of old romance,
No Crusoe tale, it seems to me,
Can equal in rich circumstance
This telephone directory.
No ballad of fair ladies' eyes,
No legend of proud knights and dames,
Can fill me with such bright surmise
As this great book of numbered names!
How many hearts and lives unknown,
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