THE COMEDIAN AS THE LETTER C
The World without Imagination
1 Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil,
2 The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates
3 Of snails, musician of pears, principium
4 And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig
5 Of things, this nincompated pedagogue,
6 Preceptor to the sea? Crispin at sea
7 Created, in his day, a touch of doubt.
8 An eye most apt in gelatines and jupes,
9 Berries of villages, a barber's eye,
10 An eye of land, of simple salad-beds,
11 Of honest quilts, the eye of Crispin, hung
12 On porpoises, instead of apricots,
13 And on silentious porpoises, whose snouts
14 Dibbled in waves that were mustachios,
15 Inscrutable hair in an inscrutable world.
16 One eats one pat¨¦, even of salt, quotha.
17 It was not so much the lost terrestrial,
18 The snug hibernal from that sea and salt,
19 That century of wind in a single puff.
20 What counted was mythology of self,
21 Blotched out beyond unblotching. Crispin,
22 The lutanist of fleas, the knave, the thane,
23 The ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches, cloak
24 Of China, cap of Spain, imperative haw
25 Of hum, inquisitorial botanist,
26 And general lexicographer of mute
27 And maidenly greenhorns, now beheld himself,
28 A skinny sailor peering in the sea-glass.
29 What word split up in clickering syllables
30 And storming under multitudinous tones
31 Was name for this short-shanks in all that brunt?
32 Crispin was washed away by magnitude.
33 The whole of life that still remained in him
34 Dwindled to one sound strumming in his ear,
35 Ubiquitous concussion, slap and sigh,
36 Polyphony beyond his baton's thrust.
37 Could Crispin stem verboseness in the sea,
38 The old age of a watery realist,
39 Triton, dissolved in shifting diaphanes
40 Of blue and green? A wordy, watery age
41 That whispered to the sun's compassion, made
42 A convocation, nightly, of the sea-stars,
43 And on the cropping foot-ways of the moon
44 Lay grovelling. Triton incomplicate with that
45 Which made him Triton, nothing left of him,
46 Except in faint, memorial gesturings,
47 That were like arms and shoulders in the waves,
48 Here, something in the rise and fall of wind
49 That seemed hallucinating horn, and here,
50 A sunken voice, both of remembering
51 And of forgetfulness, in alternate strain.
52 Just so an ancient Crispin was dissolved.
53 The valet in the tempest was annulled.
54 Bordeaux to Yucatan, Havana next,
55 And then to Carolina. Simple jaunt.
56 Crispin, merest minuscule in the gates,
57 Dejected his manner to the turbulence.
58 The salt hung on his spirit like a frost,
59 The dead brine melted in him like a dew
60 Of winter, until nothing of himself
61 Remained, except some starker, barer self
62 In a starker, barer world, in which the sun
63 Was not the sun because it never shone
64 With bland complaisance on pale parasols,
65 Beetled, in chapels, on the chaste bouquets.
66 Against his pipping sounds a trumpet cried
67 Celestial sneering boisterously. Crispin
68 Became an introspective voyager.
69 Here was the veritable ding an sich, at last,
70 Crispin confronting it, a vocable thing,
71 But with a speech belched out of hoary darks
72 Noway resembling his, a visible thing,
73 And excepting negligible Triton, free
74 From the unavoidable shadow of himself
75 That lay elsewhere around him. Severance
76 Was clear. The last distortion of romance
77 Forsook the insatiable egotist. The sea
78 Severs not only lands but also selves.
79 Here was no help before reality.
80 Crispin beheld and Crispin was made new.
81 The imagination, here, could not evade,
82 In poems of plums, the strict austerity
83 Of one vast, subjugating, final tone.
84 The drenching of stale lives no more fell down.
85 What was this gaudy, gusty panoply?
86 Out of what swift destruction did it spring?
87 It was caparison of mind and cloud
88 And something given to make whole among
89 The ruses that were shattered by the large.
Concerning the Thunderstorms of Yucatan
90 In Yucatan, the Maya sonneteers
91 Of the Caribbean amphitheatre,
92 In spite of hawk and falcon, green toucan
93 And jay, still to the night-bird made their plea,
94 As if raspberry tanagers in palms,
95 High up in orange air, were barbarous.
96 But Crispin was too destitute to find
97 In any commonplace the sought-for aid.
98 He was a man made vivid by the sea,
99 A man come out of luminous traversing,
100 Much trumpeted, made desperately clear,
101 Fresh from discoveries of tidal skies,
102 To whom oracular rockings gave no rest.
103 Into a savage color he went on.
104 How greatly had he grown in his demesne,
105 This auditor of insects! He that saw
106 The stride of vanishing autumn in a park
107 By way of decorous melancholy; he
108 That wrote his couplet yearly to the spring,
109 As dissertation of profound delight,
110 Stopping, on voyage, in a land of snakes,
111 Found his vicissitudes had much enlarged
112 His apprehension, made him intricate
113 In moody rucks, and difficult and strange
114 In all desires, his destitution's mark.
115 He was in this as other freemen are,
116 Sonorous nutshells rattling inwardly.
117 His violence was for aggrandizement
118 And not for stupor, such as music makes
119 For sleepers halfway waking. He perceived
120 That coolness for his heat came suddenly,
121 And only, in the fables that he scrawled
122 With his own quill, in its indigenous dew,
123 Of an aesthetic tough, diverse, untamed,
124 Incredible to prudes, the mint of dirt,
125 Green barbarism turning paradigm.
126 Crispin foresaw a curious promenade
127 Or, nobler, sensed an elemental fate,
128 And elemental potencies and pangs,
129 And beautiful barenesses as yet unseen,
130 Making the most of savagery of palms,
131 Of moonlight on the thick, cadaverous bloom
132 That yuccas breed, and of the panther's tread.
133 The fabulous and its intrinsic verse
134 Came like two spirits parlaying, adorned
135 In radiance from the Atlantic coign,
136 For Crispin and his quill to catechize.
137 But they came parlaying of such an earth,
138 So thick with sides and jagged lops of green,
139 So intertwined with serpent-kin encoiled
140 Among the purple tufts, the scarlet crowns,
141 Scenting the jungle in their refuges,
142 So streaked with yellow, blue and green and red
143 In beak and bud and fruity gobbet-skins,
144 That earth was like a jostling festival
145 Of seeds grown fat, too juicily opulent,
146 Expanding in the gold's maternal warmth.
147 So much for that. The affectionate emigrant found
148 A new reality in parrot-squawks.
149 Yet let that trifle pass. Now, as this odd
150 Discoverer walked through the harbor streets
151 Inspecting the cabildo, the fa?ade
152 Of the cathedral, making notes, he heard
153 A rumbling, west of Mexico, it seemed,
154 Approaching like a gasconade of drums.
155 The white cabildo darkened, the fa?ade,
156 As sullen as the sky, was swallowed up
157 In swift, successive shadows, dolefully.
158 The rumbling broadened as it fell. The wind,
159 Tempestuous clarion, with heavy cry,
160 Came bluntly thundering, more terrible
161 Than the revenge of music on bassoons.
162 Gesticulating lightning, mystical,
163 Made pallid flitter. Crispin, here, took flight.
164 An annotator has his scruples, too.
165 He knelt in the cathedral with the rest,
166 This connoisseur of elemental fate,
167 Aware of exquisite thought. The storm was one
168 Of many proclamations of the kind,
169 Proclaiming something harsher than he learned
170 From hearing signboards whimper in cold nights
171 Or seeing the midsummer artifice
172 Of heat upon his pane. This was the span
173 Of force, the quintessential fact, the note
174 Of Vulcan, that a valet seeks to own,
175 The thing that makes him envious in phrase.
176 And while the torrent on the roof still droned
177 He felt the Andean breath. His mind was free
178 And more than free, elate, intent, profound
179 And studious of a self possessing him,
180 That was not in him in the crusty town
181 From which he sailed. Beyond him, westward, lay
182 The mountainous ridges, purple balustrades,
183 In which the thunder, lapsing in its clap,
184 Let down gigantic quavers of its voice,
185 For Crispin to vociferate again.
186 The book of moonlight is not written yet
187 Nor half begun, but, when it is, leave room
188 For Crispin, fagot in the lunar fire,
189 Who, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage
190 Through sweating changes, never could forget
191 That wakefulness or meditating sleep,
192 In which the sulky strophes willingly
193 Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs.
194 Leave room, therefore, in that unwritten book
195 For the legendary moonlight that once burned
196 In Crispin's mind above a continent.
197 America was always north to him,
198 A northern west or western north, but north,
199 And thereby polar, polar-purple, chilled
200 And lank, rising and slumping from a sea
201 Of hardy foam, receding flatly, spread
202 In endless ledges, glittering, submerged
203 And cold in a boreal mistiness of the moon.
204 The spring came there in clinking pannicles
205 Of half-dissolving frost, the summer came,
206 If ever, whisked and wet, not ripening,
207 Before the winter's vacancy returned.
208 The myrtle, if the myrtle ever bloomed,
209 Was like a glacial pink upon the air.
210 The green palmettoes in crepuscular ice
211 Clipped frigidly blue-black meridians,
212 Morose chiaroscuro, gauntly drawn.
213 How many poems he denied himself
214 In his observant progress, lesser things
215 Than the relentless contact he desired;
216 How many sea-masks he ignored; what sounds
217 He shut out from his tempering ear; what thoughts,
218 Like jades affecting the sequestered bride;
219 And what descants, he sent to banishment!
220 Perhaps the Arctic moonlight really gave
221 The liaison, the blissful liaison,
222 Between himself and his environment,
223 Which was, and is, chief motive, first delight,
224 For him, and not for him alone. It seemed
225 Elusive, faint, more mist than moon, perverse,
226 Wrong as a divagation to Peking,
227 To him that postulated as his theme
228 The vulgar, as his theme and hymn and flight,
229 A passionately niggling nightingale.
230 Moonlight was an evasion, or, if not,
231 A minor meeting, facile, delicate.
232 Thus he conceived his voyaging to be
233 An up and down between two elements,
234 A fluctuating between sun and moon,
235 A sally into gold and crimson forms,
236 As on this voyage, out of goblinry,
237 And then retirement like a turning back
238 And sinking down to the indulgences
239 That in the moonlight have their habitude.
240 But let these backward lapses, if they would,
241 Grind their seductions on him, Crispin knew
242 It was a flourishing tropic he required
243 For his refreshment, an abundant zone,
244 Prickly and obdurate, dense, harmonious
245 Yet with a harmony not rarefied
246 Nor fined for the inhibited instruments
247 Of over-civil stops. And thus he tossed
248 Between a Carolina of old time,
249 A little juvenile, an ancient whim,
250 And the visible, circumspect presentment drawn
251 From what he saw across his vessel's prow.
252 He came. The poetic hero without palms
253 Or jugglery, without regalia.
254 And as he came he saw that it was spring,
255 A time abhorrent to the nihilist
256 Or searcher for the fecund minimum.
257 The moonlight fiction disappeared. The spring,
258 Although contending featly in its veils,
259 Irised in dew and early fragrancies,
260 Was gemmy marionette to him that sought
261 A sinewy nakedness. A river bore
262 The vessel inward. Tilting up his nose,
263 He inhaled the rancid rosin, burly smells
264 Of dampened lumber, emanations blown
265 From warehouse doors, the gustiness of ropes,
266 Decays of sacks, and all the arrant stinks
267 That helped him round his rude aesthetic out.
268 He savored rankness like a sensualist.
269 He marked the marshy ground around the dock,
270 The crawling railroad spur, the rotten fence,
271 Curriculum for the marvellous sophomore.
272 It purified. It made him see how much
273 Of what he saw he never saw at all.
274 He gripped more closely the essential prose
275 As being, in a world so falsified,
276 The one integrity for him, the one
277 Discovery still possible to make,
278 To which all poems were incident, unless
279 That prose should wear a poem's guise at last.
The Idea of a Colony
280 Nota: his soil is man's intelligence.
281 That's better. That's worth crossing seas to find.
282 Crispin in one laconic phrase laid bare
283 His cloudy drift and planned a colony.
284 Exit the mental moonlight, exit lex,
285 Rex and principium, exit the whole
286 Shebang. Exeunt omnes. Here was prose
287 More exquisite than any tumbling verse:
288 A still new continent in which to dwell.
289 What was the purpose of his pilgrimage,
290 Whatever shape it took in Crispin's mind,
291 If not, when all is said, to drive away
292 The shadow of his fellows from the skies,
293 And, from their stale intelligence released,
294 To make a new intelligence prevail?
295 Hence the reverberations in the words
296 Of his first central hymns, the celebrants
297 Of rankest trivia, tests of the strength
298 Of his aesthetic, his philosophy,
299 The more invidious, the more desired.
300 The florist asking aid from cabbages,
301 The rich man going bare, the paladin
302 Afraid, the blind man as astronomer,
303 The appointed power unwielded from disdain.
304 His western voyage ended and began.
305 The torment of fastidious thought grew slack,
306 Another, still more bellicose, came on.
307 He, therefore, wrote his prolegomena,
308 And, being full of the caprice, inscribed
309 Commingled souvenirs and prophecies.
310 He made a singular collation. Thus:
311 The natives of the rain are rainy men.
312 Although they paint effulgent, azure lakes,
313 And April hillsides wooded white and pink,
314 Their azure has a cloudy edge, their white
315 And pink, the water bright that dogwood bears.
316 And in their music showering sounds intone.
317 On what strange froth does the gross Indian dote,
318 What Eden sapling gum, what honeyed gore,
319 What pulpy dram distilled of innocence,
320 That streaking gold should speak in him
321 Or bask within his images and words?
322 If these rude instances impeach themselves
323 By force of rudeness, let the principle
324 Be plain. For application Crispin strove,
325 Abhorring Turk as Esquimau, the lute
326 As the marimba, the magnolia as rose.
327 Upon these premises propounding, he
328 Projected a colony that should extend
329 To the dusk of a whistling south below the south.
330 A comprehensive island hemisphere.
331 The man in Georgia waking among pines
332 Should be pine-spokesman. The responsive man,
333 Planting his pristine cores in Florida,
334 Should prick thereof, not on the psaltery,
335 But on the banjo's categorical gut,
336 Tuck tuck, while the flamingos flapped his bays.
337 Sepulchral se?ors, bibbing pale mescal,
338 Oblivious to the Aztec almanacs,
339 Should make the intricate Sierra scan.
340 And dark Brazilians in their caf¨¦s,
341 Musing immaculate, pampean dits,
342 Should scrawl a vigilant anthology,
343 To be their latest, lucent paramour.
344 These are the broadest instances. Crispin,
345 Progenitor of such extensive scope,
346 Was not indifferent to smart detail.
347 The melon should have apposite ritual,
348 Performed in verd apparel, and the peach,
349 When its black branches came to bud, belle day,
350 Should have an incantation. And again,
351 When piled on salvers its aroma steeped
352 The summer, it should have a sacrament
353 And celebration. Shrewd novitiates
354 Should be the clerks of our experience.
355 These bland excursions into time to come,
356 Related in romance to backward flights,
357 However prodigal, however proud,
358 Contained in their afflatus the reproach
359 That first drove Crispin to his wandering.
360 He could not be content with counterfeit,
361 With masquerade of thought, with hapless words
362 That must belie the racking masquerade,
363 With fictive flourishes that preordained
364 His passion's permit, hang of coat, degree
365 Of buttons, measure of his salt. Such trash
366 Might help the blind, not him, serenely sly.
367 It irked beyond his patience. Hence it was,
368 Preferring text to gloss, he humbly served
369 Grotesque apprenticeship to chance event,
370 A clown, perhaps, but an aspiring clown.
371 There is a monotonous babbling in our dreams
372 That makes them our dependent heirs, the heirs
373 Of dreamers buried in our sleep, and not
374 The oncoming fantasies of better birth.
375 The apprentice knew these dreamers. If he dreamed
376 Their dreams, he did it in a gingerly way.
377 All dreams are vexing. Let them be expunged.
378 But let the rabbit run, the cock declaim.
379 Trinket pasticcio, flaunting skyey sheets,
380 With Crispin as the tiptoe cozener?
381 No, no: veracious page on page, exact.
A Nice Shady Home
382 Crispin as hermit, pure and capable,
383 Dwelt in the land. Perhaps if discontent
384 Had kept him still the pricking realist,
385 Choosing his element from droll confect
386 Of was and is and shall or ought to be,
387 Beyond Bordeaux, beyond Havana, far
388 Beyond carked Yucatan, he might have come
389 To colonize his polar planterdom
390 And jig his chits upon a cloudy knee.
391 But his emprize to that idea soon sped.
392 Crispin dwelt in the land and dwelling there
393 Slid from his continent by slow recess
394 To things within his actual eye, alert
395 To the difficulty of rebellious thought
396 When the sky is blue. The blue infected will.
397 It may be that the yarrow in his fields
398 Sealed pensive purple under its concern.
399 But day by day, now this thing and now that
400 Confined him, while it cosseted, condoned,
401 Little by little, as if the suzerain soil
402 Abashed him by carouse to humble yet
403 Attach. It seemed haphazard denouement.
404 He first, as realist, admitted that
405 Whoever hunts a matinal continent
406 May, after all, stop short before a plum
407 And be content and still be realist.
408 The words of things entangle and confuse.
409 The plum survives its poems. It may hang
410 In the sunshine placidly, colored by ground
411 Obliquities of those who pass beneath,
412 Harlequined and mazily dewed and mauved
413 In bloom. Yet it survives in its own form,
414 Beyond these changes, good, fat, guzzly fruit.
415 So Crispin hasped on the surviving form,
416 For him, of shall or ought to be in is.
417 Was he to bray this in profoundest brass
418 Arointing his dreams with fugal requiems?
419 Was he to company vastest things defunct
420 With a blubber of tom-toms harrowing the sky?
421 Scrawl a tragedian's testament? Prolong
422 His active force in an inactive dirge,
423 Which, let the tall musicians call and call,
424 Should merely call him dead? Pronounce amen
425 Through choirs infolded to the outmost clouds?
426 Because he built a cabin who once planned
427 Loquacious columns by the ructive sea?
428 Because he turned to salad-beds again?
429 Jovial Crispin, in calamitous crape?
430 Should he lay by the personal and make
431 Of his own fate an instance of all fate?
432 What is one man among so many men?
433 What are so many men in such a world?
434 Can one man think one thing and think it long?
435 Can one man be one thing and be it long?
436 The very man despising honest quilts
437 Lies quilted to his poll in his despite.
438 For realists, what is is what should be.
439 And so it came, his cabin shuffled up,
440 His trees were planted, his duenna brought
441 Her prismy blonde and clapped her in his hands,
442 The curtains flittered and the door was closed.
443 Crispin, magister of a single room,
444 Latched up the night. So deep a sound fell down
445 It was as if the solitude concealed
446 And covered him and his congenial sleep.
447 So deep a sound fell down it grew to be
448 A long soothsaying silence down and down.
449 The crickets beat their tambours in the wind,
450 Marching a motionless march, custodians.
451 In the presto of the morning, Crispin trod,
452 Each day, still curious, but in a round
453 Less prickly and much more condign than that
454 He once thought necessary. Like Candide,
455 Yeoman and grub, but with a fig in sight,
456 And cream for the fig and silver for the cream,
457 A blonde to tip the silver and to taste
458 The rapey gouts. Good star, how that to be
459 Annealed them in their cabin ribaldries!
460 Yet the quotidian saps philosophers
461 And men like Crispin like them in intent,
462 If not in will, to track the knaves of thought.
463 But the quotidian composed as his,
464 Of breakfast ribands, fruits laid in their leaves,
465 The tomtit and the cassia and the rose,
466 Although the rose was not the noble thorn
467 Of crinoline spread, but of a pining sweet,
468 Composed of evenings like cracked shutters flung
469 Upon the rumpling bottomness, and nights
470 In which those frail custodians watched,
471 Indifferent to the tepid summer cold,
472 While he poured out upon the lips of her
473 That lay beside him, the quotidian
474 Like this, saps like the sun, true fortuner.
475 For all it takes it gives a humped return
476 Exchequering from piebald fiscs unkeyed.
And Daughters with Curls
477 Portentous enunciation, syllable
478 To blessed syllable affined, and sound
479 Bubbling felicity in cantilene,
480 Prolific and tormenting tenderness
481 Of music, as it comes to unison,
482 Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last
483 Deduction. Thrum, with a proud douceur
484 His grand pronunciamento and devise.
485 The chits came for his jigging, bluet-eyed,
486 Hands without touch yet touching poignantly,
487 Leaving no room upon his cloudy knee,
488 Prophetic joint, for its diviner young.
489 The return to social nature, once begun,
490 Anabasis or slump, ascent or chute,
491 Involved him in midwifery so dense
492 His cabin counted as phylactery,
493 Then place of vexing palankeens, then haunt
494 Of children nibbling at the sugared void,
495 Infants yet eminently old, then dome
496 And halidom for the unbraided femes,
497 Green crammers of the green fruits of the world,
498 Bidders and biders for its ecstasies,
499 True daughters both of Crispin and his clay.
500 All this with many mulctings of the man,
501 Effective colonizer sharply stopped
502 In the door-yard by his own capacious bloom.
503 But that this bloom grown riper, showing nibs
504 Of its eventual roundness, puerile tints
505 Of spiced and weathery rouges, should complex
506 The stopper to indulgent fatalist
507 Was unforeseen. First Crispin smiled upon
508 His goldenest demoiselle, inhabitant,
509 She seemed, of a country of the capuchins,
510 So delicately blushed, so humbly eyed,
511 Attentive to a coronal of things
512 Secret and singular. Second, upon
513 A second similar counterpart, a maid
514 Most sisterly to the first, not yet awake
515 Excepting to the motherly footstep, but
516 Marvelling sometimes at the shaken sleep.
517 Then third, a thing still flaxen in the light,
518 A creeper under jaunty leaves. And fourth,
519 Mere blusteriness that gewgaws jollified,
520 All din and gobble, blasphemously pink.
521 A few years more and the vermeil capuchin
522 Gave to the cabin, lordlier than it was,
523 The dulcet omen fit for such a house.
524 The second sister dallying was shy
525 To fetch the one full-pinioned one himself
526 Out of her botches, hot embosomer.
527 The third one gaping at the orioles
528 Lettered herself demurely as became
529 A pearly poetess, peaked for rhapsody.
530 The fourth, pent now, a digit curious.
531 Four daughters in a world too intricate
532 In the beginning, four blithe instruments
533 Of differing struts, four voices several
534 In couch, four more person?, intimate
535 As buffo, yet divers, four mirrors blue
536 That should be silver, four accustomed seeds
537 Hinting incredible hues, four self-same lights
538 That spread chromatics in hilarious dark,
539 Four questioners and four sure answerers.
540 Crispin concocted doctrine from the rout.
541 The world, a turnip once so readily plucked,
542 Sacked up and carried overseas, daubed out
543 Of its ancient purple, pruned to the fertile main,
544 And sown again by the stiffest realist,
545 Came reproduced in purple, family font,
546 The same insoluble lump. The fatalist
547 Stepped in and dropped the chuckling down his craw,
548 Without grace or grumble. Score this anecdote
549 Invented for its pith, not doctrinal
550 In form though in design, as Crispin willed,
551 Disguised pronunciamento, summary,
552 Autumn's compendium, strident in itself
553 But muted, mused, and perfectly revolved
554 In those portentous accents, syllables,
555 And sounds of music coming to accord
556 Upon his law, like their inherent sphere,
557 Seraphic proclamations of the pure
558 Delivered with a deluging onwardness.
559 Or if the music sticks, if the anecdote
560 Is false, if Crispin is a profitless
561 Philosopher, beginning with green brag,
562 Concluding fadedly, if as a man
563 Prone to distemper he abates in taste,
564 Fickle and fumbling, variable, obscure,
565 Glozing his life with after-shining flicks,
566 Illuminating, from a fancy gorged
567 By apparition, plain and common things,
568 Sequestering the fluster from the year,
569 Making gulped potions from obstreperous drops,
570 And so distorting, proving what he proves
571 Is nothing, what can all this matter since
572 The relation comes, benignly, to its end?
573 So may the relation of each man be clipped.