Robert William Service |
I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die--
Whether he die in the light o' day or under the peak-faced moon;
In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead--
I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.
For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot
On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot.
And where he died or how he died, it didn't matter a damn
So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone "epigram".
So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin
(Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin).
Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: "Here lies poor Bill MacKie",
And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.
Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange,
Of a long-deserted line of traps 'way back of the Bighorn range;
Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still,
Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.
So I thought of the contract I'd made with him, and I took down from the shelf
The swell black box with the silver plate he'd picked out for hisself;
And I packed it full of grub and "hooch", and I slung it on the sleigh;
Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.
You know what it's like in the Yukon wild when it's sixty-nine below;
When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow;
When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood,
And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood;
When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit,
And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit;
When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill--
Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill.
Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand,
As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and bitter land;
Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim heart-breaking woes,
And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the sourdough knows!
North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain
Passed like a dream I slept to lose and I waked to dream again.
River and plain and mighty peak--and who could stand unawed?
As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of the throne of God.
North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the scouring brutes,
And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the malamutes,
Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a hill,
And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death, lay Bill.
Ice, white ice, like a winding-sheet, sheathing each smoke-grimed wall;
Ice on the stove-pipe, ice on the bed, ice gleaming over all;
Sparkling ice on the dead man's chest, glittering ice in his hair,
Ice on his fingers, ice in his heart, ice in his glassy stare;
Hard as a log and trussed like a frog, with his arms and legs outspread.
I gazed at the coffin I'd brought for him, and I gazed at the gruesome dead,
And at last I spoke: "Bill liked his joke; but still, goldarn his eyes,
A man had ought to consider his mates in the way he goes and dies.
Have you ever stood in an Arctic hut in the shadow of the Pole,
With a little coffin six by three and a grief you can't control?
Have you ever sat by a frozen corpse that looks at you with a grin,
And that seems to say: "You may try all day, but you'll never jam me in"?
I'm not a man of the quitting kind, but I never felt so blue
As I sat there gazing at that stiff and studying what I'd do.
Then I rose and I kicked off the husky dogs that were nosing round about,
And I lit a roaring fire in the stove, and I started to thaw Bill out.
Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn't seem no good;
His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood.
Till at last I said: "It ain't no use--he's froze too hard to thaw;
He's obstinate, and he won't lie straight, so I guess I got to--saw.
So I sawed off poor Bill's arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight
In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate;
And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down;
Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.
So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep,
And there he's waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill--and how hard he was to saw.
Ben Jonson |
— TO FINE GRAND.
What is't, FINE GRAND, makes thee my friendship fly,
Or take an Epigram so fearfully,
As 'twere a challenge, or a borrower's letter:
The world must know your greatness is my debtor.
Imprimis, Grand, you owe me for a jest
I lent you, on mere acquaintance, at a feast.
Item, a tale or two some fortnight after,
That yet maintains you, and your house in laughter.
Item, the Babylonian song you sing;
Item, a fair Greek poesy for a ring,
With which a learned madam you bely.
Item, a charm surrounding fearfully
Your partie-per-pale picture, one half drawn
In solemn cypress, th' other cobweb lawn.
Item, a gulling imprese for you, at tilt.
Item, your mistress' anagram, in your hilt.
Item, your own, sewn in your mistress' smock.
Item, an epitaph on my lord's ****,
In most vile verses, and cost me more pain,
Than had I made 'em good, to fit your vein.
Forty things more, dear Grand, which you know true,
For which, or pay me quickly, or I'll pay you.
Friedrich von Schiller |
Can I, my friend, with thee condole?--
Can I conceive the woes that try men,
When late repentance racks the soul
Ensnared into the toils of hymen?
Can I take part in such distress?--
Poor martyr,--most devoutly, "Yes!"
Thou weep'st because thy spouse has flown
To arms preferred before thine own;--
A faithless wife,--I grant the curse,--
And yet, my friend, it might be worse!
Just hear another's tale of sorrow,
And, in comparing, comfort borrow!
What! dost thou think thyself undone,
Because thy rights are shared with one!
O, happy man--be more resigned,
My wife belongs to all mankind!
My wife--she's found abroad--at home;
But cross the Alps and she's at Rome;
Sail to the Baltic--there you'll find her;
Lounge on the Boulevards--kind and kinder:
In short, you've only just to drop
Where'er they sell the last new tale,
And, bound and lettered in the shop,
You'll find my lady up for sale!
She must her fair proportions render
To all whose praise can glory lend her;--
Within the coach, on board the boat,
Let every pedant "take a note;"
Endure, for public approbation,
Each critic's "close investigation,"
And brave--nay, court it as a flattery--
Each spectacled Philistine's battery.
Just as it suits some scurvy carcase
In which she hails an Aristarchus,
Ready to fly with kindred souls,
O'er blooming flowers or burning coals,
To fame or shame, to shrine or gallows,
Let him but lead--sublimely callous!
A Leipsic man--(confound the wretch!)
Has made her topographic sketch,
A kind of map, as of a town,
Each point minutely dotted down;
Scarce to myself I dare to hint
What this d----d fellow wants to print!
Thy wife--howe'er she slight the vows--
Respects, at least, the name of spouse;
But mine to regions far too high
For that terrestrial name is carried;
My wife's "The famous Ninon!"--I
"The gentleman that Ninon married!"
It galls you that you scarce are able
To stake a florin at the table--
Confront the pit, or join the walk,
But straight all tongues begin to talk!
O that such luck could me befall,
Just to be talked about at all!
Behold me dwindling in my nook,
Edged at her left,--and not a look!
A sort of rushlight of a life,
Put out by that great orb--my wife!
Scarce is the morning gray--before
Postman and porter crowd the door;
No premier has so dear a levee--
She finds the mail-bag half its trade;
My God--the parcels are so heavy!
And not a parcel carriage-paid!
But then--the truth must be confessed--
They're all so charmingly addressed:
Whate'er they cost, they well requite her--
"To Madame Blank, the famous writer!"
Poor thing, she sleeps so soft! and yet
'Twere worth my life to spare her slumber;
"Madame--from Jena--the Gazette--
The Berlin Journal--the last number!"
Sudden she wakes; those eyes of blue
(Sweet eyes!) fall straight--on the Review!
I by her side--all undetected,
While those cursed columns are inspected;
Loud squall the children overhead,
Still she reads on, till all is read:
At last she lays that darling by,
And asks--"What makes the baby cry?"
Already now the toilet's care
Claims from her couch the restless fair;
The toilet's care!--the glass has won
Just half a glance, and all is done!
A snappish--pettish word or so
Warns the poor maid 'tis time to go:--
Not at her toilet wait the Graces
Uncombed Erynnys takes their places;
So great a mind expands its scope
Far from the mean details of--soap!
Now roll the coach-wheels to the muster--
Now round my muse her votaries cluster;
Spruce Abbe Millefleurs--Baron Herman--
The English Lord, who don't know German,--
But all uncommonly well read
From matchless A to deathless Z!
Sneaks in the corner, shy and small,
A thing which men the husband call!
While every fop with flattery fires her,
Swears with what passion he admires her.
"'Passion!' 'admire!' and still you're dumb?"
Lord bless your soul, the worst's to come:--
I'm forced to bow, as I'm a sinner,--
And hope--the rogue will stay to dinner!
But oh, at dinner!--there's the sting;
I see my cellar on the wing!
You know if Burgundy is dear?--
Mine once emerged three times a year;--
And now to wash these learned throttles,
In dozens disappear the bottles;
They well must drink who well do eat
(I've sunk a capital on meat).
Her immortality, I fear, a
Death-blow will prove to my Madeira;
It has given, alas! a mortal shock
To that old friend--my Steinberg hock!
If Faust had really any hand
In printing, I can understand
The fate which legends more than hint;--
The devil take all hands that print!
And what my thanks for all?--a pout--
Sour looks--deep sighs; but what about?
About! O, that I well divine--
That such a pearl should fall to swine--
That such a literary ruby
Should grace the finger of a booby!
Spring comes;--behold, sweet mead and lea
Nature's green splendor tapestries o'er;
Fresh blooms the flower, and buds the tree;
Larks sing--the woodland wakes once more.
The woodland wakes--but not for her!
From Nature's self the charm has flown;
No more the Spring of earth can stir
The fond remembrance of our own!
The sweetest bird upon the bough
Has not one note of music now;
And, oh! how dull the grove's soft shade,
Where once--(as lovers then)--we strayed!
The nightingales have got no learning--
Dull creatures--how can they inspire her?
The lilies are so undiscerning,
They never say--"how they admire her!"
In all this jubilee of being,
Some subject for a point she's seeing--
Some epigram--(to be impartial,
Well turned)--there may be worse in Martial!
But, hark! the goddess stoops to reason:--
"The country now is quite in season,
I'll go!"--"What! to our country seat?"
"No!--Travelling will be such a treat;
Pyrmont's extremely full, I hear;
But Carlsbad's quite the rage this year!"
Oh yes, she loves the rural Graces;
Nature is gay--in watering-places!
Those pleasant spas--our reigning passion--
Where learned Dons meet folks of fashion;
Where--each with each illustrious soul
Familiar as in Charon's boat,
All sorts of fame sit cheek-by-jowl,
Pearls in that string--the table d'hote!
Where dames whom man has injured--fly,
To heal their wounds or to efface, them;
While others, with the waters, try
A course of flirting,--just to brace them!
Well, there (O man, how light thy woes
Compared with mine--thou need'st must see!)
My wife, undaunted, greatly goes--
And leaves the orphans (seven!!!) to me!
O, wherefore art thou flown so soon,
Thou first fair year--Love's honeymoon!
All, dream too exquisite for life!
Home's goddess--in the name of wife!
Reared by each grace--yet but to be
Man's household Anadyomene!
With mind from which the sunbeams fall,
Rejoice while pervading all;
Frank in the temper pleased to please--
Soft in the feeling waked with ease.
So broke, as native of the skies,
The heart-enthraller on my eyes;
So saw I, like a morn of May,
The playmate given to glad my way;
With eyes that more than lips bespoke,
Eyes whence--sweet words--"I love thee!" broke!
So--Ah, what transports then were mine!
I led the bride before the shrine!
And saw the future years revealed,
Glassed on my hope--one blooming field!
More wide, and widening more, were given
The angel-gates disclosing heaven;
Round us the lovely, mirthful troop
Of children came--yet still to me
The loveliest--merriest of the group
The happy mother seemed to be!
Mine, by the bonds that bind us more
Than all the oaths the priest before;
Mine, by the concord of content,
When heart with heart is music-blent;
When, as sweet sounds in unison,
Two lives harmonious melt in one!
When--sudden (O the villain!)--came
Upon the scene a mind profound!--
A bel esprit, who whispered "Fame,"
And shook my card-house to the ground.
What have I now instead of all
The Eden lost of hearth and hall?
What comforts for the heaven bereft?
What of the younger angel's left?
A sort of intellectual mule,
Man's stubborn mind in woman's shape,
Too hard to love, too frail to rule--
A sage engrafted on an ape!
To what she calls the realm of mind,
She leaves that throne, her sex, to crawl,
The cestus and the charm resigned--
A public gaping-show to all!
She blots from beauty's golden book
A name 'mid nature's choicest few,
To gain the glory of a nook
In Doctor Dunderhead's Review.