Larry Levis |
--The Carpathian Frontier, October, 1968
--for my brother
Once, in a foreign country, I was suddenly ill.
I was driving south toward a large city famous
For so little it had a replica, in concrete,
In two-thirds scale, of the Arc de Triomphe stuck
In the midst of traffic, & obstructing it.
But the city was hours away, beyond the hills
Shaped like the bodies of sleeping women.
Often I had to slow down for herds of goats
Or cattle milling on those narrow roads, & for
The narrower, lost, stone streets of villages
I passed through.
The pains in my stomach had grown
Gradually sharper & more frequent as the day
Wore on, & now a fever had set up house.
In the villages there wasn't much point in asking
Anyone for help.
In those places, where tanks
Were bivouacked in shade on their way back
From some routine exercise along
The Danube, even food was scarce that year.
And the languages shifted for no clear reason
From two hard quarries of Slavic into German,
Then to a shred of Latin spliced with oohs
Even when I tried the simplest phrases,
The peasants passing over those uneven stones
Paused just long enough to look up once,
Then they turned
Quickly away, vanishing quietly into that
Moment, like bark chips whirled downriver.
It was autumn.
Beyond each village the wind
Threw gusts of yellowing leaves across the road.
The goats I passed were thin, gray; their hind legs,
Caked with dried ****, seesawed along--
Not even mild contempt in their expressionless,
Pale eyes, & their brays like the scraping of metal.
Except for one village that had a kind
Of museum where I stopped to rest, & saw
A dead Scythian soldier under glass,
Turning to dust while holding a small sword
At attention forever, there wasn't much to look at.
Wind, leaves, goats, the higher passes
Locked in stone, the peasants with their fate
Embroidering a stillness into them,
And a spell over all things in that landscape,
That was the trouble; it couldn't be
Compared to anything else, not even the sleep
Of some asylum at a wood's edge with the sound
Of a pond's spillway beside it.
But as each cramp
Grew worse & lasted longer than the one before,
It was hard to keep myself aloof from the threadbare
World walking on that road.
Even as they moved, the peasants, the herds of goats
And cattle, the spiralling leaves, at least were part
Of that spell, that stillness.
After a while,
The villages grew even poorer, then thinned out,
Then vanished entirely.
An hour later,
There were no longer even the goats, only wind,
Then more & more leaves blown over the road, sometimes
Covering it completely for a second.
And yet, except for a random oak or some brush
Writhing out of the ravine I drove beside,
The trees had thinned into rock, into large,
Tough blonde rosettes of fading pasture grass.
Then that gave out in a bare plateau.
Easing the Dacia down a winding grade
In second gear, rounding a long, funneled curve--
In a complete stillness of yellow leaves filling
A wide field--like something thoughtlessly,
Mistakenly erased, the road simply ended.
I stopped the car.
There was no wind now.
I expected that, & though I was sick & lost,
I wasn't afraid.
I should have been afraid.
To this day I don't know why I wasn't.
I could hear time cease, the field quietly widen.
I could feel the spreading stillness of the place
Moving like something I'd witnessed as a child,
Like the ancient, armored leisure of some reptile
Gliding, gray-yellow, into the slightly tepid,
Unidentical gray-brown stillness of the water--
Something blank & unresponsive in its tough,
Pimpled skin--seen only a moment, then unseen
As it submerged to rest on mud, or glided just
Beneath the lustreless, calm yellow leaves
That clustered along a log, or floated there
In broken ringlets, held by a gray froth
On the opaque, unbroken surface of the pond,
Which reflected nothing, no one.
And then I remembered.
When I was a child, our neighbors would disappear.
And there wasn't a pond of crocodiles at all.
And they hadn't moved.
They couldn't move.
Lived in the small, fenced-off backwater
Of a canal.
I'd never seen them alive.
Were in still photographs taken on the Ivory Coast.
I saw them only once in a studio when
I was a child in a city I once loved.
I was afraid until our neighbor, a photographer,
Explained it all to me, explained how far
Away they were, how harmless; how they were praised
In rituals as "powers.
" But they had no "powers,"
The next week he vanished.
Someone had cast a spell & that the crocodiles
Swam out of the pictures on the wall & grew
Silently & multiplied & then turned into
Shadows resting on the banks of lakes & streams
Or took the shapes of fallen logs in campgrounds
In the mountains.
They ate our neighbor, Mr.
They ate his whole family.
That is what I believed,
that someone had cast a spell.
I did not
Know childhood was a spell, or that then there
Had been another spell, too quiet to hear,
Entering my city, entering the dust we ate.
No one knew it then.
No one could see it,
Though it spread through lawnless miles of housing tracts,
And the new, bare, treeless streets; it slipped
Into the vacant rows of warehouses & picked
The padlocked doors of working-class bars
And union halls & shuttered, empty diners.
And how it clung! (forever, if one had noticed)
To the brothel with the pastel tassels on the shade
Of an unlit table lamp.
Farther in, it feasted
On the decaying light of failing shopping centers;
It spilled into the older, tree-lined neighborhoods,
Into warm houses, sealing itself into books
Of bedtime stories read each night by fathers--
The books lying open to the flat, neglected
Light of dawn; & it settled like dust on windowsills
Downtown, filling the smug cafés, schools,
Banks, offices, taverns, gymnasiums, hotels,
Newsstands, courtrooms, opium parlors, Basque
Restaurants, Armenian steam baths,
French bakeries, & two of the florists' shops--
Their plate glass windows smashed forever.
Finally it tried to infiltrate the exact
Center of my city, a small square bordered
With palm trees, olives, cypresses, a square
Where no one gathered, not even thieves or lovers.
It was a place which no longer had any purpose,
But held itself aloof, I thought, the way
A deaf aunt might, from opinions, styles, gossip.
I liked it there.
It was completely lifeless,
Sad & clear in what seemed always a perfect,
I saw it first as a child,
Looking down at it from that as yet
Unvandalized, makeshift studio.
I remember leaning my right cheek against
A striped beach ball so that Mr.
Who was Japanese, who would be sent the next week
To a place called Manzanar, a detention camp
Hidden in stunted pines almost above
The Sierra timberline--could take my picture.
I remember the way he lovingly relished
Each camera angle, the unwobbling tripod,
The way he checked each aperture against
The light meter, in love with all things
That were not accidental, & I remember
The care he took when focusing; how
He tried two different lens filters before
He found the one appropriate for that
Sensual, late, slow blush of afternoon
Falling through the one broad bay window.
I remember holding still & looking down
Into the square because he asked me to;
Because my mother & father had asked me please
To obey & be patient & allow the man--
Whose business was failing anyway by then--
To work as long as he wished to without any
Irritations or annoyances before
He would have to spend these years, my father said,
Far away, in snow, & without his cameras.
Hirata did not work.
His toys gleamed there.
That much was clear to me .
That was the day I decided I would never work.
It felt like a conversion.
Play was sacred.
My father waited behind us on a sofa made
From car seats.
One spring kept nosing through.
I remember the camera opening into the light .
And I remember the dark after, the studio closed,
The cameras stolen, slivers of glass from the smashed
Bay window littering the unsanded floors,
And the square below it bathed in sunlight .
Hirata died, months later,
From complications following pneumonia.
His death, a letter from a camp official said,
Was purely accidental.
I didn't believe it.
Diseases were wise.
Diseases, like the polio
My sister had endured, floating paralyzed
And strapped into her wheelchair all through
That war, seemed too precise.
Like photographs .
Except disease left nothing.
Disease was like
And equation that drank up light & never ended,
Not even in summer.
Before my fever broke,
And the pains lessened, I could actually see
Myself, in the exact center of that square.
How still it had become in my absence, & how
Immaculate, windless, sunlit.
I could see
The outline of every leaf on the nearest tree,
See it more clearly than ever, more clearly than
I had seen anything before in my whole life:
Against the modest, dark gray, solemn trunk,
The leaves were becoming only what they had to be--
Calm, yellow, things in themselves & nothing
More--& frankly they were nothing in themselves,
Nothing except their little reassurance
Of persisting for a few more days, or returning
The year after, & the year after that, & every
Year following--estranged from us by now--& clear,
So clear not one in a thousand trembled; hushed
And always coming back--steadfast, orderly,
Taciturn, oblivious--until the end of Time.
Rudyard Kipling |
Now Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,
And hied away to the Hurrum Hills above the Afghan border,
To sit on a rock with a heliograph; but ere he left he taught
His wife the working of the Code that sets the miles at naught.
And Love had made him very sage, as Nature made her fair;
So Cupid and Apollo linked , per heliograph, the pair.
At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise --
At e'en, the dying sunset bore her busband's homilies.
He warned her 'gainst seductive youths in scarlet clad and gold,
As much as 'gainst the blandishments paternal of the old;
But kept his gravest warnings for (hereby the ditty hangs)
That snowy-haired Lothario, Lieutenant-General Bangs.
'Twas General Bangs, with Aide and Staff, who tittupped on the way,
When they beheld a heliograph tempestuously at play.
They thought of Border risings, and of stations sacked and burnt --
So stopped to take the message down -- and this is whay they learnt --
"Dash dot dot, dot, dot dash, dot dash dot" twice.
The General swore.
"Was ever General Officer addressed as 'dear' before?
"'My Love,' i' faith! 'My Duck,' Gadzooks! 'My darling popsy-wop!'
"Spirit of great Lord Wolseley, who is on that mountaintop?"
The artless Aide-de-camp was mute; the gilded Staff were still,
As, dumb with pent-up mirth, they booked that message from the hill;
For clear as summer lightning-flare, the husband's warning ran: --
"Don't dance or ride with General Bangs -- a most immoral man.
[At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise --
But, howsoever Love be blind, the world at large hath eyes.
With damnatory dot and dash he heliographed his wife
Some interesting details of the General's private life.
The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the shining Staff were still,
And red and ever redder grew the General's shaven gill.
And this is what he said at last (his feelings matter not): --
"I think we've tapped a private line.
Hi! Threes about there! Trot!"
All honour unto Bangs, for ne'er did Jones thereafter know
By word or act official who read off that helio.
But the tale is on the Frontier, and from Michni to Mooltan
They know the worthy General as "that most immoral man.
Rudyard Kipling |
A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe --
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass.
Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villanous saltpetre!"
And after -- ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.
A scrimmage in a Border Station --
A canter down some dark defile --
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail --
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!
No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares -- shoot straight who can --
The odds are on the cheaper man.
One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.
With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.
The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap -- alas! as we are dear.
Du Fu |
Wagons rumble rumble
Hhorses whinny whinny
Foot person bow arrow each at waist
Father mother wife children go mutual see off
Dust dust not see Xianyang bridge
Pull clothes stamp foot bar way weep
Weep sound directly up strike clouds clouds
Road side passerby ask foot person
Foot person only say mark down often
Some from ten five north guard river
Even until four ten west army fields
Leave time village chief give bind head
Return come head white go back garrison border
Border post shed blood become sea water
Warlike emperor expand border idea no end
Gentleman not see Han homes hill east two hundred districts
1000 villages 10000 hamlets grow thorns trees
Though be strong women hold hoe plough
Seed grow dyked field not order
Besides again Qin soldier withstand bitter fighting
Be driven not different dogs and chickens
Venerable elder though be ask
Battle person dare state bitterness
Even like this year winter
Not stop pass west soldier
District official urgent demand tax
Tax tax way how pay
True know produce males bad
Contrast be produce females good
Produce female still get married neighbour
Produce male bury follow hundred grass
Gentleman not see Qinghai edge
Past come white skeleton no person gather
New ghost vexed injustice old ghosts weep
Heaven dark rain wet sound screech screech
The wagons rumble and roll,
The horses whinny and neigh,
The conscripts each have bows and arrows at their waists.
Their parents, wives and children run to see them off,
So much dust's stirred up, it hides the Xianyang bridge.
They pull clothes, stamp their feet and, weeping, bar the way,
The weeping voices rise straight up and strike the clouds.
A passer-by at the roadside asks a conscript why,
The conscript answers only that drafting happens often.
"At fifteen, many were sent north to guard the river,
Even at forty, they had to till fields in the west.
When we went away, the elders bound our heads,
Returning with heads white, we're sent back off to the frontier.
At the border posts, shed blood becomes a sea,
The martial emperor's dream of expansion has no end.
Have you not seen the two hundred districts east of the mountains,
Where thorns and brambles grow in countless villages and hamlets?
Although there are strong women to grasp the hoe and the plough,
They grow some crops, but there's no order in the fields.
What's more, we soldiers of Qin withstand the bitterest fighting,
We're always driven onwards just like dogs and chickens.
Although an elder can ask me this,
How can a soldier dare to complain?
Even in this winter time,
Soldiers from west of the pass keep moving.
The magistrate is eager for taxes,
But how can we afford to pay?
We know now having boys is bad,
While having girls is for the best;
Our girls can still be married to the neighbours,
Our sons are merely buried amid the grass.
Have you not seen on the border of Qinghai,
The ancient bleached bones no man's gathered in?
The new ghosts are angered by injustice, the old ghosts weep,
Moistening rain falls from dark heaven on the voices' screeching.
Rudyard Kipling |
So here's your Empire.
No more wine, then?
We'll clear the Aides and khitmatgars away.
(You'll know that fat old fellow with the knife --
He keeps the Name Book, talks in English too,
And almost thinks himself the Government.
O Youth, Youth, Youth! Forgive me, you're so young.
Forty from sixty -- twenty years of work
And power to back the working.
Ay def mi!
You want to know, you want to see, to touch,
And, by your lights, to act.
I wonder can I help you.
Let me try.
You saw -- what did you see from Bombay east?
Enough to frighten any one but me?
Neat that! It frightened Me in Eighty-Four!
You shouldn't take a man from Canada
And bid him smoke in powder-magazines;
Nor with a Reputation such as -- Bah!
That ghost has haunted me for twenty years,
My Reputation now full blown -- Your fault --
Yours, with your stories of the strife at Home,
Who's up, who's down, who leads and who is led --
One reads so much, one hears so little here.
Well, now's your turn of exile.
I go back
To Rome and leisure.
All roads lead to Rome,
Or books -- the refuge of the destitute.
When you .
that brings me back to India.
Egypt served my turn.
You'll never plumb the Oriental mind,
And if you did it isn't worth the toil.
Think of a sleek French priest in Canada;
Divide by twenty half-breeds.
By twice the Sphinx's silence.
There's your East,
And you're as wise as ever.
So am I.
Accept on trust and work in darkness, strike
At venture, stumble forward, make your mark,
(It's chalk on granite), then thank God no flame
Leaps from the rock to shrivel mark and man.
I'm clear -- my mark is made.
Three months of drought
Had ruined much.
It rained and washed away
The specks that might have gathered on my Name.
I took a country twice the size of France,
And shuttered up one doorway in the North.
I stand by those.
You'll find that both will pay,
I pledged my Name on both -- they're yours to-night.
Hold to them -- they hold fame enough for two.
I'm old, but I shall live till Burma pays.
Men there -- not German traders -- Crsthw-te knows --
You'll find it in my papers.
For the North
Guns always -- quietly -- but always guns.
You've seen your Council? Yes, they'll try to rule,
And prize their Reputations.
Have you met
A grim lay-reader with a taste for coins,
And faith in Sin most men withhold from God?
He's gone to England.
R-p-n knew his grip
A Council always has its H-pes.
They look for nothing from the West but Death
Or Bath or Bournemouth.
Here's their ground.
Until the middle classes take them back,
One of ten millions plus a C.
Or drop in harness.
Legion of the Lost?
Not altogether -- earnest, narrow men,
But chiefly earnest, and they'll do your work,
And end by writing letters to the Times,
(Shall I write letters, answering H-nt-r -- fawn
With R-p-n on the Yorkshire grocers? Ugh!)
They have their Reputations.
Look to one --
I work with him -- the smallest of them all,
White-haired, red-faced, who sat the plunging horse
Out in the garden.
He's your right-hand man,
And dreams of tilting W-ls-y from the throne,
But while he dreams gives work we cannot buy;
He has his Reputation -- wants the Lords
By way of Frontier Roads.
Meantime, I think,
He values very much the hand that falls
Upon his shoulder at the Council table --
Hates cats and knows his business; which is yours.
Your business! twice a hundered million souls.
Your business! I could tell you what I did
Some nights of Eighty-Five, at Simla, worth
A Kingdom's ransom.
When a big ship drives,
God knows to what new reef the man at the whee!
Prays with the passengers.
They lose their lives,
Or rescued go their way; but he's no man
To take his trick at the wheel again -- that's worse
Well, a galled Mashobra mule
(You'll see Mashobra) passed me on the Mall,
And I was -- some fool's wife and ducked and bowed
To show the others I would stop and speak.
Then the mule fell -- three galls, a hund-breadth each,
Behind the withers.
Leers at the mule and me by turns, thweet thoul!
"How could they make him carry such a load!"
I saw -- it isn't often I dream dreams --
More than the mule that minute -- smoke and flame
From Simla to the haze below.
You'll dream dreams before you've done.
You've youth, that's one -- good workmen -- that means two
Fair chances in your favor.
Fate's the third.
I know what I did.
Do you ask me, "Preach"?
I answer by my past or else go back
To platitudes of rule -- or take you thus
In confidence and say: "You know the trick:
You've governed Canada.
And all the while commend you to Fate's hand
(Here at the top on loses sight o' God),
Commend you, then, to something more than you --
The Other People's blunders and
I'd agonize to serve you if I could.
It's incommunicable, like the cast
That drops the tackle with the gut adry.
Too much -- too little -- there's your salmon lost!
And so I tell you nothing --with you luck,
And wonder -- how I wonder! -- for your sake
And triumph for my own.
You're young, you're young,
You hold to half a hundred Shibboleths.
I followed Power to the last,
Gave her my best, and Power followed Me.
It's worth it -- on my sould I'm speaking plain,
Here by the claret glasses! -- worth it all.
I gave -- no matter what I gave -- I win.
I know I win.
Mine's work, good work that lives!
A country twice the size of France -- the North
That's my record: sink the rest
And better if you can.
The Rains may serve,
Rupees may rise -- three pence will give you Fame --
It's rash to hope for sixpence -- If they rise
Get guns, more guns, and lift the salt-tax.
I told you what the Congress meant or thought?
I'll answer nothing.
Half a year will prove
The full extent of time and thought you'll spare
Ask a Lady Doctor once
How little Begums see the light -- deduce
Thence how the True Reformer's child is born.
It's interesting, curious .
I told the Turk he was a gentlman.
I told the Russian that his Tartar veins
Bled pure Parisian ichor; and he purred.
The Congress doesn't purr.
I think it swears.
You're young -- you'll swear to ere you've reached the end.
The End! God help you, if there be a God.
(There must be one to startle Gl-dst-ne's soul
In that new land where all the wires are cut.
And Cr-ss snores anthems on the asphodel.
God help you! And I'd help you if I could,
But that's beyond me.
Yes, your speech was crude.
Sound claret after olives -- yours and mine;
But Medoc slips into vin ordinaire.
(I'll drink my first at Genoa to your health.
Raise it to Hock.
You'll never catch my style.
And, after all, the middle-classes grip
The middle-class -- for Brompton talk Earl's Court.
Perhaps you're right.
I'll see you in the Times --
A quarter-column of eye-searing print,
A leader once a quarter -- then a war;
The Strand abellow through the fog: "Defeat!"
"'Orrible slaughter!" While you lie awake
Oh, you'll wonder ere you're free!
I wonder now.
The four years slide away
So fast, so fast, and leave me here alone.
R-y, C-lv-n, L-l, R-b-rts, B-ck, the rest,
Princes and Powers of Darkness troops and trains,
(I cannot sleep in trains), land piled on land,
Whitewash and weariness, red rockets, dust,
White snows that mocked me, palaces -- with draughts,
And W-stl-nd with the drafts he couldn't pay,
Poor W-ls-n reading his obituary.
Before he died, and H-pe, the man with bones,
And A-tch-s-n a dripping mackintosh
At Council in the Rains, his grating "Sirrr"
Half drowned by H-nt-r's silky: "Bat my lahnd.
Hunterian always: M-rsh-l spinning plates
Or standing on his head; the Rent Bill's roar,
A hundred thousand speeches, must red cloth,
And Smiths thrice happy if I call them Jones,
(I can't remember half their names) or reined
My pony on the Mall to greet their wives.
More trains, more troops, more dust, and then all's done.
Four years, and I forget.
If I forget
How will they bear me in their minds? The North
Safeguarded -- nearly (R-b-rts knows the rest),
A country twice the size of France annexed.
That stays at least.
The rest may pass -- may pass --
Your heritage -- and I can teach you nought.
"High trust," "vast honor," "interests twice as vast,"
"Due reverence to your Council" -- keep to those.
I envy you the twenty years you've gained,
But not the five to follow.
What's that? One?
Two! -- Surely not so late.
Emily Dickinson |
The saddest noise, the sweetest noise,
The maddest noise that grows, --
The birds, they make it in the spring,
At night's delicious close.
Between the March and April line --
That magical frontier
Beyond which summer hesitates,
Almost too heavenly near.
It makes us think of all the dead
That sauntered with us here,
By separation's sorcery
Made cruelly more dear.
It makes us think of what we had,
And what we now deplore.
We almost wish those siren throats
Would go and sing no more.
An ear can break a human heart
As quickly as a spear,
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.
Sylvia Plath |
(Rock Lake, Canada)
In this country there is neither measure nor balance
To redress the dominance of rocks and woods,
The passage, say, of these man-shaming clouds.
No gesture of yours or mine could catch their attention,
No word make them carry water or fire the kindling
Like local trolls in the spell of a superior being.
Well, one wearies of the Public Gardens: one wants a vacation
Where trees and clouds and animals pay no notice;
Away from the labeled elms, the tame tea-roses.
It took three days driving north to find a cloud
The polite skies over Boston couldn't possibly accommodate.
Here on the last frontier of the big, brash spirit
The horizons are too far off to be chummy as uncles;
The colors assert themselves with a sort of vengeance.
Each day concludes in a huge splurge of vermilions
And night arrives in one gigantic step.
It is comfortable, for a change, to mean so little.
These rocks offer no purchase to herbage or people:
They are conceiving a dynasty of perfect cold.
In a month we'll wonder what plates and forks are for.
I lean to you, numb as a fossil.
Tell me I'm here.
The Pilgrims and Indians might never have happened.
Planets pulse in the lake like bright amoebas;
The pines blot our voices up in their lightest sighs.
Around our tent the old simplicities sough
Sleepily as Lethe, trying to get in.
We'll wake blank-brained as water in the dawn.
Robert William Service |
I strolled up old Bonanza, where I staked in ninety-eight,
A-purpose to revisit the old claim.
I kept thinking mighty sadly of the funny ways of Fate,
And the lads who once were with me in the game.
Poor boys, they're down-and-outers, and there's scarcely one to-day
Can show a dozen colors in his poke;
And me, I'm still prospecting, old and battered, gaunt and gray,
And I'm looking for a grub-stake, and I'm broke.
I strolled up old Bonanza.
The same old moon looked down;
The same old landmarks seemed to yearn to me;
But the cabins all were silent, and the flat, once like a town,
Was mighty still and lonesome-like to see.
There were piles and piles of tailings where we toiled with pick and pan,
And turning round a bend I heard a roar,
And there a giant gold-ship of the very newest plan
Was tearing chunks of pay-dirt from the shore.
It wallowed in its water-bed; it burrowed, heaved and swung;
It gnawed its way ahead with grunts and sighs;
Its bill of fare was rock and sand; the tailings were its dung;
It glared around with fierce electric eyes.
Full fifty buckets crammed its maw; it bellowed out for more;
It looked like some great monster in the gloom.
With two to feed its sateless greed, it worked for seven score,
And I sighed: "Ah, old-time miner, here's your doom!"
The idle windlass turns to rust; the sagging sluice-box falls;
The holes you digged are water to the brim;
Your little sod-roofed cabins with the snugly moss-chinked walls
Are deathly now and mouldering and dim.
The battle-field is silent where of old you fought it out;
The claims you fiercely won are lost and sold;
But there's a little army that they'll never put to rout--
The men who simply live to seek the gold.
The men who can't remember when they learned to swing a pack,
Or in what lawless land the quest began;
The solitary seeker with his grub-stake on his back,
The restless buccaneer of pick and pan.
On the mesas of the Southland, on the tundras of the North,
You will find us, changed in face but still the same;
And it isn't need, it isn't greed that sends us faring forth--
It's the fever, it's the glory of the game.
For once you've panned the speckled sand and seen the bonny dust,
Its peerless brightness blinds you like a spell;
It's little else you care about; you go because you must,
And you feel that you could follow it to hell.
You'd follow it in hunger, and you'd follow it in cold;
You'd follow it in solitude and pain;
And when you're stiff and battened down let someone whisper "Gold",
You're lief to rise and follow it again.
Yet look you, if I find the stuff it's just like so much dirt;
I fling it to the four winds like a child.
It's wine and painted women and the things that do me hurt,
Till I crawl back, beggared, broken, to the Wild.
Till I crawl back, sapped and sodden, to my grub-stake and my tent--
There's a city, there's an army (hear them shout).
There's the gold in millions, millions, but I haven't got a cent;
And oh, it's me, it's me that found it out.
It was my dream that made it good, my dream that made me go
To lands of dread and death disprized of man;
But oh, I've known a glory that their hearts will never know,
When I picked the first big nugget from my pan.
It's still my dream, my dauntless dream, that drives me forth once more
To seek and starve and suffer in the Vast;
That heaps my heart with eager hope, that glimmers on before--
My dream that will uplift me to the last.
Perhaps I am stark crazy, but there's none of you too sane;
It's just a little matter of degree.
My hobby is to hunt out gold; it's fortressed in my brain;
It's life and love and wife and home to me.
And I'll strike it, yes, I'll strike it; I've a hunch I cannot fail;
I've a vision, I've a prompting, I've a call;
I hear the hoarse stampeding of an army on my trail,
To the last, the greatest gold camp of them all.
Beyond the shark-tooth ranges sawing savage at the sky
There's a lowering land no white man ever struck;
There's gold, there's gold in millions, and I'll find it if I die,
And I'm going there once more to try my luck.
Maybe I'll fail--what matter? It's a mandate, it's a vow;
And when in lands of dreariness and dread
You seek the last lone frontier, far beyond your frontiers now,
You will find the old prospector, silent, dead.
You will find a tattered tent-pole with a ragged robe below it;
You will find a rusted gold-pan on the sod;
You will find the claim I'm seeking, with my bones as stakes to show it;
But I've sought the last Recorder, and He's--God.
Robert William Service |
For all good friends who care to read,
here let me lyre my living creed .
One: you may deem me Pacifist,
For I've no sympathy with strife.
Like hell I hate the iron fist,
And shun the battle-ground of life.
The hope of peace is dear to me,
And I to Christian faith belong,
Holding that breath should sacred be,
And War is always wrong.
Two: Universalist am I
And dream a world that's frontier free,
With common tongue and common tie,
Uncurst by nationality;
Where colour, creed and class are one,
And lowly folk are lifted high;
Where every breed beneath the sun
Is equal in God's eye.
Three: you may call me Naturist,
For green glade is my quiet quest;
The path of progress I have missed,
And shun the city's sore unrest.
A world that's super-civilized
Is one of worry, want and woe;
In leafy lore let me be wised
And back to Nature go.
Well, though you may but half agree,
Behold my trusty Trinity
Robert William Service |
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;
Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons;
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat;
But the others -- the misfits, the failures -- I trample under my feet.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
Ye would send me the spawn of your gutters -- Go! take back your spawn again.
"Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway;
From my ruthless throne I have ruled alone for a million years and a day;
Hugging my mighty treasure, waiting for man to come,
Till he swept like a turbid torrent, and after him swept -- the scum.
The pallid pimp of the dead-line, the enervate of the pen,
One by one I weeded them out, for all that I sought was -- Men.
One by one I dismayed them, frighting them sore with my glooms;
One by one I betrayed them unto my manifold dooms.
Drowned them like rats in my rivers, starved them like curs on my plains,
Rotted the flesh that was left them, poisoned the blood in their veins;
Burst with my winter upon them, searing forever their sight,
Lashed them with fungus-white faces, whimpering wild in the night;
"Staggering blind through the storm-whirl, stumbling mad through the snow,
Frozen stiff in the ice-pack, brittle and bent like a bow;
Featureless, formless, forsaken, scented by wolves in their flight,
Left for the wind to make music through ribs that are glittering white;
Gnawing the black crust of failure, searching the pit of despair,
Crooking the toe in the trigger, trying to patter a prayer;
Going outside with an escort, raving with lips all afoam,
Writing a cheque for a million, driveling feebly of home;
Lost like a louse in the burning .
or else in the tented town
Seeking a drunkard's solace, sinking and sinking down;
Steeped in the slime at the bottom, dead to a decent world,
Lost 'mid the human flotsam, far on the frontier hurled;
In the camp at the bend of the river, with its dozen saloons aglare,
Its gambling dens ariot, its gramophones all ablare;
Crimped with the crimes of a city, sin-ridden and bridled with lies,
In the hush of my mountained vastness, in the flush of my midnight skies.
Plague-spots, yet tools of my purpose, so natheless I suffer them thrive,
Crushing my Weak in their clutches, that only my Strong may survive.
"But the others, the men of my mettle, the men who would 'stablish my fame
Unto its ultimate issue, winning me honor, not shame;
Searching my uttermost valleys, fighting each step as they go,
Shooting the wrath of my rapids, scaling my ramparts of snow;
Ripping the guts of my mountains, looting the beds of my creeks,
Them will I take to my bosom, and speak as a mother speaks.
I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods;
Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods.
Long have I waited lonely, shunned as a thing accurst,
Monstrous, moody, pathetic, the last of the lands and the first;
Visioning camp-fires at twilight, sad with a longing forlorn,
Feeling my womb o'er-pregnant with the seed of cities unborn.
Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway,
And I wait for the men who will win me -- and I will not be won in a day;
And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle, suave and mild,
But by men with the hearts of vikings, and the simple faith of a child;
Desperate, strong and resistless, unthrottled by fear or defeat,
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat.
"Lofty I stand from each sister land, patient and wearily wise,
With the weight of a world of sadness in my quiet, passionless eyes;
Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day,
When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away;
Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave --
Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave.
Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good,
Of children born in my borders of radiant motherhood,
Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled,
As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world.
This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
This is the Will of the Yukon, -- Lo, how she makes it plain!