Oliver Wendell Holmes |
YES, write, if you want to, there's nothing like trying;
Who knows what a treasure your casket may hold?
I'll show you that rhyming's as easy as lying,
If you'll listen to me while the art I unfold.
Here's a book full of words; one can choose as he fancies,
As a painter his tint, as a workman his tool;
Just think! all the poems and plays and romances
Were drawn out of this, like the fish from a pool!
You can wander at will through its syllabled mazes,
And take all you want, not a copper they cost,--
What is there to hinder your picking out phrases
For an epic as clever as "Paradise Lost"?
Don't mind if the index of sense is at zero,
Use words that run smoothly, whatever they mean;
Leander and Lilian and Lillibullero
Are much the same thing in the rhyming machine.
There are words so delicious their sweetness will smother
That boarding-school flavor of which we're afraid,
There is "lush"is a good one, and "swirl" is another,--
Put both in one stanza, its fortune is made.
With musical murmurs and rhythmical closes
You can cheat us of smiles when you've nothing to tell
You hand us a nosegay of milliner's roses,
And we cry with delight, "Oh, how sweet they do smell!"
Perhaps you will answer all needful conditions
For winning the laurels to which you aspire,
By docking the tails of the two prepositions
I' the style o' the bards you so greatly admire.
As for subjects of verse, they are only too plenty
For ringing the changes on metrical chimes;
A maiden, a moonbeam, a lover of twenty
Have filled that great basket with bushels of rhymes.
Let me show you a picture--'t is far from irrelevant--
By a famous old hand in the arts of design;
'T is only a photographed sketch of an elephant,--
The name of the draughtsman was Rembrandt of Rhine.
How easy! no troublesome colors to lay on,
It can't have fatigued him,-- no, not in the least,--
A dash here and there with a haphazard crayon,
And there stands the wrinkled-skinned, baggy-limbed beast.
Just so with your verse,-- 't is as easy as sketching,--
You can reel off a song without knitting your brow,
As lightly as Rembrandt a drawing or etching;
It is nothing at all, if you only know how.
Well; imagine you've printed your volume of verses:
Your forehead is wreathed with the garland of fame,
Your poems the eloquent school-boy rehearses,
Her album the school-girl presents for your name;
Each morning the post brings you autograph letters;
You'll answer them promptly,-- an hour isn't much
For the honor of sharing a page with your betters,
With magistrates, members of Congress, and such.
Of course you're delighted to serve the committees
That come with requests from the country all round,
You would grace the occasion with poems and ditties
When they've got a new schoolhouse, or poorhouse, or pound.
With a hymn for the saints and a song for the sinners,
You go and are welcome wherever you please;
You're a privileged guest at all manner of dinners,
You've a seat on the platform among the grandees.
At length your mere presence becomes a sensation,
Your cup of enjoyment is filled to its brim
With the pleasure Horatian of digitmonstration,
As the whisper runs round of "That's he!" or "That's him!"
But remember, O dealer in phrases sonorous,
So daintily chosen, so tunefully matched,
Though you soar with the wings of the cherubim o'er us,
The ovum was human from which you were hatched.
No will of your own with its puny compulsion
Can summon the spirit that quickens the lyre;
It comes, if at all, like the Sibyl's convulsion
And touches the brain with a finger of fire.
So perhaps, after all, it's as well to he quiet
If you've nothing you think is worth saying in prose,
As to furnish a meal of their cannibal diet
To the critics, by publishing, as you propose.
But it's all of no use, and I'm sorry I've written,--
I shall see your thin volume some day on my shelf;
For the rhyming tarantula surely has bitten,
And music must cure you, so pipe it yourself.
Conrad Aiken |
You see that porcelain ranged there in the window—
Platters and soup-plates done with pale pink rosebuds,
And tiny violets, and wreaths of ivy?
See how the pattern clings to the gleaming edges!
They're works of art—minutely seen and felt,
Each petal done devoutly.
Is it failure
To spend your blood like this?
Study them .
you will see there, in the porcelain,
If you stare hard enough, a sort of swimming
Of lights and shadows, ghosts within a crystal—
My brain unfolding! There you'll see me sitting
Day after day, close to a certain window,
Looking down, sometimes, to see the people .
Sometimes my wife comes there to speak to me .
Sometimes the grey cat waves his tail around me .
Goldfish swim in a bowl, glisten in sunlight,
Dilate to a gorgeous size, blow delicate bubbles,
Drowse among dark green weeds.
On rainy days,
You'll see a gas-light shedding light behind me—
An eye-shade round my forehead.
There I sit,
Twirling the tiny brushes in my paint-cups,
Painting the pale pink rosebuds, minute violets,
Exquisite wreaths of dark green ivy leaves.
On this leaf, goes a dream I dreamed last night
Of two soft-patterned toads—I thought them stones,
Until they hopped! And then a great black spider,—
Tarantula, perhaps, a hideous thing,—
It crossed the room in one tremendous leap.
Here,—as I coil the stems between two leaves,—
It is as if, dwindling to atomy size,
I cried the secret between two universes .
A friend of mine took hasheesh once, and said
Just as he fell asleep he had a dream,—
Though with his eyes wide open,—
And felt, or saw, or knew himself a part
Of marvelous slowly-wreathing intricate patterns,
Plane upon plane, depth upon coiling depth,
Amazing leaves, folding one on another,
Voluted grasses, twists and curves and spirals—
All of it darkly moving .
as for me,
I need no hasheesh for it—it's too easy!
Soon as I shut my eyes I set out walking
In a monstrous jungle of monstrous pale pink roseleaves,
Violets purple as death, dripping with water,
And ivy-leaves as big as clouds above me.
Here, in a simple pattern of separate violets—
With scalloped edges gilded—here you have me
Thinking of something else.
My wife, you know,—
There's something lacking—force, or will, or passion,
I don't know what it is—and so, sometimes,
When I am tired, or haven't slept three nights,
Or it is cloudy, with low threat of rain,
I get uneasy—just like poplar trees
Ruffling their leaves—and I begin to think
Of poor Pauline, so many years ago,
And that delicious night.
Where is she now?
I meant to write—but she has moved, by this time,
And then, besides, she might find out I'm married.
Well, there is more—I'm getting old and timid—
The years have gnawed my will.
I've lost my nerve!
I never strike out boldly as I used to—
But sit here, painting violets, and remember
That thrilling night.
Photographers, she said,
Asked her to pose for them; her eyes and forehead,—
Dark brown eyes, and a smooth and pallid forehead,—
Were thought so beautiful.
—And so they were.
These violets are like words remembered .
Darling! she whispered .
Well, I suppose such days can come but once.
Lord, how happy we were! .
Here, if you only knew it, is a story—
Here, in these leaves.
I stopped my work to tell it,
And then, when I had finished, went on thinking:
A man I saw on a train .
I was still a boy .
Who killed himself by diving against a wall.
Here is a recollection of my wife,
When she was still my sweetheart, years ago.
It's funny how things change,—just change, by growing,
Without an effort .
And here are trivial things,—
A chill, an errand forgotten, a cut while shaving;
A friend of mine who tells me he is married .
Or is that last so trivial? Well, no matter!
This is the sort of thing you'll see of me,
If you look hard enough.
This, in its way,
Is a kind of fame.
My life arranged before you
In scrolls of leaves, rosebuds, violets, ivy,
Clustered or wreathed on plate and cup and platter .
Sometimes, I say, I'm just like John the Baptist—
You have my head before you .
on a platter.