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Title: Kora in Hell: Improvisations
Author: Williams, William Carlos
Language: English
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IMPROVISATIONS



By William Carlos Williams

    The Tempers
    Al Que Quiere!
    Kora in Hell



[Illustration: Drawing by Stuart Davis]



                              KORA IN HELL:
                             IMPROVISATIONS

                                   BY
                         WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

                             [Illustration]

                                 BOSTON
                          THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY
                                  1920

                          _Copyright, 1920, by_
                          THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY

                           The Four Seas Press
                         Boston, Mass., U. S. A.



TO FLOSSIE



PROLOGUE



PROLOGUE

THE RETURN OF THE SUN

    Her voice was like rose-fragrance waltzing in the wind.
    She seemed a shadow, stained with shadow colors,
    Swimming through waves of sunlight.…


The sole precedent I can find for the broken style of my prologue is
Longinus on the Sublime and that one far-fetched.

When my mother was in Rome on that rare journey forever to be remembered,
she lived in a small pension near the Pincio gardens. The place had
been chosen by my brother as one notably easy of access, being in a
quarter free from confusion of traffic, on a street close to the park
and furthermore the tram to the American Academy passed at the corner.
Yet never did my mother go out but she was in fear of being lost. By
turning to the left when she should have turned right, actually she did
once manage to go so far astray that it was nearly an hour before she
extricated herself from the strangeness of every new vista and found a
landmark.

There has always been a disreputable man of picturesque personality
associated with this lady. Their relations have been marked by the most
rollicking spirit of comradeship. Now it has been William, former sailor
in Admiral Dewey’s fleet at Manila, then Tom O’Rourck who has come to her
to do odd jobs and to be cared for more or less when drunk or ill, their
Penelope. William would fall from the grapearbor much to my mother’s
amusement and delight and to his blustering discomfiture or he would
stagger to the back door nearly unconscious from bad whiskey. There she
would serve him with very hot and very strong coffee, then put him to
scrubbing the kitchen floor into his suddy-pail pouring half a bottle of
ammonia which would make the man gasp and water at the eyes as he worked
and became sober.

She has always been incapable of learning from benefit or disaster. If
a man cheat her she will remember that man with a violence that I have
seldom seen equaled but so far as that could have an influence on her
judgment of the next man or woman, she might be living in Eden. And
indeed she is, an impoverished, ravished Eden but one indestructible as
the imagination itself. Whatever is before her is sufficient to itself
and so to be valued. Her meat though more delicate in fiber is of a kind
with that of Villon and La Grosse Margot:

    Vente, gresle, gelle, j’ai mon pain cuit!

Carl Sandburg sings a negro cotton picker’s song of the bol weevil. Verse
after verse tells what they would do to the insect. They propose to place
it in the sand, in hot ashes, in the river, and other unlikely places but
the bol weevil’s refrain is always: “That’ll be ma HOME! That’ll be ma
HOOME!”

My mother is given over to frequent periods of great depression being
as I believe by nature the most light-hearted thing in the world. But
there comes a grotesque turn to her talk, a macabre anecdote concerning
some dream, a passionate statement about death, which elevates her mood
without marring it, sometimes in a most startling way.

Looking out at our parlor window one day I said to her: “We see all the
shows from here, don’t we, all the weddings and funerals?” (They had been
preparing a funeral across the street, the undertaker was just putting
on his overcoat.) She replied: “Funny profession that, burying the dead
people. I should think they wouldn’t have any delusions of life left.”
W.—Oh yes, it’s merely a profession. M.—Hm. And how they study it! They
say sometimes people look terrible and they come and make them look fine.
They push things into their mouths! (Realistic gesture) W.—Mama! M.—Yes,
when they haven’t any teeth.

By some such dark turn at the end she raises her story out of the
commonplace: “Look at that chair, look at it! (The plasterers had just
left) If Mrs. J. or Mrs. D. saw that they would have a fit.” W.—Call
them in, maybe it will kill them. M.—But they’re not near as bad as that
woman, you know, her husband was in the chorus,—has a little daughter
Helen. Mrs. B. yes. She once wanted to take rooms here. I didn’t want
her. They told me: ‘Mrs. Williams, I heard you’re going to have Mrs. B.
_She_ is particular.’ She said so herself. Oh no! Once she burnt all her
face painting under the sink.

Thus seeing the thing itself without forethought or afterthought but with
great intensity of perception my mother loses her bearings or associates
with some disreputable person or translates a dark mood. She is a
creature of great imagination. I might say this is her sole remaining
quality. She is a despoiled, moulted castaway but by this power she still
breaks life between her fingers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once when I was taking lunch with Walter Arensberg at a small place on
63rd St. I asked him if he could state what the more modern painters were
about, those roughly classed at that time as “cubists”: Gleisze, Man Ray,
Demuth, Du Champs—all of whom were then in the city. He replied by saying
that the only way man differed from every other creature was in his
ability to improvise novelty and, since the pictorial artist was under
discussion, anything in paint that is truly new, truly a fresh creation
is good art. Thus according to Du Champs, who was Arensberg’s champion
at the time, a stained glass window that had fallen out and lay more or
less together on the ground was of far greater interest than the thing
conventionally composed _in situ_.

We returned to Arensberg’s sumptuous studio where he gave further point
to his remarks by showing me what appeared to be the original of Du
Champs’ famous, Nude Descending a Staircase. But this, he went on to say,
is a full-sized photographic print of the first picture with many new
touches by Du Champs himself and so by the technique of its manufacture
as by other means it is a novelty!

Led on by these enthusiasms Arensberg has been an indefatigable worker
for the yearly salon of the Society of Independent Artists, Inc. I
remember the warmth of his description of a pilgrimage to the home
of that old Boston hermit who watched over by a forbidding landlady
(evidently in his pay) paints the cigar-box-cover-like nudes upon whose
fingers he presses actual rings with glass jewels from the five and ten
cent store.

I wish Arensberg had my opportunity for prying into jaded households
where the paintings of Mama’s and Papa’s flowertime still hang on the
walls. I propose that Arensberg be commissioned by the Independent
Artists to scour the country for the abortive paintings of those men and
women who without master or method have evolved perhaps two or three
unusual creations in their early years. I would start the collection with
a painting I have by a little English woman, A. E. Kerr, 1906, that in
its unearthly gaiety of flowers and sobriety of design possesses exactly
that strange freshness a spring day approaches without attaining, an
expansion of April, a thing this poor woman found too costly for her
possession—she could not swallow it as the niggers do diamonds in the
mines. Carefully selected these queer products might be housed to good
effect in some unpretentious exhibition chamber across the city from
the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the anteroom could be hung perhaps
photographs of prehistoric rock-paintings and etchings on horn: galloping
bisons and stags, the hind feet of which have been caught by the artist
in such a position that from that time until the invention of the camera
obscura, a matter of 6000 years or more, no one on earth had again
depicted that most delicate and expressive posture of running.

The amusing controversy between Arensberg and Du Champs on one side,
and the rest of the hanging committee on the other as to whether the
porcelain urinal was to be admitted to the Palace Exhibition of 1917 as a
representative piece of American Sculpture should not be allowed to slide
into oblivion.

One day Du Champs decided that his composition for that day would be the
first thing that struck his eye in the first hardware store he should
enter. It turned out to be a pickaxe which he bought and set up in his
studio. This was his composition. Together with Mina Loy and a few others
Du Champs and Arensberg brought out the paper, The Blind Man, to which
Robert Carlton Brown with his vision of suicide by diving from a high
window of the Singer Building contributed a few poems.

In contradistinction to their south, Marianne Moore’s statement to me at
the Chatham parsonage one afternoon—my wife and I were just on the point
of leaving—sets up a north: My work has come to have just one quality of
value in it: I will not touch or have to do with those things which I
detest. In this austerity of mood she finds sufficient freedom for the
play she chooses.

Of all those writing poetry in America at the time she was here Marianne
Moore was the only one Mina Loy feared. By divergent virtues these two
women have achieved freshness of presentation, novelty, freedom, break
with banality.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Margaret Anderson published my first improvisations Ezra Pound wrote
me one of his hurried letters in which he urged me to give some hint by
which the reader of good will might come at my intention.

Before Ezra’s permanent residence in London, on one of his trips to
America—brought on I think by an attack of jaundice—he was glancing
through some book of my father’s. “It is not necessary,” he said, “to
read everything in a book in order to speak intelligently of it. Don’t
tell everybody I said so,” he added.

During this same visit my father and he had been reading and discussing
poetry together. Pound has always liked my father. “I of course like your
Old Man and I have drunk his Goldwasser.” They were hot for an argument
that day. My parent had been holding forth in downright sentences upon my
own “idle nonsense” when he turned and became equally vehement concerning
something Ezra had written: what in heaven’s name Ezra meant by “jewels”
in a verse that had come between them. These jewels,—rubies, sapphires,
amethysts and what not, Pound went on to explain with great determination
and care, were the backs of books as they stood on a man’s shelf. “But
why in heaven’s name don’t you say so then?” was my father’s triumphant
and crushing rejoinder.

    The letter: … God knows I have to work hard enough to escape,
    not _propagande_, but getting centered in _propagande_. And
    America? What the h—l do you a blooming foreigner know about
    the place. Your _père_ only penetrated the edge, and you’ve
    never been west of Upper Darby, or the Maunchunk switchback.

    Would H., with the swirl of the prairie wind in her underwear,
    or the Virile Sandburg recognize you, an effete easterner as a
    REAL American? INCONCEIVABLE!!!!!

    My dear boy you have never felt the woop of the PEEraries. You
    have never seen the projecting and protuberant Mts. of the
    SIerra Nevada. WOT can you know of the country?

    You have the naive credulity of a Co. Claire emigrant. But I
    (der grosse Ich) have the virus, the bacillus of the land in my
    blood, for nearly three bleating centuries.

    (Bloody snob. ’eave a brick at ’im!!!).…

    I was very glad to see your wholly incoherent unamerican poems
    in the L. R.

    Of course Sandburg will tell you that you miss the “big
    drifts,” and Bodenheim will object to your not being
    sufficiently decadent.

    You thank your bloomin gawd you’ve got enough Spanish blood to
    muddy up your mind, and prevent the current American ideation
    from going through it like a blighted collander.

    The thing that saves your work is opacity, and don’t forget it.
    Opacity is NOT an American quality. Fizz, swish, gabble, and
    verbiage, these are _echt Americanisch_.

    And alas, alas, poor old Masters. Look at Oct. Poetry.

    Let me indulge the American habit of quotation:

       *       *       *       *       *

    “Si le cosmopolitisme littéraire gagnait encore et qu’il
    réussit à étaindre ce que les differénce de race ont allumé de
    haine de sang parmi les hommes, j’y verrais un gain pour la
    civilization et pour l’humanité tout entière”.…

    “L’amour excessif d’une patrie a pour immédiat corollair
    l’horreur des patries étrangères. Non seulment on craint de
    quitter la jupe de sa maman, d’aller voir comment vivent les
    autres hommes, de se mêler à leur luttes, de partager leur
    travaux, non seulment on reste chez soi, mais on finit par
    fermer sa porte.”

    “Cette folie gagne certains littérateurs et le même professeur,
    en sortant d’expliquer le Cid ou Don Juan, rédige de gracieuses
    injures contre Ibsen et l’influence, hélas, trop illusoire, de
    son oevre, pourtant toute de lumière et de beauté.” et cetera.
    Lie down and compose yourself.

I like to think of the Greeks as setting out for the colonies in Sicily
and the Italian Peninsula. The Greek temperament lent itself to a certain
symmetrical sculptural phase and to a fat poetical balance of line that
produced important work but I like better the Greeks setting their
backs to Athens. The ferment was always richer in Rome, the dispersive
explosion was always nearer, the influence carried further and remained
hot longer. Hellenism, especially the modern sort, is too staid, too
chilly, too little fecundative to impregnate my world.

Hilda Doolittle before she began to write poetry or at least before she
began to show it to anyone would say: “You’re not satisfied with me, are
you Billy? There’s something lacking, isn’t there?” When I was with her
my feet always seemed to be sticking to the ground while she would be
walking on the tips of the grass stems.

Ten years later as assistant editor of the Egoist she refers to my
long poem, March, which thanks to her own and her husband’s friendly
attentions finally appeared there in a purified form:

                                                    _14 Aug. 1916_

    Dear Bill:—

    I trust you will not hate me for wanting to delete from your
    poem all the flippancies. The reason I want to do this is that
    the beautiful lines are so very beautiful—so in the tone and
    spirit of your _Postlude_—(which to me stands, a Nike, supreme
    among your poems). I think there is _real_ beauty—and real
    beauty is a rare and sacred thing in this generation—in all the
    pyramid, Ashur-ban-i-pal bits and in the Fiesole and in the
    wind at the very last.

    I don’t know what you think but I consider this business of
    writing a very sacred thing!—I think you have the “spark”—am
    sure of it, and when you speak _direct_ are a poet. I feel in
    the hey-ding-ding touch running through your poem a derivitive
    tendency which, to me, is not _you_—-not your very self. It
    is as if you were _ashamed_ of your Spirit, ashamed of your
    inspiration!—as if you mocked at your own song. It’s very well
    to _mock_ at yourself—it is a spiritual sin to mock at your
    inspiration—

                                                          _Hilda._

Oh well, all this might be very disquieting were it not that “sacred”
has lately been discovered to apply to a point of arrest where
stabilization has gone on past the time. There is nothing sacred about
literature, it is damned from one end to the other. There is nothing in
literature but change and change is mockery. I’ll write whatever I damn
please, whenever I damn please and as I damn please and it’ll be good if
the authentic spirit of change is on it.

But in any case H. D. misses the entire intent of what I am doing no
matter how just her remarks concerning that particular poem happen to
have been. The hey-ding-ding touch _was_ derivitive but it filled a gap
that I did not know how better to fill at the time. It might be said that
that touch is the prototype of the improvisations.

It is to the inventive imagination we look for deliverance from every
other misfortune as from the desolation of a flat Hellenic perfection of
style. What good then to turn to art from the atavistic religionists,
from a science doing slavey service upon gas engines, from a philosophy
tangled in a miserable sort of dialect that means nothing if the full
power of initiative be denied at the beginning by a lot of baying and
snapping scholiasts? If the inventive imagination must look, as I think,
to the field of art for its richest discoveries today it will best make
its way by compass and follow no path.

But before any material progress can be accomplished there must be
someone to draw a discriminating line between true and false values.

The true value is that peculiarity which gives an object a character
by itself. The associational or sentimental value is the false. Its
imposition is due to lack of imagination, to an easy lateral sliding. The
attention has been held too rigid on the one plane instead of following a
more flexible, jagged resort. It is to loosen the attention, my attention
since I occupy part of the field, that I write these improvisations. Here
I clash with Wallace Stevens.

The imagination goes from one thing to another. Given many things of
nearly totally divergent natures but possessing one-thousandth part of
a quality in common, provided that be new, distinguished, these things
belong in an imaginative category and not in a gross natural array. To me
this is the gist of the whole matter. It is easy to fall under the spell
of a certain mode, especially if it be remote of origin, leaving thus
certain of its members essential to a reconstruction of its significance
permanently lost in an impenetrable mist of time. But the thing that
stands eternally in the way of really good writing is always one: the
virtual impossibility of lifting to the imagination those things which
lie under the direct scrutiny of the senses, close to the nose. It is
this difficulty that sets a value upon all works of art and makes them
a necessity. The senses witnessing what is immediately before them in
detail see a finality which they cling to in despair, not knowing which
way to turn. Thus the so-called natural or scientific array becomes
fixed, the walking devil of modern life. He who even nicks the solidity
of this apparition does a piece of work superior to that of Hercules when
he cleaned the Augean stables.

Stevens’ letter applies really to my book of poems, “Al Que Quiere”
(which means, by the way, To Him Who Wants It) but the criticism he makes
of that holds good for each of the improvisations if not for the _oevre_
as a whole.

It begins with a postscript in the upper left hand corner: “I think,
after all, I should rather send this than not, although it is
quarrelsomely full of my own ideas of discipline.

                                                         _April 9_

    My dear Williams:

    …

    What strikes me most about the poems themselves is their casual
    character.… Personally I have a distaste for miscellany. It is
    one of the reasons I do not bother about a book myself.

    (Wallace Stevens is a fine gentleman whom Cannell likened
    to a Pennsylvania Dutchman who has suddenly become aware of
    his habits and taken to “society” in self defence. He is
    always immaculately dressed. I don’t know why I should always
    associate him in my mind with an imaginary image I have of Ford
    Madox Hueffer.)

    …My idea is that in order to carry a thing to the extreme
    necessity to convey it one has to stick to it;… Given a
    fixed point of view, realistic, imagistic or what you will,
    everything adjusts itself to that point of view; and the
    process of adjustment is a world in flux, as it should be for
    a poet. But to fidget with points of view leads always to new
    beginnings and incessant new beginnings lead to sterility.

    (This sounds like Sir Roger de Coverly)

    A single manner or mood thoroughly matured and exploited is
    that fresh thing … etc.

    One has to keep looking for poetry as Renoir looked for colors
    in old walls, wood-work and so on.

    Your place is

                  —among children
        Leaping around a dead dog.

    A book of that would feed the hungry.…

    Well a book of poems is a damned serious affair. I am only
    objecting that a book that contains your particular quality
    should contain anything else and suggesting that if the quality
    were carried to a communicable extreme, in intensity and
    volume, etc.… I see it all over the book, in your landscapes
    and portraits, but dissipated and obscured. Bouquets for brides
    and Spencerian compliments for poets.… There are a very few men
    who have anything native in them or for whose work I’d give a
    Bolshevic ruble.… But I think your tantrums not half mad enough.

    (I am not quite clear about the last sentence but I presume
    he means that I do not push my advantage through to an
    overwhelming decision. What would you have me do with my Circe,
    Stevens, now that I have doublecrossed her game, marry her? It
    is not what Odysseus did).

    I return Pound’s letter … observe how in everything he does he
    proceeds with the greatest positiveness etc.

                                                _Wallace Stevens._

I wish that I might here set down my “Vortex” after the fashion of
London, 1913, stating how little it means to me whether I live here,
there or elsewhere or succeed in this, that or the other so long as I can
keep my mind free from the trammels of literature, beating down every
attack of its _retiarii_ with my _mirmillones_. But the time is past.

I thought at first to adjoin to each improvisation a more or less opaque
commentary. But the mechanical interference that would result makes this
inadvisable. Instead I have placed some of them in the preface where
without losing their original intention (see reference numerals at the
beginning of each) they relieve the later text and also add their weight
to my present fragmentary argument.

       *       *       *       *       *

V. No. 2. By the brokeness of his composition the poet makes himself
master of a certain weapon which he could possess himself of in no other
way. The speed of the emotions is sometimes such that thrashing about in
a thin exaltation or despair many matters are touched but not held, more
often broken by the contact.

       *       *       *       *       *

II. No. 3. The instability of these improvisations would seem such that
they must inevitably crumble under the attention and become particles of
a wind that falters. It would appear to the unready that the fiber of
the thing is a thin jelly. It would be these same fools who would deny
touch cords to the wind because they cannot split a storm endwise and
wrap it upon spools. The virtue of strength lies not in the grossness of
the fiber but in the fiber itself. Thus a poem is tough by no quality it
borrows from a logical recital of events nor from the events themselves
but solely from that attenuated power which draws perhaps many broken
things into a dance giving them thus a full being.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * It is seldom that anything but the most elementary communications can
be exchanged one with another. There are in reality only two or three
reasons generally accepted as the causes of action. No matter what the
motive it will seldom happen that true knowledge of it will be anything
more than vaguely divined by some one person, some half a person whose
intimacy has perhaps been cultivated over the whole of a lifetime. We
live in bags. This is due to the gross fiber of all action. By action
itself almost nothing can be imparted. The world of action is a world of
stones.

       *       *       *       *       *

XV. No. 1. Bla! Bla! Bla! Heavy talk is talk that waits upon a deed.
Talk is servile that is set to inform. Words with the bloom on them run
before the imagination like the saeter girls before Peer Gynt. It is talk
with the patina of whim upon it makes action a boot-licker. So nowadays
poets spit upon rhyme and rhetoric.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * The stream of things having composed itself into wiry strands that
move in one fixed direction, the poet in desperation turns at right
angles and cuts across current with startling results to his hangdog mood.

       *       *       *       *       *

XI. No. 2. In France, the country of Rabelais, they know that the world
is not made up entirely of virgins. They do not deny virtue to the rest
because of that. Each age has its perfections but the praise differs. It
is only stupid when the praise of the gross and the transformed would
be minted in unfit terms such as suit nothing but youth’s sweetness
and frailty. It is necessary to know that laughter is the reverse of
aspiration. So they laugh well in France, at Coquelin and the _Petoman_.
Their girls, also, thrive upon the love-making they get, so much so that
the world runs to Paris for that reason.

       *       *       *       *       *

XII. No. 2 B. It is chuckleheaded to desire a way through every
difficulty. Surely one might even communicate with the dead—and lose
his taste for truffles. Because snails are slimy when alive and because
slime is associated (erroneously) with filth the fool is convinced that
snails are detestable when, as it is proven every day, fried in butter
with chopped parsely upon them, they are delicious. This is both sides
of the question: the slave and the despoiled of his senses are one. But
to weigh a difficulty and to turn it aside without being wrecked upon
a destructive solution bespeaks an imagination of force sufficient to
transcend action. The difficulty has thus been solved by ascent to a
higher plane. It is energy of the imagination alone that cannot be laid
aside.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * Rich as are the gifts of the imagination bitterness of world’s loss
is not replaced thereby. On the contrary it is intensified, resembling
thus possession itself. But he who has no power of the imagination cannot
even know the full of his injury.

       *       *       *       *       *

VIII. No. 3. Those who permit their senses to be despoiled of the
things under their noses by stories of all manner of things removed and
unattainable are of frail imagination. Idiots, it is true nothing is
possessed save by dint of that vigorous conception of its perfections
which is the imagination’s special province but neither is anything
possessed which is not extant. A frail imagination, unequal to the tasks
before it, is easily led astray.

       *       *       *       *       *

IV. No. 2. Although it is a quality of the imagination that it seeks to
place together those things which have a common relationship, yet the
coining of similies is a pastime of very low order, depending as it does
upon a nearly vegetable coincidence. Much more keen is that power which
discovers in things those inimitable particles of dissimilarity to all
other things which are the peculiar perfections of the thing in question.

But this loose linking of one thing with another has effects of a
destructive power little to be guessed at: all manner of things are
thrown out of key so that it approaches the impossible to arrive at an
understanding of anything. All is confusion, yet, it comes from a hidden
desire for the dance, a lust of the imagination, a will to accord two
instruments in a duet.

But one does not attempt by the ingenuity of the joiner to blend the
tones of the oboe with the violin. On the contrary the perfections of the
two instruments are emphasized by the joiner; no means is neglected to
give to each the full color of its perfections. It is only the music of
the instruments which is joined and that not by the woodworker but by the
composer, by virtue of the imagination.

On this level of the imagination all things and ages meet in fellowship.
Thus only can they, peculiar and perfect, find their release. This is the
beneficent power of the imagination.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * Age and youth are great flatterers. Brooding on each other’s obvious
psychology neither dares tell the other outright what manifestly is the
truth: your world is poison. Each is secure in his own perfections.
Monsieur Eichorn used to have a most atrocious body odor while the odor
of some girls is a pleasure to the nostril. Each quality in each person
or age, rightly valued, would mean the freeing of that age to its own
delights of action or repose. Now an evil odor can be pursued with
praise-worthy ardor leading to great natural activity whereas a flowery
skinned virgin may and no doubt often does allow herself to fall into
destructive habits of neglect.

       *       *       *       *       *

XIII. No. 3. A poet witnessing the chicory flower and realizing its
virtues of form and color so constructs his praise of it as to borrow no
particle from right or left. He gives his poem over to the flower and
its plant themselves that they may benefit by those cooling winds of the
imagination which thus returned upon them will refresh them at their task
of saving the world. But what does it mean, remarked his friends?

       *       *       *       *       *

VII. _Coda._ It would be better than depriving birds of their song to
call them all nightingales. So it would be better than to have a world
stript of poetry to provide men with some sort of eyeglasses by which
they should be unable to read any verse but sonnets. But fortunately
although there are many sorts of fools, just as there are many birds
which sing and many sorts of poems, there is no need to please them.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * All schoolmasters are fools. Thinking to build in the young the
foundations of knowledge they let slip their minds that the blocks are of
grey mist bedded upon the wind. Those who will taste of the wind himself
have a mark in their eyes by virtue of which they bring their masters to
nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * All things brought under the hand of the possessor crumble to
nothingness. Not only that: He who possesses a child if he cling to it
inordinately becomes childlike, whereas, with a twist of the imagination,
himself may rise into comradeship with the grave and beautiful presences
of antiquity. But some have the power to free, say a young matron
pursuing her infant, from her own possessions, making her kin to Yang
Kuei-fei because of a haunting loveliness that clings about her knees,
impeding her progress as she takes up her matronly pursuit.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * As to the sun what is he, save for his light, more than the earth is:
the same mass of metals, a mere shadow? But the winged dawn is the very
essence of the sun’s self, a thing cold, vitreous, a virtue that precedes
the body which it drags after it.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * The features of a landscape take their position in the imagination
and are related more to their own kind there than to the country and
season which has held them hitherto as a basket holds vegetables mixed
with fruit.

VI. No. 1. A fish swimming in a pond, were his back white and his belly
green, would be easily perceived from above by hawks against the dark
depths of water and from below by larger fish against the penetrant light
of the sky. But since his belly is white and his back green he swims
about in safety. Observing this barren truth and discerning at once
its slavish application to the exercises of the mind, a young man, who
has been sitting for some time in contemplation at the edge of a lake,
rejects with scorn the parochial deductions of history and as scornfully
asserts his defiance.

       *       *       *       *       *

XIV. No. 3. The barriers which keep the feet from the dance are the same
which in a dream paralyze the effort to escape and hold us powerless in
the track of some murderous pursuer. Pant and struggle but you cannot
move. The birth of the imagination is like waking from a nightmare. Never
does the night seem so beneficent.

       *       *       *       *       *

* * The raw beauty of ignorance that lies like an opal mist over
the west coast of the Atlantic, beginning at the Grand Banks and
extending into the recesses of our brains—the children, the married,
the unmarried—clings especially about the eyes and the throats of our
girls and boys. Of a Sunday afternoon a girl sits before a mechanical
piano and, working it with her hands and feet, opens her mouth and sings
to the music—a popular tune, ragtime. It is a serenade. I have seen a
young Frenchman lean above the piano and looking down speak gently and
wonderingly to one of our girls singing such a serenade. She did not seem
aware of what she was singing and he smiled an occult but thoroughly
bewildered smile—as of a man waiting for a fog to lift, meanwhile lost in
admiration of its enveloping beauty—fragments of architecture, a street
opening and closing, a mysterious glow of sunshine.

       *       *       *       *       *

VIII. No. 1. A man of note upon examining the poems of his friend and
finding there nothing related to his immediate understanding laughingly
remarked: After all, literature is communication while you, my friend,
I am afraid, in attempting to do something striking, are in danger of
achieving mere presciosity.——But inasmuch as the fields of the mind are
vast and little explored, the poet was inclined only to smile and to
take note of that hardening infirmity of the imagination which seems
to endow its victim with great solidity and rapidity of judgment.
But he thought to himself: And yet of what other thing is greatness
composed than a power to annihilate half-truths for a thousandth part
of accurate understanding. Later life has its perfections as well as
that bough-bending time of the mind’s florescence with which I am so
discursively taken.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have discovered that the thrill of first love passes! It even becomes
the backbone of a sordid sort of religion if not assisted in passing. I
knew a man who kept a candle burning before a girl’s portrait day and
night for a year—then jilted her, pawned her off on a friend. I have been
reasonably frank about my erotics with my wife. I have never or seldom
said, my dear I love you, when I would rather say: My dear, I wish you
were in Tierra del Fuego. I have discovered by scrupulous attention
to this detail and by certain allied experiments that we can continue
from time to time to elaborate relationships quite equal in quality,
if not greatly superior, to that surrounding our wedding. In fact, the
best we have enjoyed of love together has come after the most thorough
destruction or harvesting of that which has gone before. Periods of
barrenness have intervened, periods comparable to the prison music in
Fidelio or to any of Beethoven’s pianissimo transition passages. It is at
these times our formal relations have teetered on the edge of a debacle
to be followed, as our imaginations have permitted, by a new growth of
passionate attachment dissimilar in every member to that which has gone
before.

It is in the continual and violent refreshing of the idea that love and
good writing have their security.

       *       *       *       *       *

Alfred Kreymborg is primarily a musician, at best an innovator of musical
phrase:

    We have no dishes
    to eat our meals from.
    We have no dishes
    to eat our meals from
    because we have no dishes
    to eat our meals from
    …
    We need no dishes
    to eat our meals from,
    we have fingers
    to eat our meals from.

Kreymborg’s idea of poetry is a transforming music that has much to do
with tawdry things.

Few people know how to read Kreymborg. There is no modern poet who
suffers more from a bastard sentimental appreciation. It is hard to get
his things from the page. I have heard him say he has often thought in
despair of marking his verse into measures as music is marked. Oh, well—

The man has a bare irony, the gift of rhythm and Others. I smile to
think of Alfred stealing the stamps from the envelopes sent for return
of MSS. to the Others office! The best thing that could happen for the
good of poetry in the United States today would be for someone to give
Alfred Kreymborg a hundred thousand dollars. In his mind there is the
determination for freedom brought into relief by a crabbedness of temper
that makes him peculiarly able to value what is being done here. Whether
he is bull enough for the work I am not certain, but that he can find his
way that I know.

       *       *       *       *       *

A somewhat petulant English college friend of my brother’s once remarked
that Britons make the best policemen the world has ever witnessed. I
agree with him. It is silly to go into a puckersnatch because some
brass-button-minded nincompoop in Kensington flies off the handle
and speaks openly about our United States prize poems. This Mr.
Jepson—“Anyone who has heard Mr. J. read Homer and discourse on Catullus
would recognize his fitness as a judge and respecter of poetry”—this is
Ezra!—this champion of the right is not half a fool. His epithets and
phrases—slip-shod, rank bad workmanship of a man who has shirked his job,
lumbering fakement, cumbrous artificiality, maundering dribble, rancid as
Ben Hur—are in the main well-merited. And besides, he comes out with one
fairly lipped cornet blast: the only distinctive U. S. contributions to
the arts have been ragtime and buck-dancing.

Nothing is good save the new. If a thing have novelty it stands
intrinsically beside every other work of artistic excellence. If it have
not that, no loveliness or heroic proportion or grand manner will save
it. It will not be saved above all by an attenuated intellectuality.

But all U. S. verse is not bad according to Mr. J., there is T. S. Eliot
and his, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

But our prize poems are especially to be damned not because of
superficial bad workmanship, but because they are rehash, repetition—just
as Eliot’s more exquisite work is rehash, repetition in another way of
Verlaine, Beaudelaire, Maeterlinck,—conscious or unconscious,—just as
there were Pound’s early paraphrases from Yeats and his constant later
cribbing from the renaissance, Provence and the modern French: Men
content with the connotations of their masters.

It is convenient to have fixed standards of comparison: All antiquity!
And there is always some everlasting Polonius of Kensington forever
to rate highly his eternal Eliot. It is because Eliot is a subtle
conformist. It tickles the palate of this archbishop of procurers to a
lecherous antiquity to hold up Prufrock as a New World type. Prufrock,
the nibbler at sophistication, endemic in every capital, the not quite
(because he refuses to turn his back), is “the soul of that modern land,”
the United States!

    Blue undershirts,
    Upon a line,
    It is not secessary to say to you
    Anything about it—

I cannot question Eliot’s observation. Prufrock is a masterly portrait of
the man just below the summit, but the type is universal; the model in
his case might be Mr. J.

No. The New World is Montezuma or since he was stoned to death in a
parley, Guatemozin who had the city of Mexico levelled over him before he
was taken.

For the rest, there is no man even though he dare who can make beauty
his own and “so at last live,” at least there is no man better situated
for that achievement than another. As Prufrock longed for his silly lady
so Kensington longs for its Hardanger dairymaid. By a mere twist of the
imagination, if Prufrock only knew it, the whole world can be inverted
(why else are there wars?) and the mermaids be set warbling to whoever
will listen to them. Seesaw and blind-man’s-buff converted into a sort of
football.

But the summit of United States achievement, according to Mr. J.—who can
discourse on Catullus—is that very beautiful poem of Eliot’s, La Figlia
Que Piange: just the right amount of everything drained through, etc.,
etc., etc., etc., the rhythm delicately studied and—IT CONFORMS! ergo
here we have “the very fine flower of the finest spirit of the United
States.”

Examined closely this poem reveals a highly refined distillation. Added
to the already “faithless” formula of yesterday we have a conscious
simplicity:

    Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

The perfection of that line is beyond cavil. Yet, in the last stanza,
this paradigm, this very fine flower of U. S. art is warped out of
alignment, obscured in meaning even to the point of an absolute
unintelligibility by the inevitable straining after a rhyme, the very
cleverness with which this straining is covered being a sinister token in
itself.

    And I wonder how they should have been together!

So we have no choice but to accept the work of this fumbling conjurer.

Upon the Jepson filet Eliot balances his mushroom. It is the latest touch
from the literary cuisine, it adds to the pleasant outlook from the club
window. If to do this, if to be a Whistler at best, in the art of poetry,
is to reach the height of poetic expression then Ezra and Eliot have
approached it and _tant pis_ for the rest of us.

The Adobe Indian hag sings her lullaby:

    The beetle is blind
    The beetle is blind
    The beetle is blind
    The beetle is blind, etc., etc.

and Kandinsky in his, _Ueber das Geistige in der Kunst_, sets down the
following axioms for the artist:

    Every artist has to express himself
    Every artist has to express his epoch.
    Every artist has to express the pure and eternal
        qualities of the art of all men.

So we have the fish and the bait, but the last rule holds three hooks at
once—not for the fish, however.

I do not overlook De Gourmont’s plea for a meeting of the nations, but I
do believe that when they meet Paris will be more than slightly abashed
to find parodies of the middle ages, Dante and Langue D’Oc foisted upon
it as the best in United States poetry. Even Eliot, who is too fine an
artist to allow himself to be exploited by a blockheaded grammaticaster,
turns recently toward “one definite false note” in his quatrains, which
more nearly approach America than ever La Figlia Que Piange did. Ezra
Pound is a Boscan who has met his Navagiero.

One day Ezra and I were walking down a back lane in Wyncote. I contended
for bread, he for caviar. I become hot. He, with fine discretion,
exclaimed: “Let us drop it. We will never agree, or come to an
agreement.” He spoke then like a Frenchman, which is one who discerns.

Imagine an international congress of poets at Paris or Versailles, Remy
de Gourmont (now dead) presiding, poets all speaking five languages
fluently. Ezra stands up to represent U. S. verse and De Gourmont sits
down smiling. Ezra begins by reading, La Figlia Que Piange. It would be a
pretty pastime to gather into a mental basket the fruits of that reading
from the minds of the ten Frenchmen present; their impressions of the
sort of United States that very fine flower was picked from. After this
Kreymborg might push his way to the front and read Jack’s House.

E. P. is the best enemy United States verse has. He is interested,
passionately interested—even if he doesn’t know what he is talking
about. But of course he does know what he is talking about. He does not,
however, know everything, not by more than half. The accordances of which
Americans have the parts and the colors but not the completions before
them pass beyond the attempts of his thought. It is a middle aging blight
of the Imagination.

I praise those who have the wit and courage, and the conventionality, to
go direct toward their vision of perfection in an objective world where
the sign-posts are clearly marked, viz., to London. But confine them in
hell for their paretic assumption that there is no alternative but their
own groove.

Dear fat Stevens, thawing out so beautifully at forty! I was one day
irately damning those who run to London when Stevens caught me up with
his mild: “But where in the world will you have them run to?”

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing that I should write touching poetry would be complete without
Maxwell Bodenheim in it, even had he not said that the Improvisations
were “perfect,” the best things I had ever done; for that I place him,
Janus, first and last.

Bodenheim pretends to hate most people, including Pound and Kreymborg,
but that he really goes to this trouble I cannot imagine. He seems rather
to me to have the virtue of self absorbtion so fully developed that hate
is made impossible. Due to this, also, he is an unbelievable physical
stoic. I know of no one who lives so completely in his pretences as
Bogie does. Having formulated his world neither toothache nor the misery
to which his indolence reduces him can make head against the force of
his imagination. Because of this he remains for me a heroic figure,
which, after all, is quite apart from the stuff he writes and which only
concerns him. He is an Isaiah of the butterflies.

Bogie was the young and fairly well acclaimed genius when he came to
New York four years ago. He pretended to have fallen in Chicago and to
have sprained his shoulder. The joint was done up in a proper Sayre’s
dressing and there really looked to be a bona fide injury. Of course
he couldn’t find any work to do with one hand so we all chipped in. It
lasted a month! During that time Bogie spent a week at my house at no
small inconvenience to Florence, who had two babies on her hands just
then. When he left I expressed my pleasure at having had his company.
“Yes,” he replied, “I think you have profited by my visit.” The statement
impressed me by its simple accuracy as well as by the evidence it bore of
that fullness of the imagination which had held the man in its tide while
we had been together.

Charlie Demuth once told me that he did not like the taste of liquor,
for which he was thankful, but that he found the effect it had on his
mind to be delightful. Of course Li Po is reported to have written his
best verse supported in the arms of the Emperor’s attendants and with a
dancing-girl to hold his tablet. He was also a great poet. Wine is merely
the latchstring.

The virtue of it all is in an opening of the doors, though some rooms
of course will be empty, a break with banality, the continual hardening
which habit enforces. There is nothing left in me but the virtue of
curiosity, Demuth puts in. The poet should be forever at the ship’s prow.

An acrobat seldom learns really a new trick, but he must exercise
continually to keep his joints free. When I made this discovery it
started rings in my memory that keep following one after the other to
this day.

I have placed the following Improvisations in groups, somewhat after the
A. B. A. formula, that one may support the other, clarifying or enforcing
perhaps the other’s intention.

The arrangement of the notes, each following its poem and separated from
it by a ruled line, is borrowed from a small volume of Metastasio, _Varie
Poesie Dell’ Abate Pietro Metastasio_, Venice, 1795.

                                                      _September 1, 1918_



IMPROVISATIONS



IMPROVISATIONS



I.


1

Fools have big wombs. For the rest?—here is pennyroyal if one knows to
use it. But time is only another liar, so go along the wall a little
further: if blackberries prove bitter there’ll be mushrooms, fairy-ring
mushrooms, in the grass, sweetest of all fungi.


2

For what it’s worth: Jacob Louslinger, white haired, stinking, dirty
bearded, cross eyed, stammer tongued, broken voiced, bent backed, ball
kneed, cave bellied, mucous faced—deathling,—found lying in the weeds “up
there by the cemetery”. “Looks to me as if he’d been bumming around the
meadows for a couple of weeks”. Shoes twisted into incredible lilies: out
at the toes, heels, tops, sides, soles. Meadow flower! ha, mallow! at
last I have you. (Rot dead marigolds—an acre at a time! Gold, are you?)
Ha, clouds will touch world’s edge and the great pink mallow stand singly
in the wet, topping reeds and—a closet full of clothes and good shoes
and my-thirty-year’s-master’s-daughter’s two cows for me to care for and
a winter room with a fire in it—. I would rather feed pigs in Moonachie
and chew calamus root and break crab’s claws at an open fire: age’s lust
loose!


3

Talk as you will, say: “No woman wants to bother with children in this
country”;—speak of your Amsterdam and the whitest aprons and brightest
doorknobs in Christendom. And I’ll answer you: “Gleaming doorknobs
and scrubbed entries have heard the songs of the housemaids at sun-up
and—housemaids are wishes. Whose? Ha! the dark canals are whistling,
whistling for who will cross to the other side. If I remain with hands in
pocket leaning upon my lamppost—why—I bring curses to a hag’s lips and
her daughter on her arm knows better than I can tell you—best to blush
and out with it than back beaten after.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In Holland at daybreak, of a fine spring morning, one sees the
housemaids beating rugs before the small houses of such a city as
Amsterdam, sweeping, scrubbing the low entry steps and polishing
doorbells and doorknobs. By night perhaps there will be an old woman with
a girl on her arm, histing and whistling across a deserted canal to some
late loiterer trudging aimlessly on beneath the gas lamps._



II.


1

Why go further? One might conceivably rectify the rhythm, study all out
and arrive at the perfection of a tiger lily or a china doorknob. One
might lift all out of the ruck, be a worthy successor to—the man in
the moon. Instead of breaking the back of a willing phrase why not try
to follow the wheel through—approach death at a walk, take in all the
scenery. There’s as much reason one way as the other and then—one never
knows—perhaps we’ll bring back Euridice—this time!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Between two contending forces there may at all times arrive that moment
when the stress is equal on both sides so that with a great pushing a
great stability results giving a picture of perfect rest. And so it may
be that once upon the way the end drives back upon the beginning and
a stoppage will occur. At such a time the poet shrinks from the doom
that is calling him forgetting the delicate rhythms of perfect beauty,
preferring in his mind the gross buffetings of good and evil fortune._


2

_Ay dio!_ I could say so much were it not for the tunes changing,
changing, darting so many ways. One step and the cart’s left you
sprawling. Here’s the way! and—you’re hip bogged. And there’s blame of
the light too: when eyes are humming birds who’ll tie them with a lead
string? But it’s the tunes they want most,—send them skipping out at the
tree tops. Whistle then! who’ld stop the leaves swarming; curving down
the east in their braided jackets? Well enough—but there’s small comfort
in naked branches when the heart’s not set that way.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A man’s desire is to win his way to some hilltop. But against him seem
to swarm a hundred jumping devils. These are his constant companions,
these are the friendly images which he has invented out of his mind and
which are inviting him to rest and to disport himself according to hidden
reasons. The man being half a poet is cost down and longs to rid himself
of his torment and his tormentors._


3

When you hang your clothes on the line you do not expect to see the line
broken and them trailing in the mud. Nor would you expect to keep your
hands clean by putting them in a dirty pocket. However and of course if
you are a market man, fish, cheeses and the like going under your fingers
every minute in the hour you would not leave off the business and expect
to handle a basket of fine laces without at least mopping yourself on a
towel, soiled as it may be. Then how will you expect a fine trickle of
words to follow you through the intimacies of this dance without—oh, come
let us walk together into the air awhile first. One must be watchman to
much secret arrogance before his ways are tuned to these measures. You
see there is a dip of the ground between us. You think you can leap up
from your gross caresses of these creatures and at a gesture fling it all
off and step out in silver to my finger tips. Ah, it is not that I do
not wait for you, always! But my sweet fellow—you have broken yourself
without purpose, you are—Hark! it is the music! Whence does it come?
What! Out of the ground? Is it this that you have been preparing for me?
Ha, goodbye, I have a rendez vous in the tips of three birch sisters.
_Encouragé vos musiciens!_ Ask them to play faster. I will return—later.
Ah you are kind. —and I? must dance with the wind, make my own snow
flakes, whistle a contrapuntal melody to my own fuge! Huzza then, this is
the dance of the blue moss bank! Huzza then, this is the mazurka of the
hollow log! Huzza then, this is the dance of rain in the cold trees.



III.


1

So far away August green as it yet is. They say the sun still comes up
o’mornings and it’s harvest moon now. Always one leaf at the peak twig
swirling, swirling and apples rotting in the ditch.


2

My wife’s uncle went to school with Amundsen. After he, Amundsen,
returned from the south pole there was a Scandinavian dinner, which bored
Amundsen like a boyhood friend. There was a young woman at his table,
silent and aloof from the rest. She left early and he restless at some
impalpable delay apologized suddenly and went off with two friends, his
great, lean bulk twitching agilely. One knew why the poles attracted him.
Then my wife’s mother told me the same old thing, how a girl in their
village jilted him years back. But the girl at the supper! Ah—that comes
later when we are wiser and older.


3

What can it mean to you that a child wears pretty clothes and speaks
three languages or that its mother goes to the best shops? It means: July
has good need of his blazing sun. But if you pick one berry from the ash
tree I’d not know it again for the same no matter how the rain washed.
Make my bed of witchhazel twigs, said the old man, since they bloom on
the brink of winter.

       *       *       *       *       *

_There is neither beginning nor end to the imagination but it delights
in its own seasons reversing the usual order at will. Of the air of the
coldest room it will seem to build the hottest passions. Mozart would
dance with his wife, whistling his own tune to keep the cold away and
Villon ceased to write upon his Petit Testament only when the ink was
frozen. But men in the direst poverty of the imagination buy finery and
indulge in extravagant moods in order to piece out their lack with other
matter._



IV.


1

Mamselle Day, Mamselle Day, come back again! Slip your clothes off!—the
jingling of those little shell ornaments so deftly fastened—! The streets
are turning in their covers. They smile with shut eyes. I have been twice
to the moon since supper but she has nothing to tell me. Mamselle come
back! I will be wiser this time.

       *       *       *       *       *

_That which is past is past forever and no power of the imagination can
bring it back again. Yet inasmuch as there are many lives being lived in
the world, by virtue of sadness and regret we are enabled to partake to
some small degree of those pleasures we have missed or lost but which
others more fortunate than we are in the act of enjoying._

If one should catch me in this state! —wings would go at a bargain. Ah
but to hold the world in the hand then— Here’s a brutal jumble. And if
you move the stones, see the ants scurry. But it’s queen’s eggs they take
first, tax their jaws most. Burrow, burrow, burrow! there’s sky that way
too if the pit’s deep enough—so the stars tell us.

       *       *       *       *       *

_It is an obsession of the gifted that by direct onslaught or by some
back road of the intention they will win the recognition of the world.
Cezanne. And inasmuch as some men have had a bare recognition in their
lives the fiction is continued. But the sad truth is that since the
imagination is nothing, nothing will come of it. Thus those necessary
readjustments of sense which are the everyday affair of the mind are
distorted and intensified in these individuals so that they frequently
believe themselves to be the very helots of fortune, whereas nothing
could be more ridiculous than to suppose this. However their strength
will revive if it may be and finding a sweetness on the tongue of which
they had no foreknowledge they set to work again with renewed vigor._


2

How smoothly the car runs. And these rows of celery, how they bitter the
air—winter’s authentic foretaste. Here among these farms how the year
has aged, yet here’s last year and the year before and all years. One
might rest here time without end, watch out his stretch and see no other
bending than spring to autumn, winter to summer and earth turning into
leaves and leaves into earth and—how restful these long beet rows—the
caress of the low clouds—the river lapping at the reeds. Was it ever so
high as this, so full? How quickly we’ve come this far. Which way is
north now? North now? why that way I think. Ah there’s the house at last,
here’s April, but—the blinds are down! It’s all dark here. Scratch a
hurried note. Slip it over the sill. Well, some other time.

       *       *       *       *       *

How smoothly the car runs. This must be the road. Queer how a road juts
in. How the dark catches among those trees! How the light clings to the
canal! Yes there’s one table taken, we’ll not be alone. This place has
possibilities. Will you bring _her_ here? Perhaps—and when we meet on the
stair, shall we speak, say it is some acquaintance—or pass silent? Well,
a jest’s a jest but how poor this tea is. Think of a life in this place,
here in these hills by these truck farms. Whose life? Why there, back
of you. If a woman laughs a little loudly one always thinks that way of
her. But how she bedizens the country-side. Quite an old world glamour.
If it were not for—but one cannot have everything. What poor tea it was.
How cold it’s grown. Cheering, a light is that way among the trees. That
heavy laugh! How it will rattle these branches in six weeks’ time.


3

The frontispiece is her portrait and further on—the obituary sermon: she
held the school upon her shoulders. Did she. Well—turn in here then:—we
found money in the blood and some in the room and on the stairs. My God
I never knew a man had so much blood in his head! —and thirteen empty
whisky bottles. I am sorry but those who come this way meet strange
company. This is you see death’s canticle.

_A young woman who had excelled at intellectual pursuits, a person of
great power in her sphere, died on the same night that a man was murdered
in the next street, a fellow of very gross behavior. The poet takes
advantage of this to send them on their way side by side without making
the usual unhappy moral distinctions._



V.


1

Beautiful white corpse of night actually! So the north-west winds of
death are mountain sweet after all! All the troubled stars are put to
bed now: three bullets from wife’s hand none kindlier: in the crown, in
the nape and one lower: three starlike holes among a million pocky pores
and the moon of your mouth: Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and all stars melted
forthwith into this one good white light over the inquest table,—the
traditional moth beating its wings against it—except there are two here.
But sweetest are the caresses of the county physician, a little clumsy
perhaps—_mais_—! and the Prosecuting Attorney, Peter Valuzzi and the
others, waving green arms of maples to the tinkling of the earliest
ragpicker’s bells. Otherwise—: kindly stupid hands, kindly coarse voices,
infinitely soothing, infinitely detached, infinitely beside the question,
restfully babbling of how, where, why and night is done and the green
edge of yesterday has said all it could.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Remorse is a virtue in that it is a stirrer up of the emotions but it
is a folly to accept it as a criticism of conduct. So to accept it is to
attempt to fit the emotions of a certain state to a preceding state to
which they are in no way related. Imagination though it cannot wipe out
the sting of remorse can instruct the mind in its proper uses._


2

It is the water we drink. It bubbles under every hill. How? Agh, you
stop short of the root. Why, caught and the town goes mad. The haggard
husband pirouettes in tights. The wolf-lean wife is rolling butter
pats: it’s a clock striking the hour. Pshaw, they do things better in
Bangkok,—here too, if there’s heads together. But up and leap at her
throat! Bed’s at fault! Yet—I’ve seen three women prostrate, hands
twisted in each other’s hair, teeth buried where the hold offered,—not
a movement, not a cry more than a low meowling. Oh call me a lady and
think you’ve caged me. Hell’s loose every minute, you hear? And the
truth is there’s not an eye clapped to either way but someone comes off
the dirtier for it. Who am I to wash hands and stand near the wall? I
confess freely there’s not a bitch littered in the pound but my skin
grows ruddier. Ask me and I’ll say: curfew for the ladies. Bah, two in
the grass is the answer to that gesture. Here’s a text for you: Many
daughters have done virtuously but thou excellest them all! And so you
do, if the manner of a walk means anything. You walk in a different air
from the others,—though your husband’s the better man and the charm won’t
last a fortnight: the street’s kiss parried again. But give thought to
your daughters’ food at mating time, you good men. Send them to hunt
spring beauties beneath the sod this winter,—otherwise: hats off to the
lady! One can afford to smile.


3

Marry in middle life and take the young thing home. Later in the year let
the worst out. It’s odd how little the tune changes. Do worse—till your
mind’s turning, then rush into repentence and the lady grown a hero while
the clock strikes.

Here the harps have a short cadenza. It’s sunset back of the new
cathedral and the purple river scum has set seaward. The car’s at the
door. I’d not like to go alone tonight. I’ll pay you well. It’s the
kings-evil. Speed! Speed! The sun’s self’s a chancre low in the west. Ha,
how the great houses shine—for old time’s sake! For sale! For sale! The
town’s gone another way. But I’m not fooled that easily. _Fort sale! Fort
sale!_ if you read it aright. And Beauty’s own head on the pillow, _à la
Muja Desnuda_! _O Contessa de Alba! Contessa de Alba!_ Never was there
such a lewd wonder in the streets of Newark! Open the windows—but all’s
boarded up here. Out with you, you sleepy doctors and lawyers you,—the
sky’s afire and Calvary Church with its snail’s horns up, sniffing the
dawn—o’ the wrong side! Let the trumpets blare! _Tutti i instrumenti!_
The world’s bound homeward.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A man whose brain is slowly curdling due to a syphilitic infection
acquired in early life calls on a friend to go with him on a journey
to the city. The friend out of compassion goes, and, thinking of the
condition of his unhappy companion, falls to pondering on the sights he
sees as he is driven up one street and down another. It being evening
he witnesses a dawn of great beauty striking backward upon the world in
a reverse direction to the sun’s course and not knowing of what else to
think discovers it to be the same power which has led his companion to
destruction. At this he is inclined to scoff derisively at the city’s
prone stupidity and to make light indeed of his friend’s misfortune._



VI.


1

Of course history is an attempt to make the past seem stable and of
course it’s all a lie. Nero must mean Nero or the game’s up. But—though
killies have green backs and white bellies, _zut!_ for the bass and
hawks! When we’ve tired of swimming we’ll go climb in the ledgy forest.
Confute the sages.


2

Quarrel with a purple hanging because it’s no column from the Parthenon.
Here’s splotchy velvet set to hide a door in the wall and there—there’s
the man himself praying! Oh quarrel whether ’twas Pope Clement raped
Persephone or—did the devil wear a mitre in that year? Come, there’s much
use in being thin on a windy day if the cloth’s cut well. And oak leaves
will not come on maples, nor birch trees either—that is provided—, but
pass it over, pass it over.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A woman of good figure, if she be young and gay, welcomes the wind that
presses tight upon her from forehead to ankles revealing the impatient
mountains and valleys of her secret desire. The wind brings release to
her. But the wind is no blessing to all women. At the same time it is
idle to quarrel over the relative merits of one thing and another, oak
leaves will not come on maples. But there is a deeper folly yet in such
quarreling: the perfections revealed by a Rembrandt are equal whether it
be question of a laughing Saskia or an old woman cleaning her nails._


3

Think of some lady better than Rackham draws them: mere fairy stuff—some
face that would be your face, were you of the right sex, some twenty
years back of a still morning, some Lucretia out of the Vatican turned
Carmelite, some double image cast over a Titian Venus by two eyes quicker
than Titian’s hands were, some strange daughter of an inn-keeper,—some.…
Call it a net to catch love’s twin doves and I’ll say to you: Look! and
there’ll be the sky there and you’ll say the sky’s blue. Whisk the thing
away now? What’s the sky now?

       *       *       *       *       *

_By virtue of works of art the beauty of woman is released to flow
whither it will up and down the years. The imagination transcends the
thing itself. Kaffirs admire what they term beauty in their women but
which is in official parlance a deformity. A Kaffir poet to be a good
poet would praise that which is to him praiseworthy and we should be
scandalized._



VII.


1

It is still warm enough to slip from the weeds into the lake’s edge, your
clothes blushing in the grass and three small boys grinning behind the
derelict hearth’s side. But summer is up among the huckleberries near the
path’s end and snakes’ eggs lie curling in the sun on the lonely summit.
But—well—let’s wish it were higher after all these years staring at it
deplore the paunched clouds glimpse the sky’s thin counter-crest and
plunge into the gulch. Sticky cobwebs tell of feverish midnights. Crack
a rock (what’s a thousand years!) and send it crashing among the oaks!
Wind a pine tree in a grey-worm’s net and play it for a trout; oh—but
it’s the moon does that! No, summer has gone down the other side of the
mountain. Carry home what we can. What have you brought off? Ah here are
thimble-berries.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In middle life the mind passes to a variegated October. This is the time
youth in its faulty aspirations has set for the achievement of great
summits. But having attained the mountain top one is not snatched into
a cloud but the descent proffers its blandishments quite as a matter of
course. At this the fellow is cast into a great confusion and rather
plaintively looks about to see if any has fared better than he._


2

The little Polish Father of Kingsland does not understand, he cannot
understand. These are exquisite differences never to be resolved. He
comes at midnight through mid-winter slush to baptise a dying newborn;
he smiles suavely and shruggs his shoulders: a clear middle A touched
by a master—but he cannot understand. And Benny, Sharon, Henrietta, and
Josephine, what is it to them? Yet jointly they come more into the way
of the music. And white haired Miss Ball! The empty school is humming
to her little melody played with one finger at the noon hour but it is
beyond them all. There is much heavy breathing, many tight shut lips,
a smothered laugh whiles, two laughs cracking together, three together
sometimes and then a burst of wind lifting the dust again.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Living with and upon and among the poor, those that gather in a few
rooms, sometimes very clean, sometimes full of vermine, there are certain
pestilential individuals, priests, school teachers, doctors, commercial
agents of one sort or another who though they themselves are full of
graceful perfections nevertheless contrive to be so complacent of their
lot, floating as they are with the depth of a sea beneath them, as to be
worthy only of amused contempt. Yet even to these sometimes there rises
that which they think in their ignorance is a confused babble of aspiring
voices not knowing what ancient harmonies these are to which they are so
faultily listening._


3

What I like best’s the long unbroken line of the hills there. Yes, it’s
a good view. Come, let’s visit the orchard. Here’s peaches twenty years
on the branch. Not ripe yet!? Why—! Those hills! Those hills! But you’ld
be young again! Well, fourteen’s a hard year for boy or girl, let alone
one older driving the pricks in, but though there’s more in a song than
the notes of it and a smile’s a pretty baby when you’ve none other—let’s
not turn backward. Mumble the words, you understand, call them four
brothers, strain to catch the sense but have to admit it’s in a language
they’ve not taught you, a flaw somewhere,—and for answer: well, that long
unbroken line of the hills there.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Two people, an old man and a woman in early middle life, are talking
together upon a small farm at which the woman has just arrived on a
visit. They have walked to an orchard on the slope of a hill from which a
distant range of mountains can be clearly made out. A third man, piecing
together certain knowledge he has of the woman with what is being said
before him is prompted to give rein to his imagination. This he does and
hears many oblique sentences which escape the others._


_Coda._

Squalor and filth with a sweet cur nestling in the grimy blankets of
your bed and on better roads striplings dreaming of wealth and happiness.
Country life in America! The cackling grackle that dartled at the hill’s
bottom have joined their flock and swing with the rest over a broken roof
toward Dixie.



VIII.


1

Some fifteen years we’ll say I served this friend, was his valet, nurse,
physician, fool and master: nothing too menial, to say the least. Enough
of that: so.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stand aside while they pass. This is what they found in the rock when it
was cracked open: this fingernail. Hide your face among the lower leaves,
here’s a meeting should have led to better things but—it is only one
branch out of the forest and night pressing you for an answer! Velvet
night weighing upon your eye-balls with gentle insistence; calling you
away: Come with me, now, tonight! Come with me! now tonight.…

       *       *       *       *       *

_In great dudgeon over the small profit that has come to him through a
certain companionship a poet addresses himself and the loved one as if it
were two strangers, thus advancing himself to the brink of that discovery
which will reward all his labors but which he as yet only discerns as a
night, a dark void coaxing him whither he has no knowledge._


2

You speak of the enormity of her disease, of her poverty. Bah, these are
the fiddle she makes tunes on and it’s tunes bring the world dancing
to your house-door, even on this swamp side. You speak of the helpless
waiting, waiting till the thing squeeze her windpipe shut. Oh, that’s
best of all, that’s romance—with the devil himself a hero. No my boy. You
speak of her man’s callous stinginess. Yes, my God, how can he refuse
to buy milk when it’s alone milk that she can swallow now? But how is
it she picks market beans for him day in, day out, in the sun, in the
frost? You understand? You speak of so many things, you blame me for my
indifference. Well, this is you see my sister and death, great death is
robbing her of life. It dwarfs most things.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Filth and vermine though they shock the over-nice are imperfections
of the flesh closely related in the just imagination of the poet to
excessive cleanliness. After some years of varied experience with the
bodies of the rich and the poor a man finds little to distinguish between
them, bulks them as one and bases his working judgements on other
matters._


3

Hercules is in Hacketstown doing farm labor. Look at his hands if
you’ll not believe me. And what do I care if yellow and red are Spain’s
riches and Spain’s good blood. Here yellow and red mean simply autumn!
The odor of the poor farmer’s fried supper is mixing with the smell
of the hemlocks, mist is in the valley hugging the ground and over
Parsippany—where an oldish man leans talking to a young woman—the moon is
swinging from its star.



IX.


1

Throw that flower in the waste basket, it’s faded. And keep an eye to
your shoes and fingernails. The fool you once laughed at has made a
fortune! There’s small help in a clutter of leaves either, no matter how
they gleam. Punctillio’s the thing. A nobby vest. Spats. Lamps carry far,
believe me, in lieu of sunshine!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Despite vastness of frontiers, which are as it were the fringes of a
flower full of honey, it is the little things that count! Neglect them
and bitterness drowns the imagination._


2

The time never was when he could play more than mattrass to the pretty
feet of this woman who had been twice a mother without touching the
meager pollen of their marriage intimacy. What more for him than to be
a dandelion that could chirp with crickets or do a onestep with snow
flakes? The tune is difficult but not impossible to the middle aged whose
knees are tethered faster to the mind than they are at eighteen when any
wind sets them clacking. What a rhythm’s here! One would say the body
lay asleep and the dance escaped from the hair tips, the bleached fuzz
that covers back and belly, shoulders, neck and forehead. The dance is
diamantine over the sleeper who seems not to breathe! One would say heat
over the end of a roadway that turns down hill. Cesa!

       *       *       *       *       *

_One may write music and music but who will dance to it? The dance
escapes but the music, the music—projects a dance over itself which the
feet follow lazily if at all. So a dance is a thing in itself. It is the
music that dances but if there are words then there are two dancers, the
words pirouetting with the music._


3

One has emotions about the strangest things: men—women himself the most
contemptible. But to struggle with ants for a piece of meat,—a mangy
cur to swallow beetles and all—better go slaughter one’s own kind in
the name of peace—except when the body’s not there maggots swarm in the
corruption. Oh let him have it. Find a cleaner fare for wife and child.
To the sick their sick. For us heads bowed over the green-flowered
asphodel. Lean on my shoulder little one, you too. I will lead you to
fields you know nothing of. There’s small dancing left for us any way you
look at it.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A man who enjoyed his food, the company of his children and especially
his wife’s alternate caresses and tongue lashings felt his position
in the town growing insecure due to a successful business competitor.
Being thus stung to the quick he thinks magnanimously of his own methods
of dealing with his customers and likens his competitor to a dog that
swallows his meat with beetles or maggots upon it, that is, any way so he
gets it._

_Being thus roused the man does not seek to outdo his rival but grows
heavily sad and thinks of death and his lost pleasures thus showing
himself to be a person of discernment. For by so doing he gives evidence
of a bastard sort of knowledge of that diversity of context in things
and situations which the great masters of antiquity looked to for the
inspiration and distinction of their compositions._



X.


1

If I could clap this in a cage and let that out we’d see colored wings
then to blind the sun but—the good ships are anchored up-stream and the
gorged seagulls flap heavily. At sea! At sea! That’s where the waves beat
kindliest. But no, singers are beggars or worse cannot man a ship songs
are their trade. Ku-whee! Ku-whee! It’s a wind in the lookout’s nest
talking of Columbus, whom no sea daunted, Columbus, chained below decks,
bound homeward.

       *       *       *       *       *

_They built a replica of Columbus’ flagship the Santa Maria and took
it from harbor to harbor along the North Atlantic seaboard. The
insignificance of that shell could hardly be exaggerated when comparison
was made with even the very least of our present day sea-going vessels.
Thus was the magnificence of enterprise and the hardihood of one
Christopher Columbus celebrated at this late date._


2

You would learn—if you knew even one city—where people are a little
gathered together and where one sees—it’s our frontier you know—the
common changes of the human spirit: our husbands tire of us and we—let
us not say we go hungry for their caresses but for caresses—of a kind.
Oh I am no prophet. I have no theory to advance, except that it’s well
nigh impossible to know the wish till after. Cross the room to him if
the whim leads that way. Here’s drink of an eye that calls you. No need
to take the thing too seriously. It’s something of a will-o-the-whisp
I acknowledge. All in the pressure of an arm—through a fur coat often.
Something of a dancing light with the rain beating on a cab window.
Here’s nothing to lead you astray. What? Why you’re young still. Your
children? Yes, there they are. Desire skates like a Hollander as well as
runs pickaninny fashion. Really, there’s little more to say than: flowers
in a glass basket under the electric glare; the carpet is red, mostly,
a hodge-podge of zig-zags that pass for Persian fancies. Risk a _double
entendre_. But of a sudden the room’s not the same! It’s a strange blood
sings under some skin. Who will have the sense for it? The men sniff
suspiciously; you at least my dear had your head about you. It was a
tender nibble but it really did you credit. But think of what might be!
It’s all in the imagination. I give you no more credit than you deserve,
you will never rise to it, never be more than a rose dropped in the
river—but acknowledge that there is, ah there is a— You are such a clever
knitter. Your hands please. Ah, if I had your hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A woman of marked discernment finding herself among strange companions
wishes for the hands of one of them and inasmuch as she feels herself
refreshed by the sight of these perfections she offers in return those
perfections of her own which appear to her to be most appropriate to the
occasion._


3

Truth’s a wonder. What difference is it how the best head we have greets
his first born these days? What weight has it that the bravest hair of
all’s gone waiting on cheap tables or the most garrulous lives lonely by
a bad neighbor and has her south windows pestered with caterpillars? The
nights are long for lice combing or moon dodging—and the net comes in
empty again. Or there’s been no fish in this ford since Christian was a
baby. Yet up surges the good zest and the game’s on. Follow at my heels,
there’s little to tell you you’ld think a stoopsworth. You’ld pick the
same faces in a crowd no matter what I’d say. And you’ld be right too.
The path’s not yours till you’ve gone it alone a time. But here’s another
handful of west wind. White of the night! White of the night. Turn back
till I tell you a puzzle: What is it in the stilled face of an old
mender-man and winter not far off and a darky parts his wool, and wenches
wear of a Sunday? It’s a sparrow with a crumb in his beak dodging wheels
and clouds crossing two ways.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Virtue is not to be packed in a bag and carried off to the rag mill.
Perversions are righted and the upright are reversed, then the stream
takes a bend upon itself and the meaning turns a livid purple and drops
down in a whirlpool without so much as fraying a single fibre._



XI.


1

Why pretend to remember the weather two years back? Why not? Listen close
then repeat after others what they have just said and win a reputation
for vivacity. Oh feed upon petals of aedelweis! one dew drop, if it be
from the right flower, is five year’s drink!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Having once taken the plunge the situation that preceded it becomes
obsolete which a moment before was alive with malignant rigidities._


2

When beldams dig clams their fat hams (it’s always beldams) balanced
near Tellus’ hide, this rhinoceros pelt, these lumped stones—buffoonery
of midges on a bull’s thigh—invoke,—what you will: birth’s glut, awe at
God’s craft, youth’s poverty, evolution of a child’s caper, man’s poor
inconsequence. Eclipse of all things; sun’s self turned hen’s rump.


3

Cross a knife and fork and listen to the church bells! It is the harvest
moon’s made wine of our blood. Up over the dark factory into the blue
glare start the young poplars. They whisper: It is Sunday! It is Sunday!
But the laws of the county have been stripped bare of leaves. Out over
the marshes flickers our laughter. A lewd anecdote’s the chase. On
through the vapory heather! And there at banter’s edge the city looks at
us sidelong with great eyes,—lifts to its lips heavenly milk! Lucina, O
Lucina! beneficent cow, how have we offended thee?

       *       *       *       *       *

_Hilariously happy because of some obscure wine of the fancy which
they have drunk four rollicking companions take delight in the thought
that they have thus evaded the stringent laws of the county. Seeing the
distant city bathed in moonlight and staring seriously at them they liken
the moon to a cow and its light to milk._



XII.


1

The browned trees are singing for my thirty-fourth birthday. Leaves are
beginning to fall upon the long grass. Their cold perfume raises the
anticipation of sensational revolutions in my unsettled life. Violence
has begotten peace, peace has fluttered away in agitation. A bewildered
change has turned among the roots and the Prince’s kiss as far at sea as
ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

_To each age as to each person its perfections. But in these things there
is a kind of revolutionary sequence. So that a man having lain at ease
here and advanced there as time progresses the order of these things
becomes inverted. Thinking to have brought all to one level the man finds
his foot striking through where he had thought rock to be and stands
firm where he had experienced only a bog hitherto. At a loss to free
himself from bewilderment at this discovery he puts off the caress of the
imagination._


2

The trick is never to touch the world anywhere. Leave yourself at the
door, walk in, admire the pictures, talk a few words with the master of
the house, question his wife a little, rejoin yourself at the door—and go
off arm in arm listening to last week’s symphony played by angel hornsmen
from the benches of a turned cloud. Or if dogs rub too close and the poor
are too much out   let your friend answer them.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The poet being sad at the misery he has beheld that morning and seeing
several laughing fellows approaching puts himself in their way in order
to hear what they are saying. Gathering from their remarks that it is of
some sharp business by which they have all made an inordinate profit,
he allows his thoughts to play back upon the current of his own life.
And imagining himself to be two persons he eases his mind by putting his
burdens upon one while the other takes what pleasure there is before him._

Something to grow used to; a stone too big for ox haul, too near
for blasting. Take the road round it or—scrape away, scrape away: a
mountain’s buried in the dirt! Marry a gopher to help you! Drive her in!
Go yourself down along the lit pastures. Down, down. The whole family
take shovels, babies and all! Down, down! Here’s Tenochtitlan! here’s a
strange Darien where worms are princes.


3

But for broken feet beating, beating on worn flagstones I would have
danced to my knees at the fiddle’s first run. But here’s evening and
there they scamper back of the world chasing the sun round! And it’s
daybreak in Calcutta! So lay aside, let’s draw off from the town and look
back awhile. See, there it rises out of the swamp and the mists already
blowing their sleepy bagpipes.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Often a poem will have merit because of some one line or even one
meritorious word. So it hangs heavily on its stem but still secure, the
tree unwilling to release it._



XIII.


1

Their half sophisticated faces gripe me in the belly. There’s no business
to be done with them either way. They’re neither virtuous nor the other
thing, between which exist no perfections. Oh, the mothers will explain
that they are good girls. But these never guess that there’s more sense
in a sentence heard backward than forward most times. A country whose
flowers are without perfume and whose girls lack modesty—the saying
goes—. Dig deeper _mon ami_, the rock maidens are running naked in the
dark cellars.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In disgust at the spectacle of an excess of ripe flesh that, in
accordance with the local custom of the place he is in, will be left to
wither without ever achieving its full enjoyment, a young man of the
place consoles himself with a vision of perfect beauty._


2

I’ll not get it no matter how I try. Say it was a girl in black I held
open a street door for. Let it go at that. I saw a man an hour earlier I
liked better much better. But it’s not so easy to pass over. Perfection’s
not a thing you’ll let slip so easily. What a body! The little flattened
buttocks; the quiver of the flesh under the smooth fabric! Agh, it isn’t
that I want to go to bed with you. In fact what is there to say? except
the mind’s a queer nereid sometimes and flesh is at least as good a
gauze as words are: something of that. Something of mine—yours—hearts
on sleaves? Ah _zut_ what’s the use? It’s not that I’ve lost her again
either. It’s hard to tell loss from gain anyway.


3

The words of the thing twang and twitter to the gentle rocking of a
high-laced boot and the silk above that. The trick of the dance is in
following now the words, _allegro_, now the contrary beat of the glossy
leg: Reaching far over as if—But always she draws back and comes down
upon the word flatfooted. For a moment we—but the boot’s costly and the
play’s not mine. The pace leads off anew. Again the words break it and
we both comes down flatfooted. Then—near the knee, jumps to the eyes,
catching in the hair’s shadow. But the lips take the rhythm again and
again we come down flatfooted. By this time boredom takes a hand and the
play’s ended.



XIV.


1

The brutal Lord of All will rip us from each other—leave the one to
suffer here alone. No need belief in god or hell to postulate that
much. The dance: hands touching, leaves touching—eyes looking, clouds
rising—lips touching, cheeks touching, arms about … Sleep. Heavy head,
heavy arm, heavy dream—: Of Ymir’s flesh the earth was made and of his
thoughts were all the gloomy clouds created. Oya!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Out of bitterness itself the clear wine of the imagination will be
pressed and the dance prosper thereby._


2

To you! whoever you are, wherever you are! (But I know where you are!)
There’s Durer’s “Nemesis” naked on her sphere over the little town by
the river—except she’s too old. There’s a dancing burgess by Tenier
and Villon’s _maitress_—after he’d gone bald and was shin pocked and
toothless: she that had him ducked in the sewage drain. Then there’s
that miller’s daughter of “buttocks broad and breastes high”. Something
of Nietzsche, something of the good Samaritan, something of the devil
himself,—can cut a caper of a fashion, my fashion! Hey you, the dance!
Squat. Leap. Hips to the left. Chin—ha!—sideways! Stand up, stand up _ma
bonne_! you’ll break my backbone. So again! —and so forth till we’re
sweat soaked.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Some fools once were listening to a poet reading his poem. It so
happened that the words of the thing spoke of gross matters of the
everyday world such as are never much hidden from a quick eye. Out of
these semblances, and borrowing certain members from fitting masterpieces
of antiquity, the poet began piping up his music, simple fellow, thinking
to please his listeners. But they getting the whole matter sadly muddled
in their minds made such a confused business of listening that not only
were they not pleased at the poet’s exertions but no sooner had he done
than they burst out against him with violent imprecations._


3

It’s all one. Richard worked years to conquer the descending cadence,
idiotic sentimentalist. Ha, for happiness! This tore the dress in ribbons
from her maid’s back and not spared the nails either; wild anger spit
from her pinched eyes! This is the better part. Or a child under a table
to be dragged out coughing and biting, eyes glittering evilly. I’ll have
it my way! Nothing is any pleasure but misery and brokeness. THIS is the
only up-cadence. This is where the secret rolls over and opens its eyes.
Bitter words spoken to a child ripple in morning light! Boredom from a
bedroom doorway thrills with anticipation! The complaints of an old man
dying piecemeal are starling chirrups. Coughs go singing on springtime
paths across a field; corruption picks strawberries and slow warping
of the mind, blacking the deadly walls—counted and recounted—rolls in
the grass and shouts ecstatically. All is solved! The moaning and dull
sobbing of infants sets blood tingling and eyes ablaze to listen. Speed
sings in the heels at long nights tossing on coarse sheets with burning
sockets staring into the black. Dance! Sing! Coil and uncoil! Whip
yourselves about! Shout the deliverence! An old woman has infected her
blossomy grand-daughter with a blood illness that every two weeks drives
the mother into hidden songs of agony, the pad-footed mirage of creeping
death for music. The face muscles keep pace. Then a darting about the
compass in a tarantelle that wears flesh from bones. Here is dancing! The
mind in tatters. And so the music wistfully takes the lead. _Aye de mi,
Juana la Loca, reina de Espagna, esa esta tu canta, reina mia!_



XV.


1

’N! cha! cha! cha! destiny needs men, so make up your mind. Here’s an oak
filling the wind’s space. Out with him!

By carefully prepared stages come down through the vulgarities of a
cupiscent girlhood to the barren distinction of this cold six A. M. Her
pretty, pinched face is a very simple tune but it carries now a certain
quasi-maidenly distinction. It’s not at least what you’d have heard six
years back when she was really virgin.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Often when the descent seems well marked there will be a subtle
ascent over-ruling it so that in the end when the degradation is fully
anticipated the person will be found to have emerged upon a hilltop._


2

Such an old sinner knows the lit-edged clouds. No spring days like those
that come in October. Strindberg had the eyes for Swan White! So make my
bed with yours, tomorrow…? Tomorrow … the hospital.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Seeing his life at an end a miserable fellow, much accustomed to evil,
wishes for the companionship of youth and beauty before he dies and in
exchange thinks to proffer that praise which due to the kind of life he
has led he is most able to give._


3

Here’s a new sort of April clouds: whiffs of dry snow on the polished
roadway that, curled by the wind, lie in feathery figures. Oh but April’s
not to be hedged that simply. She was a Scotch lady and made her own
butter and they grew their own rye. It was the finest bread I ever
tasted. And how we used to jump in the hay! When he lost his money she
kept a boarding house.… But this is nothing to the story that should have
been written could he have had time to jot it all down: of how Bertha’s
lips are turned and her calf also and how she weighs 118 pounds. Do I
think that is much? Hagh! And her other perfections. Ruin the girl? Oh
there are fifty niceties that—being virtuous, oh glacially virtuous—one
might consider, i.e. whose touch is the less venomous and by virtue of
what sanction? Love, my good friends has never held sway in more than a
heart or two here and there since—? All beauty stands upon the edge of
the deflowering. I confess I wish my wife younger. This is the lewdest
thought possible: it makes mockery of the spirit, say you? Solitary
poet who speaks his mind and has not one fellow in a virtuous world! I
wish for youth! I wish for love—! I see well what passes in the street
and much that passes in the mind. You’ll say this has nothing in it of
chastity. Ah well, chastity is a lily of the valley that only a fool
would mock. There is no whiter nor no sweeter flower—but once past, the
rankest stink comes from the soothest petals. Heigh-ya! A crib from our
mediæval friend Shakespeare.

       *       *       *       *       *

_That which is heard from the lips of those to whom we are talking in
our day’s-affairs mingles with what we see in the streets and everywhere
about us as it mingles also with our imaginations. By this chemistry is
fabricated a language of the day which shifts and reveals its meaning as
clouds shift and turn in the sky and sometimes send down rain or snow
or hail. This is the language to which few ears are tuned so that it
is said by poets that few men are ever in their full senses since they
have no way to use their imaginations. Thus to say that a man has no
imagination is to say nearly that he is blind or deaf. But of old poets
would translate this hidden language into a kind of replica of the speech
of the world with certain distinctions of rhyme and meter to show that it
was not really that speech. Nowadays the elements of that language are
set down as heard and the imagination of the listener and of the poet are
left free to mingle in the dance._



XVI.


1

_Per le pillole d’Ercole!_ I should write a happy poem tonight. It would
have to do with a bare, upstanding fellow whose thighs bulge with a
zest for—say, a zest! He tries his arm. Flings a stone over the river.
Scratches his bare back. Twirls his beard, laughs softly and stretches
up his arms in a yawn. —stops in the midst—looking! A white flash over
against the oak stems! Draws in his belly. Looks again. In three motions
is near the stream’s middle, swinging forward, hugh, hugh, hugh, hugh,
blinking his eyes against the lapping wavelets! Out! and the sting of the
thicket!

       *       *       *       *       *

_The poet transforms himself into a satyr and goes in pursuit of a white
skinned dryad. The gaiety of his mood full of lustihood, even so, turns
back with a mocking jibe._


2

Giants in the dirt. The gods, the Greek gods, smothered in filth and
ignorance. The race is scattered over the world. Where is its home?
Find it if you’ve the genius. Here Hebe with a sick jaw and a cruel
husband,—her mother left no place for a brain to grow. Herakles rowing
boats on Berry’s Creek! Zeus is a country doctor without a taste for
coin jingling. Supper is of a bastard nectar on rare nights for they
will come—the rare nights! The ground lifts and out sally the heroes of
Sophocles, of Æschylus. They go seeping down into our hearts, they rain
upon us and in the bog they sink again down through the white roots,
down—to a saloon back of the rail-road switch where they have that girl,
you know, the one that should have been Venus by the lust that’s in her.
They’ve got her down there among the railroad men. A crusade couldn’t
rescue her. Up to jail—or call it down to Limbo—the Chief of Police our
Pluto. It’s all of the gods, there’s nothing else worth writing of. They
are the same men they always were—but fallen. Do they dance now, they
that danced beside Helicon? They dance much as they did then, only, few
have an eye for it, through the dirt and fumes.

_When they came to question the girl before the local judge it was
discovered that there were seventeen men more or less involved so that
there was nothing to do but to declare the child a common bastard and
send the girl about her business. Her mother took her in and after the
brat died of pneumonia a year later she called in the police one day. An
officer opened the bedroom door. The girl was in bed with an eighteenth
fellow, a young roaming loafer with a silly grin to his face. They forced
a marriage which relieved the mother of her burden. The girl was weak
minded so that it was only with the greatest difficulty that she could
cover her moves, in fact she never could do so with success._


3

Homer sat in a butcher’s shop one rainy night and smelt fresh meat near
him so he moved to the open window. It is infinitely important that I do
what I well please in the world. What you please is that I please what
you please but what I please is well rid of you before I turn off from
the path into the field. What I am, why that they made me. What I do,
why that I choose for myself. Reading shows, you say. Yes, reading shows
reading. What you read is what they think and what they think is twenty
years old or twenty thousand and it’s all one to the little girl in the
_pissoir_. Likewise to me. But the butcher was a friendly fellow so he
took the carcass outside thinking Homer to be no more than any other
beggar.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A man’s carcass has no more distinction than the carcass of an ox._



XVII.


1

Little round moon up there—wait awhile—do not walk so quickly. I could
sing you a song—: Wine clear the sky is and the stars no bigger than
sparks! Wait for me and next winter we’ll build a fire and shake up
twists of sparks out of it and you shall see yourself in the ashes,
young—as you were one time.

       *       *       *       *       *

_It has always been the fashion to talk about the moon._


2

This that I have struggled against is the very thing I should have
chosen—but all’s right now. They said I could not put the flower back
into the stem nor win roses upon dead briars and I like a fool believed
them. But all’s right now. Weave away, dead fingers, the darkies are
dancing in Mayaguez—all but one with the sore heel and sugar cane will
soon be high enough to romp through. Haia! leading over the ditches,
with your skirts flying and the devil in the wind back of you—no one
else. Weave away and the bitter tongue of an old woman is eating, eating,
eating venomous words with thirty years mould on them and all shall be
eaten back to honeymoon’s end. Weave and pangs of agony and pangs of
loneliness are beaten backward into the love kiss, weave and kiss recedes
into kiss and kisses into looks and looks into the heart’s dark—and
over again and over again and time’s pushed ahead in spite of all that.
The petals that fell bearing me under are lifted one by one. That which
kissed my flesh for priest’s lace so that I could not touch it—weave
and you have lifted it and I am glimpsing light chinks among the notes!
Backward, and my hair is crisp with purple sap and the last crust’s
broken.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A woman on the verge of growing old kindles in the mind of her son a
certain curiosity which spinning upon itself catches the woman herself
in its wheel, stripping from her the accumulations of many harsh years
and shows her at last full of an old time suppleness hardly to have been
guessed by the stiffened exterior which had held her fast till that time._


3

Once again the moon in a glassy twilight. The gas jet in the third floor
window is turned low, they have not drawn the shade, sends down a flat
glare upon the lounge’s cotton-Persian cover where the time passes with
clumsy caresses. Never in this _millieu_ has one stirred himself to turn
up the light. It is costly to leave a jet burning at all. Feel your way
to the bed. Drop your clothes on the floor and creep in. Flesh becomes
so accustomed to the touch   she will not even waken. And so hours pass
and not a move. The room too falls asleep and the street outside falls
mumbling into a heap of black rags   morning’s at seven—

       *       *       *       *       *

_Seeing a light in an upper window the poet by means of the power he has
enters the room and of what he sees there brews himself a sleep potion._



XVIII.


1

How deftly we keep love from each other. It is no trick at all: the
movement of a cat that leaps a low barrier. You have—if the truth be
known—loved only one man and that was before my time. Past him you have
never thought nor desired to think. In his perfections you are perfect.
You are likewise perfect in other things. You present to me the surface
of a marble. And I, we will say, loved also before your time. Put it
quite obscenely. And I have my perfections. So here we present ourselves
to each other naked. What have we effected? Say we have aged a little
together and you have borne children. We have in short thriven as the
world goes. We have proved fertile. The children are apparently healthy.
One of them is even whimsical and one has an unusual memory and a keen
eye. But—It is not that we have not felt a certain rumbling, a certain
stirring of the earth but what has it amounted to? Your first love and
mine were of different species. There is only one way out. It is   for me
to take up my basket of words and for you to sit at your piano, each his
own way, until I have, if it so be that good fortune smile my way, made a
shrewd bargain at some fair and so by dint of heavy straining supplanted
in your memory the brilliance of the old firmhold. Which is impossible.
Ergo: I am a blackguard.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The act is disclosed by the imagination of it. But of first importance
is to realize that the imagination leads and the deed comes behind.
First Don Quixote then Sancho Panza. So that the act, to win its praise,
will win it in diverse fashions according to the way the imagination has
taken. Thus a harsh deed will sometimes win its praise through laughter
and sometimes through savage mockery, and a deed of simple kindness will
come to its reward through sarcastic comment. Each thing is secure in its
own perfections._


2

After thirty years staring at one true phrase he discovered that its
opposite was true also. For weeks he laughed in the grip of a fierce
self derision. Having lost the falsehood to which he’d fixed his hawser
he rolled drunkenly about the field of his environment before the new
direction began to dawn upon his cracked mind. What a fool ever to be
tricked into seriousness. Soft hearted, hard hearted. Thick crystals
began to shoot through the liquid of his spirit. Black, they were:
branches that have lain in a fog which now a wind is blowing away.
Things move. Fatigued as you are watch how the mirror sieves out the
extraneous: in sleep as in waking. Summoned to his door by a tinkling
bell he looked into a white face, the face of a man convulsed with
dread, saw the laughter back of its drawn alertness. Out in the air:
the sidesplitting burlesque of a sparkling midnight stooping over a
little house on a sandbank. The city at the horizon blowing a lurid red
against the flat cloud. The moon masquerading for a tower clock over the
factory, its hands in a gesture that, were time real, would have settled
all. But the delusion convulses the leafless trees with the deepest
appreciation of the mummery: insolent poking of a face upon the half-lit
window from which the screams burst. So the man alighted in the great
silence, with a myopic star blinking to clear its eye over his hat top.
He comes to do good. Fatigue tickles his calves and the lower part of
his back with solicitous fingers, strokes his feet and his knees with
appreciative charity. He plunges up the dark steps on his grotesque deed
of mercy. In his warped brain an owl of irony fixes on the immediate
object of his care as if it were the thing to be destroyed, guffaws at
the impossibility of putting any kind of value on the object inside or of
even reversing or making less by any other means than induced sleep—which
is no solution—the methodical gripe of the sufferer. Stupidity couched
in a dingy room beside the kitchen. One room stove-hot, the next the
dead cold of a butcher’s ice box. The man leaned and cut the baby from
its stem. Slop in disinfectant, roar with derision at the insipid blood
stench: hallucination comes to the rescue on the brink of seriousness:
the gas-stove flame is starblue, violets back of L’Orloge at Lancy. The
smile of a spring morning trickles into the back of his head and blinds
the eyes to the irritation of the poppy red flux. A cracked window blind
lets in Venus. Stars. The hand-lamp is too feeble to have its own way.
The vanity of their neck stretching, trying to be large as a street-lamp
sets him roaring to himself anew. And rubber gloves, the color of moist
dates, the identical glisten and texture: means a ballon trip to Fez.
So one is a ridiculous savior of the poor, with fatigue always at his
elbow with a new jest, the newest smutty story, the prettiest defiance
of insipid pretences that cannot again assert divine right—nonsensical
gods that are fit to lick shoes clean: and the great round face of Sister
Palagia straining to keep composure against the jaws of a body louse. In
at the back door. We have been a benefactor. The cross laughter has been
denied us but one cannot have more than the appetite sanctions.


3

Awake early to the white blare of a sun flooding in sidewise. Strip and
bathe in it. Ha, but an ache tearing at your throat—and a vague cinema
lifting its black moon blot all out. There’s no walking barefoot in
the crisp leaves nowadays. There’s no dancing save in the head’s dark.
Go draped in soot; call on modern medicine to help you: the coal man’s
blowing his thin dust up through the house! Why then, a new step lady!
I’ll meet you—you know where—o’ the dark side! Let the wheel click.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In the mind there is a continual play of obscure images which coming
between the eyes and their prey seem pictures on the screen at the
movies. Somewhere there appears to be a maladjustment. The wish would
be to see not floating visions of unknown purport but the imaginative
qualities of the actual things being perceived accompany their gross
vision in a slow dance, interpreting as they go. But inasmuch as this
will not always be the case one must dance nevertheless as he can._



XIX.


1

Carry clapping bundles of lath-strips, adjust, dig, saw on a diagonal,
hammer a thousand ends fast and discover afterward the lattice-arbor
top’s two clean lines in a dust of dew. There are days when leaves have
knife’s edges and one sees only eye-pupils, fixes every catchpenny in a
shop window and every wire against the sky but—goes puzzled from vista to
vista in his own house staring under beds for God knows what all.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A lattice screen say fifty feet long by seven high, such a thing as
is built to cut off some certain part of a yard from public view, is
surprisingly expensive to put up. The wooden strips alone, if they are
placed at all close together must be figured solid, as if it were a board
fence. Then there are the posts, the frames, the trimming, the labor and
last of all the two coats of paint. Is it a wonder the artisan cannot
afford more than the luxury of these calculations._


2

Imperceptibly your self shakes free in all its brutal significance, feels
its subtle power renewed and   abashed at its covered lustihood   breaks
to the windows and draws back before the sunshine it sees there as before
some imagined figure that would be there if—ah if—But for a moment your
hand rests upon the palace window sill, only for a moment.


3

It is not fair   to be old, to put on a brown sweater. It is not just
to walk out of a November evening bare headed and with white hair in the
wind. Oh the cheeks are ruddy enough and the grin broad enough,   it’s
not that. Worse is to ride a wheel, a glittering machine that runs
without knowing to move. It is no part of the eternal truth to wear white
canvas shoes and a pink coat. It is a damnable lie to be fourteen. The
curse of God is on her head! Who can speak of justice when young men
wear round hats and carry bundles wrapped in paper. It is a case for
the supreme court to button a coat in the wind, no matter how icy. Lewd
to touch an arm at a crossing; the shame of it screams to the man in a
window. The horrible misery brought on by the use of black shoes is more
than the wind will ever swallow. To move at all is worse than murder,
worse than Jack the Ripper. It’s lies, walking, spitting, breathing,
coughing lies that bloom, shine sun, shine moon. Unfair to see or be
seen, snatch-purses work. Eat hands full of ashes, angels have lived on
it time without end. Are you better than an angel? Let judges giggle
to each other over their benches and use dirty towels in the anteroom.
Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw! at the heads of felons.… There was a baroness lived in
Hungary bathed twice monthly in virgin’s blood.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A mother will love her children most grotesquely. I do not mean by that
more than the term “perversely” perhaps more accurately describes. Oh I
mean the most commonplace of mothers. She will be most willing toward
that daughter who thwarts her most and not toward the little kitchen
helper. So where one is mother to any great number of people he will
love best perhaps some child whose black and peculiar hair is an exact
replica of that of the figure in Velasques’, Infanta Maria Theresa or
some Italian matron whose largeness of manner takes in the whole street.
These things relate to inner perfections which it would be profitless to
explain._



XX.


1

Where does this downhill turn up again? Driven to the wall you’d put
claws to your toes and make a ladder of smooth bricks. But this, this
scene shifting that has clipped the clouds’ stems and left them to
flutter down; heaped them at the feet, so much hay, so much bull’s
fodder. (_Au moins_, you cannot deny you have the clouds to grasp now,
_mon ami_!) Climb now? The wall’s clipped off too, only its roots are
left. Come, here’s an iron hoop from a barrel once held nectar to gnaw
spurs out of.


2

You cannot hold spirit round the arms but it takes lies for wings, turns
poplar leaf and flutters off—leaving the old stalk desolate. There’s much
pious pointing at the sky but on the other side few know how youth’s
won again, the pesty spirit shed each ten years for more skin room. And
who’ll say what’s pious or not pious or how I’ll sing praise to God?
Many a morning, were’t not for a cup of coffee, a man would be lonesome
enough no matter how his child gambols. And for the boy? There’s no craft
in him; it’s this or that, the thing’s done and tomorrow’s another day.
But   if you push him too close, try for the butterflies, you’ll have a
devil at the table.


3

One need not be hopelessly cast down because he cannot cut onyx into a
ring to fit a lady’s finger. You hang your head. There is neither onyx
nor porphyry on these roads—only brown dirt. For all that, one may see
his face in a flower along it—even in this light. Eyes only and for a
flash only. Oh, keep the neck bent, plod with the back to the split
dark! Walk in the curled mudcrusts to one side, hands hanging. Ah well.…
Thoughts are trees! Ha, ha, ha, ha! Leaves load the branches and upon
them white night sits kicking her heels against the stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A poem can be made of anything. This is a portrait of a disreputable
farm hand made out of the stuff of his environment._



XXI.


1

There’s the bathtub. Look at it, caustically rejecting its smug proposal.
Ponder removedly the herculean task of a bath. There’s much cameraderie
in filth but it’s no’ that. And change is lightsome but it’s not that
either. Fresh linen with a dab here, there of the wet paw serves me
better. Take a stripling stroking chin-fuzz, match his heart against that
of grandpa watching his silver wane. When these two are compatible I’ll
plunge in. But where’s the edge lifted between sunlight and moonlight.
Where does lamplight cease to nick it? Here’s hot water.

       *       *       *       *       *

_It is the mark of our civilization that all houses today include a room
for the relief and washing of the body, a room ingeniously appointed with
water-vessels of many and curious sorts. There is nothing in antiquity to
equal this._


2

Neatness and finish; the dust out of every corner! You swish from room
to room and find all perfect. The house may now be carefully wrapped
in brown paper and sent to a publisher. It is a work of art. You look
rather askance at me. Do not believe I cannot guess your mind, yet I have
my studies. You see, when the wheel’s just at the up turn it glimpses
horizon, zenith, all in a burst, the pull of the earth shaken off, a
scatter of fragments, significance in a burst of water striking up from
the base of a fountain. Then at the sickening turn toward death the
pieces are joined into a pretty thing, a bouquet frozen in an ice-cake.
_This_ is art, _mon cher_, a thing to carry up with you on the next turn;
a very small thing, inconceivably feathery.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Live as they will together a husband and wife give each other many a
sidelong glance at unlikely moments. Each watches the other out of the
tail of his eye. Always it seems some drunkeness is waiting to unite
them. First one then the other empties some carafe of spirits forgetting
that two lumps of earth are neither wiser nor sadder.… A man watches his
wife clean house. He is filled with knowledge by his wife’s exertions.
This is incomprehensible to her. Knowing she will never understand his
excitement he consoles himself with the thought of art._


3

The pretension of these doors to broach or to conclude our pursuits, our
meetings,—of these papered walls to separate our thoughts of impossible
tomorrows and these ceilings—that are a jest at shelter.… It is laughter
gone mad—of a holiday—that has frozen into this—what shall I say? Call
it, this house of ours, the crystal itself of laughter, thus peaked and
faceted.

       *       *       *       *       *

_It is a popular superstition that a house is somehow the possession of
the man who lives in it. But a house has no relation whatever to anything
but itself. The architect feels the rhythm of the house drawing his mind
into opaque partitions in which doors appear, then windows and so on
until out of the vague or clearcut mind of the architect the ill-built or
deftly-built house has been empowered to draw stone and timbers into a
foreappointed focus. If one shut the door of a house he is to that extent
a carpenter._


_Coda_

Outside, the north wind, coming and passing, swelling and dying, lifts
the frozen sand   drives it arattle against the lidless windows   and
we   my dear   sit   stroking the cat   stroking the cat and smiling
sleepily, prrrrr.

       *       *       *       *       *

_A house is sometimes wine. It is more than a skin. The young pair
listen attentively to the roar of the weather. The blustering cold takes
on the shape of a destructive presence. They loosen their imaginations.
The house seems protecting them. They relax gradually as though in the
keep of a benevolent protector. Thus the house becomes a wine which has
drugged them out of their senses._



XXII.


1

This is a slight stiff dance to a waking baby whose arms have been lying
curled back above his head upon the pillow, making a flower—the eyes
closed. Dead to the world! Waking is a little hand brushing away dreams.
Eyes open. Here’s a new world.

       *       *       *       *       *

_There is nothing the sky-serpent will not eat. Sometimes it stoops to
gnaw Fujiyama, sometimes to slip its long and softly clasping tongue
about the body of a sleeping child who smiles thinking its mother is
lifting it._


2

Security, solidity—we laugh at them in our clique. It is tobacco to
us, this side of her leg. We put it in our samovar and make tea of it.
You see the stuff has possibilities. You think you are opposing the
rich but the truth is you’re turning toward authority yourself, to say
nothing of religion. No, I do not say it means nothing. Why everything
is nicely adjusted to our moods. But I would rather describe to you what
I saw in the kitchen last night—overlook the girl a moment: there over
the sink (1) this saucepan holds all, (2) this colander holds most,
(3) this wire sieve lets most go and (4) this funnel holds nothing.
You appreciate the progression. What need then to be always laughing?
Quit phrase making—that is, not of course—but you will understand me
or if not—why—come to breakfast sometime around evening on the fourth
of January any year you please; always be punctual   where eating is
concerned.

       *       *       *       *       *

_My little son’s improvisations exceed mine: a round stone to him’s a
loaf of bread or “this hen could lay a dozen golden eggs”. Birds fly
about his bedstead; giants lean over him with hungry jaws; bears roam
the farm by summer and are killed and quartered at a thought. There
are interminable stories at eating time full of bizarre imagery, true
grotesques, pigs that change to dogs in the telling, cows that sing,
roosters that become mountains and oceans that fill a soup plate.
There are groans and growls, dun clouds and sunshine mixed in a huge
phantasmagoria that never rests, never ceases to unfold into—the day’s
poor little happenings. Not that alone. He has music which I have not.
His tunes follow no scale, no rhythm—alone the mood in odd ramblings up
and down, over and over with a rigor of invention that rises beyond the
power to follow except in some more obvious flight. Never have I heard so
crushing a critique as those desolate inventions, involved half-hymns,
after his first visit to a Christian sunday school._


3

This song is to Phyllis! By this deep snow I know it’s springtime, not
ring time! Good God no! The screaming brat’s a sheep bleating, the
rattling crib-side sheep shaking a bush. We are young! We are happy! says
Colin. What’s an icy room and the sun not up? This song is to Phyllis.
Reproduction lets death in, says Joyce. Rot, say I. To Phyllis   this
song is!

       *       *       *       *       *

_That which is known has value only by virtue of the dark. This cannot
be otherwise. A thing known passes out of the mind into the muscles, the
will is quit of it, save only when set into vibration by the forces of
darkness opposed to it._



XXIII.


1

Baaaa! Ba-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! _Bebe esa purga._ It is the goats of
Santo Domingo talking. _Bebe esa purga!_ Bebeesapurga! And the answer is:
_Yo no lo quiero beber!_ Yonoloquierobeber!

       *       *       *       *       *

_It is nearly pure luck that gets the mind turned inside out in a work
of art. There is nothing more difficult than to write a poem. It is
something of a matter of slight of hand. The poets of the T’ang dynasty
or of the golden age in Greece or even the Elizabethans: it’s a kind of
alchemy of form, a deft bottling of a fermenting language. Take Dante
and his Tuscan dialect— It’s a matter of position. The empty form drops
from a cloud, like a gourd from a vine; into it the poet packs his
phallus-like argument._


2

The red huckleberry bushes running miraculously along the ground among
the trees everywhere,   except where the land’s tilled, these keep
her from that tiredness the earth’s touch lays up under the soles
of feet. She runs beyond the wood   follows the swiftest along the
roads   laughing among the birch clusters   her face in the yellow
leaves   the curls before her eyes   her mouth half open. This is a
person in particular   there where they have her—and I have only a wraith
in the birch trees.

       *       *       *       *       *

_It is not the lusty bodies of the nearly naked girls in the shows about
town, nor the blare of the popular tunes that make money for the manager.
The girls can be procured rather more easily in other ways and the music
is dirt cheap. It is that this meat is savored with a strangeness which
never looses its fresh taste to generation after generation, either of
dancers or those who watch. It is beauty escaping, spinning up over the
heads, blown out at the overtaxed vents by the electric fans._


3

       *       *       *       *       *

_In many poor and sentimental households it is a custom to have cheap
prints in glass frames upon the walls. These are of all sorts and many
sizes and may be found in any room from the kitchen to the toilet. The
drawing is always of the worst and the colors, not gaudy but almost
always of faint indeterminate tints, are infirm. Yet a delicate accuracy
exists between these prints and the environment which breeds them. But
as if to intensify this relationship words are added. There will be a
“sentiment” as it is called, a rhyme, which the picture illuminates. Many
of these pertain to love. This is well enough when the bed is new and the
young couple spend the long winter nights there in delightful seclusion.
But childbirth follows in its time and a motto still hangs above the bed.
It is only then that the full ironical meaning of these prints leaves the
paper and the frame and starting through the glass takes undisputed sway
over the household._



XXIV.


1

I like the boy. It’s years back I began to draw him to me—or he was
pushed my way by the others. And what if there’s no sleep because the
bed’s burning; is that a reason to send a chap to Greystone! Greystone!
There’s a name if you’ve any tatter of mind left in you. It’s the long
back, narrowing that way at the waist perhaps whets the chisel in me.
How the flanks flutter and the heart races. Imagination! That’s the worm
in the apple. What if it run to paralyses and blind fires, here’s sense
loose in a world set on foundations. Blame buzzards for the eyes they
have.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Buzzards, granted their disgusting habit in regard to meat, have eyes of
a power equal to that of the eagles’._


2

Five miscarriages since January is a considerable record Emily dear—but
hearken to me: The Pleiades—that small cluster of lights in the sky
there—. You’d better go on in the house before you catch cold. Go on now!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Carelessness of heart is a virtue akin to the small lights of the stars.
But it is sad to see virtues in those who have not the gift of the
imagination to value them._

Damn me I feel sorry for them. Yet syphilis is no more than a wild
pink in the rock’s cleft. I know that. Radicals and capitalists doing a
can-can tread the ground clean. Luck to the feet then. Bring a Russian to
put a fringe to the rhythm. What’s the odds? Commiseration cannot solve
calculus. Calculus is a stone. Frost’ll crack it. Till then, there’s
many a good back-road among the clean raked fields of hell where autumn
flowers are blossoming.

_Pathology literally speaking is a flower garden. Syphilis covers the
body with salmon-red petals. The study of medicine is an inverted sort of
horticulture. Over and above all this floats the philosophy of disease
which is a stern dance. One of its most delightful gestures is bringing
flowers to the sick._


3

For a choice? Go to bed at three in the afternoon with your clothes on:
dreams for you! Here’s an old bonnefemme in a pokebonnet staring into the
rear of a locomotive. Or if this prove too difficult take a horse-drag
made of green limbs, a kind of leaf cloth. Up the street with it! Ha,
how the tar clings. Here’s glee for the children. All’s smeared. Green’s
black. Leap like a devil, clap hands and cast around for more. Here’s a
pine wood driven head down into a mud-flat to build a school on. Oh la,
la! sand pipers made mathematicians at the state’s cost.



XXV.


1

There’s force to this cold sun, makes beard stubble stand shinily. We
look, we pretend great things to our glass—rubbing our chin: This is a
profound comedian who grimaces deeds into slothful breasts. This is a
sleepy president, without followers save oak leaves—but their coats are
of the wrong color. This is a farmer—plowed a field in his dreams and
since that time—goes stroking the weeds that choke his furrows. This is a
poet left his own country—

       *       *       *       *       *

_The simple expedient of a mirror has practical use for arranging the
hair, for observation of the set of a coat, etc. But as an exercise for
the mind the use of a mirror cannot be too highly recommended. Nothing
of a mechanical nature could be more conducive to that elasticity of
the attention which frees the mind for the enjoyment of its special
prerogatives._


2

A man can shoot his spirit up out of a wooden house, that is, through
the roof—the roof’s slate—but how far? It is of final importance to know
that. To say the world turns under my feet and that I watch it passing
with a smile is neither the truth nor my desire. But I would wish to
stand—you’ve seen the kingfisher do it—where the largest town might be
taken in my two hands, as high let us say as a man’s head—some one man
not too far above the clouds. What would I do then? Oh I’d hold my sleeve
over the sun awhile to make church bells ring.

       *       *       *       *       *

_It is obvious that if in flying an airplane one reached such an altitude
that all sense of direction and every intelligible perception of the
world were lost there would be nothing left to do but to come down to
that point at which eyes regained their power._

Towels will stay in a heap—if the window’s shut   and oil in a bottle—if
the cork’s there. But if the meat’s not cut to suit it’s no use rising
before sun up, you’ll never sweep the dust from these floors. Hide smiles
among the tall glasses in the cupboard, come back when you think the
trick’s done and you’ll find only dead flies there. It’s beyond hope. You
were not born of a Monday.

       *       *       *       *       *

_There are divergences of humor that cannot be reconciled. A young woman
of much natural grace of manner and very apt at a certain color of lie
is desirous of winning the good graces of one only slightly her elder
but nothing comes of her exertions. Instead of yielding to a superficial
advantage she finally gives up the task and continues in her own delicate
bias of peculiar and beautiful design much to the secret delight of
the onlooker who is thus regaled by the spectacle of two exquisite and
divergent natures playing one against the other._


3

Hark! There’s laughter! These fight and draw nearer, we—fight and draw
apart. They know the things they say are true bothways, we miss the
joke—try to—Oh, try to. Let it go at that. There again! Real laughter. At
least we have each other in the ring of that music. “He saved a little
then had to go and die”. But isn’t it the same with all of us? Not at
all. Some laugh and laugh, with little grey eyes looking out through
the chinks—but not brown eyes rolled up in a full roar. One can’t have
everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Going along an illworn dirt road on the outskirts of a mill town one
Sunday afternoon two lovers who have quarreled hear the loud cursing and
shouts of drunken laborers and their women, followed by loud laughter and
wish that their bodies were two fluids in the same vessel. Then they fall
to twitting each other on the many ways of laughing._



XXVI.


1

Doors have a back side also. And grass blades are double-edged. It’s no
use trying to deceive me, leaves fall more by the buds that push them off
than by lack of greenness. Or throw two shoes on the floor and see how
they’ll lie   if you think it’s all one way.


2

There is no truth—sh!—but the honest truth and that is that touch-me-nots
mean nothing, that daisies at a distance seem mushrooms and that—your
japanese silk today was not the sky’s blue but your pajamas now as you
lean over the crib’s edge are   and day’s in! Grassgreen the mosquito net
caught over your head’s butt for foliage. What else? except odors—an old
hallway. Moresco. Salvago. —and a game of socker. I was too nervous and
young to win—that day.


3

All that seem solid: melancholias, _idees fixes_, eight years at the
academy, Mr. Locke, this year and the next and the next—one like
another—whee!—they are April zephyrs, were one a Botticelli, between
their chinks, pink anemones.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Often it happens that in a community of no great distinction some
fellow of superficial learning but great stupidity will seem to be rooted
in the earth of the place   the most solid figure imaginable   impossible
to remove him._



XXVII.


1

The particular thing, whether it be four pinches of four divers white
powders cleverly compounded to cure surely, safely, pleasantly a painful
twitching of the eyelids or say a pencil sharpened at one end, dwarfs
the imagination, makes logic a butterfly, offers a finality that sends
us spinning through space, a fixity the mind could climb forever, a
revolving mountain, a complexity with a surface of glass: the gist of
poetry. _D. C. al fin._


2

There is no thing that with a twist of the imagination cannot be
something else. Porpoises risen in a green sea, the wind at nightfall
bending the rose-red grasses and you—in your apron running to catch—say
it seems to you to be your son. How ridiculous! You will pass up into
a cloud and look back at me, not count the scribbling foolish that put
wings to your heels, at your knees.


3

Sooner or later   as with the leaves   forgotten the swinging branch
long since   and summer: they scurry before a wind on the frost-baked
ground—have no place to rest—somehow invoke a burst of warm days   not of
the past   nothing decayed: crisp summer!—neither a copse for resurrected
frost eaters   but a summer removed   undestroyed   a summer of dried
leaves scurrying with a screech, to and fro in the half dark—twittering,
chattering, scraping. Hagh!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Seeing the leaves dropping from the high and low branches the thought
rises: this day of all others is the one chosen, all other days fall away
from it on either side and only itself remains in perfect fulness. It
is its own summer, of its leaves as they scrape on the smooth ground it
must build its perfection. The gross summer of the year is only a halting
counterpart of those fiery days of secret triumph which in reality
themselves paint the year as if upon a parchment, giving each season a
mockery of the warmth or frozeness which is within ourselves. The true
seasons blossom or wilt not in fixed order but so that many of them may
pass in a few weeks or hours whereas sometimes a whole life passes and
the season remains of a piece from one end to the other._


THE END.





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