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A Minor Poet and other Verse. Levy, Amy, 1861–1889.
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page: 13

A Minor Poet.

“What should such fellows as I do,

Crawling between earth and heaven?”


  • Here is the phial ; here I turn the key
  • Sharp in the lock. Click !—there’s no doubt it turned.
  • This is the third time ; there is luck in threes—
  • Queen Luck, that rules the world, befriend me now
  • And freely I’ll forgive you many wrongs !
  • Just as the draught began to work, first time,
  • Tom Leigh, my friend (as friends go in the world),
  • Burst in, and drew the phial from my hand,
  • (Ah, Tom ! ah, Tom ! that was a sorry turn !)
  • And lectured me a lecture, all compact
  • Of neatest, newest phrases, freshly culled
  • From works of newest culture : “common good ;”
  • “The world’s great harmonies ;”“must be content
  • With knowing God works all things for the best,
  • And Nature never stumbles.” Then again,
  • “The common good,” and still, “the common, good ;”
  • page: 14
  • And what a small thing was our joy or grief
  • When weigh’d with that of thousands. Gentle Tom,
  • But you might wag your philosophic tongue
  • From morn till eve, and still the thing’s the same :
  • I am myself, as each man is himself—
  • Feels his own pain, joys his own joy, and loves
  • With his own love, no other’s. Friend, the world
  • Is but one man ; one man is but the world.
  • And I am I, and you are Tom, that bleeds
  • When needles prick your flesh (mark, yours, not mine).
  • I must confess it; I can feel the pulse
  • A‐beating at my heart, yet never knew
  • The throb of cosmic pulses. I lament
  • The death of youth’s ideal in my heart ;
  • And, to be honest, never yet rejoiced
  • In the world’s progress—scarce, indeed, discerned ;
  • (For still it seems that God’s a Sisyphus
  • With the world for stone).
  • You shake your head. I’m base,
  • Ignoble? Who is noble—you or I ?
  • I was not once thus ? Ah, my friend, we are
  • As the Fates make us.
  • This time is the third ;
  • The second time the flask fell from my hand,
  • page: 15
  • Its drowsy juices spilt upon the board ;
  • And there my face fell flat, and all the life
  • Crept from my limbs, and hand and foot were bound
  • With mighty chains, subtle, intangible ;
  • While still the mind held to its wonted use,
  • Or rather grew intense and keen with dread,
  • An awful dread—I thought I was in Hell.
  • In Hell, in Hell ! Was ever Hell conceived
  • By mortal brain, by brain Divine devised,
  • Darker, more fraught with torment, than the world
  • For such as I ? A creature maimed and marr’d
  • From very birth. A blot, a blur, a note
  • All out of tune in this world’s instrument.
  • A base thing, yet not knowing to fulfil
  • Base functions. A high thing, yet all unmeet
  • For work that’s high. A dweller on the earth,
  • Yet not content to dig with other men
  • Because of certain sudden sights and sounds
  • (Bars of broke music ; furtive, fleeting glimpse
  • Of angel faces ’thwart the grating seen)
  • Perceived in Heaven. Yet when I approach
  • To catch the sound’s completeness, to absorb
  • The faces’ full perfection, Heaven’s gate,
  • Which then had stood ajar, sudden falls to,
  • page: 16
  • And I, a‐shiver in the dark and cold,
  • Scarce hear afar the mocking tones of men :
  • “He would not dig, forsooth ; but he must strive
  • For higher fruits than what our tillage yields ;
  • Behold what comes, my brothers, of vain pride !”
  • Why play with figures ? trifle prettily
  • With this my grief which very simply’s said,
  • “There is no place for me in all the world” ?
  • The world’s a rock, and I will beat no more
  • A breast of flesh and blood against a rock. . . .
  • A stride across the planks for old time’s sake.
  • Ah, bare, small room that I have sorrowed in ;
  • Ay, and on sunny days, haply, rejoiced ;
  • We know some things together, you and I !
  • Hold there, you rangèd row of books ! In vain
  • You beckon from your shelf. You’ve stood my friends
  • Where all things else were foes ; yet now I’ll turn
  • My back upon you, even as the world
  • Turns it on me. And yet—farewell, farewell !
  • You, lofty Shakespere, with the tattered leaves
  • And fathomless great heart, your binding’s bruised
  • Yet did I love you less ? Goethe, farewell ;
  • Farewell, triumphant smile and tragic eyes,
  • And pitiless world‐wisdom !
  • page: 17
  • For all men
  • These two. And ’tis farewell with you, my friends,
  • More dear because more near : Theokritus ;
  • Heine that stings and smiles ; Prometheus’ bard ;
  • (I’ve grown too coarse for Shelley latterly :)
  • And one wild singer of to‐day, whose song
  • Is all aflame with passionate bard’s blood
  • Lash’d into foam by pain and the world’s wrong.
  • At least, he has a voice to cry his pain ;
  • For him, no silent writhing in the dark,
  • No muttering of mute lips, no straining out
  • Of a weak throat a‐choke with pent‐up sound,
  • A‐throb with pent‐up passion. . . .
  • Ah, my sun !
  • That’s you, then, at the window, looking in
  • To beam farewell on one who’s loved you long
  • And very truly. Up, you creaking thing,
  • You squinting, cobwebbed casement !
  • So, at last,
  • I can drink in the sunlight. How it falls.
  • Across that endless sea of London roofs,
  • Weaving such golden wonders on the grey,
  • That almost, for the moment, we forget
  • The world of woe beneath them.
  • Underneath,
  • For all the sunset glory, Pain is king.
  • page: 18
  • Yet, the sun’s there, and very sweet withal ;
  • And I’ll not grumble that it’s only sun,
  • But open wide my lips—thus—drink it in ;
  • Turn up my face to the sweet evening sky
  • (What royal wealth of scarlet on the blue
  • So tender toned, you’d almost think it green)
  • And stretch my hands out—so—to grasp it tight.
  • Ha, ha ! ’tis sweet awhile to cheat the Fates,
  • And be as happy as another man.
  • The sun works in my veins like wine, like wine !
  • ’Tis a fair world : if dark, indeed, with woe,
  • Yet having hope and hint of such a joy,
  • That a man, winning, well might turn aside,
  • Careless of Heaven . . . .
  • O enough ; I turn
  • From the sun’s light, or haply I shall hope.
  • I have hoped enough ; I would not hope again :
  • ’Tis hope that is most cruel.
  • Tom, my friend,
  • You very sorry philosophic fool ;
  • ’Tis you, I think, that bid me be resign’d,
  • Trust, and be thankful.
  • Out on you ! Resign’d ?
  • I’m not resign’d, not patient, not school’d in
  • To take my starveling’s portion and pretend
  • I’m grateful for it. I want all, all, all ;
  • page: 19
  • I’ve appetite for all. I want the best :
  • Love, beauty, sunlight, nameless joy of life.
  • There’s too much patience in the world, I think.
  • We have grown base with crooking of the knee.
  • Mankind—say—God has bidden to a feast ;
  • The board is spread, and groans with cates and drinks ;
  • In troop the guests ; each man with appetite
  • Keen‐whetted with expectance.
  • In they troop,
  • Struggle for seats, jostle and push and seize.
  • What’s this ? what’s this? There are not seats for all !
  • Some men must stand without the gates ; and some
  • Must linger by the table, ill‐supplied
  • With broken meats. One man gets meat for two,
  • The while another hungers. If I stand
  • Without the portals, seeing others eat
  • Where I had thought to satiate the pangs
  • Of mine own hunger ; shall I then come forth
  • When all is done, and drink my Lord’s good health
  • In my Lord’s water ? Shall I not rather turn
  • And curse him, curse him for a niggard host ?
  • O, I have hungered, hungered, through the years,
  • Till appetite grows craving, then disease ;
  • page: 20
  • I am starved, wither’d, shrivelled.
  • Peace, O peace !
  • This rage is idle ; what avails to curse
  • The nameless forces, the vast silences
  • That work in all things.
  • This time is the third,
  • I wrought before in heat, stung mad with pain,
  • Blind, scarcely understanding ; now I know
  • What thing I do.
  • There was a woman once ;
  • Deep eyes she had, white hands, a subtle smile,
  • Soft speaking tones : she did not break my heart,
  • Yet haply had her heart been otherwise
  • Mine had not now been broken. Yet, who knows ?
  • My life was jarring discord from the first :
  • Tho’ here and there brief hints of melody,
  • Of melody unutterable, clove the air.
  • From this bleak world, into the heart of night,
  • The dim, deep bosom of the universe,
  • I cast myself. I only crave for rest ;
  • Too heavy is the load. I fling it down.

    EPILOGUE.

  • We knocked and knocked; at last, burst in the door,
  • And found him as you know—the outstretched arms
  • page: 21
  • Propping the hidden face. The sun had set,
  • And all the place was dim with lurking shade.
  • There was no written word to say farewell,
  • Or make more clear the deed.
  • I search’d and search’d ;
  • The room held little : just a row of books
  • Much scrawl’d and noted ; sketches on the wall,
  • Done rough in charcoal ; the old instrument
  • (A violin, no Stradivarius)
  • He played so ill on ; in the table drawer
  • Large schemes of undone work. Poems half‐writ ;
  • Wild drafts of symphonies ; big plans of fugues ;
  • Some scraps of writing in a woman’s hand :
  • No more—the scattered pages of a tale,
  • A sorry tale that no man cared to read.
  • Alas, my friend, I lov’d him well, tho’ he
  • Held me a cold and stagnant‐blooded fool,
  • Because I am content to watch, and wait
  • With a calm mind the issue of all things.
  • Certain it is my blood’s no turbid stream ;
  • Yet, for all that, haply I understood
  • More than he ever deem’d ; nor held so light
  • The poet in him. Nay, I sometimes doubt
  • If they have not, indeed, the better part—
  • These poets, who get drunk with sun, and weep
  • Because the night or a woman’s face is fair.
  • page: 22
  • Meantime there is much talk about my friend.
  • The women say, of course, he died for love ;
  • The men, for lack of gold, or cavilling
  • Of carping critics. I, Tom Leigh, his friend
  • I have no word at all to say of this.
  • Nay, I had deem’d him more philosopher ;
  • For did he think by this one paltry deed
  • To cut the knot of circumstance, and snap
  • The chain which binds all being ?
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