Let's sit here very quiet, self-controlled,
Talk quietly, under this glorious tree,
The internes are too far away to hear.
They will stand there if we are calm.
Much better than you did. And as for me,
Since I tried leaping from my window, I
Seem on the mend, sleep better, do not feel
So much like running, flying from the fears
As I did three weeks since. Here is my tale:
My first step in this world was as a soldier,
Turned seventeen and off to free the Cubans.
I landed at Matanzas, served my time.
Oh Liberty! Oh! struggles to make free
All peoples, everywhere! And when I saw
The American republic move to strike
The chains of tyranny, I said: I die
For such a cause, or live to see it won—
How glorious! My youthful mind was full
Of Byron, Shelley, Paine, and many more—
And when I saw my republic go to war,
Just as a good Samaritan, I said,
This is my hour, I'm on the pinnacle,
Life is divine at last.
But on a sudden
A north wind froze my waters, caught my stars
To points of vision which before had been
Mixed in the fluent time. We up and stole
The Philippines, spit on our sacred charter,
Turned all the thing to guts, until I heard
Their growl alone which I thought spirit voices
When we had warred for Cuba! 'Twas enough;
What was my country? Just a mass of slickers
Talking philanthropy and five per cent,
A pious, blundering booby lodged at last
In a great cæcum mouthing Destiny.
God, with a leader just an actor-man,
Clean shaven, shifty, shallow, whored upon
By mercantilists and their butcher creed.
I mean McKinley, Hanna. Write it down:
They barbarized our Grecian temple, placed
Cheap colored windows in its marble walls—
May history be their hell.
But as for me,
They talked of God so much, I said at last
I'll learn all they can teach concerning God.
This restless soldier spirit led me on,
And just because I sensed the faithless age,
Loveless and purposeless except for gold,
The adventurer in me began to crop.
Oh yes, the Cuban business started me.
And so I went to college to prepare
For the ministry, as they thought, go through the course
Called theological, saying for the first:
"They'd never know me now."
I see at last
I am not one but many minds at once,
And many personalities. As a boy
I took the color of the leaves or wall
Where I was resting, climbing. If in truth
I lived three months with an uncle, then they said
You look just like your uncle. When I worked
Under a lawyer's tutelage, they said:
How much your face resembles his. I knew
My face and voice and gestures simulated
Those I admired or lived with. But besides
I took a certain pleasure, impish, maybe,
In egging on, agreeing with, the souls
Whom I sought out; I used to tell my uncle,
A man of firmest piety, what I heard
Of blasphemy about the village, just
To hear him deprecate it, look with dark
And flashing eyes upon such sin, while I,
With serious face and earnest sympathy
With what he felt, was laughing in my sleeve.
Here is the germ then of my after life:
The faculty that harmonized my hue
Of spirit with the place, the person, while
Something in me, perhaps supremest self,
Stood quite aloof and smiled.
But, as I said,
When our Republic left its hill of vision,
Descended to the place of herding hogs,
This self of me, the adventurer, rose up
And led me forth to play with life, and first
To try theology, as I have said ...
I was a wonder bred among the crew
Of quiet, gate-toothed, crook-nosed psychopaths,
The foul-breathed, thick-lipped onanists who filled
The seminary, stared at me to see
How I learned Sanscrit, could defend and rout
The atheistic speculations. Well,
What I enjoyed most was to get a crowd
Of celibates and talk of chastity,
And get them in a glow, and say to them:
The mind is fortified by abstinence,
The spirit clarified and lifted up—
I got a thrill somehow. But all the time
I knew a girl named Ella. Oftentimes
Lying beside her I would shriek with laughter
And she would ask, what is the matter, John?
And I would say: I'm thinking of a song
I heard one time: "They'd never know me now."
And Ella said: If Dr. Simpson knew
That you were here with me, you'd take a fall
Out of the Seminary's second floor....
But I went through and didn't fall. And thought
This is a way to live, I'll preach awhile,
And see what comes. I took a church and preached,
Was known as Smith the eloquent, the earnest.
But all the time I heard a voice that said:
"They'd never know me now." When I came in
The Sunday School and little children flocked
About my knees and patient teachers looked
With white, pure faces at me, then that voice
"They'd never know me now" was in my ear....
Well, to go on, a widow in my church
Young, beautiful and rich began to beat
Her wings around my flame, and on the Sunday
I preached about the rich young man, she came,
Invited me to dinner. We commenced,
Were married in six months. And to conserve
Her properties I studied law, at last
Was spending days with brokers, business men,
Began to tell her that my health was failing,
Saw doctors frequently to play the part.
And then she said: You must resign your charge,
Your health is breaking, dear. And I resigned
To spend the time in checking mortgages,
Collecting rents:—"They'd never know me now"...
We went the round of summer places, travel,
Saw Europe, China, India and the Isles.
Near Florence had a villa for a time,
Met people of all kinds, when I was forty
I had a thousand selves, but if I had
A self in truth it was submerged or scrawled
Like a palimpsest all over and so lost.
I didn't know myself, was anything
To every one, and everything to all.
I felt the walking age come on me now:
A polar bear in a terrible rhythm swings
His body back and forth behind the bars,
And I would walk in restlessness or think
Of other skies and places, teased and stung
By memories of my other selves, by wonder
About what may be happening here or there;
What are they doing now? What is she doing?
There were a dozen shes to wonder about,
And if you think of one you wish to see,
And dream she knows delight apart from you,
You simply thrill, the wings you lost revolve,
Like thumbs, vestigial stubs—but there you sit.
Thank God the aeroplane came on to help,
And wipe out distance, for you find at last
Distance is tragedy, terrifies the soul
With space which must be mastered by the soul.
And so I bought a hydroplane. Perhaps
Would be upon my lawn at sun-down holding
These children on my knees, a lovely picture!
Then as a fish darts out of darkened water
Into a water sun-lit, there would come
A thought—we'll say of Alice—in two hours
I'd be upon her little sleeping porch
Two hundred miles away, beneath the stars
Of middle summer, having killed that space,
And found the hour I wanted—hearing too
"They'd never know me now" sung in my ears.
And I remember when we were in Florence
My tribe had gone to Milan for some weeks,
And I was quite alone, too bored to live.
One listless afternoon who should come in?
My wife's friend Constance—but to tell the truth
More friend of mine than hers, for all my life
I seemed to have these secret understandings,
And was two persons to a twain who thought
They were the bond, whereas the bond existed
Between myself and one, and to the other
Was not so much as dreamed.
And Constance brought
A certain Countess with her. In a glance
We two, the Countess and myself, beheld
A flame that joined our hands. And in a week
The Countess took me on her yacht to Capri,
And round the Mediterranean. No one knew,
Not Constance, nor my wife, for I returned
Before she came from Milan.
Oh that week!
That breeze that sung the port-holes, waters blue
And stars at night and music; and the Countess
Whose voice was like a lute of gold, who lived,
Knew life, was unafraid. She heard me say
"They'd never know me now." And softly murmured
Smiling the while: il lupo cangia
Il pelo ma non il vizio
Adding, Qual matto! Something yet remains
That makes you charming! Oh the feasts and wine,
The songs and poems, till at last too soon
We anchored in the bay of Naples. When
I saw Vesuvius, then I felt again
That sinking of the heart that I had known,
That sickness, strange, nostalgia, from a boy,
Of which a word again. But now it was
Precursive of the end, the finished idyll.
The Countess took my hand, with misty eyes—
They let me off and rowed me to the dock,
I caught the train to Florence, magically
Before I had forgotten, seemed to be
Upon the yacht still, was in truth alone
Amid the silence of my dining room,
Supping alone—"They'd never know me now!"
Later I had the fever, was delirious
And saw myself receding as if backing
Into a funnel toward the little end,
And growing smaller as the funnel narrowed
Until I was so small I held myself
Within the palm's hand of my other self,
Laughed like a devil, scared the nurse to death,
Saying "They'd never know me now—just look!"
My wife too had the fever. I awoke
Out of this illness, found that she was gone,
Had died a week before and for a week
Had been entombed while I was raving—then
If any real self of me ever was it came
Back to me then. I bowed my head and wept
And scanned my life back:
What was that in me
Which made me homesick from a boy right through
This life of mine, not for my home, for something,
Some place, some hand, some scene, which made me dread
All partings, overwhelmed me with a grief
For ended raptures, kept my brain too full
Of memories, never lost, that grew until
I lost myself, and seemed a thousand selves
Wandering through a thousand years, how restless!
Then mutterings shook our skies! Another war,
France, Germany and England, so it seemed
Best to return here to America.
I gathered up the children—all but one,
The boy eighteen escaped me, ran away
And joined the English army. Now I saw
One self of me repeated, that which went
To free the Cubans! Curse these freedom wars!
They shipped him off to India, soon he had
His fill of liberty. But I came back
And here I am. "They'd never know me now!"
For what is left of me, what ever was
To be peeled off to realest core? The soldier
Gone out of me entirely; long ago,
The dreamer of a better world; the self
That said I'm on the pinnacle, took arms
To free the Cubans; self of me that hungered
For pyramids and mountains, ancient streams,
Nile and the Ganges; self of me that turned
To be a father holding on his knees
A romping bevy; self of me that dreamed
One heart, one hand enough, oh even the self
That dreamed there is a hand a heart for me,
Who found in truth no solace in the wife
But only a teasing, torturing recollection
That I had missed the one, or missed the many.
So I was in America again,
Had fled the war and plunged into the war:—
The waves roared yonder, but the shores were here
Where wreckage, putrid monsters were thrown up,
Corpses of ancient liberties and bones
Of treasured beauty; and I saw the Land
Don every despot weapon, as it did
When I fought for the Cubans, even worse.
They shipped my boy to Africa; in spite
Of censorship I pieced the picture out,
Knew what he suffered, how they took his faith
And dimmed its flame with ordure. Then came forth
That father self of me. I brooded on
His blue eyes, gentle ways, sat terrified
And tried to trace the days through and the years
When he had slipped from just a little boy
Into a stripling, soldier finally—
While I—what was I doing? Oh, my God,
Living these other selves, oblivious
That this boy was. I'd jump from soundest sleep
Thinking of him in Africa, and seized
With dreams that I must fly to him. O years
Wherein I lost that boy. How could I live
So many lives and not lose out of some,
Some precious thing? Well, then I broke at last,
They brought me here: "They'd never know me now."