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Edward Lear

There was an Old Man of Cape Horn,
Who wished he had never been born;
So he sat on a chair,
Till he died of despair,
That dolorous Man of Cape Horn.

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Before I Was An Old Man

BEFORE I WAS AN OLD MAN

Before I was an old man
Many centuries ago
I sang such a quiet deep song
A song so so beautiful
In its longing and its tenderness.

But now I am so so old
My song creaks
And my voice hears itself
As if a stranger’s noise
Pounding through my eardrums.

And I know am just just not the voice
I was,
Quiet and deep and strong-

Long long ago,
Before I lived in this century.

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Old Man (Fun Poem 20)

There was an old man,
who put a bet on a horse.
The bookie told him it was a winner,
and he thought he’d win a lot,
but when the race was over,
he found he’d bet on the wrong horse,
and he had lost a lot.

The moral of this story,
every story has one to be sure.
Next time you place a bet.
This I have to say to you.
Check that bet twice,
just to make sure,
you haven’t put your money on a sure loser.

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the old man in Greece...

somewhere in Greece
now i remember
because of your letter
there was an old man
who holds a piece of
a shattered mirror
that he carries everywhere
and those that he cannot
confront
or say
see directly he does
with his mirror
and he had since then
seen them all

whatever light he captures
he reflects it to those
who are sad like him
and he tells himself now
i understand
now i am no longer afraid
now i can proceed to
the ways of
being alone
what road is left
he must traverse
what thought is there
he must think for
himself
and before he died
(because he died in truth
alone in his bedroom)
he wrote his view of the
world
in that shattered piece
of mirror
still reflecting
whatever small light
he stored
from within....

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The Old Man Smiling

there was this old man
and i always remember him
tenant of the family for years
of the vast coconut land
we own

he was poor and lived in a very
small nipa hut
all house to him
no sala, no furnitures, just this
soil kitchen and dirty kettles and
unwashed tin cups and
and firewood and pail of water
from the nearby river

he got two sons and 3 daughters
all gone to the city
also becoming as domestic helpers
and he would bring a chicken from the farm
and a goat and some fruits
to grandpa and
grandpa would scold him for being too lazy
that the chicken was thin
and the goat was small
and the fruits were not ripe yet for harvest

and what i remember of the old man
was that no matter what verbal abuse or
(even physical abuse) that was accorded to him
he never answered or frowned or
complained

he had that smile always that i saw
and i always remember
always with a sad heart since then
even if i had already become a lawyer
and tried to defend the poor
peasants of our
little town

where the vast coconut farm has thrived
and still conquered
what little injustices still
left unsolved

he died years ago
and i could have died with him
if not
for the reason.

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Edward Thomas

The Sign-Post

The dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy,
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hill-top by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller's-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: "You would not have doubted so
At twenty." Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: "At twenty you wished you had never been born."
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what 'twould be
To be sixty by this same post. "You shall see,"
He laughed -and I had to join his laughter -
"You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall.
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall be freely given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
'Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth, -
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, tha land and the sea,
Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring, -
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?"

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In Memory of an Old Man

he was an old man then...
6 foot 4, still strong
as an ox...
a carpenter...
and i was his helper;
building interstate bridges
in the south,
walking i-beams,
60 foot off the ground...
2.50 an hour!

we used to go
to his house
after work...
he'd scramble a dozen
eggs, or so...
and break out the sugarhead.
we'd spend hours
listening to him talk
about women, fighting,
loving, and just life!

carrying a sheet of plywood
on a windy day...
i wavered, one foot off the beam.
i felt his gnarled hand
grab my shoulder:
'you dont wanna go down there, boy! '

time has passed, and now i'm old...
and i see my daughters
wavering on the beam...
and i catch myself saying:
'you dont wanna go down there, girl! '

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Thoughts on an Old Man at Work

Late one evening, I sat in my car - outside a fast food joint.
Outside, there was a silver-haired old man in a white button-down shirt and a black apron washing windows - and I couldn't help but stare.
What was an old man like him doing washing windows at a crumby fast food joint?
The man looked to be in his sixties, but his hard hands and wrinkled grimace added ten years. My guess was he wasn't there for a sense of purpose.

My mind began to wonder

Had the old man fallen upon hard times? Was he struggling to make ends meet?
Was the harsh look smeared across his face his way of letting me know that he'd rather be sitting in his backyard sipping whisky and smoking a cigar?
Horrible visions of shattered dreams come to mind.
For a moment I slip into his apron.
My back hurts from being hunched over all day - and my hands are sore from gripping the wiper.

A good life can only get so bad

Where do I go from here?
I snap out of my daze when my brother opens the car door.
I get to drive home and away from this place - and if I wanted too, I'd never have to come back
But the old man couldn't be so lucky

Youth is the single most unappreciated gift

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Old Man

I had my rent-a-car flyin' down a two-lane road
Late for my plane again
Had to stop for some gas at this country store
That's when I saw the old man
He was kicked back workin' on a big RC
Watchin' Gomer Pyle on his little TV
Took him awhile to even notice me
Sittin' there I thought to myself
Old man (Old man) you got one up on me
I'm still lookin' for my shady tree
With your two gas pumps and your color TV
Your satisfied as you can be
Old man (Old man) I guess you got one up on me
Well, he finally strolled over with a big ol' smile
Said "How ya doin, son?"
I said "Give me five dollars worth as fast as you can...
'Cause I'm really in a run."
He said "What's your hurry on a day like this?
If you move too fast, there's a lot you'll miss
If you wanna see what the good life is
Just get out and visit awhile."
Old man (Old man) you got one up on me
I'm still lookin' for my shady tree
With your two gas pumps and your color TV
Your satisfied as you can be
Old man (Old man) I guess you got one up on me
Don't remember just what it was
The old man said to me
But I forgot about catchin' the plane
And opened up the big RC
Old man (Old man) you got one up on me
I'm still lookin' for my shady tree
With your two gas pumps and your color TV
Your satisfied as you can be
Old man (Old man) you got one up on me
Old man
Old man
Old man
Old man
Old man you got one up on me...

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Edward Lear

There was an Old Man of the Cape,
Who possessed a large Barbary ape,
Till the ape one dark night
Set the house all alight,
Which burned that Old Man of the Cape.

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Robert Louis Stevenson

There was an old man of the Cape
Who made himself garments of crepe.
When asked, "Do they tear?"
He replied, "Here and there,
But they're perfectly splendid for shape!"

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You Are Old As Well

There was an old man from the monastery,
His life was too solid and goodie,
Because of his expulsion,
From the religious region,
A maniac or monkey could be He.


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Getting Old Graciously....

there was this old man bent to his
weaving mats and baskets,

and his wife too, as old as he is,
eighty or so,
gazes upon the patterns of colors
and shapes

both know, what grace and love have
made from out of them,

mellowed backbones, like bending flowers
to the setting sun

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Old Man Dying

there's an old man dying
in a small bedroom filled
with books and worn out clothes
and old socks with holes

there's an ashtray that always
needs to be emptied;
blinds that are as twisted
as his fingers and his toes

there's an old man dying
in the shadow of his
father's dreams, his father's world,
choking on the bad taste

of his own prayers forgotten
and mountaintops bartered;
in the mist of cannot touch,
can't lay with again

and love sweat grown cold,
gone stale as the lines,
the wrinkles on his face,
and hands that tremble

there's an old man dying
and somewhere, there's
a young man being born!

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The Child, The Man And The Old Man....

i look at the child
at the farther nook of a old house.
there is no chair and beside the door
is a box, it is empty
and the child in fear
took its hiding there
a favorite place
safety box, safe house,
the four corners are
so silent
and the child is happy
asleep in a moment.....

time travels like horses with wings.

there is a man
with a long bird his toenails
are long, no time to cut them

it throat is swollen
bacterial infection again
or the weather changes
cold this time then hot in
a moment
dusts all over the place
and white painted houses

it is lonely, child and man
at the same time
and not one of him speaks
they become one box
and one flap opens to
a sky

always there are
no extra hands. it is reality.

there is an old man
with words of thread
sewing upon its lips.

there is a very dark night.
the child, the man and the old man
are asleep
inside a box, safe and
silent.

there is no morning.
it is final.

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Crab Nebula

Crab Nebula*

* Not an Astronomy Reference

(Unlike the dust of Galaxies / these
are the scattered thoughts of an old man)

Wince ___ *

Mother and son sit alone in the cold
A kerosene lamp with dirty glass
Paints the room ochre and dust
Rock Cold
wince!

She pushes back against the night
Lighting Lucky Strikes one after one in chains
Talking to demons buried deep within the swirling smoke
Rock Cold
wince!

Her son sits unseen under the table
Watching the play unfold
Trying to understand a past before he was born
Before he became
Rock Cold
wince!

* (wince! , is the sound a rocking chair makes on the ‘push back
wince! , is also a facial tic caused by the winterness of childhood)


First, the ‘tricity went, then the gas, the cold water pipes froze and as a child, I seldom took a bath after that. Thoughts festered in the gloom, sitting alone in those cold dark rooms. From that time on, I was always out of step. A bit off track. Lost in my self, looking in that dusty mirror at a neglected child.
'Sometimes, life be like that'.

As a wounded naked child in the chill of the long night. I pondered the decisions in my life and could find fault with none other than my' self. It was I, that rejected the wisdom of others experience, going my own way in arrogant delusions defiance. With too much pride and too late in the game to change, I accept my fate of being erased from the ‘Book of Life.

Carried on wisps of whispered kisses, I clutched and grabbed on, to hold my place, rather than drift away from the face that had borne the me I am. Pushed from behind by blinded eyes, (not drawn by a need to fly) I was thrust into the cold air and sea, floating on coarse cloth tearing me, away from all that was maternal. Forever from that moment on, I lived a dream that never happened. Searching highways for familiar paths to take me back to the beginnings and the traumas of being born too soon. 'Not me, not me, (I cried) choose another other than I'. Too soon they had cut the cord and I am now undone. Now I must forever run, hide and seek, until the womb of those dreams becomes the tomb of clay beneath my feet. Till even the dust of me is washed away. I would forever have wished that I had never been born only to die. Except that I, remain in the dream of those who believed my being born was because they were once in Love.

Continually lost, looking for that familiar space in my genetic memory, that far removed place of ancient lives and times of my night wanderings. I am man become as homing pigeon. Caught in the middle of a magnetic ion storm. Having lost direction to where I belong, I wander the forever. looking for that warm sweet breast and the loving sound of the eternal Mother.

A flowering struggle was the birth of a cold day of gray such as this. Reminiscent of my own, and yet I too somehow came to exist. Un-kissed by the warmth of Sun, dwelling in the damp and gloom. Pushed aside as runt, stunted in growth, overshadowed by others that stretched out too soon to reach the light. They quickly burned off and I was left to stay, so that I might show my discontent and say: 'Such is life here, on this side of the shade'.

A cold front moved across the Hudson River, settling into the concrete streets of Hell's Kitchen. A Postal canvas hamper cried in its wheels while being pushed by a scavenger collecting cardboard refuse. Impatient horns made known their intent. A woman missing teeth with an affluent smile, rattled a paper cup asking for change giving God's blessing in return, and I, lost in my own disappointments barely noticed the Opera's drama. Unawares that I had been ‘caste, in the role as an extra.

The Moon was hidden behind skyline spires, as are the passions that were once desired. Though echoes are mere mutters beneath torrential rains awash in gutters. The homeless bodies are wracked in sadness. Their minds mired in madness. They often weep. Then they scribe wishes for love on paper scraps. Sticking them into the buildings cracks. Wrapping hopes in vague traditions under conditions no one else could bear. Such is the life we live seemingly forever. We all fitfully sleep, dream and hope, that sanity still exists somewhere out there.

Jumping the turnstile intending to ride the train for free. What I saw was not as nice as I had hoped and dreamed. The Stations were filled at every stop with tired people and weary cops. Platforms lighted in cold neon temptations, with scent of Carmel Corn and urination's. Then I heard the conductors static cry... 'Utopia Station, is closed for construction,
this train is now running express and will pass it by'.

A lonely rams horn sounds where once fresh fountain waters flowed. Men now slept in hovels of cardboard boxes, mumbling in the winters cold. Shaking Miter heads wail, cry and point to their altars denied. Rubble is all that remains of a world gone terribly wrong. Proud voices quieted of their militant marching song. Crippled hands wave to days of glory passed. Fueled by greed that was never meant to last. Merely a tease and a bribe to follow another war yet to come. After another generation had lost their last remaining son.

'Moon of many names, come out from your hiding', show your true face of blood and shed your pretense of ‘Romance. Falling leaves whispered your true nature and changing seasons have announced that ‘Ten Colds, will thin the herd, before the realization cometh that WE are the Harvest.

There are times as your mind travels on a scattered past, flitting about from first to last, or perhaps all out of sync, trying to find that link to today. A reason to step out of sorrow. Cross that bridge to tomorrow, now hidden by low lying clouds of gray. As newborn birds try to learn to fly, my own wings ragged and dry, wishing I had a reason to soar above the rest and test once again the mourning sky.

Each day I study the script thus far writ, not by the author of us all, rather the chronicler that lives within. The author's abstract and dubious wit, is the final act' and is hidden and unclear. Each must play their part on Faith alone. If not, then randomness and chaos will ensue. It is not for us to discern the time of the curtains fall or what we must endure for remaining true. Daily actions are mere rehearsals for the end. Now as evening draws to a close, not all know the one who will lead the pack. Rather, they believe the one who thinks he knows, ‘the Dreams of Winter Rain.

Wandering nights in my sleep, crossing streets that have no traffic. I am aware that I'm getting closer to home. Exchanging converses with those I meet, there is a familiarity I recognize through eyes that seem to be the same as my own. Upon my waking, I discern there is an understanding I should have known, that we do not arrive there, until our time here on earth has finally and inevitably flown.

Keeping time with the thump of the road. Heel hitting gravel on shoulders unpaved. Adjusting the strap of pack upon my back, I gave it all I had. Now in restless sleep, faithfully I keep the rhythm going on in my head. As I, now much older lay infirm upon my bed. It drives 'the wife, insane. She does not understand why in dreams I go astray. It seems to her, I purpose to ruin her rest. She does not know the lasting lust of youthful legs spent in freedoms search upon the open road.

Words are gathered, arranged, exchanged, articulated and emphasized, thrust before our eyes and into our consciousness. There is no echo. No response. Nothing has changed save the settling of dust and the natural decay of things. Celebrity has not been my goal, nor the acquisition of diamonds or coal. Rather to understand and to know, the why of me.

Fools on the Tarot Card with puppies yapping at their feet. Happy with stick and puffy clouds overhead. Stepping off into the abyss, kissing goodbye their life unnoticed. Interrupting fantasies and dreams. I am thrust into the face of the surreal. Riots in the street for lack of food, or clean water to drink and economic chaos. War planes raining down tears. Waves of sludge, volcanic ash and then comes a brief peace with the end of the Evening News, dancing bears and sour singing divas lull us back into foolishness.

Snow as cold powder measured in more feet than me, drifts up against wood framed houses. icicles dripping off eaves. Bare black branches cracking ‘staccato in the concerto of my childhood dreams, in a world where the clouds are blue and the sky dirty green.
'Life is what it is. Cold and mean'.

As I walk the streets through Subway steam oblivious to the thoughts of others. Their wants and needs, lusts and greed. Unwed Mothers and children crying, hungry, homeless, cold and dying from cheap wine, with nowhere to safely sleep. All that remains is pride. Of what? Embarrassed shame? A strangers name? Nothing remains in who I had hoped to be.

Cold night moon. Winter cold. New Years old cold familiar as broken bones. Too tight shoes, hole in my Soul, where the warm fell away lost, pain too large to lose, carried as a cloak over one shoulder as I leant on a black painted limping stick. I should have embraced the Tao. Where NO thing is worth the seeking and 'the pain of life, just is'.

Plod the men, trying to stride. Their steps half and halt, burdened by the faults of uneven streets, always grading up. Plod another step, another stair tread climbed, beyond where they should have stayed to let the world pass them by. Sometime they rest, to reflect the remains of yesterdays. Only the face of strangers change. What do we hope to find around the corner, down the street? A friendly smile in those we meet? or perhaps proof exists, GOD or some other curiosity.

I made up all those dreams and memories that make me who I am. My life barely made a difference, but then I never gave a damn. Somehow I knew that this could never last. For me there was no future only an uncertain past. Anyway... they were only whispers while standing in the tall weeds of grass.

Others caught words in their understanding. Concepts of math and GOD that I could not. Perhaps I in my rebellion chose instead to catch dreams of what could have been, or better yet, should be. Like all those things that were swirling around inside of me. I found comfort there in the dusty dim. Pictures projected upon my inner mental scrim. Words did not come from my lips. They were all there, locked up tight in my mind. They can keep their happy song as my silence lay at their feet. I kicked and scuffed my shoe, thinking wordlessly, ‘What is wrong with me seeing things differently from the others'?

I did not wish to get old. In a way, I am surprised to see I am still alive. The only benefit I can find, is, I do not have to do as I am told. I do not have to smile or pretend, that I care what others say. I do not expect tomorrow, I only live for today. I want nothing more. If I actually believed wishes really came true, I would wish the same for you.

Having always sought the self, that within which I do not yet know. That evolving creature that is borne of hope, that I might still become more then I am. Foolish as I am I wanted to be who I suspect I was meant to be, before the hammer slings and controlling others began their molding abuses. Before the brain washers wash away my individuality. How audacious I must appear to others. How arrogant I must seem to be, to just want to be me.

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Avon's Harvest

Fear, like a living fire that only death
Might one day cool, had now in Avon’s eyes
Been witness for so long of an invasion
That made of a gay friend whom we had known
Almost a memory, wore no other name
As yet for us than fear. Another man
Than Avon might have given to us at least
A futile opportunity for words
We might regret. But Avon, since it happened,
Fed with his unrevealing reticence
The fire of death we saw that horribly
Consumed him while he crumbled and said nothing.

So many a time had I been on the edge,
And off again, of a foremeasured fall
Into the darkness and discomfiture
Of his oblique rebuff, that finally
My silence honored his, holding itself
Away from a gratuitous intrusion
That likely would have widened a new distance
Already wide enough, if not so new.
But there are seeming parallels in space
That may converge in time; and so it was
I walked with Avon, fought and pondered with him,
While he made out a case for So-and-so,
Or slaughtered What’s-his-name in his old way,
With a new difference. Nothing in Avon lately
Was, or was ever again to be for us,
Like him that we remembered; and all the while
We saw that fire at work within his eyes
And had no glimpse of what was burning there.

So for a year it went; and so it went
For half another year—when, all at once,
At someone’s tinkling afternoon at home
I saw that in the eyes of Avon’s wife
The fire that I had met the day before
In his had found another living fuel.
To look at her and then to think of him,
And thereupon to contemplate the fall
Of a dim curtain over the dark end
Of a dark play, required of me no more
Clairvoyance than a man who cannot swim
Will exercise in seeing that his friend
Off shore will drown except he save himself.
To her I could say nothing, and to him
No more than tallied with a long belief
That I should only have it back again
For my chagrin to ruminate upon,
Ingloriously, for the still time it starved;
And that would be for me as long a time
As I remembered Avon—who is yet
Not quite forgotten. On the other hand,
For saying nothing I might have with me always
An injured and recriminating ghost
Of a dead friend. The more I pondered it
The more I knew there was not much to lose,
Albeit for one whose delving hitherto
Had been a forage of his own affairs,
The quest, however golden the reward,
Was irksome—and as Avon suddenly
And soon was driven to let me see, was needless.
It seemed an age ago that we were there
One evening in the room that in the days
When they could laugh he called the Library.
He calls it that, you understand,” she said,
“Because the dictionary always lives here.
He’s not a man of books, yet he can read,
And write. He learned it all at school.”—He smiled,
And answered with a fervor that rang then
Superfluous: “Had I learned a little more
At school, it might have been as well for me.”
And I remember now that he paused then,
Leaving a silence that one had to break.
But this was long ago, and there was now
No laughing in that house. We were alone
This time, and it was Avon’s time to talk.

I waited, and anon became aware
That I was looking less at Avon’s eyes
Than at the dictionary, like one asking
Already why we make so much of words
That have so little weight in the true balance.
“Your name is Resignation for an hour,”
He said; “and I’m a little sorry for you.
So be resigned. I shall not praise your work,
Or strive in any way to make you happy.
My purpose only is to make you know
How clearly I have known that you have known
There was a reason waited on your coming,
And, if it’s in me to see clear enough,
To fish the reason out of a black well
Where you see only a dim sort of glimmer
That has for you no light.”

“I see the well,”
I said, “but there’s a doubt about the glimmer—
Say nothing of the light. I’m at your service;
And though you say that I shall not be happy,
I shall be if in some way I may serve.
To tell you fairly now that I know nothing
Is nothing more than fair.”—“You know as much
As any man alive—save only one man,
If he’s alive. Whether he lives or not
Is rather for time to answer than for me;
And that’s a reason, or a part of one,
For your appearance here. You do not know him,
And even if you should pass him in the street
He might go by without your feeling him
Between you and the world. I cannot say
Whether he would, but I suppose he might.”

“And I suppose you might, if urged,” I said,
“Say in what water it is that we are fishing.
You that have reasons hidden in a well,
Not mentioning all your nameless friends that walk
The streets and are not either dead or living
For company, are surely, one would say
To be forgiven if you may seem distraught—
I mean distrait. I don’t know what I mean.
I only know that I am at your service,
Always, yet with a special reservation
That you may deem eccentric. All the same
Unless your living dead man comes to life,
Or is less indiscriminately dead,
I shall go home.”

“No, you will not go home,”
Said Avon; “or I beg that you will not.”
So saying, he went slowly to the door
And turned the key. “Forgive me and my manners,
But I would be alone with you this evening.
The key, as you observe, is in the lock;
And you may sit between me and the door,
Or where you will. You have my word of honor
That I would spare you the least injury
That might attend your presence here this evening.”

“I thank you for your soothing introduction,
Avon,” I said. “Go on. The Lord giveth,
The Lord taketh away. I trust myself
Always to you and to your courtesy.
Only remember that I cling somewhat
Affectionately to the old tradition.”—
“I understand you and your part,” said Avon;
“And I dare say it’s well enough, tonight,
We play around the circumstance a little.
I’ve read of men that half way to the stake
Would have their little joke. It’s well enough;
Rather a waste of time, but well enough.”

I listened as I waited, and heard steps
Outside of one who paused and then went on;
And, having heard, I might as well have seen
The fear in his wife’s eyes. He gazed away,
As I could see, in helpless thought of her,
And said to me: “Well, then, it was like this.
Some tales will have a deal of going back .
In them before they are begun. But this one
Begins in the beginning—when he came.
I was a boy at school, sixteen years old,
And on my way, in all appearances,
To mark an even-tempered average
Among the major mediocrities
Who serve and earn with no especial noise
Or vast reward. I saw myself, even then,
A light for no high shining; and I feared
No boy or man—having, in truth, no cause.
I was enough a leader to be free,
And not enough a hero to be jealous.
Having eyes and ears, I knew that I was envied,
And as a proper sort of compensation
Had envy of my own for two or three—
But never felt, and surely never gave,
The wound of any more malevolence
Than decent youth, defeated for a day,
May take to bed with him and kill with sleep.
So, and so far, my days were going well,
And would have gone so, but for the black tiger
That many of us fancy is in waiting,
But waits for most of us in fancy only.
For me there was no fancy in his coming,
Though God knows I had never summoned him,
Or thought of him. To this day I’m adrift
And in the dark, out of all reckoning,
To find a reason why he ever was,
Or what was ailing Fate when he was born
On this alleged God-ordered earth of ours.
Now and again there comes one of his kind—
By chance, we say. I leave all that to you.
Whether it was an evil chance alone,
Or some invidious juggling of the stars,
Or some accrued arrears of ancestors
Who throve on debts that I was here to pay,
Or sins within me that I knew not of,
Or just a foretaste of what waits in hell
For those of us who cannot love a worm,—
Whatever it was, or whence or why it was,
One day there came a stranger to the school.
And having had one mordacious glimpse of him
That filled my eyes and was to fill my life,
I have known Peace only as one more word
Among the many others we say over
That have an airy credit of no meaning.
One of these days, if I were seeing many
To live, I might erect a cenotaph
To Job’s wife. I assume that you remember;
If you forget, she’s extant in your Bible.”

Now this was not the language of a man
Whom I had known as Avon, and I winced
Hearing it—though I knew that in my heart
There was no visitation of surprise.
Unwelcome as it was, and off the key
Calamitously, it overlived a silence
That was itself a story and affirmed
A savage emphasis of honesty
That I would only gladly have attuned
If possible, to vinous innovation.
But his indifferent wassailing was always
Too far within the measure of excess
For that; and then there were those eyes of his.
Avon indeed had kept his word with me,
And there was not much yet to make me happy.

So there we were,” he said, “we two together,
Breathing one air. And how shall I go on
To say by what machinery the slow net
Of my fantastic and increasing hate
Was ever woven as it was around us?
I cannot answer; and you need not ask
What undulating reptile he was like,
For such a worm as I discerned in him
Was never yet on earth or in the ocean,
Or anywhere else than in my sense of him.
Had all I made of him been tangible,
The Lord must have invented long ago
Some private and unspeakable new monster
Equipped for such a thing’s extermination;
Whereon the monster, seeing no other monster
Worth biting, would have died with his work done.
There’s a humiliation in it now,
As there was then, and worse than there was then;
For then there was the boy to shoulder it
Without the sickening weight of added years
Galling him to the grave. Beware of hate
That has no other boundary than the grave
Made for it, or for ourselves. Beware, I say;
And I’m a sorry one, I fear, to say it,
Though for the moment we may let that go
And while I’m interrupting my own story
I’ll ask of you the favor of a look
Into the street. I like it when it’s empty.
There’s only one man walking? Let him walk.
I wish to God that all men might walk always,
And so, being busy, love one another more.”

“Avon,” I said, now in my chair again,
“Although I may not be here to be happy,
If you are careless, I may have to laugh.
I have disliked a few men in my life,
But never to the scope of wishing them
To this particular pedestrian hell
Of your affection. I should not like that.
Forgive me, for this time it was your fault.”

He drummed with all his fingers on his chair,
And, after a made smile of acquiescence,
Took up again the theme of his aversion,
Which now had flown along with him alone
For twenty years, like Io’s evil insect,
To sting him when it would. The decencies
Forbade that I should look at him for ever,
Yet many a time I found myself ashamed
Of a long staring at him, and as often
Essayed the dictionary on the table,
Wondering if in its interior
There was an uncompanionable word
To say just what was creeping in my hair,
At which my scalp would shrink,—at which, again,
I would arouse myself with a vain scorn,
Remembering that all this was in New York—
As if that were somehow the banishing
For ever of all unseemly presences—
And listen to the story of my friend,
Who, as I feared, was not for me to save,
And, as I knew, knew also that I feared it.

“Humiliation,” he began again,
“May be or not the best of all bad names
I might employ; and if you scent remorse,
There may be growing such a flower as that
In the unsightly garden where I planted,
Not knowing the seed or what was coming of it.
I’ve done much wondering if I planted it;
But our poor wonder, when it comes too late,
Fights with a lath, and one that solid fact
Breaks while it yawns and looks another way
For a less negligible adversary.
Away with wonder, then; though I’m at odds
With conscience, even tonight, for good assurance
That it was I, or chance and I together,
Did all that sowing. If I seem to you
To be a little bitten by the question,
Without a miracle it might be true;
The miracle is to me that I’m not eaten
Long since to death of it, and that you sit
With nothing more agreeable than a ghost.
If you had thought a while of that, you might,
Unhappily, not have come; and your not coming
Would have been desolation—not for you,
God save the mark!—for I would have you here.
I shall not be alone with you to listen;
And I should be far less alone tonight
With you away, make what you will of that.

“I said that we were going back to school,
And we may say that we are there—with him.
This fellow had no friend, and, as for that,
No sign of an apparent need of one,
Save always and alone—myself. He fixed
His heart and eyes on me, insufferably,—
And in a sort of Nemesis-like way,
Invincibly. Others who might have given
A welcome even to him, or I’ll suppose so
Adorning an unfortified assumption
With gold that might come off with afterthought—
Got never, if anything, more out of him
Than a word flung like refuse in their faces,
And rarely that. For God knows what good reason,
He lavished his whole altered arrogance
On me; and with an overweening skill,
Which had sometimes almost a cringing in it,
Found a few flaws in my tight mail of hate
And slowly pricked a poison into me
In which at first I failed at recognizing
An unfamiliar subtle sort of pity.
But so it was, and I believe he knew it;
Though even to dream it would have been absurd—
Until I knew it, and there was no need
Of dreaming. For the fellow’s indolence,
And his malignant oily swarthiness
Housing a reptile blood that I could see
Beneath it, like hereditary venom
Out of old human swamps, hardly revealed
Itself the proper spawning-ground of pity.
But so it was. Pity, or something like it,
Was in the poison of his proximity;
For nothing else that I have any name for
Could have invaded and so mastered me
With a slow tolerance that eventually
Assumed a blind ascendency of custom
That saw not even itself. When I came in,
Often I’d find him strewn along my couch
Like an amorphous lizard with its clothes on,
Reading a book and waiting for its dinner.
His clothes were always odiously in order,
Yet I should not have thought of him as clean—
Not even if he had washed himself to death
Proving it. There was nothing right about him.
Then he would search, never quite satisfied,
Though always in a measure confident,
My eyes to find a welcome waiting in them,
Unwilling, as I see him now, to know
That it would never be there. Looking back,
I am not sure that he would not have died
For me, if I were drowning or on fire,
Or that I would not rather have let myself
Die twice than owe the debt of my survival
To him, though he had lost not even his clothes.
No, there was nothing right about that fellow;
And after twenty years to think of him
I should be quite as helpless now to serve him
As I was then. I mean—without my story.
Be patient, and you’ll see just what I mean—
Which is to say, you won’t. But you can listen,
And that’s itself a large accomplishment
Uncrowned; and may be, at a time like this,
A mighty charity. It was in January
This evil genius came into our school,
And it was June when he went out of it—
If I may say that he was wholly out
Of any place that I was in thereafter.
But he was not yet gone. When we are told
By Fate to bear what we may never bear,
Fate waits a little while to see what happens;
And this time it was only for the season
Between the swift midwinter holidays
And the long progress into weeks and months
Of all the days that followed—with him there
To make them longer. I would have given an eye,
Before the summer came, to know for certain
That I should never be condemned again
To see him with the other; and all the while
There was a battle going on within me
Of hate that fought remorse—if you must have it—
Never to win,… never to win but once,
And having won, to lose disastrously,
And as it was to prove, interminably—
Or till an end of living may annul,
If so it be, the nameless obligation
That I have not the Christian revenue
In me to pay. A man who has no gold,
Or an equivalent, shall pay no gold
Until by chance or labor or contrivance
He makes it his to pay; and he that has
No kindlier commodity than hate,
Glossed with a pity that belies itself
In its negation and lacks alchemy
To fuse itself to—love, would you have me say?
I don’t believe it. No, there is no such word.
If I say tolerance, there’s no more to say.
And he who sickens even in saying that
What coin of God has he to pay the toll
To peace on earth? Good will to men—oh, yes!
That’s easy; and it means no more than sap,
Until we boil the water out of it
Over the fire of sacrifice. I’ll do it;
And in a measurable way I’ve done it—
But not for him. What are you smiling at?
Well, so it went until a day in June.
We were together under an old elm,
Which now, I hope, is gone—though it’s a crime
In me that I should have to wish the death
Of such a tree as that. There were no trees
Like those that grew at school—until he came.
We stood together under it that day,
When he, by some ungovernable chance,
All foreign to the former crafty care
That he had used never to cross my favor,
Told of a lie that stained a friend of mine
With a false blot that a few days washed off.
A trifle now, but a boy’s honor then—
Which then was everything. There were some words
Between us, but I don’t remember them.
All I remember is a bursting flood
Of half a year’s accumulated hate,
And his incredulous eyes before I struck him.
He had gone once too far; and when he knew it,
He knew it was all over; and I struck him.
Pound for pound, he was the better brute;
But bulking in the way then of my fist
And all there was alive in me to drive it,
Three of him misbegotten into one
Would have gone down like him—and being larger,
Might have bled more, if that were necessary.
He came up soon; and if I live for ever,
The vengeance in his eyes, and a weird gleam
Of desolation—it I make you see it—
Will be before me as it is tonight.
I shall not ever know how long it was
I waited his attack that never came;
It might have been an instant or an hour
That I stood ready there, watching his eyes,
And the tears running out of them. They made
Me sick, those tears; for I knew, miserably,
They were not there for any pain he felt.
I do not think he felt the pain at all.
He felt the blow.… Oh, the whole thing was bad—
So bad that even the bleaching suns and rains
Of years that wash away to faded lines,
Or blot out wholly, the sharp wrongs and ills
Of youth, have had no cleansing agent in them
To dim the picture. I still see him going
Away from where I stood; and I shall see him
Longer, sometime, than I shall see the face
Of whosoever watches by the bed
On which I die—given I die that way.
I doubt if he could reason his advantage
In living any longer after that
Among the rest of us. The lad he slandered,
Or gave a negative immunity
No better than a stone he might have thrown
Behind him at his head, was of the few
I might have envied; and for that being known,
My fury became sudden history,
And I a sudden hero. But the crown
I wore was hot; and I would happily
Have hurled it, if I could, so far away
That over my last hissing glimpse of it
There might have closed an ocean. He went home
The next day, and the same unhappy chance
That first had fettered me and my aversion
To his unprofitable need of me
Brought us abruptly face to face again
Beside the carriage that had come for him.
We met, and for a moment we were still—
Together. But I was reading in his eyes
More than I read at college or at law
In years that followed. There was blankly nothing
For me to say, if not that I was sorry;
And that was more than hate would let me say—
Whatever the truth might be. At last he spoke,
And I could see the vengeance in his eyes,
And a cold sorrow—which, if I had seen
Much more of it, might yet have mastered me.
But I would see no more of it. ‘Well, then,’
He said, ‘have you thought yet of anything
Worth saying? If so, there’s time. If you are silent,
I shall know where you are until you die.’
I can still hear him saying those words to me
Again, without a loss or an addition;
I know, for I have heard them ever since.
And there was in me not an answer for them
Save a new roiling silence. Once again
I met his look, and on his face I saw
There was a twisting in the swarthiness
That I had often sworn to be the cast
Of his ophidian mind. He had no soul.
There was to be no more of him—not then.
The carriage rolled away with him inside,
Leaving the two of us alive together
In the same hemisphere to hate each other.
I don’t know now whether he’s here alive,
Or whether he’s here dead. But that, of course,
As you would say, is only a tired man’s fancy.
You know that I have driven the wheels too fast
Of late, and all for gold I do not need.
When are we mortals to be sensible,
Paying no more for life than life is worth?
Better for us, no doubt, we do not know
How much we pay or what it is we buy.”
He waited, gazing at me as if asking
The worth of what the universe had for sale
For one confessed remorse. Avon, I knew,
Had driven the wheels too fast, and not for gold.

“If you had given him then your hand,” I said,
“And spoken, though it strangled you, the truth,
I should not have the melancholy honor
Of sitting here alone with you this evening.
If only you had shaken hands with him,
And said the truth, he would have gone his way.
And you your way. He might have wished you dead,
But he would not have made you miserable.
At least,” I added, indefensibly,
That’s what I hope is true.”

He pitied me,
But had the magnanimity not to say so.
“If only we had shaken hands,” he said,
“And I had said the truth, we might have been
In half a moment rolling on the gravel.
If I had said the truth, I should have said
That never at any moment on the clock
Above us in the tower since his arrival
Had I been in a more proficient mood
To throttle him. If you had seen his eyes
As I did, and if you had seen his face
At work as I did, you might understand.
I was ashamed of it, as I am now,
But that’s the prelude to another theme;
For now I’m saying only what had happened
If I had taken his hand and said the truth.
The wise have cautioned us that where there’s hate
There’s also fear. The wise are right sometimes.
There may be now, but there was no fear then.
There was just hatred, hauled up out of hell
For me to writhe in; and I writhed in it.”

I saw that he was writhing in it still;
But having a magnanimity myself,
I waited. There was nothing else to do
But wait, and to remember that his tale,
Though well along, as I divined it was,
Yet hovered among shadows and regrets
Of twenty years ago. When he began
Again to speak, I felt them coming nearer.

“Whenever your poet or your philosopher
Has nothing richer for us,” he resumed,
He burrows among remnants, like a mouse
In a waste-basket, and with much dry noise
Comes up again, having found Time at the bottom
And filled himself with its futility.
‘Time is at once,’ he says, to startle us,
A poison for us, if we make it so,
And, if we make it so, an antidote
For the same poison that afflicted us.’
I’m witness to the poison, but the cure
Of my complaint is not, for me, in Time.
There may be doctors in eternity
To deal with it, but they are not here now.
There’s no specific for my three diseases
That I could swallow, even if I should find it,
And I shall never find it here on earth.”

“Mightn’t it be as well, my friend,” I said,
“For you to contemplate the uncompleted
With not such an infernal certainty?”

“And mightn’t it be as well for you, my friend,”
Said Avon, “to be quiet while I go on?
When I am done, then you may talk all night—
Like a physician who can do no good,
But knows how soon another would have his fee
Were he to tell the truth. Your fee for this
Is in my gratitude and my affection;
And I’m not eager to be calling in
Another to take yours away from you,
Whatever it’s worth. I like to think I know.
Well then, again. The carriage rolled away
With him inside; and so it might have gone
For ten years rolling on, with him still in it,
For all it was I saw of him. Sometimes
I heard of him, but only as one hears
Of leprosy in Boston or New York
And wishes it were somewhere else. He faded
Out of my scene—yet never quite out of it:
‘I shall know where you are until you die,’
Were his last words; and they are the same words
That I received thereafter once a year,
Infallibly on my birthday, with no name;
Only a card, and the words printed on it.
No, I was never rid of him—not quite;
Although on shipboard, on my way from here
To Hamburg, I believe that I forgot him.
But once ashore, I should have been half ready
To meet him there, risen up out of the ground,
With hoofs and horns and tail and everything.
Believe me, there was nothing right about him,
Though it was not in Hamburg that I found him.
Later, in Rome, it was we found each other,
For the first time since we had been at school.
There was the same slow vengeance in his eyes
When he saw mine, and there was a vicious twist
On his amphibious face that might have been
On anything else a smile—rather like one
We look for on the stage than in the street.
I must have been a yard away from him
Yet as we passed I felt the touch of him
Like that of something soft in a dark room.
There’s hardly need of saying that we said nothing,
Or that we gave each other an occasion
For more than our eyes uttered. He was gone
Before I knew it, like a solid phantom;
And his reality was for me some time
In its achievement—given that one’s to be
Convinced that such an incubus at large
Was ever quite real. The season was upon us
When there are fitter regions in the world—
Though God knows he would have been safe enough—
Than Rome for strayed Americans to live in,
And when the whips of their itineraries
Hurry them north again. I took my time,
Since I was paying for it, and leisurely
Went where I would—though never again to move
Without him at my elbow or behind me.
My shadow of him, wherever I found myself,
Might horribly as well have been the man
Although I should have been afraid of him
No more than of a large worm in a salad.
I should omit the salad, certainly,
And wish the worm elsewhere. And so he was,
In fact; yet as I go on to grow older,
I question if there’s anywhere a fact
That isn’t the malevolent existence
Of one man who is dead, or is not dead,
Or what the devil it is that he may be.
There must be, I suppose, a fact somewhere,
But I don’t know it. I can only tell you
That later, when to all appearances
I stood outside a music-hall in London,
I felt him and then saw that he was there.
Yes, he was there, and had with him a woman
Who looked as if she didn’t know. I’m sorry
To this day for that woman—who, no doubt,
Is doing well. Yes, there he was again;
There were his eyes and the same vengeance in them
That I had seen in Rome and twice before—
Not mentioning all the time, or most of it,
Between the day I struck him and that evening.
That was the worst show that I ever saw,
But you had better see it for yourself
Before you say so too. I went away,
Though not for any fear that I could feel
Of him or of his worst manipulations,
But only to be out of the same air
That made him stay alive in the same world
With all the gentlemen that were in irons
For uncommendable extravagances
That I should reckon slight compared with his
Offence of being. Distance would have made him
A moving fly-speck on the map of life,—
But he would not be distant, though his flesh
And bone might have been climbing Fujiyama
Or Chimborazo—with me there in London,
Or sitting here. My doom it was to see him,
Be where I might. That was ten years ago;
And having waited season after season
His always imminent evil recrudescence,
And all for nothing, I was waiting still,
When the Titanic touched a piece of ice
And we were for a moment where we are,
With nature laughing at us. When the noise
Had spent itself to names, his was among them;
And I will not insult you or myself
With a vain perjury. I was far from cold.
It seemed as for the first time in my life
I knew the blessedness of being warm;
And I remember that I had a drink,
Having assuredly no need of it.
Pity a fool for his credulity,
If so you must. But when I found his name
Among the dead, I trusted once the news;
And after that there were no messages
In ambush waiting for me on my birthday.
There was no vestige yet of any fear,
You understand—if that’s why you are smiling.”

I said that I had not so much as whispered
The name aloud of any fear soever,
And that I smiled at his unwonted plunge
Into the perilous pool of Dionysus.
“Well, if you are so easily diverted
As that,” he said, drumming his chair again,
“You will be pleased, I think, with what is coming;
And though there be divisions and departures,
Imminent from now on, for your diversion
I’ll do the best I can. More to the point,
I know a man who if his friends were like him
Would live in the woods all summer and all winter,
Leaving the town and its iniquities
To die of their own dust. But having his wits,
Henceforth he may conceivably avoid
The adventure unattended. Last October
He took me with him into the Maine woods,
Where, by the shore of a primeval lake,
With woods all round it, and a voyage away
From anything wearing clothes, he had reared somehow
A lodge, or camp, with a stone chimney in it,
And a wide fireplace to make men forget
Their sins who sat before it in the evening,
Hearing the wind outside among the trees
And the black water washing on the shore.
I never knew the meaning of October
Until I went with Asher to that place,
Which I shall not investigate again
Till I be taken there by other forces
Than are innate in my economy.
‘You may not like it,’ Asher said, ‘but Asher
Knows what is good. So put your faith in Asher,
And come along with him. He’s an odd bird,
Yet I could wish for the world’s decency
There might be more of him. And so it was
I found myself, at first incredulous,
Down there with Asher in the wilderness,
Alive at last with a new liberty
And with no sore to fester. He perceived
In me an altered favor of God’s works,
And promptly took upon himself the credit,
Which, in a fashion, was as accurate
As one’s interpretation of another
Is like to be. So for a frosty fortnight
We had the sunlight with us on the lake,
And the moon with us when the sun was down.
‘God gave his adjutants a holiday,’
Asher assured me, ‘when He made this place’;
And I agreed with him that it was heaven,—
Till it was hell for me for then and after.

There was a village miles away from us
Where now and then we paddled for the mail
And incidental small commodities
That perfect exile might require, and stayed
The night after the voyage with an antique
Survival of a broader world than ours
Whom Asher called The Admiral. This time,
A little out of sorts and out of tune
With paddling, I let Asher go alone,
Sure that his heart was happy. Then it was
That hell came. I sat gazing over there
Across the water, watching the sun’s last fire
Above those gloomy and indifferent trees
That might have been a wall around the world,
When suddenly, like faces over the lake,
Out of the silence of that other shore
I was aware of hidden presences
That soon, no matter how many of them there were,
Would all be one. I could not look behind me,
Where I could hear that one of them was breathing,
For, if I did, those others over there
Might all see that at last I was afraid;
And I might hear them without seeing them,
Seeing that other one. You were not there;
And it is well for you that you don’t know
What they are like when they should not be there.
And there were chilly doubts of whether or not
I should be seeing the rest that I should see
With eyes, or otherwise. I could not be sure;
And as for going over to find out,
All I may tell you now is that my fear
Was not the fear of dying, though I knew soon
That all the gold in all the sunken ships
That have gone down since Tyre would not have paid
For me the ferriage of myself alone
To that infernal shore. I was in hell,
Remember; and if you have never been there
You may as well not say how easy it is
To find the best way out. There may not be one.
Well, I was there; and I was there alone—
Alone for the first time since I was born;
And I was not alone. That’s what it is
To be in hell. I hope you will not go there.
All through that slow, long, desolating twilight
Of incoherent certainties, I waited;
Never alone—never to be alone;
And while the night grew down upon me there,
I thought of old Prometheus in the story
That I had read at school, and saw mankind
All huddled into clusters in the dark,
Calling to God for light. There was a light
Coming for them, but there was none for me
Until a shapeless remnant of a moon
Rose after midnight over the black trees
Behind me. I should hardly have confessed
The heritage then of my identity
To my own shadow; for I was powerless there,
As I am here. Say what you like to say
To silence, but say none of it to me
Tonight. To say it now would do no good,
And you are here to listen. Beware of hate,
And listen. Beware of hate, remorse, and fear,
And listen. You are staring at the damned,
But yet you are no more the one than he
To say that it was he alone who planted
The flower of death now growing in his garden.
Was it enough, I wonder, that I struck him?
I shall say nothing. I shall have to wait
Until I see what’s coming, if it comes,
When I’m a delver in another garden—
If such an one there be. If there be none,
All’s well—and over. Rather a vain expense,
One might affirm—yet there is nothing lost.
Science be praised that there is nothing lost.”

I’m glad the venom that was on his tongue
May not go down on paper; and I’m glad
No friend of mine alive, far as I know,
Has a tale waiting for me with an end
Like Avon’s. There was here an interruption,
Though not a long one—only while we heard,
As we had heard before, the ghost of steps
Faintly outside. We knew that she was there
Again; and though it was a kindly folly,
I wished that Avon’s wife would go to sleep.

“I was afraid, this time, but not of man
Or man as you may figure him,” he said.
“It was not anything my eyes had seen
That I could feel around me in the night,
There by that lake. If I had been alone,
There would have been the joy of being free,
Which in imagination I had won
With unimaginable expiation—
But I was not alone. If you had seen me,
Waiting there for the dark and looking off
Over the gloom of that relentless water,
Which had the stillness of the end of things
That evening on it, I might well have made
For you the picture of the last man left
Where God, in his extinction of the rest,
Had overlooked him and forgotten him.
Yet I was not alone. Interminably
The minutes crawled along and over me,
Slow, cold, intangible, and invisible,
As if they had come up out of that water.
How long I sat there I shall never know,
For time was hidden out there in the black lake,
Which now I could see only as a glimpse
Of black light by the shore. There were no stars
To mention, and the moon was hours away
Behind me. There was nothing but myself,
And what was coming. On my breast I felt
The touch of death, and I should have died then.
I ruined good Asher’s autumn as it was,
For he will never again go there alone,
If ever he goes at all. Nature did ill
To darken such a faith in her as his,
Though he will have it that I had the worst
Of her defection, and will hear no more
Apologies. If it had to be for someone,
I think it well for me it was for Asher.
I dwell on him, meaning that you may know him
Before your last horn blows. He has a name
That’s like a tree, and therefore like himself—
By which I mean you find him where you leave him.
I saw him and The Admiral together
While I was in the dark, but they were far—
Far as around the world from where I was;
And they knew nothing of what I saw not
While I knew only I was not alone.
I made a fire to make the place alive,
And locked the door. But even the fire was dead,
And all the life there was was in the shadow
It made of me. My shadow was all of me;
The rest had had its day, and there was night
Remaining—only night, that’s made for shadows,
Shadows and sleep and dreams, or dreams without it.
The fire went slowly down, and now the moon,
Or that late wreck of it, was coming up;
And though it was a martyr’s work to move,
I must obey my shadow, and I did.
There were two beds built low against the wall,
And down on one of them, with all my clothes on,
Like a man getting into his own grave,
I lay—and waited. As the firelight sank,
The moonlight, which had partly been consumed
By the black trees, framed on the other wall
A glimmering window not far from the ground.
The coals were going, and only a few sparks
Were there to tell of them; and as they died
The window lightened, and I saw the trees.
They moved a little, but I could not move,
More than to turn my face the other way;
And then, if you must have it so, I slept.
We’ll call it so—if sleep is your best name
For a sort of conscious, frozen catalepsy
Wherein a man sees all there is around him
As if it were not real, and he were not
Alive. You may call it anything you please
That made me powerless to move hand or foot,
Or to make any other living motion
Than after a long horror, without hope,
To turn my face again the other way.
Some force that was not mine opened my eyes,
And, as I knew it must be,—it was there.”

Avon covered his eyes—whether to shut
The memory and the sight of it away,
Or to be sure that mine were for the moment
Not searching his with pity, is now no matter.
My glance at him was brief, turning itself
To the familiar pattern of his rug,
Wherein I may have sought a consolation—
As one may gaze in sorrow on a shell,
Or a small apple. So it had come, I thought;
And heard, no longer with a wonderment,
The faint recurring footsteps of his wife,
Who, knowing less than I knew, yet knew more.
Now I could read, I fancied, through the fear
That latterly was living in her eyes,
To the sure source of its authority.
But he went on, and I was there to listen:

“And though I saw it only as a blot
Between me and my life, it was enough
To make me know that he was watching there
Waiting for me to move, or not to move,
Before he moved. Sick as I was with hate
Reborn, and chained with fear that was more than fear,
I would have gambled all there was to gain
Or lose in rising there from where I lay
And going out after it. ‘Before the dawn,’
I reasoned, ‘there will be a difference here.
Therefore it may as well be done outside.’
And then I found I was immovable,
As I had been before; and a dead sweat
Rolled out of me as I remembered him
When I had seen him leaving me at school.
‘I shall know where you are until you die,’
Were the last words that I had heard him say;
And there he was. Now I could see his face,
And all the sad, malignant desperation
That was drawn on it after I had struck him,
And on my memory since that afternoon.
But all there was left now for me to do
Was to lie there and see him while he squeezed
His unclean outlines into the dim room,
And half erect inside, like a still beast
With a face partly man’s, came slowly on
Along the floor to the bed where I lay,
And waited. There had been so much of waiting,
Through all those evil years before my respite—
Which now I knew and recognized at last
As only his more venomous preparation
For the vile end of a deceiving peace—
That I began to fancy there was on me
The stupor that explorers have alleged
As evidence of nature’s final mercy
When tigers have them down upon the earth
And wild hot breath is heavy on their faces.
I could not feel his breath, but I could hear it;
Though fear had made an anvil of my heart
Where demons, for the joy of doing it,
Were sledging death down on it. And I saw
His eyes now, as they were, for the first time—
Aflame as they had never been before
With all their gathered vengeance gleaming in them,
And always that unconscionable sorrow
That would not die behind it. Then I caught
The shadowy glimpse of an uplifted arm,
And a moon-flash of metal. That was all.…

“When I believed I was alive again
I was with Asher and The Admiral,
Whom Asher had brought with him for a day
With nature. They had found me when they came;
And there was not much left of me to find.
I had not moved or known that I was there
Since I had seen his eyes and felt his breath;
And it was not for some uncertain hours
After they came that either would say how long
That might have been. It should have been much longer.
All you may add will be your own invention,
For I have told you all there is to tell.
Tomorrow I shall have another birthday,
And with it there may come another message—
Although I cannot see the need of it,
Or much more need of drowning, if that’s all
Men drown for—when they drown. You know as much
As I know about that, though I’ve a right,
If not a reason, to be on my guard;
And only God knows what good that will do.
Now you may get some air. Good night!—and thank you.”
He smiled, but I would rather he had not.

I wished that Avon’s wife would go to sleep,
But whether she found sleep that night or not
I do not know. I was awake for hours,
Toiling in vain to let myself believe
That Avon’s apparition was a dream,
And that he might have added, for romance,
The part that I had taken home with me
For reasons not in Avon’s dictionary.
But each recurrent memory of his eyes,
And of the man himself that I had known
So long and well, made soon of all my toil
An evanescent and a vain evasion;
And it was half as in expectancy
That I obeyed the summons of his wife
A little before dawn, and was again
With Avon in the room where I had left him,
But not with the same Avon I had left.
The doctor, an august authority,
With eminence abroad as well as here,
Looked hard at me as if I were the doctor
And he the friend. “I have had eyes on Avon
For more than half a year,” he said to me,
“And I have wondered often what it was
That I could see that I was not to see.
Though he was in the chair where you are looking,
I told his wife—I had to tell her something—
It was a nightmare and an aneurism;
And so, or partly so, I’ll say it was.
The last without the first will be enough
For the newspapers and the undertaker;
Yet if we doctors were not all immune
From death, disease, and curiosity,
My diagnosis would be sorry for me.
He died, you know, because he was afraid—
And he had been afraid for a long time;
And we who knew him well would all agree
To fancy there was rather more than fear.
The door was locked inside—they broke it in
To find him—but she heard him when it came.
There are no signs of any visitors,
Or need of them. If I were not a child
Of science, I should say it was the devil.
I don’t believe it was another woman,
And surely it was not another man.”

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Edward Lear

There was an Old Man of Apulia,
Whose conduct was very peculiar
He fed twenty sons,
Upon nothing but buns,
That whimsical Man of Apulia.

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A Debut

There was an old man from Guildford,
Who left too hard a bargain,
They sold him the clue
Of a large debut
For which the manliness was inspired.

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Edward Lear

There was an Old Man of Vienna,
Who lived upon Tincture of Senna;
When that did not agree,
He took Camomile Tea,
That nasty Old Man of Vienna.

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Edward Lear

There was an old man whose despair
Induced him to purchase a hare:
Whereon one fine day,
He rode wholly away,
Which partly assuaged his despair.

limerick by from A Book of Nonsense (1846)Report problemRelated quotes
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