Another Letter to the Same [B.W. Procter]: From Göttingen; March, 1826
Today a truant from the odd, old bones
And rinds of flesh, which, as tamed rocks and stones
Piled cavernously make his body’s dwelling,
Have housed man’s soul: there, where time’s billows swelling
Roll a deep, ghostly, and invisible sea
Of melted worlds antediluvially,
Upon the sand of ever-crumbling hours,
God-founded, stands the castle, all its towers
With veiny tendrils ivied:—this bright day
I leave its chambers, and with oars away
Seek some enchanted island, where to play.
And what do you that in the enchantment dwell,
And should be raving ever? a wild swell
Of passionate life rolling about the world,
Now sun-sucked to the clouds, dashed on the curled
Leaf-hidden daisies, an incarnate storm
Letting the sun through on the meadows yellow,
Or anything except that earthy fellow,
That wise dog’s brother, man. O shame to tell!
Make tea in Circe’s cup, boil the cool well,
The well Pierian, which no bird dare sip
But nightingales. There let kettles dip
Who write their simpering sonnets to its song,
And walk on sundays in Parnassus’ park:—
Take thy example from the sunny lark,
Throw off the mantle which conceals the soul,
The many-citied world, and seek thy goal
Straight as a star-beam falls. Creep not nor climb,
As they who place their topmost of sublime
On some peak of this planet, pitifully.
Dart eagle-wise with open wings, and fly
Until you meet the gods. Thus counsel I
The men who can, but tremble to be, great:
Cursed be the fool who taught to hesitate,
And to regret: time lost most bitterly!
And thus I write, and I dare write, to thee,
Not worshipping, as those are wont to do,
Who feed and fear some asinine review.
Let Jaggernaut roll on; but we, whose sires
Blooded his wheels and prayed around his fires,
Laugh at the leaden ass in the god’s skin.
Example follows precept. I have been
Giving some negro minutes of the night,
Freed from the slavery of my ruling spright
Anatomy the grim, to a new story,
In whose satiric pathos we will glory.
In it despair has married wildest mirth,
And, to their wedding-banquet, all the earth
Is bade to bring its enmities and loves,
Triumphs and horrors: you shall see the doves
Billing with quiet joy, and all the while
Their nest’s the scull of some old king of Nile.
But he who fills the cups, and makes the jest,
Pipes to the dancers, is the fool o’ th’ feast,—
Who’s he? I’ve dug him up and decked him trim,
And made a mock, a fool, a slave of him,
Who was the planet’s tyrant, dotard death;
Man’s hate and dread. Not, with a stoical breath,
To meet him, like Augustus, standing up;
Nor with grave saws to season the cold cup,
Like the philosopher; nor yet to hail
His coming with a verse or jesting tale,
As Adrian did and More:—but of his night,
His moony ghostliness, and silent might
To rob him, to uncypress him in the light,
To unmask all his secrets; make him play
Momus o’er wine by torch-light,—is the way
To conquer him, and kill; and from the day,
Spurn’d, hiss’d, and hooted, send him back again,
An unmask’d braggart to his bankrupt den.
For death is more “a jest” than life.—You see
Contempt grows quick from familiarity.
I owe this wisdom to Anatomy.—
Your muse is younger in her soul than mine:
O feed her still on woman’s smiles and wine,
And give the world a tender song once more;
For all the good can love and can adore
What’s human, fair, and gentle. Few, I know,
Can bear to sit at my board, when I show
The wretchedness and folly of man’s all,
And laugh myself right heartily. Your call
Is higher and more human: I will do
Unsociably my part, and still be true
To my own soul; but e’er admire you,
And own that you have nature’s kindest trust,
Her weak and dear to nourish,—that I must.
Then fare, as you deserve it, well, and live
In the calm feelings you to others give.
[Note: this poem follows “Letter to B.W. Procter, Esq.:
From Oxford; May, 1825” in Kelsall’s edition.]