How came I on this bogus pedestal?
Heard with respect, scanned by admiring eyes,
Learnèd, at home in Zion, genial,
Confidently expected to be wise!
Wise to absorb, or cunning to express?
Heart—with your hollow self horizon-filled—
What is your past, if not a wavering mess
Of goals descried but never firmly willed?
How stands it now, this instant, in this room,
With one sweet woman’s presence to your mind
A more persuasive antidote to gloom
Than all the books with which its walls are lined?
These the wise thoughts you breathe with every breath:
These, and the stealthy, swift approach of death.
O lord, another answer to be fudged,
Another one laboriously addressed
And stamped and posted . . . tiresome effort grudged?
Or gratitude for gratitude expressed,
Joy over spirit in his mind revealed,
Light in his darkness, fullness brimming void,
Another brother or a sister healed,
Another life, as lives should be, enjoyed . . .
But how suppress, how cancel or redeem
That surge of idiotic self-esteem?
What is his proper name, that alien man,
The one that through time’s telescope I see,
When the departing century I scan?
I ask and ask. He only answers: Me.
Those meannesses, deceptions, tricks to please,
Those hours and days of trifling—In my scales
What can you bring to counterbalance these?
Probes the Accuser, as my courage fails,
Watching him stand, the unalterable Past,
Naked before those stern unbending looks.
What will he say, if anything? . . . at last
He mutters, scarce above a whisper: “Books?”
* * * * *
Is that revealing stare a thought less grave?
And does he pop in his ascending pan
Before it kicks the beam: “’Tis true they gave
A light lurch to the journeying Soul of Man.”
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