Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ADELAIDE AND JOHN WILKES BOOTH, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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ADELAIDE AND JOHN WILKES BOOTH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Yes, even this you can surmount by art
Last Line: (he goes out.)
Subject(s): Booth, John Wilkes (1838-1865)


ADELAIDE

Yes, even this you can surmount by art,
Lee has surrendered, but --

BOOTH

No! all is lost.
God judge me, right or wrong, but never man.
I love peace more than life, have loved the Union.
Have waited for the clouds to break, have prayed
For justice, peace; but now all hope is dead.
My prayers are futile, as my hopes have been.
God's will be done. I go to see and share
The end, though bitter.

ADELAIDE

John! you must be calm.

BOOTH

I am most calm, but fixed.

ADELAIDE

You are not calm;
Strange light is in your eyes, your face is pale.
You cannot stretch your hands out but they tremble.
You have avoided me, you walk alone,
Sup, sit alone, lest concentrated thought,
This thought of yours be turned aside. My friend,
Take Beauty in your heart to heal its hurts.
Art is for you. You are a son of Art --
Why waste your spirit on such things as these?
Rulers and nations pass, and wars are lost,
Their issues are forgotten, pushed aside --
Art is eternal and the sons of Art
Live in its calm, above the dust and sweat
Of politics and statecraft. O my friend,
Why should this Brutus, the tyrranicide,
The patriot, move you so; and why not Brutus
As a soul made clear by Shakespeare for your Art
To glory in and re-create for men
To see what Brutus was?

BOOTH

Why, what is this
But playing with life, that's all it is to play,
Hard play at that, to sleep, to walk, to rest
For strength to trip the stage and imitate
The soul of Brutus! If it be so much,
Art as you say, to live him on the stage,
What would it be to live him to the life,
And do his act in deed?

ADELAIDE

What do you say?
John, you are mad! So that is in your heart!
Look! pause! and muster all your strength of mind,
Forecast, survey -- fly from yourself -- away --
Even for a week withdraw your mind from this --
That you may see, return with freshened mind
To look upon the horror that you plot.
John, by the love you woke in me for beauty
Of face and genius, listen, on my knees
I ask you, pause and think!

BOOTH

But I have thought.
I know I shall be hated by the North,
And doubted in the South, it may be, yet
God's will be done. For in a day to come
My name will shine as shines the name of Brutus,
Whose spirit is in me and speaks to me.
Could you have seen, as I have seen, the woes
And horrors of this war in every state,
Then you would pray, as I have prayed, to God
To give the Northern mind pity and justice,
And dry this sea of blood. Alas! my country!
What is this trifling Art beside my country,
This rhetoric spoken, memorized? My friend,
I would have given a thousand lives to see
My country whole, unbroken. Even now
I'd give my life to see her what she was,
Before this man, this tyrant, bloody Caesar,
This Caesar worse than Caesar, who -- behold,
In the name of God -- why, think in the name of God
Made her a pitiless sovereignty, a force
As cold as steel, and dragged her glorious flag
Through cruelty, oppression, till its stripes
Are bloody gashes on the face of heaven.
How I have loved that flag! How I have longed
To see it flap free from the scarlet mist
That spoils its glory. As for me, this country
Which I loved as a lover loves his bride,
Seems now a dream! The South has all my love,
What has it done? Withdrawn, and that alone,
From the Union which was formed by states withdrawing
From the old confederacy, and leaving states
Out in the cold that did not wish to join.
What has the South done that it might not do
Under the Declaration? Then to think
That all these tens of thousands of our kin,
Our blood, our brothers, should be massacred
For loving God and Liberty, serving God.
And now this day! The South is crushed at last,
The negroes freed by what? -- by force, by force
Which John Brown used, and for the which he paid
With his damned neck! O Reason! Adelaide,
Of all men I am sanest, they are mad
Who cannot see these truths: that slavery
Is sanctioned by the Creator, read St. Paul;
That men may revolutionize, as matter of right,
Secede from what they have acceded to,
And not be murdered for it. Do you think
I have not measured motives, thoughts? My friend,
I could be happy, if I could forget
The duty laid upon me, have the means
For happiness, so many friends and you,
Great competence and fame, and greater fame
In store for deeper art. So much for this!
As for the South, as citizens, persons, love
The South is not my friend. Then there's my mother,
Whom I adore: See what I sacrifice:
Fame, money, friends, my mother -- and for what?
Were it the South, I should not think to act --
But it is God, is Justice, and I love
God, Justice, more than wealth or fame, yes more
Than home or mother. All is lost at last.
The South has been erased and is no more.
The Republic of the North and South is dead,
Gutted by a guerilla. Yes, my country
Has vanished from the earth and is no more,
I have no wish to live, my country being
Dead and a stench.

ADELAIDE

I put my arms around you --
Be patient -- listen -- do not thrust me off --
John --

BOOTH

You must not hold me, Adelaide -- farewell.

ADELAIDE

John! John!

BOOTH

God calls me -- I obey!

(He goes out.)





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