Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AT SAGAMORE HILL, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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AT SAGAMORE HILL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: All things proceed as though the stage were set
Last Line: As you desired them in these sixty years.
Subject(s): Home; Presidents, United States; Roosevelt, Theodore (1858-1919)


All things proceed as though the stage were set
For acts arranged. I have not learned the part,
The day enacts itself. I take the tube,
Find daylight at Jamaica, know the place
Through some rehearsal, all the country know
Which glides along the window, is not seen
For definite memory.

At Oyster Bay
A taxi stands in readiness; in a trice
We circle strips of water, slopes of hills,
Climb where a granite wall supports a hill.
A mass of blossoms, ripening berries, too,
And enter at a gate, go up a drive,
Shadowed by larches, cedars, silver willows.
This taxi just ahead is in the play,
Is here in life as I had seen it in
The crystal of prevision, reaches first
The porte cochere. This moment from the door
Comes Roosevelt, and greets the man who leaves
The taxi just ahead, then waits for me,
Puts a strong hand that softens into mine,
And says, "O, this is bully!"

We go in.
He leaves my antecessor in a room
Somewhere along the hall, and comes to me
Who wait him in the roomy library.
"How are those lovely daughters? Oh, by George!
I thought I might forget their names. -- I know --
It's Madeline and Marcia. Yes, you know
Corinne adores the picture which you sent
Of Madeline. -- Your boy, too? In the war!
That's bully -- tea is coming -- we must talk,
I have five hundred things to ask you. Set
The tea things on this table, Anna. -- Now,
Do you take sugar, lemon? O, you smoke!
I'll give you a cigar."

The talk begins.
He's dressed in canvas khaki, flannel shirt,
Laced boots for farming, chopping trees, perhaps;
A stocky frame, curtains of skin on cheeks
Drained slightly of their fat; gash in the neck
Where pus was emptied lately; one eye dim,
And growing dimmer; almost blind in that.
And when he walks he rolls a little like
A man whose youth is fading, like a cart
That rolls when springs are old. He is a moose,
Scarred, battered from the hunters, thickets, stones;
Some finest tips of antlers broken off,
And eyes where images of ancient things
Flit back and forth across them, keeping still
A certain slumberous indifference
Or wisdom, it may be.

But then the talk!
Bronze dolphins in a fountain cannot spout
More streams at once: Of course the war, the emperor,
America in the war, his sons in France,
The dangers, separation, let them go!
The fate has been appointed -- to our task,
Live full our lives with duty, go to sleep!
"For I say," he exclaims, "the man who fears
To die should not be born, nor left to live."
It's Celtic poetry, ree verse; he says
"You nobly celebrate in your Spoon River
The pioneers, the soldiers of the past;
Why do you flout our Philippine adventure?"
"No difference, Colonel, in the stock; the difference
Lies in the causes." Well, another stream:
Mark Hanna, Quay and others. "What I hate,"
He says to me, "is the Pharisee -- I can stand
All other men. And you will find the men
So much maligned had gentle qualities,
And noble dreams. Poor Quay, he loved the Indians.
Sent for me when he lay there dying, said,
'Look after such a tribe when I am dead.
I want to crawl upon a sunny rock
And die there like a wolf.'" "Did he say that,
Colonel, to you?" "Yea! and you know, a man
Who says a thing like that has in his soul
An orb of light to flash that meaning forth
Of heroism, nature."

Time goes on,
The play is staged, must end; my taxi comes
In half an hour or so. "Before it comes
Let's walk about the farm and see my corn."
A fellow on the porch is warming heels
As we go by. "I'll see him when you go,"
The Colonel says.

The railfence by the corn
Is good to lean on as we stand and talk
Of farming, cattle, country life. We turn,
Sit for some moments in a garden house
On which a rose vine clambers all in bloom,
And from this hilly place look at the strips
Of water from the bay, a mile beyond,
Below some several terraces of hills
Where firs and pines are growing. This resembles
A scene in Milton that I've read. He knows,
Catches the reminiscence, quotes the lines -- and then
Something of country silence, look of grass
Where the wind stirs it, mystical little breaths
Coming between the roses; something, too,
In Vulcan's figure; he is Vulcan. too,
Deprived his shop, great bellows, hammer, anvil,
Sitting so quietly beside me, hands
Spread over knees; something of these evokes
A pathos, and immediately in key
With all of this he says: "I have achieved
By labor, concentration; not at all
By gifts or genius, being commonplace
In all my faculties."

"Not all," I say.
"One faculty is not -- your over-mind,
Eyed front and back to see all faculties,
Govern and watch them. If we let you state
Your case against you, timid born, you say,
Becoming brave; asthmatic, growing strong;
No marksman, yet becoming skilled with guns;
No gift of speech, yet winning golden speech;
No gift of writing, writing books, no less
Of our America to thrill and live --
If, as I say, we let you state your case
Against you as you do, there yet remains
This over-mind, and that is what -- a gift
Of genius or of what?"

"By George," he says,
"What are you, a theosophist?"

"I don't know.
I know some men achieve a single thing,
Like courage, charity, in this incarnation;
You have achieved some twenty things. I think
That this is going some for a man whose gifts
Are commonplace and nothing else."

We rise
And saunter toward the house -- and there's the man
Still warming heels; my taxi, too, has come.
We are to meet next Wednesday in New York
And finish up some subjects -- he has thoughts
How I can help America, if I drop
This line or that a little, all in all.

* * * * * *

But something happens; I have met a loss;
Would see no one, and write him I am off.
And on that Wednesday flashes from the war
Say Quentin has been killed: we had not met
If I had stayed to meet him.

So, good-by
Upon the lawn at Sagamore was good-by.

Master of Properties, you stage the scene
And let us speak and pass into the wings!
One thing was fitting -- dying in your sleep.
A touch of Nature, Colonel! You who loved
And were beloved of Nature, felt her hand
Upon your brow at last to give to you
A bit of sleep, and after sleep -- perhaps
Rest and rejuvenation -- you will wake
To newer labors, fresher victories
Over those faculties not disciplined
As you desired them in these sixty years.





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