Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: You are a doctor? Ill? I'm very ill
Last Line: (he dies.)
Subject(s): Booth, Junius Brutus (1796-1852)


You are a doctor? Ill? I'm very ill.
My soul is worn, it is a ghastly life,
This acting, traveling, living through the passions
Of Brutus, and Orestes, Richard III.
My father tried to make a lawyer of me,
But fate is fate. My age is fifty-six,
But counting by the moments I have lived
A thousand years were nearer truth. Oh, well,
What if this talking tire me, I am tired
With such fatigue that nothing adds to it.
And if I die, why what will be, will be.
I'd like to see "The Farm" in Maryland
Just once again, see Mary, that's my wife,
John Wilkes, my boy, and Junius Brutus, too --
Edwin I left in California,
Shall never see him more I fear -- but then
What comes to us must come.

That brandy helps,
I'm better now.

Oh, yes, it's true my father
Would make a lawyer of me, couldn't do it --
I am a better lawyer than he was
For acting parts and living other lives,
Thus finding laws of life -- but what's the good?
You can't find happiness, all is vanity.
If you're a strolling player, vanity;
Vexation too and jealousy and strife.
If all the house goes mad to see you rage
As life-like as the Moor did, do they know
What realest envy stalks behind the scenes,
What you have done to keep your golden voice,
Your strength to paint the frenzy of Othello?

After one greatest triumph I sat alone,
Was playing solitaire, who should come in?
Chief Justice Marshall, friend of mine? Oh, yes.
He said, "I think you'd be the happiest
Of men, why not enjoy what you've achieved?"
"Judge," I replied, "you see me here alone,
There is no ecstasy, no drop of joy
For me save in that moment when I see,
Both through my genius glowing and the cries
And plaudits from the house, that I have struck.
The fateful note that thrills -- all other hours
Are spent in saving power and making ready
For just that moment. What's an actor, poet?
A medium round whom the spirits swarm
Like bats in Tartarus and shrill Me! Me!
Take now and write, speak for me -- make it clear,
You are our hope of truth, of being known
For what we are. And so you're never done.
The spirits dash about you with their cries;
Men note your eyes turned inward -- move away.
And you must keep in vigor. Hoarseness rasps
The voice of Brutus, you must catch no cold.
You drink sometimes to deafen ears against
The spirits' crying, but you pay for it,
Must climb back into strength, but while you're weak
The spirits are a-crying, there you are,
Ambitious but enfeebled, can't respond,
And tortured for it. There is no escape.
And so you play at solitaire."
The Judge
Replied: "A judge is lonely, for his reasons
Must keep himself aloof."
Yes, I knew Kean.
He played Othello to my great Iago,
And I say great, for I was twenty-one,
And made the London English shout and howl:
"Great Booth forever," though they shouted, too,
"No Booth" and "down with Booth," the partisans
Of Kean, the envious. And on a time
It's Drury Lane, and what an audience!
Hazlitt is there and Godwin, Shelley's friend,
John Howard Payne, who wrote "The Fall of Tarquin."
He saw that Kean was envious, would not be
Excelled by me and wrote as much.

My friend,
Another drink of brandy!

Well, at last
I make America my home. 'Twere well
If I am spared to write my memories,
They throng so at this moment. God be praised,
I knew Old Hickory and supped with him,
A man from top to toe! And I have lived,
Fought, suffered, triumphed, lived through self and lived
Through Brutus, Lear, and Richard.

Look at me,
Am I a man you'd ever take for mad?
Mad-men have struck at me, a lunatic
Struck at me with an ax, I cowed his hate
And fixed him with my eye. But as for me,
Here have I been for life a lover of home,
A husband blest with happiness in a wife,
And yet reputed mad. For little things
Like this reputed mad: I'm playing Shylock,
The call boy searches me, my time has come,
Where was I? In a closet. Was it queer?
A symptom? No! I hid to shut the light
Of other things external from the mind
Of Shylock's mood. Why, is it strange at all
For a soul that incarnates itself with souls
Like Brutus' and Lear's to lose itself,
Seem sometimes naked, trembling, swaying too
With such exhaustion, such tremendous change?
These common minds see not the genius mind
For what it is, forget the strength and wisdom
That makes the genius, in my case, forget
My books and scholarship, my toil, who learned
Greek, Latin, German, French and Arabic,
Hebrew and Spanish; the philosophies,
I've mastered in my life.

I tremble too
For thinking of my little son, John Wilkes,
So beautiful and gifted, has the touch;
Is full of dreams, goes charging on his horse,
Spouting heroic speeches, lance in hand
There on "The Farm," a patriot and a lover
Of liberty even now. What will he be,
A statesman or an actor, warrior, what?
God knows alone, and what his fate God knows.
I named him after John Wilkes, patriot
And English libertarian -- but no matter,
He'll do what he will do. They named me Brutus
And I became an actor, not a statesman,
Warrior, no tyrannicide.

Hold there!
What is this? Take my hand! Sharp pain again --
Pray! pray! pray!

(He dies.)





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