Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, VICTOR RAFOLSKI ON ART, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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VICTOR RAFOLSKI ON ART, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: You dull goliaths clothed in coats of blue
Last Line: Now do your worst to me!
Subject(s): Art & Artists


You dull Goliaths clothed in coats of blue,
Strained and half bursted by the swell of flesh,
Topped by Gorilla heads. You Marmoset,
Trained scoundrel, taught to question and ensnare,
I hate you, hate your laws and hate your courts.
Hands off, give me a chair, now let me be.
I'll tell you more than you can think to ask me.
I love this woman, but what is love to you?
What is it to your laws or courts? I love her.
She loves me, if you'd know. I entered her room --
She stood before me naked, shrank a little,
Cried out a little, calmed her sudden cry
When she saw amiable passion in my eyes --
She loves me, if you'd know. I saw in her eyes
More in those moments than whole hours of talk
From witness stands exculpate could make clear
My innocence.

But if I did a crime
My excuse is hunger, hunger for more life.
Oh what a world, where beauty, rapture, love
Are walled in and locked up like coal or food
And only may he had by purchasers
From whose fat fingers slip the unheeded gold.
Oh what a world where beauty lies in waste,
While power and freedom skulk with famished lips
Too tightly pressed for curses.

So do men,
Save for the thousandth man, deny themselves
And live in meagreness to make sure a life
Of meagreness by hearth stones long since stale;
And live in ways, companionships as fixed
As the geared figures of the Strassburg clock.
You wonder at war? Why war lets loose desires,
Emotions long repressed. Would you stop war?
Then let men live. The moral equivalent
Of war is freedom. Art does not suffice --
Religion is not life, but life is living.
And painted cherries to the hungry thrush
Is art to life. The artist lived his work.
You cannot live his life who love his work.
You are the thrush that pecks at painted cherries
Who hope to live through art. Beer-soaked Goliaths,
The story's coming of her nakedness
Be patient for a time.

All this I learned
While painting pictures no one ever bought,
Till hunger drove me to this servile work
As butler in her father's house, with time
On certain days to walk the galleries
And look at pictures, marbles. For I saw
I was not living while I painted pictures.
I was not living working for a crust,
I was not living walking galleries:
All this was but vicarious life which felt
Through gazing at the thing the artist made,
In memory of the life he lived himself:
As we preserve the fragrance of a flower
By drawing off its essence in a bottle,
Where color, fluttering leaves, are thrown away
To get the inner passion of the flower
Extracted to a bottle that a queen
May act the flower's part.

Say what you will,
Make laws to strangle life, shout from your pulpits,
Your desks of editors, your woolsack benches
Where judges sit, that this dull hypocrite,
You call the State, has fashioned life aright --
The secret is abroad, from eye to eye
The secret passes from poor eyes that wink
In boredom, in fatigue, in furious strength
Roped down or barred, that what the human heart
Dreams of and hopes for till the aspiring flame
Flaps in the guttered candle and goes out,
Is love for body and for spirit, love
To satisfy their hunger. Yet what is it,
This earth, this life, what is it but a meadow
Where spirits are left free a little while
Within a little space, so long as strength,
Flesh, blood increases to the day of use
As roasts or stews wherewith this witless beast,
Society may feed himself and keep
His olden shape and power?

Fools go crop
The herbs they turn you to, and starve yourself
For what you want, and count it righteousness,
No less you covet love. Poor shadows sighing,
Across the curtain racing! Mangled souls
Pecking so feebly at the painted cherries,
Inhaling from a bottle what was lived
These summers gone! You know, and scarce deny
That what we men desire are horses, dogs,
Loves, women, insurrections, travel, change,
Thrill in the wreck and rapture for the change,
And re-adjusted order.

As I turned
From painting and from art, yet found myself
Full of all lusts while bound to menial work
Where my eyes daily rested on this woman
A thought came to me like a little spark
One sees far down the darkness of a cave,
Which grows into a flame, a blinding light
As one approaches it, so did this thought
Both burn and blind me: For I loved this woman,
I wanted her, why should I lose this woman?
What was there to oppose possession? Will?
Her will, you say? I am not sure, but then
Which will is better, mine or hers? Which will
Deserves achievement? Which has rights above
The other? I desire her, her desire
Is not toward me, which of these two desires
Shall triumph? Why not mine for me and hers
For her, at least the stronger must prevail,
And wreck itself or bend all else before it.
That millionaire who wooed her, tried in vain
To overwhelm her will with gold, and I
With passion, boldness would have overwhelmed it,
And what's the difference?

But as I said
I walked the galleries. When I stood in the yard
Bare armed, bare throated at my work, she came
And gazed upon me from her window. I
Could feel the exhausting influence of her eyes.
Then in a concentration which was blindness
To all else, so bewilderment of mind,
I'd go to see Watteau's Antiope
Where he sketched Zeus in hunger, drawing back
The veil that hid her sleeping nakedness.
There was Correggio's too, on whom a satyr
Smiled for his amorous wonder. A Semele,
Done by an unknown hand, a thing of lightning
Moved through by Zeus who seized her as the flames
Consumed her ravished beauty.

So I looked,
And trembled, then returned perhaps to find
Her eyes upon me conscious, calm, elate,
And radiate with lashes of surprise,
Delight as when a star is still but shines.
And on this night somehow our natures worked
To climaxes. For first she dressed for dinner
To show more back and bosom than before.
And as I served her, her down-looking eyes
Were more than glances. Then she dropped her napkin.
Before I could begin to bend she leaned
And let me see -- oh yes, she let me see
The white foam of her little breasts caressing
The scarlet flame of silk, a swooning shore
Of bright carnations. It was from such foam
That Venus rose. And as I stooped and gave
The napkin to her she pushed out a foot,
And then I coughed for breath grown short, and she
Concealed a smile -- and you, you jailers laugh
Coarse-mouthed, and mock my hunger.

I go on,
Observe how courage, boldness mark my steps!
At nine o'clock she climbs to her boudoir.
I finding errands in the hallway hear
The desultory taking up of books,
And through her open door, see her at last
Cast off her dinner gown and to the bath
Step like a ray of moonlight. Then she snaps
The light on where the onyx tub and walls
Dazzle the air. I enter then her room
And stand against the closed door, do not pry
Upon her in the bath. Give her the chance
To fly me, fight me standing face to face.
I hear her flounder in the water, hear
Hands slap and slip with water breast and arms;
Hear little sighs and shudders and the roughness
Of crash towels on her back, when in a minute
She stands with back toward me in the doorway,
A sea-shell glory, pink and white to hair
Sun-lit, a lily crowned with powdered gold.
She turned toward her dresser then and shook
White dust of talcum on her arms, and looked
So lovingly upon her tense straight breasts,
Touching them under with soft tapering hands
To blue eyes deepening like a brazier flame
Turned by a sudden gust. Who gives her these,
The thought ran through me, for her joy alone
And not for mine?

So I stood there like Zeus
Coming in thunder to Semele, like
The diety of Watteau. Correggio
Had never painted me a satyr there
Drinking her beauty in, so worshipful,
My will subdued in worship of her beauty
To obey her will.

And then she turned and saw me,
And faced me in her nakedness, nor tried
To hide it from me, faced me immovable
A Mona Lisa smile upon her lips.
And let me plead my cause, make known my love,
Speak out my torture, wearing still the smile.
Let me approach her till I almost touched
The whiteness of her bosom. Then it seemed
That smile of hers not wilting me she clapped
Hands over eyes and said: "I am afraid --
Oh no, it cannot be -- what would they say?"
Then rushing in the bathroom, quick she slammed
The door and shrieked: "You scoundrel, go -- you beast."
My dream went up like paper charred and whirled
Above a hearth. Thrilling I stood alone
Amid her room and saw my life, our life
Embodied in this woman lately there
Lying and cowardly. And as I turned
To leave the room, her father and the gardener
Pounced on me, threw me down a flight of stairs
And turned me over, stunned, to you the law
Here with these others who have stolen coal
To keep them warm, as I have stolen beauty
To keep from freezing in this arid country
Of winter winds on which the dust of custom
Rides like a fog.

Now do your worst to me!





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