Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, NOVEMBER 4TH, 1937, by LEONARD BACON (1887-1954)



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

NOVEMBER 4TH, 1937, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: As ogden nash might say, I hate intenchly
Last Line: May they be merry then as we are now.
Subject(s): Art & Artists; Century Association (new York City); Literature; Writing & Writers


As Ogden Nash might say, I hate intenchly
Pinchhitting for unhappy Robert Benchley,
Who, as we learn by wire, cannot untangle his
Muddle with movie-magnates in Los Angeles.
I have a dark suspicion that last rhyme
Worked in a limerick before my time,
Though it does not, I fancy, antedate
Those worthies, whom tonight we celebrate,
The men who once "made as much mirth as we"
From eighteen-seventy to ninety-three,
Not all forgot, whether genial or titanic,
Who cracked their joke "between panic and panic"

O Benchley! Bob of the wisp! Thou wandering fire
Over the swamp of Metro-Goldwyn-mire!
Would thou wert here, with thy accustomed art,
"To split the midriff or to touch the heart"
And hit off heroes of the Golden Day.
You are not. I must manage as I may.

They are gone before us, an honorable throng,
The beautiful, the pleasant, and the strong.
And may the casual verse do them no wrong.
It is hard work for struggling poetasters
To praise aright their pastors and their masters.
And Oh, how easy in a clumsy phrase
To go against the light of other days!
Our Gods forbid it. Your pardon, if I err.
What's in the mind, I'll seek to character.

Yonder's HENRY ADAMS pausing by the way,
Like one of Plato's Guardians gone astray,
Considering things and their unreasoned scheme
In a Republic different from his dream.
He watched the world and all its shadows pass
Against a glory of cathedral glass,
Though guns of Gettysburg were in his ears
As he thought of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers.
A demi-Ariel, all compact of wit,
"Not quite in life, nor wholly out of it,"
He glided on bright transcendental wings
Above the ebb and flood of mortal things,
Such mortal things as trouble all mankind
And (sang the Roman) "lay hold upon the mind."

Here's HENRY JAMES, who in confusion wrought
With split emotion and divided thought,
And found New Englanders and kindred ghosts
Sold short to metaphysics on strange coasts.
There phantom girls, who are, he tells us, wise,
Psychologize, perhaps tautologize,
Which means to the bright children of these days,
Repeat the same thing in a hundred ways.
Nevertheless that Midas' hand could touch
A time that coarse ideals plagued too much,
Discovering an intellectual grace
That was not tinctured by the commonplace.
Fate's acid humor this Republic ruled
When Daisy Miller flourished—and Jay Gould.
Yet still the treasure of the spirit kindles
The mind, while the pirate hoard withers and dwindl
Let the Marxian tell how such strange births appear,
Novels by James—and the Credit Mobilier.

No one at all, equipped or not with bowels,
At this point could forget WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS.
Though the unreading leave him still unread,
In his manner he refuses to be dead,
And still extends himself into the present
And the future as something elegant and pleasant.
He knew, whatever excellences swarm
In the human mind, there must be shape and form,
Howe'er the intellectual deeps dismay us,
Order at length must arbitrate in chaos.
Thus he could say to Mark Twain to his face
Like Mark himself: "How's the God-damned human race?"
Estimating well the even and the odd,
Guided by better than a Leatherwood God.
And we love men yet in these United States,
Who laugh not bitterly against the Fates.

Here JOHN LA FARGE, like an Oriental Saint,
Meditates metaphysic power of paint,
That makes the canvas glow with noble grief,
Or breaks the long wave on the Samoan reef.

And WOODBERRY sits in the accustomed chair,
Hunting in his spirit for a phrase more fair,
Investing noble thought with noble speech,
Such as the poets dream, the sages teach.

Also returned from his Elysian coast
Drifts a shy affable familiar ghost
That erewhile gulled us with intelligence,
Without his asking, hither harried, whence!
Easy but diffident, he dreams distrait
Of Mesdames Lecks and Aleshine cast away,
Well-thought-of dames of character and mark,
Who wear black stockings to deceive the shark.
His problem still the happy shades explore:
Did Lady or Tiger issue from the door?
The answer men know not. But what's the odds?
Even if men don't, why neither do the gods.

Sudden, expressing views of matchless candor
On persons and events emerges BRANDER,
Luminous with wit, and likewise with a thin
Halo, not round his head but round his chin.
Torrentially descriptive, grave or gay,
He damns a novel or castrates a play.
Punctures a colleague with a lightning twist
Of the foil, not through the heart, just in the wrist.
How oft he talked, as once he did to me,
What a child knew was spoken poetry.

Gentle GILDER comes, whom no ill thoughts disturb
Yet pungent as an aromatic herb,
Sweet-savored and yet fiery as the South.
Thank God for ginger that is hot i' the mouth,
For chiselled speech and sharp consideration,
And the cool capacity for indignation.

Who's he Promethean, a man most like a myth?
The hundred-handed Briareus, "HOP" SMITH,
Painting a picture, rearing a lighthouse tower,
Or writing yarns not cut down in an hour
His labor's incomplete if a man scan it.
He did not score sonatas, found no planet,
Designed no aeroplane or motor (drat 'em!)
And to my knowledge never smashed an atom.
But had he wished, what's that beneath the sun,
That a man can, that he could not have done?

Behold a portent, terror of all fools
In politics or Economic Schools!
For even Tammany shrank from the bare bodkin
Of ice-brook tempered steely sense of GODKIN,
Abdiel unfearing, that outfaced the storm,
The summoning Archangel of reform!
Doubtless he made (but never tax his ghost!)
Virtue repulsive in the Evening Post
His bread was cast on the waters. It is praise
That it returns, now after many days.

Look, who broods smiling o'er the salad-bowl,
And bids a man loaf and invite his soul,
While he mixes dressing to a just asperity
With a poet's genius and a chef's dexterity.
Strange chemistry! Behold him pitch upon
Minim of garlic, pinch of tarragon,
The while discoursing, never too loud or long
Of wine, mirth, music, dance and Proveçal song.
There his bust smiles upon us from the wall.
Delightful JANVIER! gentlest of them all!

We half-way see them, lamp-bitten, as it were,
By thought, recapture nature, character,
Idiosyncracy, consider wit
That has vanished, in effect remember it,
As 1980, tasting its own delight,
May keep some recollection of this night,
When all our farthest thought shall be outranged
And all we held for changeless shall be changed;
When unborn pharisees in their condemning way
Shall blame the outmoded reticence of Hemingwa
When future reds curse to their satisfaction
Franklin the First, Napoleon of reaction;
And legions of strange scientists derid
The Einsteinian diehard's obscurantist pride.
I paraphrase that wit who once foresaw
"Lamb's Tales from Ibsen" and George Bernard Shaw,
His point time-blunted, that was once so keen,
Become the jest of damsels of thirteen.
Cras ingens iterabimus œquor. But
I had better cut this short. And I will cut.
There was mirth before us. That future mirth allow.
May they be merry then as we are now.




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