Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE OPTIMIST AND THE PESSIMIST; A DIALOGUE, by GEORGE BARLOW (1847-1913)



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE OPTIMIST AND THE PESSIMIST; A DIALOGUE, by            
First Line: How glorious is the summer sun to-day!
Last Line: Woman and god.
Subject(s): Hope; Pessimism; Thought; Optimism; Thinking


Optimist.

How glorious is the summer sun to-day!
All dark-winged dreams of sorrows flee away.
Hardly a mountain mead could be more fair
Than this white-building-edged Trafalgar Square,
So gleams it in the wonderful sunlight.

Pessimist.

Will you suspend your judgment? Wait till night.
Before you think a mountain mead no loss
Spend half-an-hour, at night, at Charing Cross.

Optimist.

The city soon will meet with clear-cut towers
The sun. In Covent Garden piles of flowers
Make all the faint air fragrant.

Pessimist.

Very pure
Are the exhalations from that open sewer.

Optimist.

With laughing silvery ripples lo! the Thames
Leaps downward, curling round yon bridge that stems
The swift-foot current. From its upward reaches
Where yellow iris the green bank impleaches
What messages of love and life it brings!

Pessimist.

How that dead body by the pier-steps swings!

Optimist.

Were ever women lovelier than these
Whom in the grand old city's streets one sees!
What goddess-like fair women walk the swards
Of the old sunny cricket-ground at Lord's!

Pessimist.

Yes. There I saw an assignation made
Just by the entrance, in the old wall's shade.
One of our golden youth on starched white cuff
Was writing down a girl's address.—Enough.

Optimist.

Fool! gaze into an English woman's eyes!
You see no evil there. You see the skies.

Pessimist.

Yes, she's not spoken. 'Tis the tongue that lies.

Optimist.

Hark how that girl i' the cornfield laughs and sings!
Her hair is browner than a lark's brown wings.
With bright blue petticoat pressed tight and borne
Backward by the stalks, she passes through the corn.
These are the women whence the English race
Sprang in its strength. Her sunburnt honest face
Is full of country mirth, not brazen or bold.

Pessimist.

Wait till the rich man comes here with his gold.
Gold corn-ears are no test of woman's truth:
Wait till some London Boaz sends for Ruth.

Optimist.

Wretch,—dost thou not believe in virtue then?

Pessimist.

When I have found it, I will trust it: when.

Optimist.

If human hearts are frail, God's skies are pure;
And the sea-waves' white valiant souls endure.

Pessimist.

As for sea-foam,—the sands the white waves mottle.
And Tyndall made some blue sky in a bottle.

Optimist.

The stars are grand and fair past human hope.

Pessimist.

They are gas and iron: through the spectroscope.

Optimist.

O silver moon that through the calm heaven sailest,
All dreams of man will vanish, when thou failest!
Never was first love born but unto thee
It looked, and thou the first love of the sea
Didst win, and thou didst kiss the West Wind's hair.
Through yonder cottage-window, white and fair,
Thou peepest, and thou seest a young girl praying,
Her gold locks on the pillow sprent and straying,
And thou dost mingle with her prayers and dreams.

Pessimist.

Thou seest the cobwebs on the cottage-beams,
O moon,—and cobwebs in the young girl's brain,
And hearest upon the cottage-roof the rain,
And seest it trickle through the gaping thatch,
And hearest the rough-hand East Wind try the latch,
And seest the ragged stockings of the girl
Upon a chair,—and round each (golden!) curl
A bit of torn "Bow Bells" twined. In repose
Her breathing, chiefly, travels through her nose.
While all the time, O moon, thou art thyself
A mere blasé volcano, shelf on shelf,
So Science tells us,—full of pits and rifts
That one may measure when thy cloud-veil lifts
Just to let mankind see how poor a thing
Lovers and girls and bards (and idiots) sing.

Optimist.

At any rate the great God reigns on high.

Pessimist.

Not since great Science said that God must die
And pass from heaven, since he had lived too long.
God fainted, when he heard Comte's cradle-song.
Now if you look in heaven you'll surely find
The Chair where God's limbs used to rest reclined:
You will not find God any longer there,—
Only the cushion pressed down in the arm-chair,
And, in his palace, spiders on the roof,
And of his poem, one uncorrected proof:
And a few masks wherewith he used to frighten
The world,—and chalk his spectral face to whiten;
And sheets of tin to make theatric thunder;
And the sham sword that Clifford snapped in sunder;
And purple threadbare robes by man mistaken
For royal genuine vesture round him shaken.
These you will find: but God has quite absconded.
Not even a beadle waits in heaven, gold-wanded.

Optimist.

Folly! for when we die, heaven opens wide.
The golden towers and gates are then descried.
E'en now our dead friends at our "circles" meet:
Their arms close round us, and their touch is sweet.

Pessimist.

Have angels dirty necks and dirty nails?
On entering heaven do you tumble over pails?
The touch you take for that of some dead friend
Is just the medium's dirty finger-end.
Your spotless angel is the medium's wife
Dressed up, and no one else, I'll stake my life.

Optimist.

O wondrous Death who movest o'er the land
And all sad hearts win healing at thine hand,
Thou art the very breath of God.

Pessimist.

The breath
Of plague and pestilence art thou, O Death.

Optimist.

How the great hearts of veteran soldiers leap
When ere the struggle with the foe they sleep,
Knowing that on the morrow they shall be—

Pessimist.

Just so much carrion, most assuredly.

Optimist.

Do you know Boulogne? By the Porte Gayolle
I used in former youthful days to stroll
In summer often,—and a fountain there,
Carven with Cupids, leaps up to the air,
And one could fancy Venus' very self
Peeped o'er the round edge of the marble shelf.

Pessimist.

I know it. To that fountain peasants bring
Pigs newly slain, and wash them in the spring;
And their rough porcine bristly hair they singe
Hard by the fount, and the white Cupids fringe
With skins suspended. I have often been
There in old days, and watched the lively scene.

Optimist.

How shout these people, 'mid the groves of pine
That edge this picturesque Alsatian line
Of railway passing! Light of heart and gay,
They start off for a summer holiday,
Shouting and singing.

Pessimist.

And at night they lie
A bloodied maimed heap 'neath the unpitying sky.
From town to town the dismal news is sent:
"Fifty lives lost in railway accident".—

Optimist.

Beyond all sorrows, heaven and endless bloom
Of heavenly joys.

Pessimist.

Beyond all joys, the tomb.

Optimist.

Lo! how these lovers kiss. Their glad lips meet!
Of all joys young love is the joy most sweet.
To-night the world hath vanished from their gaze:
They wander forth beneath the moon's white rays;
Then they return to win their myrtle wreath.

Pessimist.

For the first time she finds he has false teeth.
Or he finds the gold hair he used to beg
Just one dear tress of—hanging on a peg.
The moon has set now, and the bed is fluffy:
Fleas climb white limbs; and the inn-room is stuffy.
The stars have vanished, and Apollo's sandal.
What gives love light? Just one damp tallow-candle.—

Optimist.

Swift-footed maiden tripping o'er the lawn
Like Atalanta, or a swift-foot fawn!

Pessimist.

Take off the maiden's shoes. Lay beauty bare,
And wonder at the corns and bunions there.

Optimist.

A London Idyll.—In St. James's Park
Beneath a spreading elm-tree after dark
A Grenadier, red-coated, in the shade
Sits, with strong arm around a nursery-maid.
The summer soft wind sighs along the trees,
And the dark water trembles to the breeze:
Love is the same in palace or in park,
In heart of prince or guardsman.

Pessimist.

After dark.—
Yet wait till they have left the elm-tree trunk.
You'll see your guardsman stagger home, mad drunk.

Optimist.

O great days that the race about to be,
Our sons and sons' sons, shall most surely see.
When Revolution's red flag is unfurled
And thunder smites the turrets of the world!

Pessimist.

The "children of the pavement," dressed in rags,
Will crowd the Boulevards, waving filthy flags.
If any meets them, ragless, washed and clean,
With shouts they escort him—to the guillotine.

Optimist.

O blue-eyed girl, God made no fairer thing
Than thou art,—angel, though without a wing,
And sweeter therefore, since we have thee safe,
Though thou for heaven dost, doubtless, pant and chafe.

Pessimist.

What dream, I wonder, now before thee flits,
While thou dost pull that butterfly to bits!

Optimist.

God's heart is childlike. Who hath seen a child
Hath seen the Father, large of heart and mild
And pure and sweet and loving. Children's love
Is just a heaven-gift, sent straight from above.
Who hath gazed deep within a child's frank eyes
Hath gazed in God's, and sounded the blue skies.

Pessimist.

God is like children?—Does God love to spin
A poor cockchafer on a twisted pin?
And when God sees a frog, is he then smit
With mad desire to stone and flatten it,—
And when he sees a bird's nest, with bent legs
To swarm the tree and ravish all the eggs?
And, when God sees a silvery pebbly brook,
Does he straightway coax wild worms on a hook?
And, seeing a fly, does God drag off its wings?
(While the fat nursemaid munches toast and sings.)
—Children do these things. God deliver me
From children, and from God,—if such he be!

Optimist.

In Paris, in the old Imperial days,
What splendour! What bright uniforms ablaze!
Chasseurs and Voltigeurs: Imperial Guard:
Flashing cuirasses: officers gold-starred:
Red nodding plumes: great bearskins: tall gendarmes:
Sword-bayonets: swinging sabres: flashing arms.

Pessimist.

And still upon the Eastern plains of France
The sunlight glistens,—here upon a lance,
There on a skull or Grenadier's white bone.
Of all that army, this is left alone!

Optimist.

O giant souls of history! Jesus! Paul!
In our hearts' temples ye are deathless all.
Great souls who helped the weary race along.

Pessimist.

Then found the red worms, after all, too strong.

Optimist.

The old man leans upon his loving wife.
Young, sweet, she gave him a new lease of life.
With tender pressure of lips more sweet than honey—

Pessimist.

And tender hands, she angled for his money.
Old man,—more amorous waxing every minute,—
Ope not that cupboard.—There's a lover in it!

Optimist.

The heavenliest gift of earth is friendship surely.
To be beloved for one's own sake, and purely.
The earth is nobler, all its bowers more green,
For the divine great friendships it has seen.

Pessimist.

Still, if you meet your friend in some strange place
And see less welcome flushing in his face
Than usual, do not make too close inquiry
(Especially if he, your friend, be fiery).
Such unforeseen things happen in human life:
Follow him home,—and perhaps you'll find your wife.

Optimist.

I choose to look at the bright side of things.
The darkest thunder-cloud hath glorious wings
Of regal purple.

Pessimist.

And the lightning-swirl
Has just struck dead a newly-married girl.

Optimist.

The lightning-flash is as God's very stroke.

Pessimist.

Nay, as the devil's,—thinks that blasted oak.

Optimist.

God, love and woman,—these keep all things pure.
Hope on for ever. Victory is sure.

Pessimist.

Doubt on for ever. Woman's no assistance!
And as for God,—he lives at such a distance!

Optimist.

And yet, in spite of all, my faith grows stronger,
The more I live and see.
I cannot reach God? God can take the longer
Star-road and search out me.

If woman's sometimes frail, she's oftener faithful.
Although the dark air rings
With many a threat and trembles at the wrathful
Red lightning's jagged wings,

I have the unchanged high faith that at the portal
No man's foot yet hath trod
Wait,—deathless, grand-eyed, loving and immortal,—
Woman and God.





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