Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE HEART IN THE JAR; MEDITATION UPON NOBEL PRIZE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH, by PERCY MACKAYE



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THE HEART IN THE JAR; MEDITATION UPON NOBEL PRIZE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Alive it beats in a bosom of glass
Last Line: Death and the artist grapple for the knife.
Alternate Author Name(s): Mackaye, Percy Wallace
Subject(s): Blood Vessels; Carrel, Alexis (1873-1944); Health; Hearts; Medicine; Veins; Arteries; Drugs, Prescription


A Meditation on the Nobel Prize Award for Medical Research, 1912

ALIVE it beats in a bosom of glass —
A glowing heart!
It has come to pass!
Ventricle, auricle,
Artery quivering:
No metaphorical
Symbol of art,
No cold, mechanical trick of a cog,
But ardent — an organ mysterious,
Alive, delivering
Serene, continuous
Pulses, poised in its chamber of glass,
Beating — the heart of a dog!

And it came to pass
While the hearts of men
Were selling and buying
The blood of their brothers,
Then, even then —
While grocer and draper
And soldier were eying
Their market-news in the morning paper,
And, musing there among the others,
Their poet of words
Stood staring — his back to the laboratory
(Where the poet of life
Plied ether and knife) —
Stood musing his rhymes for a miracle-story
Of Babylon queens or Attic birds.

Yet others were there more strange
(More strange, as they spoke in the holy name
Of the human heart, while still their eyes
Were blind to the light love's visions range) —
For they cried: "Lo, the dog — he dies!
Spare him the knife! What have ye done,
Awarders of fame! Will you grant to one
Who slaughters — the great world-prize?"
Yet these are the same
Who cherish the deed and worship the pain
Of saints that offered their blood in fire
For the meed of men,
And these are the same who bend the knee
To One who hung on the bleeding tree
Under the seraphim:
In the name — in the hallowed name of Him
Who raised us from Caliban,
Would they grudge to a dog — what a god might aspire:
To render his heart for the Heart of Man?

How calm in its crystal tomb
It beats to the mandate of life!
How hush it waits in the sexless womb
For the hour of its strange midwife —
The seer, whose talismanic touch
Shall give it birth in another — what?
The heart of a dog once, was it not?
So then, if it still be such,
Why, then, the dog — (cur, thoroughbred,
Mastiff, was it, or hound?) —
What of the dog? — is he quick or dead?
His soul (as they used to say)
In what Elysian field should he stray,
Or where lie down in his grave?
For hark! —
Through the clear concave
Of the glass, that delicate pulsing sound!
Ah, once, how it whirred in the flooded dark
Of his deep-lunged chest, with rhythmic beat
To the wild curvet of his wonderful feet
And the rapturous passion of his bark,
As he welcomed his homing master's hand,
To crouch at the quick command!
Yet it never has ceased to beat: —
Charmed by the poet of life,
Freed by his art and the cunning knife
That counterfoils the shears of fate,
See it quiver now in that golden bar
Of noon — unlaboring, isolate,
Alive, in a crystal jar!

The heart of a dog — why pause?
Why pause on your brink, bright jar? Or why
This reticent allocution?
A dog! — Shall I stop at to-day, because
To-morrow it might be I? —
Yea, and if it be!
Even this heart of me
The subtle bard of life with his blade
To sever from out the mystic whole
I have deemed my Soul
And shatter me — like no cloven shade
Divined by a Dante's ecstasy —
In morsels to immortality,
Piecemeal to dissolution!

This, then, that knocks at my breast —
Starting at the image of its own inquest
Hung in a gleaming jar — this sentient thing
Responsive in the night
To messages of grandeur and delight,
Pensive to Winter, passionate to Spring,
Mounting on strokes of music's rhythmic wing,
Beating more swift when my beloved's cheek
Ruddies with rapture the tongue fails to speak,
And pausing quite
When her rose turns to white —
This servant, delicate to suffering,
Insurgent to restraint, soothed by redress,
This shall the life-bard place upon his shelf
Beside the dog — and both shall acquiesce.

For he — artist of baffling life — himself
Sculptor and plastic instrument —
He holds within his hand the vast intent,
And carves from out the crimson clay of death
Incredible images
Of quickening fauns, and headless victories
More terrible than her of Samothrace, —
Yea, toys with such as these,
As, silent, he lifts a severed Gorgon's face
Toward his own;
(The watchers hold their breath,
Hiding their dread.)
Calmly he looks — nor turns to stone,
But with a touch freezes the sphinx instead.
Till last, all pale, beside him — like a dream
That rises into daylight out of sleep —
Death rises from the mystic, crimson stream
And murmurs at his ear: "What, then, am I?
And what art thou whose scalpel strikes so deep
To slay me? Yea, I felt it glance me by
And I am wounded! Give it me!" — They clutch:
Death snatches, and his frozen fingers touch
The scalpel's edge — when lo, a lightning gleam
Ruddies their wrestling shadows on the night;
Immense they lengthen down the vasty gloom
And darken in their height
The rafters of a silent room:
Around its walls, ranged in the crystal jars
Of infinite stars,
Beat, as they burn, the myriad hearts of life;
In lordship, where their lonely shadows loom,
Death and the Artist grapple for the knife.




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