Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SIX WISE FOOLS, by GEORGE SANTAYANA

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

SIX WISE FOOLS, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Twelve had struck. Our talk subsided
Last Line: "I drink to that which makes us one."
Subject(s): Fools; Drinks & Drinking

Twelve had struck. Our talk subsided.
We were comrades in the schools
By the world awhile divided --
Six sententious merry fools.
And I said, "We've talked of college,
Resurrecting callow youth.
But you since have lived; what knowledge
Have you gathered of the Truth?
And you first, most learned scholar,
Whom I'm proud to sit beside,
Speak: does wisdom sans a dollar
Leave you wholly satisfied?
You have walked, and never wavered,
In the paths the sages took
And three publishers have favoured
With a yet unpublished book.
The soul's garden you have weeded
Which we mortals trample through,
You love much we leave unheeded.
Speak, and let us learn of you."
And the student thus proceeded,
As a gentle sigh he drew:


I'm thankful that as matters go
I neither toil nor spin,
But read the good old wits, heigh ho!
And live with elder kin;

That I need neither reap nor sow
Nor gather into barns,
But dwell among my books, heigh ho!
Repeating ancient yarns.

Dead things are not my science, no,
Nor fossil parts of speech,
But the great human heart, heigh ho!
That pedants never reach.

The record of man's joy and woe
Upon his sculptured face
I read by my heart's light, heigh ho!
And vanquish time and space.

I find no vice so foul and low
But nature lurks therein,
Nor any thought so high, heigh ho!
But pays the price of sin.

I feel the pity and the glow
Of truth's sublime communion,
And learn to smile at fate, heigh ho!
In friendship's happy union.

Let this but last till death's wind blow
And till my bones are rotten,
Then let the world sail on, heigh ho!
And be my name forgotten.

"Now you, votary of pleasure,"
Turning to the next, I said,
"Count the profit of your leisure
And the cost of unearned bread.
Tell us what civilisation
Merits your impartial praise,
In what climate, in what nation
You have spent most joyous days."
Quoth he, as if in admiration
That such questions I should raise:


All things are nice when they are new,
When they are old, all things are horrid.
After the storm I like the blue,
After the arctic zone the torrid.
My loves are many, brief, and true,
By mutual jealousy unworried.

I like to leave my house and home
And cross the mountains and the sea;
With one small bag on earth to roam,
That is the height of bliss for me.
To roam on earth without my bag,
That is the depth of misery.

That freedom cheats us with a word
Which sets up knaves and murders kings.
What soul is free that never stirred?
So cut your mother's apron-strings,
And putting money in your purse,
Fly off on the express-train's wings.

I'll stay at home when I am lame,
And build a church when stuffed with gold,
I will be grave when known to fame,
I will be chaste when I am old.
Then all the angels will rejoice
That I, lost lamb, regain the fold.

"Without some evil, nothign good,"
Your subtle theologians say.
I glorify their rectitude
By straying in my artless way.
My needful sins make possible
The higher morals of the day.

This is our only chance to taste
The sweet and bitter fruits of earth.
To pluck them all, we've need of haste;
We cannot ask what each is worth.
Up, up, wise virgin; do not waste
The little time 'twixt death and birth.

Come feel the joy of changing skies,
Of rushing streams and windy weather
Though we be bound by fortune's ties,
We'll to the utmost stretch the tether,
And be they gay or be they sad,
We'll go and see the sights together.


"Shall men agree?" the next man said,
"Each mind is shut within some head
(Pace the minds of all the dead)
With two eyes, seldom of a size,
And spectacles before the eyes.
Then, if men differ, what surprise?

"See the wight who wrapped in sadness
Grieves how soon this life is done,
And, disgusted with the madness
Of the way the world is run,
Scorns the hollowness of gladness
And the idiocy of fun:
Why, the spots upon the sun
Can be seen, when the ray passes
Blue eye-glasses.

"And what makes the moonlight shimmer
With the dancing of the sea
And the little stars cold glimmer
Twinkle with an inward glee
While this working-world grows dimmer
If my Mary looks with me?
Not the moon or stars or sea,
But the fickle cause, alas, is
Love's eye-glasses.

"Oh, how sad a world to cough in
Is a world once warm and fair,
And how many fallings off in
Old men's world of falling hair,
Till they think within the coffin
That there's no world anywhere.
For I fancy dead men wear
(Take your look now, lads and lasses!)
No eye-glasses."

He stopped, and with a civil look
Said to his neighbour, "You come next,"
Who had been looking at a book
And seemed a trifle bored and vexed.
He laid the book down, stretched his legs
And yawned, and, emptying his glass,
Made a grimace as if the dregs
Were bitter, and replied, "I pass."
When pressed, he shook his languid head
Until at last he hemmed and said:


I set my heart on being good,
Believed the Bible to the letter,
Yes, joined a Christian brotherhood
When I was young and knew no better;
And, if I sometimes sinned, I wept
That God's commandments were not kept.
As time went on, I understood
That it was wrong to be so good.

My heart I set on being wise
And passing for a clever fellow:
Reading o' nights I spoilt my eyes,
And lack of fresh air turned me yellow.
Each book I read said t' other lied,
I saw the less the more I pried,
And so I found, to my surprise,
I was a fool to be so wise.

I set my heart on making friends
Pleasant and clever, kind and witty;
They now are at the earth's four ends,
Two only haven't left the city.
The one is given up to trade,
The other in the churchyard laid.
And when youth's gone and leisure ends,
It is too late for making friends.

I set my heart upon a girl
Who chose at my approach to smile.
Did she but pat some frizzled curl,
I knew the angel free from guile.
But now a rich man owns my belle,
I find the others smile as well,
And my moustache no more I twirl,
Nor set my heart upon a girl.

I set my heart on seeing things,
And wished through every land to travel,
See Troja's ruins, Nilus' springs,
And culture's history unravel.
When many a sea had made me sick,
Men still were bipeds, houses brick.
Since nearer Truth no journey brings
I make an end of seeing things.

I set my heart on politics;
I glowed for honesty and freedom.
My earnest thoughts I tried to fix
Upon the poor, and how to feed 'em.
But the reformer cheats himself,
He serves his prejudice or pelf,
And no man's will but inward fate
Governs the fortunes of the state.

I set my heart on nothing now,
But bless the gifts of every hour,
Holding my hand beneath life's bough
To catch the fruit or falling flower.
With the world breathing at my feet,
I find the sunset stillness sweet,
And with the night wind on my brow
I set my heart on nothing now.

He scarce had done, when the last man,
Who'd listened hard to every word,
Thus, rising in his place, began
As if impatient to be heard:


Oh, you men who are not married
Haven't known the joy of living,
On the margin you have tarried,
Never putting out to sea;
All your musing, all your grieving,
Is a childish thing to me.

I have done with idle moping
And have seen my manly duty.
There is no more doubt and groping,
Since I took a woman's hand,
And the loadstar of her beauty
Led me to the promised land.

For her sake my work is pleasure
And I thrive in my devotion,
Though I seek repute and treasure
But to have the gifts to give,
For my love, like River Ocean,
Rounds the world in which I live.

When I feel, in softest slumber,
Her fair head upon my pillow,
I think how the misty Humber
And the Ganges' holy stream
Send their treasures o'er the billow
To embalm my lady's dream.

Rightly did my father rear me
Close beside the village steeple,
Rightly shall my sons revere me
When they come to take my place,
For I serve my land and people
And maintain my sturdy race.

Fill your glasses up with liquor,
Drink it down while yet it bubbles.
When the heart beats quick and quicker
Love is knocking. Drink with me:
Here is death to all your troubles,
And long life, fair love, to thee!

"Yes, fill your glasses up, I pray you,"
Said I, "and make it bumpers now,
For whatsoever passion sway you
Some noble love we all avow.

"We bear a mark, an inward token,
That parts us from the common herd.
To each of us some muse has spoken
A holy, unforgotten word.

"Our stars, conjoined in youth's first season,
Whether to musing moved or strife,
Obedient to one touch of reason
Together make the round of life.

"Drink to the loves we knitted here,
A bond by distance not undone.
High thoughts outlive the wasted year;
I drink to that which makes us one."

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