Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE POETIC MEDIUM, by GEORGE SANTAYANA

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE POETIC MEDIUM, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: In chelsea dwells a sibyl known to fame
Last Line: But it makes sense. Long, masters, may you live.
Subject(s): Sibyls

In Chelsea dwells a Sibyl known to fame
Called Mrs. Fakir -- necromantic name!
Past, present, future, open to her view
She (for ten dollars) will reveal to you.
I for less sums -- the discount to the trade --
Quaff at her fount and seek her undismayed.
I found the priestess in her wonted lair
Up three steep flights of narrow dirty stair.
Chill was the darkened chamber. A thick fume
Of kerosene lent odour to the gloom.
Clothed in black weeds, pale, with delirious hair,
Rocked Mrs. Fakir in her rocking-chair.
I told my errand; with some hushed complaint
About the fee, she fell into a faint,
Thrice rolled her eyes, thrice snorted through her nose,
Thrice wrung her hands, and wriggled thrice her toes,
Then spoke. (I versify: she uttered vulgar prose.)
"You want some verse: not every poet's soul
Whose aid you crave is still in my control.
Whom would you summon? You must ask the boon
Of some frail wight that floats below the moon.
The spirits that have risen to the stars
Reck not the echoes of our earthly jars.
Their troubles past, they have forgotten ours,
And move unmoved by even magic powers.
Only weak souls entangled in the mesh
Of passion, dying, still are bond to flesh,
And hover o'er the battle-field of life
To smell their kindred blood and pine for strife.
Such I may summon, for they have no choice
Who crave to live again and find a voice."
"'T is well," I answered. "If the gods so please,
We will not call on Aristophanes,
Horace shall slumber, Juvenal be dumb.
They rest in peace. But haply Swift will come."
"Not Swift," she said, "not Swift. I cannot tell
Whether he flew to heaven or to hell,
But he is gone far from this mild, low-born,
And canting age, incapable of scorn."
"Well, summon Byron, then," I said and sighed.
"Byron is also safe," the witch replied.
"The first sin punished and the first forgiven
Is love's, the slip of climbers into heaven.
The petted passion and the shallow dream
He purged at last; the heart survived supreme."
"Byron gone too," thought I, "what wit remains?
All younger sprites have water in their veins.
But, ah! might not the living help me out?
Don't phantoms of the living flit about?"
"They do, they do," quoth Chelsea's Pythoness.
"Here in my telepathic cave's recess
All that they say or think or wish or feel
I read aloud, but most what they conceal.
Whom would you plagiarise? You're silent? Why,
Have you forgot the age's galaxy -- "
I trembled as she named them one by one,
From Willy Frilly down to Spider Spun.
"Spare me," I cried. "Shall some prolific bard
Reel off bright lyrics at a cent a yard,
All about April rain, December snow,
The brook, the sunset, and the squawking crow?
Shall little Swinburnes turn a verse with ease
And sing the flaccid pleasures of disease?
Shall mimics, drunk with each Castalian rill,
Be any poet but themselves at will,
Luscious when Keats, when Spenser quaint and dull,
When Browning turgid, and Noodles null?
Shall weaklings, in thick verse and tortured prose,
Strike affectation's quintessential pose,
Sniffing the odours of a perfumed brain
Where melts a Wordsworth plus a Paul Verlaine?
When, with no art, were precious fabrics wrought,
When metaphysics with no mastering thought?
No, Mrs. Fakir, none of this small fry.
Catch me some ghost of sense, or else good-bye.
Not at my bidding shall this choir prolong
The cloying drivel of unmeaning song,
Enrich the echo, maul the note and tease,
Miauling nothing in a hundred keys.
Better Pope's squirrel eye and polished sneer
Than idiot mouthings, false without veneer.
Better Boileau's 'monotony in wire,'
Dressing good wit in periwigged attire;
For in a garden's alleys or a wood
Hung all in green, monotony is good,
And a frail stem may need a bit of wire
To keep the rose from trailing in the mire.
Never will they dig deep or build for time
Who of unreason weave a maze of rhyme,
Worship a weakness, nurse a whim, and bind
Wreaths about temples tenantless of mind,
Forsake the path the seeing Muses trod,
And shatter Nature to discover God.
He only climbs the skies and proudly sings
Whose heart, attentive, feels the pulse of things,
Masters the fact, and hails the changeless goal
That beckons, purges, and fulfils the soul."
I ceased: no ghost was willing to befriend,
And all the living useless to my end.
Meantime the hag awoke with vacant stare,
And passed her bony fingers through her hair.
I left her den and hastened back to town,
Writing the while my sad experience down.
This you have heard. 'T is little that I give,
But it makes sense. Long, masters, may you live.

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