Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BALLAD OF OLD DOC HIGGINS, by LEONORA SPEYER



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BALLAD OF OLD DOC HIGGINS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Old doc higgins shot a mermaid
Last Line: Thus he lies, till all things rise; if there still be aught to rise.


Old Doc Higgins shot a mermaid:
Vowed he'd ketch her, fish or woman, fiend or human;
Carryin' on along the river, caterwaulin' up the river,
Scarin' fish where they lay hid!
Swore he'd hev her, lights an' liver (and what Doc Higgins swore, he did).

Old Doc Higgins cleaned his gun:
The proper fishin'-hook, he'd swan, fer mermaids' gills;
The slickest tackle! (Leaning on the pasture-wall, old Doc Higgins gave a
cackle),
Watch him git her, pesky critter,
Tail an' all.

No one knew but old Doc Higgins:
No, an' none wuz goin' to know, 'twarn't no need fer folks to know.
He saw sister Mame's boy go swimmin' to her, natteral fool!
All uncovered wuz her breast, hair all streamin', shiny'z gold,
An' the rest -- a fish's tail gormin' up his troutin' pool!

Higgins saw and never told:
Hev the hull town call him crazy? Sister Mame's boy, loony, lazy, heard him
shoutin';
Turned an' laffed ez they went under, started kissin' -- let 'em wonder,
Knowin' how the boy cud swim --
They'd make no laffin-stock uv him!

But here's the thing that riled him so:
Jest ez he wuz settlin' down to a peaceful mornin's fishin',
(How his baited line would hum up the stream to some swift eddy),
Settin' there enjoyin' things while the fish got good an' ready -- he cud feel
their noses pushin' --
Jest ez they wuz bitin' some -- up she'd come!

Naked to the waist; an' sassy! Wavin' to him, swimmin' by, shameless hussy;
Or jest singin' ez she floated, kind uv high,
No toon at all . . . (And he noted how her tail would flash and swish --
Gorry, how she scared the fish!) Old Doc Higgins on the shore
Yelled and swore.

And he'd watch her at the turning of the river, see her sink
Where the willow near the brink dipped to touch the mermaid's locks;
"Shucks," said old Doc Higgins, "Shucks!"
His ears didn't need no wax (thinking of the deafened crew,
And Odysseus, fettered fast), Oh he knoo a thing or two,
All the Higginses hed learnin'; needn't tie him to no mast!

Smilin' at him ez she passed -- any lunk-head cud see through her --
Like to take a cow-hide to her!
Poor old Mame; her only son . . . (yes, but listen as you hasten,
Listen to the lonely singing, old man with a gun!)

Ah who will seek Muirish,
The lost one, the sea-swan?
Ah ripples, ah road
Where the foolish, the frolicsome
Strayed to her sorrow!
Muireis is gone
From the waters of Kerry,
Ah tarry not, sisters,
But speedily come!

Beneath a strange willow
She grieves with her sorrow
And all the bright sea-shells
Are fall'n from her hair;
Ah sisters, my friends,
Where the ancient tide ends
Will you fare,
Will you follow
The track of the tears?
To Muirish the lost one,
The sea-swan of Kerry,
Ah tarry not, sisters,
My loves and my dears!

Ah . . . ah . . . ah . . .

Heathen singin', fit fer Satan! Creeping close as she rose
From beneath her willow-bough, old Doc Higgins held his breath . . .
Now!
And a singing turns to sighing, and a sighing pales to dying,
And a dying lifts to death.

Ripples reddening as they float, rippling from a tender throat,
Reddening from a cry of pain . . .
Old Doc Higgins stood there blinking, and his thoughts were not all pretty
As he watched a whiteness sinking: wished he'd hed a good look at her,
Never'd git that chance again.

Gosh, it wuz a fust-rate shot! -- Kissin' Mame's boy ez she drowned him,
Lips all pursed up when they found him,
Died uv kissin' like ez not --
Wal, there warn't no use in wishin';
An' tomorrer he'd go fishin'.
* * * * *
Mist can do strange things to rivers, make a ghost of any river:
Such a day is good for fishing; old Doc Higgins vowed he'd never
Seen the like, it did beat all, the way the pike
An' pickerel came a-crowdin' round; cat-fish too; and Lord, the trout
Jumpin' out!

Peter wuz a fisherman; guessed he's hev to let him pass --
There wuz bass over there lyin' low -- Higgins thot he'd like to go,
His time come to meet his God, with fishin'-rod an' basket spillin';
He'd be willin'! . . . Say you so?
Old Doc Higgins, say you so?

Mist that reaches thick and sallow up the ledges of the land
Up to where a tired old man sits a while beneath a willow,
(Willow-tree, you remember! But does he?)
And his pipe slips from his hand . . . What's that creeping through the sedges?
Have a care, old Doc Higgins, sleeping there!

Mist that swirls . . . mist . . . mist . . .
Something holds him by the wrist; white and wet and cool and strong --
Fish or woman, fiend or human!
Oh, the shoal of leaping girls all about him, all about him,
Beautiful and baleful throng . . .

Muirish! Muirish! White sea-swan!
Sister slain, sister slain! . . . And an answering crimson stain
Rises rippling where she sank.
Oh, the whimpering little man, fighting, frightened on the bank
As he wakes:

Sees a face -- pale -- pale --
Sees a tail --
Snatches at a bough that breaks!
(Vengeful little willow-tree),
"God-a-mighty! Leave me be! Leave me be!"
* * * * *
Thus they drowned him, old Doc Higgins, with their arms like wreaths around him,
Heavy silver wreaths around him,
Struggling, strangling, tightly pressed to a soft ironic breast.
Thus he lies. . . .
In a grave of running water -- who had slain a deep-sea daughter.

Old Doc Higgins, old Doc Higgins, wishing so to die -- a-fishing --
Thus he lies, till all things rise; if there still be aught to rise.





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