Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A SAMPLE OF COFFEE BEANS, by FREDERICK GODDARD TUCKERMAN



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A SAMPLE OF COFFEE BEANS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Twelve plain brown beans! 'twould seem to ask
Last Line: The peddler has not passed beside it.
Subject(s): Coffee


Twelve plain brown beans! 'Twould seem to ask
As plain, indeed, a string of verses:
Yet beans are sweet; but still my task
Must tell of these, and, what far worse is,
A story dry for centre-block
Whereon to shape fair Truth, or shun her;
Yet might I garnish up the stock,
And hang it with a scarlet runner.

The bean, the garden bean, I sing,
Lima, mazagan, late and early,
Bush, butter, black eye, pole and string,
Esculent, annual, planted yearly:
Sure here a poet well might fare,
Nor vaguely his invention worry;
I shake my head in flat despair;
Or out and over the hills I hurry,
As Io fled by Nigris' stream,
Spurred by the angry brize or bot-bee:
Yet beans I sing, a classic theme
Known to the Muse; and may they not be
Melodious made in other than
The lyric verse or amoebaean,--
Beans, hateful to the banished man,
And banned by the Pythagorean?

Loose, or in legume blue and red,
Tinged like a tom-turkey's wattle,
Or strung like birds' eggs on a thread,
Or stiff and dry in pods they rattle;
Beans too, in bladders, discomposed
By stroke and blow, make music mystic,
But these are free in hand, nor closed
In their own natural cells, or cystic.
May I not, inly pondering, see,
Or stumbling on in flight phrenetic,
Enough of truth and simile
To strew the way with flowers poetic?
No! though on every side they fell,
Dispersed like the gold hemony
On Ulai's bank, with asphodel,
Lote, lily-blow, and anemone,

Beans would be beans, the gardener's joy;
And though to him more dear than roses,
Not to be made to senses coy
Rose-redolent, by any process
Let me then cease to stir my breast,
No longer stay to bribe or flatter
The vegetable text: but rest,
Or get at once into my matter.

A little public-house and bar,
Barn, corn-house, dovecote, gathered under
A mighty elm, which, arching far,
Held off the rain and drew the thunder:
A farmstead small of shabby huts,
Unknown to cane or cotton grower,
And just within the line that cuts
The States and Canada the Lower:

A little public-house and bar
Smelling of beer and dead tobacco,
It stood: within, a bench and chair,
A parrot and an ape; but Jacko
Was stuffed above the chimney-piece,
And Poll was plaster; so we summon
The holders of our house of ease,
And live incumbents, man and woman.

Jolly and old the landlord was,
Part farmer and part broadcloth-smuggler;
The wife a patient drudge, alas,
With aches and asthma long a struggler.
Yet day and night she served the grate:
He scarcely passed beyond the groundsill;
But, feet in slipper-shoes, sat late,
And drew his ale, and kept his counsel.
Above his head an almanac
Depended, while the slate and pencil,
On toddy stick and tumbler rack,
Kept watch and stood to charge or cancel:
Nought else except a faded, grim,
Fly-spattered print of Buonaparte,
And the host's Sunday hat and trim
Hung, like their owner, plump and hearty.

Another too, a poet slim,
Came nightly from the neighbor village
To this retreat: more sweet to him
Than leafy summer house or treillage
Wherethrough the moonbeams fall. The wreath
Trailed from the pipe of passing drover,
More rare than the grape blossom's breath
Or nightgusts o'er the beds of clover.

In the world drama he was one
Bearing perhaps a part like Peto
In the old play, yet did he shun
The world, and, reckless of mosquito
By pondhole dark, and weedy drain,
Sequestered swamp, or grassy sidehill,
Would linger, breathing dull disdain
In many a rustic ode and idyll;

And breathing beauty too, and wit:
Nor lacked it in poetic ardor,
His verse, for where he doubted it
He struck again and hammered harder:
'Twas hit or miss, to make or maul,
Not quite a Walter Scott or Byron,--
Two blows upon the anvil fall,
And one upon the burning iron.

Good fellow was he in the main.
Yet strangely strove to be unhappy,
Himself a desert chief would feign,
And Cowcliff, Ararat or Api:
Or all alone would weep to cleanse
Some fancied shame or felony;
Or, witchlike, haunt the birchwood glens
For vervain dank and chelone.

A chamber, too, he had at times
For needful rest; but his ambition
Was still to read and rant his rhymes,
Unwearied with their repetition;
Or over some old tale bemused
To lie, till chilled and hunger bitten,
Along a floor with books confused
And blotted sheets, and reams unwritten.

Full well he knew the stars and flowers,
The atmosphere, its height and pressure,
The laws that gird the globe, and powers
That make our peril or our pleasure.
He knew each bird, its range and sphere;
For plant and shrub, had many an odd use:
But naught of farming-growths or gear,
And less of garden-sauce and produce:

So when the peddler passed, and brought
His last new lot of lies and lumber,
Tins, foot-stove, gridiron, pail and pot,
And drugs and dry-goods without number;
Segars too, in the grocery line;
Tracts, extracts, jellies, quince or guava,
And rarest, seed for coffee vine,
Pure bean or berry, just from Java;

He listened: "Sure to sprout: in fall
To ripen, let the world go onward,
A row of oaken scrags was all
They needed, so to scramble sunward."
"O happy thou," the schoolslip read,
"Who with thy hands thy fortune carvest,"
But happiest, so the peddler said,
Is he who gets such grain in harvest.

And so they talked: the summer wind
Came softly from the meadow blowing,
Through open door and window-blind
Brought the pine's breath across the mowing:
It stirred the print, it jarred the slate,
It waved the farmer's best apparel,
And shook the dry weeds in the grate,
And withered grasses, awn and aril.

And still they talked; and ere the wind
Had faded, all that parcel precious
Was to our hero's hand resigned
For future use: may such refresh us,
And him who held his luck revealed:
His own, no doubtful risk or far gain,
But silver planted, sure to yield,
And bless him with a golden bargain.

And then the landlord drew his best;
No hoarded drops of vintage fruity,
But good to speed the parting guest
And cheer the new: so while in duty
The poet drank, and called for more,
The landlord, like a desert sandy,
The peddler parted, richer for
Six dollars and a slug of brandy.

What more? Why naught: 'twere slow to tell
The sequel here; such Glaucian traffic
May well befit a Homer's shell
Or Virgil's harp; or, sung in Sapphic,
Perhaps 'twould mount a theme divine;
But in this mess of jar and jingle
'Twould pose the nine brains of the Nine
To make much sense and music mingle.

Yet might I tell how hard he wrought,
Rising betimes to watch his purchase,
And left his rhymes and dreams forgot,
And lonely walks beneath the birches;
And how the vines got riper fast,
Till, battered pan with saucepan clinking,
He borrowed fire, and saw at last
His prize, burnt, ground, and hot for drinking;

And how the Poet stirred and supt
With an old spoon new-bought at auction,
And thought the world's ways all corrupt,
For so he found his pure decoction:
Not fragrant, black, and fit indeed
To set before a King or Sophy,
But slatestones for his silver seed!
And for his coffee-bean, bean coffee!

His letter, too,--'tis here, addressed
To some society Botanic,
In languid ink; though fitted best
On wharf and mart to scatter panic.
A massive missive certainly,
Nor writ with rifled plume or seraph;
See here, the dotless j and i
Deform, with sprawly date and paraph.

And last, not least, could I repeat
The landlord's glee, when, thither poking,
The poet sneaked into his seat,
And all the glory of the joking:
How the old fellow roared, forsooth,
And laughed from shining poll to shoelap,
Whilst the old lady showed her tooth
And coughed, and shook the double dewlap.

Enough! the house still stands the same,
With barn and steadings; but the elmtree
Went down in a great blow that came
To flatten fence and overwhelm tree:
Yet looks the ale-bench on the way,
And, as of old, the twain divide it;
But since the coffee-trade, they say,
The peddler has not passed beside it.





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