Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A PAINTER, by AUGUSTA DAVIES WEBSTER



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

A PAINTER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: So 'tis completed - not an added touch
Last Line: I think the world would praise it were I known.
Alternate Author Name(s): Home, Cecil; Webster, Mrs. Julia Augusta
Subject(s): Paintings And Painters


SO 'tis completed--not an added touch
But would do mischief--and, though so far short
Of what I aimed at, I can praise my work
If I, as some more fortunate men can do,
Could have absorbed my life into one task,
Could have made studies, tried effects, designed
And re-designed until some happy touch
Revealed the secret of the perfect group
In a moment's flash, could day by day have dwelt
On that one germinant theme, till it became
Memory and hope and present truth, have worked
Only upon that canvass where it grew
To the other eyes a shadow of what mine
Had seen and knew for truth, it could have been
It should have been, yes should have been, in the teeth
Of narrow knowledge and half-tutored skill
And the impotence I chafe at of my hand
To mark my meaning, such a thing as those
Who, stooping to me, "A fair promise, sirs,
In that young man--if he'll attend to us,
The critics, he may hit the public taste
With a taking thing some day," approve the points
And count the flaws and say "For a new man
'Tis a fair picture," while they'd throw themselves
In ecstasies before some vapid peepshow
With a standard name for foreground and the rest
A clever careless toying with the brush
By a hand grown to the trick--critics forsooth
Because they have reamed grammar--such a thing,
I say, as these should shrink from measuring
With blame or praise of theirs, but stand aside
And let the old ones speak, the men who worked
For something more than our great crown of art
The small green label in the corner, knew
Another public than our May-fair crowds,
Raphael and Michael Angelo and such--
Whose works sold well too. They should have been left
My judges whether something of the soul
That was their art had not been given me.
Ah well I am a poor man and must earn--
And little dablets of a round-faced blonde,
Or pretty pert brunette who drops her fan,
Or else the kind the public, save the mark,
Calls poem-like, ideal, and the rest--
I have a sort of aptness for the style--
A buttercup or so made prominent
To point a moral, how youth fades like grass
Or some such wisdom, a lace handkerchief
Or broidered hem mapped out as if one meant
To give a seamstress patterns--that's to show
How "conscientious" that's the word, one is--
And a girl dying, crying, marrying, what you will,
With a blue-light tint about her--these will sell:
And they take time, and if they take no thought
Weary one over much for thinking well.
A man with wife and children, and no more
To give them than his hackwork brings him in,
Must be a hack and let his masterpiece
Go to the devil.
Well my masterpiece,
As to the present, is achieved at last;
But by what straining of a wearied hand
And wearied eyes and wearied aching head
Worn with the day's forced work! And now I come
And fold my arms before it, and play the judge,
And am, though not content, yet proud of it.
And after all what is it? So much width
Of my best canvass made unserviceable,
Spoilt for the dablets, so much time defrauded
From my tradesman work. What will it gain for me?
And why I do not answer at first blush
Just "disappointment," is that I have grown
Too used to disappointment now to set
A hope on any issue. I shall hear
My work observed with vacant hems and has,
And a slur of timorous praise. And I shall see
A quiet face or two light up with thought--
And these, although perhaps they think no more
Of the painter or his work nor care to keep
Remembrance of my unfamiliar name,
Will be my friends for the moment, and will note
With a sort of kind regret where I fall short.
And some severer connoisseur will fume:
"Now here's a man with a certain faculty.
The more shame for him! Were he some schooled drudge
Doing his best one would forgive the fault.
But here's a harebrained fellow comes to us
'I am a painter I--no need to study--
Here's genius at my back--splash, dash away--
I'll win a fortune and a name at once,
And deserve them bye and bye?' He ought to take
Two or three years at least of study, draw
More than he paints, scan how the masters did it,
Go to school in Rome. But no, his vanity
Pats his genius on the back. Pooh! He descend
To dull apprentice plodding! He take time
Before he paints for the world!--Fie on it though
To see a man so sin against his gift."
And then another says "Yes he should wait,"
And another "Wait," and "Wait," and once more "Wait."
Out on them fools! Do they know a man may die
Waiting? Waiting, when waiting means to starve
Do they think of that?
What Ruth, my pretty one,
Come to learn what's my trouble? Startle you,
Did I with sudden steps and speaking loud?
'Tis nothing, dearest--only the old tale
That you and I keep fretting at, what cross
And spirit-killing work it is to slave
At these man-wasting trifles day by day,
Cutting one's life in mess-pieces, and see
No better chance for freedom than to cheat
The fashionable world that chatters art
By some chance masterpiece into paying one
Enough to buy the time to wait and learn.
And then the critics say "You should have waited.
'Tis the fault of the age, our young men will not wait."
And the fashionable world says "To be sure--
The fault of the age! Indeed he should have waited:
We might have bought his pictures then:" and flies
With open purse, on a race for who bids first,
To its latest darling's studio--takes all there,
If he did it awake, or sleeping, or by proxy,
At equal price. What matter? There's his name!
Ah Ruth! If I could only win a name!
And then, love, then!
For I know there is in me
Another power than what men's eyes yet find
In these poor works of mine. But who can tell
If now I ever shall become myself?
My one believer, I have learned from you
To use that phrase: but what is a man's self
Excepting what he is, what he has learned
And what he does? You make it what he hopes.
Well love, persuade me with your earnest voice
And look of long belief, this twentieth time--
Persuade me that the day we hope must come,
Because it is myself. I am worn out,
Sick to the heart. I need your love so much
Talk to me love; find fault; dispute with me,
With smiles and kisses ready all the while,
And your dear arms clinging to me; prophesy,
You happy prophet who can fill your eyes
With sunshine and see brightness where you will.
And come now, find me in my picture there
Something to praise; I can believe your praise
Although you love me.
No you cannot stay--
Yes, yes, I hear the summons. If Blanche cries--
Poor Ruth! I could be jealous of your care
For the children, were it not so hard to me
To see you forced to play the handmaid to them.
Come back when the child sleeps.
Going she leaves
A darkness after her. Ruth, but for you
I could not paint a sunbeam, could not bear
To have a happy thought look out on me
From my own canvass: now because of you
I do not envy brightness.
Yet she says
And, I fear me, almost thinks it, my poor wife,
"If I had never come to burden you,
You might have won your way by now." Ah well,
A sunless way without her, yet perhaps
It is a true sad word. I might have been
Without her what she'd have me be.
No, no--
A handier painter possibly, more apt
With nice true touches and the fearless brush
Exact without restraint, most certainly
A more successful man, but not the man
My earnest Ruth believes in. Darling, you
Who, under all your pretty fitful ways,
Your coaxings and your poutings, have the strength
Of the noblest kind of women, helping strength
For any man with worth enough to use it--
You keep me to the level of my hopes:
I shall not fall beneath them while you live.
It was a good day for me when you came
Into my fretted life, and I thank God
It was no evil one for you. Dear wife,
If you had been one born to pleasant things,
Cared for and praised in a familiar home,
Not knowing what it is to say, "Well this
Costs sixpence, I can do without," and "This
Is marked a penny and will serve the turn"--
If you had had one other in the world
To take up your dead father's guardianship
And watch a little for you, then long since
I should have cursed myself who brought you here
To live on empty hopes and drudge the while.
But you are happier even in our want
And your enduring than you would have been
Still pining, smiling, on, the mere fed slave
Of a cross idiot and her hoyden brats.
You were a fool, the mistress-creature thought,
To leave the comfort she had graciously
Designed to keep you in some half score years,
Raised salary and so forth, for a home
So poor as I yet had to give. But you
Still said "It will be Home" and you and I
Knew something, even then, by hope or instinct
Of the meaning of that common word which she
Poor soul, among her gewgaw drawing-rooms
Had never dreamed of. You are happy, love;
We have our many troubles, many doubts,
We are at war with fate and a hard world,
And God knows whether we shall overcome;
But you are happy, love, because you know
You are my happiness.
And I might say,
In the bitterness of these dull wearing days,
While like that poor caged squirrel in the street
I beat my ceaseless way and gain no step,
I have no other left me, were it not
That, even at this moment, the warm glow
Of yellow evening sunshine brightening down
Upon the red geraniums she has placed
To feast my eyes with colour, bringing out
That line of shadow deeper on the wall,
With the exquisite half lights thrown from those white folds,
Softer than mists at sundawn, gladden me
With the old joy and make me know again
How one can live on beauty and be rich
Having only that--a thing not hard to find,
For all the world is beauty. We know that
We painters, we whom God shows how to see.
We have beauty ours, we take it where we go.
Aye my wise critics, rob me of my bread,
You can do that, but of my birthright no.
Imprison me away from skies and seas
And the open sight of earth and her rich life
And the lesson of a face or golden hair:
I'll find it for you on a whitewashed wall
Where the slow shadows only change so much
As shows the street has different darknesses
At noontime and at twilight.
Only that
Could make me poor of beauty which I dread
Sometimes, I know not why, save that it is
The one thing which I could not bear, not bear
Even with Ruth by me, even for Ruth's sake--
If this perpetual plodding with the brush
Should blind my fretted eyes.
Would the children starve,
Poor pretty playthings who have not yet learned
That they are poor? And Ruth--
Well, baby sleeps?
Ah love, you come in time to chase some thought
I do not care to dwell on. Come, stand there
And criticise my picture. It has failed
Of course--I always fail. Yet on the whole
I think the world would praise it were I known.










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