“We Stand Corrected”

Cape Ann Summer Sun

August 13, 1954

We Stand Corrected

To the Editor:

You are doing a fine job of interpretation for CASMA.  If I may say so, but I want to enter a small caveat.  To paraphrase the novelists, any resemblance between my work and Dali’s is purely coincidental.  So and Dali’s is purely coincidental.  So far as I know, there is nothing that I have learned from Dali.  But since he has arrived at Mariolatry through Freud, I have become convinced that his art would be alive today if he had learned something from me.  May I point up our cleavage?

In Paris, where I knew him, Dali loathed nineteenth century naturalism and went after it like a screaming buzzsaw.  In fact there never was a surrealist, from Breton the hierophant to his last follower, who did not execrate, curse, and despise naturalism, or who in his effort to “discredit bourgeois ideology” did not consider it Public Enemy Number I of surrealist theory.  Dali developed a highly personal series of antinaturalistic distortions which would not have been tolerated in the old salon.

As for me, I was a reformed abstractionist returning to the visible world, and I argued that no artistic technique can be good or bad in itself, but only in its use.  To cut the story short, if anyone today should set a Dali alongside a Miran he would instantly see the difference caused by our respective views.  Dali’s drawing is a highly personalized romantic baroque.  My drawing is straight “classical” naturalism, the very kind that all surrealists have violently rejected.

Again, Dali narrowed the entire range of possible symbolical meanings to so-called super-realities of Freudian sexual innuendo.  I, on the other hand, searched for realities of the present, and seriously tried to live up to the implications of being the artist in our age.

To gain true perspective, one should remember that the symbol as such is a prior element.  “Man”, says Kenneth Burke, “is distinctively a symbol-using animal.”  The symbol cam aeons before surrealism and can be traced all the way back to primitive pictographic writing on stones, which may have antedated human speech.  It would be in my nature as a man to be capable of using symbols, but the question is this:  why should I use symbols in my pictures?  Why not just paint what the eye sees?

My considered answer to this question may be introduced by a quote from the symbolist poet, Yeats, who said: “A symbol is indeed the only possible expression of some invisible essence.”  And since it is always “some invisible essence” that I set out to paint, symbolism in the prior and generic sense is necessarily at the center of my work as its operative mystery.

Now look again at my picture in the CASMA show at Red Men’s hall.  “Merry-go-round” is a new and personal vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as they ride through the ruined cities of our world.  The Four Horsemen are real in this world, but they are invisible essences.  I cannot paint them as actuals seen with the eye, but I can paint my attitude toward them, my reaction to their reality, the emotional effects of fantastic horror that contemplation of Death, War, Pestilence and Famine have produced upon my aesthetic sensibility.  It follows that nothing in the picture is to be taken literally.  Everything is a symbol, and all the symbols are put together as a narrative landscape of the mind which art-lovers can read according to their experience.

To dig deep into the sources of my style, I owe nearly everything to the writer whom many Europeans consider America’s foremost literary critic, Edmund Wilson.  In “Axel’s Castle,” 1938, Mr. Wilson predicted: “And so we may see naturalism and symbolism continue to provide us with a vision of human life and its universe, richer, more subtle, more complex, and more complete than any that man has known – indeed, and they have already so combined, symbolism has already rejoined naturalism, in one great work of literature, “Ulysses.”

This prediction has been my touchstone, as it has been that of the serious younger American novelists.  Following Mr. Wilson’s guidance, I studied and mastered nineteenth century naturalism.  My symbolism was my own, and yet it depended for inspiration on certain ancestors, the French symbolist poets:  Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarme, Lautreamonte – and of course our own Edgar Allan Poe, whose works and particularly the lecture “The Poetic Principle” had in 1847 stimulated Baudelaire to start the symbolist movement.  These poets were rebels, and what they all rebelled against was the nineteenth century naturalism.  In one sense their symbolistic poetry was nothing if not a technique for the complete repudiation of the very naturalism which I had adopted.

Here appeared the creative paradox of my painting.  At the one pole, objectivity.  At the other, subjectivity.  The symbolists could not balance these extremes:  how could I do it?  Very simply, after all.  Baudelaire – who began the modern revolt against objectivity – was himself the author of a thoroughly objective principle of art which he called “Modernite,” or awareness of the unique qualities of the modern world, of modern life, of modern times.  “Modernite” as I knew it was too subtle and too complex to be directly painted.  It could however be painted indirectly by means of symbolism.  But what about Baudelaire’s objective principle of art, which must surely enter the technique somewhere?  I found that the subjective symbol itself gained an immeasurable new increment of both popular and esoteric communication by the eloquence of objective representation, i.e. by painting the symbol in a naturalistic manner.

As you can deduce from the present CASMA show, in a century of social upheaval and perpetual war, many artists retire from avant-garde experimentation and move toward the conservation of certain comforting orthodoxies, chief of which is “artistic” art.  Only two weeks ago the British poet and critic Stephen Spender went so far as to recommend crawling into a poetic hole.  He said that “in order to be civilized {today} one must retreat from horror and assert the value of poetry at a certain distance.”  I am all in favor of the poetry and painting of escape, but still I disagree with the principle of flight, which does not match the American spirit.  By its content of horror, “Merry-go-round” stands in absolute opposition to any such pious shrinking from the reality that all of us must face up to or perish.  Many a fine novelist – Dickens, Dostoievsky, Farrell – has worked “beyond provinces of art” and there is no reason why a painter should not do so if a too “artistic” art stands in his way.

Because the over-artistic artist, have failed to be truly modern in the sense of an awareness of the modern world, I believe that the time has come for a post-modern art which, instead of running away will go all out to reconcile creative sensibility with the world in which we live, just as the best art of the past has always done.  Witness by “Manifesto for Post-Modern Art” issued at the founding exhibition of post-modern art in New York City in 1951.



NOTE:  We believe the painting “Merry-go-round” is here:

cm06 IMG0041

The Poetry Of Ernest Dowson


Nowadays it is the fashion with our young poets to express personal experiences. This perpetual harping upon intimate subjects betrays the inherent littleness of the whole school. That is to say, it is unable to project its personality into themes actually worth while. The recipe for most of its “little sonnet men,” as they invite it, is this: that the true minor poet announce his passions, especially that particular one for his shop-girl, whom he worships utterly ; write flaming verses to her, mostly in rebellious metres or in borrowed forms; cry upon the world of the great, while espousing and typifying that of the little ; and, in fine, idealize the sordid, the mean, the commonplace. With most of these so-called poets, affectation wears the toga. This is the sentimentality which marks their decadence. They are factitious lovers of the ordinary, romanticists by the grace of realism, and melancholy-given through mutual environment. Ernest Dowson, born among them and bred among them too, although he epitomizes their passionate seeming, escapes censure by doing the same thing with a very unique sincerity. Cast a delicate instrument like Dowson into a “hoarse and blas pheming” London ; let him face in millions a brutal repulse ; let his rapt gaze “war with their stupidity” ; and presently you will find him sick and desolate, crying with a feverish ecstacy the self-excruciating In music I have no consolation, No roses are pale enough for me; The sound of the waters of separation Surpasseth roses and melody. Storm-tossed and beaten, not only by the crowds, but far more poignantly by the “unobservant feet” of heavenly beings which knew him not, he himself was veritably hell. Such a hopeless creature, born of man’s “weary laughter and his sick despair,” must surely seek a haven, if nowhere but in the delusions of love. If there is a single word which characterizes every poem Dowson wrote, it is the word love. Everyone of those delicate evasions, those lyrical out bursts of passion, suggests either love or desire. The most humble of men, his too exquisite sensibility kept him from bellicose proposals, and flung away the objects of his adoration. The futile, never-ending hope of this man, the patient refusal to grasp the mundane objects of his pruriency, expose the secret of many of his most perfect emo tions. Constantly he weeps the passing-by of his loves, murmuring with an inevitable acquiescence : I watch you pass and pass. Serene and cold : I lay My lips upon your trodden, daisied grass, And turn my life away. Her lips, her eyes all day became to me The shadow of a shadow utterly. I shall forget her eyes, how cold they were ; Forget her voice, how soft it was and low.

Upon such idealizations, such ineffectual loves, hopes and futilities, was founded Dowson’s romanticism. For he was all feeling and passion ; his emotions were often peculiar to himself, often un worthy, and had no counterpart in intellect. To be intellectual, a poet need not be didactic, but he need be something more than passive animation. He cannot escape being philosophic, and certainly Dowson had no philosophy to speak of. Goethe was a poetic Spinoza. Words worth, Coleridge, Emerson, Shakespeare, all were one in depth and energy of thought. Beautiful images, it is true, came to the pen of Dowson, falling like dew-drops upon his canvas ; but they are just about as substantial. They seem interpenetrated with veins of fire which dominate and destroy them. The lack here, as in the whole school of minor poets, is a correspondent weight of thought and sentiment. If we accept Dowson as a lover-poet, he is not versatile enough in this field to be great. He is too busied with his own eccentric loves. He has not virility with beauty of spirit. He writes nothing ennobling or inspiring. Illicit loves, inconsequential notes done into pretty verses, reminiscences of child faces, child loves, and yearnings after the solace of tomorrow are necessarily of the gossamer of Dowson’s poetic texture. His field is his own soul, selfishly his own. But, granting its expression as indispensable love-poetry, what then have we ? Over and over the emotions are identical ; the diaphanous vo cabulary is one ; the form is small stimulant to the attention ; and whole phrases used on one page are bodily transferred to another. Cynara, which critics have called his masterpiece, despite its per fumery, exhibits the weakness in point. Placed somewhere in the middle of the volume, it has been read a dozen times before it is actually reached. Every word of it, except the name Cynara, all but one characterizing phrase, have previously been employed. Even the mood is a composite of other moods. And this, of course, is the egregious fault of the poems ; they interlace to the end, and reshape on a hundred pages the one phthisical essence of the poet.

The touch of fingers, the glory of bought lips, the pallor of roses in lilytime, the coldness of other eyes, the Cyrenaic love of the transient and intense — these are the elements of Dowson’s applied ethics. “Be a child,” he pleads with a grown-up woman, who has stirred him; “for I, even I, am love.” Ever he is exceeding his grasp, ever he is sick of an old passion. His life emerges from a dream ; it is all very ideal, and there are red-lipped creatures here for him, wrapped in rose-silks and drenched with ambergris; and after some weeping and laughter, his life closes within the dream, and he has finished. It all means the call of blood, red and blue in veins like pearl, the eternal cry of insatiate flesh. If he might make one last choice before the mortal veilings close, he would cry for One day of the great lost days, one face of the other faces. A word like this, I dare say, fell from his lips in the momentous interim between the ending and the starting of turbulent orgies. And thus he lived, repenting now and again, too conscious not to be ideal in everything, but too weak to disentangle and sort his Arabian dreams of life. The greatest value of Dowson’s poetry lies in its euphonious expression. I find everywhere a subtle and seductive music. Take the single verse, The bitter pastures of the dead. We are delighted with the classic economy. The conception is happily abstracted just far enough beyond the workaday world. There is music; there is likewise beauty; and, above all, there is a peculiar associative value which claims the scholarly reader. It is not often we find anywhere such an extenuating verse. Dowson’s ear for casual phonetic combinations, while it lends distinction, does not vitiate the respectable poetry he writes. Melo dious words and mellow verses, with Dowson, are one and inseparable.

Dark is the church and dim the worshippers, Hushed with bowed heads, as though by some old spell. While through the incense-laden air there stirs The admonition of a silver bell.

The last verse is far from mediocrity and admirable as a study in effect. The sonorous wording, the profluence of the line, and all, originate somewhere lyric echoes of the bell. In a number of his pieces there is that pre-Raphaelite ideal of simplicity; but at once there is a dearth of spiritual quality. Where Dowson has not the richness of spirituality that Rossetti had, he brings instead this exceptional sweetness of phrase: Be no word spoken ; Weep nothing; let a pale Silence, unbroken Silence prevail ! Now the intoxicating music of Cyncra, as a variant, lies as much in the atmosphere of the poem, as in the continuity of euphonious ex pression. The very title is the raindrop before the shower, fore- hinting what is to follow. And the atmosphere is the creation of thought adventurously on the borderland of disrepute. The poet, however, is here confessing with unfathomable sincerity; and, in much the same spirit we ought only to call the piece a poetic indiscretion : All night upon my heart 1 felt her warm heart beat, Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay; Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet; But I was desolate and sick of an old passion, When I woke and found the dawn was gray: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara ! in my fashion. Sincerity had a vast deal to do with the poetic Dowson. Under neath the impotent words of such a poem as Impenitentia Ultima, there is obviously an unutterable agony of spirit, at other times re vulsive in its ardor, but always genuine. We did not expect a sinewed strength or much originality, but we were rewarded in our search for little passages from a man’s heart. In some measure they are ideal into the bargain, especially in form. Probably the personal touch accounts for this in Dowson ; for never was a man more con fessedly an idealist in all things; never was a man more candid in his grotesque idealization of things sophisticated. But his profound honesty leads him at times into a simplicity which is disastrous. In point, he is not artificial enough to please when he writes into an otherwise acceptable poem such verse as left me sorrowful, inclined to weep, With all my memories that could not sleep. As a personal memoir, I could never doubt its genuineness; but as poetry, it is sadly juvenile.

Dowson demands no classification. I prefer to think of him as an unprofessional poet, or perhaps as one who found in snatches of song talismans to help his dreams to their desires. It is not hard, in passing, nor very worth while either, to construct his character from his work. When Shelley confessed failure in Alastor, he also wrote of undying faith in some better thing that is still to come. Dowson had no faith in his heart, but hope sat there, like his old priest with tremulous hands. And this was the spirit he wrote into his verses, weakly remonstrating and weakly acquiescing. A meditative pathos, set in exquisite music, but without the administration of virile thought joined to his fine sensibility — mere driblets of poetry. In any case, Dowson had a beautiful soul which, if pagan and indeed unworthy, might have been “strained through the starry strata and the musky loam of Paradise.”


Arthur Wilson.

Before Sunrise


A blush of salmon breathes along

The low, unwearied eastern night

And fades with light incipient.

Now stir some brother glints of gold

Alurk in dewy stars, and still

Amid the silken veils of night,

Which hang in wraiths of sleepiness

And lap the inner lands of mind

Through all the wide, the silent world.


Oh, look ! Some birds make seaward flight,

Go breasting swift and mightily,

And turn not backward to the land.


Oh, look ! Their wings beat up the dark,

And flash with fires invisible.


Oh, look ! Athwart the shrinking dome

Apollo streams his flaming hair

In horizontal waves of light,

Ethereal patterns of the day.


Arthur Wilson.

Simple Heart

“Kiss me, kid, I’m thirsty.” At the next table a girl let fall some white garments, which she folded with a prodigious effort, and offered in response two very wide and penitential eyes. The remark was not addressed to her. “Go on. Billie,” said the girl implied; “your face looks like a sore foot.” And a young man from the College, who came twice a week for his laundry, swung out of the door, bundle in hand, and whistled him self away. All the girls in the laundry, excepting the new one, just arrived, adored Billie and thought his manner quite distinguished. Certainly he is a nice man, reasoned they; for he always has a great deal of clothes to do. In any case, he was a gentleman ; and it was the common aim among the girls to attract, if not to ensnare him. Sadie, giving out the bundles at the first table, had obviously done both. Next to Sadie, on this particular morning, a stranger had taken the table, and was now at work folding the white clothing. Awkward enough at her task, the girls found her also unable to reciprocate the incidental pleasantries of the place. She could not sing, for example; nor could she talk. She is idiotic, they said. Rude questionings had evinced her idiocy, as well as that her name was Margery. Margery had come from the country, where she worked at things unmention able in this polite society ; and her name was reminiscent of nursery rhymes, which might be shrilled into her ear at any moment. The first morning fixed her place ; she was literally the Incumbrance. Thus, at the very outset, she was fated to be’unhappy. Phlegmatic and bulging, she could not move with alacrity, and drew epithets without end. Her dress, which probably would change later, was a single piece, buttoning in the back, down to the waist. It was red. Her speech, taught by the country folk, set her aside for mockery ; and so bewildered was she at the odd sayings hurled at her, that she left off speaking altogether. Presently they called her a goody-goody, and said she would make all her dates in heaven. To save herself, she worked incessantly, and did more than the most skilled of them.


But while she confessed to extraneous circumstances in her past life, she refused the intimate side; for she dreaded their derision, and hated their great guffaws of laughter. Her face told a few things, however. You might imagine, to look upon her great eyes, washed out by waters of blue, that now they did not shine so brightly as they used. By reproaching the girl, and looking hard at her, you might have read something of character in the way her eyelids hung tremulous, and sought to hide the blue-gray beneath, which chilled like ponds of water. Her astute companions learned soon enough that she was half-witted, but very delicate, unaccountably sensitive, and peculiar to the point of interest. At the sight of mixed candy, she always grew sick. By the end of a week she could stand it no longer. She spoke to the head man, and he said she worked mighty well ; she must continue. Back among the mawkish great, she vainly tried to think of a way to escape the jibes and insults, and ended by going to Sadie. Both girls lived at the same sorry house; both of them got six dollars each week, working side by side. But Sadie had made such a vital conquest in Billie that she could afford to be generous to the unhappy girl, especially when the flattery of confidences inspired her. She listened to all that the new girl had to say, and then gave vent to advice. “Come out of the stiff ; that’s the game, kid. Knock off your fine way of leadin’ the holy life. Too good for fun! R-r-r! What’s the use lettin’ everything get your goat. And here’s another tip.” “Yes,” said Margery. “You ought to put on a few decent clothes; slick up a little.” Rent cost them each three dollars at the end of every week. “You got to have a gentleman, like I’ve got,” continued Sadie. “Get on to some nice man like Billie — oh, kid, he’s got the cash ! — and you can dress swell then all right.” At all events, Margery had a friend in Sadie, but not one to raise mortals to the sky, and Margery might be dragged down. From Sadie she learned many instructive things ; how girls perform in certain exigencies, when and where. Also she learned that successful girls, in the long run, are no better than the opposite sex, and sometimes are necessarily worse. All these things were incomprehensible to Mar- gery. Vainly wondering, in the vacuity of her mind, she liked to hear of things disreputable that she might be glad to have escaped them; and she infinitely preferred her place of poverty, jeers, mock ery, and such hells, before a sacrifice of her soul to any commerce of virtue and vice. Not appetant by nature, being sluggish and half witted, nor lusting after the fine gowns of her companions, she wil fully chose thus further to alienate herself. Some may have admired her sort of stellar virtue, and pitied, while they tortured ; but with the poor exception, Sadie, she had no friends. There came into her life, however, another human element. It seems there is no simplicity or innocence which can escape affection, and now the passion began to burn in Margery. On the memorable day she had first heard the voice of Billie, calling upon Sadie for a kiss, she had trembled and was interested. Interest grew to wonder, to love. Billie was cavalier in spirit and dress, robust, physically magnetic, and withal very charming — such an one, in truth, whose presence intoxicates the frivolous. And Billie, without much trouble, managed to indulge their frivolities. Margery was not man-intoxicated like the rest of them ; it was the one Billie, incomparable, unmatchable, who gathered her unlettered affections. He came in the mornings, sometimes quite early, but more often late ; and Margery knew of his coming by the whistle he made, or the exotic sound of his car. Yet one thing distressed her. She had never spoken with Billie; he had not even watched her at work. Talking to Sadie, he would glance casually over the envious and eager ones about, and see none of them. While he chatted near her table, Margery cared only to see and hear him ; but, as time went on, she yearned secretly for recog nition. She began to plan, in her artless way, how she might accom plish this. In the days before, she had stood quite still in his presence, with difficulty able to breathe, and indefinably afraid. Now she would lift her pieces of white clothing till he looked ; or she would cough, and perhaps sing a little, if she dared. Billie came and went, but her courage ever failed her. Looking at him with a sort of passioned wonderment, her eyes fell when he seemed about to look her way. And it was all so foolish and impossible that she forsook the project.


Sometimes, during the interminable work-hours, she saw him pass, and pass upon the street. Once he looked in — but at Sadie — smiled, and hurried along. This was curious ; for the day before, and not very far away, she had seen Billie with a strange girl who had bright red lips. Of course it might mean, after all, that he did not care very much for Sadie. So she kept it a secret, and thought it over a long while. When Sadie beset her, in moments of unfriendli ness, she smiled and felt herself less culpable. About this time the girls observed a change in Margery. No longer did her face burn to crimson when they sang round her, or said their very worst. The stupid girl! Was she crazy? Often, when they watched her, nodding one to the other, they found her idle; if not idle, aimless in her movements. And they noticed, too, an evanes cent smile which lifted the corners of her drooping mouth ; they de tected her humming softly always the same monotone, and one which they did not know. In answer to questions, she spoke foolishly, evasively. The girls pointed to their heads, therefore, and agreed mu tually about the matter. Within, however, Margery suffered ; but it seemed quite the natural thing for her to suffer, though obtusely she felt the injustice of it. What seemed idiocy, in these moments, was in reality only a doltish sort of day-dreaming. She dreamed of Billie. In a flummerish manner, she had idealized him; and, sinking into a comatose state, she ruminated upon his last word, upon his last gesture and sound. He was a college man, she knew ; and although she had never seen his, nor any other college, she fancied he must know a great deal. How much, she often wondered, and tried to name studies he probably pursued. Sadie, she now recalled, had said he was to become a writer, and make books. Margery had read a few books, but that was before she came to the city ; and she could write a little, too, such trifles as a letter, for instance, but not books, not books.


One day Billie stood talking with Sadie, holding a small pad in his hand. He wrote in it with a pen ; and then he looked, as she thought, directly at herself. Her own eyes, at the time, were fast upon him, and she nearly fainted. Clutching the table she heard him say, “That’s a pretty skirt.” The remark was answered by a shrill laugh which Margery did not hear.


For days after, amid the whirr of drying-tubs and the knocking of machinery, Margery worked at a tremendous speed, absorbed in Billie’s confession. Pretty ! She had not dreamed it, no one had ever told her that before; but then no one was ever like Billie. When, during the toilful hours, she chanced upon any part of his clothing, she handled it with an overweening care, and imagined that, if he knew, he would like her ever so much more for it. Neither the clamor of the laundry, which rose perpetually, nor the screams of its jaded and jolly inmates, shot like fires to hurt her, could quite obliterate the memory of this precious behest. Pretty ! She dreamed of it at night ; and in the evenings at home — such as they were — gradually her eyes would lose their clear vision of the naked room, of the enfilading street. Recovering with effort, she would slip to the bureau, and from a little wicker basket take a crumpled handkerchief. It was one of Billie’s own, and his name was sewed into the hem. Weeks before, when two cars had crashed at the corner, and all the girls had swarmed to see, she stole it from* the incoming laundry. Now she looked upon it tenderly, confused that he himself had used it, and that the creases there had been made by his own hand. Two weeks after Billie’s confession, which Margery accepted as final, she stood folding the white garments at her table, when she heard a low voice calling her name. Trembling, she knew it was Billie. In a moment, close beside, she found her eyes fixed upon him; she could look, but in a kind of daze. He was smiling. “Sadie’s knocked me down to you,” he said. “How’s every thing?” Having no idea what he meant, she answered at random; for she knew how she ought to talk — she had listened a long time.


“All right — kid.” The last word caught in her throat. Billie looked into immense blue eyes. He looked at Sadie, who at once put an arm round the girl. There was nothing said. But in the back of the room they were singing: “And when I walk, I always walk Billie laughed, and opened his mouth to sing, but refrained when he looked back at Margery. She stood, flaccid and impervious to all etiquette, staring at him with meaningless eyes.


“Want to go canoeing, kid?” asked Billie. “Oh,” replied Margery, with a voice that shivered. “To-morrow night at — say at seven. Got me?” “Oh,” said Margery again, with a quick intake of breath. “The kid’ll be ready,” interposed Sadie, “I’ll rig her up.” Margery said little, she could not paddle, and it was left for Billie to do both. She reclined, facing him, so that she might watch the tendinous play of his fore arms, and better listen to his speech. Billie asked her many questions, which confused her, and some of them he asked over again; but Margery was too awed, too ineffably happy, to get beyond monosyllabic answers. Besides, she was not able to answer many of them. When they returned, Sadie waited for them in Margery’s room. Billie nodded his head. After this, the girls noticed that Billie came more often to the laundry. He began dropping in at odd moments, and always, when he came, he smiled to Margery and spoke a word or two. It was whispered in jeering tones that she had found a lover. The whispers seemed to confirm the one undying hope of the girl’s life. She acquiesced mutely, only to be laughed at for her presumption. Then, to hurt her further, they told it to Sadie. They must have lied ; for she came and swore at Margery, swore with all her might, and refused to speak with her thereafter. But within Margery’s simple heart faith had come to stay, and she believed utterly in Billie, though he merely spoke to her and smiled. The poor girl was at first struck down by the desertion of Sadie. It left her evenings, which sometimes had been quite happy ones with Sadie, all a void. So she locked herself in alone, and tried to find solace in Billie’s affection for her. She thought she could read love in his eyes, and also, did he not come very often to the laundry? To the simple girl, no more proof than this was needed; it was absolute; and she lived in secret ecstacies, satisfied with his love from afar.


Yet when she saw him come and stand for hours, it seemed”, talking to Sadie, her heart misgave her, and bled with agony. Surely, if Billie loved her. even half so much as she loved, he would come and talk to her, take her out again, and maybe let her try to paddle. She remembered, in the tenebrous void of her mind, that girls were always taken to places when they had lovers. Some times — oh, often — she knew that Sadie was talking to him about herself. What could she be saying? It must be something bad. In her sodden mind the words repeated themselves. Bad ! Had she ever done anything bad? “Not that,” prayed the girl, “not that; Billie knows I’m not bad.” And then, at other times, she was all but certain Billie laughed at her. Why? As she watched them talk, she often saw that Billie wrote on his little pad — wonderful thing, it was — and laughed with Sadie over it. Just now, before he wrote, was he looking at her. She could not remember. But what could he be writing? Sometimes she suspected he wrote only after watch ing her; and Sadie, one morning when she laughed at the book, turned round and looked at her. While she could not unravel this deluge of perplexities, and discover the truth, she yet knew that some awful actuality threatened their love with dissolution. Thinking one night, and searching for the reason, she thought of a plan. Next day she could not dismiss it. At length she con cluded it was the only way. Billie had said she was pretty, and hence there remained but one thing to do. The day was Friday, and by Monday it might be finished. Sadie was the first to notice it ; then the other girls came run ning with hoots of laughter. Margery looked at them dumbly : she was very tired. But she was no worse than they, and Sadie had advised it once. When Billie sees, she thought, their hoots will be nothing. Why, the stockings alone cost a dollar, and the whole suit had corresponding values. “Poor kid,” said Billie. after he had listened to Sadie awhile. “Too bad.”


But Margery plied her task, smiling; for Billie had seen, she was sure. And he had spoken with unusual fervor, with admiration. It was in June that Billie stopped coming. Without warning, without a word — and Margery had no premonitions of college clos ing — he stopped coming. Locked in her room during the warm nights following, she would sit in her nightgown, weeping softly and long, until the clock over the street sounded her bedtime at nine o’clock ; when she would set the alarm, and fall across her bed in dream-wrought slumber. In the end, grief changed to a sort of joy, in that Billie had deserted Sadie and not herself. And now that he hated Sadie, could it be that his love had fallen to her? The thought held her for hours, and days. Thus four months passed, and Billie appeared. Meanwhile, however, Sadie had been discharged. Turning from the strange girl who stood in her place, chewing gum, Billie called to Margery. She had expected to be called, and nothing more. In response to his question, which seemed indifferent, she said that Sadie had gone away — to the bad. Then he left the place. Watching him go, and drunk with the joy of seeing him again, Margery failed to notice that he left no laundry. But in the days that came after, she knew he was not to come again. Deprived of his calls, and knowing that he was now back, Margery looked day by day through the open door-way in the hope of seeing him pass. She was corrected many times. Someone who worked behind her said that she would lose her job. The thought so maddened her that she worked till the head man came and con gratulated her. On the streets, just a dozen steps away, she knew that Billie would pass ; and, try as she might, she could not always refrain from staring into the passers-by. No one really knew why she looked ; no one asked, nor cared. But only she could tell how many times his form had a place in the hurried throngs. Again she was corrected by the head man, who threatened to discharge her. One night as she sat dreaming on her trunk by the window, an idea came. In her little world of laundry and room and Billie, she needed few ideas. No use to her was thought when, by sinking to a state of almost somnambulance, she lived with Billie in a land of happiness. But the idea came, and thereafter, every afternoon wnen work-hours released her, she wandered about the everlasting streets, cherishing the hope that one day she wrould meet Billie. Nearly a year since she was driven to the city, plump and at least of a sound body ; but now the dimples were gone and tragic shadows seemed to be working outward from within her soul. Gradually, as time went on and she found herself getting weary of so much struggling to move along, she narrowed her course to one route which she took habitually. It led down Canal Street, beyond an old church which she loved because flowers grew in the yard like those she used to grow ; thence to the river, moving with a solemn and noiseless flow underneath the great bridge, where she ended her walk. At dusk, just after she saw the sun go down, she would return, and lock herself in her room for the night. Still only one thing made her life happy, in a little measure, and worth while. This was Billie. She could never quite believe he had forgotten her, though it was an age since she last saw him rushing by in his car, too fast ever to stop. She had recognized its peculiar whirr; and, mutely stopping where she was, she had strained after him till a corner blotted out the vision. Once, not long before this, Billie saw the expectant figure, and waved her, throwing a kiss with the tips of his fingers. Although he never stopped, such ecstatic moments as these repaid her for all the soli tary hours of grief and leaden despair. It was now approaching Christmas, a time which Margery, ages in the past, enjoyed as little children do. She had labored in the laundry since April, and one after the other of her friends — first Sadie, then Billie — had gone out of her life, except what of their spiritual substance she retained. For Sadie she began to care a little more, now that she was gone for all time ; and for Billie, her affec tion was a sort of mania. Love is not the word. Worshipping him as only the simple can, she found him some god-like conception that deserved her reverence, her dreams, her everything.


Christmas came and went, and the year began over again. Margery was the same unchangeable dreamer, perhaps worse, mop ing over white clothes, and finding solace in those which reminded her of Billie; the same girl, unless her appearance was now a trifle on the side of the jade. At her room, in a drawer to itself, she preserved the suit of clothes she had suffered to get, and which did not help her any. They had been got that Billie might find her worthy to take out again. Of course he had not done it, but that was probably Sadie’s fault. It was enough that he had seen and liked the suit. Did he know how she got it? The truth that Sadie had now lost him was far more relevant. As for herself, he could never let her go entirely when she treasured him so profoundly. That she worshipped him utterly, lived for him alone, and that the other girls had now quite forgotten, was surely a sign that the days would bring him back. During the weeks which came after Christmas, it was talked among the girls that, owing to the time, one might ask a lover to marry one. Leap year, with Margery, had been relegated by uncon scious processes to a past that was almost dead. Yet old memories of unbearable things began to stir within her. She listened dully to comments, jokes, and stories of strange experiences. She heard them speak of a reward the papers offered to the girl who should first secure a husband. Then they turned upon Margery. Looking blankly from one to the other of them, she marvelled how they all knew she would not lose her lover. Was it really true? And she wondered why they should laugh so shrilly at her. She was be wildered. Walking as usual, in the afternoon, Margery began retracing once more, and very slowly, all she could remember of Billie. Then, com ing to the end of her walk, she leaned over the water — it was the same water they had been together upon — and, as she communed with herself, she fancied that Billie was the man who paddled the canoe over there, and that she was the pretty young girl who faced him. What would Billie think, if he actually knew her soul? For the first time, the pain of irrepressible longing filled her. Suppose he should drive past now, in his big car. Would he stop? … or simply pass? . . . and pass?


Margery reached home late on this night, and went direct to Sadie’s old room. She knew very well it was empty; but some where, perhaps in the bureau, she could find a trace. At first the idea had borne upon her from afar, like some hideous torture by hope; then she had harbored it, and at the last had yielded to its insidious fascination. To begin with, the girls had started her; but suggestion, it appeared, striking the sympathetic will, might stir the very heart to madness. So Margery went to Sadie’s old room, look ing for Billie’s address. There was no doubt; she was certain. In the top drawer she found a card. She could read the name, the place, so clearly were they written. In her own room she wrote. It was not a long letter, but in the irregular scrawls over half a page, she epitomized the meaning of her soul. In a week the answer came. The girl recovered from the river, next day, at the foot of Canal Street, was identified in the course of time, to be sure, but not by the bit of paper in her bosom, which read : — “Forget it, girl; don’t make a fool of yourself.” Someone also found in her bosom a crumpled handkerchief.


Arthur Wilson.

By a Window


Oh, silver boats in midnight seas,

Or weary swarms of ghostly bees

Seem all those fleecy mites of snow

Which hesitate, and drop smoke-slow,

Divinely chaste, adrift out there,

Each like a saddened angel’s tear.


Ah me ! if sometime in my soul

The crystal fountains lip their bowl

And spill away some tears as chaste

As those that angels seem to waste,

I shall not wish them back again

Nor dream of hurt, nor dream of pain.


Arthur Wilson.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci’

The summer sweet, unnumbered days ago

When dreams outraced the vigor of the hours;

A mild-eyed night with moon and earth and sea —


Amid the sleep-time in that summer sweet,

Through paling astral towers spinning slow

From ashen moons, I made me down a way


Unfrequented of man. Through solitudes

Of murmuring space where children never keep

A reckoning of the day, I made me down

The couchant sky’s encroaching canopy,

Amove beside the old imperious sea

On lengthened white sea-sand. Ere long there came

Invisibly, and breathing quick a pain,

Some form of argent web all wrapped around.

I tore the web, the web tore easily,

And underneath, of fragile girlishness,

I saw a queen of fairly kind stretch forth

And lean to me. Aweary then, and faint,

And crying on the world a bitter cry,

Accursed one who lived and loved and lost,

And never loved but lost, I wrapped the form,

The dream-made girlish form, within mine arms;

When lo ! I joyed to feel the wildered beat

Of heart ecstatic. Sobs, of far-off seas

Abandoned to the dead, she sobbed ; and deep,

Deep into eyes of invitation sweet.

Of various emotion, down I sank

As far as God had made; and then, ah, then

She closed her eyes! Began her lucid lips

To carve some speech that tinkled by her teeth

As virgin streams by shingly bars ; it fell

Into my passive heart, relumed the place

Where Faith had ever battled with the dark

That little gods put there — Again her eyes ! —

Dear revenants, drooped open wide and wild,

And shot lucernal ardors to my depth : —

An instant on the South where minnows school

And flash their silver bellies to the sun,

I dreamed a passing dream — then felt her lie

Along my neck in never-ending glow,

As haunting mists through all the autumn long

Sleep on the yearning soil; or very like

The patient streams of moon that wondering come

To warn the aching sea to love the sky,

Her paramour. Ah no, you other race,

You cannot understand, you cannot know

Divine communion any night. In dreams

I see you at the end, by Acheron,

With hearts of lust, and dead unmeaning hands

The spade has hardened. All alone, alone

I understand the pulsing of her flesh ;

Why tragic broke its mighty thought, and gave

A touch misunderstood of all the world.

Her heart, — I thought of cataracts afar

That thunder in their solitudes; her feet, —

Like tiny coral stems that fingered mine,

And clung as mosses to the oak. Then wind

Crept out of earth, the sea and sky, and blew

Her mellow hair, those wild magnetic streams,

Into the face of me ; and kisses soft

From deep vermilion lip to lip. My Soul !

I only knew I lived, and not in vain.

More perfect hearts, more perfect happy hearts,

Were not in sprites that thrid the slender trees

And render birth to song. I came aware

Not in the thrall of human kind was I,


Nor in the visioned thrall of fairy kind,

But weakened to a melancholy soul

That wanders to the end, and makes along

The white sea-sands unfrequented of man;

Of argent web all wrapped and wrapped around;

Of sad inconstancy ; that flees alway,

Shot through and through with foaming vein, and burns

Unhumanly. Too little in the world,

Apart from Night-folk, Sea-folk, all alone

She dwells, Earth-daemon Man may never know.


Recovered once, of pain the absolute,

I pressed my fingers through her tender neck,

Each one to one — soft, soft’ was her neck, soft

As all the foam along the restless shore.

Abuseful she was not, nor I to her,

Except in madness. Swift she floated back,

Shook free, as gray phantasmal mists have done

To rid them of the earth. I saw her face

Betray no blood, and her ensanguined lips,

Full wan as any death, grow on their turn

Acanthice beads. An echo from her throat.

The last she made this night, rang down the dark

And lost itself beyond the pale of earth.

Mine eyes have seen what Shepherds never saw,

She passed adown the lengthened moon-steeped way,

And on and on reproachfully, her feet

Of tiny coral certain to the road

And beating sadly on the wasted shells ;

Aye, passed adown the beach of argentine,

Herself more argent, white as white sea-sand.


Days after — days — I had to know her well.

Below the sun, of all dream-memories,

Not one is like the hell of this. Some god,

Lend rest to mind and freedom from her toil ! —


My amaranthine flower. I swear the Night

Gives up her glowing face, whose hated eyes,

Like deserts hot and dead, exact from man

An awful price. Afar in darker lands

I feel her kisses burning to the deep, —

Those damned uncertain lips as sweet, as faint,

As hand-pats from a babe. Deep in the waste,

In her unlimited demesne of sleep,

I hear a fountain singing lotus-songs;

But ever, when the fountain music dies,

I hear a mocking-bird who mocks its song,

And mockery is only half the truth.

With naked eyes, how often leers the Night

To see her charnel body weight me down

As tombstones weight the dead ! By night I fade

Into the old, unlimited demesne,

And there, beside the old. imperious sea,

I stir the astral webs and loiter on.

Ere long the daemon comes, then forward hurls

Upon me — “Dying, Arthur, dying,” cries ;

And when my fingers find their dreadful use

To press the tender neck to death, she turns,

And wanders far along the moon-lit way,

And dies reproachfully.


Began this toil

In summer sweet, unnumbered days ago

When dreams outraced the vigor of the hours:

A mild-eyed night with moon and earth and sea.


Arthur Wilson.