Ballade of Capital

The Earth is full of mud and meat,
And malt and salt and sand and spice,
And ships and shells and sugar-beet,
And bread at the Imperial price,
And glass and brass and rum and rice,
And oak and talc and turtle-fat,
And fire and snow and sea and ice,
And lots of little things like that.

And all these things we meet —
Are capital: and should suffice
(You say) to do us quite a treat —
As if you and I have each a slice —
… But one whose clothes could scarce entice
Held recently a ragged hat
In which you put the best advice
And lots of little things like that.

I own the scheme is very neat,
I do not think it very nice
That we should own the blooming street
With all the people poor as mice.
I have old views: that loaded dice
Are “wrong”, and even Tit-for-tat
“Heathen”, that virtue is not vice
And lots of little things like that.

Envoi

Prince, Pharoah trounced them in a trice,
The poor that groaned at him: whereat
God sent him flies and frogs and lice
And lots of little things like that.

— (c.1911)

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Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

“A kind of encouragement”

Heathen and Christian alike have regarded marriage as a tie; a thing not normally to be sundered. Briefly, this human belief in a sexual bond rests on a principle of which the modern mind has made a very inadequate study. It is, perhaps, most nearly paralleled by the principle of the second wind in walking.

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. Whether this solid fact of human nature is sufficient to justify the sublime dedication of Christian marriage is quite another matter, it is amply sufficient to justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing, dissolution of which is a fault or, at least, an ignominy. The essential element is not so much duration as security. Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage. In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy. Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is essentially discouraging.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on July 18, 2012 at 7:46 am  Comments (5)  

Laughter

Say to the lover when the lane
Thrills through its leaves to feel her feet,
“You only feel what smashed the slime
When the first monstrous brutes could meet.”
Shall not the lover laugh and say
(Whom God gives season to be gay),
“Well for those monsters long ago
If that be so; but was it so?”

Say to the mother when the son
First springs and stiffens as for fight,
“So under that green roof of scum
The tadpole is the frog’s delight,
So deep your brutish instincts lie.”
She will laugh loud enough and cry,
“Then the poor frog is not so poor.
O happy frog! But are you sure?”

Ye learned, ye that never laugh,
But say, “Such love and litany
Hailed Isis; and such men as you
Danced by the cart of Cybele,”
Shall not I say, “Your cart at least
Goes far before your horse, poor beast.
Like Her! You flatter them maybe.
What do you think you do to me?”

— (1918-25).

Published in: on July 18, 2012 at 7:11 am  Leave a Comment  

“These splendid failures”

There is one feature in the past which more than all the rest defies and depresses the moderns and drives them towards this featureless future. I mean the presence in the past of huge ideals, unfulfilled and sometimes abandoned. The sight of these splendid failures is melancholy to a restless and rather morbid generation; and they maintain a strange silence about them — sometimes amounting to an unscrupulous silence. They keep them entirely out of their newspapers and almost entirely out of their history books. For example, they will often tell you (in their praises of the coming age) that we are moving on towards a United States of Europe. But they carefully omit to tell you that we are moving away from a United States of Europe, that such a thing existed literally in Roman and essentially in mediaeval times. They never admit that the international hatreds (which they call barbaric) are really very recent, the mere breakdown of the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. Or again, they will tell you that there is going to be a social revolution, a great rising of the poor against the rich; but they never rub it in that France made that magnificent attempt, unaided, and that we and all the world allowed it to be trampled out and forgotten. I say decisively that nothing is so marked in modern writing as the prediction of such ideals in the future combined with the ignoring of them in the past.

 —  What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 7:01 am  Comments (2)  

A Ballad of Abbreviations

The American’s a hustler, for he says so,
And surely the American must know.
He will prove to you with figures why it pays so
Beginning with his boyhood long ago.
When the slow-maturing anecdote is ripest
He’ll dictate it like a Board of Trade Report,
And because he has no time to call a typist,
He calls her a Stenographer for short.

He is never known to loiter or malinger,
He rushes, for he knows he has “a date”;
He is always on the spot and full of ginger,
Which is why he is invariably late.
When he guesses that it’s getting even later,
His vocabulary’s vehement and swift,
And he yells for what he calls the Elevator,
A slang abbreviation for a lift.

Then nothing can be nattier or nicer
For those who like a light and rapid style,
Than to trifle with a work of Mr. Dreiser
As it comes along in waggons by the mile.
He has taught us what a swift selective art meant
By description of his dinners and all that,
And his dwelling, which he says is an Apartment,
Because he cannot stop to say a flat.

We may whisper of his wild precipitation,
That its speed is rather longer than a span,
But there really is a definite occasion
When he does not use the longest word he can.
When he substitutes, I freely make admission,
One shorter and much easier to spell;
If you ask him what he thinks of Prohibition
He may tell you quite succinctly it is Hell.

— (c.1920s).

Published in: on July 4, 2012 at 6:43 am  Comments (2)