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GOLD EGG: A DREAM-FANTASY
HOW A STUDENT IN SEARCH OF THE
BEAUTIFUL FELL ASLEEP IN DRESDEN
OVER HERR PROFESSOR DOCTOR VI-
SCHER'S WISSENSCHAFT des SCHÖNEN,
AND WHAT CAME THEREOF
I SWAM with undulation soft,
Adrift on Vischer's ocean,
And, from my cockboat up aloft,
Sent down my mental pluminet oft
In hope to reach a notion.
But from the metaphysic sea
No bottom was forthcoming,
And all the while (how drearily !)
In one eternal note of B
My German stove kept humming.
"What's Beauty?" mused I; "is it told
By synthesis? analysis?
Have you not made us lead of gold?
To feed your crucible, not sold
Our temple's sacred chalices ?"
Then o'er my senses came a change;
My book seemed all traditions, Old legends of profoundest range, Diablery, and stories strange
Of goblins, elves, magicians.
Old gods in modern saints I found,
Old creeds in strange disguises;
I thought them safely underground,
And here they were, all safe and sound,
Without a sign of phthisis.
Truth was, my outward eyes were closed,
Although I did not know it;
Deep into dream-land I had dozed,
And thus was happily transposed
From proser into poet.
So what I read took flesh and blood,
And turned to living creatures:
The words were but the dingy bud
That bloomed, like Adam, from the mud,
To human forms and features.
I saw how Zeus was lodged once more
By Baucis and Philemon;
The text said, "Not alone of yore,
But every day, at every door
Knocks still the masking Demon."
DAIMON 't was printed in the book
And, as I read it slowly,
The letters stirred and changed, and took
Jove's stature, the Olympiau look
Of painless melancholy.
He paused upon the threshold worn:
"With coin I cannot pay you;
Yet would I fain make some return;
The gift for cheapness do not spurn,
Accept this hen, I pray you.
"Plain feathers wears my Hemera,
And has from ages olden;
She makes her nest in con mon hay,
And yet, of all the birds that lay,
Her eggs alone are golden."
He turned, and could no more be seen;
Old Baucis stared a moment,
Then tossed poor Partlet on the green,
And with a tone, half jest, half spleen,
Thus made her housewife's comment:
"The stranger had a queerish face,
His smile was hardly pleasant, And, though he meant it for a grace, Yet this old hen of barnyard race
Was but a stingy present.
"She's quite too old for laying eggs,
Nay, even to make a soup of;
One only needs to see her legs,
You might as well boil down the pegs
I made the brood-hen's coop of!
"Some eighteen score of such do I
Raise every year, her sisters;
Go, in the woods your fortunes try,
All day for one poor earthworm pry,
And scratch your toes to blisters !"
Philemon found the rede was good,
And, turning on the poor nen,
He clapt his hands, and stamped, and
Hunting the exile tow'rd the wood,
To house with snipe and moor-hen.
A poet saw and cried: "Hold! hold!
What are you doing, madman?
Spurn you more wealth than can be
The fowl that lays the eggs of gold,
Because she's plainly clad, man?"
When Consciousness looks t' other way;
Not drop by drop, with watchful skill,
Gathered in Art's deliberate still,
But life's insensible completeness
Got as the ripe grape gets its sweetness,
As if it had a way to fuse
The golden sunlight into juice.
Hopeless my mental pump I try,
The boxes hiss, the tube is dry;
As those petroleum wells that spout
Awhile like M. C.'s, then give out,
My spring, once full as Arethusa,
Is a mere bore as dry 's Creusa;
And yet you ask me why I'm glum,
And why my graver Muse is dumb.
Ah me! I've reasons manifold
Condensed in one, I'm getting old!
On rock-foundations of the mind;
Knowledge instead of scheming hope;
For wild adventure, settled scope;
Talents, from surface-ore profuse,
Tempered and edged to tools for use;
Judgment, for passion's headlong whirls;
Old sorrows crystalled into pearls;
Losses by patience turned to gains,
Possessions now, that once were pains;
Joy's blossom gone, as go it must,
To ripen seeds of faith and trust;
Why heed a snow-flake on the roof
If fire within keep Age aloof,
Though blundering north-winds push and
With palms benumbed against the pane?"
My dear old Friend, you're very wise;
We always are with others' eyes,
And see so clear! (our neighbor's deck on)
What reef the idiot 's sure to wreck on;
Folks when they learn how life has quizzed
Are fain to make a shift with Wisdom,
And, finding she nor breaks nor bends,
Give her a letter to their friends.
Draw passion's torrent whoso will
Through sluices smooth to turn a mill,
And, taking solid toll of grist,
Forget the rainbow in the mist,
The exulting leap, the aimless haste
Scattered in iridescent waste;
Prefer who likes the sure esteem
To cheated youth's midsummer dream,
When every friend was more than Damon,
Each quicksand safe to build a fame on;
Believe that prudence snug excels
Youth's gross of verdant spectacles,
Through which earth's withered stubble
Looks autumn-proof as painted green, -
I side with Moses 'gainst the masses,
Take you the drudge, give me the glasses!
And, for your talents shaped with practice,
Convince me first that such the fact is;
Let whoso likes be beat, poor fool,
On life's hard stithy to a tool,
Be whoso will a ploughshare made,
Let me remain a jolly blade!
What's Knowledge, with her stocks and lands,
To gay Conjecture's yellow strands?
What's watching her slow flock's increase
To ventures for the golden fleece?
What her deep ships, safe under lee,
To youth's light craft, that drinks the sea,
For Flying Islands making sail,
And failing where 't is gain to fail?
Ah me! Experience (so we 're told),
Time's crucible, turns lead to gold;
Yet what's experience won but dross,
Cloud-gold transmuted to our loss?
What but base coin the best event
To the untried experiment?
'T was an old couple, says the poet,
That lodged the gods and did not know it;
Youth sees and knows them as they were
Before Olympus' top was bare;
From Swampscot's flats his eye divine
Sees Venus rocking on the brine,
With lucent limbs, that somehow scatter a
Charm that turns Doll to Cleopatra ;
Bacchus (that now is scarce induced
To give Eld's lagging blood a boost),
With cymbals' clang and pards to draw
Divine as Ariadne saw him,
Storms through Youth's pulse with all his
And wins new Indies in his brain;
Apollo (with the old a trope,
A sort of finer Mister Pope),
Apollo- but the Muse forbids:
At his approach cast down thy lids,
And think it joy enough to hear
Far off his arrows singing clear;
He knows enough who silent knows
The quiver chiming as he goes;
He tells too much who e'er betrays
The shining Archer's secret ways.
Dear Friend, you 're right and I am wrong;
My quibbles are not worth a song,
And I sophistically tease
My fancy sad to tricks like these.
I could not cheat you if I would;
You know me and my jesting mood,
Mere surface-foam, for pride concealing
The purpose of my deeper feeling.
I have not spilt one drop of joy
Poured in the senses of the boy,
Nor Nature fails my walks to bless
With all her golden inwardness;
And as blind nestlings, unafraid,
Stretch up wide-mouthed to every shade
By which their downy dream is stirred,
Taking it for the mother-bird,
So, when God's shadow, which is light,
Unheralded, by day or night,
My wakening instincts falls across,
Silent as sunbeams over moss,
In my heart's nest half-conscious things
Stir with a helpless sense of wings,
Lift themselves up, and tremble long
With premonitions sweet of song.
Be patient, and perhaps (who knows?)
These may be winged one day like those;
If thrushes, close-embowered to sing,
Pierced through with June's delicious sting;
If swallows, their half-hour to run
Star-breasted in the setting sun.
At first they're but the unfledged proem,
Or songless schedule of a poem;
When from the shell they're hardly dry
If some folks thrust them forth, must I?
But let me end with a comparison Never yet hit upon by e'er a son Of our American Apollo,
(And there's where I shall beat them hollow,
If he indeed 's no courtly St. John,
But, as West said, a Mohawk Injun.)
A poem 's like a cruise for whales:
Through untried seas the hunter sails,
His prow dividing waters known
To the blue iceberg's hulk alone;
At last, on farthest edge of day,
He marks the smoky puff of spray;
Then with bent oars the shallop flies
To where the basking quarry lies;
Then the excitement of the strife,
The crimsoned waves,—ah, this is life!
But, the dead plunder once secured
And safe beside the vessel moored,
All that had stirred the blood before
Is so much blubber, nothing more,
(I mean no pun, nor image so
Mere sentimental verse, you know,)
And all is tedium, smoke, and soil,
In trying out the noisome oil.
Yes, this is life! And so the bard
Through briny deserts, never scarred
Since Noah's keel, a subject seeks,
And lies upon the watch for weeks;
That once harpooned and helpless lying,
What follows is but weary trying.
Now I've a notion, if a poet
Beat up for themes, his verse will show it;
I wait for subjects that hunt me,
By day or night won't let me be,
And hang about me like a curse,
Till they have made me into verse,
From line to line my fingers tease
Beyond my knowledge, as the bees
Build no new cell till those before
With limpid summer-sweet run o'er;
Then, if I neither sing nor shine,
Is it the subject's fault, or mine?
How strange are the freaks of memory!
The lessons of life we forget,
While a trifle, a trick of color,
In the wonderful web is set, —
Set by some mordant of fancy,
And, spite of the wear and tear