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A Fountain, a Bottle, a Donkey's Ears, and Some Books

Old Davis owned a solid mica mountain
In Dalton that would someday make his fortune.
There'd been some Boston people out to see it:
And experts said that deep down in the mountain
The mica sheets were big as plate-glass windows.
He'd like to take me there and show it to me.

"I'll tell you what you show me. You remember
You said you knew the place where once, on Kinsman,
The early Mormons made a settlement
And built a stone baptismal font outdoors—
But Smith, or someone, called them off the mountain
To go West to a worse fight with the desert.
You said you'd seen the stone baptismal font.
Well, take me there."

Someday I will."

"Today."

"Huh, that old bathtub, what is that to see?
Let's talk about it."

"Let's go see the place."

'To shut you up I'll tell you what I'll do:
I'll find that fountain if it takes all summer,
And both of our united strengths, to do it."

"You've lost it, then?"

"Not so but I can find it.
No doubt it's grown up some to woods around it.
The mountain may have shifted since I saw it
In eighty-five."

"As long ago as that?"

"If I remember rightly, it had sprung
A leak and emptied then. And forty years
Can do a good deal to bad masonry.
You won't see any Mormon swimming in it.
But you have said it, and we're off to find it.
Old as I am, I'm going to let myself
Be dragged by you all over everywhere——"
"I thought you were a guide.”

"I am a guide,
And that's why I can't decently refuse you."

We made a day of it out of the world,
Ascending to descend to reascend.
The old man seriously took his bearings,
And spoke his doubts in every open place.

We came out on a look-off where we faced
A cliff, and on the cliff a bottle painted,
Or stained by vegetation from above,
A likeness to surprise the thrilly tourist.

"Well, if I haven't brought you to the fountain,
At least I've brought you to the famous Bottle."

"I won't accept the substitute. It's empty.”

"So's everything."

"I want my fountain."

"I guess you'd find the fountain just as empty.
And anyway this tells me where I am.”

"Hadn't you long suspected where you were?"

"You mean miles from that Mormon settlement?
Look here, you treat your guide with due respect
If you don't want to spend the night outdoors.
I vow we must be near the place from where
The two converging slides, the avalanches,
On Marshall, look like donkey's ears.
We may as well see that and save the day."

"Don't donkey's ears suggest we shake our own?"

"For God's sake, aren't you fond of viewing nature?
You don't like nature. All you like is books.
What signify a donkey's cars and bottle,
However natural? Give you your books!
Well then, right here is where I show you books.
Come straight down off this mountain just as fast
As we can fall and keep a-bouncing on our feet.
It's hell for knees unless done hell-for-leather."

Be ready, I thought, for almost anything.

We struck a road I didn't recognize,
But welcomed for the chance to lave my shoes
In dust once more. We followed this a mile,
Perhaps, to where it ended at a house
I didn't know was there. It was the kind
To bring me to for broad-board paneling.
I never saw so good a house deserted.

"Excuse me if I ask you in a window
That happens to be broken, Davis said.
"The outside doors as yet have held against us.
I want to introduce you to the people
Who used to live here. They were Robinsons.
You must have heard of Clara Robinson,
The poetess who wrote the book of verses
And had it published. It was all about
The posies on her inner windowsill,
And the birds on her outer windowsill,
And how she tended both, or had them tended:
She never tended anything herself.
She was 'shut in' for life. She lived her whole
Life long in bed, and wrote her things in bed.
I'll show You how she had her sills extended
To entertain the birds and hold the flowers.
Our business first's up attic with her books."

We trod uncomfortably on crunching glass
Through a house stripped of everything
Except, it seemed, the poetess's poems.
Books, I should say!—-if books are what is needed.
A whole edition in a packing case
That, overflowing like a horn of plenty,
Or like the poetess's heart of love,
Had spilled them near the window, toward the light
Where driven rain had wet and swollen them.
Enough to stock a village library—
Unfortunately all of one kind, though.
They bad been brought home from some publisher
And taken thus into the family.
Boys and bad hunters had known what to do
With stone and lead to unprotected glass:
Shatter it inward on the unswept floors.
How had the tender verse escaped their outrage?
By being invisible for what it was,
Or else by some remoteness that defied them
To find out what to do to hurt a poem.
Yet oh! the tempting flatness of a book,
To send it sailing out the attic window
Till it caught wind and, opening out its covers,
Tried to improve on sailing like a tile
By flying like a bird (silent in flight,
But all the burden of its body song),
Only to tumble like a stricken bird,
And lie in stones and bushes unretrieved.
Books were not thrown irreverently about.
They simply lay where someone now and then,
Having tried one, had dropped it at his feet
And left it lying where it fell rejected.
Here were all those the poetess's life
Had been too short to sell or give away.

"Take one," Old Davis bade me graciously.

"Why not take two or three?"

"Take all you want."
Good-looking books like that." He picked one fresh
In virgin wrapper from deep in the box,
And stroked it with a horny-handed kindness.
He read in one and I read in another,
Both either looking for or finding something.

The attic wasps went missing by like bullets.

I was soon satisfied for the time being.

All the way home I kept remembering
The small book in my pocket. It was there.
The poetess had sighed, I knew, in heaven
At having eased her heart of one more copy—
Legitimately. My demand upon her,
Though slight, was a demand. She felt the tug.
In time she would be rid of all her books.

Robert Frost

Picture-Books in Winter

Summer fading, winter comes--
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

Robert Louis Stevenson

Minstrelsy

For ever, since my childish looks
Could rest on Nature's pictured books;
For ever, since my childish tongue
Could name the themes our bards have sung;
So long, the sweetness of their singing
Hath been to me a rapture bringing!
Yet ask me not the reason why
I have delight in minstrelsy.

I know that much whereof I sing,
Is shapen but for vanishing;
I know that summer's flower and leaf
And shine and shade are very brief,
And that the heart they brighten, may,
Before them all, be sheathed in clay! --
I do not know the reason why
I have delight in minstrelsy.

A few there are, whose smile and praise
My minstrel hope, would kindly raise:
But, of those few -- Death may impress
The lips of some with silentness;
While some may friendship's faith resign,
And heed no more a song of mine. --
Ask not, ask not the reason why
I have delight in minstrelsy.

The sweetest song that minstrels sing,
Will charm not Joy to tarrying;
The greenest bay that earth can grow,
Will shelter not in burning woe;
A thousand voices will not cheer,
When one is mute that aye is dear! --
Is there, alas! no reason why
I have delight in minstrelsy.

I do not know! The turf is green
Beneath the rain's fast-dropping sheen,
Yet asks not why that deeper hue
Doth all its tender leaves renew; --
And I, like-minded, am content,
While music to my soul is sent,
To question not the reason why
I have delight in minstrelsy.

Years pass -- my life with them shall pass:
And soon, the cricket in the grass
And summer bird, shall louder sing
Than she who owns a minstrel's string.
Oh then may some, the dear and few,
Recall her love, whose truth they knew;
When all forget to question why
She had delight in minstrelsy!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Jonathan Swift Somers

After you have enriched your soul
To the highest point,
With books, thought, suffering, the understanding of many personalities,
The power to interpret glances, silences,
The pauses in momentous transformations,
The genius of divination and prophecy;
So that you feel able at times to hold the world
In the hollow of your hand;
Then, if, by the crowding of so many powers
Into the compass of your soul,
Your soul takes fire,
And in the conflagration of your soul
The evil of the world is lighted up and made clear --
Be thankful if in that hour of supreme vision
Life does not fiddle.

Edgar Lee Masters

Children Selecting Books In A Library

With beasts and gods, above, the wall is bright.
The child's head, bent to the book-colored shelves,
Is slow and sidelong and food-gathering,
Moving in blind grace ... yet from the mural, Care
The grey-eyed one, fishing the morning mist,
Seizes the baby hero by the hair
And whispers, in the tongue of gods and children,
Words of a doom as ecumenical as dawn
But blanched like dawn, with dew.
The children's cries
Are to men the cries of crickets, dense with warmth
-- But dip a finger into Fafnir, taste it,
And all their words are plain as chance and pain.
Their tales are full of sorcerers and ogres
Because their lives are: the capricious infinite
That, like parents, no one has yet escaped
Except by luck or magic; and since strength
And wit are useless, be kind or stupid, wait
Some power's gratitude, the tide of things.
Read meanwhile ... hunt among the shelves, as dogs do, grasses,
And find one cure for Everychild's diseases
Beginning: Once upon a time there was
A wolf that fed, a mouse that warned, a bear that rode
A boy. Us men, alas! wolves, mice, bears bore.
And yet wolves, mice, bears, children, gods and men
In slow preambulation up and down the shelves
Of the universe are seeking ... who knows except themselves?
What some escape to, some escape: if we find Swann's
Way better than our own, an trudge on at the back
Of the north wind to -- to -- somewhere east
Of the sun, west of the moon, it is because we live
By trading another's sorrow for our own; another's
Impossibilities, still unbelieved in, for our own ...
"I am myself still?" For a little while, forget:
The world's selves cure that short disease, myself,
And we see bending to us, dewy-eyed, the great
CHANGE, dear to all things not to themselves endeared.

Randall Jarrell

On the Way

LITTLE one, you have been buzzing in the books,
Flittering in the newspapers and drinking beer with
lawyers
And amid the educated men of the clubs you have been
getting an earful of speech from trained tongues.
Take an earful from me once, go with me on a hike
Along sand stretches on the great inland sea here
And while the eastern breeze blows on us and the
restless surge
Of the lake waves on the breakwater breaks with an ever
fresh monotone,
Let us ask ourselves: What is truth? what do you or I
know?
How much do the wisest of the world's men know about
where the massed human procession is going?

You have heard the mob laughed at?
I ask you: Is not the mob rough as the mountains are
rough?
And all things human rise from the mob and relapse and
rise again as rain to the sea.

Carl Sandburg

The End Of The Library

When the coal
Gave out, we began
Burning the books, one by one;
First the set
Of Bulwer-Lytton
And then the Walter Scott.
They gave a lot of warmth.
Toward the end, in
February, flames
Consumed the Greek
Tragedians and Baudelaire,
Proust, Robert Burton
And the Po-Chu-i. Ice
Thickened on the sills.
More for the sake of the cat,
We said, than for ourselves,
Who huddled, shivering,
Against the stove
All winter long.

Weldon Kees

My Hundred Books

A thousand books my library
Contains;
And all are primed, it seems to me
With brains.
Mine are so few I scratch in thought
My head;
For just a hundred of the lot
I've read.

A hundred books, but of the best,
I can
With wisdom savour and digest
And scan.
Yet when afar from kin and kith
In nooks
Of quietness I'm happy with
Sweet books.

So as nine hundred at me stare
In vain,
My lack I'm wistfully aware
Of brain;
Yet as my leave of living ends,
With looks
Of love I view a hundred friends,
My books.

Robert W. Service

Psalm 19 part 1

The books of nature and scripture.
For a Lord's-day morning

Behold, the lofty sky
Declares its Maker God,
And all his starry works on high
Proclaim his power abroad.

The darkness and the light
Still keep their course the same;
While night to day, and day to night,
Divinely teach his name.

In every diff'rent land
Their general voice is known;
They show the wonders of his hand,
And orders of his throne.

Ye British lands, rejoice,
Here he reveals his word;
We are not left to nature's voice,
To bid us know the Lord.

His statutes and commands
Are set before our eyes;
He puts his gospel in our hands,
Where our salvation lies.

His laws are just and pure,
His truth without deceit,
His promises for ever sure,
And his rewards are great.

[Not honey to the taste
Affords so much delight,
Nor gold that has the furnace passed
So much allures the sight.

While of thy works I sing,
Thy glory to proclaim,
Accept the praise, my God, my King
In my Redeemer's name.]

Isaac Watts

May and the Poets

There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May's in Milton, May's in Prior,
May's in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May's in all the Italian books:--
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May's at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.

James Henry Leigh Hunt

It Is March

It is March and black dust falls out of the books
Soon I will be gone
The tall spirit who lodged here has
Left already
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
Old prices

When you look back there is always the past
Even when it has vanished
But when you look forward
With your dirty knuckles and the wingless
Bird on your shoulder
What can you write

The bitterness is still rising in the old mines
The fist is coming out of the egg
The thermometers out of the mouths of the corpses

At a certain height
The tails of the kites for a moment are
Covered with footsteps

Whatever I have to do has not yet begun

W. S. Merwin

The Piano-Organ

My student-lamp is lighted,
The books and papers are spread;
A sound comes floating upwards,
Chasing the thoughts from my head.

I open the garret window,
Let the music in and the moon;
See the woman grin for coppers,
While the man grinds out the tune.

Grind me a dirge or a requiem,
Or a funeral-march sad and slow,
But not, O not, that waltz tune
I heard so long ago.

I stand upright by the window,
The moonlight streams in wan:--
O God! with its changeless rise and fall
The tune twirls on and on.

Amy Levy

Truly Great

My walls outside must have some flowers,
My walls within must have some books;
A house that's small; a garden large,
And in it leafy nooks.

A little gold that's sure each week;
That comes not from my living kind,
But from a dead man in his grave,
Who cannot change his mind.

A lovely wife, and gentle too;
Contented that no eyes but mine
Can see her many charms, nor voice
To call her beauty fine.

Where she would in that stone cage live,
A self-made prisoner, with me;
While many a wild bird sang around,
On gate, on bush, on tree.

And she sometimes to answer them,
In her far sweeter voice than all;
Till birds, that loved to look on leaves,
Will doat on a stone wall.

With this small house, this garden large,
This little gold, this lovely mate,
With health in body, peace in heart--
Show me a man more great.

William Henry Davies

Sonnet LXXX

AFter so long a race as I haue run
Through Faery land, which those six books co[m]pile
giue leaue to rest me being halfe fordonne,
and gather to my selfe new breath awhile.
Then as a steed refreshed after toyle,
out of my prison I will breake anew:
and stoutly will that second worke assoyle,
with strong endeuour and attention dew.
Till then giue leaue to me in pleasant mew,
to sport my muse and sing my loues sweet praise:
the contemplation of whose heauenly hew,
my spirit to an higher pitch will rayse.
But let her prayses yet be low and meane,
fit for the handmayd of the Faery Queene.

Edmund Spenser

October

Books litter the bed,
leaves the lawn. It
lightly rains. Fall has
come: unpatterned, in
the shedding leaves.

The maples ripen. Apples
come home crisp in bags.
This pear tastes good.
It rains lightly on the
random leaf patterns.

The nimbus is spread
above our island. Rain
lightly patters on un-
shed leaves. The books
of fall litter the bed.

James Schuyler

My Wars are laid away in Books --
I have one Battle more --
A Foe whom I have never seen
But oft has scanned me o'er --
And hesitated me between
And others at my side,
But chose the best -- Neglecting me -- till
All the rest, have died --
How sweet if I am not forgot
By Chums that passed away --
Since Playmates at threescore and ten
Are such a scarcity --

Emily Dickinson

A Tragedy

Among his books he sits all day
To think and read and write;
He does not smell the new-mown hay,
The roses red and white.

I walk among them all alone,
His silly, stupid wife;
The world seems tasteless, dead and done -
An empty thing is life.

At night his window casts a square
Of light upon the lawn;
I sometimes walk and watch it there
Until the chill of dawn.

I have no brain to understand
The books he loves to read;
I only have a heart and hand
He does not seem to need.

He calls me "Child" - lays on my hair
Thin fingers, cold and mild;
Oh! God of Love, who answers prayer,
I wish I were a child!

And no one sees and no one knows
(He least would know or see),
That ere Love gathers next year's rose
Death will have gathered me.

Edith Nesbit

For Siggy & Bill

I awoke with two poets in my bed,
books I chose from the library, possibly
intent on a swift read while schmoosing
for poetic leads. My motives are appallingly
plain, a head bereft of fine ideas although
biographies are not an easy reading.

I picked Siegfried Sassoon instinctively (not
for any cogent reasons, I liked him in his
uniform though his name may cause
a resonance), and William Butler Yeats
who sat nearby within an easy reach,

so I took him too. I flicked them through,
scanned a few pages, gazed at the ancient
pictures, yawned, left them on the bed
and rediscovered them this morning.
Now I have two books to read

on the hidden lives of immense poets,
written no doubt by excellent biographers
intent on doing their subjects proud.
It unnerves me that what I am about to do
is discover who lurks behind their pretty poems.
© I.D. Carswell

Ivan Donn Carswell

Flying at Forty

You call me
courageous,
I who grew up
gnawing on books,
as some kids
gnaw
on bubble gum,

who married disastrously
not once
but three times,
yet have a lovely daughter
I would not undo
for all the dope
in California.

Fear was my element,
fear my contagion.
I swam in it
till I became
immune.
The plane takes off
& I laugh aloud.
Call me courageous.

I am still alive.

Erica Jong

The Quarrel

Our quarrel seemed a giant thing,
It made the room feel mean and small,
The books, the lamp, the furniture,
The very pictures on the wall--

Crowded upon us as we sat
Pale and terrified, face to face.
"Why do you stay?" she said, "my room
Can never be your resting place."

"Katinka, ere we part for life,
I pray you walk once more with me."
So down the dark, familiar road
We paced together, silently.

The sky--it seemed on fire with stars!
I said:--"Katinka dear, look up!"
Like thirsty children, both of us
Drank from the giant loving cup.

"Who were those dolls?" Katinka said
"What were their stupid, vague alarms?"
And suddenly we turned and laughed
And rushed into each other's arms.

Katherine Mansfield
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