The bronze lamp with the silk shade edged in silver,
The steel nibs waiting by the pen, the ivory
Paper-cutter sheathed in gold - a present
From one of the millionaires he startled,
And the tortoise-shell portfolio where the letters
Were blotted so no tears should show: how easily
The scene is set; how easily one does not understand.
He hated history, this great historian,
For it was true or false or was it falsely
True? - or some such thing: the point eluded
Him, and as he aged, he tired of trouble.
Why bother to set out the wickednesses
Of the Morgans, all that pirate-band who looted
This Irish-filled republic, if they then invited one to dine?
The trolley-cars that rattled past the White House,
Clanging and swaying through a pinchbeck Paris,
Foretold that future which he would not enter -
Machine-made time when Descartes would be ruler;
And even now the hard electric dazzle
Had made false Lafayette in bronze more foolish;
Absurd aristocrat, like Roosevelt prancing towards a mob.
Why must he spurn the present? Were the Middle
Ages less full of cheats and cautious counsellors?
And their religion, did it matter to them
As much as this triumphant Mammon-worship
To its votaries - these feather-boaed women
And their adulterous lovers in grey top-hats?
The world of Edith Wharton, more evil than the Greeks.
Ah, well, a paragraph, perhaps a passage -
Another book to fashion from the ashes
Of his youth, which lay between the firedogs
That stood like sphinxes there below his portrait,
That Sargent semi-likeness, O memento
Mori! - and at Solesmes the monks still singing
Vespers, then the Abbot saying: ‘Enfin, nous mourons seul.’
Here is this hideous house he longed for beauty
Such as had dazed him once at Chartres - the violet
Light lit up with gold and green and sudden scarlet,
And Christ no longer distant, now the lasting
Friend - if he could shed his cold New England,
That Hawthorne land of rocks and pride, ancestral
Guilts derived from trading slaves, he might become at
last a child.
Down on his knees beside the inlay writing
Table, unhaloed famous head inclining
To the faded Persian carpet floor, praying:
‘Lady, you are my only hope; O Virgin
Sinless, Rose without a thorn, now rescue
Me, your least servant, lost in fame and folly!’
Then wrote to ask a priest to come - and all at once