Behind the Arras: A Book of the Unseen

by Bliss Carman


 

The Lodger


 

I CANNOT quite recall
When first he came,
So reticent and tall,
With his eyes of flame.

The neighbors used to say

5

(They know so much!)
He looked to them half way
Spanish or Dutch.

Outlandish certainly
He is—and queer!

10

He has been lodged with me
This thirty year;

All the while (it seems absurd!)
We hardly have
Exchanged a single word.

15

Mum as the grave!

Minds only his own affairs,
Goes out and in,
And keeps himself upstairs
With his violin.

20


Mum did I say? And yet
That talking smile
You never can forget,
Is all the while

Full of such sweet reproofs

25

The darkest day,
Like morning on the roofs
In flush of May.

Like autumn on the hills;
At four o'clock

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The sun like a herdsman spills
For drove and flock

Peace with their provender,
And they are fed.
The day without a stir

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Lies warm and red.

Ah, sir, the summer land
For me! That is
Like living in God's hand,
Compared to this.

40


His smile so quiet and deep
Reminds me of it.
I see it in my sleep,
And so I love it.

An anarchist, say some;

45

But tush, say I,
When a man's heart is plumb,
Can his life be awry?

Better than charity
And bigger too,

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That heart. You've seen the sea?
Of course. To you

'T is common enough, no doubt.
But here in town,
With God's world all shut out,

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Save the leaden frown

Of the sky, a slant of rain,
And a straggling star,
Such memories remain
The wonders they are.

60


Once at the Isles of Shoals,
And it was June...
Now hear me dote! He strolls
Across my noon,

Like the sun that day, where sleeps

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My soul; his gaze
Goes glimmering down my deeps
Of yesterdays,

Searching and searching, till
Its light consumes

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The reluctant shapes that fill
Those purple glooms.

Let others applaud, defame,
And the noise die down;
His voice saying your name,

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Is enough renown.

Too patient pitiful,
Too fierce at wrong,
To patronize the dull,
Or praise the strong.

80


And yet he has a soul
Of wrath, though pent
Even when that white ghoul
Comes for his rent.

The landlord? Hush! My God!

85

I think the walls
Take notes to help him prod
Us up. He galls

My very soul to strife,
With his death's-head face.

90

He is foul too in his life,
Some hid disgrace,

Some secret thing he does,
I warrant you,
For all his cheek to us

95

Is shaved so blue.

He takes good care (by the shade
Of seven wives!)
That the undertaker's trade
He lives by thrives.

100


Nor chick nor child has he.
So servile smug,
With that cringe in his knee,—
God curse his lug!

But him, you should have seen

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Him yesterday;
The landlord's smirk turned green
At his smile. The way

He served that bloodless fish,
Were like to freeze him.

110

But meeting elsewhere, pish!
He never sees him.

Yet such a gentleman,
So sure and slow.
The vilest harridan

115

Is not too low,

If there is pity's need;
And no man born,
For cruelty or greed
Escapes that scorn.

120


Most of all things, it seems,
He loves the town.
Watching the bright-faced streams
Go up and down,

I have surprised him often

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On Tremont street,
And marked the grave face soften,
The mouth grow sweet,

In a brown study over
The men and women.

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An unsuspected rover
That, for our Common.

When the first jonquils come,
And spring is sold
On the street corners, some

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Of the pretty gold

Is sure to find its way
Home in his hand.
And many a winter day
At some cab-stand,

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He'll watch the cabmen feed
The pigeon flocks,
Or bid some liner speed
From the icy docks.

His rooms? I much regret

145

You cannot see
His rooms, but they were let
With guarantee

Of his seclusion there—
Except myself.

150

Each morning, table, chair,
Lamp, hearth, and shelf,

I rearrange, refreshen,
Put all to rights,
Then leave him in possession.

155

Ah, but the nights,

The nights! Sir, if I dared
But once set eye
To keyhole, nor be scared,
From playing Paul Pry,

160


I doubt not I should learn
A wondrous thing
Or two; and in return
Go blind till spring.

The light under his door

165

Is glory enough,
It outshines any star
That I know of.

Wirrah, my lad, my lad,
'T is fearsome strange,

170

The hints we all have had
Passing the range

Of science, knowledge, law,
Or what you will,
Whose intangible touch of awe

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Makes reason nil.

Many a night I start, 
Sudden awake, 
Feeling my smothered heart
Flutter and quake;

180


Like an aspen at dead of noon,
When not a breath
Is stirring to trouble the boon
Valley. A wraith

Or a fetch, it must be, shivers

185

The soul of the tree
Till every leaf of it quivers.
And so with me.

Was it the shuffle of feet
I heard go by,

190

With muffled drums in the street?
Was it the cry

Of a rider riding the night 
Into ashes and dawn, 
With news in his nostrils and fright 

195

Where his hoof-beats had gone ?

Did the pipes, at "Bonny Dundee,"
Bid regiments form?
Did a renegade's soul get free
On a wail of the storm?

200


Did a flock of wild geese honk
As they cleared the hill?
Or only a bittern cronk,
Then all was still?

Was it a night stampede

205

Of a thousand head?
I know I shook like a reed
There on my bed.

Nameless and void and wild
Was the fear before me,

210

Ere I bethought me and smiled
As the truth flashed o'er me.

Of course, it was only his hand
Freeing the bass
Of his old Amati, grand

215

In the silence' face.

Rummaging up and down,
From string to string,
Bidding the discords drown,
The harmonies spring,

220


Where tides and tide-winds rove
Far out from land,
On the ocean of music a-move
At the will of his hand.

Sobbing and grieving now,

225

Now glad as a bird,
Thou, thou, thou
Of the joys unheard,

Luminous radiant sea
Of the sounds and time,

230

Surely, surely by thee
Is eternal prime.

Holy and beautiful deep,
Spread down before
The imperial coming of sleep,

235

Endure, endure!

And sleep, be thou the ranger
Over it wan.
And dream, be thou no stranger
There with the dawn.

240


Then wings of the sun, go abroad
As a scarlet desire,
Unwearied, unwaning, unawed,
To quest and aspire,

Till the drench of the dusk you drink

245

In the poppy-field west;
Then veer and settle and sink
As a gull to her nest.

Wind,
Away, away!

250

And hurry your phantom kind
Through the gates of day,

Or ever the king's dark cup
With its studs and spars
Be inverted, and earth look up

255

To the shuddering stars.

Blaring and triumphing now,
Now quailing and lone,
Thou, thou, thou
Of the joys unknown!

260


Unknown and wild, wild,
Where the merrymen be,
Sink to sleep, soul of a child,
Slumber, thou sea!

All this his fiddle plays,

265

And many a thing
As strange, when his mood so lays
The bow to the string.

Sleepless! He never sleeps. 
That I can find.

270

I marvel how he keeps
A bit of his mind.

There is neither sight nor sound
In the world of sense,
But he has fathomed and found

275

In the silvery tense

Keen cords on the amber wood.
As he wrings them thence,
Death smiles at his hardihood
For recompense.

280


Oh fair they are, so fair!
No tongue can tell
How he sets them chiming there
Clear as a bell.

An orchard of birds in June,

285

The winds that stream,
The cold sea-brooks that croon,
The storms that scream,

The planets that float and swing
Like buoys on the tide,

290

The north-going legions in spring,
The hills that abide,

The frigate-bird clouds that range,
The vagabond moon—
That wilful lover of change—

295

And the workaday sun,

Dying summer and fall,
Seasons and men
And herds, he has them all
In his shadowy ken.

300


He calls and they come, leaving strife,
Leaving discord and death,
Out of oblivion to life,
Though its span be a breath.

There they are, all the beautiful things

305

I loved and lost sight of
Long since in the far-away springs,
Come back for a night of

New being as good as their old,
Aye, better in fact,

310

For somehow he gilds their fine gold,—
Gives the one thing they lacked,

The breath, aspiration, desire,
Core, kindle, control,
Memory and rapture and fire,—

315

The touch of man's soul.

How know the true master? I know 
By my joys and my fears,
For my heart crumbles down like the snow
With spring rain into tears.

320


Now I am a precious one!
With nothing to do
But idle here in the sun
And gossip with you

Of a stranger you have not seen,

325

As like never will.
I would every soul had a screen,
When the wind sets ill

In the world's bleak house, like this
Strange lodger of mine.

330

His presence is worse to miss
Than sun's best shine.

I put no thought at all
Upon the end,
If only I may call

335

Such a man friend.

And a friend he is, heart light
With love for heft,
Proud as silence, whose right
Hand ignores his left.

340


Yes, odd! he gives his name
As Spiritus.
But that is vague as a flame
In the wind to us.

And then (but not a breath

345

Of this!) you see,
All his effects, my faith!
Are marked D.V.

His cape-coat has a rip,
But for all that,

350

(Folk smile, suggest a dip
In the dyer's vat,—

Those purple aldermen
Who roll about
In coaches, drive till ten,

355

And die of gout),

I think he finely shows
How learning's crumbs
At least can rival those
Of—'st, here he comes!

360