More Songs from Vagabondia

by Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey


 

SHAKESPEARE HIMSELF: FOR THE UNVEILING OF MR. PARTRIDGE'S STATUE OF THE POET


 

THE body is no prison where we lie
Shut out from our true heritage of sun;
It is the wings wherewith the soul may fly.
Save through this flesh so scorned and spat upon,
No ray of light had reached the caverned mind,
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No thrill of pleasure through the life had run,
No love of nature or of humankind,
Were it but love of self, had stirred the heart
To its first deed. Such freedom as we find,
We find but through its service, not apart.
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And as an eagle’s wings upbear him higher
Than Andes or Himalaya, and chart
Rivers and seas beneath; so our desire,
With more celestial members yet, may soar
Into the space of empyrean fire,
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Still bodied but more richly than before.

The body is the man; what lurks behind
Through it alone unveils itself. Therefore
We are not wrong, who seek to keep in mind
The form and feature of the mighty dead.

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So back of all the giving is divined
The giver, back of all things done or said
The man himself in elemental speech
Of flesh and bone and sinew utterèd.

This is thy language, Sculpture. Thine to reach

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Beneath all thoughts, all feelings, all desires,
To that which thinks and lives and loves, and teach
The world the primal selfhood of its sires,
Its heroes and its lovers and its gods.
So shall Apollo flame in marble fires,
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The mien of Zeus suffice before he nods,
So Gautama in ivory dream out
The calm of Time’s untramelled periods,
So Sigurd’s lips be in themselves a shout.

Mould us our Shakespeare, sculptor, in the form

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His comrades knew, rare Ben and all the rout
That found the taproom of the Mermaid warm
With wit and wine and fellowship, the face
Wherein the men he chummed with found a charm
To make them love him; carve for us the grace
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That caught Anne Hathaway in Shottery-side,
The hand that clasped Southampton’s in the days
Ere that dark dame of passion and of pride
Burned in his heart the brand of her disdain,
The eyes that wept when little Hamnet died,
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The lips that learned from Marlowe’s and again
Taught riper lore to Fletcher and the rest,
The presence and demeanor sovereign
At last at Stratford calm and manifest,
That rested on the seventh day and scanned
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His work and knew it good, and left the quest
And like his own enchanter broke his wand.

No viewless mind! The very shape, no less,
He used to speak and smile with, move and stand!
God is most God not in his loneliness,

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Unfellowed, discreationed, unrevealed,
Nor thundering on Sinai, pitiless,
Nor when the seven vials are unsealed,
But when his spirit companions with our thought
And in his fellowship our pain is healed;
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And we are likest God when we are brought
Most near to all men. Bring us near to him,
The gentle, human soul whose calm might wrought
Imperious Lear and made our eyes grow dim
For Imogen,—who, though he heard the spheres
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"Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubim,"
Could laugh with Falstaff and his loose compeers
And love the rascal with the same big heart
That o’er Cordelia could not stay its tears.

For still the man is greater than his art.

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And though thy men and women, Shakespeare, rise
Like giants in our fancy and depart,
Thyself art more than all their masteries,
Thy wisdom more than Hamlet’s questionings
Or the cold searching of Ulysses’ eyes,
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Thy mirth more sweet than Benedick’s flouts and flings,
Thy smiling dearer than Mercutio’s
Thy dignity past that of all thy kings,
And thy enchantment more than Prospero’s.

For thou couldst not have had Othello’s flaw,

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Nor erred with Brutus,—greater, then, than those
For all their nobleness. Oh, albeit with awe,
Leave we the mighty phantoms and draw near
The man that fashioned them and gave them law!
The Master Poet found with scarce a peer
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In all the ages his domain to share,
Yet of all singers gentlest and most dear!
Oh, how shall words thy proper praise declare,
Divine in thy supreme humanity
And near as the inevitable air?
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So he that wrought this image deemed of thee;
So I, thy lover, keep thee in my heart;
So may this figure set for men to see
Where the world passes eager for the mart,
Be as a sudden insight of the soul
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That makes a darkness into order start,
And lift thee up for all men, fair and whole,
Till scholar, merchant, farmer, artisan,
Seeing, divine beneath the aureole
The fellow heart and know thee for a man.
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