New Poems

Page 07

A VALENTINE'S SONG

MOTLEY I count the only wear That suits, in this mixed world, the truly wise, Who boldly smile upon despair And shake their bells in Grandam Grundy's eyes. Singers should sing with such a goodly cheer That the bare listening should make strong like wine, At this unruly time of year, The Feast of Valentine.

We do not now parade our "oughts" And "shoulds" and motives and beliefs in God. Their life lies all indoors; sad thoughts Must keep the house, while gay thoughts go abroad, Within we hold the wake for hopes deceased; But in the public streets, in wind or sun, Keep open, at the annual feast, The puppet-booth of fun.

Our powers, perhaps, are small to please, But even negro-songs and castanettes, Old jokes and hackneyed repartees Are more than the parade of vain regrets. Let Jacques stand Wert(h)ering by the wounded deer - We shall make merry, honest friends of mine, At this unruly time of year, The Feast of Valentine.

I know how, day by weary day, Hope fades, love fades, a thousand pleasures fade. I have not trudged in vain that way On which life's daylight darkens, shade by shade. And still, with hopes decreasing, griefs increased, Still, with what wit I have shall I, for one, Keep open, at the annual feast, The puppet-booth of fun.

I care not if the wit be poor, The old worn motley stained with rain and tears, If but the courage still endure That filled and strengthened hope in earlier years; If still, with friends averted, fate severe, A glad, untainted cheerfulness be mine To greet the unruly time of year, The Feast of Valentine.

Priest, I am none of thine, and see In the perspective of still hopeful youth That Truth shall triumph over thee - Truth to one's self - I know no other truth. I see strange days for thee and thine, O priest, And how your doctrines, fallen one by one, Shall furnish at the annual feast The puppet-booth of fun.

Stand on your putrid ruins - stand, White neck-clothed bigot, fixedly the same, Cruel with all things but the hand, Inquisitor in all things but the name. Back, minister of Christ and source of fear - We cherish freedom - back with thee and thine From this unruly time of year, The Feast of Valentine.

Blood thou mayest spare; but what of tears? But what of riven households, broken faith - Bywords that cling through all men's years And drag them surely down to shame and death? Stand back, O cruel man, O foe of youth, And let such men as hearken not thy voice Press freely up the road to truth, The King's highway of choice.

HAIL! CHILDISH SLAVES OF SOCIAL RULES

HAIL! Childish slaves of social rules You had yourselves a hand in making! How I could shake your faith, ye fools, If but I thought it worth the shaking. I see, and pity you; and then Go, casting off the idle pity, In search of better, braver men, My own way freely through the city.

My own way freely, and not yours; And, careless of a town's abusing, Seek real friendship that endures Among the friends of my own choosing. I'll choose my friends myself, do you hear? And won't let Mrs. Grundy do it, Tho' all I honour and hold dear And all I hope should move me to it.

I take my old coat from the shelf - I am a man of little breeding. And only dress to please myself - I own, a very strange proceeding. I smoke a pipe abroad, because To all cigars I much prefer it, And as I scorn your social laws My choice has nothing to deter it.

Gladly I trudge the footpath way, While you and yours roll by in coaches In all the pride of fine array, Through all the city's thronged approaches. O fine religious, decent folk, In Virtue's flaunting gold and scarlet, I sneer between two puffs of smoke, - Give me the publican and harlot.

Ye dainty-spoken, stiff, severe Seed of the migrated Philistian, One whispered question in your ear - Pray, what was Christ, if you be Christian? If Christ were only here just now, Among the city's wynds and gables Teaching the life he taught us, how Would he be welcome to your tables?

I go and leave your logic-straws, Your former-friends with face averted, Your petty ways and narrow laws, Your Grundy and your God, deserted. From your frail ark of lies, I flee I know not where, like Noah's raven. Full to the broad, unsounded sea I swim from your dishonest haven.

Alone on that unsounded deep, Poor waif, it may be I shall perish, Far from the course I thought to keep, Far from the friends I hoped to cherish. It may be that I shall sink, and yet Hear, thro' all taunt and scornful laughter, Through all defeat and all regret, The stronger swimmers coming after.

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Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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