(In the dimly lighted living room of a small country house, two men, one old, one young, sit facing each other at the hearth, listening to recorded music.)
SIXTY-FIVE: (to himself):
How young he seems -
That dark unruliness of bushy hair;
Those eyes, a seething pigeon-cote of dreams;
Lean cheeks, full lips, betokening fresh desire
That, like a young hound first a-field, perforce
Would snap its leash; and, yes, those deepeningseams
Of stubborn will, that, ship-like, though it beat
Up wind, and tack and veer, yet holds its course. He thinks to chart his fate. Poor boy, why blame him?
Yet could he know, what boredom, what despair! He will be hard to tame, yet life will tame him.
TWENTY-ONE (to himself):
How old he seems -
That snow of wintry hair;
Those faded eyes, a graveyard of dead dreams.
Surely the folded jowl betrays abuse
Of sensuous humorings, and the will's disuse!
And yet he must have known, some flash foretold him,
Such wisdom as men win from life is vain
Unless employed to make our lives more sane
He sits and nods, his own song still unsung
The high creative tensions all unstrung.
He might have served, poor man; yet now - behold him!
(The music comes to an end; they speak aloud.)
Ah, Beethoven - those last quartets - sublime;
A great heart torn by life's relentless harrow,
Stanching its wounds in sound through healing time,
Until deep faith confounds deep doubt and sorrow.
Sir, you love music, too? How it excites me!
It seems to quell, somehow, all petty frets.
The more it flows, the more the flow requites me,
For suddenly, from nowhere, it begets
Thoughts in me that create.
In me alike.
So then it really lasts?
It lasts, it lasts.
Sir - did you know? - I mean to be a poet.
A high and worthy aim, beyond a doubt.
Men should be brought to sing.
Life without poetry is love with love left out,
A poor drab thing.
But trade, which has usurped our world, and rules,
Holds art in small esteem, and artists fools.
Yet what if what seems useless prove more use
That what seems useful? Art wants no excuse.
To buy and sell - does that uplift the heart?
If not, then trade should pay a fee to art.
Meanwhile, I have no means, I have to live;
Somehow, I'll have to compromise, and save.
Avoid dependents, then; they may enslave.
Oh, but I mean to marry!
So I thought.
So do we all, and so we all are caught.
Until a man sees children round his wife,
What right has he to proffer views on life?
Here, have a glass!
No, thank you. I don't drink.
Men do their best work early, don't you think?
Genius is its own school, and its own reason.
Quite so. And at its best in early season.
The list is long that would belie that thought.
At twenty-four, what marvels Keats had wrought!
And Sophocles at ninety - Oedipus Rex!
Creation's modes and timings are complex.
Youth can change all.
All? In a world so vast?
Youth is the future -
That so soon is past.
Men could be better, nobler, if they would.
They must be wakened from their slothful mood.
You judge your fellow man so harshly? Shame!
God's masterpiece! God may not like your blame.
Sir, you would jest. But wait, I'll win renown.
Unless the voice of cannon shouts you down.
Men are too shrewd for suicide by war.
All that is past. The past is dead. We are
Abreast of such an age as never was seen.
We are, we are; leastways, we might have been.
And history smells of death; it's rank; it's tainted!
Man's full-length portrait of himself, self-painted!
My poems praise wild nature, and the joy
Of simple living, and loftiness of spirit.
I've written many.
Most you will destroy.
Oh, no, sir, not destroy. Oh, never fear it!
I've shown them to my love, and she approves them.
In all her higher thoughts, she thinks like me;
We're like twin branches of a single tree.
And you will grow together-or apart;
Mere parallel somehow repugns the heart.
Sir, you are cynical.
Well, in a fashion.
The old volcano smoulders tinder snow.
What proof has age against the gusts of passion?
Why, self-respect -
Worn threadbare, at this juncture.
Then dignity -
One pretty smile can puncture!
Who should best judge of beauty in form and feature?
The novice? Or the nuncio at love's court,
Skilled in each artifice and every rite;
Who senses, too, the charm that, through the storm
Of years, beams in some older, kindlier faces?
No genes, no psychic tests have yet explained it,
But mellow love, well ripened, has a tang
And tonic that the greener sort might envy.
At any stage, love fans the vital flame.
Sir, you astonish me.
Surely the world's old wisdom hits the truth,
Which tells us love, like spring, belongs to youth!
The more I learn of men's unruly wills,
The more I turn to woods and streams and hills.
Ourselves being men, should we not then defend them?
God makes the facts; ours but to apprehend them.
Facts? Facts? Now pray you, tell me: what are facts?
Once, in my boyhood, well awake to love
Yet only just awakening to nature,
I stood at sunset in a rocky cove.
The lake lay lovely as a sleeping angel;
A thousand soft harmonious tints of heaven
Played organ-like up through the western sky,
With such effect on me, I felt myself
Melting away within that radiant music . . .
And once, slow wandering through a summer grove,
All unaware, till then, of woodland birds,
I heard a bit of fluff, a pewee, sing,
Perched friendly on the low bough of a tree;
Sweet as the old songs at my mother's knee,
A song so plaintive-sweet it pierced me through,
Good! Now here's a poem being born!
We still have much in common, I'll be sworn.
I may not be all you had wished me to;
No more are you all I might wish of you.
But - oh, good God! You're me, grown old! Oh, God!
Yes, Paul. I recognized you at first nod.