“Dr. Adams told me that Johnson, while he was at Pembroke College, ‘was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life.’ But this is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little any of us know of the real internal state even of those whom we see most frequently…”
—Boswell’s Life Of Johnson
T. M. Weaver, “Far From The Madding Crowd” (ca. 1911)
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine and fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me Since I first made my count; I saw, before I had well finished, All suddenly mount And scatter wheeling in great broken rings Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, And now my heart is sore. All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore, The bell-beat of their wings above my head, Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover, They paddle in the cold, Companionable streams or climb the air; Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
–W.B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole
Well, the summer’s gone And I hope she’s feeling the same…
A. L. Hitchin, “The Little Artist” (ca. 1919) and G. W. Harting, “Sketching” (ca. 1917)
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire (excerpt)
“My dearest fellow, This will not reach you till some time after our wedding day, which as usual has taken me aback; but I mean to send you a despatch on the day itself, and this is for dessert. Not that I think so much of that day; if I had some other dates, I would think more of them: that of the day when I looked through the window…”
—Letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to his Wife, Fanny, May 15, 1888
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; For this, for everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
cf. from William Findlay, “Early Morning Photography” (ca. 1909)
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt, Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d, Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried, Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick- stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d…
Twelve o’clock. Along the reaches of the street Held in a lunar synthesis, Whispering lunar incantations Dissolve the floors of memory And all its clear relations, Its divisions and precisions, Every street lamp that I pass Beats like a fatalistic drum, And through the spaces of the dark Midnight shakes the memory As a madman shakes a dead geranium.
—T.S. Eliot, Rhapsody on a Windy Night (excerpt)
If this is what’s real If this is what’s true Tell me how come I keep forgetting we’re not in love anymore…
cf. from W. H. Broadwell, “Night Photography” (ca. 1909)
Such dim-conceivèd glories of the brain Bring round the heart an undescribable feud; So do these wonders a most dizzy pain, That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude Wasting of old Time—with a billowy main— A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.
–John Keats, On Seeing the Elgin Marbles (excerpt)
AH poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats, Ah you foes that in conflict have overcome me, (For what is my life or any man’s life but a conflict with foes, the old, the incessant war?) You degradations, you tussle with passions and appetites, You smarts from dissatisfied friendships, (ah wounds the sharpest of all!) You toil of painful and choked articulations, you meannesses, You shallow tongue-talks at tables, (my tongue the shallowest of any;) You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother’d ennuis! Ah think not you finally triumph, my real self has yet to come forth, It shall yet march forth o’ermastering, till all lies beneath me, It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory.
—Walt Whitman, “Ah Poverties, Wincings, And Sulky Retreats”
O, how I faint when I of you do write Knowing a better spirit doth use your name, And in the praise thereof spends all his might, To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame! But since your worth—wide as the ocean is,— The humble as the proudest sail doth bear, My saucy bark, inferior far to his, On your broad main doth wilfully appear. Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat, Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride; Or, being wrack’d, I am a worthless boat, He of tall building and of goodly pride: Then if he thrive and I be cast away, The worst was this,—my love was my decay.
William Merritt Chase, The Song (Oil On Canvas) (1907)
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning; but the rain Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh Upon the glass and listen for reply, And in my heart there sits a quiet pain For unremembered lads that not again Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: I cannot say what loves have come and gone, I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more.
–Edna St. Vincent Millay, “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”
Börje Gallén, Woman and children feeding pigeons in Copenhagen in 1946 (1946)
“One time as [Saint Francis] was passing through the Spoleto valley, he came upon a place near Bevagna, in which a great multitude of birds of various kinds had assembled. When the holy one of God saw them, because of the outstanding love of the Creator with which he loved all creatures, he ran swiftly to the place. He greeted them in his usual way, as if they shared in reason. As the birds did not take flight, he went to them, going to and fro among them, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic…”
—Thomas of Celano, The Treatise on the Miracle of Saint Francis(The Francis Trilogy of Thomas of Celano, New City Press, 2004)
“Sometimes, when I see the little red mail plane fly in from Acapulco at seven in the morning over the strange hills…I think that you will be on it, on that plane every morning as it goes by, and will have come to save me. Then the morning goes by and you have not come…Yvonne come back to me, hear me, it is a cry, come back to me, Yvonne, if only for a day…”
—Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
Sometimes I pretend you’ll come back again And you’ll console the heart you stole…
Shining cratefuls of plum, peach, apricot Are flung out of the fruit man’s tiny store. Behind the supermarket glass next door: Landslides of grapefruit, orange, tangerine, Persimmon, boysenberry, nectarine. The florist tilts his giant crayon box Of yellow roses, daffodils, and phlox. A Disney sun breaks through, makes toys of trucks And waddling movers look like Donald Ducks And joke book captions out of storefront signs: Café du Soir, Austrian Village, Wines. Pedestrians in olive drabs and grays Are startled by the sun’s kinetic rays, Then mottled into pointillistic patches. The light turns green, cars passing hurl out snatches Of rock-and-roll and Mozart and the weather. The light turns red. Why aren’t we together?
–Frederick Feirstein, “Mark Stern Wakes Up” from New and Selected Poems (Story Line Press)
On every crowded street All the places we would meet What will I do without you? They say that life goes on I’m feeling sorry for myself I can’t belive you’re gone…
cf. Photograph by Petr Novak via Unsplash and State Library and Archives of Florida,The Road to Beauty
This is the year you fall in love with the Bengali poet, and the Armenian bakery stays open Saturday nights until eleven across the street from your sunny apartment with steep fo’c’sle stairs up to an attic bedroom. Three-decker tenement flank you. Cyclone fences enclose flamingos on diaper-size lawns.
This is the year, in a kitchen you brighten with pots of basil and untidy mint, I see how your life will open, will burst from the maze in its walled-in garden and streak towards the horizon. Your pastel maps lie open on the counter as we stand here not quite up to exchanging our lists of sorrows, our day books, our night thoughts, and burn the first batch of chocolate walnut cookies.
Of course you move on, my circumnavigator. Tonight as I cruise past your corner, a light goes on in the window. Two shapes sit at the table.
–Maxine Kumin, “Magellan Street, 1974” from Nurture Poems (Penguin Books).
There are places I remember all my life Though some have changed…
Boyd Norton, Hills and forest of northern Cheyenne Indian reservation… (Billings, Montana) (1973)
We were alone one night on a long road in Montana. This was in winter, a big night, far to the stars. We had hitched, my wife and I, and left our ride at a crossing to go on. Tired and cold-but brave-we trudged along. This, we said, was our life, watched over, allowed to go where we wanted. We said we’d come back some time when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find a night like this, whatever we had to give, and no matter how far, to be so happy again.
–William Stafford, “Once in the Forties”
Won’t you meet me in Montana? I want to see the mountains in your eyes I’ve had all of this life I can handle Meet me underneath that big Montana sky…
A Noiseless patient spider, I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand, Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn’t this summer, but all the summers that, in this my fortieth summer, slipped by so fast. There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that I was investing more and more in baseball, making the game do more of the work that keeps time fat and slow and lazy.
–A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind” (excerpt)
Tom Hubbard, Strolling Among Pigeons at Fountain Square (1973)
He with a smile did then his words repeat; And said that, gathering leeches, far and wide He travelled; stirring thus about his feet The waters of the pools where they abide. “Once I could meet with them on every side; But they have dwindled long by slow decay; Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may…”
And soon with this he other matter blended, Cheerfully uttered, with demeanour kind, But stately in the main; and, when he ended, I could have laughed myself to scorn to find In that decrepit Man so firm a mind. “God,” said I, “be my help and stay secure; I’ll think of the Leech-gatherer on the lonely moor!”
—William Wordsworth, Resolution and Independence
Three days in the rain and I ain’t had no sleep But I won’t break down now, I got a promise to keep Showing my determination…
cf. National Photo Company Collection, Man and woman in automobile (ca. 1920) and photograph by Wil Stewart via Unsplash
“Once in the middle twenties I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo…It was not Monte Carlo I was looking at. It was back into the mind of the young man with cardboard soles who had walked the streets of New York. I was him again—for an instant I had the good fortune to share his dreams, I who had no more dreams of my own. And there are still times when I creep up on him, surprise him on an autumn morning in New York or a spring night in Carolina when it is so quiet that you can hear a dog barking in the next county. But never again as during that all too short period when he and I were one person, when the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment—when life was literally a dream.”
After that he didn’t ask for the children to be sent to America and didn’t answer when Nicole wrote asking him if he needed money. In the last letter she had from him he told her that he was practicing in Geneva, New York, and she got the impression that he had settled down with some one to keep house for him. She looked up Geneva in an atlas and found it was in the heart of the Finger Lakes Section and considered a pleasant place. Perhaps, so she liked to think, his career was biding its time, again like Grant’s in Galena; his latest note was post-marked from Hornell, New York, which is some distance from Geneva and a very small town; in any case he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another.
“My life consists, and has essentially always consisted, of attempts at writing, largely unsuccessful. But when I don’t write, I wind up on the floor at once, fit for the dustbin…it soon became evident that I had to spare myself on all sides, relinquish a little everywhere to retain just enough strength for what seemed to me my main purpose…I once made a detailed list of the things I have sacrificed to writing and the things that were taken from me for the sake of writing or rather whose loss could be endured only with this explanation…So If there is a higher power that wishes to use me, or does use me, I am at its mercy, at least as a well-crafted instrument; if not, I am nothing at all and will find myself in a frightful void.”
—Letter from Franz Kafka to Felice Bauer, November 1, 1912
Harris & Ewing, Man and woman at punch bowl (1935 or 1936)
Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against the mantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy, who was sitting, frightened but graceful, on the edge of a stiff chair.
“We’ve met before,” muttered Gatsby. His eyes glanced momentarily at me, and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers, and set it back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand.
“I’m sorry about the clock,” he said.
My own face had now assumed a deep tropical burn. I couldn’t muster up a single commonplace out of the thousand in my head.
“It’s an old clock,” I told them idiotically.
I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.
“We haven’t met for many years,” said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be…
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why…
“I wonder if you ever read Dickens’ Christmas books?…I have only read two of them yet, and feel so good after them and would do anything, yes and shall do everything, to make it a little better for people. I wish I could lose no time; I want to go out and comfort some one…”
—Letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to Mrs. Sitwell (September, 1874)
cf. Gene Daniels, Children Play in Yard… (1972) and photograph by Frantzou Fleurine via Unsplash
…And with joy that is almost pain My heart goes back to wander there, And among the dreams of the days that were, I find my lost youth again. And the strange and beautiful song, The groves are repeating it still: “A boy’s will is the wind’s will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
Peter Severin Krøyer, Interior of a Tavern (1886) and Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, Woman with a Jug (1882)
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, The dark threw its patches down upon me also, The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious, My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?…
How lucky that I ran into you When everything was possible… Kenneth do you have a minute? And I say yes! I am in my twenties! I have plenty of time!… I write a lot and am living all the time… Twenties, my soul Is yours for the asking You know that, if you ever come back.
Now that lilacs are in bloom She has a bowl of lilacs in her room And twists one in her fingers while she talks. “Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know What life is, you who hold it in your hands”; (Slowly twisting the lilac stalks) “You let it flow from you, you let it flow, And youth is cruel, and has no remorse And smiles at situations which it cannot see.” I smile, of course, And go on drinking tea. “Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall My buried life, and Paris in the Spring, I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world To be wonderful and youthful, after all…”
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils, Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight, All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage, Desolation in immaculate public places, Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard, The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher, Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma, Endless duplication of lives and objects…
—Theodore Roethke, Dolor (excerpt)
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical. And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical…
Charles O’Rear, Mom takes a picture of the kids with railroad personnel at the Wenatchee, Washington depot (1974)
Then, quite mechanically and more distinctly, the conversation began again inside him… “What was it all for—her struggle?” That was his despair wanting to go after her. “You’re alive.” “She’s not.” “She is—in you.” Suddenly he felt tired with the burden of it. “You’ve got to keep alive for her sake,” said his will in him. Something felt sulky, as if it would not rouse. “You’ve got to carry forward her living, and what she had done, go on with it.” But he did not want to. He wanted to give up. “But you can go on with your painting,” said the will in him…
—D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
Nobody else could ever know The part of me that can’t let go…
cf. Franz Marc, The Artist’s Father on His Sick Bed I (edited) (1906-1907)
There is a singer everyone has heard, Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again. He says that leaves are old and that for flowers Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten. He says the early petal-fall is past When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers On sunny days a moment overcast; And comes that other fall we name the fall. He says the highway dust is over all. The bird would cease and be as other birds But that he knows in singing not to sing. The question that he frames in all but words Is what to make of a diminished thing.
“For a long time I had been unable to engage my home town with any degree of openness. What friends I had were married, raising families, and had locked themselves, ever so tightly, behind their neat-trimmed lawns and white clapboard houses, their children cute, their wives sexless and anxious, my friends plotting their next moves to achieve the Black River Valley Club, never asking themselves what, if they achieved that—the town’s most venerable institution—could possibly be left for them. My friends and I had long proved an embarrassment to one another; I embarrassing them because I drank too much, was unreliable in my debts and working habits, and had been “hospitalized” a number of times; I embarrassed because they were. We never stopped each other on the streets without, eyes avoiding mine, their patronizing me with queries about my health. It was distressing because there was a kind of gloating—undoubtedly a good deal imagined on my part—in these encounters, as though they were telling me that getting myself proclaimed mad and dragged away a number of times was only a childish and petulant refusal to accept their way of life as the right way, that in seeking some other way I had been assuming a courage and superiority I hadn’t possessed. After a time these encounters had proved so painful that whenever I found myself compelled to move about the streets in daylight hours, I dropped my eyes to the sidewalk and charged through the streets as though in a hot-brained hurry…”
—Frederick Exley, “A Fan’s Notes”
I got my own world to live through And I ain’t gonna copy you…
cf. Adolph B. Rice Studio, Thalhimers, boy’s bicycle (1957) and John Thomas, The last of the old candlemakers (ca. 1885) and Thomas Milburn, Train window (2015) and photograph by Juskteez Vu via Unsplash
Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night And the westward train was empty and had no corridors So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight Of those almost intolerably bright Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks How very far off they were, it seemed their light Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.
And this remembering now I mark that what Light was leaving some of them at least then, Forty-two years ago, will never arrive In time for me to catch it, which light when It does get here may find that there is not Anyone left alive To run from side to side in a late night train Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.
(Cambridge, September 1864) Susan Gilbert Dickinson
at Centre of the Sea – I am glad Mrs. Gertrude lived – I believed she would – Those that are worthy of Life are of Miracle, for Life is Miracle, and Death, as harmless as a Bee – except to those who run
It would be best to see you – it would be good to see the Grass, and hear the Wind blow the wide way in the Orchard – Are the Apples ripe – Have the Wild Geese crossed – Did you save the seed to the Pond Lily?
Love for Mat, and John, and the Foreigner – And kiss little Ned in the seam in the neck, entirely for Me – The Doctor is very kind – I find no Enemy – Till the Four o’Clocks strike Five, Loo will last, she says. Do not cease, Sister. Should I turn in my long night, I should murmur “Sue”
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, The maker’s rage to order words of the sea, Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, And of ourselves and of our origins, In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.
—Wallace Stevens, “The Idea of Order at Key West” (excerpt)
Cecil Stoughton, President Kennedy and daughter Caroline (1963)
“WALKER: Is there any meaning you can find in what has happened?
MOYNIHAN: I suppose the point that cuts deepest is the thought that there may not be…We all of us know down here that politics is a tough game. And I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually…”
—Excerpt from WTOP radio interview of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (December 5, 1963)
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon… Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely. Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
—Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California” (excerpt)
Scott, your last fragments I arrange tonight, Assigning commas, setting accents right, As once I punctuated, spelled and trimmed When, passing in a Princeton spring—how dimmed By this damned quarter-century and more!— You left your Shadow Laurels at my door. That was a drama webbed of dreams: the scene A shimmering beglamored bluish-green Soiled Paris wineshop; the sad hero one Who loved applause but had his life alone; Who fed on drink for weeks; forgot to eat, “Worked feverishly,” nourished on defeat A lyric pride, and lent a lyric voice To all the tongueless knavish tavern boys, The liquor-ridden, the illiterate; Got stabbed one midnight by a tavern-mate— Betrayed, but self-betrayed by stealthy sins— And faded to the sound of violins…
—Edmund Wilson, Excerpt from the Dedication to “The Crack-Up” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1945)
cf. Frances Benjamin Johnston, Post Office Dept. – Dead Letter Office (edited)
Yet, thought I, it is evident enough that Bartleby has been making his home here, keeping bachelor’s hall all by himself. Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous —a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!…
Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!
—Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener
“…kept with him a sense as of snow falling about him, a secret screen of new snow between himself and the world.”
cf. State Library and Archives of Florida, Walking on a rainy day in Tallahassee (detail) (1961)
“…he mentioned that he could not in general accuse himself of having been an undutiful son. “Once, indeed (said he), I was disobedient; I refused to attend my father to Uttoxeter-market. Pride was the source of that refusal, and the remembrance of it was painful. A few years ago I desired to atone for this fault; I went to Uttoxeter in very bad weather, and stood for a considerable time bareheaded in the rain, on the spot where my father’s stall used to stand. In contrition I stood, and I hope the penance was expiatory.”
Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these…
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Ain’t no jive – it’s no surprise You are born to synthesize…
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., “…Model apartment living room, to sofa” (1941)
I lived on a hill that had too many rooms; Light we could make, but not enough of warmth, And when the light failed, I climbed under the hill. The papers are delivered every day; I am alone and never shed a tear.
TYRONE: I’d lost the great talent I once had through years of easy repetition, never learning a new part, never really working hard. Thirty-five to forty thousand dollars net profit a season like snapping your fingers! It was too great a temptation. Yet before I bought the damned thing I was considered one of the three or four young actors with the greatest artistic promise in America. I’d worked like hell. I’d left a good job as a machinist to take supers’ parts because I loved the theater. I was wild with ambition. I read all the plays ever written. I studied Shakespeare as you’d study the Bible. I educated myself. I got rid of an Irish brogue you could cut with a knife. I loved Shakespeare. I would have acted in any of his plays for nothing, for the joy of being alive in his great poetry. And I acted well in him. I felt inspired by him. I could have been a great Shakespearean actor, if I’d kept on. I know that! In 1874 when Edwin Booth came to the theater in Chicago where I was leading man, I played Cassius to his Brutus one night, Brutus to his Cassius the next, Othello to this Iago, and so on. The first night I played Othello, he said to our manager, “That young man is playing Othello better than I ever did!” [Proudly.] That from Booth, the greatest actor of his day or any other! And it was true! And I was only twenty-seven years old! As I look back on it now, that night was the high spot in my career. I had life where I wanted it! And for a time after that I kept on upward with ambition high. Married your mother. Ask here what I was like in those days. Her love was an added incentive to ambition. But a few years later my good bad luck made me find the big money-maker. It wasn’t that in my eyes at first. It was a great romantic part I knew I could play better than anyone. But it was a great box office success from the start-and then life had me where it wanted me-at from thirty-five to forty thousand net profit a season! A fortune in those days-or even in these. [Bitterly.] What the hell was it I wanted to buy, I wonder, that was worth- Well, no matter. It’s a late day for regrets… TYRONE: No, I don’t know what the hell it was I wanted to buy. [He clicks out one bulb.] On my solemn oath, Edmund, I’d gladly face not having an acre of land to call my own, nor a penny in the bank- [He clicks out another bulb.] I’d be willing to have no home but the poorhouse in my old age if I could look back now on having been the fine artist I might have been…
But all this excitement had exhausted me and I dropped heavily on to my sleeping plank. I must have had a longish sleep, for, when I woke, the stars were shining down on my face. Sounds of the countryside came faintly in, and the cool night air, veined with smells of earth and salt, fanned my cheeks. The marvelous peace of the sleepbound summer night flooded through me like a tide. Then, just on the edge of daybreak, I heard a steamer’s siren. People were starting on a voyage to a world which had ceased to concern me forever. Almost for the first time in many months I thought of my mother.
Albert Camus, The Stranger
Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which—once, twice, and again—he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue…Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees another scene—perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is!
…and again he got a feeling of unreality, as if the world showed a small but deﬁnite tendency to slip into the peculiar and grotesque; a sensation which the resumption of the pounding work of the engine kept him from exploring fully, as the ship returned to its course through the San Marco canal.