The Rhyme Devil
“μη εισενεγκης ημας εις πειρασμον”
(lead us not into temptation)
Before with ink on paper I’ll now scribble,
A tiny quibble:
Are spirits real, dear reader, con or pro?
– “No!!!” –
That’s rather negative, but it’s no matter,
Just answer reader when you’ve heard my chatter!
– When you’ve consumed those peas you can’t resist,
Do you dare claim that no more peas exist?
If in your body there’s a spirit dwelling
Is faith compelling?
Each son of Adam knows that this is true,
And this confirms there are more spirits too;
Should this, dear reader, not be proof conclusive,
Read Swedenborg – but no, he’s too elusive! –
– Most spirits here on earth are quite capricious,
Their proto-genius with such bad taste
Pulled in the waist:
Tight stays for officers and ladies’ corsets
Then cruelly forced it.
And such a devil or a little pixie
Was that same serpent who in paradise
Whispered in French to Eve: ‘That apple’s nice!’
– Though let me not too greatly be digressing,
But all my troubles here on paper be expressing,
With quill of slaughtered goose them be addressing.
– Orestes, when pursued by Hell’s three Graces
And their embraces,
E’en Don Juan on fire
Are child’s play ’gainst my misery entire;
Know this, as far back as I have remembrance
Ah, what dependence,
I have a little devil in attendance;
He lives within, without, all intertwining,
Though his precise shape would defy defining,
Awake or dreaming, he is always priming,
Ensures I can’t stop – rhyming. –
When deaths occur
I note that others feel his painful spur,
And never shirking,
Newpaper offices are where he’s lurking,
Although from me he never got a thing,
He still would cling.
– Even at school with Typto and Amare
I felt him in my limbs a constant flurry,
And at exams too – those dire Days of Peril –
His grip was feral,
Although at nighttime Baden’s grammar book
Would scare me with its Robespierre look.
Like him – – ( his name eludes me now,
That’s bad I vow,
In Horace’s Epistles though it’s stated,
I’ve heard related),
Who cloth, earth, water – when once touched I’m told –
Would transform into gold,
That’s how things are for me, always combining
Things end up rhyming;
With people chiming
And shouting at me angrily anew:
‘Stop rhyming, do!’
Ah, Lord God! that is what I wish for dearly,
’Neath some unlucky star I’m born quite clearly.
When this or that’s ejected,
I have to write an elegy in iambics,
And now am glad – for out come dithyrambics.
Oh, if from my rhyme devil I could safe be!
Not even my own death will he vouchsafe me:
Of late I Pebling Lake would let enslave me,
My swan-song stood well-written on its sheet;
Already I’d instructed my two feet,
But as I now, from far off, glimpse the water
My devil sends me from some rural quarter
A friend. We talk of – nothing, matters fleeting,
There’s no point in repeating
The long talk that we had – there’s nought to tell,
The subject though on poetry then fell,
Deep, mourning longing soon in me had risen
To take my song out from its pocket prison,
And read to him my farewell elegy
While people on the road passed silently;
For to be honest – which costs not a penny –
I share this fault with many,
And I am sure my devil makes me stock it,
I have a poem ready in some pocket,
So woe to any friend who I discover,
He’ll have to suffer! –
As here, the last line I had hardly read
Before from Pebling Lake all thoughts had fled;
I felt so good that I had mastered rhyming,
And what good timing.
But only lately
Despair assailed me greatly,
The Round Tower then was my great consolation,
And for my urge to rhyme a palliation;
As I walked past small houses and pavilions
Ignoring life’s bright cotton-clad civilians,
Wool stockings, socks, shawls, ribbons ruby red,
That hung both left and right above my head,
Shunned Reitzel’s bookcase on the brown-brick wall,
Because the street felt cramped and far too small;
I felt first cold, then hot, then cold once more,
As up its winding stairs I took each floor;
But once with tearful eye I’d reached the summit
And down would plummet,
Who then can blame me, ere I took my bound,
I felt the urge to have a look around?
– The brown-tiled roofs it seemed at me were beaming
In twilight’s gleaming,
A tailor sang up in his attic lair,
And while his neighbour’s jacket he sat sewing
Both song and chimney smoke were upward flowing;
In white coats ships at sea seemed to be flying,
And Svea’s yellow hills I too was spying.
I’d be unduly
Insensitive, less than a huge fieldstone,
Had my emotions not been, every one,
By what I just now poorly have depicted.
I stared, I wrote, I then stared once again
At roofs and tailor and the sky’s domain;
Through city streets the carriage noise seemed louder
With almost Catalonian Roulades,
Soon on the paper a fresh ode I spied,
Of which I nothing grasped although I tried.
I wrote and wrote – the spheres I could hear singing,
And so forgot my springing, –
That’s how things were, and how they’ll always be,
A devil rhymer may know victory:
Ah, if hats and coats in fields one could see growing,
If dawn was something one could eat or touch,
I’d let the whole world talk to overflowing;
An Eldorado is but dreaming.
Although, who knows, when my shroud needs but seaming,
The final coffin board too has been made;
I hope, when over me the lid is laid,
That this inscription may describe my calling:
‘He did no harm, just filled sheets with his scrawling.’