the beginning of one of my favourite short stories…
“I was sick — sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me. The sentence — the dread sentence of death — was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears. After that, the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul the idea of revolution — perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a mill wheel. This only for a brief period; for presently I heard no more. Yet, for a while, I saw; but with how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of the black-robed judges. They appeared to me white — whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words — and thin even to grotesqueness; thin with the intensity of their expression of firmness — of immoveable resolution — of stern contempt of human torture. I saw that the decrees of what to me was Fate, were still issuing from those lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. I saw them fashion the syllables of my name; and I shuddered because no sound succeeded. I saw, too, for a few moments of delirious horror, the soft and nearly imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of the apartment. And then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. At first they wore the aspect of charity, and seemed white and slender angels who would save me; but then, all at once, there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame, and I saw that from them there would be no help. And then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. The thought came gently and stealthily, and it seemed long before it attained full appreciation; but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it, the figures of the judges vanished, as if magically, from before me; the tall candles sank into nothingness; their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness supervened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. Then silence, and stillness, night were the universe.”
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S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse A persona che mai tornasse al mondo, Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse. Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky, Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats, Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question… Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michaelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle upon the windowpanes Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys, Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, And seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the windowpanes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michaelangelo.
And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin, (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”) Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse.
For I have known them already, known them all- Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons, I know the voices dying with a dying fall, Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all- The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling ton he wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all, Arms that are braceleted and white and bare, (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!) Is it perfume from a dress That makes me so digress? Arms that lie around a table, or wrap about a shawl. And how should I then presume? And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?
I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep… tired… or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me. Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet - and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all, After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, Would it have been worthwhile, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball, To roll it towards some overwhelming question, To say, “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all,” — If one, settling a pillow by her head, Should say, “That is not what I meant, at all.” ”That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all, Would it have been worthwhile, After the sunsets and dooryards and sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor— And this, and so much more?— It is impossible to say just what I mean! But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: Would it have been worthwhile If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, And turning towards the window, should say: ”That is not it, at all, That is not what I meant, at all.”
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous, Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves, Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea, By sea-girls wreathed in seaweed, red and brown,