The Poet's Mephisto

NOT long since we were greatly entertained by a Contributor’s account of a friend who was afflicted with “ The Malady of Revision.” Now if the Contributor be as deeply conversant, as appears, with all the ills that beset the poetic diathesis, he must, at some time or other, have seen his friend when struggling against the immedicable, hypnotic suggestions of the Poet’s Mephisto.

I must first confess that I have written verses, and may, therefore, be accredited as acquainted with the methods of this foul fiend who haunts the greenest and fairest spot near the Castalian fountain. I am witness that he can take upon himself many forms, — and all to the utter demoralization of the hapless muse !

An instance, or two, may serve sufficiently. Not long ago I was contemplating the metrical expression (in easy Wordsworthian stanza) of a charmingly tender and naïve idea, when there was a startling whisper in my ear, — “ Is n’t that line, in its effect, precisely like

‘ Mary had a little lamb ’ ? ”

The innocent was straightway murdered ; nor have I ever been able to detach the idea from its fatal connection with the well-worn juvenile bucolic.

Again, Mephistopheles has a most effective trick of appealing to the literary conscience with, “ That phrase you have just used is, to all practical purposes, a plagiarism. Strike it out.” Very well. The phrase is stricken out. But nothing is found to take its place ; and the entire scheme of the poem goes by default.

The latest fiasco into which this hateful demon of the study contrived to deliver me is of a grievous order. Suffice it to say that the theme which absorbed me (I will cheerfully part with it now to any one !) touched upon the fallibility of human forecast in all matters of destiny. Bravely enough I set out (looking toward sonorous hexameters). My initial line ran thus, in part: —

“ Little man knows ” —

“ Yes, yes, of course,” interrupted Mephisto at my elbow, —

“ ‘ Little man knows ’ —

that is to say,

‘ Little man nose ;

or, better still,

‘ Little Nose Man; ’

in fine,

‘Man with The Little Nose ! ’ ”

The poem on Veiled Destiny never was — never will be — written by this victim of Mephisto !