Post-Obit for Post-Depressionists

‘Grant me, kind Heaven, to find some happier place!’—Johnson’s London

UPON the foul unfashionable quay
Where hulked the freighter bound for the South Sea,
My old friend waited. I could not dispel
Trouble in my spirit at that long farewell.
‘This ship,’ I said, ‘why pick a rusty waif
Of tragic seas, unlovely and unsafe?
I know of many better ways to die.
Sail on that lobster pot? I can’t think why.’
‘Think!’ he replied, biting the word in two,
‘Why, that, my lad, is what you’ve got to do.
Think of a dropsical republic’s pains.
Think of a brain trust, trusting to what brains!
Think of our fathers who passed on the fire,
And think of six-score millions gone haywire.
Think of the farmer in the shell game licked.
Think of the kicker. Consider too the kicked.
And think of brokers and the lies they lied,
Of buyers’ markets, handsome, high, and wide,
Of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan,
Of Darrow, Mellon, and of Demogorgon.
Think about guts and nature in the raw,
Of Minneapolis and Martial Law.
Think about asses and the War of Classes
And the New Republic’s sulphur and molasses.
Think of a kite that rose and likewise fell,
Of Atchison and American Tel. and Tel.
Think of those economic artless dodgers,
Professor Warren and Professor Rogers,
Whose thought no native intellect explains,
Nor even the transatlantic J. M. Keynes.
Think of rapt highbrows in committees snuggling,
Of Tugwell’s babbling and of Richberg’s juggling;
Of jurists lost in legislation’s bog
(Frankfurter, as the joke goes, is hot dog);
Of Farley and his gangsters in a huddle
With credulous Cummings, mixing up the muddle,
Whose simple mind, one way and single-track,
Once sought to cut a Mellon that cut back;
Of Harold Ickes shrieking in despair,
Caught in the tangles of his Nira’s hair.
‘And think how Johnsons never are too few.
First there was Hiram. Now we suffer Hugh.
Who at that vocal flywheel dares to scoff,
That tells the Universe where it gets off?
Yet never the arch principle forgot,
To drop a subject when it got too hot,
Or let a method which he dared not try,
Innocuous, in a committee die.
When incandescent issues start to chafe,
With flaming violence he plays ’em safe,
And deems that day inglorious and inept
When no catastrophe has been sidestepped.
And though his champions may justly plead
That sort of thing’s exactly what we need,
I cannot think, in the strange times involved,
A problem dodged becomes a problem solved.
Yet one more thought. Conceive the passions ranklin’
In loyal hearts that ache for Cousin Franklin
Brooding o’er his witches’ cauldron bubbling slowly,
Full of herbs less medicinal than Mol[e]y.
And think how, when the Herle-Berle’s through,
Your Congressmen will send the bill to you.
I tell you it’s a bitter cup to drink of,
But that, my boy, is what you’ve got to think of.’
Such converse my old comrade with me held
While the cranes clanked and quartermasters yelled.
He went on: ‘I’m fed up and that is flat.
How bear with bureaucrat and plutocrat?
How stand conservatives talking time-worn trash,
Their minds distracted about petty cash?
Uttering like parrots what was known for gammon
Sometime before the reign of Tutankhamen?
Who cannot see, in the full blaze meridian,
That economics have gone non-Euclidian?
Feebly they chant amid the cataclysm
Baruch-room ballads against bimetallism.
And unto thee all happiness impute,
O golden-tongued Finance with serene loot.
Or view the Intelligentsia, if you will,
Every man jack of them extremely ill
From constipated brains and logorrhœa,
But yelping for some five-year planacea,
Some played-out scheme misread, misunderstood,
Which will improve the whole damned neighborhood.
See those returning with pæans o’er the wave;
The dollar took them and the dollar gave —
A valid reason why the wise implore
Congress to get us back on gold once more.
’Ill fares the land, swift hastening to her fate,
Where wealth decays and boobs accumulate;
Where a declining demos must be courted
And those who venture naught must be supported;
Where wisdom is supplanted by loquacity
And there’s a premium on incapacity.
That’s why we have by popular consent
Such Representatives to represent.
It’s hard to grant such origins of tosh
Represent anything at all, by gosh,
Indicate our tendency and our direction,
Afford of us a tolerable cross-section.
No! In the Senate when the windbags blare,
The men we have elected are not there.
Herd impulses are sweet. But those unheard
Are sweeter, where our actual spokesmen gird
Their loins in labs, or on far railway lines,
On the walls of dams, in the corridors of mines.
Our spokesmen! Who, in paths beyond our knowing,
Keep an exanimate republic going.
I’ve done my bit. I’m weary of the task.
Now a quick exit ’s all the prize I ask.
‘That’s why I’m bound where gentle Ocean shuts
Sweet isles apart, to live on coconuts.
If better men can do it, why not I?
When Roosevelt’s levanted to Hawaii,
I flee “a world each morning obsolete,”
A world of pasteurized milk and shredded wheat;
A world bright only with a morbid slime
Of dull society and stagnant crime;
A world that staggering to destruction walks
And talks and talks and talks and talks and talks.
Stay if you like. I ’ll never balk your wish.
Go shoot your bandits. I ’ll be spearing fish.
Treat your pale leprosy and scratch your scurf.
Somehow I like the notion of warm surf
And brown girls singing in a moonstruck arbor.
To hell with Newport! Devil take Bar Harbor!’
‘Take care,’ said I, ‘before the worst befall,
In another moment you’ll write “Locksley Hall.”‘
Which did not seem to trouble him a lot.
He looked me in the eye and asked, ‘Why not?’
Yet I was not bamboozled by that bluff.
I said: ‘Old chap, you don’t go far enough.
It’s not traversing some dozens of degrees
Will insulate you from the times’ disease.
The radiant isles are quick with human woe.
Ask Hall and Nordhoff. They will tell you so.
Nay! If a bright deliverance you would win,
Seek not the surf-ringed atolls. Search within.
Still in your eyes worn brightness I detect.
Revamp the remnants of your intellect.
Visit strange thought that mystery overwhelms,
The topless heights of philosophic realms.
View with a poet’s visionary glance
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance.
And seek to see with inly-piercing eyes
The blazing beauty that they symbolize.
Or, if you like, there’s still another track.
We ’ll plump for Science. Heisenberg and Dirac
Shall lead us through the mathematic door
Of infinitesimals, and we ’ll explore
Atomic vastitudes where never lie
Outfaces ruthless probability.
Or better yet, I think, for you and me,
Beyond frontiers of fiery nebuæ,
Light as a dream our printless feet shall tread,
Where against starshine glooms the “Horse’s Head.”
Doubtless in the past your isles might be good stuff,
But now an endless light-year’s scarce enough
To part us from the feebleness and folly,
The brainless mirth, more brainless melancholy.
Let all such matters like a hell-broth bubble,
We’re for the spheres with Shapley and with Hubble,
To draw from voids where Sirius flames afar
All the strange meaning of Van Maanen’s star,
To traffic with existence that is rife
Eternally, before and after life,
To conquer terrors, whether Life’s or Death’s,
Castrate conventions, cauterize shibboleths,
And take our ease in an interstellar Zion.
Come on, old cock, the next stop is Orion.’