A Fable for Critics

A CRITIC asked a man I knew,
‘If cast upon a desert isle
To languish there, what little pile
Of chosen books, what cherished few,
Which hundred best, or hand-picked ten,
Would be your baggage to that spot?
What books would please you, sir? What not?’
This most unusual of men
Refrained from murder, first-degree,
And told the critic, idle wretch,
‘Unto that barren shore I’d fetch
Four tons of mixed biography,
Some books on economic woe
Or coming war, the weariest,
The bulkiest, the dreariest,
And plough them in, to make things grow.
Upon wide walls of trilogies
I’d build a house of epic verse,
And garden books, and even worse,
And shingle it with histories.
Of mysteries, and travel yarns,
And worth-while books that I had missed
Because you put them on a list,
I’d build a well and seven barns.
Then casting you list-writing chaps
Upon that desert isle to stay,
One moonless night I’d swim away,
And scratch that island off the maps.’
The critic shuddered where he stood.
He ground his teeth. He shook his fist.
He never wrote another list,
But made a living chopping wood,
A dirty job, not half so good.
He never turned another page,
And did not reach, they say, old age,
And would not, even if he could.
The moral is, if you should care,
‘Make up your own mind, if you dare.’