Through the Drift of Years

NEVER go back: if landscapes do not change
Then the familiar will but seem more strange,
Shorn of the magic cast on field and tree
By memory’s and time’s mendacity;
Or, if they have changed, then we join the chorus
Who now, with their own recollections, bore us.
After a lapse of decades it is folly
To trace old joys through mists of melancholy:
The brook we leaped so nimbly in our nonage
Is a mere ditch or too wide for our tonnage,
And so with the dark-flowing past : one jumps
To drown midstream or sprawl in thorny clumps.
Not for a fortune (let me reconsider
If I am tempted by a generous bidder!)
Would I return to Paris, there to chase
Through haunted streets the phantom of lost grace.
To Denmark? Even northern beauties wilt,
Their golden tresses turned to gray or gilt —•
Only the Mermaid by the Sound responds
Unchanged to memory, and she is bronze.
Boston — where everyone now hopefully looks
To find himself in one of Marquand’s books?
No, I should be, beneath the State House dome,
Most homesick where I once was most at home.
Only New York is safe, where late and early
The riveters outstrip life’s hurly-burly,
Where nothing now recalls my childhood era
That shook in needless fear of poor Cevent
And witnessed Admiral Dewey’s victory march
Pass by forever through the Dewey Arch.
I speak of childhood, but, to tell the truth,
There’s nothing much remaining from my youth,
Hardly one stone upon another. Splendid!
Here all things change before they need be mended,
And mortal years, in contrast to such haste,
Move almost to immortal measures paced.