Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
Philosophical Dialogue
By Maxwell Bodenheim
From “Sappho Answers Aristotle”

First Man.  WE gaze upon a negro shoveling coal.
      His muscles fuse into a poem
      Stifled and sinister,
      Censuring the happy rhetoric of morning air.
      Some day he may pitch his tent        5
      Upon the ruins of a civilization,
      Playing with documents and bottles of perfume
      Found in deserted corridors.
Second Man.  Listen to this song
      Dipped in the Negro South of America.        10
          She brought me collars and shoes.
              She brought me whiskey and tea.
          She brought me everything that I could use
              But the jail-house key!
      Time inserts the jail-house key        15
      Into a succession of rusty locks,
      Straining until they open.
      Do you hear, beneath the rattling strut
      Of this city, an imperceptible groan?
      Time is turning the jail-house key.        20
      They build larger jails for Time:
      He makes larger keys of blood and iron,
      But often the labor is delayed
      By pausing squeals of freedom.
First Man.  An insignificant jest        25
      In the wider life of Time.
      He has dropped to this earth
      To play a barbarous comedy.
      Philosophers loudly explain the scenes;
      But poets, with greater restraint,        30
      Tender them a masquerade.
Second Man.  Once I sat and watched
      A scientific philosopher
      Place white lines on a black-board,
      Diagraming his mighty system of logic.        35
      While he worked, the wind outside
      Squandered its derision
      And offered him a cup he dared not drink.
      Afterwards, in the open air,
      The slash of rain on my face        40
      Mockingly baptised his words.
First Man.  To him the wind and rain
      Were trivialities against a brick wall.
Second Man.  To me they were tormented wanderers
      Quarreling above a doll’s house        45
      Whose intricate patterns
      Waited to be kicked aside.
      I changed myself to a height
      That made them whimpering pygmies,
      And gave them grotesque costumes,        50
      Enjoying the insolence of imagination.
First Man.  The scientific philosopher
      Raised his umbrella against the rain,
      And communed with venerable argument.
Second Man.  He was interested in improving        55
      The lustre of a doll’s house
      In which I had left my small body.
      Walls are enticing black-boards to some
      And neglected prisons to others.
      I prefer the second        60
      Of tenuous bravado
      That turns the prison into a threshold
      And jests with the wind and rain that survive it.

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