Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Monologue from a Mattress
By Louis Untermeyer
 
    Heinrich Heine, aetat 56, loquitur:

CAN that be you, La Mouche? Wait till I lift
This palsied eyelid and make sure…. Ah, true.
Come in, dear fly, and pardon my delay
In thus existing; I can promise you
Next time you come you’ll find no dying poet!        5
Without sufficient spleen to see me through,
The joke becomes too tedious a jest.
I am afraid my mind is dull today;
I have that—something—heavier on my chest,
And then, you see, I’ve been exchanging thoughts        10
With Doctor Franz. He talked of Kant and Hegel
As though he’d nursed them both through whooping-cough;
And, as he left, he let his finger shake
Too playfully, as though to say, “Now off
With that long face—you’ve years and years to live.”        15
I think he thinks so. But, for Heaven’s sake,
Don’t credit it—and never tell Mathilde.
Poor dear, she has enough to bear already …
This was a month! During my lonely weeks
One person actually climbed the stairs        20
To seek a cripple. It was Berlioz—
But Berlioz always was original.
 
Come here, my lotus-flower. It is best
I drop the mask today; the half-cracked shield
Of mockery calls for younger hands to wield.        25
Laugh—or I’ll hug it closer to my breast!
So … I can be as mawkish as I choose
And give my thoughts an airing, let them loose
For one last rambling stroll before—Now look!
Why tears?—you never heard me say “the end”.        30
Before … before I clap them in a book
And so get rid of them once and for all.
This is their holiday—we’ll let them run—
Some have escaped already. There goes one …
What, I have often mused, did Goethe mean?        35
So many years ago, at Weimar, Goethe said,
“Heine has all the poet’s gifts but love.”
Good God!—but that is all I ever had.
More than enough!—so much of love to give
That no one gave me any in return.        40
And so I flashed and snapped in my own fires
Until I stood, with nothing left to burn,
A twisted trunk, in chilly isolation.
Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam—you recall?
I was that northern tree and, in the South,        45
Amalia…. So I turned to scornful cries,
Hot iron songs to save the rest of me:
Plunging the brand in my own misery,
Crouching behind my pointed wall of words—
Ramparts I built of moons and loreleys,        50
Enchanted roses, sphinxes, love-sick birds,
Giants, dead lads who left their graves to dance,
Fairies and phoenixes and friendly gods—
A curious frieze, half renaissance, half Greek,
Behind which, in revulsion from romance,        55
I lay and laughed—and wept—till I was weak.
Words were my shelter, words my one escape,
Words were my weapons against everything.
Was I not once the son of Revolution?—
Give me the lyre, I said, and let me sing        60
My song of battle: words like flaming stars
Shot down with power to burn the palaces;
Words like bright javelins to fly with fierce
Hate of the oily philistines, and glide
Through all the seven heavens till they pierce        65
The pious hypocrites who dare to creep
Into the Holy Places. “Then,” I cried,
“I am a fire to rend and roar and leap;
I am all joy and song, all sword and flame!”
H’m—you observe me passionate. I aim        70
To curb these wild emotions lest they soar
Or drive against my will. (So I have said
These many years—and still they are not tame.)
Scraps of a song keep rumbling in my head …
Listen—you never heard me sing before.        75
 
        When a false world betrays your trust
          And stamps upon your fire,
        When what seemed blood is only rust,
          Take up the lyre!
 
        How quickly the heroic mood        80
          Responds to its own ringing;
        The scornful heart, the angry blood
          Leap upward, singing!
 
Ah, that was how it used to be. But now,
Du schoner Todesengel, it is odd        85
How more than calm I am. Franz said he knew
It was religion, and it is, perhaps;
Religion—or morphine—or poultices—God knows.
I sometimes have a sentimental lapse
And long for saviors and a physical God.        90
When health is all used up, when money goes,
When courage cracks and leaves a shattered will,
Christianity begins. For a sick Jew
It is a very good religion…. Still
I fear that I shall die as I have lived,        95
A long-nosed heathen playing with his scars;
A pagan killed by Weltschmerz…. I remember,
Once when I stood with Hegel at a window,
I, being full of bubbling youth and coffee,
Spoke in symbolic tropes about the stars.        100
Something I said about “those high
Abodes of the blest” provoked his temper.
“Abodes? the stars?”—he froze me with a sneer;
“A light eruption on the firmament.”
“But,” cried romantic I, “is there no sphere        105
Where virtue is rewarded when we die?”
And Hegel mocked: “A very pleasant whim—
So you demand a bonus since you spent
One lifetime and refrained from poisoning
Your testy grandmother!”… How much of him        110
Remains in me—even when I am caught
In dreams of death and immortality!
 
To be eternal—what a brilliant thought!
It must have been conceived and coddled first
By some old shopkeeper in Nuremberg,        115
His slippers warm, his children amply nursed,
Who, with his lighted meerschaum in his hand,
His nightcap on his head, one summer night
Sat drowsing at his door; and mused: “How grand
If all of this could last beyond a doubt—        120
This placid moon, this plump gemüthlichkeit;
Pipe, breath and summer never going out—
To vegetate through all eternity….”
But no such everlastingness for me!—
God, if he can, keep me from such a blight.        125
 
        Death, it is but the long cool night,
          And life’s a sad and sultry day.
          It darkens; I grow sleepy;
        I am weary of the light.
 
        Over my bed a strange tree gleams,        130
          And there a nightingale is loud
          She sings of love, love only …
        I hear it, even in dreams.
 
My Mouche, the other day as I lay here,
Slightly propped up upon this mattress-grave        135
In which I’ve been interred these few eight years,
I saw a dog, a little pampered slave,
Running about and barking. I would have given
Heaven could I have been that dog; to thrive
Like him, so senseless—and so much alive!        140
And once I called myself a blithe Hellene,
Who am too much in love with life to live.
The shrug is pure Hebraic … for what I’ve been,
A lenient Lord will tax me—and forgive.
Dieu me pardonnera—c’est son métier.        145
But this is jesting. There are other scandals
You haven’t heard…. Can it be dusk so soon?—
Or is this deeper darkness…? Is that you,
Mother?—how did you come? And are those candles
There on that tree whose golden arms are filled?—        150
Or are they birds whose white notes glimmer through
The seven branches now that all is stilled?
What—Friday night again and all my songs
Forgotten? Wait … I still can sing—
Sh’ma Yisroel Adonai Elohenu,        155
Adonai Echod …
                Mouche—Mathilde …
 
 
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