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    Ch. 6: He Confesses to Being a Poet

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    I do not know whether it is a part of the programme mapped out for me that I am to live forever or not, and I realize the danger that a man runs in writing his memoirs if he put aught down in them which shall savor of confession. They say that confession is good for the soul, but I have not yet discovered anybody who was profited by it to any material extent. On the contrary, even the virtuous have suffered from it, as witness the case of my dear old Uncle Zekel. In his extreme youth Zekel went out one summer's day, the call of the wild proving too much for his boyish spirit, and ere night fell had done a certain amount of mischief, although intrinsically he came nearer to being a perfect child than anyone yet known to the history of the human race. Thoughtlessly the lad had chopped down one of his father's favorite date trees, the which when his father observed it, caused considerable consternation.

    "Who did this thing?" he cried angrily, summoning the whole family to the orchard.

    "Father," said Zekel, stepping forward, pale, but courageous, "I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little tomahawk."

    "Very well, my son," said the old gentleman, pulling a switch from the fallen tree, and seizing Zekel by the collar, "in order to impress this date more vividly upon your mind, we will retire to the barn and indulge in a little palmistry."

    Whereupon he withdrew with Zekel from the public gaze and administered such a rebuke to the boy that forever afterwards the mere association of ideas made it impossible for Zekel to sit under a palm tree with any degree of comfort.[2]

    [Footnote 2: Editor's Note: It is very interesting to find this story in the Memoirs of Methuselah owing to its marked resemblance to an anecdote related of General Washington, in which the youthful father of his country is represented as having acted in a like manner upon a later occasion.]

    I realize, however, that in writing one's memoirs one should not withhold the truth if there is to be any justification in the eyes of posterity for their existence, so I am not going to conceal anything from my readers that has any important bearing upon my character. Let me therefore admit here and now, apropos of the charming lines with which my last chapter was brought to a close, that I have myself at times written poetry. It is the lamentable fact that in this day and generation poets are not held in that high esteem which is their due. We have unfortunately had a number of them in this vicinity of late years who have not been any too particular about paying their board bills, and whether their troth has been plighted to our confiding maidens, or to our trustful tailors, the result has been the same--they have not been conspicuously present at the date of maturity of their promises. One very distinguished looking old gentleman in particular, who registered from Greece, came here several centuries ago and secured five hundred subscriptions to his book of verses, collected the first instalment, and then faded from the scene and neither he nor his verses have been heard from since. The consequence has been that when any of the young of this community show the slightest signs of poetic genius their parents behave as though the measles had broken out in the family, and do all they can spiritually and physically to stamp out the symptoms. My cousin Aminidab indeed went so far while he was in the Legislature here, to introduce a bill making the writing of poetry a misdemeanor, and ordering the police immediately to arrest all persons caught giving way in public or private to an inspiration. The bill only failed to become a law by the expiration of the session before it had reached its final reading. It may be readily imagined, therefore, why until this I have never acknowledged my own proneness to expressing myself in verse. Only two or three of my most intimate friends have been aware of the tendency, and they have been so ashamed of it that as my friends they have sought rather to suppress than to spread the report.

    I quite remember the consternation with which my first effort was received in the family. Father Adam had been reminiscing about the Garden Days, and he had made the remark that when some of the animals came up to be christened they were such extraordinary looking creatures he was afraid they were imaginary.

    "Take the Ornithorhyncus, for instance," he said, "and the Discosaurus Carnegii--why, when they came ambling up for their tickets I could hardly believe my eyes, and I turned to Eve and asked her with real anxiety, whether or not she saw anything, and, of course, her answer reassured me, but for a minute I was afraid that the grape-juice we had had for lunch was up to its old tricks."

    This anecdote amused me tremendously, for I had myself thought the Discosaurus about the funniest looking beast except the shad, I had ever seen, and I promptly constructed a limerick which I handed over to my father. It ran this way:

    There was an old fellow named Adam, Who lived in the Garden with Madam. When the critters they came All demanding a name He thought for a minute he "had 'em!"

    I don't think I shall ever forget the result of my father's horrified reading of the lines. All my grandfathers back to Adam himself were there, and wrath, fear, and consternation were depicted on every countenance when the last line was delivered, and then every eye was turned on me. If there had been any way of disappearing I should have faded away instantly, but alas, every avenue of escape was closed, and before I left the room each separate and distinct ancestor had turned me over his knee and lambasted me to his heart's content. In spite of all this discipline, which one would have thought effective enough to take me out of the lists of Parnassus forever, it on the contrary served only to whet my thirst for writing, and from that time until now I have never gotten over my desire to chisel out sonnets, triolets, rondeaux and lyrics of one kind or another.

    One little piece that I recall had to do with the frequency with which I was punished for small delinquencies. It was called

    WHEN FATHER SPANKED ME

    My Father larruped me, and yet I could but note his eyes were wet, When lying there across his knee I got what he had had for me-- It seemed to fill him with regret.

    "It hurt me worse than you," he said, When later on I went to bed, And I--the truth would not be hid-- Replied, "I'm gug-gug-glad it did!"

    There were other verses written as I grew older that, while I do not regard them as masterpieces, I nevertheless think compare favorably with a great deal of the alleged poetry that has crept into print of late years. A trifle dashed off on a brick with a piece of charcoal one morning shortly after my hundredth birthday, comes back to me. The original I regret to say was lost through the careless act of one of my cousins, who flung it at a pterodactyl as it winged its flight across our meadows some years after. I reproduce it from memory.

    THE JUNE-BUG

    The merry, merry June-bug Now butts at all in sight. He butts the wall o' mornings, He rams the ceil at night.

    He caroms from the book-case Off to the window-pane, Then bounces from my table Back to the case again.

    He whacks against the door-jamb And tumbles on the mat; Then on the grand-piano He strikes a strident flat;

    Then to the oaken stair-case He blindly flops and jumps, And on the steps for hours He blithely bumps the bumps.

    They say that he is foolish, And has no brains. No doubt 'Tis well for if he had 'em He'd surely butt them out.

    As I say, this is mere a trifle, but it is none the less beautifully descriptive of a creature that has always seemed to me to be worthy of more attention than he has ever received from the poets of our age. I have been unable to find in the literature of Greece, Egypt or the Orient, any reference to this wonderful insect who embodies in his frail physique so much of the truest philosophy of life, and who, despite the obstacles that seem so persistently to obstruct his path, buzzes blithely ever onward, singing his lovely song and uttering no complaints.

    In the line of what I may call calendar poetry, which has always been popular since the art of rhyming began, none of the months escaped my attention, but of all of my efforts in that direction I never wrote anything that excelled in descriptive beauty my

    ODE TO FEBRUARY

    Hail to thee, O Februeer! It is sweet to have you here, Lemon-time of all the year! Making all our noses gay With the influenziay; Flinging sneezes here and yon, Rich and poor alike upon; Clogging up the bronchial tubes Of the Urbans and the Roobs; Opening for all your grip With its lavish stores of pip; Scattering along your route Little gifts of Epizoot; Time of slush and time of thaw, Time of hours mild and raw; Blowing cold and blowing hot; Stable as a Hottentot; Coaxing flowers from the close Just to nip them on the nose; Calling birdies from their nests For to freeze their little chests; Springtime in the morning bright, With a blizzard on at night; Chills and fever through the day Like a sort of pousse café; Time of drift and time of slosh! Season of the ripe golosh; Running rivers in the street, Frozen toes, and soaking feet; Take this wreath of Poesie Dedicated unto thee, Undiluted stream of mush To the Merry Month of Slush!

    I preferred always, of course, to be original, not only in the matter of my thought, but in the manner of my expression as well, but like all the rest of the poetizing tribe, I sooner or later came under the Greek influence. This is shown most notably in a little bit written one very warm day in midsummer, back in my 278th year. It was entitled

    TO PAN IN AUGUST

    I don't wish to flout you, Pan. Tried to write about you, Pan. Tried to tell the story, Pan, Of your wondrous glory, Pan; But I can't begin it, Pan, For this very minute, Pan, All my thoughts are tumid, Pan, 'Tis so hot and humid, Pan, And for all my trying, Pan, There is no denying, Pan, I can't think, poor sighing Pan, Of you save as frying, Pan.

    It was after reading the above, when it dropped out of my coat pocket during one of our visits to the wood-shed, that Adam expressed the profound conviction that I was born to be hanged, but as I have already intimated, neither his sense of justice, nor his sense of humor was notable.

    Once in awhile I tried a bit of satire, and when my son Noah first began to show signs of mental aberration on the subject of a probable flood that would sweep everything before it, and put the whole world out of business save those who would take shares in his International Marine and Zoo Flotation Company, I endeavored to dissuade him in every possible way from so suspicious an enterprise. Failing to impress my feelings upon him in one way, I fell back upon an anonymously published poem, which I hoped would bring him to his senses. The lines were printed in red chalk on the board fence surrounding his Ship-Yard, and ran as follows:

    MARINE ADVICES

    O Noah he built himself a boat, And filled it full of animiles. He took along a billie-goat, A pug and two old crocodiles.

    A pair of very handsome yaks A leopard and hyenas two; A brace of tender canvas-backs, A camel and a kangaroo.

    A pair of guinea-pigs were placed In state-rooms off the main saloon, Along with several rabbits chaste, A 'possum and a gray raccoon.

    Now all went well upon that cruise, And they were happy as could be, Until one morning came the news That filled old Noah with misery.

    Those guinea-pigs--O what a tide!-- Were versed in plain Arithmetic; The way they upped and multiplied Made Captain Noah mighty sick.

    And four days out he turned about, And made back to the pier once more To rid himself of all that rout, And put the guinea-pigs ashore.

    And where there were but two of these When starting on that famous trip, When they got back from off the seas, Three hundred thousand left the ship!

    Poor Noah! He took this publication so much to heart that he offered a reward of a thousand dollars, and a first-class passage on his cruise to the top of Mount Ararat to any one who could give him the name of the miscreant who had written the lines, but he has never yet found out who did them, and until he reads these memoirs after I have passed away, he will never know from how near home they came.

    Finally let me say that in a more serious vein as a Poet I was not wanting in success--that is in my own judgment. As a mystic poet nothing better than the following came from my pen:

    O arching trees that mark the zenith hour, How great thy reach, how marvellous thy power, So lavishly outpouring all thy rotund gifts On mortal ways, in superhuman shifts That overtax the mind, and vex the soul of man, As would the details of some awful plan, Jocund, mysterious, complex, and yet withal Enmeshed with Joy and Sorrow, as a pall Envelops all the seas at eventide, and brings New meaning to the song the Robin sings When from her nest matutinal she squirms And hies her forth for adolescent worms With which her young to feed, yet all the time With heart and soul laments my dulcet rhyme!

    Of this I was naturally quite proud, and when under the title of "Maternity" I read it once in secret to my Aunt Jerusha, she burst into tears as I went on, and three days later read it as a New Thought gem before the Enochsville Society of Ethical Culture. It was there pronounced a great piece of symbolic imagery, and prediction was made that some day in some more advanced age than our own, a Magazine would be found somewhere that would print it. This may be so, but I fear I shall not live to see it.
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