What hurrying human tides, or day or night!
What whirls of evil, bliss, and sorrow!
Love, joy, hope, aspiration, expectation, hauteur, rejection, shame, leer, envy, scorn, contempt,
Like the parti-colored world itself—like infinite, teeming, mocking life!
It is a strange mixed business, this life.
All the scenes of life, and the workers homeward returning—
Inside of dresses and ornaments,
Inside of those wash’d and trimm’d faces, white, shaved, soft-fleshed, shrinking,
Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,
Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities,
Home to the houses of men and women, at the table, in the bedroom, everywhere,
To the shamed and angry stairs trod by sneaking footsteps,
To the dreariness of a home where indifference and hate are the Penates, where the weary partners come to pour out upon each other, or upon their children, the hoarded spleen of the day, and to aggravate, by recriminations, care and anxiety already too oppressive, from disappointment and despair in heartless marriage,
A house of life, erewhile talking and laughing—but ah, poor house, dead even then,
Months, years, an echoing, garnish’d house—but dead, dead, dead.
Through the laughter, dancing, dining, supping, of people—
A pretty race, smartly attired, polite and bland in the parlors,
Each one just like hundreds of the rest, a regular gentleman or lady, with a silver door-plate and a pew in church—
Behold a secret silent loathing and despair.
The processes of culture rapidly create a class of supercilious infidels,
Dull down-hearted doubters who believe in nothing,
Robbing one another of joy.
Outside—fair costume, countenance smiling, form upright,
Within—the mean and bandaged spirit is perpetually dissatisfied with itself,
Sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble,
No more a sonorous voice or springy step,
No brain, no heart left, no magnetism of sex,
Scant of muscle, scant of love-power, eyes that vainly crave the light,
Lungs rotting away piecemeal, stomach sour and cankerous,
Joints rheumatic, bowels clogged with abomination,
Blood circulating dark and poisonous streams, ashes and filth,
Death under the breast-bones, hell under the skull-bones.
A perpetual natural disguiser of herself,
Concealing her face, concealing her form,
Changes and transformations every hour, every moment,
Falling upon her even when she sleeps—
Let that man, young or old, never deceive himself with the folly that the sore stuff is hid by the cloth he wears,
Though the eye does not see, nor the hand touch, nor the nose smell, the rank odor strikes out.
Let crusted worldlings pay the tribute of a light laugh—light and empty as their own hollow hearts.
I hear secret convulsive sobs, deep half-stifled sobs,
A muffled sonorous sound of men bow’d and moved to weeping;
A wailing word is borne through the air for a moment,
Then blank and gone and still, and utterly lost.
O heart-sick days! O nights of woe!
What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what howls restrain’d by decorum,
Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of itself,
Speaking of any thing else but never of itself,
No husband, no wife, no friend, no lover, trusted to hear the confession.
Amid crowded accumulations of ghastly morbidity, cities fill’d with the foolish,
Endless trains of the faithless jostle each other in selfish scramble, because unaccustomed to refined joy—the chief thought is of selfish indulgence.
What pity may we well feel for the flabby, lymphatic, half-grown, puny creatures, called men and women, of whom earth is full!
What wonder that such morbid abortions are tempted to kindle within their sluggish systems some sparkles of genial life, by transient exhilaration—
Artificial stimulants to waken an enthusiasm,
Drunkenness, the fiery fountain which bubbles up from hell,
The gambling-board with its devilish winnings and losings.
A thought haunts me every glimpse I get of our top-loftical phases of wealth and fashion in this country,
The unhealthy pleasures, extravagant dissipations of the few,
With perfumes, heat and wine, beneath the dazzling chandeliers.
Persons arrived at high positions appear gaunt and naked,
They are ill at ease, much too conscious, cased in too many cerements, and far from happy.
A drunkard’s breath, unwholesome eater’s face, venerealee’s flesh,
The flippant expression, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion,
Faces almost corpse-like, so ashy and listless,
Alive after what custom has served them, but nothing more,
Sad, hasty, unwaked sonnambules walking the dusk.
Elegant dress frequently covers a sick soul—and the furniture of a handsome carriage may be but the trappings of misery,
Ignorance, vulgarity, rudeness, conceit, and dulness are the reigning gods,
Each one mocks the others, and mocks himself or herself,
And of each one the core of life, namely happiness, is full of the rotten excrement of maggots.
Such storms, such wrecks, such mysteries, fires, wrong, greed for wealth, religious problems, crosses—
All the woes and sad happenings of life and death—
Such a result so soon—and from such a beginning!
I list to the dirge, the voices of men and women wreck’d,
At anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done.
As death presses closer and closer, the soul rushes hither and thither,
Receiver of the issuing sickness and revolt at the close of a life without elevation or naivete,
Chatterer of the ghastly chatter of a death without serenity or majesty.
Despairing cries float ceaselessly toward me,
Love’s unresponse—a chorus of age’s complaints—hope’s last words,
That sad incessant refrain, shrill, fearful,
Creeping into the blood like cold, polish’d steel,
Appealing, shrieking, berating, to escape the general doom;
A young woman’s voice appealing to me, for comfort,
A young man’s voice, “Shall I not escape?”
Some suicide’s despairing cry: Away to the boundless waste, and never again return.
The suicide went to a lonesome place with a pistol and killed himself,
I came that way and stumbled upon him.
The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom,
I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair, I note where the pistol has fallen;
A promising young fellow, 23 or so,
(Do you suppose it was love and money combined—the cause?)
The plodding and sordid crowds I see around me, the poor results of all—
(A hand-mirror—hold it up sternly—see this it sends back,
Who is it? is it you? who are you? and what are you secretly guilty of all your life?)
The aimless and resultless ways of most human lives,
The empty and useless years of the rest—
With the rest me intertwined!
Every thought that flounders in them the same flounders in me.
Frivolous, sullen, moping, angry, affected, disheartened, I know every one of you,
I know the sea of torment, doubt, despair, and unbelief.
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
I take my place among you as much as among any.
(You say you are a great fool—don’t you know every acute fellow secretly knows that about himself—I do.)
Yet, yet, ye downcast hours, I know ye also,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time,
How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me and mock me!
As I travel I see hundreds and hundreds of farms,
Looks as though the folks ought to be happy—but I suppose they are just like all the rest of us,
Struggling today the same—battling the same,
Ever the soul dissatisfied, wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish,
With never-happy hearts, unconvinced at last.
I know the unspoken interrogatories, by experience I know them,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me.
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Let others dispose of questions, I dispose of nothing,
I arouse inexplicable, unanswerable questions,
With a barb’d tongue questioning every one I meet.
Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and whither O mocking life?
What real happiness have you had one single hour through your whole life?
Do you know your destination?
(It is vain to skulk—do you hear that mocking and laughter? Do you hear the ironical echoes?)
Would you sound below the restless ocean of the entire world?
Would you know the dissatisfaction? the urge and spur of every life? the invisible need of every seed?
These yearnings why are they, the something never still’d—never entirely gone?
Ever the old inexplicable query,
Ever the puzzles of birth and death,
Ever the same old mystery and problem, the curious whether and how,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
What is a man anyhow? What am I? What are you?
These thoughts in the darkness why are they?
Is the reason-why strangely hidden?
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows, aught of them.
We know not what the use O life, nor know the aim, the end, nor really aught we know,
O if the whole world should prove indeed a sham, a suck and a sell!