The Poet’s Doubt and Despair

Maybe one is now reading this who meets all my grand assumptions and egotisms with derision—
As if I never deride myself!
Myself forever reproaching myself, for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?
Or maybe one who is puzzled at me—

As if I were not puzzled at myself!
Me, so puzzling, wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted, contradictory.

O me, man of slack faith so long,
Me with mole’s eyes, unrisen to buoyancy and vision—unfree.
O me repellent and ugly!
Behold this swarthy face, the white wool unclipt upon my neck,
My brown hands and the silent manner of me without charm.
Hell and despair are upon me,
At once I find the least thing that belongs to me, or that I see or touch, I know not,
I perceive I have not really understood anything, not a single object, and that no man ever can.

What do I know of life? what of myself?
Even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,
I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,
Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clues and indirections I seek for my own use to trace out
And those appear that perplex me,
(As to that, who is aware of his own nature?)

Life and death, the two old, simple problems ever intertwined—
Unfulfilled aspirations, ideal dreams, the mysteries and failures and broken hopes of life, and then death the common fate of all, and the impenetrable uncertainty of the afterwards—
The grappled mystery of all earth’s ages old or new,
Elusive, present, baffled, by each successive age insoluble, pass’d on,
To ours today—and we pass on the same;
I do not understand the least reality of life—
How then can I understand the realities of death? 

I know not even my own work past or present—
Those startings out, beating flights of wings, uncertain where you will soar, or bring up, or whether you will soar at all, to end perhaps in ignominious fall and failure!
Those toils and struggles of baffled impeded articulation—those moods of proudest ambition and daring, quickly followed by deeper moods of qualm, despair, utter distrust of one’s self!
Unfoldings so copious, often inopportune—so many failures, (amid no loud call or market for my sort of poetic utterance,) so much unsatisfactory—
The fortunes, misfortunes, through many years—all carried along and merged in the afterwards, the way things work, the apparent terminations, the results so unexpected.

Dim ever-shifting guesses spread before me,
Of newer better worlds, their mighty parturition,
Mocking, perplexing me,
The real me withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.

Finally the looking back—
From shadows deep and dark I peer, out of the still and pensive evening,
A procession of ghosts in arriere, in the soul’s twilight,
Of all those angry wrestlings, those absurd trusts, those rejections, hauteurs, shames—
Oppress’d with myself that I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all,
My tongue the shallowest of any, still uttering, still ejaculating—
Canst never cease this babble?

Weights of lead, how ye clog and cling at my ankles,
O cruel hands that hold me powerless,
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul,
Doubts to be solv’d, blanks to be fill’d.
My hands, my limbs grow nerveless,
Dim and dreadful thoughts have lately been floating through my brain,
I am getting savage, my brain feels rack’d, bewilder’d,
There seems to be no relief.

The fire, the sweet hell within, the unknown want, the destiny of me,
I know I am restless and make others so,
I plan out my little schemes for the future, and cogitate fancies,
And occasionally there floats forth like wreaths of smoke, and about as substantial, my day dreams.
What is my destination? O I fear it is henceforth chaos!
Has not the chaos of my pages its enclosing 
purport, its clue or formulation?
Upon the whole, it evades me more than anybody.

Is it the prophet’s thought I speak, or am I raving?
My greatest thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre, 
shallow, mere exhalations?
What wretched shred e’en at the best of all.
Will they germinate anything? will they filter to any deep emotion? any heart and brain?
Would not people laugh at me?

In sighs at night in rage dissatisfied with myself,
In those long-drawn, ill-supprest sighs,
My best moods seemed to shun me,
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and 
Utter defeat upon me weighed—all lost— the foe victorious.

As for me, torn, stormy, amid these vehement days,
Poor and paralyzed, venting a heavy heart,
Batter’d, wreck’d, sore, stiff with many toils, sicken’d and nigh to death,
I am too full of woe!
That this earthly habitation is a place of torment to my miserable self, is made painfully evident every day of existence.

One doubt, nauseous, undulating like a snake, crawl’d on the ground before me,
Continually preceding my steps, turning upon me oft, ironically hissing low:
I am incomplete,
I am filled with restlessness after I know not what,
Wandering, yearning, inquiring, tireless, seeking that yet unfound.
Where is what I started for so long ago,
Something  yet unfound, though I have diligently sought it many a long year?
Why is it that a sense comes always crushing in on me,
As of one happiness I have missed, and one friend and companion I have never made?
My pride is impotent, my love gets no response.

Baffled, balk’d, bent to the very earth,
Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon me and sting me,
Sea waters ever-rolling and rushing in or out—never placid, never calm—
Surely they please this uneasy spirit, me, that ebbs and flows too all the while,
Yet gets nowhere and amounts to nothing.

We murmur alike reproachfully, rolling sands and drift, knowing not why,
These little shreds indeed standing for you and me and all,
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too but signify at the utmost a little wash’d-up drift,
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift,
Myself a speck, a point on the world’s floating vast.

O who is that ghost, that form in the dark,
In the night, in solitude, tears
What shapeless lump is that, bent, crouch’d there on the sand,
On the white shore dripping, dripping, suck’d in by the sand,
Streaming tears, sobbing tears, moist tears from the eyes of a muffled head?
O shade so sedate and decorous by day, with calm countenance and regulated pace,
But away at night as you fly, none looking—
O then the unloosen’d ocean,
Of tears! tears! tears!
The measureless waters of human tears.

I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake—
That I could forget the trickling tears, and the blows of the bludgeons and hammers!
That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning.

Trickle drops! my blue veins leaving!
O drops of me! trickle, slow drops,
Candid from me falling, drip, bleeding drops,
From wounds made to free you whence you were prison’d,
From my face, from my forehead and lips,
From my breast, from within where I was conceal’d, press forth red drops, confession drops,
Stain every page, stain every song I sing, every word I say, bloody drops,
Let them know your scarlet heat, let them glisten,
Saturate them with yourself all ashamed and wet,
Glow upon all I have written or shall write, bleeding drops,
Let it all be seen in your light, blushing drops.

Oh, ye gods, press me not too far—pour not my cup too full,
Time, put spurs to thy leaden wings, and bring on the period when my allotted time of torment here shall be
Speed, ye airy hours, lift me from his earthly purgatory,
Rouse up my slow belief, give me some vision of the future,
Give me for once its prophecy and joy.

NEXT: Transcending Doubt and Despair