I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, six poems by Edmund Vance Cooke. Edmund Cooke was born in Ontario in 1866. He was a poet. He died in Ohio in 1932.
Requiescat in Pace
The man who fears to go his way alone,
But follows where the greater number tread,
Should hasten to his rest beneath a stone;
The great majority of men are dead.
Don’t Take Your Troubles to Bed
You may labor your fill, friend of mine, if you will;
You may worry a bit, if you must;
You may treat your affairs as a series of cares,
You may live on a scrap and a crust;
But when the day’s done, put it out of your head;
Don’t take your troubles to bed.
You may batter your way through the thick of the fray,
You may sweat, you may swear, you may grunt;
You may be a jack-fool if you must, but this rule
Should ever be kept at the front: –
Don’t fight with your pillow, but lay down your head
And kick every worriment out of the bed.
That friend or that foe (which he is, I don’t know),
Whose name we have spoken as Death,
Hovers close to your side, while you run or you ride,
And he envies the warmth of your breath;
But he turns him away, with a shake of his head,
When he finds that you don’t take your troubles to bed.
An ancient ape, once on a time,
Disliked exceedingly to climb,
And so he picked him out a tree
And said, “now this belongs to me.
I have a hunch that monks are mutts
And I can make them gather nuts
And bring the bulk of them to me,
By claiming title to this tree.”
He took a green leaf and a reed
And wrote himself a title deed,
Proclaiming pompously and slow;
“All monkeys by these presents know.” –
Next morning when the monkeys came
To gather nuts, he made his claim:
“All monkeys climbing on this tree
Must bring their gathered nuts to me,
Cracking the same on equal shares;
The meats are mine, the shells are theirs.”
“By what right?” they cried, amazed,
Thinking the ape was surely crazed.
“By this,” he answered: “if you’ll read
You’ll find it is a title deed,
Made in precise and formal shape
And sworn before a fellow ape,
Exactly on the legal plan
Used by that wondrous creature, man,
In London, Tokyo, New York,
Glengarry, Kalamazoo and Cork.
Unless my deed is recognized,
It proves you quite uncivilized.”
“But,” said one monkey, “you’ll agree
It was not you who made this tree.”
“Nor,” said the ape, serene and bland,
“Does any owner make his land,
Yet all of its hereditaments
Are his and figure in the rents.”
The puzzled monkeys sat about;
They could not make the question out.
Plainly, by precedent and law,
The ape’s procedure shows no flaw;
And yet, no matter what he said,
The stomach still denied the head.
Up spoke one sprightly monkey then;
“Monkeys are monkeys, men are men;
The ape should try his legal capers
On men who may respect his papers.
We don’t know deeds; we do know nuts,
And spite of ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ and ‘buts,’
We know who gathers and unmeats ’em,
By monkey practice also eats ’em,
So tell the ape and all his flunkies
No man tricks can be played on monkeys.”
Thus, apes still climb to get their food,
Since monkeys minds are crass and crude,
And monkeys, all so ill-advised,
Still eat their nuts, uncivilized.
Blood is Red
Some of us don’t drink, some of us do;
Some of us use a word or two.
Most of us, maybe, are half-way ripe
For deeds that wouldn’t look well in type.
All of us have done things, no doubt,
We don’t very often brag about.
We are timidly good, we are badly bold,
But there’s hope for the worst of us, I hold,
If there be a few things we didn’t do,
For the reason that we so wanted to.
Some of us sin on a smaller scale.
(We don’t mind minnows, we shy at a whale.)
We speak of a woman with half a sneer,
We sit on our hands when we ought to cheer.
The salad we mix in the bowl of the heart
We sometimes make a little too tart
For home consumption. We growl, we nag,
But we’re not quite lost if we sometimes drag
The hot words back and make them mild
At the moment they fret to be running wild.
Don’t pin your faith on the man or woman
Who never is tempted. We’re mostly human.
And whoever he be who never has felt
The red blood sing in the veins and melt
The ice of convention, caste and creed,
To the very last barrier, has no need
To raise his brows at the rest of us.
It bides its time in the best of us,
And well for him if he do not do
That which the strength of him wants him to.
The First Person Singular
McUmphrey’s a fellow who’s lengthy on lungs.
Backed up by the smoothest of ball-bearing tongues,
And his topic – himself – is worth talking about,
But he works it so much he has frazzled it out.
He never will give me my half of a chance
To chip in my own little, clever romance
In the first person singular. Yes, and they say,
He offended you, too, in a similar way.
Cousin Maud tells her illnesses, ancient and recent,
In a most minute way which is almost indecent!
Vivisecting herself, with some medical chatter,
She serves us her portions – as if on a platter,
Never noting how I am but waiting to stir
My dregs of diseases to offer to her.
And I hear (such a joke!) that your chronic gastritis
Stands silent forever before her nephritis.
Mrs. Henderson’s Annie goes out every night,
And Bertha, before her, was simply a fright,
While Agnes broke more than the worth of her head,
And Maggie – well, some things are better unsaid.
Such manners to talk of her help – when she knows
My wife’s simply aching to tell of _our_ woes!
And I hear that she never lets you get a start
On your story of Rosy we all know by heart.
You’d hardly believe that I’ve heard Bunson tell
The Flea-Powder Frenchman and Razors to Sell,
The One-Legged Goose and that old What You Please –
And even, I swear it, The Crow and the Cheese.
And he sprang that old yarn of He Said ‘t was His Leg,
When you wanted to tell him Columbus’s Egg,
While I wanted to tell my own whimsical tale
(Which I recently wrote) of The Man in the Whale!
How Did You Die?
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there – that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight – and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.
Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
The High Hatters – Good Little Bad Little You (Victor 21909-B 1931)