Smith, great writer of stories, drank; found it immortalised his pen;
Fused in his brain-pan, else a blank, heavens of glory now and then;
Gave him the magical genius touch; God-given power to gouge out, fling
Flat in your face a soul-thought — Bing!
Twiddle your heart-strings in his clutch.
“Bah!” said Smith, “let my body lie stripped to the buff in swinish shame,
If I can blaze in the radiant sky out of adoring stars my name.
Sober am I nonentitized; drunk am I more than half a god.
Well, let the flesh be sacrificed; spirit shall speak and shame the clod.
Who would not gladly, gladly give Life to do one thing that will live?”
Smith had a friend, we’ll call him Brown;
dearer than brothers were those two.
When in the wassail Smith would drown,
Brown would rescue and pull him through.
When Brown was needful Smith would lend; so it fell as the years went by,
Each on the other would depend: then at the last Smith came to die.
There Brown sat in the sick man’s room, still as a stone in his despair;
Smith bent on him his eyes of doom, shook back his lion mane of hair;
Said: “Is there one in my chosen line, writer of forthright tales my peer?
Look in that little desk of mine; there is a package, bring it here.
Story of stories, gem of all; essence and triumph, key and clue;
Tale of a loving woman’s fall; soul swept hell-ward, and God! it’s true.
I was the man — Oh, yes, I’ve paid, paid with mighty and mordant pain.
Look! here’s the masterpiece I’ve made out of my sin, my manhood slain.
Art supreme! yet the world would stare, know my mistress and blaze my shame.
I have a wife and daughter — there! take it and thrust it in the flame.”
Brown answered: “Master, you have dipped pen in your heart, your phrases sear.
Ruthless, unflinching, you have stripped naked your soul and set it here.
Have I not loved you well and true? See! between us the shadows drift;
This bit of blood and tears means You — oh, let me have it, a parting gift.
Sacred I’ll hold it, a trust divine; sacred your honour, her dark despair;
Never shall it see printed line: here, by the living God I swear.”
Brown on a Bible laid his hand; Smith, great writer of stories, sighed:
“Comrade, I trust you, and understand. Keep my secret!” And so he died.
Smith was buried — up soared his sales; lured you his books in every store;
Exquisite, whimsy, heart-wrung tales; men devoured them and craved for more.
So when it slyly got about Brown had a posthumous manuscript,
Jones, the publisher, sought him out, into his pocket deep he dipped.
“A thousand dollars?” Brown shook his head.
“The story is not for sale,” he said.
Jones went away, then others came. Tempted and taunted, Brown was true.
Guarded at friendship’s shrine the fame
of the unpublished story grew and grew.
It’s a long, long lane that has no end,
but some lanes end in the Potter’s field;
Smith to Brown had been more than friend: patron, protector, spur and shield.
Poor, loving-wistful, dreamy Brown, long and lean, with a smile askew,
Friendless he wandered up and down, gaunt as a wolf, as hungry too.
Brown with his lilt of saucy rhyme, Brown with his tilt of tender mirth
Garretless in the gloom and grime, singing his glad, mad songs of earth:
So at last with a faith divine, down and down to the Hunger-line.