A pencil, sir; a penny–won’t you buy?
I’m cold and wet and tired, a sorry plight;
Don’t turn your back, sir; take one just to try;
I haven’t made a single sale to-night.
Oh, thank you, sir; but take the pencil too;
I’m not a beggar, I’m a business man.
Pencils I deal in, red and black and blue;
It’s hard, but still I do the best I can.
Most days I make enough to pay for bread,
A cup o’ coffee, stretching room at night.
One needs so little–to be warm and fed,
A hole to kennel in–oh, one’s all right . . .
Excuse me, you’re a painter, are you not?
I saw you looking at that dealer’s show,
The croutes he has for sale, a shabby lot–
What do I know of Art? What do I know . . .
Well, look! That David Strong so well displayed,
“White Sorcery” it’s called, all gossamer,
And pale moon-magic and a dancing maid
(You like the little elfin face of her?)–
That’s good; but still, the picture as a whole,
The values,–Pah! He never painted worse;
Perhaps because his fire was lacking coal,
His cupboard bare, no money in his purse.
Perhaps . . . they say he labored hard and long,
And see now, in the harvest of his fame,
When round his pictures people gape and throng,
A scurvy dealer sells this on his name.
A wretched rag, wrung out of want and woe;
A soulless daub, not David Strong a bit,
Unworthy of his art. . . . How should I know?
How should I know? I’m Strong –I painted it.
There now, I didn’t mean to let that out.
It came in spite of me–aye, stare and stare.
You think I’m lying, crazy, drunk, no doubt–
Think what you like, it’s neither here nor there.
It’s hard to tell so terrible a truth,
To gain to glory, yet be such as I.
It’s true; that picture’s mine, done in my youth,
Up in a garret near the Paris sky.
The child’s my daughter; aye, she posed for me.
That’s why I come and sit here every night.
The painting’s bad, but still–oh, still I see
Her little face all laughing in the light.
So now you understand.–I live in fear
Lest one like you should carry it away;
A poor, pot-boiling thing, but oh, how dear!
“Don’t let them buy it, pitying God!” I pray!
And hark ye, sir–sometimes my brain’s awhirl.
Some night I’ll crash into that window pane
And snatch my picture back, my little girl,
And run and run. . . .
I’m talking wild again;
A crab can’t run. I’m crippled, withered, lame,
Palsied, as good as dead all down one side.
No warning had I when the evil came:
It struck me down in all my strength and pride.
Triumph was mine, I thrilled with perfect power;
Honor was mine, Fame’s laurel touched my brow;
Glory was mine–within a little hour
I was a god and . . . what you find me now.
My child, that little, laughing girl you see,
She was my nurse for all ten weary years;
Her joy, her hope, her youth she gave for me;
Her very smiles were masks to hide her tears.
And I, my precious art, so rich, so rare,
Lost, lost to me–what could my heart but break!
Oh, as I lay and wrestled with despair,
I would have killed myself but for her sake. . . .