I THOUGHT that silence would be best,|
But I a call have heard,
And, Victor, after all the rest,
I well might say a word:
The day and work is nearly done,
And ours the victory,
And we are resting, one by one,
In graveyards by the sea.
But then you talked of other nights,
When, gay from dusk to dawn,
You wasted hours with other lights
That went where you have gone.
You spoke not of the fair and “fast”,
But of the pure and true—
“Sweet ugly women of the past”
Who stood so well by you.
You made a jest on that last night,
I met it with a laugh:
You wondered which of us should write
The other’s epitaph.
We filled the glasses to the brim—
“The land’s own wine” you know—
And solemnly we drank to him
Who should be first to go.
No ribald jest; we were but two—
The royst’ring days were past—
And in our heart of hearts we knew,
That one was going fast.
We both knew who should win the race—
Were rest or fame the prize—
As with a quaint smile on your face
You looked into my eyes.
You talked about old struggles brave,
But in a saddened tone—
The swindles editors forgave
For laughter’s sake alone.
You talked of humorous distress,
And bailiffs that you knew,
But with a touch of bitterness
I’d never seen in you.
No need for tears or quick-caught breath—
You sleep not in the sand—
No need for ranting song of death,
With the death drink in our hand.
No need for vain invective hurled
At “cruel destiny”,
Though you seem dead to all the world
You are not dead to me.
I see you walk into the room—
We aye remember how—
And, looking back into the gloom,
You’ll smile about it now.
’Twas Victor’s entry, solemn style—
With verse or paragraph:
Though we so often saw your smile
How many heard you laugh?
They dare to write about the man
That they have never seen:
The blustering false Bohemian
That you have never been;
Some with the false note in their voice,
And with the false tear shed,
Who in their secret heart rejoice
For one more rival—dead.
They miss the poems, real and true,
Where your heart’s blood was shed.
And rave of reckless things that you
Threw out for bitter bread.
They “weep” and “worship” while you “rest”,
They drivel and they dote—
But, Victor, we remember best
The things we never wrote.
The things that lie between us two,
The things I’ll never tell.
A fool, I stripped my soul, but you—
You wore your mask too well
(How strangely human all men be,
Though each one plays a part).
You only dropped it once for me,
But then I saw your heart.
A souls’-match, such as one might strike
With or without intent
(How strangely all men are alike—
With masks so different).
No need to drop the mask again,
On that last night, I know—
It chanced when we were sober men,
Some seven years ago.
They slander you, fresh in the sand,
They slander me alive;
But, when their foul souls flee the land,
Our spirits shall arrive.
In slime and envy let them rave,
And let the worst be said:
“A drunkard at a drunkard’s grave,”
“A brilliant drunkard dead.”
Because we would not crawl to them,
Their hands we would not shake,
Because their greed we would condemn,
Their bribes we would not take:
Because unto the fair and true
Our hearts and songs we gave—
But I forgot them when I threw
My white flower on your grave.
So let us turn, and with a smile
Let those poor creatures pass
While we, the few who wait awhile,
Drink to an empty glass.
We’ll live as in the days gone by,
To no god shall we bow—
Though, Victor, there are times when I
Feel jealous of you now.
But I’ll have done with solemn songs,
Save for my country’s sake;
It is not meet, for all the wrongs,
That any heart should break.
So many need to weep and smile,
Though all the rest should frown,
That I’d take your burden up awhile
Where you have laid it down.