Poets' Corner Home

Selections from
Chimneysmoke


Dedication for a Fireplace
Taking Title
The Secret
Six Weeks Old
Reading Aloud
Only a Matter of Time
At the Mermaid Caffeteria
Our House
On Naming a House
The Miklman
The Old Swimmer
Washing the Dishes
The Church of Unbent Knees
Elegy Written in a Country Coal-Bin
Smells
Lines for an Eccentric's Book Plate
The Poet
To a Child
To an Old-Fashioned Poet
Burning Leaves in Spring
Burning Leaves, November
Hostages
Two O'Clock
The Commercial Traveler
The Wedded Lover
To You, Remembering the Past
Caught in the Undertow
Tit for Tat
Song for a Little House
The Music Box
To a Discarded Mirror (original)
To a Discarded Mirror (reversed)
To a Telephone Operator Who Has a Bad Cold
Nursery Rhymes for the Tender-Hearted
The Last Sonnet
The Telephone Directory
At a Movie Theatre
Do You Ever Feel Like God?
Rapid Transit
The Intruder


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© 2008 S.L. Spanoudis and
theotherpages.org.
All rights reserved worldwide.
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Selections from

Chimneysmoke

by
Christopher Morley

[1921]

Illustrated

by
Thomas Fogarty

. Dedication for a Fireplace

    THIS hearth was built for thy delight,
    For thee the logs were sawn,
    For thee the largest chair, at night,
    Is to the chimney drawn.

    For thee, dear lass, the match was lit
    To yield the ruddy blaze--
    May Jack Frost give us joy of it
    For many, many days.

    Christopher Morley

. Taking Title

    TO make this little house my very own
    Could not be done by law alone.
    Though covenant and deed convey
    Absolute fee, as lawyers say,
    There are domestic rites beside
    By which this house is sanctified.

    By kindled fire upon the hearth,
    By planted pansies in the garth,
    By food, and by the quiet rest
    Of those brown eyes that I love best,
    And by a friends bright gift of wine,
    I dedicate this house of mine.

    When all but I are soft abed
    I trail about my quiet stead
    A wreath of blue tobacco smoke
    (A charm that evil never broke)
    And bring my ritual to an end
    By giving shelter to a friend.

    This done, O dwelling, you become
    Not just a house, but truly Home!

    Christopher Morley

. The Secret

    IT was the House of Quietness
    To which I came at dusk;
    The garth was lit with roses
    And heavy with their musk.

    The tremulous tall poplar trees
    Stood whispering around,
    The gentle flicker of their plumes
    More quiet than no sound.

    And as I wondered at the door
    What magic might be there,
    The Lady of Sweet Silences
    Came softly down the stair.

    Christopher Morley

. Six Weeks Old

    HE is so small he does not know
    The summer sun, the winter snow;
    The spring that ebbs and comes again,
    All this is far beyond his ken.

    A little world he feels and sees:
    His mother's arms, his mother's knees;
    He hides his face against her breast,
    And does not care to learn the rest.

    Christopher Morley

. Reading Aloud

    ONCE we read Tennyson aloud
    In our great fireside chair;
    Between the lines my lips could touch
    Her April-scented hair.

    How very fond I was, to think
    The printed poems fair,
    When close within my arms I held
    A living lyric there!

    Christopher Morley

. Only a Matter of Time

    DOWN-SLIPPING Time, sweet, swift, and shallow stream,
    Here, like a boulder, lies this afternoon
    Across your eager flow. So you shall stay,
    Deepened and dammed, to let me breathe and be.
    Your troubled fluency, your running gleam
    Shall pause, and circle idly, still and clear:
    The while I lie and search your glassy pool
    Where, gently coiling in their lazy round,
    Unseparable minutes drift and swim,
    Eddy and rise and brim. And I will see
    How many crystal bubbles of slack Time
    The mind can hold and cherish in one Now!

    Now, for one conscious vacancy of sense,
    The stream is gathered in a deepening pond,
    Not a mere moving mirror. Through the sharp
    Correct reflection of the standing scene
    The mind can dip, and cleanse itself with rest,
    And see, slow spinning in the lucid gold,
    Your liquid notes, imperishable Time.

    It cannot be. The runnel slips away:
    The clear smooth downward sluice begins again,
    More brightly slanting for that trembling pause,
    Leaving the sense its conscious vague unease
    As when a sonnet flashes on the mind,
    Trembles and burns an instant, and is gone.

    Christopher Morley

. At the Mermaid Cafeteria

    TRUTH is enough for prose:
    Calmly it goes
    To tell just what it knows.

    For verse, skill will suffice--
    Delicate, nice
    Casting of verbal dice.

    Poetry, men attain
    By subtler pain
    More flagrant in the brain--

    An honesty unfeigned,
    A heart unchained,
    A madness well restrained.

    Christopher Morley

. Our House

    IT should be yours, if I could build
    The quaint old dwelling I desire,
    With books and pictures bravely filled
    And chairs beside an open fire,
    White-panelled rooms with candles lit--
    I lie awake to think of it!

    A dial for the sunny hours,
    A garden of old-fashioned flowers--
    Say marigolds and lavender
    And mignonette and fever-few,
    And Judas-tree and maidenhair
    And candytuft and thyme and rue--
    All these for you to wander in.

    A Chinese carp (called Mandarin)
    Waving a sluggish silver fin
    Deep in the moat: so tame he comes
    To lip your fingers offering crumbs.
    Tall chimneys, like long listening ears,
    White shutters, ivy green and thick,
    And walls of ruddy Tudor brick
    Grown mellow with the passing years.

    And windows with small leaded panes,
    Broad window-seats for when it rains;
    A big blue bowl of pot pourri
    And--yes, a Spanish chestnut tree
    To coin the autumn's minted gold.
    A summer house for drinking tea--
    All these (just think!) for you and me.

    A staircase of the old black wood
    Cut in the days of Robin Hood,
    And banisters worn smooth as glass
    Down which your hand will lightly pass;
    A piano with pale yellow keys
    For wistful twilight melodies,
    And dusty bottles in a bin--
    All these for you to revel in!

    But when? Ah well, until that time
    We'll habit in this house of rhyme.

    1912

    Christopher Morley

. On Naming a House

    WHEN I a householder became
    I had to give my house a name.

    I thought I'd call it "Poplar Trees,"
    Or "Widdershins" or "Velvet Bees,"
    Or "Just Beneath a Star."
    Or "As You Like It," "If You Please,"
    Or "Nicotine" or "Bread and Cheese,"
    "Full Moon" or "Doors Ajar."

    But still I sought some subtle charm,
    Some rune to guard my roof from harm
    And keep the devil far;
    A thought of this, and I was saved!
    I had my letter-heads engraved
    The House Where Brown Eyes Are.

    Christopher Morley

. The Milkman

    EARLY in the morning, when the dawn is on the roofs,
    You hear his wheels come rolling, you hear his horses hoofs;
    You hear the bottles clinking, and then he drives away:
    You yawn in bed, turn over, and begin another day!

    The old-time dairy maids are dear to every poet's heart--
    I'd rather be the dairy man and drive a little cart,
    And bustle round the village in the early morning blue,
    And hang my reigns upon a hook, as I've seen Casey do.

    Christopher Morley

. The Old Swimmer

    I OFTEN wander on the beach
    Where once, so brown of limb,
    The biting air, the roaring surf
    Summoned me to swim.

    I see my old abundant youth
    Where combers lean and spill,
    And though I taste the foam no more
    Other swimmers will.

    Oh, good exultant strength to meet
    The arching wall of green,
    To break the crystal, swirl, emerge
    Dripping, taut, and clean.

    To climb the moving hilly blue,
    To dive in ecstasy
    And feel the salty chill embrace
    Arm and rib and knee.

    What brave and vanished laughter then
    And tingling thighs to run,
    What warm and comfortable sands
    Dreaming in the sun.

    The crumbling water spreads in snow,
    The surf is hissing still,
    And though I kiss the salt no more,
    Other swimmers will.

    Christopher Morley

. Washing the Dishes

    WHEN we on simple rations sup
    How easy is the washing up!
    But heavy feeding complicates
    The task by soiling many plates.

    And though I grant that I have prayed
    That we might find a serving-maid,
    I'd scullion all my days I think,
    To see Her smile across the sink!

    I wash, she wipes. In water hot
    I souse each pan and dish and pot;
    While taffy mutters, purrs, and begs,
    And rubs himself against my legs.

    The man who never in his life
    Has washed the dishes with his wife
    Or polished up the silver plate--
    He still is largely celibate.

    One warning: there is certain ware
    That must be handled with all care:
    The Lord Himself will give you up
    If you should drop a willow cup!

    Christopher Morley

. The Church of Unbent Knees

    AS I went by the church to-day
    I heard the organ cry;
    And goodly folk were on their knees,
    But I went striding by.

    My minister hath a roof more vast:
    My aisles are oak-trees high;
    My altar-cloth is on the hills,
    My organ is the sky.

    I see my rood upon the clouds,
    The winds, my chanted choir;
    My crystal windows, heaven-glazed,
    Are stained with sunset fire.

    The stars, the thunder, and the rain,
    White sands and purple seas--
    These are His pulpit and His pew,
    My God of Unbent Knees!

    Christopher Morley

. Elegy Written in a Country Coal-Bin

    THE furnace tolls the knell of falling steam,
    The coal supply is virtually done,
    And at this price, indeed it does not seem
    As though we could afford another ton.

    Now fades the glossy, cherished anthracite;
    The radiators lose their temperature:
    How ill avail, on such a frosty night,
    The "short and simple flannels of the poor."

    Though in the icebox, fresh and newly laid,
    The rude forefathers of the omelet sleep,
    No eggs for breakfast till the bill is paid:
    We cannot cook again till coal is cheap.

    Can Morris-chair or papier-mâché bust
    Revivify the falling pressure-gage?
    Chop up the grand piano if you must,
    And burn the East Aurora parrot cage!

    Full many a can of purest kerosene
    The dark unfathomed tanks of Standard Oil
    Shall furnish me, and with their aid I mean
    To bring my morning coffee to a boil.

    Christopher Morley

. Smells

    WHY is it that the poet tells
    So little of the sense of smell?
    These are the odors I love well:

    The smell of coffee freshly ground;
    Or rich plum pudding, holly crowned;
    Or onions fried and deeply browned.

    The fragrance of a fumy pipe;
    The smell of apples, newly ripe;
    And printer's ink on leaden type.

    Woods by moonlight in September
    Breathe most sweet, and I remember
    Many a smoky camp-fire ember.

    Camphor, turpentine, and tea,
    The balsam of a Christmas tree,
    These are whiffs of gramarye. . .
    A ship smells best of all to me!

    Christopher Morley

. Lines for an Eccentric's Book Plate

    TO use my books all friends are bid:
    My shelves are open for 'em;
    And in each one, As Grolier did,
    I write Et Amicorum.

    All lovely things in truth belong
    To him who best employs them;
    The house, the picture, and the song
    Are his who most enjoys them.

    Perhaps this book holds precious lore,
    And you may best discern it.
    If you appreciate it more
    Than I -- why don't return it!

    Christopher Morley

. The Poet

    THE barren music of a word or phrase,
    The futile arts of syllable and stress,
    He sought. The poetry of common days
    He did not guess.

    The simplest, sweetest rhythms life affords--
    Unselfish love, true effort truly done,
    The tender themes that underlie all words--
    He knew not one.

    The human cadence and the subtle chime
    Of little laughters, home and child and wife,
    He knew not. Artist merely in his rhyme,
    Not in his life.

    Christopher Morley

. To A Child

    THE greatest poem ever known
    Is one all poets have outgrown:
    The poetry, innate, untold,
    Of being only four years old.

    Still young enough to be a part
    Of Nature's great impulsive heart,
    Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree
    And unselfconscious as the bee--

    And yet with lovely reason skilled
    Each day new paradise to build;
    Elate explorer of each sense,
    Without dismay, without pretense!

    In your unstained transparent eyes
    There is no conscience, no surprise:
    Life's queer conundrums you accept,
    Your strange divinity still kept.

    Being, that now absorbs you, all
    Harmonious, unit, integral,
    Will shred into perplexing bits,--
    Oh, contradictions of the wits!

    And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,
    may make you poet, too, in time--
    But there were days, O tender elf,
    When you were Poetry itself!

    Christopher Morley

. To an Old-Fashioned Poet

    Lizette Woodworth Reese)

    MOST tender poet, when the gods confer
    They save your gracile songs a nook apart,
    And bless with Time's untainted lavender
    The ageless April of your singing heart.

    You, in an age unbridled, ne'er declined
    The appointed patience that the Muse decrees,
    Until, deep in the flower of the mind,
    The hovering woods alight, like bridegroom bees.

    By casual praise or casual blame unstirred
    The placid gods grant gifts where they belong:
    To you, who understand, the perfect word,
    The recompensed necessities of song.

    Christopher Morley

. Burning Leaves in Spring

    WHEN withered leaves are lost in flame
    Their eddying gosts, a thin blue haze,
    Blow through the thickets whence they came
    On amberlucent autumn days.

    The cool green woodland heart receives
    Their dim, dissolving, phantom breath;
    In young hereditary leaves
    They see their happy life-in-death.

    My minutes perish as they glow--
    Time burns my crazy bonfire through;
    But ghosts of blackened hours still blow,
    Eternal Beauty, back to you!

    Christopher Morley

. Burning Leaves, November

    THESE are the folios of April,
    All the library of spring,
    Missals gilt and rubricated
    With the frost's illumining.

    Ruthless, we destroy these treasures,
    Set the torch with hand profane--
    Gone, like Alexandrian vellums,
    Like the books of burnt Louvain!

    Yet these classics are immortal:
    O collectors, have no fear,
    For the publisher will issue
    New editions every year.

    Christopher Morley

. Hostages

    "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune"--BACON

    AYE Fortune, thou hast hostage of my best!
    I, that was once so heedless of thy frown,
    Have armed thee cap-à-pie to strike me down,
    Have given thee blades to hold against my breast.
    My virtue, that was once all self-possessed,
    Is parceled out in little hands, and brown
    Bright eyes, and in a sleeping baby's gown:
    To threaten these will put me to the test.

    Sure, since there are these pitiful poor chinks
    Upon the makeshift armor of my heart,
       For thee no honor lies in such a fight!
    And thou wouldst shame to vanquish one, me-thinks,
    Who came awake with such a painful start
       To hear the coughing of a child at night.

    Christopher Morley

. Two O'Clock

    Night after night goes by: and clocks still chime
    And stars are changing pattrns in the dark
    And watches tick, and over-puissant Time
    Benumbs the eager brain. The dogs that bark,
    The trains that roar and rattle in the night,
    The very cats that prowl, all quiet find
    And leave the darkness empty, silent quite:
    Sleep comes to chloroform the fretting mind.

    So all things end: and what is left at last?
    Some scribbled sonnets tossed upon the floor,
    A memory of easy days gone past,
    A run-down watch, a pipe, some clothes we wore--
    And in the darkened room I lean to know
    How her dreamless breath doth pause and flow.

    Christopher Morley

. The Commercial Traveler

    AH very sweet! If news should come to you
    Some afternoon while waiting for our eve,
    That the great Manager had made me leave
    To travel on some territory new;
    And that, whatever homeward winds there blew,
    I could not touch your hand again, nor heave
    The logs upon our hearth and bid you weave
    Some wistful tale before the flames that grew. . .

    Then, when the sudden tears had ceased to blind
    Your pansied eyes, I wonder if you could
    Remember rightly, and forget aright?
    Remember just your lad, uncouthly good,
    Forgetting what he failed in spleen or spite?
    Could you remember him as always kind?

    Christopher Morley

. The Wedded Lover

    I READ in our old journals of the days
    When our first love was April-sweet and new,
    How fair it blossomed and deep-rooted grew
    Despite the adverse time; and our amaze
    At moon and stars and beauty beyond praise
    That burgeoned all about us: gold and blue
    The heaven arched us in, and all we knew
    Was gentleness. We walked on happy ways.

    They said by now the path would be more steep,
    the sunsets paler and less mild the air;
    Rightly we heeded not; it was not true.
    We will not tell the secret--let it keep.
    I know not how I thought those days so fair
    These being so much fairer, spent with you.

    Christopher Morley

. To You, Remembering the Past

    WHEN we were parted, sweet, and darkness came,
    I used to strike a match, and hold the flame
    Before your picture and would breathless mark
    The answering glimmer of the tiny spark
    That brought to life the magic of your eyes,
    Their wistful tenderness, their glad surprise.

    Holding that mimic torch before your shrine
    I used to light your eyes and make them mine;
    Watch them like stars set in a lonely sky,
    Whisper my heart out, yearning for reply;
    Summon your lips from far across the sea
    Bidding them live a twilight hour with me.

    Then, when the match was shrivelled into gloom,
    Lo--you were with me in the darkened room.

    Christopher Morley

. Caught in the Undertow

    COLIN, worshipping some frail,
    By self-deception sways her:
    Calls himself unworthy male,
    Hardly even fit to praise her.

    But this tactic insincere
    In the upshot greatly grieves him
    When he finds the lovely dear
    Quite implicitly believes him.

    Christopher Morley

. The Intruder

    AS I sat, to sift my dreaming
    To the meet and needed word,
    Came a merry Interruption
    With insistence to be heard.

    Smiling stood a maid beside me,
    Half alluring and half shy;
    Soft the white hint of her bosom--
    Escapade was in her eye.

    "I must not be so invaded,"
    (IN anger then I cried)--
    "Can't you see that I am busy?
    Tempting creature, stay outside!

    "Pearly rascal, I am writing:
    I am now composing verse--
    Fie on antic invitation:
    Wanton, vanish--fly--disperse!

    "Baggage, in my godlike moment
    What have I to do with thee?"
    And she laughed as she departed--
    "I am Poetry," said she.

    Christopher Morley

. Tit for Tat

    I OFTEN pass a gracious tree
    Whose name I can't identify,
    But still I bow, in courtesy
    It waves a bough, in kind reply.

    I do not know your name, O tree
    (Are you a hemlock or a pine?)
    But why should that embarrass me?
    Quite probably you don't know mine.

    Christopher Morley

. Song for a Little House

    I'M glad our house is a little house,
    Not too tall nor too wide:
    I'm glad the hovering butterflies
    Feel free to come inside.

    Our little house is a friendly house.
    It is not shy or vain;
    It gossips with the talking trees,
    And makes friends with the rain.

    And quick leaves cast a shimmer of green
    Against our whited walls,
    And in the phlox, the courtious bees
    Are paying duty calls.

    Christopher Morley

. The Music Box

    AT six--long ere the wintry dawn--
    There sounded through the silent hall
    To where I lay, with blankets drawn
    Above my ears, a plaintive call.

    The Urchin, in the eagerness
    Of three years old, could not refrain;
    Awake, he straightway yearned to dress
    And frolic with his clockwork train.

    I heard him with a sullen shock.
    His sister, by her usual plan,
    Had piped us aft at 3 o'clock--
    I vowed to quench the little man.

    I leaned above him, somewhat stern,
    And spoke, I fear, with emphasis--
    Ah, how much better, parents learn,
    To seal one's censure with a kiss!

    Again the house was dark and still,
    Again I lay in slumber's snare,
    When down the hall I heard a trill,
    A tiny, tinkling, tuneful air--

    His music-box! His best-loved toy,
    His crib companion every night;
    And now he turned to it for joy
    While waiting for the lagging light.

    How clear, and how absurdly sad
    Those tingling pricks of sound unrolled;
    They chirped and quavered, as the lad
    His lonely little heart consoled.

    Columbia, the Ocean's Gem--
    (Its only tune) shrilled sweet and faint.
    He cranked the chimes, admiring them,
    In vigil gay, without complaint.

    The treble music piped and stirred,
    The leaping air that was his bliss;
    And, as I most contritely heard,
    I thanked the all-unconscious Swiss!

    The needled jets of melody
    Rang slowlier and died away--
    The Urchin slept; and it was I
    Who lay and waited for the day.

    Christopher Morley

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Bookshelf Edition Scripting © 2008 S.L. Spanoudis and theotherpages.org.
All rights reserved worldwide.