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A Portrait

Now I’m not usually one to share my artistic and literary side and in full myspace page logic, I’m going to express my feelings using someone else’s words.

I can’t remember when I first heard this poem, but it’s stuck with me for years….not all of it mind, but snippets, particularly the “Unless to speculate…” verse

anyway, enjoy….

A Portrait

Old: yet unchanged — still pottering in his thoughts;
Still eagerly enslaved by books and print;
Less plagued, perhaps, by rigid musts and oughts,
But no less frantic in vain argument;

Still happy as a child, with its small toys,
Over his inkpot and his bits and pieces–
Life’s arduous, fragile, and ingenuous joys,
Whose charm failed never — nay it even increases!

Ev’n happier in watch of bird or flower,
Rainbow in heaven, or bud on thorny spray,
A star-strewn nightfall, and that heart-break hour
Of sleep-drowsed senses between dawn and day;

Loving the light-laved eyes in those wild hues!
And dryad twilight, and the thronging dark;
A Crusoe ravished by mere solitude–
And silence — edged with music’s faintest Hark!

And any chance-seen face whose loveliness
Hovers, a mystery, between dream and real;
Things usual yet miraculous that bless
And overwell a heart that still can feel;

Haunted by questions no man answered yet;
Pining to leap from A clean to Z;
Absorbed by problems which the wise forget;
Avid for fantasy — yet how staid a head!

Senses at daggers with his intellect;
Quick, stupid; vain, retiring; ardent, cold;
Faithful and fickle; rash and circumspect;
And never yet at rest in any fold;

Punctual at meals; a spendthrift, close as Scot;
Rebellious, tractable, childish — long gone grey!
Impatient, volatile, tongue wearying not –
Loose, too; which yet, thank heaven, was taught to pray;

‘Childish’ indeed! a waif on shingle shelf
Fronting the rippled sands, the sun, the sea;
And nought but his marooned precarious self
For questing consciousness and will-to-be;

A feeble venturer — in a world so wide!
So rich in action, daring, cunning, strife!
You’d think, poor soul, he had taken Sloth for bride,
Unless the imagined is the breath of life;

Unless to speculate bring virgin gold,
And Let’s-pretend can range the seven seas,
And dreams are not mere tales by idiots told,
And tongueless truth may hide in fantasies;

Unless the alone may their own company find,
And churchyards harbour phantoms ‘mid their bones,
And even a daisy may suffice a mind
Whose bindweed can redeem a heap of stones;

Too frail a basket for so many eggs–
Loose-woven: Gosling? cygnet? Laugh or weep?
Or is the cup at richest in its dregs?
The actual realest on the verge of sleep?

One yet how often the prey of doubt and fear,
Of bleak despondence, stark anxiety;
Ardent for what is neither now nor here,
An Orpheus fainting for Eurydice;

Not yet inert, but with a tortured breast
At hint of that bleak gulf — his last farewell
Pining for peace, assurance, pause, and rest,
Yet slave to what he loves past words to tell;

A foolish, fond old man, his bed-time nigh,
Who still at western window stays to win
A transient respite from the latening sky,
And scarce can bear it when the Sun goes in.

-Walter de la Mare

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