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Famous Poems from Bygone Days
By Martin Gardner
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1995 Martin Gardner
All rights reserved.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
BORN IN BRAINTREE (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of the second president of the United States, John Quincy Adams became the sixth president. As Secretary of State he was responsible for the Monroe Doctrine.
Not many know that Adams was a professor of rhetoric at Harvard, his alma mater, and that he was a writer of copious prose and verse. A portion of his diary was published in twelve volumes!
Only one poem, "The Wants of Man," became famous. It is said to have first been published in an Albany newspaper, though I do not know the details, and can be found in Adams's Poems of Religion and Society (1848). Its twenty-five stanzas are seldom given entire. The first two lines are quoted from Oliver Goldsmith's The Hermit, which appears in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766).
The Wants of Man
"Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long."
'Tis not with me exactly so;
But 'tis so in my song.
My wants are many and, if told,
Would muster many a score;
And were each wish a mint of gold,
I still should long for more.
What first I want is daily bread—
And canvas-backs—and wine—
And all the realms of nature spread
Before me, when I dine.
Four courses scarcely can provide
My appetite to quell;
With four choice cooks from France beside,
To dress my dinner well.
What next I want, at princely cost,
Is elegant attire:
Black sable furs for winter's frost,
And silks for summer's fire,
And Cashmere shawls, and Brussels lace
My bosom's front to deck,—
And diamond rings my hands to grace,
And rubies for my neck.
And then I want a mansion fair,
A dwelling-house, in style,
Four stories high, for wholesome air—
A massive marble pile;
With halls for banquetings and balls,
All furnish'd rich and fine;
With high-blood studs in fifty stalls,
And cellars for my wine.
I want a garden and a park,
My dwelling to surround—
A thousand acres, (bless the mark!)
With walls encompassed round—
Where flocks may range and herds may low,
And kids and lambkins play,
And flowers and fruits commingled grow,
All Eden to display.
I want, when summer's foliage falls,
And autumn strips the trees,
A house within the city's walls,
For comfort and for ease;
But here, as space is somewhat scant,
And acres somewhat rare,
My house in town I only want
To occupy—a square.
I want a steward, butler, cooks;
A coachman, footman, grooms;
A library of well-bound books,
And picture-garnish'd rooms;
Corregio's Magdalen and Night,
The Matron of the Chair;
Guido's fleet coursers in their flight,
And Claudes, at least a pair.
I want a cabinet profuse
Of medals, coins, and gems;
A printing-press for private use,
Of fifty thousand ems;
And plants, and minerals, and shells;
Worms, insects, fishes, birds;
And every beast on earth that dwells
In solitude or herds.
I want a board of burnish'd plate,
Of silver and of gold;
Tureens of twenty pounds in weight,
And sculpture's richest mould;
Plateaus, with chandeliers and lamps,
Plates, dishes—all the same;
And porcelain vases, with the stamps
Of Sèvres and Angouleme.
And maples of fair glossy stain,
Must form my chamber doors,
And carpets of the Wilton grain
Must cover all my floors;
My walls with tapestry bedeck'd,
Must never be outdone;
And damask curtains must protect
Their colours from the sun.
And mirrors of the largest pane
From Venice must be brought;
And sandal-wood and bamboo cane,
For chairs and tables bought;
On all the mantel-pieces, clocks
Of thrice-gilt bronze must stand,
And screens of ebony and box
Invite the stranger's hand.
I want (who does not want?) a wife,—
Affectionate and fair;
To solace all the woes of life,
And all its joys to share.
Of temper sweet, of yielding will,
Of firm, yet placid mind,—
With all my faults to love me still
With sentiment refined.
And as Time's car incessant runs,
And Fortune fills my store,
I want of daughters and of sons
From eight to half a score.
I want (alas! can mortal dare
Such bliss on earth to crave?)
That all the girls be chaste and fair,
The boys all wise and brave.
And when my bosom's darling sings,
With melody divine,
A pedal harp of many strings
Must with her voice combine.
Piano, exquisitely wrought,
Must open stand apart,
That all my daughters may be taught
To win the stranger's heart.
My wife and daughters will desire
Refreshment from perfumes,
Cosmetics for the skin require,
And artificial blooms.
The civet fragrance shall dispense,
And treasured sweets return;
Cologne revive the flagging sense,
And smoking amber burn.
And when at night my weary head
Begins to droop and doze,
A chamber south, to hold my bed,
For nature's soft repose;
With blankets, counterpanes, and sheet,
Mattress, and sack of down,
And comfortables for my feet,
And pillows for my crown.
I want a warm and faithful friend,
To cheer the adverse hour;
Who ne'er to flatter will descend,
Nor bend the knee to power,—
A friend to chide me when I'm wrong,
My inmost soul to see;
And that my friendship prove as strong
For him as his for me.
I want a kind and tender heart,
For others' wants to feel;
A soul secure from fortune's dart,
And bosom arm'd with steel;
To bear divine chastisement's rod,
And, mingling in my plan,
Submission to the will of God,
With charity to man.
I want a keen observing eye,
An ever-listening ear,
The truth through all disguise to spy,
And wisdom's voice to hear:
A tongue, to speak at virtue's need,
In heaven's sublimest strain;
And lips, the cause of man to plead,
And never plead in vain.
I want uninterrupted health,
Throughout my long career,
And streams of never-failing wealth,
To scatter far and near—
The destitute to clothe and feed,
Free bounty to bestow,
Supply the helpless orphan's need,
And soothe the widow's woe.
I want the genius to conceive,
The talents to unfold,
Designs, the vicious to retrieve,
The virtuous to uphold;
Inventive power, combining skill,
A persevering soul,
Of human hearts to mould the will,
And reach from pole to pole.
I want the seals of power and place,
The ensigns of command;
Charged by the People's unbought grace
To rule my native land.
Nor crown nor scepter would I ask
But from my country's will,
By day, by night, to ply the task
Her cup of bliss to fill.
I want the voice of honest praise
To follow me behind,
And to be thought in future days
The friend of human kind,
That after ages, as they rise,
Exulting may proclaim
In choral union to the skies
Their blessings on my name.
These are the Wants of mortal Man,—
I cannot want them long,
For life itself is but a span,
And earthly bliss—a song.
My last great Want—absorbing all—
Is, when beneath the sod,
And summoned to my final call,
The Mercy of my God.
And oh! while circles in my veins
Of life the purple stream,
And yet a fragment small remains
Of nature's transient dream,
My soul, in humble hope unseared,
Forget not thou to pray,
That this, THY WANT, may be prepared
To meet the Judgment Day.
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH
BORN IN PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire, Aldrich spent most of his life in New York City and Boston as a popular poet, novelist, essayist, playwright and author of short stories. He also edited several newspapers and magazines in the two cities, including the Atlantic Monthly, where he spent ten years as editor. His well-polished lyrics were collected in half a dozen volumes.
Aldrich intensely disliked the free verse of Walt Whitman, and Whitman had an equally low opinion of Aldrich's poems. "Yes, Tom," he once said, "I like your tinkles. I like them very well."
"Memory" was perhaps Aldrich's best known lyric. It was much admired by Whittier, who said it aroused "a pleasure that is very near pain in its intensity."
My mind lets go a thousand things,
Like dates of wars and deaths of kings,
And yet recalls the very hour—
'T was noon by yonder village tower,
And on the last blue noon in May
The wind came briskly up this way,
Crisping the brook beside the road;
Then, pausing here, set down its load
Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly
Two petals from that wild-rose tree.
ANONYMOUS POEMS, as they traveled from one newspaper to another, underwent many changes. "The Hell-Bound Train" is no exception. I have taken a version that I found in an old scrapbook and combined it with the one in Hazel Felleman's The Best Loved Poems of the American People (1936). Felleman's version changes "Tom Gray" to "A Texas Cowboy," and includes three stanzas not contained in the scrapbook's clipping. Where lines differ, I have selected those that scan the best.
Granger's Index to Poetry says the poem has been attributed to J. W. Pruitte, but I have never seen it with this byline.
The Hell-Bound Train
Tom Gray lay on the bar room floor,
Having drunk so much he could drink no more.
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain,
And dreamed that he rode on a hell-bound train.
The engine with blood was red and damp,
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp;
For fuel, an imp was shoveling bones,
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.
The boiler was filled with lager beer,
And the devil himself was the engineer.
The passengers made such a motley crew—
Church members, Atheist, Gentile and Jew.
Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags;
Handsome young ladies and withered old hags;
Yellow and black men, red, brown and white—
All chained together! What a terrible sight.
While the train rushed on at an awful pace—
The sulphurous fumes scorched hands and face;
Wider and wider the country grew,
As faster and faster the engine flew.
Louder and louder the thunder crashed
And brighter and brighter the lightning flashed;
Hotter and hotter the air became
Till the clothes were burned from each quivering frame.
And out of the distance there arose a yell,
"Ha, ha," said the devil, "we're nearing hell!"
Then oh, how the passengers shrieked with pain
And begged the devil to stop the train.
But he capered about, and sang in his glee,
And laughed and joked at their agony.
"My faithful friends, you have done my work,
And the devil can never a pay-day shirk.
"You have bullied the weak, and robbed the poor,
And the starving brother turned from your door.
You have laid up gold where the canker rusts,
And given free vent to your fleshly lusts.
"You have justice scorned, and corruptions sown,
And trampled the law of nature down.
You have drank and rioted, murdered and lied,
And mocked at God in your hell-born pride.
"You have paid full fare, so I'll carry you through,
For it's only just you should get your due.
Why, the laborer always expects his hire,
So I'll land you safe in the lake of fire.
"Where your flesh shall roast in the flames that roar,
And my imps torment you forever more."
Then Tom awoke with an anguished cry,
Clothes soaked with sweat and his hair standing high.
And he prayed as never before that hour,
To be saved from drink and the devil's power,
And his vows and prayers were not in vain,
For he never more rode on a hell-bound train.
I HAVE NO IDEA where this tender poem first appeared or who the author was. Burton Stevenson, in his monumental Home Book of Verse (1922), titles it "Forty Years Ago" and credits it to one Francis Huston, about whom he says he has no biographical information. Hazel Felleman, in The Best Loved Poems of the American People gives it the byline of Dill Armor Smith, whoever he is. Granger's Index to Poetry calls the author "unknown," and so does The Fireside Book of Poetry (1878), edited by Henry Coates, and The Speaker's Garland, 1, no. 3 (1872). Music for the poem, by William Willing, can be found in Heart Songs (1909).
I had a great-uncle who taught me the knife game mentioned in the fourth stanza. It is known as mumblety-peg or mumble-the-peg. A pocket knife is flipped off each finger, wrist, elbow, shoulder, chin and other parts of the body so that it falls and sticks in the ground. The loser is obliged to pull out with his teeth a peg that has been driven firmly into the dirt.
Excerpted from Famous Poems from Bygone Days by Martin Gardner. Copyright © 1995 Martin Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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