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Poem by Paul Hamilton Hayne

A Bachelor-Bookworms Complaint of the Late Presidential Election

A MAN of peace, I never dared to marry,
Lover of tranquil hours, I dwelt apart;
Outside the realm where noisy schemes miscarry;
My only handmaids, Science, Learning, Art;
Oh! home of pleasant thought, of calm affection,
All blasted now by this last vile election!

One morn, absorbed in studious contemplation
Of what or whom, I cannot now recall,
A strident voice, "Rise! help to save the nation!"
Roared in mine ear, half bellow and half squall;
"Throw by your books, why, man, there's treason brewing;
Come, come with me, we'll block the march of ruin!"

My neighbor, Dobson--all the gods confound him!
Seized, shook and hauled me from my cushioned seat;
(Just then I could have drugged the wretch, or drowned him
But the next moment on bewildered feet,
I trudged with him through dirty streets and weather,
That we might vote at the next poll together.

Vote! vote for whom? I'd not the faintest notion;
Little I recked of modern joys or woes;
Wrapped in Greek wars and ancient Rome's commotion,
What passed beneath my philosophic nose,
Seemed dim as glimmerings of a midnight taper
Marked from afar through autumn clouds and vapor!

At length we paused before a wood-work wicket,
Shrining the grimy guardian of the poll;
Into my hands they thrust a printed ticket,
An ink-besmeared, suspicious-looking scroll,
Which, ne'ertheless, held names of men whose action
Would cow--they swore--the brazen front of faction!

With scarce a glance, in vacant mood, I cast it;
That ticket soiled into as soiled a box;
A box, I thought, half vaguely as I passed it;
Whose guardian "Rough" looked wily as a fox,
Willing, no doubt, for any public hero,
To cheat ad lib.--a Brutus, or a Nero!

Well! from that day, my peace of life was shattered;
Dobson would come, all lowering or ablaze
With joy, to shout--(as if the issue mattered')
Now "Tilden's won!" now "glorious Ruthy Hayes!"
Vainly I argued, vainly vowed that d--n me,
I didn't care three straws for Ruth or--Sammy!

"Have I not Scipio and majestic Cato,
With their grand deeds to ponder yet?" I cried;
"Why, dunder-headed Dobson, will you prate so,
Of modern dwarfs of time and fate untried;"
"Untried!" quoth he, aghast at my iniquity;
"I'll back them both, by Jove! 'gainst all antiquity!"

And still he came, morning, and noon, and twilight,
Bringing, at last, his party henchmen too;
O! how I yearned to blow them through the skylight,
Or, at the gentlest, beat them black and blue;
Each cursed and threatened like some desperate Lara;
Meanwhile they quaffed and quaffed my best Madeira!

A point there is beyond the soul's defiance,
Which gained, a mortal man must fight, or fly;
Fight, if he knows the wily tricks of "science,"
Fly, if he knows not when to smite, and why;
Needless to say in this disastrous matter,
Of the two ways, I wisely chose,--the latter!

I left my home; I fled to shades suburban,
Where an old aunt, as deaf as twenty posts,
(A fine antique, bedecked with lace and turban,)
Lived in a house unknown to rats or ghosts;
There, far from party conflicts, proud or petty,
I dwell at peace, with sober Madame Betty!

At peace! good lack, the universal virus
Of party strife had captive made the air,
The light, the very sun-motes shifting nigh us,
And thus, alas! it entered even there;
Up, down her stairs, how oft had I to stump it,
Shrieking the news through her infernal trumpet.

Baffled, once more I sought the public pass-ways,
But then, from morn to midnight's "witching noon,"
Monotonous as when some blatant **** brays,
The same mixed clamors rose 'neath sun and moon;
Tilden and Hayes in never-ceasing wrangle.
Who the vexed "snarl" shall ever disentangle?

Bank, hall, and market, counting-house and alley,
Patrician parlor and low bar-room den,
Echoed, as 'twere, cries of retreat or rally,
From brassy throats of many thousand men;
Such foolish boasts were blent with threats as silly,
Yet even the wise men babbled--willy nilly.

The very nurse-maids with their baby charges,
Took sides, and squabbled; newsboys shouting loud,
Scuttled along the slippery pavement marges,
And burst like young bulls through the motley crowd
Of parsons, black-legs, dandies, hackmen, bummers;
Swollen each moment by some rash new comers!

Around the telegraph stands they surged and battled,
Till direful Hades seemed unloosed on earth,
Lies were exchanged, cudgels and brickbats rattled;
The veriest blackguard scorned the man of birth,
And tweaked his nose, or knocked his beaver double--
Ah me! the noise, the blows, the furious trouble!

I passed a gay "Bazaar," and glanced within it,
Of silks and satins, what a dazzling maze!
Fair tongues wore wagging smartly; every minute,
"Of course 'tis Tilden!" "nay, not so, 'tis Hayes!"
Rose, with the rustle of bright garments blending--
A strife of voices, eager and unending!

You'd scarce believe it, but maids fair and tender,
Dancing from school, the merest slips of girls,
Shrilled Hayes or Tilden, and with fingers slender,
Caught and dragged fiercely at each others' curls;
Ill words they spake--those inconsiderate misses--
From rosebud lips just framed for love and kisses!
. . . . .

Enough! the die is cast; from rage and riot,
I'll cross o'er mountain walls and ocean streams,
To seek and find again, that gracious quiet,
Whose charm hath left me, save in transient dreams;
In some far land and time, my spirit stilled then--
I may--who knows--forgive both Hayes and Tilden!

Paul Hamilton Hayne

Paul Hamilton Hayne's other poems:
  1. Too Oft the Poet in Elaborate Verse
  2. The Laughing Hours before Her Feet
  3. A Phantom in the Clouds
  4. O God! What Glorious Seasons Bless Thy World!
  5. A New Version of Why the Robins Breast Is Red

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