Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Form Destructionist—Sculptor
By Robert McAlmon
 
From “The Via Dolorosa of Art”

MANY moods—apathy tagged to the end of most—
Had gone into the carving of his masterpiece:
Lady with a three-cornered smile.
He groveled when a critic spoke of his
“Ironical incision, and sensitive cognition of inner essence.”        5
God!—he could not so facilely
Plumb for himself the dolorous enigma of his art.
Her obese countenance
Proclaimed his contempt for most of mankind—
At their best making an art of adaptation,        10
And at their worst …
Words signify nothing when silence is permissible.
 
Three times he had destroyed beginnings of his last work,
Fearing that they were not authentic expressions
Of impulses indigenous of his own contacts.        15
Given the alien substance of some trifling annoyance,
His nature could furnish nacre
For finer pearls of concept and of execution than these.
 
Some things of his, completed—
Minor things, not a discredit to him—but …        20
He shrugged an intellectual shoulder inwardly
When they were praised.
Certainly he knew
He’d caught the tigerish amative spirit
Of the over-pure in his Satyre Religieux;        25
But its blazing orbs, lecherous with lust-light,
Treacherously savage with repression,
Were too flamboyant a repetition of satire well done before.
The plastic suavity of his Enigmatic Nun,
With a smile of invitation upon her saintly lips,        30
Gratified his sense of attainment but slightly.
 
“Realism and truth be damned!” he was often heard to say—
“They are trite insistences.
What is the realism of a plasmic germ
Whose species we do not know?—        35
Creation is the only reality.”
Phantasmagorical statues almost emerged
From the gray draperies of his subconsciousness
At moments of such proclamation.
Everything in the universe swirled        40
Or went through his mind in fluid conceptions.
“There is no infinite—only our questions
Which are unreal until we answer them definitely;
Only space which our minds do not fill with forms.
But it is not of the ego … it does not exist.        45
I am my universe. What I know, exists.
What I do not know is not”—
He would say to his reflection in the mirror,
And it did not disconcert him with a refutation.
Whereupon impulses that were themselves masterpieces        50
Arose from the dormancy of his will.
He planned to put them into marble.
“Eternity is the metabolic process of the universal germ;
The universe is an organism …
Species the corpuscles in its blood, its veins;        55
My intellect is the skeleton of my universe”—
He told portraits upon the wall of his room.
They acquiesced.
Some day through the sweep of his imagination
He would come upon form, transcended        60
Beyond the limitation of line and contour.
 
Meanwhile … He worked on lesser things, recalling:
The tiny spotted fawn he had found in the woods—
A hunter must have killed its mother,
For hunger had robbed it of instinctive terror.        65
An inquisitive baby snout had sought his face
As he carried it in his arms—
Moist nose, little hungry tongue licking,
Luminous trustful eyes …
Tenderly he recalled the tiny thing        70
Which of course died, too young to eat as he could feed it.
So beautiful, so sweetly pathetic an impulse
Was in him,
He put it into marble in the form of an oval,
With dim lines to subtly suggest many possibilities—        75
New life, love, destruction.
He would always disdain visual reproduction.
 
Tiny lizards, antelope-like in grace,
That he had watched for days out on the desert,
Certainly could not be caught in cold hard stone        80
By showing them in any fixed postures.
Their alert listening bodies, when they stopped
In running through lavender sage-weed,
He had memorized in marble
By slender oblongs that bent upward in a quick angle.        85
 
Only because the unique shape of sea-horses
Fascinated him had he copied their likeness.
Twining two stallion-necked, worm-headed beasts
With watch-spring bodies together, he felt gratified
Believing he had them as they made love        90
In the marine garden’s tank.
Yet he was not sure that his tapering-based
Interrogation marks did not please his sense
Of the thing to be done with them in art the more.
And for these things to be called        95
“A symbolistic ironist!” He shuddered.
He trifling with that ephemeral quality—irony,
Doing a burlesque of the things that change!
“I have no religion but self—
Nothing I worship but my art,”        100
He told his quivering sensibilities to soothe them.
He knew there was lion passion in him
As well as lamb softness.
He would run the gamut of experience,
Then compress a year’s living into a gesture, a line;        105
So that his passion of resistance,
His thwarted longings amidst loneliness,
His cleansing of soiled actualities,
Had permanent expression in symbols
Sufficiently withdrawn not to be subjected        110
To the misinterpretations of the multitude.
 
Music that sent him forth
To walk across Brooklyn Bridge,
His heart caught between the pricks
Of pointed melodies,        115
His breast cold in the salt wind,
His wrists singing with the pain of being,
This music—
Flutes—cold water ringing on thin glass,
Sombre violins droning bee-tragedies—        120
He would hold these tonalities into being
For a longer time than it takes silence to seep them in.
He would put music into white marble—
Marble that sang;
And dancers—and colors—        125
These he would transform to marble too—
White marble—abstract of form.
But sensitive intuitions would recognize
The color, the motion, in them;
Attuned ears would hear the music        130
Of his white marble—
Gray-green-violet, magenta-orange-blue-yellow
Moss, melody, movement,
Caught in white marble,
Caught in the whiteness of abstraction,        135
Worshipful beauty for spiritual intimacies.
 
But this morning he could not speak to himself in the mirror.
Morning was a pathologic time of Time for him.
From his window he saw that hills were green,
But he did not care to explore their greenness.        140
After all, green is a slavery—
Green trees, then red-yellow, white;
Spring, summer, autumn, winter,
And after some years
Other trees come into the slavery of the same routine.        145
 
As for his sculpturing,
Well enough—
But what of his living?—
Between sunrise and sunrise any life is held pendulating.
What if a few stars are stitched        150
In the hem of the garment one cannot throw off—
The sky one cannot look far into?
What of his living—just to live?
Life swirled past him in a flowing stream—
Ebb the tide, flow the current—        155
Wind of Time:
The only thing existing the things in his mind,
And it a mind wild for freedom …
Wind-gust were dry leaves crackling,
Dust on his windowpanes.        160
 
He washed his teeth, and combed his hair;
He tied a colored cravat in a freshly linened collar.
In the mirror his face was a morbid picture,
Rather appealing perhaps—
Sullen with youth … grave with despondence.        165
But there was breakfast to have—
The day was never his without his coffee.
So he thought of coffee:
In his mind the universe—thinking
Alone of coffee—sieved his self-perceptions.        170
Coffee—with not too much cream and sugar.
 
 
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