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.
 
Impulsive Dialogue
By Maxwell Bodenheim
 
From “Sappho Answers Aristotle”

Poet.  WILL you, like other men,
      Offer me indigo indignities?
Undertaker.  Indigo indignities!
      The words are like a mermaid and a saint
      Doubting each other’s existence with a kiss.        5
Poet.  The words of most men kiss
      With satiated familiarity.
      Indigo is dark and vehement,
      But one word in place of two
      Angers barmaids and critics.        10
Undertaker.  Straining after originality,
      You argue with its ghost!
      A simple beauty, like morning
      Harnessed by a wide sparkle
      And plodding into the hearts of men,        15
      Cannot reach your frantic juggling.
Poet.  I can appreciate
      The spontaneous redundancy of nature
      Without the aid of an echo
      From men who lack her impersonal size.        20
Undertaker.  The sweeping purchase of an evening
      By an army of stars;
      The bold incoherence of love;
      The peaceful mountain-roads of friendship—
      These things evade your dexterous epigrams!        25
Poet.  A statue, polished and large,
      Dominates when it stands alone.
      Placed in a huge profusion of statues,
      Its outlines become humiliated.
      Simplicity demands one gesture        30
      And men give it endless thousands.
      Complexity wanders through a forest,
      Glimpsing details in the gloom.
Undertaker.  I do not crave the dainty pleasure
      Of chasing ghosts in a forest!        35
      Nor do I care to pluck
      Exaggerated mushrooms in the gloom.
      I have lost myself on roads
      Crossed by tossing hosts of men.
      Pain and anger have scorched our slow feet:        40
      Peace has washed our foreheads.
Poet.  Futility, massive and endless,
      Captures a stumbling grandeur
      Embalmed in history.
      In my forest you could see this        45
      From a distance, and lose
      Your limited intolerance.
      Simplicity and subtlety
      At different times are backgrounds for each other,
      Changing with the position of our eyes….        50
      Death will burn your eyes
      With his taciturn complexity.
Undertaker.  Death will strike your eyes
      With his wild simplicity!
Poet.  Words are soldiers of fortune        55
      Hired by different ideas
      To provide an importance for life.
      But within the glens of silence
      They meet in secret peace….
      Undertaker, do you make of death        60
      A puffing wretch forever pursued
      By duplicates of vanquished forms?
      Or do you make him a sneering king
      Brushing flies from his bloodless cheeks?
      Do you see him as an unappeased brooding        65
      Walking over the dust of men?
      Do you make him an eager giant
      Discovering and blending into his consciousness
      The tiny parts of his limitless mind?
Undertaker.  Death and I do not know each other.        70
      I am the stolid janitor
      Who cleans the litter he has left
      And claims a fancied payment.
Poet.  Come to my fantastic forest
      And you will not need to rise        75
      From simple labors, asking death
      For final wages.
 
 
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