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.
 
In the Orchestra
By Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
 
HE’D played each night for months, and never heard
A single tinkly tune, or caught a word
Of all the silly songs and sillier jests;
And he’d seen nothing, even in the rests,
Of that huge audience piled from floor to ceiling        5
Whose stacked white faces sent his dazed wits reeling …
He’d been too happy; and had other things
To think of while he scraped his fiddle-strings …
 
But now, he’d nothing left to think about—
Nothing he dared to think of …
                    In and out
        10
The hollow fiddle of his head the notes
Jingled and jangled; and the raucous throats
Of every star rasped jibes into his ear,
Each separate syllable, precise and clear,
As though ’twere life or death if he should miss        15
A single cackle, crow or quack, or hiss
Of cockadoodling fools …
                  A week ago
He’d sat beside her bed; and heard her low
Dear voice talk softly of her hopes and fears—
Their hopes and fears; and every afternoon        20
He’d watched her lying there …
                A fat buffoon
In crimson trousers prancing—strut and cluck—
Cackling: “A fellow never knows his luck—
He never knows his luck—he never knows
His luck.”… And in and out the old gag goes        25
Of either ear, and in and out again,
Playing at “You-can’t-catch-me” through his brain:
“’Er knows his luck.”…
            How well they thought they knew
Their luck, and such a short while since—they two
Together. Life was lucky: and ’twas good        30
Then, to be fiddling for a livelihood—
His livelihood and hers …
                    A woman sang
With grinning teeth. The whole house rocked and rang.
In the whole house there was no empty place:
And there were grinning teeth in every face        35
Of all those faces, grinning, tier on tier,
From orchestra to ceiling chandelier
That caught in every prism a grinning light,
As from the little black box up a height
The changing limelight streamed down on the stage.        40
And he was filled with reasonless, dull rage
To see those grinning teeth, those grinning rows;
And wondered if those lips would never close,
But gape forever through an endless night,
Grinning and mowing in the green limelight.        45
 
And now they seemed to grin in mockery
Of him; and then, as he turned suddenly
To face them, flaming, it was his own face
That mowed and grinned at him from every place—
Grimacing on him with the set, white grin        50
Of his own misery through that dazzling din …
Yet all the while he hadn’t raised his head,
But fiddled, fiddled for his daily bread,
His livelihood—no longer hers …
                        And now
He heard no more the racket and the row,        55
Nor saw the aching, glittering glare, nor smelt
The smother of hot breaths and smoke—but felt
A wet wind on his face …
                    He sails again
Home with her up the river in the rain—
Leaving the gray domes and gray colonnades        60
Of Greenwich in their wake as daylight fades—
By huge dark cavernous wharves with flaring lights,
Warehouses built for some mad London night’s
Fantastic entertainment: grimmer far
Than Bagdad dreamt of—monstrous and bizarre,        65
They loom against the night; and seem to hold
Preposterous secrets, horrible and old,
Behind black doors and windows.
                    Yet even they
Make magic with more mystery the way,
As, hand in hand, they sail through the blue gloam        70
Up the old river of enchantment, home …
He heard strange, strangled voices—he, alone
Once more—like voices through the telephone,
Thin and unreal, inarticulate,
Twanging and clucking at terrific rate—        75
Pattering, pattering …
                    And again aware
He grew of all the racket and the glare,
Aware again of the antic strut and cluck—
And there was poor old “Never-know-his-luck”
Doing another turn—yet not a smile,        80
Although he’d changed his trousers and his style.
The same old trousers and the same old wheeze
Was what the audience liked. He tried to please,
And knew he failed: and suddenly turned old
Before those circling faces glum and cold—        85
A fat old man with cracked voice piping thin,
Trying to make those wooden faces grin,
With franctic kicks and desperate wagging head
To win the applause that meant his daily bread—
Gagging and prancing for a livelihood,        90
His daily bread …
            God! how he understood!
He’d fiddled for their livelihood—for her
And for the one who never came …
                    A stir
Upon the stage; and now another turn—
The old star guttered out, too old to burn.        95
And he remembered she had liked the chap
When she’d been there that night. He’d seen her clap,
Laughing so merrily. She liked it all—
The razzle-dazzle of the music-hall—
And laughing faces … said she liked to see        100
Hardworking people laughing heartily
After the day’s work. She liked everything—
His playing even! Snap … another string—
The third!
          And she’d been happy in that place,
Seeing a friendly face in every face.        105
That was her way—the whole world was her friend.
And she’d been happy, happy to the end,
As happy as the day was long.
                    And he
Fiddled on, dreaming of her quietly.
 
 
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