Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

Futility


Dusting my books I spent a busy day:
Not ancient toes, time-hallowed and unread,
but modern volumes, classics in their way,
whose makers now are numbered with the dead;
Men of a generation more than mine,
With whom I tattled, battled and drank wine.

I worshipped them, rejoiced in their success,
Grudging them not the gold that goes with fame.
I thought them near-immortal, I confess,
And naught could dim the glory of each name.
How I perused their pages with delight! . . .
To-day I peer with sadness in my sight.

For, death has pricked each to a flat balloon.
A score of years have gone, they're clean forgot.
Who would have visioned such a dreary doom?
By God! I'd like to burn the blasted lot.
Only, old books are mighty hard to burn:
They char, they flicker and their pages turn.

And as you stand to poke them in the flame,
You see a living line that stabs the heart.
Brave writing that! It seems a cursed shame
That to a bonfire it should play it's part.
Poor book! You're crying, and you're not alone:
Some day someone will surely burn my own.

No, I will dust my books and put them by,
Yet never look into their leaves again;
For scarce a soul remembers them save I,
Re-reading them would only give me pain.
So I will sigh, and say with curling lip:
Futility! Thy name is authorship.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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