James Whitcomb Riley

(7 October 1849 - 22 July 1916 / Greenfield, Indiana)

The Quiet Lodger


The man that rooms next door to me:
Two weeks ago, this very night,
He took possession quietly,
As any other lodger might--
But why the room next mine should so
Attract him I was vexed to know,--
Because his quietude, in fine,
Was far superior to mine.

'Now, I like quiet, truth to tell,
A tranquil life is sweet to me--
But _this_,' I sneered, 'suits me too well.--
He shuts his door so noiselessly,
And glides about so very mute,
In each mysterious pursuit,
His silence is oppressive, and
Too deep for me to understand.'

Sometimes, forgetting book or pen,
I've found my head in breathless poise
Lifted, and dropped in shame again,
Hearing some alien ghost of noise--
Some smothered sound that seemed to be
A trunk-lid dropped unguardedly,
Or the crisp writhings of some quire
Of manuscript thrust in the fire.

Then I have climbed, and closed in vain
My transom, opening in the hall;
Or close against the window-pane
Have pressed my fevered face,--but all
The day or night without held not
A sight or sound or counter-thought
To set my mind one instant free
Of this man's silent mastery.

And often I have paced the floor
With muttering anger, far at night,
Hearing, and cursing, o'er and o'er,
The muffled noises, and the light
And tireless movements of this guest
Whose silence raged above my rest
Hoarser than howling storms at sea--
The man that rooms next door to me.

But twice or thrice, upon the stair,
I've seen his face--most strangely wan,--
Each time upon me unaware
He came--smooth'd past me, and was gone.
So like a whisper he went by,
I listened after, ear and eye,
Nor could my chafing fancy tell
The meaning of one syllable.

Last night I caught him, face to face,--
He entering his room, and I
Glaring from mine: He paused a space
And met my scowl all shrinkingly,
But with full gentleness: The key
Turned in his door--and I could see
It tremblingly withdrawn and put
Inside, and then--the door was shut.

Then silence. _Silence_!--why, last night
The silence was tumultuous,
And thundered on till broad daylight;--
O never has it stunned me thus!--
It rolls, and moans, and mumbles yet.--
Ah, God! how loud may silence get
When man mocks at a brother man
Who answers but as silence can!

The silence grew, and grew, and grew,
Till at high noon to-day 'twas heard
Throughout the house; and men flocked through
The echoing halls, with faces blurred
With pallor, gloom, and fear, and awe,
And shuddering at what they saw--
The quiet lodger, as he lay
Stark of the life he cast away.

* * * * *

So strange to-night--those voices there,
Where all so quiet was before;
They say the face has not a care
Nor sorrow in it any more--
His latest scrawl:--'Forgive me--You
Who prayed, 'they know not what they do!''
My tears wilt never let me see
This man that rooms next door to me!

Submitted: Friday, April 09, 2010

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