Alice Duer Miller

(28 July 1874 - 22 August 1942 / New York City, New York)

Forsaking All Others Part 1 - Poem by Alice Duer Miller

'NOT that you'll like him,' Nell said,
'No mystery - no romance,
A fine, stern, eagle-like head,
But he simply reeks of finance, -­
Started from nothing - self-made -­
And rather likes you to know it,
And now collects porcelain and jade,
Or some Seventeenth Century poet.

'Married in simpler days,
A poor little wren of a being,
Who exists to pray and praise,
And spends her life agreeing,
Thin and dowdy and pale,
And getting paler and thinner­
Well, the point of this dreary tale
Is I've asked them both to dinner.

'I'd leave her out like a shot,
For I'm not so keen about her,
But, my dear, believe it or not,
He won't dine out without her.
She has that terrible hold
That aging wives exert to
Replace young charms grown old­
Poor health and impeccable virtue.

'Lightly I asked them to dine,
And now I perceive the dangers,
My friends-yours and mine­
Are so terribly rude to strangers.
But you, dear girl, I can trust
To come and be brilliant and tender;
Vamp the man, if you must,
But give an impression of splendor.'

II

LEE sat before her mirror... rouged her lips,
Set dripping diamond earrings in her ears,
Polished a little at her finger tips,
Thought that she did not look her thirty years;

Thought, 'Poor dear Nellie's ill-assorted feasts!
I want to be as helpful as I can
Among that group of men and gods and beasts...
Why does she think I shall not like this man?

She made him sound entrancing... strong and crude,
Successful, dominant...I, who for so long
Have known a somewhat pitiful servitude
To weakness, have no terror of the strong.'
Her maid held up her cloak of furry white,
And gave her money in a golden purse.
She sighed: 'Not even third-rate bridge to-night,
Just third-rate conversation... which is worse.'

III

'NELLIE, I'm sorry I'm late,
Edward, I honestly am.
Just the malignance of fate
I always get caught in a jam
Whenever I'm coming to you.
'Mrs. Wayne back of you, Lee,
And Mr. Wayne.'

'How do you do.
Isn't that cocktail for me?

IV

MENU

CAVIAR, cocktails, soup of black bean,
Shad, Moet-Chandon of 1919,
A saddle of mutton, a stuffed aubergine,
With some creme de menthe jelly of beautiful green,
Avocados and lettuce and cold galantine
And baba au rhum with a sauce grenadine,
Coffee and fruit and some excellent fine.


V

SOME women - hard, beautiful women - know a way
Of looking up at a man, so gentle and gay,
A magical child-like look that seems to say:
Let us be happy together for an hour, a day,
A night, or forever. Let us yield to the charm.

Lee looked at Wayne and put her hand on his arm,
Under the broadcloth and linen she felt his muscles like steel,
Feeling, she said to herself, as a man's arm ought to feel.
And she glanced at her own hand there, so slim and cool
With its single cabochon emerald, like a deep green pool.
'Shall we go first,' she asked him, 'or let them all go ahead? '
And so they spoke of leading... and being led.

And then she told him a story, heard she didn't know when,
Of an arctic expedition, from which two men
Had got lost and while they were off and away
They met a dog, starving like them and astray...
A clever heroic creature, who in the end
Guided them back, and they loved that dog like a friend; ­
Loved him and worried about him all the way back...
What would he do when he met the head of the pack,
The leader of dogs, the old dog, cruel and stern,
Who brooked no rival. How could this new dog learn...
Himself a leader and used to his own wild way,
How could he learn to be one of the pack and obey?
Would he not fight for mastery... hopeless...they caught their breath.
Were they not leading this friend they loved to death?

And now the crisis was on them... they saw camp now,
Two men in a fragile boat and a dog standing up in the prow.
They pushed the boat as near as they could to the bank,
And someone to help them land shoved out a plank,
The new dog leaped on the plank, and the old dog, bristling and proud
Made one step to meet him in front of the crowd,
And they looked at each other a moment, and the old dog lay on his back,
And the new dog stepped ashore... the head of the pack.
'A very interesting story. Why did you tell it to me? '
Asked Wayne, with his black eyes on her.
'Why do you think? ' asked Lee.



VI



CANDLE light beams, flickers and blazes
On panelled pine walls, fashioned of old;
Pale pink roses in golden vases,
Hothouse grapes in a bowl of gold;
Crystal goblets, and plenty of them,
Flashing their points of rainbow light.
Tall, grave men servants bending above them,
Everyone talking with all his might: ­

'Why didn't Archie go with Jessie? '
'My dear, she didn't want him, of course.'
'Aren't things getting a trifle messy? '
'There's nothing messy about divorce.'
'Algy's a sort of weak Othello.'
'Poor creature. Jessie is quite a bird.'
'I hear Nan's doing her room in yellow.'.
'Her room? I think it's her hair you heard.'

'Tom never could resist a title.'
'Well, I'm rather a snob myself-'
'The woman is large and rich and vital
And does not mean to be laid on the shelf.'
'Nonsense, she's older than Tom's own mother,
And ought to be laid on a couple of shelves.'
While Lee and Wayne just talked to each other,
Talked to each other about themselves.

VII


NELLIE and Edward left alone,
Feeling their house again their own,
Stood by the fire. 'It seemed to me
The Great Man fell with a crash for Lee...'

'Nellie, the dinner was very good.'

'Darling, so glad you liked your food:
I'm afraid it's all the fun you had,
With Mrs. Wayne...'

'No, not so bad.
I rather liked her. The old girl said
Good things; she's got a tongue in her head.
But why the deuce need she look like that?
She isn't old and she isn't fat.
Wayne's probably generous, certainly rich,
Why need she dress like a Salem witch? '

'Oh, I could talk an hour,' said Nell,
'On the psychic basis of dressing well.
It isn't a question of pocket-books,
It isn't a figure, it isn't looks.
It isn't going to first-rate places.
Believe me, the thing has a psychic basis.
It's caring... caring a terrible lot...
Whether you're right, or whether you're not.
It's being a slave, yet now and then
Snapping your fingers at gods and men.
It's art, it's genius, it's using your mind...
What does the Bible say-'that kind
Comes not forth but by fasting and prayer...'
Well, that's the answer... you've got to care:
And Mrs. Wayne clearly has not been caring
For twenty years about what she was wearing.'


NELLIE and Edward left alone,
Feeling their house again their own,
Stood by the fire. 'It seemed to me
The Great Man fell with a crash for Lee...'

'Nellie, the dinner was very good.'

'Darling, so glad you liked your food:
I'm afraid it's all the fun you had,
With Mrs. Wayne...'

'No, not so bad.
I rather liked her. The old girl said
Good things; she's got a tongue in her head.
But why the deuce need she look like that?
She isn't old and she isn't fat.
Wayne's probably generous, certainly rich,
Why need she dress like a Salem witch? '

'Oh, I could talk an hour,' said Nell,
'On the psychic basis of dressing well.
It isn't a question of pocket-books,
It isn't a figure, it isn't looks.
It isn't going to first-rate places.
Believe me, the thing has a psychic basis.
It's caring... caring a terrible lot...
Whether you're right, or whether you're not.
It's being a slave, yet now and then
Snapping your fingers at gods and men.
It's art, it's genius, it's using your mind...
What does the Bible say-'that kind
Comes not forth but by fasting and prayer...'
Well, that's the answer... you've got to care:
And Mrs. Wayne clearly has not been caring
For twenty years about what she was wearing.'

VII

AT first the Waynes were silent driving home.
Park Avenue tilted southward mile by mile
Until a pale, golden, exotic dome
Stood like a gate across the steep defile.
Rain had been falling and the streets were black.
The traffic lights-emerald and carmine pink­
Were clearly, perfectly reflected back
As in dark mirrors or a pool of ink.
And it was doubly beautiful and gay
When green or red flashed down the polished way.

Wayne in his corner, staring at the skies,
Thought, with his air of easy self-command:
'God, what a woman! What a skin, what eyes,
Lashes a man could feel against his hand.
She lacks a leader, and she knows her lack,
For all her skill and pride... I understood,
If I could turn Time's moving finger back
How easily I could lead her, if I would.
'Why do you tell that tale,' I asked, 'to me? '
She looked at me. 'Why do you think? ' said she.

'If I were free... but I have led my life
With Ruth, and I am bound beyond repeal,
Bound faster to her than she knows: my wife
Is sceptical and wise, and true as steel.
I will not hurt her, as I once before
Hurt her. I have an oath in heaven; and so
I shall not see this lady any more.
Thank God I have the art of saying No.
I shall not go to see her in her flat
Or telephone or write her... that is that.'
Ruth, staring at the polished onyx street,
Thought: 'Merciful God, must I again endure
This agony: must I again compete,
I who am old and tired and insecure?
And she is beautiful and white and slim,
And confident of stirring men's desire...
I felt even as she first looked at him,
Something that flashed between the two like fire.
I always know when these wild passions start,
By something sharp and sickening at my heart.

'Honey-toned Emily, my childhood friend
Who sweetly laid her plans to take my place;
And that stenographer in Little Bend
With her mad eyes and her impassive face...
Wild midnight scenes over the telephone,
In office hours a most respectful 'Sir'
And yet her heart was set on him alone,
She really loved him, and I pitied her.
We had so much in common, she and I,
She almost told me, when she said good-bye.

'But worst was Grace. Grace with her secret art...
She made him feel in some Satanic way
They were Olympians... she and he... apart,
Superior to me... to common clay.
They were spectators at a childish play,
They were all-seeing, in a world of blind...
I could have killed them both with ecstasy..
She so contemptuous and he so kind '

And suddenly his voice was at her ear,
Saying: 'Did you enjoy yourself, my dear? '


IX

LEE alone in her room in the dark
Stared out over Central Park.
The rain brought out the primitive smell
Of cold wet earth. Lee thought: 'Ah, well,
There is a man I certainly can
Have if I want... and he is a man;
A man who might possibly seethe and bubble,
And be a good deal of fun, and a lot of trouble.'


Comments about Forsaking All Others Part 1 by Alice Duer Miller

There is no comment submitted by members..



Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?



Poem Submitted: Thursday, March 15, 2012

Poem Edited: Thursday, March 15, 2012


Famous Poems

  1. Still I Rise
    Maya Angelou
  2. The Road Not Taken
    Robert Frost
  3. If You Forget Me
    Pablo Neruda
  4. Dreams
    Langston Hughes
  5. Annabel Lee
    Edgar Allan Poe
  6. Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
    Robert Frost
  7. If
    Rudyard Kipling
  8. Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
    Mary Elizabeth Frye
  9. I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You
    Pablo Neruda
  10. Television
    Roald Dahl
[Report Error]