Ralph Isham,1753 And Later
Poem by Eli Siegel
Know you him, O, him,
Who lived in those days?
He wore a gay coat,
And he stepped along, jauntily, jauntily,
The streets of London town;
Where he is buried, who knows?
Who was his father, who knows?
Who are his children, who knows?
But, oh! on sunny mornings
How gayly he tripped along
The bright streets of London.
A trim cane he had,
And he gracefully took snuff from a very neat snuff-box.
My, but he was courtly.
He saluted walking, smiling, pretty ladies,
And they curtsied sweetly before him.
He was a gay man.
He read his Addison and he read his Pope;
He quoted his Thomson and he quoted his Young.
Lord, how he stood up for Virgil and the classics!
He had heard of Sam Johnson;
'Rough and learned fellow, Johnson, ' said he.
God, God, quietly, quietly now he lies somewhere, in some
churchyard, in sunny mornings, lies in quiet nights,
He jested in the taverns, and was well applauded.
Oh, but he could quote his Horace.
Many was the play he was finely witty about.
He was pained in death, died slowly;
The morning he died was rainy; later the sun came, and the
afternoon was lovely; people said, many, many of them in
London: 'How lovely this afternoon is.'
He lies now in some churchyard of England.
Somewhere there are copies of Pope with his name in them
and a few marks of his.
And where is his snuff, and his snuff-box, and his cane, and his
smile, and his bow?
Where are the sunny mornings he was gay in, and jauntily
Ralph Isham, —well, now, are not many, many greater than he
dead, and as quiet as can be?
What was he to himself?
There, there is something.
And the ladies, who curtsied to him on sunny mornings, in what
churchyards are they?
Where are their laces, their brocades, their ribbons, their figures
and their smiles; and oh, yes, their beauty?
God, how many things die.
Ralph Isham was slim, rather wicked, married rather happily.
His wife died early, and where is she?
Ralph Isham read Seneca, and Epicurus, and Plato, and had read
many philosophers and many poets on death.
Who knows that Ralph Isham is dead?
There was Ralph Isham, there was London, there were ladies,
there were authors, some in books of English literature,
studied by dapper youths in colleges in the Middle West
of these States.
Pope is studied in Kansas;
Thomson is studied in Kansas;
The name of Young is heard in Topeka;
And the name of Ralph Isham, who loved Pope, who loved
Thomson, who knew Young, is not heard in Topeka.
Ralph Isham came along with his cane, came down the street,
with trees on both sides of the street.
He was feeling well then; he meant to go to the play that afternoon;
he had bought a copy of Dryden that morning.
So here he is with his cane, coming gayly down the street.
And the churchyard he's in, what is the name of that churchyard?
Churchyards are lovable; so, too, is Ralph Isham lovable across the years;
Though, now, he had lain with chambermaids, and barmaids,
and servant girls, whom he had seen as sprightly, pretty,
likable young misses.
These young misses have no regrets now, anyway.
And Ralph Isham had no wish to be cruel.
He knew his Lucretius, and knew the teaching that matter
it is which man is made of, and matter dies and dies.
Ralph Isham has been seen as dead.
On sunny mornings, millions of people have walked the streets of London,
and have not thought of him at all;
And on dark, rainy nights, millions of people walking streets,
have thought of many things, but not at all of Ralph Isham.
And what is Ralph Isham now?
Oh, what, oh, what is he?
What is Ralph Isham, gay Londoner, who 1ived in 1753?
What, what is he?
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