Francis Bret Harte

(25 August 1836 - 6 May 1902 / Albany, New York)

The Willows - Poem by Francis Bret Harte

(AFTER EDGAR ALLAN POE)

The skies they were ashen and sober,
The streets they were dirty and drear;
It was night in the month of October,
Of my most immemorial year.
Like the skies, I was perfectly sober,
As I stopped at the mansion of Shear,--
At the Nightingale,--perfectly sober,
And the willowy woodland down here.

Here, once in an alley Titanic
Of Ten-pins, I roamed with my soul,--
Of Ten-pins, with Mary, my soul;
They were days when my heart was volcanic,
And impelled me to frequently roll,
And made me resistlessly roll,
Till my ten-strikes created a panic
In the realms of the Boreal pole,--
Till my ten-strikes created a panic
With the monkey atop of his pole.

I repeat, I was perfectly sober,
But my thoughts they were palsied and sear,--
My thoughts were decidedly queer;
For I knew not the month was October,
And I marked not the night of the year;
I forgot that sweet morceau of Auber
That the band oft performed down here,
And I mixed the sweet music of Auber
With the Nightingale's music by Shear.

And now as the night was senescent,
And star-dials pointed to morn,
And car-drivers hinted of morn,
At the end of the path a liquescent
And bibulous lustre was born;
'Twas made by the bar-keeper present,
Who mixed a duplicate horn,--
His two hands describing a crescent
Distinct with a duplicate horn.

And I said: 'This looks perfectly regal,
For it's warm, and I know I feel dry,--
I am confident that I feel dry.
We have come past the emeu and eagle,
And watched the gay monkey on high;
Let us drink to the emeu and eagle,
To the swan and the monkey on high,--
To the eagle and monkey on high;
For this bar-keeper will not inveigle,
Bully boy with the vitreous eye,--
He surely would never inveigle,
Sweet youth with the crystalline eye.'

But Mary, uplifting her finger,
Said: 'Sadly this bar I mistrust,--
I fear that this bar does not trust.
Oh, hasten! oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly,--let us fly,--are we must!'
In terror she cried, letting sink her
Parasol till it trailed in the dust;
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Parasol till it trailed in the dust,--
Till it sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

Then I pacified Mary and kissed her,
And tempted her into the room,
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the warning of doom,--
By some words that were warning of doom.
And I said, 'What is written, sweet sister,
At the opposite end of the room?'
She sobbed, as she answered, 'All liquors
Must be paid for ere leaving the room.'

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober,
As the streets were deserted and drear,
For my pockets were empty and drear;
And I cried: 'It was surely October,
On this very night of last year,
That I journeyed, I journeyed down here,--
That I brought a fair maiden down here,
On this night of all nights in the year!
Ah! to me that inscription is clear;
Well I know now, I'm perfectly sober,
Why no longer they credit me here,--
Well I know now that music of Auber,
And this Nightingale, kept by one Shear.'


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010



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