The Wax Works

" WHY are you wandering, Bartholomew, so sadly,
With bony sharp chin plunged into your breast,
And feet shimble-shamble and knees knock-a-knocking,
And fingers a-twitching and eyes never at rest?

Men all must die, and were you immortal
That now you look gloomy as tricked out of breath?
Was life all so easy, age so delightful,
That now so morosely you murmur at death?

Long ere you died you were dead, Bartholomew,
And rattled your thigh-bones in mounting the stairs,
And now like the dead that gloomed at you from cases,
O creaking Effigy! your glassy eye glares.

Even then, like the dead, your frogged uniform covered
Scarce coordinate bones and creased parchment-like skin;
You smelt dusty and camphored to keep the moth from you,
And your lungs but half filled and your heart beat thin. ...

Long ere you died you were dead, and I pitied you.
Why, then, now you've left all the counterfeit dead,
And another in your frogged coat will cry, This way please ,
Why's your hand shaking, dejected your head? "

" I know you well, Sir — "
" Speak up, I scarce hear you:
Bless me, how your tongue hangs. "
" — Sir, I know you well,
I know you , I say. But O, Sir, have patience.
'Tis my grief that speaks — O, how shall I tell! "

" Take your time, Bartholomew — a slice of eternity
Will never be missed, a thousand years is to run
To twilight, and then five thousand to morning.
Speak when you're ready: no — never mind — sit down. "
. . . . .

" 'Twas untrue that you spoke — how long ere I died
I was like all those dead, mere dust and a smell.
I'd watched them, talked of them, ay, and listened when
One another they whispered; 'twas like a low bell

That goes rolling and returning from stone on to stone,
For one note a hundred, then dying away.
If I moved their looks followed me, when I rested they rested,
I was wax to their wax, they were clay to my clay.

And all that is past. Now here am I, lonely,
And like the dust sleeping when no wind stirs.
And they too are perished and here am I, lonely,
And no one to pity, for no one cares. "

" — Poor silly Bartholomew. They were all unreal,
Dumb figures, mere wax works, simulacra and shows.
Absurd you should think them alive and articulate,
And now go lamenting that nobody knows.

Here in the world of the Shades undying,
Here all is simple and soothlike and dimmed —
Here are King, Pope, Courtier and all carnality,
Queens, and supplanters of Queens light-limbed.

That was Helen paused here but a moment ago,
And Mary the Scot paced proudly away;
Lascivious Priests edged after the pair of them,
And a starry Admiral glittered like day.

Here, Bartholomew, here's life indeed,
Change-defeating and old Death outfacing,
All as they were and evermore shall be
In the ancient habiliment and customed pacing.

Here's life, Bartholomew — Life! What more? "
" — There's none of them here I knew, as I knew them.
The ruddy are pale, the splendid are fallen,
O, Sir, these are not as the artist once drew them.

'Tis all my grief! O the fire that up-writhed
Like a snake through the stairway's lit fissure and crept
On a puffing air, and then like a Dragon,
A dragonish Death, on the gallery leapt.

O the smoke that lifted like a thick-leaved tree
And then like a tree consumed in fierce flame,
The flame's congregation that rose up and roared
And spangled the hall with million gleam.

The fire froze me, I stiffened like one in a trance,
Unstirring I stood, and useless to stir,
With the drums of the fire on my ears rolling loudly
And the eyes of the fire fixing my eyes with their glare. "

" — You were crazed, Bartholomew, because your familiars
Melted to nourish the flood with their wax.
'Twas remorse — "
" O, never remorse so bitter.
'Twas my bones seemed to melt, my thin sinews relax.

Maybe 'twas a moment, maybe 'twas a year,
Maybe 'twas a dream and I already a ghost,
But I saw and I heard as the Judgment Day breaking,
And Archangels summoning the heavenly Host.

The trumps and the fire called the sleepers from sleep,
Glass shivered and cracked as the flame lifted its tongue.
They stirred in bewilderment, they cried and I hearkened,
And fain had cried back, but speechless hung. "

" — 'Twas all but a witchery. In a pagan cavern
A witch was melting their images slowly,
And whispering an ancient spell and spinning
Fatal syllables of a song unholy;

'Twas this, Bartholomew. "
" — 'Twas the Judgment Day
Rehearsed for warning of all evil livers.
I heard their cries, I saw them appealing
With jewelled hands sliding in molten rivers.

The waning limbs unto other limbs
Yearned as they melted. The lips that kissed
The lips that smiled, grew suddenly piteous,
And famous faces in a crazy twist.

Slipped into ruin that I could not read,
While still the Archangels' shrilly blast
Echoed, and I awoke from trance or dreaming,
And fear beset me as I fled then and cast.

All behind in a moment's mad terror,
All my old life, forgetting life to be,
All my old familiars and accustomed faces,
And fled back to safety and perplexity. "

" — Why, Bartholomew, you, a lover of beauty?
You, repining because of beauty past reach?
You aesthetical, you, you sentimental,
You an evangelist with trick of pious speech! "

" — It is easy to mock. It was not for beauty,
' Twas because I had known them! that I loved so well.
Not the beauties only, the brave and the lordly,
But all those others, they too had a spell.

Where now is Fred Archer, where is Dan Leno,
Where's Horatio Bottomley and General Booth,
Where's Bloody Mary and Charles the Second,
And the Princes slain in the Tower in their youth?

O, and Napoleon, so marble and grand,
And Marie Antoinette piteously bright,
The wise-looking head of calm Robespierre,
And Marat's fierce mouth and gaping sight?

Where now is Neil Cream, where is poor Crippen,
That died for women; where's Seddon now?
Where's Charlie Peace and Palmer the poisoner,
And Stinie Morison and Mahon and Lowe;

And Smith that drowned his wives in a bath,
And moat-farm Dougal and Southend Read;
Where's Mrs. Dyer the baby-farmer,
That were all hanged or jailed — and now burned when dead?

Where's Fowler and Milsom, blood-thirsting still,
That died contending for each other's life;
And Burke and Hare, those bloodier hunters,
And the Mannings hanged public, husband and wife?

And that French Landru whose eyes flickered at me
Whenever I turned and passed him by?
— All defaced or utterly melted
And no one to see and pity, but I. "

" — Why, man, they were not all lost, and time
Must needs have come when you watched them no more. "
" — I know, I know, and 'tis bitter remembering,
But bitter past bearing to think, No more!

For O, Sir, I knew them, and often I fancied
They knew me also and their look was kind.
Year after year they had heard my slow footstep;
To me their eyes no longer were blind.

And things they could say not aloud I could hear,
And the thoughts I could not utter they knew.
Ill things they murmured, but some were gentle,
And some lied still, but some could speak true.

The proud and the great were as the evil —
Lonely alike in silentness,
And any friendly thought that brushed them
Eased them in their loneliness.

Now even their images are dissolved,
The crowds that passed them and I that stayed
Are gone, and their own presences perished;
And I that lived on awhile, afraid,

With dreams that brought them staring at me,
As they had stared down year after year, —
I also sickened as if they drew me
Down to this dark. And I died of fear. "

" — Enough, Bartholomew, your talk grows morbid;
Shake off your melancholy, hush that sigh.
There's a music, listen! "
" — 'Tis that thin piping
Sharpens the thoughts that will not die. "
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