Cabell, James Branch. The Certain Hour
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
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BALLAD OF PLAGIARY
"Freres et matres, vous qui cultivez" PAUL VERVILLE.
Hey, my masters, lords and brothers, ye that till the fields of rhyme,
Are ye deaf ye will not hearken to the clamor of your time?
Still ye blot and change and polish -- vary, heighten and transpose --
Old sonorous metres marching grandly to their tranquil close.
Ye have toiled and ye have fretted; ye attain perfected speech:
Ye have nothing new to utter and but platitudes to preach.
And your rhymes are all of loving, as within the old days when
Love was lord of the ascendant in the horoscopes of men.
Still ye make of love the utmost end and scope of all your art;
And, more blind than he you write of, note not what a modest part
Loving now may claim in living, when we have scant time to spare,
Who are plundering the sea-depths, taking tribute of the air, --
Whilst the sun makes pictures for us; since to-day, for good or ill,
Earth and sky and sea are harnessed, and the lightnings work our will.
Hey, my masters, all these love-songs by dust-hidden mouths were sung
That ye mimic and re-echo with an artful-artless tongue, --
Sung by poets close to nature, free to touch her garments' hem
Whom to-day ye know not truly; for ye only copy them.
Them ye copy -- copy always, with your backs turned to the sun,
Caring not what man is doing, noting that which man has done.
We are talking over telephones, as Shakespeare could not talk;
We are riding out in motor-cars where Homer had to walk;
And pictures Dante labored on of mediaeval Hell
The nearest cinematograph paints quicker, and as well.
But ye copy, copy always; -- and ye marvel when ye find
This new beauty, that new meaning, -- while a model stands behind,
Waiting, young and fair as ever, till some singer turn and trace
Something of the deathless wonder of life lived in any place.
Hey, my masters, turn from piddling to the turmoil and the strife!
Cease from sonneting, my brothers; let us fashion songs from life.
Thus I wrote ere Percie passed me. . . . Then did I epitomize
All life's beauty in one poem, and make haste to eulogize
Quite the fairest thing life boasts of, for I wrote of Percie's eyes.
EXPLICIT DECAS POETARUM