WHEN I tell a tale of virtue and of injured innocence,
Then my publishers and lawyers are the densest of the dense:
With the blank face of an image and the nod of keep-it-dark
And a wink of mighty meaning at their confidential clerk.
(When, Oh! tell me when shall poets cease to be misunderstood?
When, Oh! When? shall people reckon rhymers can be any good?
Do their work and pay their debts and drink their pint of beer, and then,
Look in woman’s eyes and leave them, just like ordinary men?)
“Is there literary friendship ’twix the sexes? don’t you think?”
And they wink their idiotic and exasperating wink.
“Can’t we kiss a clever woman without wanting any more?”
And their clock-work nod is only more decided than before.
But if I should hint that there’s a little woman somewhere, say,
Then the public and the law are interested straight away,
The impassive confidential gets a bright and cheerful glance—
Things are straightway on a footing that may lead to an advance.
Both are married and respected and they both are rising higher:
One’s church warden, one’s a deacon in a fashionable choir.
And the clerks have both unblemished private characters to show—
What do they know about woman? That’s what I should like to know.
(Flash of dark eyes in the moonlight, in the scrub or far afield,
Blouse-sleeves back from white arms clinging—clinging while she will not yield,
Or the fair head on your shoulder and the grey eyes moist and mild—
Weary of the strife with passion, yielding like a tired child.)
There’s my aunt; the dear old lady hints about “experience”
When I go to her for comfort with my injured innocence.
She screws up a wise expression, while she listens, for my pains—
Isn’t it an awful pity women haven’t any brains?
Now I’m serious and angry, for it isn’t any joke—
Poets have been damned for ages by such evil-minded folk.
Must we all be public blackguards? Can’t a rhymer be a man,
Spite of Byron’s silly mistress—Burns’s gawky Mary Ann?
As tame bards they will not have us, and I don’t know what they want,
There’s my publisher and lawyer, my admirers and my aunt.
Do they want a rake and a spendthrift? Look out! Tradesman trusting me!
Look out! Husbands! Fathers! Brothers! I’ll be wicked as can be!