[ HENRY JAMES ]


by: Carl Sandburg.



                              Henry James was a poor fish.

                              I’m tired of hearing about Henry James.

                              I repeat it, he was a poor fish

                                         and didn’t know the way to the post office.

                              You can have him, bruddah bones.

                              I’ve read him, I know his drift.

                              I get him coming and going.

                              I can use him, some good spots

                                         and quite a lot of rot

                                         and the rot doesn’t stink

                                         it exudes an odor

                                         it delivers an effluvia

                                         if you know what I mean.


                              Thirty-five years ago

                                         there was Ez Pound

                                         writing endless praise

                                         of the endless Henry James—

                              so Pound up and quits the U.S.A.

                                         leaving us behind

                                         precisely like H.J.

                                         hooting at the ways of the U.S.A.

                                         and what we’re doing

                                         sure looks like a foozle.


                              So H.J. becomes a British subject

                              Pound makes Fascist broadcasts

                              and that is the way each wanted it

                                         while they were doing it.

                                                   And it must be okay

                                                   for they studied about it

                                                   and they wrote about it

                              they put it all down in black and white.

                              Why did Owen Wister put it in his book,

                              his hearing Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. say,

                              “The books of Henry James might as well have

                                         been written on white paper with white ink.”

                              Or again, as to H.J., “Fifty years of polite

                                         conversation and nothing doing.”???


                              Why did Matthiessen write on and on

                                         pages and pages about H.J.

                                         a whole book about Henry James

                              And then make a fadeout a sliding away

                                         by his own hand almost as though saying,

                              “I put out my hand to Henry James but he wasn’t

                                         there goom-bye now goom-bye.”


                              Henry had a brother, William.

                              I have my money on William.

                              There was a writer and a mind.

                              He bet on the U.S.A. and the Family of Man.

                              He was sorry for his brother Henry.


                                         He wrote to Henry, something like,

                              “You’re getting in too deep, you’re getting

                                         tangled and strangled in your own made

                                         abstrusities and obscurantisms—watch

                                         your step, brother!”

                              And he heard from Henry, something like,

                                         “I’m neither British nor American—maybe

                                         I should have stayed in the U.S.A.

                                         where I had roots.”


                              I repeat, H.J. was a poor fish.

                              I’m tired of hearing about him.

                              I’d rather hear more about his brother

                                         who could find his way to the post office

                                         who knew a hawk from a handsaw

                                         who was a Friend of Man

                                         and not afraid of People.



                                         Why these books, one and another,

                                         more and more books about Henry James.

                                         There he is on his shelf.

                                         You can go and read him any time.

                                         He is what he is and you can take him

                                         or leave him.

                              He’s an aristocrat who could never begin

                                         to understand Franklin, Jefferson,

                                         Lincoln, Tom Ferril of Colorado, Ole

                                         Rolvaag of South Dakota, H. L. Davis of

                                         Most Any Old Place in the New World.

                              He’s a snob if by snob we mean a man born and

                                         raised in Boston who hungers and thirstsby

                                         Jesus he must yet somehow become a British subject.


                                         You can have him, gents.

                                         Pile up your books about him, about H.J.

                              Why should I be meeting pathetic screwballs who spend

                                         so much time reading about how to read Henry James

                                         they don’t have time to read the Master Himself?


                                         As I said, gents, you can have him, I’ll take his brother.

                                         I’ll take Robert Frost, Archie MacLeish, Walt Whitman,

                                         Edwin Ford Piper, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Frank -

                                         Dobie, Stevie Benet, and forty others I could name.


                              What I would like to say, with all due respect, gents,

                                         I’m about fed up with the Henry James clique.

                                         There has been just about enough

                                                   of this pap sucking and foot kissing.

                              It wouldn’t have come easy on H.J.

to have lived on to where

                                         he could read Mr. Maugham saying

                              Henry James with all his anxious trying

                              never could get the hang of how the English speak

                              and his English characters didn’t have

                              the speech of the English.


                              It would have hurt H.J. to hear that from such an

                                         Englishman as Maugham.

                                                   Maugham was sorry for Henry James

                                                             and I am likewise.

                                                   I believe Maugham knows his onions.


                              I remember when Ben Stolberg made a point.

                              He had seen fellows on the way to the office

                                         reading the Hearst papers

                                         and managing on entry to the office

                                         to be holding the New York Times

                                         showing they were hep

                                         to what was going on in the world.

                              Likewise there are the ambulant somnambulists

                                         who expect to be rated very literary

                                         something more than mere culture vultures

                                         by riding on the coattails of Henry James

                                         by prattling of the a dumb rations

                                         and the mauve mists of H.J.—

                                                   naive hunks of cheese

                                                   hoping to be rated hypersensitive

                                                   and exquisite of registration.



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