[ 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.
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993