James Cabell: The Certain Hour. Dizain des Poëtes

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(Dizain des Poëtes)



"Criticism, whatever may be its

pretensions, never does more than to

define the impression which is made upon

it at a certain moment by a work wherein

the writer himself noted the impression

of the world which he received at a

certain hour."



In Dedication of The Certain Hour

Sad hours and glad hours, and all hours, pass over;
One thing unshaken stays:
Life, that hath Death for spouse, hath Chance for lover;
Whereby decays

Each thing save one thing:-mid this strife diurnal
Of hourly change begot,
Love that is God-born, bides as God eternal,
And changes not;-

Nor means a tinseled dream pursuing lovers
Find altered by-and-bye,
When, with possession, time anon discovers
Trapped dreams must die,-

For he that visions God, of mankind gathers
One manlike trait alone,
And reverently imputes to Him a father's
Love for his son.


"Les Dieux, qui trop aiment ses faceties cruelles"


In the beginning the Gods made man, and fashioned the sky and the sea,
And the earth's fair face for man's dwelling-place, and
this was the Gods' decree:-

"Lo, We have given to man five wits: he discerneth folly and sin;
He is swift to deride all the world outside, and blind
to the world within:

"So that man may make sport and amuse Us, in battling
for phrases or pelf,

Now that each may know what forebodeth woe to his
neighbor, and not to himself."

Yet some have the Gods forgotten,-or is it that subtler mirth

The Gods extort of a certain sort of folk that cumber the earth?

For this is the song of the double-soul, distortedly two in one,-
Of the wearied eyes that still behold the fruit ere the seed be sown,
And derive affright for the nearing night from the light
of the noontide sun.

For one that with hope in the morning set forth, and knew never a fear,
They have linked with another whom omens bother; and
he whispers in one's ear.

And one is fain to be climbing where only angels have trod,
But is fettered and tied to another's side who fears that
it might look odd.

And one would worship a woman whom all perfections dower,
But the other smiles at transparent wiles; and he quotes
from Schopenhauer.

Thus two by two we wrangle and blunder about the earth,
And that body we share we may not spare; but the Gods
have need of mirth.

So this is the song of the double-soul, distortedly two in one.-
Of the wearied eyes that still behold the fruit ere the seed be sown,
And derive affright for the nearing night from the light
of the noontide sun.


"These questions, so long as they remain with the Muses, may very well be unaccompanied with severity, for where there is no other end of contemplation and inquiry but that of pastime alone, the understanding is not oppressed; but after the Muses have given over their riddles to Sphinx,-that is, to practise, which urges and impels to action, choice and determination,-then it is that they become torturing, severe and trying."

From the dawn of the day to the dusk he toiled,
Shaping fanciful playthings, with tireless hands,-
Useless trumpery toys; and, with vaulting heart,
Gave them unto all peoples, who mocked at him,
Trampled on them, and soiled them, and went their way.
Then he toiled from the morn to the dusk again,
Gave his gimcracks to peoples who mocked at him,
Trampled on them, deriding, and went their way.
Thus he labors, and loudly they jeer at him;-
That is, when they remember he still exists.
Who, you ask, is this fellow?-What matter names?
He is only a scribbler who is content.




The desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings is, as the saying runs, old as the hills-and as immortal. Questionless, there was many a serviceable brick wasted in Nineveh because finicky persons must needs be deleting here and there a phrase in favor of its cuneatic synonym; and it is not improbable that when the outworn sun expires in clinkers its final ray will gild such zealots tinkering with their "style." Some few there must be in every age and every land of whom life claims nothing very insistently save that they write perfectly of beautiful happenings.

Yet, that the work of a man of letters is almost always a congenial product of his day and environment, is a contention as lacking in novelty as it is in the need of any upholding here. Nor is the rationality of that axiom far to seek; for a man of genuine literary genius, since he possesses a temperament whose susceptibilities are of wider area than those of any other, is inevitably of all people the one most variously affected by his surroundings. And it is he, in consequence, who of all people most faithfully and compactly exhibits the impress of his times and his times' tendencies, not merely in his writings-where it conceivably might be just predetermined affectation-but in his personality.

Such being the assumption upon which this volume is builded, it appears only equitable for the architect frankly to indicate his cornerstone. Hereinafter you have an attempt to depict a special temperament-one in essence "literary"-as very variously molded by diverse eras and as responding in proportion with its ability to the demands of a certain hour.

In proportion with its ability, be it repeated, since its ability is singularly hampered. For, apart from any ticklish temporal considerations, be it remembered, life is always claiming of this temperament's possessor that he write perfectly of beautiful happenings.

To disregard this vital longing, and flatly to stifle the innate striving toward artistic creation, is to become (as with Wycherley and Sheridan) a man who waives, however laughingly, his sole apology for existence. The proceeding is paltry enough, in all conscience; and yet, upon the other side, there is much positive danger in giving to the instinct a loose rein. For in that event the familiar circumstances of sedate and wholesome living cannot but seem, like paintings viewed too near, to lose in gusto and winsomeness. Desire, perhaps a craving hunger, awakens for the impossible. No emotion, whatever be its sincerity, is endured without a side-glance toward its capabilities for being written about. The world, in short, inclines to appear an ill-lit mine, wherein one quarries gingerly amidst an abiding loneliness (as with Pope and Ufford and Sire Raimbaut)-and wherein one very often is allured into unsavory alleys (as with Herrick and Alessandro de Medici)-in search of that raw material which loving labor will transshape into comeliness.

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