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For a long time the red-haired revolutionary had reigned [in Saffron Park] without a rival; it was upon the night of the [fantastic] sunset that his solitude suddenly ended. The new poet, who introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme, was a very mild-looking mortal, with a fair, pointed beard and faint, yellow hair. But an impression grew that he was less meek than he looked. He signalized his entrance by differing with the established poet, Gregory, upon the whole nature of poetry. He said that he (Syme) was a poet of law, a poet of order; nay, he said he was a poet of respectability. So all the Saffron Parkers looked at him as if he had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky.
In fact, Mr Lucian Gregory, the anarchic poet, connected the two events.
‘It may well be,’ he said, in his sudden lyrical manner, ‘it may well be on such a night of clouds and cruel colours that there is brought forth upon the earth such a portent as a respectable poet. You say you are a poet of law; I say you are a contradiction in terms. I only wonder there were not comets and earthquakes on the night you appeared in this garden.’
The man with the meek blue eyes and the pale, pointed beard endured these thunders with a certain submissive solemnity…[as] Gregory resumed in high oratorical good-humour.
‘An artist is identical with an anarchist,’ he cried. ‘You might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen. An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway.
‘So it is,’ said Mr Syme.
‘Nonsense!’ said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. ‘Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for, that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!’
‘It is you who are unpoetical.’ replied the poet Syme. ‘If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street, or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a timetable, with tears of pride….’
‘Must you go?’ inquired Gregory sarcastically.
‘I tell you,’ went on Syme with passion, ‘that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word “Victoria”, it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed “Victoria”; it is the victory of Adam.’
Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile.
‘And even then,’ he said, ‘we poets always ask the question, “And what is Victoria now that you have got there?” You think Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt.’
‘There again,’ said Syme irritably, ‘what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I’m hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is–revolting. It’s mere vomiting. It is things going right that is poetical… [T]he most poetical thing in the world is not being sick.’
‘Really,’ said Gregory superciliously, ‘the examples you choose–‘
‘I beg your pardon,’ said Syme grimly, ‘I thought we had abolished all conventions….’
[from “The Two Poets of Saffron Park,” chapter 1, THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY; to order, click here]