by: Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950)

      AM a certain god
      Who slipped down from a remote height
      To a place of pools and stars.
      And I sat invisible
      Amid a clump of trees
      To watch the mad men.
      There were cries and groans about me,
      And shouts of laughter and curses.
      Figures passed by with self-absorbed contempt
      Wrinkling in bitter smiles about their lips.
      Others hurried on with set eyes
      Pursuing something.
      Then I said this is the place for mad Frederick--
      Mad Frederick will be here.
      But everywhere I could see
      Figures sitting or standing
      By little pools.
      Some seemed grown into the soil
      And were helpless.
      And of these some were asleep.
      Others laughed the laughter
      That comes from dying men
      Trying to face Death.
      And others said "I should be content."
      And others said "I will fly."
      Whereupon sepulchral voices muttered,
      As of creatures sitting or hanging head down
      From limbs of the trees,
      "We will not let you."
      And others looked in their pools
      And clasped hands and said "Gone--all gone."
      By other pools there were dead bodies,
      Some of youth, some of age.
      They had given up the fight,
      They had drunk poisoned water,
      They had searched
      Until they fell--
      All had gone mad.
      Then I, a certain god,
      Curious to know
      What it is in pools and stars
      That drives men and women
      Over the earth in this quest,
      Waited for mad Frederick
      And then I heard his step.
      I knew that long ago
      He sat by one of these pools
      Enraptured of a star's image
      And that hands, for his own good,
      As they said,
      Dumped clay into the pool
      And blotted his star.
      And I knew that after that
      He had said: "They will never spy again
      Upon my ecstasy.
      They will never see me watching one star.
      I will fly by rivers
      And by little brooks
      And by the edge of lakes
      And by little bends of water
      Where no wind blows,
      And glance at stars as I pass--
      They will never spy again
      Upon my ecstasy."
      And I knew that mad Frederick
      In this flight
      Through years of restlessness and madness
      Was caught by the image of a star
      In a mere beyond a meadow,
      Down from a hill, under a forest,
      And had said:
      "No one sees;
      Here I can find life
      Through vision of eternal things!"
      But they had followed him.
      They stood on the brow of the hill,
      And when they saw him gazing into the water
      They rolled a great stone down the hill,
      And shattered the star's image.
      Then mad Frederick fled with laughter.
      It echoed through the wood.
      And he said, "I will look for moons.
      I will punish them who disturb me,
      By worshipping moons."
      But when he sought moons
      They left him alone.
      And he did not want the moons.
      And he was alone, and sick from the moons,
      And covered as with a white blankness,
      Which was the worst madness of all.
      And I, a certain god,
      Waiting for mad Frederick
      To enter this place of pools and stars,
      Saw him at last.
      With a sigh he looked about upon his fellows
      Sitting or standing by their pools.
      And some of the pools were covered with scum
      And some were glazed as of filth
      And some were grown with weeds
      And some were congealed as of the north wind
      And a few were yet pure
      And held the star's image.
      And by these some sat and were glad.
      Others had lost the vision:
      The star was there, but its meaning vanished.
      And mad Frederick going here and there
      With no purpose
      Only curious and interested
      As I was, a certain god,
      Came by a certain pool
      And saw a star.
      He shivered.
      He clasped his hands.
      He sank to his knees.
      He touched his lips to the water!
      Then voices from the limbs of the trees muttered:
      "There he is again."
      "He must be driven away."
      "The pool is not his."
      "He does not belong here."
      So as when bats fly in a cave
      They swooped from their hidings in the trees
      And dashed themselves in the pool.
      Then I saw what these flying things were.
      But no matter;
      They were thoughts evil and envious
      And selfish and dull,
      But with power to destroy.
      And mad Frederick turned away from the pool
      And covered his eyes with his arms.
      Then a certain god
      Of less power than mine
      Came and sat beside me and said:
      "Why do you allow this to be?
      They are all seeking,
      Why do you not let them find their heart's delight?
      Why do you allow this to be?"
      But I did not answer.
      The lesser god did not know
      That I have no power,
      That only the God has the power
      And that this must be
      In spite of all lesser gods.
      And I saw mad Frederick
      Arise and ascend to the top of a high hill.
      And I saw him find the star
      Whose image he had seen in the pool.
      Then he knelt and prayed:
      "Give me to understand, O star,
      Your inner self, your eternal spirit,
      That I may have you and not images of you,
      So that I may know what has driven me through the world,
      And may cure my soul.
      For I know that you are Eternal Love
      And I can never escape you.
      And if I cannot escape you
      Then I must serve you.
      And if I must serve you
      It must be to good and not ill--
      You have brought me from the forest of pools
      And the images of stars,
      Here to the hill's top.
      Where now do I go?
      And what shall I do?"

"The Star" is reprinted from Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1916. Ed. William Stanley Braithwaite. New York: Laurence J. Gomme, 1916.




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