You say, Columbus with his argosies
Who rash and greedy took the screaming main
And vanished out before the hurricane
Into the sunset after merchandise,
Then under western palms with simple eyes
Trafficked and robbed and triumphed home again:
You say this is the glory of the brain
And human life no other use than this?
I then do answering say to you: The line
Of wizards and of saviors, keeping trust
In that which made them pensive and divine,
Passes before us like a cloud of dust.
What were they? Actors, ill and mad with wine,
And all their language babble and disgust.
Trumbull Stickney died of a brain tumor at age 30. Born into an accomplished family of academics in Switzerland, he failed to thrive as either student or lecturer, unhappy and unfulfilled in both applications. However, he pursued his artistic aspirations more passionately, writing as zealously as he pursued several affairs of the heart, though neither prospering quite as he had hoped. Following his untimely death, his family destroyed all his correspondence to his lover(s), likely wiping out some of his best work along with it.
I find Stickney’s poetry strangely inconsistent, filled with literary references and his own philosophical musings, that make it feel a bit too academic, mixed with some remarkably modern turn of phrases that are stellar. He was obviously self aware of his mortality. The Soul of Time is an interesting poem with a jolting, unexpected ending. It paints the stark reality of self awareness, the idea that communication with our inner selves with complete honesty is difficult to impossible, let alone those closest to us.
The first poem above is easier to contemplate if you know the definition of argosies, which mean merchant ships. It is a beautiful erasure of the typical myth building of Columbus as hero of the America’s. Instead it casts him in the rather modern light of invading pestilent conqueror whose only real goals were personal wealth and recognition at the terrible consequence of the native people’s already present. I think you could replace Columbus with name Bezos in this poem and raise the same timely issues on whether progress is truly progress or simply an ever increasing defiling of our planet under the ruse of capitalism and industry.
The Soul Of Time
by Trumbull Stickney
TIME’S a circumference
Whereof the segment of our station seems
A long straight line from nothing into naught.
Therefore we say ” progress, ” ” infinity ” —
Dull words whose object
Hangs in the air of error and delights
Our boyish minds ahunt for butterflies.
For aspiration studies not the sky
But looks for stars; the victories of faith
Are soldiered none the less with certainties,
And all the multitudinous armies decked
With banners blown ahead and flute before
March not to the desert or th’ Elysian fields,
But in the track of some discovery,
The grip and cognizance of something true,
Which won resolves a better distribution
Between the dreaming mind and real truth.
I cannot understand you.
‘T is because
You lean over my meaning’s edge and feel
A dizziness of the things I have not said.