“Subjective Odyssey” by H.R. Barbor

Subjective Odyssey

In the cool of evening
I and myself go voyaging,
Seeking a ghoul-grotesquerie, a sublimated
Intensified paradisal Piccadilly
Circus with its half-past-one-a.m.
Denizens—doxies and drabs
And rubber-heeled custodians of the woe
That world-wide mediocrity has made
In its own blear image
And christened after Christ.
(You may think that silly
But you can't blame them.
After all, Christ came
To save the silly.
At present, true, he has not quite
        succeeded :
More time, of course, is needed.)

The soul goes voyaging,
Barbor's off on a new spindrifty tack.
The damned chill spray
Can't wash high hopes away.
Anon he's scouting
For brazen butterflies or moths of steel,
Flapping with his coat o'er the meads of
'Neath the blistering sun—
The cynic son-of-a-gun.
See, he brings down one,
A fluttering, frail
Trifle of steel and vigour
(Dreams made them so, crystal-hard,
Whereas hopes and abstractions puff up,
        bigger and bigger,
Till they rival footballs, mattresses, or the
       necks of German bankers).

This captivating captive,
Trifle of steel and vigour:
One can't be cruel—or wise—
And pinch her dead with a sharp accurate
So away she flies,
And while she flirts in the luminous air
      and flits
In such wise
That amazement on our cousin Barbor sits,
I tug his coat-tails, point him over the way
Where the light is gay
On the tavern, and men make better
Than these tenuous forms, fancy-born, that
       only fancy

Love's a good game
For winter evenings—or spring or summer,
But tame
For ever and anon. The apogee
Stales. Desire is "up a tree."
Nought's left but to take a cab to infinity,
But Necessity
Warns you to put a luncheon-basket under
        the seat
Since bore and bored must eat.

But hang infinity—
I'll stay awhile in the tavern here with me.
My alter ego leans across the table
Asking the inveterate question, " What is
As if I'm able
To state a case for Casualty!—
The malign decrepit bar-tender who pours
Red wine or white,
Illusions bright,
Or bitter tincture of dead and rotten hopes
Into my cup.

While inclination gropes
In the littered pigeon-holes of memory,
Deciding how I'll sup,
I lose the comfort of good comradry,
For Barbor lounges intently over the way
To a white-avised, stray,
Gay girl. And loneliness distils
Nostalgic chills
About me as the mists close on the hills.

Sight and sense
Barter disdain for folly's recompense.
The old hunt begins again all over :
The dogs'-eared pages are re-read from
         cover to cover.

''What then, crawl all your days
"Along these dismal ways,
"This vicious circle too small for vice to
"This via media, this mean parade?"
Contends Myself,
Coming back from the girl with the gleam
         of contempt in my eye,
And I am fain to reply :
''Take up your trade.
"A bout of work'll
"Soon set things right.
"A hammer drowns women's chatter,
"They can't abide the clatter!"
Thus I and alter ego
Fall into step and walk through the night,
And in the morning greet the new-risen
The intemperate son-of-a-gun—
With a grin that mocks the affright
Of overnight.

H.R. Barbor's poem "Subjective Odyssey" was published in the sixth and final "cycle" of the Wheels anthology (1921). To read this poem in a digitized version of this publication, follow the links below:


Librivox Audio Recording (Hosted on Archive.org)

The Modernist Journals Project