The Great War

from Retrogression and Other Poems: Electronic Edition

The Ballad of the Bootmaker
[A Fable for Poets]

I WENT into a bootmaker's,

A pair of boots to buy.

Upon the morrow morn those boots

Let in the rain and sky.

Then to the bootman I returned,

And cold, cold were my feet;

But my vocabulary was

Of equatorial heat.

"'Tis true," quoth he, "the boots you bought

Are palpably a pair

Not made for such ignoble ends

As vulgar use and wear.

"Rather have they been fashioned forth

By one who did disdain

The shallow art of making boots

That will keep out the rain.

"His loftier dream is to conceive

A boot that sets no bars

To the free ingress of the heavens

And visits of the stars.

"In his impassioned bootmanship

Foiled gropings are discerned

Toward some visionary boot

For which the ages yearned.

"His baffled flight, his broken wing.

His heart-cry and his pain.

Are worth a million perfect boots

That will keep out the rain."

"Your words," said I, "are passing fine,

But let my boots be made

By handicraftsmen who were not

Too great to learn their trade.

"The thirst for the Infinitudes

Will scarce with me atone

For upper leathers badly botched

And soles as badly sewn.

"I cannot rate his bootcraft high

Who principally lives

To obliterate the differences

Observed 'twixt boots and sieves.

"Not that I would on Art's free spirit

A deadening yoke impose!

Let boots express the bootmaker

And all he feels and knows.

"'Tis meet, 'tis well! But I shall yet

For evermore retain

My old, my early love of boots

That will keep out the rain."

With that I doffed the boots I loathed,

And nought besides did say.

But heaved them at the bootster's head

And bootless went my way.

To muse upon a universe

That seemed, when I was young,

A place where boots were better made,

And songs were better sung.