Monday, February 19, 2007

Arthur Clennam

If you have never read Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit, you have missed out on one of the most perfect opening chapters in English Lit. The rest of the book is all right if you like that sort of thing. The following poem is excerpted from a character sketch of the "romantic lead" in the book, in which the debtors' prison Marshalsea looms large.

I am too old to chase the sun.
I shall turn round to face the night.
I shall go to the dark alone,
I shall resign my hope of light.

With shoulders squared I go, lit by
My sterling character, to be
Bowed down and smeared and shaded nigh
The shadow of the Marshalsea.

I am too proud to help myself,
Too shamed to mourn my loss of pride,
Too old to chase the sun of love,
Too young to face the other side.

I dare not hope to be redeemed,
I have not strength to rise above
The shadow I once raised her from
Who raised another with her love.

I dare not hope to be thus loved,
Who loved but vainly ere today;
I dare not trust the love of one
Whom love has sent so far away.

And so, too tall to enter here
Without my shoulders bowing low,
Too sterling-bright, I bow and smear,
And into Marshalsea I go.

I am too young to face the night,
And yet too old to hope for day.
To save my honor, that I lose,
And for another’s crimes I pay.

I now resign my hope of light,
And go into the dark alone.
At least my name can do no harm
Though maybe I cannot atone.

Too old for day, too young for night,
Too proud to covet freedom’s air,
That will I breathe but when she comes
Whose hope of coming I’ll not dare.

And yet into this tomb I take
The knowledge that I kept me right;
This little solace may repay
Me when I rise again less bright.

And if she comes, and if I rise
And once more day shall bless my sight,
Hers shall I be, the finding hers,
And hers alone the dawning light.

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