Before I was famous I used to sit

In a dull old under-ground room I knew,

And sip cheap beer, and be glad for it,

With a wild Bohemian friend or two.

And oh, it was joy to loiter thus,

At peace in the heart of the city's stir,

Entombed, while life hurried over us,

In our lazy bacchanal sepulchre.

There was artist George, with the blond Greek

And the startling creeds, and the loose cravat;

There was splenetic journalistic Fred,

Of the sharp retort and the shabby hat;

There was dreamy Frank, of the lounging gait,

Who lived on nothing a year, or less,

And always meant to be something great,

But only meant, and smoked to excess;

And last myself, whom their funny sneers

Annoyed no whit as they laughed and said,

I listened to all their grand ideas

And wrote them out for my daily bread!

The Teuton beer-bibbers came and went,

Night after night, and stared, good folk,

At our table, noisy with argument,

And our chronic aureoles of smoke.

And oh, my life! but we all loved well

The talk,--free, fearless, keen, profound,--

The rockets of wit that flashed and fell

In that dull old tavern under-ground!

But there came a change in my days at last,

And fortune forgot to starve and stint,

And the people chose to admire aghast

The book I had eaten dirt to print.

And new friends gathered about me then,

New voices summoned me there and here;

The world went down in my dingy den,

And drew me forth from the pipes and beer.

I took the stamp of my altered lot,

As the sands of the certain seasons ran,

And slowly, whether I would or not,

I felt myself growing a gentleman.

But now and then I would break the thrall,

I would yield to a pang of dumb regret,

And steal to join them, and find them all,

With the amber wassail near them yet,--

Find, and join them, and try to seem

A fourth for the old queer merry three,

With my fame as much of a yearning dream

As my morrow's dinner was wont to be.

But the wit would lag, and the mirth would lack,

And the god of jollity hear no call,

And the prosperous broadcloth on my back

Hung over their spirits like a pall!

It was not that they failed, each one, to try

Their warmth of welcome to speak and show;

I should just have risen and said good-bye,

With a haughty look, had they served me so.

It was rather that each would seem, instead,

With not one vestige of spleen or pride,

Across a chasm of change to spread

His greeting hands to the further side.

And our gladdest words rang strange and cold,

Like the echoes of other long-lost words;

And the nights were no more the nights of old

Than spring would be spring without the birds!

So they waned and waned, these visits of mine,

'Till I married the heiress, ending here.

For if caste approves the cigars and wine,

She must frown perforce upon pipes and beer.

And now 'tis years since I saw these men,

Years since I knew them living yet.

And of this alone I am sure since then,--

That none has gained what he toiled to get.

For I keep strict watch on the world of art,

And George, with his wide, rich-dowered brain!

His fervent fancy, his ardent heart,

Though he greatly toiled, has toiled in vain.

And Fred, for all he may sparkle bright

In caustic column, in clever quip,

Of a truth must still be hiding his light

Beneath the bushel of journalship.

And dreamy Frank must be dreaming still,

Lounging through life, if yet alive,

Smoking his vast preposterous fill,

Lounging, smoking, striving to strive.

And I, the fourth in that old queer throng,

Fourth and least, as my soul avows,--

I alone have been counted strong,

I alone have the laurelled brows!

Well, and what has it all been worth?

May not my soul to my soul confess

That "succeeding," here upon earth,

Does not alway assume success?

I would cast, and gladly, from this gray head

Its crown, to regain one sweet lost year

With artist George, with splenetic Fred,

With dreamy Frank, with the pipes and beer!