Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Fifty-One Tales

‘The Assignation’
[Notes] Fickle Fate teases the Poet, but courts the vacuous.
001. Fame singing in the highways, and trifling as she sang, with sordid adventurers, passed the poet by. And still the poet made for her little chaplets of song, to deck her forehead in the courts of Time: and still she wore instead the worthless garlands, that boisterous citizens flung to her in the ways, made out of perishable things. And after a while whenever these garlands died the poet came to her with his chaplets of song; and still she laughed at him and wore the worthless wreaths, though they always died at evening. And one day in his bitterness the poet rebuked her, and said to her: “Lovely Fame, even in the highways and the byways you have not foreborne to laugh and shout and jest with worthless men, and I have toiled for you and dreamed of you and you mock me and pass me by.” And Fame turned her back on him and walked away, but in departing she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him as she had not smiled before, and, almost speaking in a whisper, said: “I will meet you in the graveyard at the back of the Workhouse in a hundred years.”

[Notes] Eternal beings are neither impressed nor depressed by anything
001. So grey were all things always where he was that if any radiance lingered a moment among the dead, on the face of such a queen perhaps as Cleopatra, his eyes could not have perceived it.
002. It was strange that the dead nowadays were coming in such numbers. They were coming in thousands where they used to come in fifties. It was neither Charon’s duty nor his wont to ponder in his grey soul why these things might be. Charon leaned forward and rowed.
003. And the sound of the river was like a mighty sigh that Grief in the beginning had sighed among her sisters, and that could not die like the echoes of human sorrow failing on earthly hills, but was as old as time and the pain in Charon’s arms.
004. Then the boat from the slow, grey river loomed up to the coast of Dis and the little, silent shade still shivering stepped ashore, and Charon turned the boat to go wearily back to the world. Then the little shadow spoke, that had been a man. “I am the last,” he said.
005. No one had ever made Charon smile before, no one before had ever made him weep.

‘Death and Odysseus’
[Notes] Search me
001. In the Olympian courts Love laughed at Death, because he was unsightly, and because She couldn’t help it, and because he never did anything worth doing, and because She would.

‘Death and the Orange’
[Note]  Not a sausage on this one.

‘The Guest’ 
[Plot] A man books a table for two in a restaurant. When seated, he tells the waiter his guest will likely not arrive until coffee, and has his meal, all the while addressing the empty chair across from himself. At the end of the meal, he puts a tablet of something in his coffee, drinks it and dies. Death had been his guest.

‘The Little City’
[Note] Man-made things are transitory
001. And aloof and dark the mountains stared unconcernedly seawards.
002. And when I saw those grey and watchful mountains sitting where they sat while the cities of the civilization of Araby and Asia arose like crocuses, and like crocuses fell, I wondered for how long there would be smoke in the valley and little fields on the hills.

‘The Prayer of the Flowers’
[Note] Nature has only to be patient and civilisation will return to it.

‘The Raft Builders’ 
[Notes] Writers are … well, see 001.
001. All we who write put me in mind of sailors hastily making rafts upon doomed ships.
002. When we break up under the heavy years and go down into eternity with all that is ours our thoughts like small lost rafts float on awhile upon Oblivion’s sea. They will not carry much over those tides, our names and a phrase or two and little else. They that write as a trade to please the whim of the day, they are like sailors that work at the rafts only to warm their hands and to distract their thoughts from their certain doom; their rafts go all to pieces before the ship breaks up. See now Oblivion shimmering all around us, its very tranquility deadlier than tempest. How little all our keels have troubled it. Time in its deeps swims like a monstrous whale; and, like a whale, feeds on the littlest things
003.  See now the wreckage of Babylon floating idly, and something there that once was Nineveh; already their kings and queens are in the deeps among the weedy masses of old centuries that hide the sodden bulk of sunken Tyre and make a darkness round Persepolis. For the rest I dimly see the forms of foundered ships on the sea-floor strewn with crowns. Our ships were all unseaworthy from the first. There goes the raft that Homer made for Helen.

‘The Songless Country’
[Note:] The more we work the less time we spend being happy.
001. Then he went to some of that nation as they sat weary with the work of the day and said to them: “I have made you some aimless songs out of the small unreasonable legends, that are somewhat akin to the wind in the vales of my childhood; and you may care to sing them in your disconsolate evenings.” And they said to him: “If you think we have time for that sort of nonsense nowadays you cannot know much of the progress of modern commerce.” And the poet wept for he said: “Alas! They are damned.”

‘Time and the Tradesman’
[Notes:] Time finds an antiques dealer making new furniture look old. He says that’s not how I work, instantly ages the man then leaves to age the city.

‘The Unpasturable Fields’
[Note:] Mountains say to clouds they pass away and clouds say they’re majestic…or something.

‘Wind and Fog’
001. “Way for us,” said the North Wind as he came down the sea on an errand of old Winter. And he saw before him the grey silent fog that lay along the tides.
002. “Way for us,” said the North Wind, “O ineffectual fog, for I am Winter’s leader in his age-old war with the ships. I overwhelm them suddenly in my strength, or drive upon them the huge seafaring bergs. I cross an ocean while you move a mile. There is mourning in inland places when I have met the ships. I drive them upon the rocks and feed the sea. Wherever I appear they bow to our lord the Winter.” And to his arrogant boasting nothing said the fog. Only he rose up slowly and trailed away from the sea and, crawling up long valleys, took refuge among the hills; and night came down and everything was still, and the fog began to mumble in the stillness. And I hear him telling infamously to himself the tale of his horrible spoils.

‘The Workman’
[Plot] A writer sees a builder falling from a scaffolding and,whilst falling, is trying to scratch his name on the wood of the scaffold, which will be taken down soon. The writer finds this act of obvious futility amusing. He returns to his room and writes until the small hours. The ghost of the workman comes through his wall and laughs heartily at the writer’s obviously futile act of creating anything, as nothing is eternal.

‘The Worm and the Angel’
[Note:] The conqueror worm.
001. As he crawled from the tombs of the fallen a worm met with an angel. And together they looked upon the kings and kingdoms, and youths and maidens and the cities of men. They saw the old men heavy in their chairs and heard the children singing in the fields. They saw far wars and warriors and walled towns, wisdom and wickedness, and the pomp of kings, and the people of all the lands that the sunlight knew. And the worm spake to the angel saying: “Behold my food.”

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