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"A 19th-Century Friend" is a book written by Bruce Craig in the form of a narrative, using a classical sonnet form. The first chapter is given below in its entirety:
Chapter 1 Meeting A nineteenth-century friend of mine, Whose life had long since passed to prayer, Came through some strangely laid design To make myself of him aware. For reasons I could not suspect Although, perhaps, his choice was driven By want of what to him was given. In any case, however meant, I came, in time, with him to share A bond which, balanced by our care, Replaced suspicion with consent. The history that I now recount Holds parts of each in like amount. How does one sense that life has changed, When old from new begins to part? In ways that now seem quite deranged, A subtle change made known its start. Through long-years' use I'd sleep rehearse By means of oft-repeated verse. A calmness from the words descends Which sleep confers before it ends. But then, during some familiar line, A transformation would take place In which the horizontal space A new direction would define. Both rhyme and metered sense would change, The meaning slowly grow more strange. Thus was by him a shadow cast, Through which his spirit entered mine. The verse I knew from habit past Became reshaped to his incline. The words dissolved to show a place In which his time had formed the space. A manor in my mind took shape Which for his life had been escape. The images took on a strength To which the old lines now subserved. The sleep which I had thought reserved Would fade in ever-shrinking length. The path down which the verse once led In thought and power left my head. At times, strange voices insecure Would leave me haunted by their calls: The sounds of presences impure And spirits in those manored walls. A woman's cry would alternate With music played in measured gait; A sudden burst of unmet wrath Would turn to madness in its path. The ways in which he made this known Would sometimes leave me quite unnerved: That sense which for his value served Could often be to malice prone. When peace in him I'd think to see, More often followed enmity. The images took on such force, I started to mistrust my head; And in my search for some recourse, My fascination turned to dread. The mind I once had occupied Now shared a presence from outside. I learned to fear the subtle ways By which his hold my mind could daze. At first, his visits paid at night Left each new day quite undisturbed; The images my mind perturbed Were quickly gone, left out of sight. But then each night, I came to learn, His form and presence would return. I questioned now his whole intent, Of how and why he sought my ear. I asked from where he had been sent, And had I cause from him to fear. I worried now to what degree His will could be imposed on me, And if I still retained a choice In that which I had thought my voice. I knew no more where lay the wall Which separated him from me, Or if I could, without some key, The peace I'd known again recall. His answer came quite undismayed, As though surprised I'd be afraid. "The way in which our minds converse Is not by my intrusion. That I'd myself in you immerse Is but your own delusion. Existence is a sort of mime By which we think to measure time. The door through which I find egress Is keyed by means that you possess. That part of history I have known Includes no times since that I left. The crack in time that you have cleft Is but a slit through walls of stone. Your fears that I on you could feed Ignores by whom the door is keyed. "Or has your fear a different source Than that I could yourself replace? Perhaps my presence has a force Through memories you cannot erase. Is that which leads into your head A gate through which you've others led, Its ponderous swing a mindless task Whose exercise may boredom mask? Although I suffer not from haste, If it's a call to me you've made With consequences not yet weighed, Do not my chance to exit waste. You have the means at your employ My presence quickly to destroy." The thought appeared to me absurd That he would think me devious, When all that had as yet occurred Seemed linked to nothing previous. When voices from within control, Theirs is no weak impassive role. The question then is who's being taught, And on whose side is formed the thought. I weighed the strangeness of his speech, While asking what might well be lost, Or if there were some hidden cost To place myself beyond his reach. The doubt my silence thus implied He countered from a different side. "The world from which I took my leave Precedes yours by a lifetime's span. Within that time man could achieve The dreams that during my life began. Although for that I've little mind, There is one lesser thing in kind: My life played out before its end With little left it to commend; My restlessness transcends the grave In ways perhaps somewhat unearned. I would through future memories learned Regain the peace which now I crave. I seek a future long since past, Which frozen in its time is cast. "Could we through trust a means create By which each shows his inner side? My history I'll to you relate, Such that your fears of me subside. You would in turn impart to me That portion of your history Which has a bearing on my own, And which I could not learn alone. Through such could we our trust exchange And thereby give us each the means To penetrate those inner screens Which work our purpose to estrange. The knowledge of my life I'd gain Would in its history yours contain. "But where in you exists such worth That drives me from the grave to climb? Our paths have met upon this earth, But intersect in place, not time. That settled spot where I my days Played out in their accustomed ways Is, quite remarkably, the same As that from which your forebears came. The threads of mine are somehow lost, But seem to yours to be quite near. In ways as yet not fully clear Our family ties are mixed and crossed. The narrative whose thread I seek Holds strands which from our two worlds speak." By bits and pieces we arrived At times and places somehow shared, Although his knowledge was derived From sources which he'd not declared. The place was Russia's northern clime; The nineteenth century was the time. Through circumstances inexact Our families' pasts had briefly tracked. The roots, which we at length debated, Seemed from a forebear to derive, Who had in eighteen-ninety-five From Russia westwards emigrated. My mother's father, long since dead, From czarist Russia's heart had fled. This narrative whose lines I sketch I sometimes doubt I should relate. How does one's hand, indeed, outstretch With spirits to negotiate? Or have words power to create The image I'd articulate? Between awakedness and sleep Exists the region spirits keep; The journey through its hazy veil Can quickly pass or slowly creep, The passage either mild or steep, And of direction knows no trail. The language of its brief domain Is one which we from birth retain. The path by which recited verse Led now into my family tree, As though to dredge up some lost curse, Was one that deeply puzzled me. But strangeness soon takes on a feel By which it seems no less than real; And so I simply stumbled on, By fascination made a pawn. Our minds were of a separate part How best our stories to relate; To keep the flow of history straight, I thought that he as first should start. This logic, which I felt quite sound, He chose, however, to confound. "A story read from start to end Makes use of time's familiar flow. Its subtleties of plot depend On characters who live and grow. But no such history marks the place Of such as us, whose plots unlace The order in which time intends That life progresses and ascends. The climax of the plot I seek Is twisted from its normal state. The sequence I would re-create Is scattered through the words we speak. The links that form its inner part Might well progress from end to start." Confusion functions as a screen To save what logic treats as lost; The doubled strength two minds convene Can even these remains exhaust. Our conversation stumbled on As though all logic's use was gone, Until the time had finally come Of what we knew to form a sum. Fatigued by senseless argument, I, with regret, my thoughts forsook And so the project undertook My Russian past to document. What follows is, from family lore, That glimpse through history's long-closed door...
Copies of this book may obtained for $10. each (including postage and handling) by using the Order Form. A billing invoice will be sent along with the book. ISBN is 0-966-56140-6. LCCN is 98-090570.
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