Philip B. (Philip Bovier) Hawk.

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hand, I never knew him to deny love or
to cherish hatred; and I never encoun-
tered man or woman who cherished
hatred of Sterling.

Sterling loved poetry not as a pro-
fession, not as a race for place, but as
a giving of beauty to the world. Hence
he was extraordinarily selfless in all
that concerned his art. This was for
me always the most convincing evidence
of his first-rate quality.

The second year I was in California
I wrote a poem which friends made
into a small book. I met Sterling at a
luncheon and gave him a copy. An
hour later Sterling phoned me at my
office to say that he had read the book
and thought it good. Most men would
have been content with writing me a
note. Sterling telephoned, that I might
be warmed both by his promptness and
his enthusiasm no, it was scarcely that.
George simply followed his impulse
and his impulses were invariably gen-
erous.

Sterling belonged to an earlier gen-
eration of letters. Loving San Fran-
cisco and hating the east, he yet suf-
fered from a sense of isolation; the



ers, are in demand. With fortunes to
be made on Montgomery street, and
room for more country homes down the
peninsula, why contemplate the folly of
a life without possessions? Why inflict
on trusting parents the near-disgrace of
a professionally artistic son ?

Materialism has so many confident
champions, beauty so few. Yet, because
of George Sterling, the other, steeper
road has come to look less difficult, the
goal less remote, to every young San
Franciscan who wants to be a poet, or
an artist, or a musician. Thinking of
Sterling, he has his answer to the old
crafty argument that he will be "wast-
ing his life." Make beauty a career?
Well why not? It can be done. That
much he knows now. It is all he wants
to know.



modes of verse were changing George
in talking with me and other younger
writers would refer to himself as an
"old fogy." We knew and he knew
that this was nonsense. I for one never
thought of him otherwise than as an
actively contemporary artist, excellent to
talk with, excellent to quarrel with, a
comrade and a friend. I would heap
abuse on the memory of Ambrose Bierce,
whom he loyally revered. I would rail
at the California sentimentalists and
ignoramuses in the arts. I would de-
nounce his jeweled words as neo-Eliza-
bethan rhetoric and trot out my in-
temperate yawps as models for his con-
sideration. It never occurred to me to
insult him by being "gentle" or "con-
siderate." He was too much of a man,
too much of an artist, for that. If, as
I sometimes alleged, the organized spir-
itual ineptitude of California was intent
on making its little world safe for poet-
asting, that objective was never won so
long as Sterling lived. His talent, never
fully exercised or expended, and his
courage, never broken, were standing
perils to the day of his death.

He was an artist. His "Autumn in
Carmel" I consider one of the most
nearly perfect poems in the language.
His "Lilith," much as I detest its the-
atrical verbal trappings, continues to
haunt me with its essential power and
tragedy.

George Sterling is dead. When I
see San Francisco again I won't see
George. That hurts, .when I force my-
self to realize it. But Sterling lives
on in his work ; lives, too, in the memory
of those who knew him, and lives well.



December, 1927



OVERLAND MONTHLY and OUT WEST MAGAZINE



367



Roosevelt Johnson Becomes Reminiscent



H



I-ONOR George Sterling ... it
seemed a rather difficult and
_ formal thing to do for the mem-
ory of one who was so delightfully un-
affected. Yet I had been requested to
do so and such rites were quite proper
for so great a poet. These thoughts
kept recurring to me as I drove out to
talk the matter over with Roosevelt
Johnson, Sterling's life-long friend. Idle
eulogy is an easy task; to give the es-
sence of a friendship is an exceedingly
difficult one. And so it was that we
discussed a younger Sterling and a far-
away period of his life. Great gift that
his verse was, it seemed to us, just then,
that his friendship had been a greater.

And so I forgot all about the for-
mality of the occasion as I listend to
Roosevelt Johnson talk of boyhood
pranks and follies. "George and I were
boys together in Sag Harbor," Mr.
Johnson began. "We played around as
chums up to the time we were about
twelve years of age. I recall that we
collected birds' eggs, and stamps, keep-
ing this pastime up for some years.
When we were not doing something
like that we were trailing around, in
dumb adoration, at the heels of Pete
McCoy, an almost legendary figure of
the prize ring. Yes, we put a pirate's
flag on top the Presbyterian Church.
It was quite a job to get the flag up
there and we did it at night, George
and I. Years later Mr. Bierce went to
Sag Harbor and sent me a snapshot of
the church with a drawing of his -own
showing the pirate's flag waving in the
breeze.

"Later George went to Baltimore to
school, along with his two brothers. It
was a Catholic school and the boys were
going to study for the priesthood ; in
fact, one of them, James, did become a
priest. I left at this time for Staten
Island to begin to study preparatory to
entering a medical school. Later George
abandoned his school and left for Cali-
fornia, and it was not very long after-
ward that I gave up my studies also
and induced my father to buy me a
ticket to California, where I joined
George. This was, I believe, in 1891.

"In California we were together con-
stantly for many years. At first we
lived with George's uncle and then later
we took rooms together in San Fran-
cisco at Twenty-fourth and Telegraph
road ; the place was called Telegraph
House. One day George and I were
journeying out to see Joaquin Miller.
It was near Christmas time and we



By Carey McWilliams

passed a window in which three nice
turkeys were exposed. I managed to
grab one and we enjoyed a fine turkey
dinner in the woods. We were always
doing something of this kind. I recall
once that I sold some old coats, relics
of military academy days, so that we
could have funds to attend a prizefight.
We were always immensely interested
in fighting, an outgrowth, no doubt, of
that early hero worship of Pete McCoy.
Once George and I had it out, with



AMARANTH

THE Spring will come with all her
vernal buds,
The while the rains pour down their

cooling floods ;
Ah ! this we know as 'neath protecting

skies
We humbly pause to raise allegiant eyes

To that fair promise writ in growing

rays
Which bends above us through the

earthy haze.
But canst thou know that far beyond

such trust
I yet would wait though all about be

dust,

Fast clinging to a hope born of despair
That thou wilt greet me, softly stand-
ing where

The thorny paths converge on lily fields,
And Death himself, receding, gently
yields.

ALICE STERLING GREGORY.



four-ounce gloves, just to see which was
the better fighter. It was all done in
fun.

"Speaking of things being done in fun,
I recall the time George and I fought
it out with shotguns. We had gone to
visit Joaquin Miller and had decided to
give the old fellow a great show by pre-
tending to quarrel with each other and
then to fight it out with shotguns. It
was my idea that if we walked out the



regular shotgun distance from each other
that the shot would be harmless. Old
Miller would not know this and we
could give him a real thrill. Accord-
ingly we had a dramatic quarrel and old
Joaquin was delighted at the thought
of a shotgun duel. We started walking
off our distance and George misunder-
stood something that I said as a signal
and fired too soon. I got quite a few
shots in my arm, which infuriated me,
and I in turn fired on George. We
spent all afternoon getting the shot out
of each other, so the joke was really
Miller's after all.

"George was not writing much during
this period. It was not until his return
from Hawaii that he first began to write
poems and show them to the rest of us.
He became a pupil of Mr. Bierce's and
it didn't seem any time from then until
he became famous as a poet. But I be-
lieve that I think more of the old boy-
hood days, when we rambled through
the woods, swam, stole turkeys, and
fought together, than of the later years
when George was writing verse. We
were always the best of friends and
his death was a great loss. He possessed
a fine lyric gift. I particularly liked
his songs, such as 'The Carmel Million-
aires' and 'The Abalone Song.'

"I believe I was the first person to
introduce George to the poetry of Swin-
burne. At any rate we both admired
Swinburne's verse immensely and I can't
think of anything to say about George
that would be as appropriate as these
lines from Swinburne:

'Time takes them home that we loved,
fair names and famous,

To the soft, long sleep, to the broad
sweet bosom of death;

But the flower of their souls he shall
not take away to shame us,

Nor the lips lack song forever that now
lack breath ;

For with us shall the music and per-
fume that die not dwell,

Though the dead to our dead bid wel-
come, and we farewell.' "

And as I drove home from Mr. John-
son's the sense of loss occasioned by this
discussion of a lost friend and companion
was merged in the music of Swinburne's
lines and I, too, thought that death was
not such a thief, for there was left us
the "music and perfume" of Lillith and
its magic was timeless.



368



OVERLAND MONTHLY and OUT WEST MAGAZINE



December, 1927



I KNEW George Sterling best and
most memorably at Carmel. He
revealed there by the shore, in the
pine woods, and at his own hearth, an
attractiveness not to be described, let
alone explained, in words. He was the
center of our Carmel atom the proton
of positive electricity around which the
rest of us revolved as negative electrons,
held from flying off tangentially by his
magic attraction.

At his house we came together for
New Year's eve and other times, wind-
ing up into the "Forest Eighty" with
candle lanterns in those days of primi-
tive Carmel, bringing sometimes some-
thing to eat or drink to add to his own
and Carrie's generous providing. We
chatted, we sang, we danced. But al-



George Sterling



By Vernon Kellogg

ways we were guided by his mood. His
presence pervaded the house; it pene-
trated us. Some of us I was not one
of them would occasionally bring a bit
of verse hopefully to show him. He
was always kind but truthful, in a way
that was not a hurt but a help. Nobody
questioned his judgment. What he said
was oracle.

What my own relation to Sterling
was is hard for me to define. Probably
I never really knew. I was a university
professor; that meant the dry academic
type. Sterling was not interested in
drouth. But I was a scientist. Sterling
was interested in science. We talked
Darwinism, bitter natural selection, na-



ture read in tooth and claw, the animal
in man. He wrote once, and dedicated
to me, much to my pride, a short poem
giving in fewest words a seizing picture
of this struggle. He was evidently
deeply impressed by it.

He spoke sometimes of the hopeless-
ness of life. But he was certainly often
happy. I remember him happily collect-
ing abalones; happily amusing us all
at rehearsals in the Forest Theater as
a half-clad Indian; happily acting the
unconventional host on New Year's eve.
Yet sadness was never far away. The
look of it would steal over his face any
time, anywhere.

I cherish the memory of him ; and yet
I never really knew him.



SITTING before a typewriter try-
ing to write about George.
(George, I never expected to have
to do this.) What shall you say when
he himself chose silence? (George, I
know every turn of the road, although
it was yours to walk on.) How is it
possible to write one unreal word of the
dead, when they have chosen its hon-
esty and wanted its naturalness?
(George, you were limited by the time
you lived in, and by the beliefs of your
generation, but so are we all.) I pre-
fer to talk to him directly. He will
understand me. Readers of this troubled



Last Words

By Genevieve Taggard

prose, don't suppose that this is a liter-
ary tribute to a man who gave me praise
and kindness and a poet's acknowledg-
ment. (You did, George, and I will
not forget.) This is sitting down at the
typewriter to unravel the old problem
Death, Poetry, Undifferent Humanity,
and the concrete being of a Person,
George Sterling. (I think of your poet's
years in terms of pain, because you
wanted something you did not achieve.)
A poet, under all his masks, wants to
be able to give people what they need.



And when they neither know what they
need, nor find by accident what he has
put close to them (hoping they will find
it if just made and left to be found),
then inevitably the poet dies. (I knew
you were dying, George, when last I
saw you.) It is no one's fault. (You
wanted someone to feed them, no matter
who.) Now it is time to give him
honor and burial. (Let them remember
the Black Vulture, George, aloof on
the day's immeasurable dome.) What
shall we say now, when he himself chose
silence ?



From the Fourth Century, B. C.



GEORGE STERLING was a rare
and exquisite poet whose work is
an imperishable part of the dis-
tinguished literary history of Califor-
nia. He always impressed me as being
born out of time and place, a reincarna-
tion perhaps from the Athens of the



By Gertrude Atherton

Fourth or Third Century B. C., and I
used to wish somewhat fantastically that
he could have drifted through this in-
congruous age as a disembodied spirit;
never seen but somehow making himself



heard. But if he was cursed with mor-
tality and never succeeded in orienting
himself, at least he performed his mis-
sion in giving exalted pleasure to the
many who could appreciate his great
gift, his art, and his devotion to his
muse.



HE had the body of Mercury and
the face of Dante. These ex-
ternals expressed the inner char-
acter of the man. The gay lightsome-
ness of the Greek god and the tragic in-
tensity of the Italian seer struggled his
whole life long in his soul. The Mer-
cury in him engendered that poetry



The Greek

By Will Irwin

which reflected the Greek side of his
beloved California; the Dante stirred up
that spiritual travail which ended in his
tragic death. Mercury produced his
lovely lyrics; Dante his mystic, majestic
"Testimony of the Suns."



Life presented itself to him as an ex-
traordinarily fantastic story of which he
must read and understand every phrase.
Through strange adventures of the mind
and vivid experiences of the soul, he
followed it until it neared its end. Then,
as though tiring suddenly of its chaotic
scheme, its blind contradictions, he sud-
denly closed the book.



December, 1927



OVERLAND MONTHLY and OUT WEST MAGAZINE



369



George Sterling's Bohemian Creed



u



P



ARD like spirit, beautiful and
swift : Love in desolation
masked." Shelley spoke thus of
himself, and every word is true of
George Sterling, too. In the mazes of
Main Street, Sterling walked either too
swiftly, or shyly lagged behind, but sel-
dom kept pace with the smug and corpu-
lent materialists. His aerial nature in-
cited him to consider himself a Bohe-
mian. But his Bohemian creed had "a
pard-like spirit, beautiful and swift,"
and sparkled with superb overtones of
love.

''Any good 'mixer' of convivial habits
. ..siders he has a right to be called a
Bohemian," George Sterling once said
to me. "But that is not a valid claim.
There are two elements, at least, that
are essential to bohemianism. The first
is a devotion (or addiction) to one or
more of the Seven Arts; the other is
poverty. Other factors suggest them-



By Gobind Behari Lai

selves : for instance, I like to think of
my Bohemians as young, as radical in
their outlook on art and life, as uncon-
ventional, and (though this is debat-
able) as dwellers in a city large enough
to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere
of all great cities."

Embracing poverty as a point of chiv-
alry thus bowing in companionship
with those who travel light and unac-
companied, bent on some redeeming cru-
sade devoted to art, and pulsating with
rational intellectualism and revolution-
ary emotion, this arch and anarch artist,
George Sterling, followed a bohemian
life of epic proportions.

No less than the epic of the Renais-
sance was his historical background. It
was as if a Dante were born in the
fifteenth century Italy or Elizabethan



England, and in early manhood came
over to the twentieth century San Fran-
cisco. Too much a wrench in the unity
of history? Not if one understood San
Francisco this Sterling's "pays ami,"
his "Cool grey city of love" a city in
which has been distilled the essence of
the fifteenth century Renaissance of the
Italian shores. Not a city born of that
puritanic, bleak Reformation that
snuffed out beauty from the new spirit
of the Renaissance. Sterling was a Ren-
aissance figure in art and humanism ;
and he was in utter harmony in a city
that still proves that America is a daugh-
ter of the Renaissance, a city that holds
perhaps the promise of a twentieth cen-
tury Renaissance.

Sterling was the prophet of such a
promise, for while he summed up a great
classic tradition, he also leaned forward
upon the horizon of tomorrow; such
was his bohemianism !



"O Carthage and the Unreturning Ships"



THOUGH he looked very much
like Dante, to whom he was also
akin in the warmth of his tem-
perament and the colorful and tragic
quality of his verse, George Sterling was
Spartan in the simplicity of his living
and Athenian in the crystal clearness of
his mind. Jack London called him "the
Greek." The open air appealed to him
strongly, and all the manifestations of
nature. The stars and the ocean, the
moon and the hills were the background
of his thoughts, and imperishably he put
them into words. Sunsets and storms,
sunshine and calm, birds and animals
and sea things he loved them all, and
without sentimentality.

One of the first writers to build his
home in Carmel, he was a long and fast
walker and knew every part of the shore
from the lighthouse on the north point
of Monterey Bay down to the redwoods
of Palo Colorado, and inland for miles
he was familiar as a scout with the hills
and canyons. He hunted a great deal,
and was usually in the sea at low tide
for mussels and abalones. Strangely
enough in one whose poetry was so aus-
tere, he had a delightful sense of humor,
and his song on the hapless gastropod
mollusk is deservedly famous. His aba-
lone feasts were the social events of early



By Herbert Heron

Carmel days. At his home gathered
most of the interesting folk of the small
village and its visitors, and all were
treated with the same beautiful cour-
tesy.

A brilliant wit and host, Sterling was
also a man of the deepest human sym-
pathies. Scores of writers and hundreds
of would-be writers know how generous
he was with his precious time in reading
and criticising their efforts, and many
are the friends who know how his great
heart was the first to feel for them in
misfortune and to help when it lay in
his power.

If he had never written a line, the
loss of his personality would have left
a void in the life of California, though
the obliteration of the poet cannot kill
the splendor of his accomplished work.
We do not know what he might still
have given to the world of beauty, but
his volumes of high poetry from The
Testimony of the Suns to Sails and
Mirage are crown jewels in the treasure-
house of America. If one man may be
said to have lighted the dark interreg-
num between the old poetry and the
new, that one was George Sterling.



"He was a man born with thy face
and throat, lyric Apollo!"

I have always been glad that I knew
him as a poet for some years before our
long friendship began, and while know-
ing only his work, formed an opinion
of its value that never needed to be
changed unless an increase in the
strength of the same opinion can be
called a change. He seemed to me as
a boy, as he seems to me now, the right-
ful successor to the line of Keats and
Shelley, or Rossetti and Swinburne, and
of Poe in America. Twenty years ago
I wrote of him, whom then I had not
seen, some rather florid verses. I could
not write of him in this tone today.
The personal loss is too poignant. My
thoughts of him are very simple thoughts
of him and not of his poetry. I have
not read his books in the year since his
death, but when the tide is low on the
rocks of Carmel Bay, when the wind
blows on the hill that overlooks the
Mission, when the quail call in the un-
derbrush or the surf is loud in the dark-
ness then I wish he were here, that he
might share their spell, that he might
see again the swift colors of the setting
sun and the rose of Aldebaran in a clear
twilight.



370



OVERLAND MONTHLY and OUT WEST MAGAZINE



December, 1927



To A Girl Dancing !

By George Sterling

(From Sails and Mirage, published by A. M. Robertson,
1921 , San Francisco)



HAS the wind called you sister?
Sister to Kypris, who, as the far foam kissed her,

Rose exquisite and white.
For seeing you, we dream of all swift things

And of the swallow's flight
Of sea-birds drifting on untroubled wings,
And incense swaying at the shrine of kings,
In gossamers of violascent light.
In what Sicilian meadows, cool with dew,

Ran rosier girls than you

With tresses dancing free,
To tell how beautiful the world might be?

In what high days unborn,
Will sheerer loveliness go forth at morn,
To wave a brief farewell to night's last star?
For you, we envy not the lost and far,

As now you make our day
As happy and imperial as they.

More than the ripple of grass and waters flowing,

More than the panther's grace
Or poppy touched by winds from sunset blowing,

Your limbs in rapture trace
An evanescent pattern on the sight
Beauty that lives an instant, to become
A sister beauty and a new delight.
So full you feed the heart that hearts are dumb.
Those little hands set back the hands of time,
Till we remember what the world has dreamed,

In her own clime,

Of Beauty, and her tides that ebb and flow
Around old islands where her face has glearned,
The marvellous mirage of long ago.

Ah ! More than voice hath said

They speak of revels fled
The alabastine and exultant thighs,

The vine-encircled head,
The rose-face lifted, lyric, to the skies,
The loins by leaping roses garlanded.

The sandaled years return,

The lamps of Eros burn,

The flowers of Circe nod.
And one may dream of other days and lands,
Of other girls that touch unrested hands

Sad sirens of the god,

To some forgotten tune
Swaying their silvern hips below the moon,

Dance on, for dreams they are indeed,
A vision set afar,

But you with warm, immediate beauty plead.
And fragrant is your footfall on our star

O flesh made music in its ecstasy,
Sing to us ere an end of song shall be :

O fair things young and fleet!

White flower of floating feet!
Be glad! Be glad! for happiness is holy!



Be glad awhile, for on the greensward slowly

Summer and autumn pass,

With shadows on the grass,

Till in the meadows lowly
November's tawny reeds shall sigh "Alas!"

Dear eyes,
What see you on the azure of the skies?

Enchanted, eager face,
Seek you young love in his eternal place?
Round arms upflung, what is it you would clasp

What far-off lover?

Hands that a moment hover,

What hands unseen evade awhile your grasp? .
Ah ! that is best : to seek but not to find him,
For found and loved the seasons yet will blind him

To this true heaven you are
That moth unworthy of your soul's white star,
Dance on, and dream of better things than he!
Dance on, translating us the mortal's guess
At Beauty and her immortality
Yourself your flesh-clad art and loveliness.

Dance, for the time comes when the dance is done

And feet not longer run
On paths of rapture leading from the day.

Release not now

The vine that you have bound about your brow :
Dance, granting us awhile that we forget

How morrows but delay,
Yet come as surely as their* own regret.

Through you the Past is ours,

Through you the Future flow'rs,
In you their dreams and happiness are met.

Through you we find again

That birth of bliss and pain,
That thing of joy and tears and hope and laughter

That men call youth

A greater thing than truth,

A fairer thing than fame

In songs hereafter,
A miracle, an unreturning flame,
The season for itself alone worth living,
And needing not our patience nor forgiving.



Online LibraryPhilip B. (Philip Bovier) HawkOverland monthly and out west magazine (Volume 85) → online text (page 82 of 86)