Fame!—FAME!—Know ye the half? I’d venture not—
But, mark my words, you’re better in that state,
For, once it’s launched, one can’t un-sling the shot
That felled Goliath. Fame’s the foulest fate!
I was a young and inexperienced scribbler
Pimping out at some pathetic launch,
To schmooze at every fawner, friend, and nibbler,
Shake every hand, perhaps kiss every haunch.
I’d just begun to gear up to deliver
A little speech in thanks to a few or more
Then present, when I felt a sudden shiver
Chill the room. All eyes pulled to the door
Where stood a solitary, haggard figure
Aimed straight at me, and striding as he spoke.
His form as he advanced grew ever bigger
Until I smelled each wine stain in his cloak.
The stranger seemed familiar, yet was alien
His eyes were flame—a man quite out of mind.
He eyed me like a stone slab, by Pygmalion;
I asked him if he’d like his copy signed.
He begged me: did I recognize his face?—
A smoother version, maybe, and less drawn;
He asked if just perhaps my mind might place
A phiz like his, but closer to its dawn
Than to this misty dusk. I shrugged. He urged.
But as he wheeled to go the way he’d come
He turned; and, as he did, his profile verged
And snapped in place: I knew it—knew it from
The inside flap of some old, well-worn tome,
Proclaimed by all the journals as superb,
Airbrushed and turtle-necked, in monochrome,
And beaming out above a brilliant blurb.
(I later learned the frightful time it took
To fluff that wig. His paunch, below the fold,
Might well have, if included, bowed the book—
On top of which, the shot was ten years old.)
I said:"It’s you!" He said:" Indeed it is"
And back into the fold the giant came.
I begged for his instruction in the biz.
He grinned a thin, cold grin. "What is my name?"
But I drew blanks and longer blanks. He smiled
And said: "It seems my luck’s at last run out.
A time there was when I would be reviled
As soon as sighted, or loved by devout
Fanatics. In between, a gulf of bleak
Indifference. But most took one extreme,
It’s tough to say which worse, or which could wreak
The most of mischief. Sometimes it would seem
That both were but the same: two devils in
Opposing guises, who would take in turns,
To torture me for complementary sins
With complementary punishments. It burns
As much, you can be sure, to be adored
By cloying masses, as it does to be
Abhorred by clawing mobs—though I have scored
Without a doubt, a greater quantity
Of those in the latter camp. Now I must warn
What you can well expect if you persist:
For I’ll be dead before the coming morn,
But you—there still is hope. You yet exist!
You think yourself a marble bust. You’re slate,
And every creep and critic is a sponge
Who with a single swipe across your pate
Remakes it as their own so they can lunge
Full-tilt at wheeling windmills with your voice
And knock them over, pin the crime on you,
And leave you there with little other choice
But shrug and laugh ‘What are you going to do?’
The game is called the death of a thousand cuts,
Its object, to destroy what makes you you:
Your face, a feast on which the fame-beast gluts,
And further fare: your mind. Your spirit, too,
Until all that remains, an empty name
that rests, uncut, gilt-edged, upon some shelf!"
Thus I heard sung the crippling curse of fame . . .
But still, I’d like to find out for myself.