Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 35
Brissenden gave no explanation of his long absence, nor did Martin pry into it. He
was content to see his friend's cadaverous face opposite him through the steam
rising from a tumbler of toddy.
"I, too, have not been idle," Brissenden proclaimed, after hearing Martin's
account of the work he had accomplished.
He pulled a manuscript from his inside coat pocket and passed it to Martin, who
looked at the title and glanced up curiously.
"Yes, that's it," Brissenden laughed. "Pretty good title, eh? 'Ephemera' - it is the
one word. And you're responsible for it, what of your MAN, who is always the
erected, the vitalized inorganic, the latest of the ephemera, the creature of
temperature strutting his little space on the thermometer. It got into my head and
I had to write it to get rid of it. Tell me what you think of it."
Martin's face, flushed at first, paled as he read on. It was perfect art. Form
triumphed over substance, if triumph it could be called where the last conceivable
atom of substance had found expression in so perfect construction as to make
Martin's head swim with delight, to put passionate tears into his eyes, and to
send chills creeping up and down his back. It was a long poem of six or seven
hundred lines, and it was a fantastic, amazing, unearthly thing. It was terrific,
impossible; and yet there it was, scrawled in black ink across the sheets of
paper. It dealt with man and his soul-gropings in their ultimate terms, plumbing
the abysses of space for the testimony of remotest suns and rainbow spectrums.
It was a mad orgy of imagination, wassailing in the skull of a dying man who half
sobbed under his breath and was quick with the wild flutter of fading heart-beats.
The poem swung in majestic rhythm to the cool tumult of interstellar conflict, to
the onset of starry hosts, to the impact of cold suns and the flaming up of nebular
in the darkened void; and through it all, unceasing and faint, like a silver shuttle,
ran the frail, piping voice of man, a querulous chirp amid the screaming of
planets and the crash of systems.
"There is nothing like it in literature," Martin said, when at last he was able to
speak. "It's wonderful! - wonderful! It has gone to my head. I am drunken with it.
That great, infinitesimal question - I can't shake it out of my thoughts. That
questing, eternal, ever recurring, thin little wailing voice of man is still ringing in
my ears. It is like the dead-march of a gnat amid the trumpeting of elephants and
the roaring of lions. It is insatiable with microscopic desire. I now I'm making a
fool of myself, but the thing has obsessed me. You are - I don't know what you
are - you are wonderful, that's all. But how do you do it? How do you do it?"