Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 11
Martin went back to his pearl-diving article, which would have been finished
sooner if it had not been broken in upon so frequently by his attempts to write
poetry. His poems were love poems, inspired by Ruth, but they were never
completed. Not in a day could he learn to chant in noble verse. Rhyme and metre
and structure were serious enough in themselves, but there was, over and
beyond them, an intangible and evasive something that he caught in all great
poetry, but which he could not catch and imprison in his own. It was the elusive
spirit of poetry itself that he sensed and sought after but could not capture. It
seemed a glow to him, a warm and trailing vapor, ever beyond his reaching,
though sometimes he was rewarded by catching at shreds of it and weaving
them into phrases that echoed in his brain with haunting notes or drifted across
his vision in misty wafture of unseen beauty. It was baffling. He ached with desire
to express and could but gibber prosaically as everybody gibbered. He read his
fragments aloud. The metre marched along on perfect feet, and the rhyme
pounded a longer and equally faultless rhythm, but the glow and high exaltation
that he felt within were lacking. He could not understand, and time and again, in
despair, defeated and depressed, he returned to his article. Prose was certainly
an easier medium.
Following the "Pearl-diving," he wrote an article on the sea as a career, another
on turtle-catching, and a third on the northeast trades. Then he tried, as an
experiment, a short story, and before he broke his stride he had finished six short
stories and despatched them to various magazines. He wrote prolifically,
intensely, from morning till night, and late at night, except when he broke off to go
to the reading-room, draw books from the library, or to call on Ruth. He was
profoundly happy. Life was pitched high. He was in a fever that never broke. The
joy of creation that is supposed to belong to the gods was his. All the life about
him - the odors of stale vegetables and soapsuds, the slatternly form of his sister,
and the jeering face of Mr. Higginbotham - was a dream. The real world was in
his mind, and the stories he wrote were so many pieces of reality out of his mind.
The days were too short. There was so much he wanted to study. He cut his
sleep down to five hours and found that he could get along upon it. He tried four
hours and a half, and regretfully came back to five. He could joyfully have spent
all his waking hours upon any one of his pursuits. It was with regret that he
ceased from writing to study, that he ceased from study to go to the library, that
he tore himself away from that chart-room of knowledge or from the magazines in
the reading-room that were filled with the secrets of writers who succeeded in
selling their wares. It was like severing heart strings, when he was with Ruth, to
stand up and go; and he scorched through the dark streets so as to get home to
his books at the least possible expense of time. And hardest of all was it to shut
up the algebra or physics, put note-book and pencil aside, and close his tired