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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Curse of the Competent; or, The Lay of the Last Genius

By Henry James Finn (1787–1840)

[Preserved in J. T. Buckingham’s “Personal Memoirs.” 1852.]

MY spirit hath been seared, as though the lightning’s scathe had rent,

In the swiftness of its wrath, through the midnight firmament,

The darkly deepening clouds; and the shadows dim and murky

Of destiny are on me, for my dinner’s naught but—turkey.

The chords upon my silent lute no soft vibrations know,

Save where the moanings of despair—out-breathings of my woe—

Tell of the cold and selfish world. In melancholy mood,

The soul of genius chills with only—fourteen cords of wood.

The dreams of the deserted float around my curtained hours,

And young imaginings are as the thorns bereft of flowers;

A wretched outcast from mankind, my strength of heart has sank

Beneath the evils of—ten thousand dollars in the bank.

This life to me a desert is, and kindness, as the stream

That singly drops upon the waste where burning breezes teem;

A banished, blasted plant, I droop, to which no freshness lends

Its healing balm, for Heaven knows, I’ve but—a dozen friends.

And Sorrow round my brow has wreathed its coronal of thorns;

No dewy pearl of Pleasure my sad sunken eyes adorns;

Calamity has clothed my thoughts, I feel a bliss no more,—

Alas! my wardrobe now would only—stock a clothing store.

The joyousness of Memory from me for aye hath fled;

It dwells within the dreary habitation of the dead;

I breathe my midnight melodies in languor and by stealth,

For Fate inflicts upon my frame—the luxury of health.

Envy, Neglect, and Scorn have been my hard inheritance;

And a baneful curse clings to me, like the stain on innocence;

My moments are as faded leaves, or roses in their blight—

I’m asked but once a day to dine—to parties every night.

Would that I were a silver ray upon the moonlit air,

Or but one gleam that’s glorified by each Peruvian’s prayer!

My tortured spirit turns from earth, to ease its bitter loathing;

My hatred is on all things here, because—I want for nothing.