The sun rises every morning,
And the moon beams every night,
While the planets and constellations,
Are locked in eternal fight.
- Thomas J. McSheey (1899-1935)
The time has come to close the book on Thomas J. McSheey, whose work has been featured in the pages of this blog over the past two years. Actually, I'm currently at work on a biography of McSheey with the working title, "The Lunatic Poet," although my publisher prefers the title, "The Stark Raving Mad Poet."
I was at first a somewhat reluctant McSheey scholar, introduced to his work while attending a "Nutty New England Poets of the 20th Century" lecture many years ago at Stoneycliff University, my alma mater. I'll admit McSheey is hard to warm up to. His poetry was dark and moody. Many times his meter was all off. Sometimes he didn't quite rhyme. Heck, he couldn't even spell!
His body of work is rather sparse, as McSheey was frequently intoxicated, and, being a pagan, was prone to commune with nature for months at a time, mostly living in the woods behind his parents' home with a family of squirrels he befriended. The friendship didn't last, though, as during one lean winter with two feet of snow on the ground and with food scarce he was forced to eat the whole lot of them.
Throughout his brief life McSheey occasionally found his way back to civilization, back to the church, and back to his typewriter. It was during these rare, sober moments when he was able to write.
Yet, being away from civilized society for so long took its toll. For instance, he would find it necessary to familiarize himself with the alphabet. He always had a problem remembering certain letters, mainly the letter Q, and as such his work contains very few "Q" words. Once, when an agitated McSheey was asked by a bank teller to please wait his turn in the queue, he became extremely irate and demanded that he talk with the bank manager at once because he felt the teller was making up words.
And so, as promised in an earlier blog entry, here are extracts from the choral work "The Inspired and the Weary," with words by Thomas J. McSheey, and with music arranged by George Adamson (think Mendelssohn's "Elijah"):
Excerpts from Part I - The Inspired
I am longing for the east,
Where the ocean meets the beach,
Where the dune cliffs rise to face the waves,
I am longing for the moors,
And the whitewashed beacon that soars,
With a beam that chases blasted darkness away,
But I am distant many miles,
And this winter frowns the smiles,
Upon the faces I won't be seeing for many days,
So I will dream of summer strolls,
Along a shoreline where an ocean rolls,
Tumbling forth to wash my footsteps from the sands.
When winter days of February,
Turn snowy ground to mist,
I think of parting handshakes,
Of recollections dismissed,
Of forgotten aspirations,
Dreams crossed off my list,
Oh this bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak winter.
When snows melt to freezing rains,
Turning ground to swampy bog,
I consider what type of tree I'd be,
If I were such a soggy log,
I consider what hue of colors I'd mix,
To paint a soupy fog,
Oh this bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak winter.
Excerpts from Part II - The Weary
Believing in the Almighty,
With all my mortal strength,
Embarking on a journey,
Of an infinite length,
Searching for a truth,
An answer to my query,
Walking along the narrow path,
Alas, my legs grow so weary.
October rains burned the Earth,
With each flaming leaf of red,
November winds churned the Earth,
In its caldron, black and dead,
December's snows in blizzards came,
While January brought the same,
February's grip held the Earth,
'til all life from Her was bled.
I feel myself melting away,
Hour by hour, minute by day,
There must be more to this life than I see,
From birth to death, that's the end of me.
I feel like a candle at the end of its wick,
A sputtering flame atop a shortening stick,
I feel like a clock upon its very last tick,
Sun setting down, darkness coming quick*.
McSheey died at the young age of 36, choking on a piece of dark chocolate. Adamson lived to the ripe old age of 87, dying of natural causes ... although a box of chocolates was found in an adjourning room.
* Footnote: It is interesting to note that the final word penned by McSheey began with the letter "Q." It is said that the word took him so much by surprise as he wrote it that he began to choke on the chocolate he was eating. And thus concludes our treatise on the late Thomas J. McSheey, lunatic poet.