One hundred years ago today Mark Twain, Samuel Clemems, died. The following is an excerpt from an unpublished book I wrote a few years back about a young boy who meets a number of characters on his journey to find a gold nugget:
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Once, I was stuck aboard a malfunctioning train
just outside Hartford with the infamous Mark Twain.
Ev’ry mile or so, though no one seem to know why
the train’s engine would slow, stutter, sputter, and die.
That old Missouri cuss by the end of the day
grew so furious with the incessant delay
that when the conductor came around for the fee
Sam gave him a buck for the two-dollar duty.
“Are you a child?” inquired the conductor with a glare,
since all that was required of children was half the fair.
“No, not anymore,” retorted the perturbed Twain,
“but I was when I boarded this god-awful train!”
As each minute and mile ticked, clicked slowly away,
I was amused, beguiled, distracted from the fray
by Sam’s infinite knowledge of ev’ry subject,
by the wisdom and wit of his rare intellect.
There was nothing he did not seem to know about,
from how to sail a yacht around a waterspout
to what kind of pot in which to make sauerkraut.
Why, he even knew what to do about the gout.
But, it was Sam's opinion on why politics
and one’s religion should never mingle and mix
that most interested me as we talked that day
and I slowly digested what he had to say.
“Faith is believing what you know full well ain’t so.
It’s a self-deceiving desire,” he said, “to know
the unknowable. Odd, how we can understan’
the enigma of God and be mystified by man.”
“The sure confidence with which we righteously reject
other Faiths as nonsense should teach us to suspect
that ours is also. For when all is said and done,
if you only know one religion – you know none.”
For awhile we sat with a local politician
who piously told us that it was his mission,
before he died, to plan and lead a pilgrimage
to the Holy land and climb to the top edge
Of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud.
He said he would succeed, “if only the Saints allowed.”
“I’ve a better idea,” Twain suggested to him.
“Why don’t you just remain at home and live by them.”
“Tragedies occur because we’re insensible.
We think it’s easier to die for a principle,"
he went on to argue, "though we may deny it,
than to simply do our best to live by it.”
Lamenting the morals of public officials,
Sam later said, “Their laurels are superficial.
Truly honest men shine brighter in politics,
but it’s hard to find one who’ll stay bought and fixed.”
"The Truth will rule the day. There is nothing wrong with
this assertion, per se, except that it’s a myth.
While the Truth’s being unfurled, a lie can travel
halfway around the world and never unravel.”
“You know, son, it is easy to fall from bad to worse;
a downward spiral is mighty hard to reverse.
So, do what’s right. Evoke in others what is best.
It will delight some folk and astonish the rest.”
When I told Sam what state and county I was from,
where I had been of late and how far I had come,
he smiled and laughed and said, “Why son, I do declare!
Though not born and bread, I ‘as conceived not far from there.”
“In 1835 my father and mother
left there to arrive with my sisters and brother
in Florida, Missouri. Soon, thereafter, my
mother gave birth to me as stars fell from the sky.”
“Ya see, I came to this world with Halley’s comet,
with any luck, I’ll curl up and go out with it.”
As fate would have it, two years later Twain would die
as Halley’s comet soared across the evening sky.
“I was nearly eighteen,” he said, “before I set out
to see the world. Between then and now, I’ve about
seen everything worth seeing – even a spot
or two on this old earth that I wish I had not.”
“If you live a bold, fearless life full of surprise
as I have and grow old, one day you will realize:
It’s not the amount of years in your life that's dear,
that ultimately count; it’s the life in each year.”
“Aging is a state of mind,” he said with a grin.
"Wrinkles should indicate merely where smiles have been.
Most of us can manage with a bright boutonnière
To modify the age of how old we appear.”
“But, if you can only make seventy by a slow,
painful road, for God’s sake, whatever you do – don’t go.
If you feel forsaken, old and weary of breath
And your heart is breakin’, the best refuge is death.”
“But, don’t count on livin’ in some place in the sky.
You may be forgiven, but you’re still gonna die.
I’d rather be a carp swimming in the sea
than play hymns on a harp through all eternity.”
“Though Eternal Rest sounds from the pulpit – sublime,
once you try it, you’re bound to find how heavy time
hangs on your mind. If things are so bad of this earth,
why do we grieve at passings and rejoice at birth?”
“Once, I was asked, ‘Is life worth living?’ It depends,
I said, on the liver. My daughter contends . . .
it's the gallbladder. My wish, son, is that when I die
even the mortician will be sorry and cry.”
Sam's very last commit before he fell asleep
was, “Don’t ever forget – it is better to keep
your mouth shut and appear stupid than to speak out
for the whole world to hear and remove any doubt.”