Tuesday, August 26, 2008

De Profundis: Byberry

While we're on vacation in lovely Cape May County, NJ, we thought it would be nice, if sobering, to reprise this classic Arnold Schnabel sonnet, first posted here on April 19, 2007, but written in the first week of his commitment to the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry (pictured above), during that very dark January of 1963. Originally published, as were all of Arnold's poems during his lifetime, in the "Olney Times". (Grateful acknowledgement as always to the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

"One Night"

One night the ceiling opened and I rose up slowly;
Above my house I twisted round, looked down and back
On Nedro Avenue, B Street, and the Heintz factory;
Black smoke billowed from a gaping maw-like stack,
Smoke enveloped me and all was dark;
Like a dead cinder upward I floated and spinned:
I called to God for light, a tiny spark:
He did not answer. The reason? I had sinned.
For fifteen years I stared at the night within my head
And then at last I slept for another fifteen,
Till I awoke firmly bound to a clean white bed.
It’s been several days and now the bed is not so clean,
And neither am I; each night I watch the ceiling yawn,
But I am well-strapped in: I await the dawn.

(For links to other poems from Arnold Schnabel, some as scary but none of them scarier, and to the various chapters of our ongoing serialization of his previously unpublished memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)


Unknown said...

So good to revisit some of Arnold's poetry! It's what first caught my eye about this son of Olney.

Anonymous said...

A masterpiece

Unknown said...

This poem made me fall in love with Arnold. I'd liked him a lot when he first showed up here, but this poem stole my heart.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, guys. I thank you, Arnold thanks you, and Arnold's mom thanks you.