The Miser

By Mona Van Duyn 1921–2004 Mona Van Duyn
I was out last night,
the very picture of a sneak, dark and hunched-over,
breaking and entering again.
Why do I do it?

And why, when I can afford serious residences,
do I keep to this one room?
Perhaps if I had not lost track of the difference
between the real and the ideal
it would never have happened.
I hide here almost entirely now.

When I go out, when I creep into those silent houses,
I steal newspapers.
An armload, no more than I can carry comfortably.
Sometimes they are already tied up
on the side porch or by the kitchen stove.
Nobody misses them.
They think each other or the maid
has carried them out to the street.

They say there is something intractable out there,
the Law, the Right to Privacy,
the World.
In the days when my obsession was only a wound-up toy,
squeaking and jabbering in my chest,
I could have believed them.

I sit by the window today
(There is very little space left now,
thought I have left corridors wide enough to walk through
so I won't lose touch)
holding my latest on my lap,
handling them, fondling them, taking in every column.
They are becoming more and more precious.

My delusion grows and spreads.
Lately it seems to me
as I read of murders, wars, bankruptcies, jackpot winnings,
the news if written in that perfect style
of someone speaking to the one
who knows and loves him.

Long before they miss me, I think,
the room will be perfectly solid.
When they break in the door and, unsurprised,
hardened to the most bizarre vagaries,
begin to carry out my treasure,
death's what they'll look for underneath it all,
those fluent, muscled, imaginative men,
sweating in their innocent coveralls.

But I will be out in broad daylight by then,
having accepted utterly the heart's conditions.
Tell them I wish them well, always,
that I've been happy.

Mona Van Duyn, "The Miser" from If It Be Not I: Collected Poems 1959-1982. Copyright © 1959 by Mona Van Duyn.  Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: If It Be Not I: Collected Poems 1959-1982 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)

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Poet Mona Van Duyn 1921–2004

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Disappointment & Failure, Life Choices, The Mind, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Cities & Urban Life, Love, Desire

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

 Mona  Van Duyn


Mona Van Duyn was born in Waterloo, Iowa and earned degrees from Iowa State Teachers College and the University of Iowa. A distinguished writer whose honors included a Bollingen Prize, a National Book Award, and a term as Poet Laureate of the United States, Van Duyn was co-founder and co-editor of the journal Perspective, a Quarterly of Literature in 1947 with her husband, Jarvis Thurston. A long-time lecturer in the University . . .

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