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As my chin pressed against the arm
Of the amiable Hildegarde
I was brought to realize
That I had neglected to shave,
And as I knew that I should not take full pleasure
At dawn in the ceremony of the bath
If bristles were on my face
I determined that I would go forth
In search of a barber, a whimsical barber,
For surely he must be a whimsical coiffeur,
To have his shop open as late as four o'clock.


The Hildegarde did not wake as I dressed,
But she smiled me good fortune on my adventure.


When I reached the street
I decided I would go
In the direction the wind was blowing,
And so it was to the East I went.
Soon I came upon stairs that seemed
To lead down a great way,
And the entrance portal was lighted,
And convinced I said:
"Here will I descend. It must take me to my barber."


Flight after flight I wound down,
And the lights increased in number,
I was almost forgetting my errand in my excitement,
When suddenly I saw a sign--"Barber Shop de Luxe"
Over the door of a still more brilliantly lighted room.
Many barbers and many patrons I noticed as I entered,
And I vowed I would never patronize any other establishment.
But as I glanced about I could see no chairs.
Everything else was there--but no chairs.
Then an attendant came up to me, "Shave, sir?"
"Yes, but where?" I replied, "there are no chairs."
"Ah, they are not needed," he explained. "Just look."
I followed his finger, and beheld a client,
Who had entered just ahead of me.
He had removed his cravat and collar,
And his barber had given him a razor.
With a detached nonchalance
He deftly cut off his own head,
And gravely handed it to the barber,
Who quickly lathered the face and began his ministrations.
Then I perceived the other barbers
Were all busied in the same way,
While the decapitated leaned against the walls
Leisurely waiting
The return of their heads.


A barber finished--hot towel, cold cream, massage, perfume,
And with the head, the hair immaculately brushed
And moustache waxed,
On a silvery tray,
He smilingly passed it back to its owner,
Who placed it on his neck with both hands,
Nodding thanks, while he dropped silver
In the barber's palm.


It was my turn and my collar was off.
I held a razor, and it all seemed
Much the better way to be shaved.
I raised the blade to my throat, but then I stayed my hand,
For at my feet I saw a great pool of blood.
"Why is that?" I asked the barber.
He showed a little shrug:
"It was nothing. A customer was careless
He put his head on insecurely,
And it fell off. It was slightly bruised,
And it did not become him as well
When he put it on again."


"One cannot be too careful
In one's care of one's person," I thought.
"The man has lost much blood.
He will be very pallid tomorrow."
And then I changed my mind about being shaved.
I covenanted with myself:
"I will raise a beard."


On his thirtieth birthday he awoke in dire mood,
And he was of no heart to grasp at the flying hours
For little minutes of happiness.
He knew he was no longer a boy, and youth being to him
The one true virginal beauty of life,
The knowledge of his own passing
Filled him with unspeakable sadness,
And he felt his soul tainted with staleness.


It was noon when he breakfasted in bed,
And as the servant brought in on the tray
Several packets that had arrived by the post
It aroused no curiosity within him.
In truth, he was as one
Stricken with a mortal malady,
And listlessly he picked up
Even the box that the inscription told him
Came from the woman with the hands of covering flame.


When the box was opened and he saw the gift
There came a slight indrawn breath
Of petulance and hurt protest.
She had sent him a bundle of white collars,
And the mystery of such a choice
Struck him as a cruel heaping on of misery.
"Have I need of collars?" he sighed weakly.
"Why is she so unkind?"


With numbed senses he dragged himself from bed,
And bathed and dressed, feeling angrily
That everything looked drab.
When it came to the selection of neckwear
He reached for the bundle of collars she had sent.
He would wear one, and then descend on her.
He would reproach her for her stupid
And inane jest.
And she would have to listen
To all his spleen against Fate for arranging life
So that his youth should depart.
He would make her day unhappy, too;
That would be her punishment.


He moved toward the mirror to arrange his cravat,
And for the first time in his life
He tasted no pleasurable thrill
As his glance sought for its mirrored twin.
He was old. It was ghastly, grotesque.
He involuntarily shut his eyes as he reached the glass.
He for a moment could not look;
Then with fingers clasping his hips he gazed.
"Is this another torture?" he all but screamed. "It is not I. Where am I?"


He was looking at a boy of twenty-three,
Graceful as a silver poplar.


A gasp swept him to another mirror,
And it gave him the answer.
"Madonna of white collars," he cried, "you have done it.
Your gift has given me back my boyhood.
This is a collar for an innocent lad,
And it takes away the burden of ten years.
Why did I not think of it myself?"


Singing he tore from the house,
And made his way,
Choked with ardour,
To the boudoir of the beloved.