The Making of A New Yorker by O. Henry
Besides many other things, Raggles was a poet. He was called a
tramp; but that was only an elliptical way of saying that he was a
philosopher, an artist, a traveller, a naturalist and a discoverer.
But most of all he was a poet. In all his life he never wrote a line
of verse; he lived his poetry. His Odyssey would have been a
Limerick, had it been written. But, to linger with the primary
proposition, Raggles was a poet.
Raggles's specialty, had he been driven to ink and paper, would have
been sonnets to the cities. He studied cities as women study their
reflections in mirrors; as children study the glue and sawdust of a
dislocated doll; as the men who write about wild animals study the
cages in the zoo. A city to Raggles was not merely a pile of bricks
and mortar, peopled by a certain number of inhabitants; it was a
thing with a soul characteristic and distinct; an individual
conglomeration of life, with its own peculiar essence, flavor and
feeling. Two thousand miles to the north and south, east and west,
Raggles wandered in poetic fervor, taking the cities to his breast.
He footed it on dusty roads, or sped magnificently in freight cars,
counting time as of no account. And when he had found the heart of a
city and listened to its secret confession, he strayed on, restless,
to another. Fickle Raggles!—but perhaps he had not met the civic
corporation that could engage and hold his critical fancy.
Through the ancient poets we have learned that the cities are
feminine. So they were to poet Raggles; and his mind carried a
concrete and clear conception of the figure that symbolized and
typified each one that he had wooed.
Chicago seemed to swoop down upon him with a breezy suggestion of
Mrs. Partington, plumes and patchouli, and to disturb his rest with
a soaring and beautiful song of future promise. But Raggles would
awake to a sense of shivering cold and a haunting impression of
ideals lost in a depressing aura of potato salad and fish.
Thus Chicago affected him. Perhaps there is a vagueness and
inaccuracy in the description; but that is Raggles's fault. He
should have recorded his sensations in magazine poems.
Pittsburg impressed him as the play of "Othello" performed in the
Russian language in a railroad station by Dockstader's minstrels. A
royal and generous lady this Pittsburg, though—homely, hearty, with
flushed face, washing the dishes in a silk dress and white kid
slippers, and bidding Raggles sit before the roaring fireplace and
drink champagne with his pigs' feet and fried potatoes.
New Orleans had simply gazed down upon him from a balcony. He could
see her pensive, starry eyes and catch the flutter of her fan, and
that was all. Only once he came face to face with her. It was at
dawn, when she was flushing the red bricks of the banquette with a
pail of water. She laughed and hummed a chansonette and filled
Raggles's shoes with ice-cold water. Allons!
Boston construed herself to the poetic Raggles in an erratic and
singular way. It seemed to him that he had drunk cold tea and that
the city was a white, cold cloth that had been bound tightly around
his brow to spur him to some unknown but tremendous mental effort.
And, after all, he came to shovel snow for a livelihood; and the
cloth, becoming wet, tightened its knots and could not be removed.
Indefinite and unintelligible ideas, you will say; but your
disapprobation should be tempered with gratitude, for these are
poets' fancies—and suppose you had come upon them in verse!
One day Raggles came and laid siege to the heart of the great city
of Manhattan. She was the greatest of all; and he wanted to learn
her note in the scale; to taste and appraise and classify and solve
and label her and arrange her with the other cities that had given
him up the secret of their individuality. And here we cease to be
Raggles's translator and become his chronicler.
Raggles landed from a ferry-boat one morning and walked into the
core of the town with the blasée air of a cosmopolite. He was
dressed with care to play the rôle of an "unidentified man."
No country, race, class, clique, union, party clan or bowling
association could have claimed him. His clothing, which had been
donated to him piece-meal by citizens of different height, but same
number of inches around the heart, was not yet as uncomfortable to
his figure as those speciments of raiment, self-measured, that are
railroaded to you by transcontinental tailors with a suit case,
suspenders, silk handkerchief and pearl studs as a bonus. Without
money—as a poet should be—but with the ardor of an astronomer
discovering a new star in the chorus of the milky way, or a man who
has seen ink suddenly flow from his fountain pen, Raggles wandered
into the great city.
Late in the afternoon he drew out of the roar and commotion with a
look of dumb terror on his countenance. He was defeated, puzzled,
discomfited, frightened. Other cities had been to him as long primer
to read; as country maidens quickly to fathom; as
send-price-of-subscription-with-answer rebuses to solve; as oyster
cocktails to swallow; but here was one as cold, glittering, serene,
impossible as a four-carat diamond in a window to a lover outside
fingering damply in his pocket his ribbon-counter salary.
The greetings of the other cities he had known—their homespun
kindliness, their human gamut of rough charity, friendly curses,
garrulous curiosity and easily estimated credulity or indifference.
This city of Manhattan gave him no clue; it was walled against him.
Like a river of adamant it flowed past him in the streets. Never an
eye was turned upon him; no voice spoke to him. His heart yearned
for the clap of Pittsburg's sooty hand on his shoulder; for
Chicago's menacing but social yawp in his ear; for the pale and
eleemosynary stare through the Bostonian eyeglass—even for the
precipitate but unmalicious boot-toe of Louisville or St. Louis.
On Broadway Raggles, successful suitor of many cities, stood,
bashful, like any country swain. For the first time he experienced
the poignant humiliation of being ignored. And when he tried to
reduce this brilliant, swiftly changing, ice-cold city to a formula
he failed utterly. Poet though he was, it offered him no color
similes, no points of comparison, no flaw in its polished facets, no
handle by which he could hold it up and view its shape and
structure, as he familiarly and often contemptuously had done with
other towns. The houses were interminable ramparts loopholed for
defense; the people were bright but bloodless spectres passing in
sinister and selfish array.
The thing that weighed heaviest on Raggles's soul and clogged his
poet's fancy was the spirit of absolute egotism that seemed to
saturate the people as toys are saturated with paint. Each one that
he considered appeared a monster of abominable and insolent conceit.
Humanity was gone from them; they were toddling idols of stone and
varnish, worshipping themselves and greedy for though oblivious of
worship from their fellow graven images. Frozen, cruel, implacable,
impervious, cut to an identical pattern, they hurried on their ways
like statues brought by some miracles to motion, while soul and
feeling lay unaroused in the reluctant marble.
Gradually Raggles became conscious of certain types. One was an
elderly gentleman with a snow-white, short beard, pink, unwrinkled
face and stony, sharp blue eyes, attired in the fashion of a gilded
youth, who seemed to personify the city's wealth, ripeness and
frigid unconcern. Another type was a woman, tall, beautiful, clear
as a steel engraving, goddess-like, calm, clothed like the
princesses of old, with eyes as coldly blue as the reflection of
sunlight on a glacier. And another was a by-product of this town of
marionettes—a broad, swaggering, grim, threateningly sedate fellow,
with a jowl as large as a harvested wheat field, the complexion of a
baptized infant and the knuckles of a prize-fighter. This type
leaned against cigar signs and viewed the world with frappéd
A poet is a sensitive creature, and Raggles soon shrivelled in the
bleak embrace of the undecipherable. The chill, sphinx-like,
ironical, illegible, unnatural, ruthless expression of the city left
him downcast and bewildered. Had it no heart? Better the woodpile,
the scolding of vinegar-faced housewives at back doors, the kindly
spleen of bartenders behind provincial free-lunch counters, the
amiable truculence of rural constables, the kicks, arrests and
happy-go-lucky chances of the other vulgar, loud, crude cities than
this freezing heartlessness.
Raggles summoned his courage and sought alms from the populace.
Unheeding, regardless, they passed on without the wink of an eyelash
to testify that they were conscious of his existence. And then he
said to himself that this fair but pitiless city of Manhattan was
without a soul; that its inhabitants were manikins moved by wires
and springs, and that he was alone in a great wilderness.
Raggles started to cross the street. There was a blast, a roar, a
hissing and a crash as something struck him and hurled him over and
over six yards from where he had been. As he was coming down like
the stick of a rocket the earth and all the cities thereof turned to
a fractured dream.
Raggles opened his eyes. First an odor made itself known to him—an
odor of the earliest spring flowers of Paradise. And then a hand
soft as a falling petal touched his brow. Bending over him was the
woman clothed like the princess of old, with blue eyes, now soft and
humid with human sympathy. Under his head on the pavement were silks
and furs. With Raggles's hat in his hand and with his face pinker
than ever from a vehement burst of oratory against reckless driving,
stood the elderly gentleman who personified the city's wealth and
ripeness. From a nearby café hurried the by-product with the vast
jowl and baby complexion, bearing a glass full of a crimson fluid
that suggested delightful possibilities.
"Drink dis, sport," said the by-product, holding the glass to
Hundreds of people huddled around in a moment, their faces wearing
the deepest concern. Two flattering and gorgeous policemen got into
the circle and pressed back the overplus of Samaritans. An old lady
in a black shawl spoke loudly of camphor; a newsboy slipped one of
his papers beneath Raggles's elbow, where it lay on the muddy
pavement. A brisk young man with a notebook was asking for names.
A bell clanged importantly, and the ambulance cleaned a lane through
the crowd. A cool surgeon slipped into the midst of affairs.
"How do you feel, old man?" asked the surgeon, stooping easily to
his task. The princess of silks and satins wiped a red drop or two
from Raggles's brow with a fragrant cobweb.
"Me?" said Raggles, with a seraphic smile, "I feel fine."
He had found the heart of his new city.
In three days they let him leave his cot for the convalescent ward
in the hospital. He had been in there an hour when the attendants
heard sounds of conflict. Upon investigation they found that Raggles
had assaulted and damaged a brother convalescent—a glowering
transient whom a freight train collision had sent in to be patched
"What's all this about?" inquired the head nurse.
"He was runnin' down me town," said Raggles.
"What town?" asked the nurse.
"Noo York," said Raggles.