Genius by Mark Twain
by Mark Twain
EIL Editor’s note: Twain at his most satirical, Genius is a biting mockery of not only the eccentric poetic stereotype but the tendency of critics to evaluate work based on the mystique of the author rather than the merits of the writing itself. Interestingly, Twain himself embodied several of the characteristics he mocks, including financial insolvency; the subject of his numerous debts and whether he could pay them was a subject of such interest during his life that newspapers would report on individual cablegrams sent between Twain and his creditors.
Genius, like gold and precious stones,
is chiefly prized because of its rarity.
Geniuses are people who dash off weird, wild,
incomprehensible poems with astonishing facility,
and get booming drunk and sleep in the gutter.
Genius elevates its possessor to ineffable spheres
far above the vulgar world and fills his soul
with regal contempt for the gross and sordid things of earth.
It is probably on account of this
that people who have genius
do not pay their board, as a general thing.
Geniuses are very singular.
If you see a young man who has frowsy hair
and distraught look, and affects eccentricity in dress,
you may set him down for a genius.
If he sings about the degeneracy of a world
which courts vulgar opulence
and neglects brains,
he is undoubtedly a genius.
If he is too proud to accept assistance,
and spurns it with a lordly air
at the very same time
that he knows he can’t make a living to save his life,
he is most certainly a genius.
If he hangs on and sticks to poetry,
notwithstanding sawing wood comes handier to him,
he is a true genius.
If he throws away every opportunity in life
and crushes the affection and the patience of his friends
and then protests in sickly rhymes of his hard lot,
and finally persists,
in spite of the sound advice of persons who have got sense
but not any genius,
persists in going up some infamous back alley
dying in rags and dirt,
he is beyond all question a genius.
But above all things,
to deftly throw the incoherent ravings of insanity into verse
and then rush off and get booming drunk,
is the surest of all the different signs
If you enjoyed this piece, you may also enjoy EIL’s collection of other Mark Twain poetry. Of course, in addition to fiction and poetry, Mark Twain was also an excellent writer of prose pieces. EIl’s selection of these can be found here.
If you’d like to learn more about this author you can read our Mark Twain biography or explore our other Mark Twain Resources.
When will you read Mark Twain’s writing in Excellence in Literature?
E1.3 Focus text: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court OR Joan of Arc
E1.3 Honors text: The Prince and the Pauper
E3.6 Focus text: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
E3.6 Honors text: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer