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My Mark Twain
The American Joke
by Howells, William Dean

(Read at the Birthday Dinner to S. L. Clemens, December 5, 1905)


A traveller from the Old World, just escaped 
Our Customs with his life, had found his way 
To a place up-town, where a Colossus shaped 
Itself, sky-scraper High, against the day. 
A vast smile, dawning from its mighty lips, 
Like sunshine on its visage seemed to brood; 
One eye winked in perpetual eclipse, 
In the other a huge tear of pity stood. 
Wisdom in nuggets round its temples shone; 
Its measureless bulk grotesque, exultant, rose; 
And while Titanic puissance clothed it on, 
Patience with foreigners was in its pose. 
So that, "What art thou?" the emboldened traveler spoke, 
And it replied, "I am the American Joke. 

"I am the joke that laughs the proud to scorn; 
I mock at cruelty, I banish care, 
I cheer the lowly, chipper the forlorn, 
I bid the oppressor and hypocrite beware. 
I tell the tale that makes men cry for joy; 
I bring the laugh that has no hate in it; 
In the heart of age I wake the undying boy; 
My big stick blossoms with a thornless wit, 
The lame dance with delight in me; my mirth 
Reaches the deaf untrumpeted; the blind 
My point can see. I jolly the whole earth, 
But most I love to jolly my own kind, 
Joke of a people great, gay, bold, and free, 
I type their master-mood. Mark Twain made me." 

W. D. Howells.


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