Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Hammett Citation

Reader RH has located the Dashiell Hammett lines that I quoted, with errors, from memory. They are from a Sam Spade story entitled "Too Many Have Lived". It's a verse from a book Spade finds in a prospective client's house. The poem was written by a man Spade his hired to find. The correct verses are:

To many have lived 
As we live 
For our lives to be 
Proof of our living. 
Too many have died 
As we die 
For their deaths to be 
Proof of our dying.

In Hammett's verse, the certitudes of life and death exchange places. The detective goes down the fog-curtained "mean streets" of San Francisco to find his client as much as himself. There, in the labyrinth of lunch counters, frosted-glass fronted offices and walk-up apartments with men in undershirts playing cards, guns on the table, Sam Spade keeps looking for something he isn't letting on. And yeah, why not? In the days when I could still cycle a century, I'd go up into the hills and climb them, rank on rank, until at the end of a dirt road perched on a high ridgeline with nothing but another blue line of mountains across the wide valley. Maybe that was the moment I was thinking of when I heard of Tillman's death, looking out at the far horizon and asking 'Yeah, why not?'. I think we have all had such thoughts, but Tillman went the distance.