Modernist Canadian Poets
The Deficit Made Flesh
10th Mar 2014Posted in: Modernist Canadian Poets 0

[2 blank pages]

THE
DEFICIT
MADE
FLESH
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BY
THE SAME
AUTHOR
Under the Hill
A completion of Aubrey Beardsley’s unfinished romantic novel in its original form.
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Indian File Books: 9


 THE
DEFICIT
MADE
FLESH

JOHN GLASSCO
1958
McCLELLAND& STEWART LIMITED
TORONTO
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TO MY MOTHER
Beatrice M. Glassco
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the editors of The Canadian Forum and The Fiddlehead for permission to republish several of the poems appearing in this volume. [unnumbered page]

CONTENTS

PAGE

The Rural Mail

11

Stud Groom

13

Noyade: 1942

16

Soldier’s Settlement

18

The Entailed Farm

19

“Blighty”

22

Gentleman’s Farm

23

Deserted Buildings under Sheffor Mountain

27

The Brill Road

29

A Devotion

31

Villanelle

33

The Web

34

The Burden of Junk

36

Second Sunday after Trinity

39

The Cardinal’s Dog

40

Town Council Meeting

41

A Ballad of the Death of Thomas Pepys, Tailor

43

The White Mansion

47

The Warrior

49

Jogging Track

50

Thomas à Kempis

51

Utrillo’s World I

52

Utrillo’s World II

53

[unnumbered page]
Hail and Farewell

54

Didactic

57

The Whole Hog

59

Shake Dancer

62

An Old Faun

63

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THE
DEFICIT
MADE
FLESH
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THE
RURAL
MAIL

These are the green paths trodden by patience.
I hang on the valley’s lip, a bird’s eye viewing
All that opposes to makers and masters of nations
Only its fierce mistrust of the word,―
To the smashes records for gobbling and spewing,
Cows that exist in a slow-motion world.

From here is man on man’s estate of nature,
Farmer on farm, the savage civilised
Into the image of his God the weather―
Only another anarchist, foiled highflyer
Whose years have grown as a minute in his eyes,
Whose grin reveals a vision of barbed wire:

Her birth evokes pleasure and a reflective pity,
Marriage or mating, much of the voyeur,
Sickness, an interest and some hope of booty,
And death strikes like an oddly barked command,
Confounding with its Easy, its As you were,
His stiff-kneed generation unused to bend.

I sense his hours marked by my two-wheeled cart
Descending the stony hill: as I stop by his box
The ring of tin as the Knowlton News goes in
Is a day’s knell,―and the countryside contracts
For an instant to the head of a pin;
Or he comes with a money-order, or to chat. [page 11]

Getting good money, and money is always good,
We keep the high standards in the front parlour
Like a wedding-cake or a motto carved in wood,
The falling-out of enemies makes no friends.
“Far as I’m concerned, the war can go on forever!”
A man can make a dollar, with hens.

Scraping the crumbling roadbed of this strife
With rotten fenceposts and old mortgages
(No way of living, but a mode of life),
How sift from death and waste three grains of duty,
O thoughts that start from scratch and end in a dream
Of graveyards minding their own business?

But the heart accepts it all, this honest air
Lapped in green valleys where accidents will happen!
Where the bull, the buzz-saw and the balky mare
Are the chosen fingers of God for a farmer’s sins,
Like the axe for his woods, and his calves and chicks and children
Destined for slaughter in the course of things. [page 12]

STUD
GROOM

Your boy’s-ambition was to be a Horseman,
Some days to hear tell or overhear your name
Linked with that word. This was the foreseen
Reward for the five years in the dealer’s stable,
For strewing your childhood nightly under his horses’ feet
And bearing it out at sun-up on a shovel,

When you met all claims with waiver and deferment,
And learned the habit of not coming to grips
With any unhaltered thing that’s not dependent
On a boy’s will like a pious man on God’s,
Till language lapsed back into clucks and chips
Hisses and heeyahs, steady-babes, be-goods.

And now it has all come true! and the mountains spill
Your world of cousins, a chorus of witnesses:
Lost Nation, Bolton Centre and Pigeon Hill
Acclaim you who combine, deny and defer
With straps and stalls the heats and the rampancies,
And the act that’s blessed with a bucket of cold water. [page 13]

Well, there is the World, in the attitude of approval,
Hands in its pockets, hat over its eyes,
Ignorant, cunning suave and noncommittal,
The ape of knowledge....Say, through what injustice
Has it gained the bounty, by what crazy process
Those eyes fell heir to your vision of success?

For the goal has changed.―It’s rather to have made
Of welcoming music of nickers and whinnies
At feeding time, the brightness of an eye
Fixed on a bucket, the fine restraint of a hoof
Raised and held in a poised meaningless menace,
To have made, of these, assurances of love,

And of the denial of all loving contact
When the ears flatten, the eye rolls white,
The whirring alarm that keeps the dream intact
For the poet and pervert too, whose spasm or nightmare
Makes, with the same clean decision of a bite,
Divorce between possession and desire.

For “one woman leads to another, like one war
Leads to another,” and the fever has no end
Till passion turns―from the bright or bloody star,
From the bitter triumph over a stranger’s body,
To something between a deity and a friend,
To a service halting between cult and hobby, [page 14]

And nothing is left for the family or the nation
But a genial curse, and silence. It may be
You are the type of figures long out of fashion,
The Unknown Soldier and the Forgotten Man,
Whom the rest might envy, now, their anonymity
And the face they were at least left alone;

And who might have said, like you, to a pair
Of nags looking over a sagging roadside fence,
Good morning, girls! O greeting washed in air,
O simple insistence to affirm the Horse,
While the Loans and bomb-loads are hitting new highs
And youth is deducted at the source.

For “Horseman, what of the future?” is a question
Without a meaning: there is always another race,
Another show, the unquenchable expectation
Of ribbons, the easy applause like a summer storm,
And the thrill, like love, of being in first place
For an instant that lasts forever, and does no harm

Except to the altar-fated passion it robs,
The children it cheats of their uniforms and wars,
And the fathomless future of the underdog
It negates―shrugs off like the fate of a foundered mare―
As it sparks the impenetrable lives, like yours
Whose year revolves around the country fair. [page 15]

NOYADE
1942

The taxi headlights sweep the palings
And the horn summons you. Goodbye.
Reassured-gaiters-and-battledress
Clumps down the steps. The car door slams.
―See how the pattern of paired lives
Has turned in the end to a series of partings!

Well you are gone and there’s only God,
The last discovery―for either one:
Tonight in your set that screams through darkness,
And here, in the bed too wide, too empty,
Another assault of bleeding hands
On the citadel of His-will-be-done....

But tomorrow, when the daylight hurts
And penetrates, when the khaki mud
Poured round you in the recurrent hour of waking
Dries, cakes, hardens into stone, until
The stone grows inward and you become
A monument with a dwindling core of blood,

And far away here, when the daylit frame
Of room and field wavers for eyes
That find you and feel you not at all,
And the heart made to tremble at shadows
Weaves round itself a solitude
Vaster than space, to suffocate its cries,― [page 16]

What wonder then that love and faith
Turn coward ere these days are ended?
The drowning stony lover grasp
At straws of pleasure, the weak faithful
Prove constant only to despair?
So reveries flower in fierce air

Where the pure and tender thoughts―that take
Too many tears to keep alive―
Are stifled, and see: the age’s will is done!
A little sacrilege and murder
Wreaked on the private effigies
Of bodies joined and put asunder.

O love that think that it could always
Suffer all things, live on the crust
Of letters and orgiastic leaves!
Too soon the pointed bones appear
Of your beginning and your end
In this long summer of malison and lust. [page 17]

SOLDIER’S
SETTLEMENT

Writing all your memories for the future
     Out of this hour and this warm wind―
Hands clasped tight, eyes gazing over
     The valley of autumn choked with sun,

Down and over the stony pasture,
     The trickle of road that bounds your luck,
And forty meadows and forty farmers
     Hanging over the rich man’s lake.

Keep at your back, as you stand together,
     The wind-dwarfed trees and the rubble fence:
Let no auguries of disaster
     Invade this hour, this innocence,

No hint of the war with time and weather,
     Or the hope that will turn in twenty years
To the comfort of saying to one another,
     It could have been worse,―

But stand for an instant and fix forever
     The battered mail-box, the shallow stream,
In a frame where all is gold and azure
     And the stony pasture, plinth of a dream. [page 18]

THE
ENTAILED
FARM

A footpath would have been enough.
The muddy mile of side-road has no purpose
Save as it serves for others to link up
Crossroads marked on the map with a nameless cross
By way of these choked and heartless fields of paintbrush
And the mute, sealed house,

Where the spring’s tooth, stripping shingles, scaling
Beam and clapboard, probes for the rot below
Porch and pediment and blind bow-window,
And the wooden trunk with the coloured cardboard lining
Lies where it fell when the wall of the flying wing
Fell down ten years ago;

Where the stone wall is a haven for snake and squirrel,
The steepled dovecote for phoebe and willow-wren,
And the falling field-gates, triggered by an earthen swell,
Open on a wild where nothing is raised or penned,
On rusty acres of witch-grass and wild sorrel
Where the field-birds cry and contend. [page 19]

You, tourist, salesman, family out for a picnic,
Who saw the bearded man that walked like a bear,
His pair of water-pails slung from a wooden neckyoke,
Slipping in by the woodshed,―Come away,
That naked door is proof against all knocking!
Standing and knocking there,

You might as well expect time’s gate to open
On the living past, the garden bloom again,
The house stand upright, hay-barn’s swayback coping
Stiffen, and see as in a fretted frame
Men in the meadow and a small boy whooping
The red oxen down that orchard lane,

Or revive the slow strong greed of the coffined farmer
Who cleared, stumped, fenced, rotating sinew and sweat,
Beating the ploughshare into an honest dollar,
Who living and dying planned to cheat time’s night
Through the same white-bearded boy,―who is hiding somewhere
Now, till you’re out of sight, [page 20]

And have left him alone: alone with the grief or anger
Or whatever it is that flickers but will not die
In the dull brain of the victim turned avenger,
At war with a shadow, in flight from passers-by,
From us,―who are free from all but the hint of attainder
Who can meet a stranger’s eye

With a good face, can answer a question, give a reason,
For whom the world’s fields and fences stand up plain,
Nor dazzle in sunlight or crumble behind the rain:
From us, with our hearts but lightly tinged with poison,
Who composed our quarrel early and in good season
Buried the hatchet in our father’s brain. [page 21]

“BLIGHTY”

The first and charitable snow has gone,
And earth, more ghostly since it turned to rain,
Greys under grey: by the main railway line
Your winter thoughts take on a darker tone
As coal and cinders wear the hue of iron.

See by the tracks, where a sodden shingled rood
Droops on a worn façade, a wilting visor
Over dead window-panes and the lettered board
Where exultation, curled into one word,
Still celebrates a half-forgotten war―

And in the square the dripping John Canuck
In belted tunic, tin hat and puttees
Still puts his best foot forward; on his back
The Angel perches, pointing overseas...
What are these tears, what images are these

Blown from the monuments of a world that died!
Today some meaning, pithless and outgrown,
So mocks the slaughtered soldier marching on
That all your sorrow finds a voice where pride
Records the wound that brought a veteran home. [page 22]

GENTLEMAN’S
FARM

Ten miles from anywhere eighty years and more,
Where the frozen roadstones grind iron shoes and tires
     And the timberwood’s last stand
Lives only in brushwood and long memories,―see,
The new-peeled posts are marching, the taut wires
     Sing to the naked land,

Sing to the valley of slash and beaver-meadow,
The stone-pocked fields and bog-born stunted alders
     And the black hills rising sheer
As mountains of iron and sand round the Genie’s castle
(The age-old view of eyes that each November
     Look back on a wasted year)

That things are humming, that even here at last
The lights are going on, the wheels going round
     As the wasteland fulfills
The singular purpose, powered and glorified
Of the weekday absentee whose will has broken
     Between these barren hills, [page 23]

And where the regional serf, time out of mind,
Morning and evening, blind with sweat and fury,
     Hollaed with his shaggy tyke
After the peaked-arse cows in the hummocky pasture
Till they buckjumped to the dislocated barn,
     Their slack bags black with muck,

The silos rise and the cupolas of chrome,
Minarets of the mosque, the milkwhite temple
     Gleaming below the hill,―
And look, by the mailbox winks the coloured legend,
Hillsview Farm, the Home of Reg’d Holsteins
     Stamped on a plaque of steel.

What passion is this? What fancy fed with tractors,
Engines and rancho-fence and palisades?
     Not here, at least,
Has the urban dream flowered in a homing impulse
Towards the inane, imagined verities
     In the soil, the dung, the teats,―

Things of an island whose longed-after earth
The city Columbus, falling on his knees,
     Kisses and calls it Saviour,
Making his garden where he can, his plea
Against the unreal tenures which enrage
     A street-begotten fever― [page 24]

No, this is a dream-barn, a body of wood and iron
Figuring forth on the mind’s wilderness,
     With wealth for an ally,
The structural mania of the human heart,―
Whose buildings rise in a kinder soil than this,
     And beneath an inward eye

Where all goes well and the pioneer has profit,
Where the titan’s work subserves as in a dream
     The all too fictive goal,
And the end is perfect beauty, the blessed vision,
The working out of a man’s reverie
     Of his own memorial!

But here, while the eternal mountains stand,
Immortal stones come up beneath the plough,
     This valley’s sun and rain
Score harshly and the bitter autumnal crop,
Scratched out with a hoe or shovelled by machines,
     Is still the same:

O forefixed harvest of man’s reverie driven
Into the light of day and life of men,
     You bring the same revenge
On the impresarios of all sacred sweetness,
Whose eyes shall wake to witness, spring by spring,
     The sad and stealing change, [page 25]

Hope battered into habit, and a habit
Running to weariness,―the proof and process
     Of powers which must equate
Farmer and Gentleman through their monuments,
Till time’s mathematic of indifference
     Confound these, to create

Not the bare living nor the orgulous legend,
(Improbably flowers from seed of sweat or treasure)
     But what’s more tenuous still,
A feast for the idler and the ragamuffin,
A more conspicuous waste of all endeavour
     That has had its will―

A common loveliness!―Look backward now,
As we breast the rubbly hill to the rotting sawmill,
     Back to the shining roof
That parries the pale farflung November sunlight
On lightning rods and the stammering weathervane
     Of a gilded calf:

See that the wreck of all things made with hands
Being fixed and certain, as all flesh is grass,
     The grandiose design
Must marry the ragged matter, and of the vision
Nothing endure that does not gain through ruin
     The right, the wavering line. [page 26]

DESERTED
BUILDINGS
UNDER
SHEFFORD MOUNTAIN

These native angles of decay
     In sheds and barns whose broken wings
Lie here half fallen in the way
Of headstones amid uncut hay―
     Why do I love you, ragged things?

What grace, unknown to any art,
     What beauty frailer than a mood
Awake in me their counterpart?
What correspondence of a heart
     That loves the failing attitude?

Here where I grasp the certain fate
     Of all man’s work in wood and stone,
And con the lesson of the straight
That shall be crooked soon or late
     And crumble into forms alone,

Some troubled joy that’s half despair
     Ascends within me like a breath:
I see these silent ruins wear
The speaking look, the sleeping air
     Of features newly cast in death, [page 27]

Dead faces where we strive to see
     The signature of something tossed
Between design and destiny,
Between God and absurdity,
     Till, harrowing up a new-made ghost,

We half embrace the wavering form,
     And half conceive the wandering sense
Of some imagined part kept warm
And salvaged from the passing storm
     Of time’s insulting accidents.

So I, assailed by the blind love
     That meets me in this silent place,
Left open arms: Is it enough
That restless things can cease to move
     And leave a ruin wreathed in grace,

Or is this wreck of strut and span
     No more than solace for the creed
Of progress and its emmet plan,
Dark houses that are void of man,
     Dull meadows that have gone to seed? [page 28]

THE
BRILL
ROAD

Skeletons and scarecrows, buoys for the sailor of snow,
The broomhead sticks of brush tell where it goes
Straight into a white screaming sky
Of tons of a snowblind wind scouring like sand
The walls of the last valley-house in the half-light,
Where its lap would be if the mountain were a man.

And the mare looks back: are we going upwards, master?
Yes, we follow the blinding years, my darling,
Into the sweeping, swallowing wind,
Into the gape of all and the loss of the person
Driving his birthright deathward in a trance
Over the mountain’s swollen Jovian brow,

Like a mind grappling with its own betrayal,
Thoughts thinning out, their basis crumbling,
Rising, rising ever into more breathless air
And a frailer tenure, while the wind blows,
The hills darken, and this heaven-riving road thrown
Like a noosed lifeline to five worthless farms
Peters out under the snow. [page 29]

The road is a trick, like every form of life,
A signal into the dark impartial storm
(The leveller of land, the old mound-maker
Smoother of great and small): though the road is wrong
Always, and leads upwards forever
To impossible heights, into the boiling snow,
There is no turning back; but the road is a trap.

This is the involvement that we never sought.
How should we know its conditions, terms
Determined by the swollen alien brow?
Only we do the mountain’s bidding, while the storm
Beats in our eyes, exhausts our servants,
Tearing the robe from knee and shoulder,
Making a terrible half-light of our day.

And from this day we drive into a trap,
Seeking the mountain, the five worthless farms.
Do we move to a screaming music, is that all?
What is this orchestra of fear? Absurd
Are the equations for us and our servants
Madly seeking the other side of the mountain.
Does it even exist, that quiet road
Snow-pleached between the laden, bending trees
Where the small, fat birds will be flitting and feeding,
Where the wind is muffled and we move at peace? [page 30]

A
DEVOTION

Well, I shall kneel, that the whole world can say
Here is desire, too, that has come to pray.
The poles of pleasure in our divided dust
Meet often in their own tropics, lust and lust,
Devotion and devotion, but to join
Either to other is this way or mine;
Here to confound the order that’s been planned
In man’s imagined globe, the seas and land
Hurry together, make fire from beneath
Burst on his Arctic, and in the rotten teeth
Of all his moralist geographers
Hurl nature in his embrace, and he in hers.
―Now when my mouth, that holds my heart, has become
An infinite reverence’s ciborium,
Now, when the surcharged spiritual part
Exhales its burden―marvel, O marvel at
The joining, the economy of love
That turns this pious breath, this gesture of
My extreme adoration to a kiss,
As if it were all that could be made of this!
Soon, soon begins the long intense journey,
But ere we embark, and ere thou shalt―O stay!―
Translate thy vision, seeing through closed eyes
The ideal forms of earthly ecstasies;
Ere thou’rt become all sensible, and I
Am grown a very incubus thereby,
Let us hang, as the waves seem to do,
An instant in the arrest of what we travel to. [page 31]
See, I’d not slip from worshipper into man
A space yet, but remain as I began
Give my lips holiday from the work of words,
A Sabbath of silence, drifting pleasurewards,
And let my spirit, as my knees do, bow
Before this cloven idol―an altar now
As the sweet speechless misremembered year
Returns in noonlight―hunger and rage and fear
Cancelled forever―and as there bloom in me,
On the bare branches of my wintry tree,
Like mistletoe run wild, the devotee,
The lover and the child. [page 32]

VILLANELLE

My love and yours must be enjoyed alone:
My sleeping sister and infernal twin,
I know your body better than my own.

Only the natural conscience of the bone
Protests the sadness of the dream wherein
My love and yours must be enjoyed alone;

But the body has reasons to the soul unknown:
The soul of another is dark, said Augustine;
I know your body better than my own.

You that know everything that can be known,
Tell me through what punishment of what sin
My love and yours must be enjoyed alone?

Why has the darkness and the distance grown,
Why do we fear to let the stranger in?
―I know your body better than my own,

I know the lamp is out, the bird has flown...
To find that end where other loves begin
My love and yours must be enjoyed alone:
I know your body better than my own. [page 33]

THE WEB

Fronting the sea that hungers for my man,
Bending my slanting eyes on the grey-gold web,
Here am I happy: what joy have other women
Like to my joy? what perfectness of pleasure?
Now it is mine, the part of a very goddess
As I weave and unweave the gleaming colours, my triumph,
In the face of the suitors and a son’s availing anger!
I Penelope, fronting the sea and the birds flying,
Stir the discord, see the broil of men.

And O the lovely broil, the ruin, my pleasure,
The marvellous stir and strife of the suitors
And the shame of the house they turn to a jangling brothel!
Turn, desire and greed, to your reeling folly,
As I fool now one, now the other, flaunting the web,
And lie alone in the bed he hewed from the olive!
Only Athene I fear, and a bird flying left―
Only the piercing glance, and the omen.
She, she alone, a goddess, sees my heart. [page 34]

My son is locked from my heart: like his lickpenny father
He counts the brown beeves, the yellow wine-jars.
He is cunning, but not with his father’s seer-sight,
And wise, but not with his mother’s wisdom,
Wisdom learned from the weight of a liar’s shoulders
In the bed he hewed, a thief and a liar always.
Does Athene see it, the grey-eyed glance
Pierce to my pleasure? No, I trust the sea!
Zeus, keep him upon the hungry sea forever

As I bend my eyes again on the sea and the grey-gold web,
On the sign of all things, my endless pleasure,
A woman’s triumph, the gleaming tissue of discord
Woven of the broil of men and the shame of a house
Turned to a brothel, a place of reeling folly,
Waste of substance, man’s unavailing anger―
All, all is in my web. What joy have other women
Like to this joy of a woman sovereign and laughing?
Only Athene I fear, and the bird flying left. [page 35]

THE BURDEN
OF
JUNK

April again, and its message unvaried, the same old impromptu
Dinned in our ears by the tireless dispassionate chortling of Nature,
Sunlight on grey land, the grey of the past like a landscape around us
Caught in its moment of nakedness also, a pitiful prospect
Bared to the cognitive cruelty shining upon it: O season,
Season that leads me again, like this road going over the mountain,
Past the old landmarks and ruins, the holdfasts of hope and ambition,―

Why is the light doubly hard on the desolate places? why even
Hardest of all on the tumbledown cabin of Corby the Trader?
See, with its tarpaper hanging in tatters, the doorstep awash in a
Puddle of cow-piss and kindling-chips, ringed with the mud of a fenceless
Yardful of rusty and broken machinery, washstands and bedsteads,
Bodies of buggies and berlots, the back seats of autos, bundles of
Chicken-wire, leaves of old wagon-springs and miscellaneous wheels....But [page 36]

There is Corby himself in the mud and sunshine, in front of the
Lean-to cowshed, examining something that looks like a sideboard,
Bidding me stop and admire, and possibly make him an offer:
“Swapped the old three-teated cow for a genuine walnut harmonium!
Look, ain’t a scratch or a brack in it anywhere―pedals and stopples
Work just as good as a fellow could ask for! Over to Broome they
Say they used to cost four hundred dollars apiece from the factory...”

Here is the happy engrosser of objects, the absolute type of
All who engage in the business of buying and shifting, the man who
Turns a putative profit into an immediate pleasure,
Simply by adding a zero to his account with a self-owned
Bank of Junk, and creates a beautiful mood of achievement
Out of nothing at all! Ah here is the lord of the cipher,
This is the Man of the Springtime, the avatar of Lyaeus! [page 37]

We should be trading indeed, if we could, I think as I leave him.
Mine is a burden of lumber that ought to be left with him also:
This is where it belongs, with the wheels and the beds and the organ,
With all the personal trash that the spirit acquires and abandons,
Things that have made the heart warm and bewildered the senses with beauty
Long ago,―but that weakened and crumbled away with the passion
Born of their brightness, the loves that a dreary process of dumping
Leaves at last on a hillside to rot away with the seasons. [page 38]

SECOND SUNDAY
AFTER
TRINITY

Beneath the pittanced jabber
And the answering choral snore
Birds’ faint meticulous music

Over the pastiche horror
Of garbled pillar and spire,
The elm’s inverted Gothic

Between lust’s last nightmare
And God’s ascetic grip
Your morning kiss.

Alas, in time, I know
The birds shall all be slaughtered
The elm-tree neatly felled
And our love ended,

But until then, by Heaven, they do assert
Even on this day of rest
And cant and blasphemy and dirt
All is not lost. [page 39]

THE
CARDINAL’S
DOG
(Muséed’Autun)

The unknown Master of Moulins
Painted the Nativity: we see
The stable, the stupid ox and Mary,
Simpering Joseph on his knees
And the Cardinal Rolin on his knees too,
His red robe centered by a rat-faced dog.

They all look at each other: Joseph at Mary,
Mary (her face is blue) at the child,
The Cardinal looks, if anywhere, at the ox;
But the child looks at the little dog,
And the dog at nothing, simply being well-behaved:
He is the one who feels and knows...

Pensive little dog (you that I love
Being only flesh and blood) you see
The reason for all this, the dying need
Of the worshipful, the master: so
We are all one, have seen the birth of God

Either through eyes of friend or master,
In a book, a song, a landscape or a child,
For a breath of time are immortal, tuned
To the chord and certainties of animal hope.
And the picture teaches us―as Balzac would say―
To trust anything on earth more than man. [page 40]

TOWN
COUNCIL
MEETING

Here is the lamplit six-man show of hands.
As dugs that learn betimes the rule of thumb
These farmer-fingers know the things they know,
Work in the absolutes of elements,
Now in this shadowy council-room have come
To the business of the evening, which is you.

(You are the damned soul in the dumpside shack:
Can your old carcass last the winter through?)
Thoughts of the coffin and the funeral bill
Cry to high heaven: Can’t we send him back
To where he came from? Threaten him with the law?
Break up somehow by force or fraud or skill

This Paradise of an old fly in amber
(A loaf of bread, a can of beans, and birds
around you singing in a rural slum)?
The rainbow-vision of a lethal chamber
Dances above the waterfall of words;
The verdict circles around a mental home....

You are the poor. Some years ago
You ate and drank, put nothing by,
Paid and were paid, and now you lie
In our town limits―[page 41]

Poor old guy, coming from god knows where
To wash up here, a weight upon these hands,―
I too have seen you, sitting in the sun
In a cap with lappets, turn towards the glare
Of kindly Phoebus and the farmer’s glance
Those asking features moulded like a bun―

You, the eternal deficit made flesh,
The something over and above the sum
Allowed by conscience to the home-grown poor...
And yes, those shoulders still invite the lash,
That head the priestly hands to be laid on,
That plight a savage stirring in the core. [page 42]

A BALLAD
OF THE DEATH
OF
THOMAS PEPYS, TAILOR
March 15, 1654
(Composed for the Tercentenary of the same)

A sluggish man with naught
But his trade and lease,
And a curst imperfection
In his speech,

Of a consumptive habit,
Much given to tears
And pride, he took to his bed
In his thirtieth year.

A week, and his brother Samuel
Heard he was dying,
And how that his days were numbered
Through evil living,

And troubled to think of his death
Or continuing sick,
He went to see him for speech
Of people’s sake.

There was Mrs. Croxton and Mrs. Holden,
And Uncle Fenner,
Will. and Anthony Joyce,
And Mrs. Turner, [page 43]

And they all had given him over
Ere day began,
When his brother came and found him
Indeed far gone,
Lying in bed, and his face
Like a dying man,

Hardly able to know
Him from another,
And for the rest, talking no sense
Two words together.

Dr. Powell said, ’Twas the pox,
Dr. Wiverly, No.
 Thomas was taxed, and he swore
It was not so,
So they searched his cods and found
He had spoken true,

Which was a matter of joy
To Samuel!
Who had grieved for the shame of this
Upon them all;

And he sat an hour by his brother,
Hemming and hawing,
Till Tom’s talk falling away
And his wilderness growing,
He asked him if he knew
Where he was going? [page 44]

Why, where should he go? cried Thomas:
There were but two ways,
And he must thank God where he went
In either case,

Though he did not think he deserved
To be damned―and
This was all the sense came from him,
Good or bad.

Then he spoke awhile in French
With a wildered tongue,
Moving his lips and mouth
And rattling his phlegm.
―With no mind to see him die,
Samuel left the room,

And so did Mrs. Turner,
Who being overcome,
He gave her his arm and company
And led her home.

But Thomas kept talking idle,
And his lips would move,
Till his breath breaks out in a flood
Of phlegm and stuff,

And he dies, with the nurse holding
His eyelids down,
His chops falling, his face turning
Pale as a stone―[page 45]

His affairs all in disorder
Leaving behind
£ 5 148. in a bag,
Debts to £ 300,

And two bastards by his servant
(An ugly jade)
And the charges of their breeding
But partly paid.

But Samuel seized his papers
And hid them all,
Saw to the washing and shrouding,
Bespoke the funeral,

And bade his cousins to it
He fee’d the sexton,
And had the service read
By Dr. Pierson.

There were biscuits for the mourners,
Six a-piece,
And as much of burnt claret
As they pleased,
And for the family, oysters
And cake and cheese;

But after, and for long after,
Talking of Thomas,
They were all grieved to think
What a rogue he was. [page 46]

THE
WHITE
MANSION

I am a bright thing on my rising ground,
A green hill behind me, a blue brook at my feet.
The dawn reddens my eastern doors,
The whirling sun makes my windows a glory.
The woods around me a hundred years ago
Were felled to raise my naked arms.
Ere I was done the hairy pioneer
Fell dead exulting in his dream.
I am the death of man and of his dream.

I am a homestead in a hundred acres:
I draw them around me and devour them.
I eat the farmer’s flesh and his children
―Who but I hollaed the sweating team?―
Their hands were worn away in my service,
Sold my acres one by one to strangers.
Ere I was done the dying farmer cursed me,
Crying within the strangling noose of hope.
I am the grave of the husbandman’s hope.

I am the shining temple, a tall man’s pride.
My groves are planted with plumy pines.
Through my avenues of cedar, my stone pillars,
Fly slender horses, tracery of wheels.
My lights were seen all through the summer night.
Within and without he dressed me in splendour.
Ere I was done I stripped him naked.
Sent him away weeping, to beg for money.
I am the dancer blown with tears and money. [page 47]

I am the fairest court of love and pleasure.
My hedges tangle, my lawns return to hay,
The woods crept up to my rotted door-sills,
Stones fell in, but ever amid the mouldering walls
The holy fire streamed upright on the altar:
Two hearts, two bodies clove, knew nothing more.
Ere I was done I tore them asunder. Singly
They fled my ruin and the ruin of love.
I am she who is stronger than love.

I shall never be done: no man shall see it.
My brightness overtops his dream.
I am the scourge of hope: I bury my servants.
I am the sink of wealth: behold my trees.
I am the tomb of love: the altar is broken.
Swan-white I float among bare crusted maples.
Grey hills behind me, black water at my feet,
I await the stroke from which I shall arise
To announce once more the death of man. [page 48]

THE
WARRIOR

What atrabilious ancestor
Stirs in this fiery child of war,

Whose furious ambition wakes
When he beholds the world’s mistakes

And ever drives him to destroy
The creatures that he can’t enjoy?

Type of a disembodied Cain
Who could not tear himself in twain,

The dark and undivided will
Still chides, and finds a champion still

In him who’d make his brother solve
The quarrel he maintains with God

Whose bayonets in unending lines
Have circumscribed his proud designs―

Till storming against eternal walls
By his own murderous hand he falls. [page 49]

JOGGING
TRACK

Rain and ruin may scar
This falling tower
But time was never here:
Through hours of summer

Hoofbeat and bike-wheel wear
Around the green intervale
A passage of golden air,
A rolling cloud,

Lapping, lapping the oval,
The timing-tower
Falling, the shaken ground,
All day and forever

Hooves of a green horse sound
In a grey head
A charge on a drum
Played by a lad

In a filly’s mimic war
With time around a tower:
Daylight and dogdays are
The old man’s year. [page 50]

THOMAS
À
KEMPIS

His unsubsistent mind, self-moving and
Subject to rerum horror, could observe
―Before its descent into the nightly grave―
Not that the cell expands, but the prisoner
Diminishes himself, not that he’s brave,
But that, on earth, there’s nothing left to fear.
Nobodaddy held him in his hand,

A fireless particle. I’ve heard we are
Coals ever cooling, blown at times by God;
And whether to strike or suffer for the good
Of all that breath has meant divides my hours,
And though to strike, to inch the door abroad,
Is all my vision allows (that―merciful powers!―
Confounds the firefly and the falling star),

The stroke or sufferance in the midnight is
An orchestral sigh. Always the cell is here,
Stronger than fire, than the release of fear,
Than any love that I can answer for...
But oh, green leaves and singing birds that see
The flaming sun, lie, lie of the open door,
The air of that lost heaven that is not his! [page 51]

UTRILLO’S
WORLD
I

He sat above it, watching it recede,
A world of love resolved to empty spaces,
Streets without figures, figures without faces,
Desolate by choice and negative from need.
But the hoardings weep, the shutters burn and bleed;
Colours of crucifixion, dying graces,
Spatter and cling upon these sorrowful places.
―Where is the loved one? Where do the streets lead?

There is no loved one. Perfect fear
Has cast out love. And the streets go on forever
To blest annihilation, silently ascend
To their own assumption of bright points in air....
It is the world that counts, the endless fever,
And suffering that is its own and only end. [page 52]

UTRILLO’S
WORLD
II

Anguished these somber houses, still, resigned.
Suffering has found no better face than wood
For its own portrait: tears are not so good
As the last reticence of being blind.
Grief without voice, mourning without mind,
I find your silence in this neighbourhood;
These hideous places ransom with their blood
The shame and the self-loathing of mankind.

They are also masks that misery has put on
Over the faces and the festivals:
Madness and fear must have a place to hide,
And murder a secret room to call its own.
We know they are prisons also, the thin walls
Between us and what cowers and shakes inside. [page 53]

HAIL
AND
FAREWELL
I

To be awake today is to be warned.
The unwrinkled lake, the landscape and the leaves
Shimmered all morning, sails and the yellow flowers
Dragging another glory from the dead.

The sun of noon, annunciator, struck:
An hour returning from another world.
Blink! go the eyes, in the middle of it all,
Wanting Athene’s shield of glassy brass,
And the paradisal past’s intenser light

Burns at my eyelids so―this hour’s page
Is a blur of words, and every word in flames...
Alas, for all familiar things and thoughts,
For the clear of certain presences before me,

And as what they are for me, here and now,
As the translated pegs and props, characters
In the fable of a being―infinitely
Remote: I mean, daffodils in a vase,
Sail on the water, sunlight on the grass. [page 54]

II

But if no more, why then no more. The train
Of images Romance drew in her wake
Like stars in water, troubled and yet true,
Those floating points that charmed a universe

To an idea of itself not wholly
Base, and impressed their fictions here and there―
You fictions that are feelings, go shine forever
In the blue aspect of Armance’s eyes!

I sift and handle your too-sacred dust
And am its fool―to dare the hallowed deeps,
Have ado with desire, the dark stranger,
Playing with gods, the faces upon coins,

And all in game―the stake, as it was between
That pair of royal apes that ribbed Gonzalo,
A laughter, a waking-up! And I too wake
And hear time itself talking:

“I am this day, this hour, that speaks: mine is
The smooth-tongued challenge of time saying
I give you this hour, this perfect shining one,
Spill it before you. Here it is at last:

Here is the empty frame, the stage set
For high deeds, happiness, what you will,
For loveliness deferred, guarded so long:
I do my part. I show my hand. Take the key.” [page 55]

III

And here is the dry light, the beach of stones.
Never will earth break open nor god speak,
Nor Roman Curtius take horse and gallop
Full-armed into the public pit― —

Only eyes closing, hooded from the sun,
Suffice in this splenetic hour to ease
The lust of matter, flagrat of dry bones
Sluiced with the humours of an afternoon,

When to accept the word of closing doors,
As saints and martyrs do their palms and pains,
Is the question: to revive in desperation
What was rejected in despite: to see

Items as undiscoverable isles
And leave them so, with accidental ocean
Laving their lambent whatness, to the sense
Inviolate, beyond geography,

And so much dearer by so far untouched
By hope or hunger. So I do, I do―
So leave them as they were, poised in the hush
Of what they are today, and so resign
The flowers to yellow and the lake to blue. [page 56]

DIDACTIC

Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief―
The infant catalogue of caste
Conducive to an easy life
By incantation: to the last

Lazarus and the Abramman
Piss vinegar, eat humble pie:
Forever shall the ragged man
Double his fist against the sky;

And Dives and Barabbas too,
Pacing the cages of their lust,
Inalterably pacing through
The course of a devoted dust.

―Dear child, dear natural Calvinist,
It is not so. The heart of grace
Beat in the chaos Old Night kissed
Engendering us: rejoice, rejoice,

For thieves grow rich, and poor men steal,
And beggars ride the backs of all;
Mouth to bum and toe to heel
The generations rise and fall; [page 57]

Meteors of your blood and state
Zoom helter-skelter through the sky;
The fruit-stones numbered on your plate,
The priests, the movie-makers lie.

Though God knows what drives on the whole,
In his foreknowledge lies our grief:
Slavery is the word for all,
Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief. [page 58]

THE
WHOLE
HOG

When I was very young my mother told me
That my father was the strongest of men
(Not in words at first, of course―but I knew);
Later I learned he was the best and bravest;
And during my adolescence (a difficult 
Time for us all) I had her whispered word for it
He was the wisest parent in the world.

Long ago I put aside the question
Of her motive in his matter....Perhaps
A sense of guilt for the disloyalty
Of a too-clear, too-wifely valuation
Of his man’s-worth, was expiated so:
Enough that I too now appreciate
The situation, and appraise the need.

For now I wonder about his part only,
Asking myself through just what consciousness
Of his own fragility the man was induced
To accept this grand vocation―as he did―
And dropping all else, set himself to become
Great God to a little child? It is a question
That opens up vistas of personal hell....[page 59]

To be the Absolute to someone else:
Figure the concitations of the demon
Thatdrove him to this! Like a hunted beast,
Like a starving man, like a falling stone,
He followed his blind will to its end in nature,
Projected himself in infinity
And silvered a looking-glass in his son’s eye.

I try to guess what image haunted him,
What spectral littleness of man alone:
Paltry Invictus with the head of clay
Jabbered at him from the pools in his mind,
Loomed in the coalsacks of its sky, met him
At flowery turnings in his private garden,
In sleep, in love, at billiards, at the ball;

Until he must have realised that the world was
Not only too much with him, but too much for him,―
For poor Invictus, the poor gentleman
Who laid claim, simply, to the whole universe,
But brought no vouchers, bore no strawberry mark!
And when lovely women failed him, womanly,
He built and altar in the sand of my heart,

I have not sacrificed there for years....
But the altar stands, eternal absolute,
As if its foundations were laid in living rock;
And when I went whoring after strange gods,
Why, they were Gods, and it was whoring still,―
With reason, unreason, duality of will,
And many others, masks of Nobodaddy. [page 60]

In my father’s house there were no dissensions,
There, all was unanimity and family:
Now the plates fly in my head night and day;
There, was infallible authority:
Now I am free as a crow to fly or stay;
There, was no check nor doubt nor indecision:
Here I am a dog whistled by many masters,

Always obliged to go the whole hog,
And with no hambone even to drop in the water;
Nosing about the world for love and tid-bits
I am still baffled by the faith-breakings
Of flesh in season and sonorous language
That tell me I also am a piece of property
And rouse only my barking rhetoric in answer;

For experience only leads me about in a circle,
And learning by hearts still leaves my heart rebellious
To the violent patterns, the makeshift morals
Whose insoluble equation leaves me as cold
As the by-blow baby left all night on the doorstep:
―That home with wealthy windows lit, is mine!

See, the Portland vase before the Venetian mirror
In my father’s house. It is filled with honesty.
The abstraction found its body years ago
In a plant of eternally desiccated leaves,
As my father’s demons spoke of his hold forever
On my heart, and mine of the fragile tenure
Of all things: we have learned the porcine betrayals. [page 61]

SHAKE DANCER

The corpse-white column spiralling on slow feet
Tracing the seashell curve, the figure eight,
Coldly unwinds its flowing ribbon
With public motions of the private psalm
Of supposed woman to the thought of man;

And like that man of Bierce’s wrestling
In the embrace of an invisible Thing,
Flaps in snakehead-strike doublejointed death―
As evocation of circumfluent air,
The adversary in a breath of air.

And the air is icy. Love, that is violence
Made easy, is here the end of all, a dance,
And man the viewless form, the animal
No longer animal but seeing-eye,
But super-member of impossible man.

So the man of air supplants the man of bone,
And it is her who writhes before a glass,
Before the figure of his only love,
The viewless member in his nerveless hand
Working within the adverse air. [page 62]

AN
OLD
FAUN

The adversary I wrestle with
Is my dying self, what I have done,
What ecstasies have brought to birth:
I must surpass perfection,

Must climb above this vale of youth
And groves of the indwelling flesh,
Up stony balding hills of a truth
Barely and beautifully less;

For that new weather a new shape
Put on, and move by other lights;
Starshine and glowing embers take
For witness of the saving rites

Whereby we summon aging Pan
To blow a thin re-kindled flame:
For what is true since time began
But aging passion, aging pain?

And these, that shall too soon be dead,
Must be tormented till they find
The cold, the flowing fountainhead―
Ere ears grow deaf and eyes grow blind [page 63]

And the dead self in the heat of day
Ignore the ever-living thrust.
―The adversary’s softening clay,
Its blood, eyes, hatred, hunger, lust.

These I would tear the meaning from
As things outside the meaning grace,
So break the bars of the dark room
Where beauty fronts an aging glass. [page 64]

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