BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Fancy Free. The Ryerson Press: 1939
Poems [handmade limited edition]: 1942
The Tale of the Celestial Tea Pot: 1943
The Jade Heart [a fantasy in one act in the Chinese manner—The Junior Leagues of America, the Waldorf Astoria, New York]: 1946
Toronto • The Ryerson Press
[illustration: RP 1829]
COPYRIGHT, CANADA, 1949, BY
THE RYERSON PRESS, TORONTO
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form (except by reviewers for the public press), without permission in writing from the publishers.
Published October, 1949
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the publishers for the poems included as follows: To The Book of Canadian Poetry for “First Flight”; to Voices, a Quarterly of Poetry, for “Parting”; to the Canadian Poetry Magazine for “Light,” “Pattern in Time,” “Head in the Art Galley,” and “Choral Symphony Conductor”; to Chatelaine for “Summer Reverie”; to The Rosicrucian Digest for “Hands”; to the Canadian Forum for “May 1940”; The Poetry Year Book for “The Postman”; to Contemporary Verse for “Preference,” Child,” and “Black Reverie.”
PRINTED AND BOUND IN CANADA
BY THE RYERSON PRESS, TORONTO
THE PRATT TRIO
CLAIRE, NED AND VI
TO ALL THOSE WHO CARED ENOUGH
INVITATION TO MOOD
FIGHTING MOOD: 1939-1945
To the Reader
Seek not to pry into the poet’s past,
(for this or that experience)
specific proof to find.
Each poem to your own key will yield.
Feel in your pocket. [unnumbered page]
A FRAIL shower,
like fountain spray,
a crystal necklace
for My Lady Iris.
FRESH light from a morning sky blocked through clouds,
blazing the tight tea bushes to a brittle green—
hot light of noon on bare rock, baking the summer heat
into the cracked parchness of earth—
serene light, filtering through bamboo plumes,
waving the afternoon away in graceful quietude—
frail light, falling from the shrinking sun
dreaming across illimitable distances of sea—
half moonlight, shimmering on rice fields
filled with harvest,
lying in the highway of the wind—
feeling the freedom of your face,
against the pattern of the pillow,
sleeping. [page 1]
YOU are cool and dignified
like a stately woman of mature charm.
Not smiling overmuch to invite admiration
that by any casual lover
you do not propose to be picked.
DIRTY tin roofs assail my eyes in summer,
but in winter,
measuring a white loveliness.
LADY EARTH has been weeping,
but tonight she is gay.
With her escort the Moon she sweeps by,
superb in a silver train
and a diamond tiara. [page 2]
THIS one day shall I lie in the flaming sun,
and let the sunlight seep to the marrow of my bones,
hunger my only clock.
Lie face down in the tempting grass,
put my ear to earth,
and let the wind riot in my hair.
Cut out from the round of thought (and mould from a cheese)
Europe’s tragic voices,
Junior’s worn out shoes,
Woodbury’s one cent sale
And the cancelled chequebook.
Stare straight up through the incredible blue,
to see the oblique wings of a bird slicing the sky,
to watch the fingers of the wind shred the cotton clouds,
or roll the wheels of thistledown
along the uncharted roadways of the world.
This one day shall I lie in the flaming sun,
and let the sunlight seep to the marrow of my bones. [page 3]
AGAINST the urgent heat a breeze drifts a flute-note
into the calmness of the rock-scarred pool.
It stirs the pallid air,
scattering the dark perfume of pungent earth
into the brooding shadows.
Beside the stream, dropping its crystal into the moonbeam’s lap
the bamboo profiles lift,
and the smooth stones of the pathway gleam—wet-black,
Here the heat, grown melancholy, loosens its fevered hold,
and the rich silence of timeless tranquility
teases the spirit to repose.
O TO be a fish, air-inviolate,
lying in water-fallow deep,
secure from the sun’s ardent stare.
O to be there, lipping the liquid atmosphere,
with rhythm of fin and tail adjusted to stillness,
eye-vacant, brain-lulled, lissom-smooth,
lazing above the sand-ribbed bottom of the lake. [page 4]
TODAY I saw a jungle, sweat in the torrid noon,
heard a snake slithe round a tree trunk,
lift to listen, and disappear—
felt a ten foot fern unfold its crested plumage to a tropic breeze—
watched a sheet-downpour of rain, trickle-loud,
descend in avalanche, crushing the moss roots—
tasted the smell of damp heat sinking past sunset into darkness,
and spied cat-phosphorescent eyes in stealth
blinking to blackout.
I saw them all without a Cook’s tour ticket,
for in my hand I cupped a bowl, close-lidded,
a tiny greenhouse, in whose moist confine,
a hot world flourished.
sliced from our shoes.
sealed on a refrigerate world.
Then, against the ice-stencil of a window,
one leaf, a green flame,
leaping from a dry and brittle stick. [page 5]
HERE is dominion for peace—
escape from the corporate world,
to air, unladen with the soot of cities,
to sky, uncluttered with commercial spires.
Here is the privilege, the power, the glory,
to satisfy the eye with soothing green,
to feel beneath the feet the patina of stones,
to sense against the flesh the shock of sunburned water.
Here upon the spirit the burden of loveliness is laid—
a satiety of air, of sun, that drugs the blood to dreamless sleep.
Here can the soul lazily expand,
stand tiptoe to touch the stars.
THE lark his litany of praise repeats
to intricate melody.
In what celestial choir
learned he those notes of exaltation?
Under whose baton
tuned the triumphant tongue? [page 6]
THE day, brittle with ice,
and newly sifted snow
holds the sunlight in a soundless peace.
No motion stirs,
not even a bird cuts its black flight
against the turquoise sky—
not a whisper of wind
shivers the naked trees
or drifts the swans-down snow
across the wide, chill sweep of runways
merging the roads of earth and sky.
The hangar doors slide to the touch
and superb in the armour of the skies,
sheathed in immaculate steel,
the scintillating chariot of the air
rolls to the take-off. [page 7]
Slowly the motor’s music
climbs to a crescendo
where speech sinks into pantomime,
and thought shudders into silence.
Then, spurning the ground,
up, up, on silver pinions,
like a bird topping the trees,
we climb the horizon’s arch,
as sovereigns of speed and power
challenge the zenith’s goal,
as partners of the winged gods,
omnipotent in thought,
pluck the sun from its orbit,
or trace the constellation to their lair.
Sheer precipices of space
greet the falling gaze,
catapulting the eyes down, down,
through islands of spun mist,
to the unreal lake below;
to white oils tanks lying like hatboxes
on the shelves of the winter sun,
toy trains shunting matchsticks
on playtime tracks,
narrow ribbons edging the fields,
where creeping dots glint like beetles
and from horizon to horizon,
we marvel at a world made in miniature
to meet a table top. [page 8]
Forgetting our feet tread the ethereal air,
careless of time, of safety,
regarding security as some old friend,
till the curve of an unsignalled corner
parches the tongue with terror.
What if the panting engines fail,
or the pilot’s hand forget the swing
of an aerial arc!
But the perfect pulse of the great bird’s heart
and the smooth glide of parallel wings
make trivial the novice fear.
Though oblivious above,
time below demands an end.
then down the steps of the sky descend,
deserting the clouds,
beckoning away the trees, the housetops.
Too soon, in a miracle of poised flight,
the waiting wheels spin to the runway’s touch,
and shorn of wings, we taxi the field,
grieving at solidity below. [page 9]
A diminuendo in the deafening music
signals an end,
the tempo of the propeller’s beat
slackens to its rallentando close,
and the blade falls,
like the final note of a symphony,
secure and come to rest.
The sensation of feet stabbing the earth
loosens the limbs
and wakens the mind to the nonchalance of a steady hand
entering in the log book
the cryptic notations of even flight. [page 10]
ON A FAT MAN WITH A CREAM PUFF
BRIMMING curves pour over an inadequate chair,
and in a pudgy hand, a cream puff is poised,
ready to release its swarming calories to the gastronomic fray.
I follow the curve of the sleek shirt front,
down past the milestone buttons,
down to the belted circumference, where a dejected paunch
crumples in a rotund huddle.
Then I think, “What devilish custom could devise
so cruel a dress for man?
Woe indeed to him who takes no thought
of what he shall eat or drink.”
Then I think of China,
where Fashion, with silken skill,
flows a flawless robe from throat to toe,
deceiving the bulging flesh beneath to streamlined curvature.
There, periphery gives poise and depth,
a portly dignity.
There is caloric triumph crowned with honour. [page 11]
THE man in the blue trousers with a red stripe,
moves past façades of silent brick,
twice to the sun’s once,
and with uneven favour,
feeds scraps of paper
into expectant front halls.
Past 52 with never a swerve,
and a voice calls, “No mail, Bob.”
And because a betrothed pen has betrayed him,
the clock doles out the day in unpalatable minutes,
course after course of tasteless hours.
Into 54 with a fat thud,
and a voice minces, “Laura, a letter from your lov-ah.”
Then the sound of paper
being swooped triumphantly from a teasing hand,
and footsteps tapping happily up the stairs.
The minutes beat with insistent fists
at the face of the clock,
but Laura, in a silver ship,
floats away on a golden river
out to a shining sea.
Into 56 with a slight tap,
and a voice ventures timidly,
“Just a bill, John.”
A bearded face pokes an eyebrow
out the door jamb, [page 12]
hisses something between its teeth
about women’s hats and hell.
A door slams, jarring the clock hands
as they push placidly on.
Into 58 with a quiet plop,
and a voice puzzles
“A letter from a lawyer, mother.”
Then whispers of “Uncle Henry’s dead.”
And in the crescendo of confusion—
“Now we can buy a car—and a radio—
and skates, mother, please,
they only cost 2.99 mother—”
The clock booms bedtime,
but Uncle Henry is dead,
Into 60 with a faint swish,
and a voice shouts, “A letter from Dad.”
Then, between whisperings,
“Dad’s lost his job,
we’ve got to move—”
parade hushed silences,
and clock strokes
that sound like the drums of doom.
The postman with bag slung loose,
whistles home to his Mary;
at night pulls off the blue trousers with a red stripe,
winds the clumsy clock, and laughs proudly,
“Pay cheque tomorrow.” [page 13]
Mary smiles in her sleep
over warm mittens on the bargain counter,
while the clattering clock
rattles the seconds like dice,
and the Fates flutter white envelopes into red boxes,
into red buses,
into grey buildings,
making slack bags grow plump with waiting,
pregnant with the fortunes of tomorrow.
ON the ancient fresco from the monastery of the Joyful Conversion,
are schoolboy names, scribbled with surreptitious brush,
upon the sacred folds of Buddha’s robe.
Brought now to the World of the Western Sun from far Shensi,
how curious that the mischievous have achieved immortality
beside the sublime! [page 14]
HEAD IN THE ART GALLERY
BRONZE-AND-STONE-FROZEN beauty waits to be appraised.
Under the great dome the crowds disperse and mingle,
voice purr in praise, or growl at a curve askew.
A Tang horse prances past, head arched, one hoof upraised,
to paw the impatient earth;
and Ming ladies, unconquered by terra cotta,
float by with a flutter of silk sleeves and a swirl of laughter.
But on a sudden, still,
a living person blocks the vision.
The mouth is firm to fit a Periclean frieze,
the temples, rounded to a breadth
to make a sculptor’s hand sing;
the hair groomed from the forehead
back—as by an invisible wind.
Headlong the impulse to be done with dead image,
and to cry, “Pedestal these seeing eyes,
these sinews set in flesh, smoother than steel,
these chiselled bones, so soon undone by Death.
Banner this mood of the Artist
whose tool is the womb.” [page 15]
CHORAL SYMPHONY CONDUCTOR
DARKNESS encloses the concert hall,
and from the white cuffs of the conductor,
hands, subtle as a ballet dancer’s,
hold sound in awe.
Quietly they relent to unfold the promise of a note,
beckon the basses, rouse the sopranos, implore the tenors,
and hush the cellos to a whispering echo.
A lull falls, pulses, swells,
while hands seek rhythm in the subterranean depths of a drum,
draw melody from the ripple of a flute,
and with a final magic surge,
raise a shining fountain of song to shower the stars.
Now the violins scale perilous heights,
look down on trumpet, horn, bassoon, boisterous in battle,
on stalwart voices, steady, on the march,
till the hands, like a mighty sword,
cut concord, sever rhapsody, surround chorus with silence.
In benediction they pause,
secure from each his measured obedience,
till, by the fervor of heavenward finger,
urge sound to rise majestic,
ride valiant through the celestial arch of his arms. [page 16]
JAPANESE prows are optimistic
They tilt their noses proudly,
whether in a baffling sea,
waiting for battle.
ZIPPERS are an open sesame to temptation,
and shouldn’t be on the market for lusty youth.
For with the tiniest tug of a roving hand
they can glide so glibly,
down past the tempting contours of bosom,
No doubt the high-collared fashions of the Victorian era,
with their infinitude of hooks and eyes and buttons
up the back,
laboured valiantly in the cause of virtue,
and not in vain. [page 17]
HANDS OF A MASSEUSE
THESE are hands the Lord has made,
consecrated to carry from the heights,
the burning rays of the sun,
the cooling streams of the stars.
These in their suppleness conceal
the radiance of light,
and through their balm
care is healed as with a caress.
Slowly their warmth permeates weariness,
kneads the knotted nerves,
and the flesh, in a lulled tranquility
vacillates the borders of sleep.
Then suddenly, like a cat
they pounce on pain,
worry it without remorse,
nag at its prostrate form
till the frightening surges lapse into nothingness.
The taut and tensioned frame now encompassed,
the hands release their hold,
hover in benediction
over the strengthened brow. [page 18]
IT BEATS, my friend,
the pulse of Black America,
in the soul-sweeping voice that brings down the walls of Jericho,
or rolls Othello’s grief across the footlights.
It beats. Can you hear it?
“Black am I, but you choose to hear me.
Because my art towers above other men’s,
I can stand on a stage, ringed with white acclaim.
My voice without the blackness you would have, I know,
for it makes you uncomfortable.
But black are my hands, as those that pluck summer snow.
Black are my feet, as those that toil along train aisles, or shuffle through night clubs.
Black is my throat, like a million that would sing, but are silent. [page 19]
O, by the deep-throated majesty of my songs,
an Orpheus I would prove, to woo your thoughts
to what awaits me after the plaudits fade,
to what waits all Black America:
the freight elevator in the Exclusive hotel,
Sign, “Not Wanted” at the Country Club.
The swirling applause is baffled now,
mocked by a cry
lifted from the angered, red blood of Dark America.
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen,
if I had my choice, I would give you “Water Boy” gladly,
but at my own price—
not ten dollars, or even five,
but for a porter’s dime wrapped up in a smile
and handed to one of my countrymen for me
as though you greeted his immortal soul.
This currency I would take, and forfeit all your jewelled applause,
for none could prove more precious than this coin of kindness:
this that sustains the body and rescues the soul.
With such a balm could I quiet the uneasy pulse,
the fevered mounting pulse of my people.”
have you not heard that beat before in the rhythm of my songs?
Then listen while I sing again from my proud, black throat,
I, Paul Robeson,
Negro. [page 20]
THE other side of argument we shall meet again,
after the silence.
With what speech shall I greet you then?
a laughing quip, perhaps,
or a level maxim to formulate the spirit’s unity?
I need not trouble,
for your eyes will answer.
They will be like glaciers
on which the ice-pick of my words
will score no stroke.
And to save you the satisfaction
of seeing me strive for a foothold,
slide, and fall into the abyss of silence,
my eyes will be glaciers too
that mirror nothing but the vacant sky. [page 21]
BEHIND the bier, the mourners’ feet
shuffle echoes into the empty church,
and the brass mirrors on the coffin
reflect the pallbearers’ march.
Death, common yet unique,
tracing its lineage back
to sarcophagus, Greek urn and Roman catafalque,
brings now the resurrection ritual.
As the passionless voice weaves the liturgy
into a web of sound to hold the fractured heart,
the polished casket sinks
into the clean-cut grave.
(Belief, accepted or annulled)
all bereft of love-by-death, are lucky,
for the new-turned earth that seals the beloved
boasts obedient tryst.
The tears are warm.
But all bereft of love-by-life
can boast no grave to garland,
save with the poisoned petals of forsaken tryst.
The tears are cold. [page 22]
I PLAYED the market of time today,
bought stocks of pleasure on margin.
as one might expect,
I have lost more than I have ever hoped to gain
in the speculative flurry.
ON A MODERN NOVEL
“BUT have you read his new novel?
My dear, you must, it’s marvelous!”
So reluctantly I read,
and discover that the author has taken a stick
and stirred a cesspool,
so that I, in my clean-sheeted bed of an evening,
reading, ostensibly to enjoy,
am suffocated by the stench so skillfully raised,
feel fouled with slime,
and crave, above all else,
a vigorous antiseptic scrubbing. [page 23]
NOW THE STRAIGHT THRUST
NOW the straight thrust of the arm cuts the wave’s crest,
the head lowers to the breakers,
emerges for the long breath, the smothered gasp,
to gain yet another inch.
But when, in the heave of heavy seas,
the strong arm is coiled in the circling spray,
lest the baffled limbs succumb to the aimless current,
the seaweed’s tentacles,
seeking the sandy lull of which to rest the inert,
the compromised soul. [page 24]
ACROSS the chasm that separates our minds,
you built a bridge of bitterness,
driving the nails of pride
with the harsh hammer of malice.
When we meet,
we cover it with the polite paint of civility
brush in hand. [page 25]
PATTERN IN TIME
THE leaden weight of time hangs, a pendulum,
in the clock of the world,
beating the past against the present,
swinging the present forward into the future.
Each instant a thread is woven,
and as the hour strikes,
the tolling notes measure on the loom of a million million lives
the inexorable web.
Perchance for you it is the bridal kiss sealing a covenant of trust—
for you the startled scarlet of a tanager’s wing—
for you the music of the newborn’s cry pouring over pain—
for you the assurance of marble rounding the sunlight—
for you the incandescence of passion spent to a ribbon of ash
for you the Atlantic spume eddying a dying raft—
for you the proud procession of wings streaking the embattled sky—
for you the beloved’s voice caressing a name—
for you a letter, slaying the sinews of hope—
for you the grate of a bayonet against the breathing bone—
these are the threads,
the gold, the black, the purple,
of a pattern folded in some celestial drawer
no hand can reach. [page 26]
TRIO FOR AN INTRODUCTION
Through the thickets of argument he moves,
like a lithe cat;
picks his way stealthily, circumspectly,
on plush paws,
emerges purring, expecting the pat of praise.
THE BORE INTRODUCES YOU
If, through a bore,
a new friend comes—unsought—
raise to high heaven, hosannas.
And for him, the unwanted one,
a thought coin drop into the purse of prayer,
kneel, and remember. [page 27]
BOUNDARIES TO AN INTRODUCTION
Would you with boundaries bind the subtle spaces of affection?
calculate the length and breadth of the name’s embrace?
circumscribe the untried reaches of the spirit’s wilderness?
Sooner count sand,
or garner moonbeams in a sieve.
A NEW name steals shyly to the tongue;
unaccustomed, hides furtively in the recesses of sound.
Then suddenly, necessity demands the spoken pseudonym
for the soul—
and lo a friend is born.
I LIKE a poem that picks the bones of a thought clean,
leaving it stark and white for the eyes to ponder—
a compliment that’s unexpectedly tossed
like a pebble into a pool,
the concentric circles lapping the edges of thought,
with ripples ever widening—
and smoothed with the trowel of the wind. [page 28]
TO ONE IN ADVERSITY
NO orchid or rose,
fresh from the florist’s scissors can I give,
only this tiny bloom,
to soothe the fractious hour.
stayed against fading death,
no perfume cherish,
only the subtle fragrance of a thought—
this is its offering.
UPON the chaste scroll of the New Year,
I would inscribe for you
with bold and flowing strokes,
the Good Luck symbol,
and with full brush delineate,
the ideograph of Laughter. [page 29]
TO A NEW POEM BY G.R.
I APPROVE of your poem—
it’s a cooling drink
to pour down the dry throat of thought
in a complete quaff.
STUDY IN CONTRASTS
AS through the trees
the sunlight streams
making bright the day—
so your words,
shining through the hours,
make light the heart.
like a poison in the blood,
paralyzes the heart.
Even the hands, numb with pain,
cannot lift to duty,
nor the fingers seek so easy a revenge
as the fragile pen. [page 30]
WHEN IN THE WAKING MOMENT
WHEN in the waking moment
sunlight carves the contours of your cheek,
or when candlelight,
chiselling away darkness,
finds the curves of your forehead—
my eyes refuse this seeming-substantial You,
as separate entity;
can affirm you only as the marvel of a moment,
image suddenly made manifest,
through my own creative urge. [page 31]
TO A CLASS, TO THANK THEM FOR A BOUQUET
STILL are the flowers fresh
that from your hearts
blossomed in my hand.
Even when their sunny petals
sink in weariness—
strong and eternally bright
shall they spring, each time your deed,
renews their gold fragrance
on the altar of the heart. [page 32]
MOON velvet flows over the autumn earth,
over the lovers’ path—
moon velvet for the lingering step,
the whispered kiss.
Togetherness alone on the dark moor,
star-girt and silent in the tender grass—
sipped as a farewell wine,
uncertain if the lips should find again
the fragrant chalice—
tense, chaotic, impatient of bonds,
one certainty alone to hold,
that joy is captive to the sinking hour.
Moon velvet flows over the autumn earth—
over the lovers’ path,
over the waves it flows,
over a mound too fresh for a cross,
far from the lingering step,
the whispered kiss. [page 33]
THE UNFILLED ORDER
IS that Human Lives Limited?
May I speak to God, please?
Yes, it’s important.
So sorry to trouble you,
but yesterday I lost my son.
He was shot down in a plane, in France.
They tell me the plane took months to build,
and cost fifty thousand dollars.
They didn’t say how long it takes
to build a son.
Yes, I must have another.
Can you get me one?
Twenty, and tall,
with a wave in his hair, back from the forehead,
and eyes that are a little bit special—
dark—sort of hard to describe,
like a deep summer night.
You know, don’t you, the kind I mean?
May I have him soon, please?
Charge it to the head of Wars Incorporated.
What’s that you say?
But why? [page 34]
HERE in this vial, a heart-beat lives,
sealed by a surgeon’s skill,
a sleeping pulse that Time and Space defies
till wakened by the wounded cry of Death.
It fights afar: on Libyan sands,
in Russian skies,
beneath the Seven Seas.
Hastens to the heart of him who faints
on Freedom’s front. [page 35]
“MADE IN HOLLAND”
ONLY a streamlined spoon, scooped of steel,
shipped across the Atlantic before the seas became a cemetery.
Like Braille, the neat words print into the fingertips,
“Made in Holland.”
“The last one, Madam.”
The brow thickens,
the mind gathers storm,
and breaks in a sweep of steel rain over Rotterdam. [page 36]
CHOSEN OF MEN*
THIS flesh of jutting lip,
of gripping jaw,
this mortal shape, fashioned of blood and cell,
has gnawed the bones of hunger,
and dared the dissolution of death.
Mortal the mould,
but immortal the spirit, defying formula:
power incarnate, voicing a thunderous message,
the stature of whose speech
dwarfs the dissenting thought, the inconsequent deed.
What potion can view the magic of such words?
What powders, mixed to a proportion,
can dismiss sloth, dismantle pride,
make pliant to each dangerous duty the separate will?
Only the alchemy of the succinct phrase
turned in the face of fire,
the barbed wit snagging each hint of surrender,
the balanced word weighed in the scale with bombs,
the upward snarl, curled by a righteous hate—
these, fired in the constant crucible
*Written during the Battle of Britain. [page 37]
He who has rung the rafters of the world
with his challenge of tears,
has scaled the pinnacles of courage;
by parrying peace with the hosts of dishonour,
captured the faith of men, manacled with fear.
His tempered will dominates no creed, no land,
but like a mighty magnet,
draws even the alien heart to Freedom’s steel.
chosen of men to measure this hour with greatness,
points to the page where slavery writes her hideous story,
and bids us snatch the pen. [page 38]
HERE in this shade of silence,
the river breaks its frozen hush,
and a robin bounds past on rubber feet,
crisping the brittle leaves.
But in the brain,
guns thunder the minutes down,
and marching feet
trample the promises of May. [page 39]
WE CANNOT RULE HIM NOW
WE cannot rule him now,
by timeclocks that imprison,
nor tease him to subservience
by prate of safety,
or an easy desk.
His stop-watch is the sun—
the ground he treads, sky-air,
the arc across the continent,
his accustomed span.
What tempo can we match
against the propeller’s beat,
the pulse of engines in the blood?
What compensation offer
for friendship with the Moon,
communion with the Clouds,
close conversation with the Stars?
as helpless ants to eagle’s flight,
we watch him above our small and static earth,
read the swift, irrevocable answer
in his light-spun wings. [page 40]
IF you were a right-angled triangle,
I could put you down on paper,
and quickly prove the theorem of the hypotenuse,
with a tidy Q.E.D. at the end.
But you’re a man,
full of angles,
unaccountable curves and lines,
incapable of pencil, paper or proof.
The geometry needed to solve you
isn’t taught in textbooks,
A quadratic equation is simple
compared with this,
for you cannot set out with an unknown
to work to the unknown,
and be sure at the end of the infallible answer.
It demands not only x, y, z,
but the whole alphabet to juggle.
Do you wonder that I am distracted? [page 41]
KISSES are the words of silence—
they transform impossible speeches
to a moment’s eloquence;
they repeat without monotony
their emphatic question
they seal with promise
the insistent answer.
A KISS can be a cork
to control the unwanted wine of comment.
But wise is she who construes its purpose truly,
feigns ignorance in delight,
accepts with grace the perfect placement,
and then, with measured flow,
renews the stream. [page 42]
WHEN the fierce chemistry of a kiss
assails the pulse,
and the heart valves faint under love’s drug,
Humour, the Alchemist,
pours his effervescent potion in antidote.
WORDS are the vessels into which I pour my thoughts—
into the common clay of the kitchen,
the useful flow of living;
into the tea-time china of the drawing room,
the delicate infusion of social chatter;
but into the golden goblets of the banquet table,
the passionate wine of love. [page 43]
THAT WHICH WAS IS NOT
WHEN you lifted your voice,
it was as if you snared
a frail and beating butterfly
between your thumb and forefinger,
and crushed its innocent loveliness
to a cruel powder.
O HEART, HASTEN TO THY HOUSE
O HEART, hasten to thy house.
In a race with passion,
shutter the window eyes,
lock the door of the lips,
and drop the key down the secret well of aloneness.
Hide below the lintel,
heed not the hammering fists.
Wait, oh heart,
for the imprint of his feet to pass. [page 44]
I ENVY the dragonflies the lightness of their love,
as they move in silent marriage across the hot grass,
sun, space and the spirit their only law,
and the slim body’s fire.
For us the philosophers prate,
preachers pour forth invective with commandment,
and lawyers, grown fat on fees, rattle their seals.
I envy the dragonflies the lightness of their love.
A YOUNG GIRL SPEAKS
HIS KISS was like the flutter of a moth—
hovering in the twilight shadows.
It paused on the petal cheek,
poised to sip sweetness,
and vanished in a velvet silence.
O moth—wither flown?
What further blossoms call your luminous wings? [page 45]
To the heights of heaven
from which the lark thrills its song,
my spirit soars.
But alas, unlike the lark,
who drops on practised wing,
my untried spirit falls,
beating with heavy wings
the crushed ground.
This brave, bright armour that you wear,
is smooth, and proof against the arrows of affection.
In it you ride, a conqueror,
shielding the desolate heart.
And I, the stricken adversary,
with crippled bow and emptied quiver,
view my arrows, fallen at your feet,
blunted by impact,
impotent and broken.
I barred the doors and windows of my thought,
secured them fast against the intrusion of your presence.
But while I slept,
you entered by the unlatched door of dreams.
How helpless I am in the face of your impudence! [page 46]
YOU are the heritage of love,
the mystery of ebb and flow made flesh,
the impassioned moment’s incarnation,
and the assured embodiement
of the cell’s slow miracle.
In the set of your chin
is the sum of chromosome arithmetic,
and in the fabric of you hair
a careful chemistry
within the test-tube’s range.
But one unselfish word
parried like a sword by your lips
quiets the scientist’s tongue,
for this steel’s temper
it knows no formula. [page 47]
HOLD, neighbour, before the thought-gaze, thy hands.
Assess anew the mystery of their birth—
appraise the wisdom of their intricate design.
Through them, bespeak to atheist and cynic’s sneer,
the Living Architect.
Bid all, ponder the chemistry of blood,
the geometry of bone,
and challenge every scientific boast
with the physics of handclasp.
Bridge now the abyss
and meditate hands, as artist’s instrument . . .
or yet again,
as the doctor’s first device . . .
even the lowliest mission, do not thou despise,
only bemoan the misdirected will that desecrates their holy office.
Come, read within thine own, new spirit power.
Exalt by act the message of their healing touch,
and consecrate their purposes to the Cosmic Will. [page 48]
THIS tight knot of anger
that has tied itself round my heart,
how can it be loosened?
Not by the fires of impatience,
nor the frosts of indifference,
but by the slow and difficult fingers
O SEEKER of the Greater Light,
draw with the compass of compassion
the circle of thy life.
With centre fixed in Cosmic Will,
and radius wide,
circumscribe the symbol of the Infinite.
Then shall all they who move in its confines,
sense, though with slow awareness,
the significance of centre,
and feel, in the swing of dedicated will,
the infinity in its embrace. [page 49]
“LOVE thine enemies,” the strange injunction reads.
The spirit hesitates, recoils,
But since the law holds,
stretch forth thine hand halfway,
the mask of the enemy falls
to reveal a friend. [page 50]
THE FEAST OF ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS
THE belfry bell beats, protesting secular Sabbath,
Within, the quiet lamps of sacrament affirm the vigil,
while from the hidden tongues of the organ,
notes tremble into being, strengthen, and are hushed away.
Acolytes come with tapers,
build pyramids of flame above the altar,
light stars that burn in solemn incandescence,
pointing the eye upward to dwell with the winged saints.
Choristers immaculate, with profile of ruff and book do obeisance,
and below the altar steps, the folds of the priest’s cope
with all the company of servers,
swing in genuflection.
Then a voice, schooled in the lore of liturgy, calls forth alone:
“Let Thy priest be clothed with righteousness.”
And is replied, “Let Thy saints sing with joyfulness.”
Purified by thrust of censer, sanctified by candle and cross,
the procession moves,
measured by the music of “Christ the fair glory of the holy angels.”
Along the narrow aisles, the holy pageant winds,
encircles each straying thought with prayer,
each sleeping will with sudden descant,
arches sound into a flame of Pentecostal blessing. [page 51]
With collect and creed, chorale and cross,
the liturgy rolls onward, beckoning angels to encompass,
and Christ to hallow His jewelled chalice,
to refresh the faint and restore the living-dead.
The tide of ritual ebbs, recedes from the shores of ceremonial,
is subdued by benediction,
outpours peace, as the Nunc Dimittis echoes through the open portal.
Then acolytes unlight the altar stars,
leave only the rose-deep lamps of sacrament
to affirm their quiet vigil. [page 52]
O GRIEVING soul,
contemplate with diligence, tree secrets.
Meditate the interim of seeds.
Comprehend roots that brace the tip-toe branch.
Question leaf flares, lighting autumnal pyres.
Marvel the recurring answer of spring.
prepare in this cold grief the refuge of winter roots;
unseen, record each ring of suffered growth.
Set before the inner eye, tree miracles.
Affirm the Cosmic Spring.
WORDS, weighted with destiny.
fall upon the soil of Time,
and full of promise lie,
awaiting the resurrection hour.
Warmed by remembrance,
nurtured by hope,
push past darkness,
and in the fullness of their power,
bud, blossom and bear fruit
ready for harvest. [page 53]
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
AS seekers on the path to peace
extol we now the merits of right speech—
set forth the privilege accorded man
to soothe—or crucify.
Record in consciousness, the karmic toll
for every false or stealthy accusation,
recalling thus the tongue from petty chatter
or deliberate darkness.
Thus from a moment’s resolution
seize the impulse afresh
to weigh each word in the balance of kindness:
our every utterance raise
to the loftiest height. [page 54]
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