Modernist Poets
The Victorian House and Other Poems
8th Oct 2021Posted in: Modernist Poets, Philip Child 0

The

Victorian House

and Other Poems

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BOOKS BY PHILIP CHILD

Novels:

THE VILLAGE OF SOULS

GOD’S SPARROWS

BLOW WIND, COME WRACK

DAY OF WRATH

MR. AMES AGAINST TIME

Poetry:

THE VICTORIAN HOUSE AND OTHER POEMS [unnumbered page]

The

Victorian House

and other poems

PHILIP CHILD

———————————

[illustration]

———————————

The Ryerson Press [illustration] Toronto

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COPYRIGHT, CANADA, 1951, 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 March, 1951

     The following short poems have been previously published in novels of mine: Pictures, The Apple, To a Future Poet, Descent for the Lost.

PRINTED AND BOUND IN CANADA

BY THE RYERSON PRESS, TORONTO

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IN MEMORIAM

E. H. C.

Deus… Non est æternitas et infinitas, sed æternus et infinitus; non est duration et spatium, sed durat et adest—

ISAAC NEWTON.

 [blank page]

CONTENTS

Part One

PAGE

THE VICTORIAN HOUSE

1

Part Two

MOODS AND MOMENTS

THE BESTIARY OF THE ID

    THE BASILISK

38

    THE UNICORN

39

MOOD SERIOUS

    PICTURES

40

    MACROCOSM

40

    AFTERWARDS

40

    THE STRANGER

41

    A ROSE

42

    THE APPLE

42

THE PAGAN IN US

    PAGAN NOCTURNE

43

    THE THING-WITH-NO-FACE

43

    RHODOPIS

44

MOOD SATIRICAL

    POETA NASCITUR, NON FIT

45

    THE POETASTER AND THE FLY

45

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MOOD NOT SERIOUS

    TO NICOLETTE

46

MOOD LYRICAL

    LIFE IS SHORT

47

    HAIL AND FAREWELL

48

    EARTH REST

48

    BELMARYE

49

    THE SEED

49

MOOD SERIOUS

    OAK

50

    THE VOYAGEUR

51

    DANCING PARTNERS

51

    TO A FUTURE POET

52

    DESCENT FOR THE LOST

53

[unnumbered page]

ERRATA

LOCATION

ERROR

Page 46, 16.1

“An” changed to “And”

[unnumbered page]

Part One

THE VICTORIAN HOUSE

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Note

     The characters and episodes of The Victorian House are invented, not reported from recollection. It is true, however, that the convention of poetry requires an author to dip his pen in the blood of at least one or two slain reticences and to reveal more of himself than, in the prose of life, he would ordinarily disclose.

—PHILIP CHILD.

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THE VICTORIAN HOUSE

AND OTHER POEMS


THE VICTORIAN HOUSE

I

      WE PASSED the gate and the rusty hitching ring

  In the post, and then we reached the apple tree

  And I caught myself in the long established rite

  Of looking upward at the heavy limb

  That spreads across the walk. When I was a boy

  I used to stand on it and make it sway

  While I held on to twigs above my head;

  Then, gazing down with salt-rimed eyes at the scud

  Of the surging lawn, I made of the tossing branch

  A yard-arm, swaying to some frigate’s scend

  As she ran before the wind to unknown seas.

  It must be thirty years since the tree began

  To drop its bark and show its skeleton—

  If you want an apple tree to die you have

  To cut it down to a stump.

                                            “I’ll see the house

  And then talk figures,” Mr. Hammer said

  As I turned the key (we always pressed a knee

  Against the side of the door to release the latch).

  But Mr. Hammer stopped before we crossed

  The threshold and fished a note-book from his pocket.

       “How many rooms? Well, let me think,” I said;

“Downstairs, upstairs, cellar, attic and store-room:

  I make it nineteen rooms not counting halls. [page 1]

  It’s odd, I never thought of counting them

  Before today.”

                          He scribbled: Rooms 19;

  Then, pencil poised to swoop on facts, he asked,

“Who built this house? And what’s its history?

  In my prospectus of a lot this size

  I always write a note on former owners;

  Folks like to think that a lot they buy was owned

  By solid people and has its little story.”

          Its little history? What could I say

  To mathematical Mr. Hammer? to whom

  Its story meant as little as these words

  Could mean to you who taste this book, and think:

“A poet, eh? No doubt he means to tell

  The truth as well as he can—Good luck to him!

  But he’s Somebody Else I Never Met, just one

  Of two billion. Well, I’ll grant him a moment

  While I wait for Jane.” (I give five feet to a line

  Of verse; I shall get but one foot more than that

  Of willing earth for me and for my verse

  To occupy.)

                     I said, “My father built it

  In ’eighty-eight; we’ve always lived in it—

  Nobody else but us. When I went away from here

  To earn my living I used to come back summers.

  And I’ve lived here ever since my parents died.”

  He wrote it down, then snapped the coffin lid

  Upon our little story, and buried it

  In his pocket. Now he peered this way and that [page 2]

  And up and down the brickwork of the house,

  As I have seen a hunter size a buck

  Before he raised his gun. “The brickwork’s cracked,

  I see, beside the door. A slated roof

  With iron railing—there’s a section missing.

  Are there rats? There always are in these old houses.

  That wood below the eaves. Rotting, I’d say

  Yes, sir! I’d say this house has seen its prime;

  And they didn’t build for beauty in those days,

  And that’s a fact!”

                              “Shall we go in?” I said.

         And so we crossed the threshold into the house

  As I had done so many times before

  Though never quite like this; never like this.

II

       “Was this the parlour?” he asked, and I said it was.

  But to us it was “The Drawing-Room”; rooms have

  A meaning in this house, and to this day

  The room upstairs we used for playing in

  Is still “The Nursery.” In the upper rooms

  Children were born and bred, and in those rooms

  Upstairs I have seen Death lying on the pillow.

         But Mr. Hammer is measuring the parlour.

  I said, to try him out, “This house has seen

  A lot of living,” but he made no answer;

  He held his tape to the mirror-door that led [page 3]

  To my father’s study. (My father used to call

  Us through the mirror-door with a time-worn joke;

“Come through the looking-glass,” he liked to say.)

         “Will you take the end of the measuring-tape for me,”

  Said Mr. Hammer, “and hold it to the floor?

  Three and a quarter by eight. I could use that door.”

         I see my father reading by the fire,

  A Mexican poncho spread about his shoulders.

  The talks we had; the figures from the past

  He brought to life! and the special smell of the room:

  Tobacco and old books much loved and handled.

  He sometimes has a slantwise way of joking

  To make us think—a trifle grim at times,

  For though he was gentle, he had Puritan blood.

“Death,” he would say with a twinkle, “is for man

  His greatest experience—if he lives through it.”

  When I was older he said one day, not jesting,

“Christ did all things by God, but even he,

  The Fisher of Men, had many failures. He failed

  At Nazareth and he could not throw his net

  Round Judas and draw him into the kingdom of Heaven.”

  Why did he tell me that—and I remember?

       “They made high ceilings and large rooms those days,

  But narrow windows,” murmured Mr. Hammer.

         I mused; there was always room enough in the house:

  Room for laughter and room to spread out joy [page 4]

  And look at it, and room for quiet growth

  Without the everlasting Hurry! Hurry!

       “Myself, I like wide windows and lots of light,”

  Confided Mr. Hammer, “and lower ceilings;

  You rattle round like a dried-up pea in a saucepan

  In these Victorian houses.”

                                             “It suited us,”

  I answered shortly, “We wanted room enough,

  And we always got whatever light we needed.”

  He must have thought my answer odd. I spoke

  From anger and what I said was not quite true.

  I took my thoughts away from his intrusion.

         … Room to be born and live one’s love and life in

  And room to come to night’s dark tenderness;

  Yes, and room to die in, thinking perhaps

  When you lay in bed for the last of all your nights—

  Thinking, “My children’s children may

  Begin their lives where I am ending mine.”

  I remember how the nurse put out her hand

  And laid it gently on my wrist and murmured,

“She’s taking leave of you; I know that look

  So well.”

                 I sometimes think the walls remember.

       “What do you call this place? Has it got a name?”

  Asked Mr. Hammer. I said it had, but said

  No more than that for he did not mean to listen.

“I like to put my mark on what I make,”

  Said he; “when you develop property,

  No matter if you sell it, you want to put [page 5]

  Your name on it. It makes it yours in a way—

  A thing you’ve made. I thought of ‘Hammer Park.’

  Yes, Park is good. It makes you think of trees,

  And city folk like a tree or two by the house.

  It’s good you’ve got a lot of trees on your place—

  I never saw so many! Trees won’t grow

  For you overnight,” and Mr. Hammer laughed,

“That apple tree would have to go, of course;

  But a lot of the oaks could stay. I want the place

  To be select. Yes, ‘Hammer Park’—that’s it!”

       My mother liked to tell, with a smiling glance

  At my father, why “Oakwood” was the name we chose.

“I said to James I’d like a ‘growing name’—

  A name that we can grow with. That set him off.

  You know how James is when he’s given a thought

  To play with! He said, ‘A growing name. Yes… Yes!

  What a splendid thought. A crescent thought! And then

  Being James he had to reach a name by way,

  Of that old Aristotle.” (She liked to tease him

  And she liked to hear him talk: sweet teasing makes

  Good talk. She never teased unless she loved.)

“I could have reached ‘Oakwood’ without a detour

  Into—what do you call them?—unfolding forms,

  Potentialities, and telescopes.”

Entelechy!” my father would correct her.

“Well, James, I know what makes an acorn grow

  Without the help of dusty old Aristotle.” [page 6]

“Do you, my dear? Do you know, indeed!” He would say,

“Then that’s more than I or Aristotle do.”

         Fact is, when my father fished, he always hoped

  To land more than a single fish in his net,

  But even when he lost a draught you could see

  The flash of their tails as they wriggled through the meshes.

  In his own way he told me of the naming:

“The acorn bears the oak within itself,

  Old chap, the child is father to the man,

  And this house called ‘Oakwood,’ which we love, bears us

  Within itself; and its unfolding form

  Is that it be our home.”

                                       For a mote of time

  As I think of his words, I seem to hear his voice

  And catch his look—half serious, half twinkling.

  I remember how he ended what he said

  To me that day. I remember how his voice

  Grew deeper as if he had forgotten me,

  As if he were transfiguring the phrase

  In the secret fountain of his spirit.

                                                        He said,

  “Our soul’s unfolding form is that it grown

  Into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

         That is a phrase that means what you want it to mean

  According to what you are—‘just words’ for what

  Is in the heart; you can shy away from it

  For shame, knowing the baseness of the world [page 7]

  We live in.  .  .  . This is the modern age when truth

  Has dwindled to a phrase of six flat words:

  You’re going to die some day—full stop!

  This is the robot age which has progressed

  To six flat feet of dead and eyeless earth.

         Christ’s words are not a magic incantation,

  One cannot summon wind by muttering them

  Again and again; their meaning for this man

  Or that lies in the heart, not in the words

  Themselves. Torn from their roots the words grow cheap,

  A broken scrap of what repentant Cranmer,

  With many sins upon his soul, once burnt

  His hand to the stump for in martyr-fire,

  But now no more than a scrap to throw from the kitchen

  Into the gutter for dogs of satire to nose at.

       I think I know what my father meant by it

  Though he never told me: a state of mind where peace

  Is the casting off of all our fear, and joy

  The flowing free of love. I think his vision was

  That heaven is like a home with room for all,

  With vacant rooms prepared for prodigals.

  He would not listen to talk of timeless hell;

“Eternity belongs to God,” he said,

“And only time belongs to the flesh and the devil.”

  He thought that by God’s mystery of good

  Transmuting evil, both saint and sinner alike

  Came home in the end; that the veriest roofless exile [page 8]

  Came home some day to the Kingdom of Our Father.  .  .  .

         So we called it Oakwood. “It’s a splendid name,”

  My mother would say when she came to the end of her telling,

“It’s simple and has dignity”; and then

  She would declare with a lovely smile for my father,

“We thank you for it, James.”

       “If you don’t mind, I’ll sit on the sill and wait

  While you go into the other rooms downstairs,”

  I said, for all at once I did not want

  To share my father’s study with Mr. Hammer.

III

         To build a house and live the changing years

  In it is to make a body for one’s life

  Like flesh for the soul; the walls are an hourglass

  For our motes of time, that drops them grain by grain

  Until the last mote falls and the house is void

  And we go out—wherever we must go:

  Each dropping mote leaves patterns on the wall

  (Did you hear the sand-motes falling, Mr. Hammer?)

  And the dropping motes wear down the threshold-stone

  Of our goings into the world and our comings home.

  As thought moves stilly inward into the soul [page 9]

  To meet itself for suffering or comfort—

  So we come home.

         Our house was kind to the young. It had stout walls

  (I never thought them ugly), stout walls that kept

  The world from creeping in, and kept the sky

  Outside when the place sky started from, behind

  The blue, seemed suddenly too far away—

  Lest our young minds, before they grew their shells,

  Be pierced too soon by deep infinity:

  The world has need to be looked at from a window—

  A high one and a narrow!—before it is lived in;

  And one has need to know about a roof

  Before one roves beneath the roofless sky.

       I remember lying in bed. My mother had come

  And “said my prayers” and turned the gas-jet off.

  I lay and looked at the treetop and the moon

  That made the branches bare and white as bones;

“Perhaps the snow will fall while I’m asleep,”

  I thought, “perhaps when I get up and look

  I’ll find the whole world spread with shining white.

  I say It shall be so!—and make it magic!”

  When morning came I looked, and it was true:

  The trees and lawn were gleaming-white with snow,

  In all the world there was no thing but white.

  I heard the chime of sleigh bells far away

  And I thought my heart would burst from happiness,

  So great a thing it was  .  .  .  and now so small.

  Where has the splendour gone? and where the magic? [page 10]

  So long a time ago; so short a time

  So long ago.

           I can’t remember when the brickwork cracked;

  I can’t remember when the rats began

  To gnaw in the night and scurry in the walls.

  I did not hear them steal into the house;

  Like winter creeping in with the earliest touch

  Of frost, they came.

                                  Our house was kind to the young

  But all at once it was old and full of ghosts.

  In every room remembered words resound

  From the walls with slantwise echoes. Too deep the echoes,

  Too far away the voices speaking them.

  After our ghosts came home, the house did not

  Belong to us but we to it and its echoes;

  They showed the measure of our lives and revealed

  The dropping motes of the sand.

                                                      Mr. Hammer is here.

  He will make a gaping pit and a strew of bricks

  And the lawn will grow uncut; then after a while

  The grass and burdocks will spread and cover the scar

  And only the ghosts will hover over the weeds  

  For a time—but only as long as I remember;

  Then they will vanish too.

         Hammer is measuring my father’s study;

  I hear him walking through the ghosts of the house: [page 11]

  Thirty feet on the measuring tape this way,

  And fifteen that—define and circumscribe

  With rigid inches, Mr. Hammer, for inches

  Flat on the floor will cover everything.

         I shall have to go upstairs with Hammer soon

  And watch devouring inches of his tape

  Glide over empty rooms I never measured,

  Which seemed as large to me as the mystery

  Of the love that lived in them—then went away.

                    How still they lie, the dead,

                    As if there stillness were a word

                    That trembled to be heard

                    Before the spirit fled.

                 They do not tell us what they know,

                    The dead, before they go.

         Last month when I was “settling up” the house

  I found a packet of my mother’s letters

  With Victoria’s head on the stamps, and a note in her hand

  With them: My letters to James before we were married.

         She wrote from another house I never knew

  And cannot picture; she crossed some other threshold

  Those far-off April evenings to post her love

  In the mail. I see an upswept pompadour,

  A bustled dress, and perhaps she gently swayed

  A parasol as she walked with springing step—

  And young! young! young! [page 12]

  What songs did they hum, what words did they murmur then,

  Beneath their breath when they went out in April

  To post an arrow? The arrows found their mark

  And rested here for half a century;

  They came of a light that shone before I was born

  And they must go their way with her who wrote them.

  I burnt them unread.

                                   I can hear my mother singing

  Gaily under her breath, while I perch on a stool

  Behind her back and fasten the hooks of her dress:

                  Love is a child of earth and air

                  In whom the sky and woodland meet,

                  The wind of heaven stirs her hair

                  And spring is kneeling at her feet.

                  But April wooed is May begun,

                  Though she is free yet is she kind;

                  Love is a woman wooed and won,

                  She to her love her love doth bind.

IV

         It is a thing of wonder than some saying,

  Long forgot and lying fallow in the mind,

  Can, when its season comes, unfold and spread

  Into the crannies of experience. [page 13]

  Years after my father died, when I chanced to look

  One day at Michelangelo’s Last Judgement,

  His thought about Judas sprang words for me:

     Each breath we breathe is prayer for those we love;

     Have we no breath for those whom all men hate

     Who, frozen in their sprawling horror, wait

     And shield their eyes from God enthroned above?

     Is there no love that even to hell would go

     To find damned souls who wandered from their way?

     Or was there once a greater Judgement Day

     Not understood by Michelangelo?

     When Mary wept for Jesus on God’s rood

     Who wept for Judas, on God’s gallows too,

     And longed to touch that other solitude

     Through black and deep the gulf between, and wide?

     Who prayed in that dark hour before he died:

  “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”?

         But the prose we live is not the poetry

  We write in what we think are times of insight

  When the rhythm of thought is fluctuant and swift,

  And the merging of arrested glance with love,

  Of spark with fire, can come to pass between

  The falling of two motes of dust to the floor,

  Or between two beats of the heart—so swift it is.

  The daily prose is coarser, tougher; its bricks [page 14]

  Are glazed with indifference and mortared with boredom;

  We built its walls to surround the Debate in the Soul

  And resist the remorseless probing of the rats;

  We would not open the door to every knock

  Of a stranger.

                        It is not true that every breath

  I breathe is breathed in prayer for those I love:

  I do not love my struggling fellow man

  When he elbows me (in prose) to board a bus;

  I am, in prose, “man middling earthy,” and—

  I am not overfond of Brother Hammer.

         There was a time when I was taught to clench

  My teeth on hate (“It’s a young man’s war,” they said,

“One learns new things more easily in youth”);

  I remember how they taught the bayonet:

  The Kaiser’s face was painted on a bag

  Of sand and our instructor told us “to hate

  His guts” when we lunged with the bayonet, by numbers.

  I did not take to hate, yet I confess

  I cannot see that marching robotry

  Is ever stopped and turned aside by love

  (The snake gets peace by swallowing the mouse).

  This is the Body’s world of time and prose

  And poetry shines through but fitfully.

  It seems there is a negative called evil,

  It seems that we must fight it with itself [page 15]

  And be corrupted; even Saint Bernard,

  God-loving soul and mystic though he was,

  Could not withdraw from the world but bade men march

  To Palestine, where those who took the cross

  Were crucified by war.

         I met two wars and I met other things,

  I wandered in the forests of the Id,

  I met the cobra and the marching rats.  .  .  .

                Prometheus brings a pretty culture,

                The fruit of fire is in season.

                The eagle is become a vulture;

                The taloned swoopings of the reason

                   Are not descents of love.

                The nuclear kiss of the atom bomb

                By its expanding affirmation

                May bring to us a kind of calm;

                It will not be the integration

                   Of the descending dove.

         The robot-men with mechanistic souls

  Bring out their calipers to gauge our fate

  And frame the fetters for our minds and limbs;

  The body’s world of wingless matter formed

  Their stony hearts and wrote the prosy writ

  From which they read the mutilated word: [page 16]

  In the middle were the words with neither end

  Nor any cause; there is no fiat lux,

  No word but only words; there is no truth

  But the dictated shibboleth nor any voice

  In the fastness of the individual soul

  To cry, “Here will I stand, so help me God;”

  There is no soul.

  In the metallic walls of finitude

  There is no break; there is no thing but things,

  And nothing real but writhing serpent coils

  Of shifting, slippery and unstable matter.

         They know the passwords of humanity—

  Great words, they mouth, that bleed with martyrs’ blood;

  And in the hour when light has left the world

  They whisper them to us with downcast eyes

  And slyly calculated mimicry.

“Open the gates and let the drawbridge down;

  We bring the brotherhood of man,” they say.

  They pass the lowered bridge, the open gate;

  They take the city of Mansoul, and sack it.

         With sword and whip they shout the brotherhood

  Of man—and bring the unity of robots

  Cut by the lathes of concentration camps

  And put together on the assembly belts

  Of slogan factories.

  They crucify us with contempt for love,

  They give us to drink the hyssop of their lies;

  The watching robots with their lightless stare

  Pace up and down the soundless corridors

  And in dank prison cells they give us to drink [page 17]

  Of blinding pain to bend our souls beneath

  The weakling body’s weight and make us sin

  Against the light.

         This is the world of prose where man must die

  For his fellow man without Beethoven’s music

  To blow him trumpets from the other side;

  Must fight for man and die for him, perhaps,

  In sober prose and sordid circumstance,

  Girding his soul with recollected insight.

         Chaos is come again; the sun has set

  In the blood-stained west and in the lowering sky

  A solitary cross climbs slowly upward

  From the horizon’s desolated rim.

  O Judas, lost with us in this our fire

  Of hell, hast thou never once remembered love?

  Look thou upon thy brothers, thou severed soul;

  Remember pity, O Judas, remember truth.

         Chaos is come again; and love, some say,

  Is like the serpent’s fang that fastens on

  Its prey; and Lear, poor naked wretch,

  Is stretched out on the rack of this tough world;

  And there never was a cross on Calvary.

  But what of the velvet-footed fool, stout Kent,

  And Edgar, and the lovely constancy

  Of quiet Cordelia?

                                What should a poet

  Do in a world descending into hell

  For a season, where should he go but to the heath

  Of Calvary, for love?

         And thou, St. Francis, with thy “Brother Bird”

  And “Brother Wolf”—didst thou reflect upon [page 18]

  That innocent keeper of biological balance,

  The snake? When he made a meal of Brother Mouse,

  Didst thou call him “Brother Snake”?

                                                    And thou, St. Francis,

  Thou genius of the heart, what thoughtest thou

  Of Judas Iscariot? Didst thou hate the sin

  And love the sinner? And when thou thoughtest of hell

  Didst thou dare to name the lost one “Brother Judas”?

       “Love” is our hardest word of all to spell:

  The sentimental smear the copy-book

  And prate of little lambs, who never saw

  The cobra burning from the hooded night;

  And there are those who call themselves “tough-minded,”

  Who mock at “the disease of altruism”

  And call it “the weakling’s flight to a world of dreams.”

  But do they think, these people with “tough minds,”

  That Pilgrim never had a pack to bear?

  And never met his soul with flesh on it?

  That where he journeyed to (the trumpets sounding

  From the other side) was only meant

  For the weak, the whimpering and the epicene

  And no one else?

         A house can light within a child such a candle

  As by God’s grace shall never be put out.

  (When Latimer was burned in martyr-fire

  For love of God, was the martyr-blaze no more

  Than flame a moth must dash his wings against?)

  I learned to love, as a child will do, by heart,

  Before I ever heard of learning hate [page 19]

  By rote or shibboleth or numbered drill.

  My tiny flame was lit and it has burned

  Now dim, now bright, now flaring in the draught,

  But never quite put out.

                                        I learned to love

  The look that lights a face with understanding,

  Or stoutly faces failure, and love the hand

  That blindly gropes to help another’s trouble;

  I learned to love the valiant heart, born down

  By suffering or by the approach of death;

  And I have learned to love, though fitfully,

  The willing and unwilling soul, half bound

  Half free, of Everyman, nailed to the cross

  For all his brothers.  My candle dwindles down—

  May it burn to the socket.

V

         My Hammer has come back to nail me down;

  He returns to like a tangle in a spool of thread.

  He shuts the looking-glass; he has one eye

  For me and one for his figures; he asks me briskly,

“Are you feeling rested?”

                                         “I wasn’t tired,” I say.

  But Hammer rarely listens unless he can hear

  The sound of his blow when he drives home a nail.

  He says sententiously that none of us [page 20]

  Is as young as he used to be, and then goes on

  To make the house a fitting counterpart

  For me and my grey hairs. “It’s an old-timer,

  And that’s a fact!—Brass discs put over pipes

  Where the gas jets used to be, and there’s a row

  Of numbered iron bells with pulls attached,

  In the kitchen. It’s a coon’s age since I’ve seen

  Those things.” (He makes me think of Justice Shallow,

  Talking of “none of us as young” and bell-pulls,

  And all in a single flat expenditure

  Of breath. Death as the psalmist says is certain,

  All must die. What price a yoke of bells

  At Stamford Fair? He’s Shallow, up to date.)

         I dare say Mr. Hammer thinks I live

  In a world that he would call unreal; he thinks

  Of me, no doubt, as “living in dreams of the past.”

  In part I do. (Have you escaped from yours

  I wonder, Mr. Hammer? Would you want to?)

  Those bells have not been used since I was a child.

  I hear a bell melodiously jingling

  While I am rimming the mixing-bowl to get

  The last sweet batter of the cake on my finger;

  I hear my mother’s voice on the speaking-tube,

  A wraith-like voice that floats down through the walls:

“Martha, is that young scamp in the kitchen still?

  Please send him up to wash his hands for supper.”

         The realistic Mr. Hammer is right,

  None of us is as young as he was, and time

  Is not the same as it was at young-and-twenty: [page 21]

  When I was young it was a good thick spool

  Of thread and I unwound it lavishly

  And never missed it. Now I see Spool’s End

  And the thread unwinds like the wind.

  But the dream and the real are not at all the things

  That Hammer thinks they are: the dream is time,

  But the real, when it explodes through time, is timeless.

  One final flick of the finger round the bowl

  And—“I’m coming, I’m coming”  .  .  .

         “Shall we go upstairs?” I said to Mr. Hammer.

         I opened the door and let him enter my room.

  I did not tell him why, in a house so large,

  We shared a room, my brother Ken and I,

  Because we wanted to.

                                       “The baseboard’s scuffed

  And splintered under the paint,” said Mr. Hammer.

  He cocked his head and clicked his tongue in triumph:

“Listen to that! You have got rats in the house!”

  Out came the measuring-tape.

                                                  .  .  .  He went away

  From the house, my brother Ken, when we were young

         The room looks queer, stripped bare; it has gone from me:

  I see it suddenly, as if it lay

  Before me dead, and I knew I had killed it.

         Experienced Mr. Hammer sums the room,

  Uncoiling mortal inches of his tape; [page 22]

  His inches cannot span the drift of flux

  Nor trace the boundary of permanence;

  His inches cannot mark that dwindling point,

  The present, whose being is its having been

  And its becoming. Write that in your figuring book,

  My mathematical friend, that in this room

  The heart has been nine hundred million times,

  And twice a heart has stopped its beating here.

         I have lain with my ear on the pillow in this room

  And listened to the urgent to and fro

  Of the blood, leaving and coming home to the heart;

  And I have thought of the hurrying pulse of life

  In its to and fro with death, its thrust and withdrawal,

  As if it were the dance of entwining figures;

  I have thought of the dropping motes in the hourglass

  And of turning the glass to begin the dance again.

  I have sometimes whispered, “Now! This moment now!”

  But at the instant when the lightning flashed

  The thought and rived the mind, it was time past.

  If I look a little slantwise at the room,

  If I look at it “not with, but through the eye,”

  I shall see that what it was, it is—and is not:

  The desk my brother worked at is there and not there,

  He bends before the base-board facing me

  And watching my eyes, his cricket bat uplifted

  To block the tennis ball I shall bowl to him—

  There and not there.

                                  I suppose he had his dream

  Of coming back when he went to the First World War.

  (In the days when we were intimate with it [page 23]

  It was called The War, as if there were no other,

  As one might say “the seamy side of life”—

  Those days when life still had a front to its seams

  Before our world went down to hell for a season.)

  No doubt he painted pictures in his mind

  Of coming home to the house. I know I did.

         I remember dawn at Sailly-Saillisel

  On the Somme when the star shells had faded away;

  The guns had gone to sleep and a sombre light

  Was hovering between the other world

  And ours, as if the sun were weary at last

  And wondered whether it were worth his candle

  To go on lighting up a world like this—

  I remember thinking then of coming home

  Some spring; I would not let myself guess which.

  I saw my homing train emerge from night,

  Its fancied shape reborn from misty chaos;

  And in a moment of eternity,

  As if the days and years betwixt were nothing,

  I saw it burst upon a promised land

  And saw my own far city clasped between

  The gleaming lake and the green clad mountain-slope,

  The loveliest landfall for a traveller

  In all my singing native countryside.

  I saw familiar houses sweeping by,

  I felt the train slow down and glide to the station

  And I saw my parents’ upturned faces search

  The passing windows for first sight of me

  As I had been those years ago, before. [page 24]

  I dreamed I’d sink myself in the homely prose

  Of wonted custom; but first of all was this:

  When I had crossed our threshold and came home

  I’d beat the bounds from room to well-loved room

  And put their walls about my heart again.

         But when that visioned moment came to be

  I found our home the same—and not the same.

  The house seemed smaller and its rooms more dark;

  And my brother Ken—if he dreamed of coming back—

  Did not return to find our house grown old.

         His measuring tape forgotten, Mr. Hammer

  Is drumming his fingers on the sill again,

  Is staring at the death-doomed apple tree,

  Brown-studying the last sere leaves that hang

  From wet, black limbs too sharply etched against

  The droupening sky. It is time for winter sleep.

  What is he thinking about? Does he see the breeze

  That searches out those leaves and makes them shiver?

  Does he hear the rats that scuttle in the wall?

  Why does he frown, and why did he clench his fist?

  Is Mr. Hammer being fished for? …

VI

         It seems I never really knew this house

  Till I came to sell it.

                                   .  .  .  Room for the heart to ache,

  And strangely empty rooms to remember in. [page 25]

         In all my quiet years of growing up

  I never dreamed that all mankind was bound

  —All members one in another—bound together

  To rendezvous in Pandemonium.

  I know that evil can sift in by chinks

  One cannot measure with a measuring-tape,

  Can steal from all the quarters of the world

  And compass one about with no more sound

  Than the creeping of a fly upon the wall.

  The years have made me look with hardened eyes

  At the foul devices of this writhing world,

  And dust has fallen on that other time

  So long ago when I looked from a narrow window

  And saw the world in snowy white, and thought

  It never could be sullied.

  The orient and immortal wheat is scythed

  And left to rot. I saw the rot set in;

  And I have shared the rendezvous in hell.

         In the drawing-room downstairs, now drained of us,

  Sitting with those I love, I could turn a dial

  And hear dark susurrations from the slope

  Of hell. I heard the good man and the wicked,

  The little souls and the great, and the many souls

  In the middle way of life; I heard the stamp

  Of marching feet and I heard the cockatrice

  Shriek from his slime: Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sie heil!

  I heard Pétain acknowledging defeat

  And yielding France and I heard the quiet retort

  Of De Gaulle. I listened to the brave and the fearful [page 26]

  And to the pitiable interpolations

  Of voices seeking some compelling charm

  Against their loneliness. (Where do they lie,

  The phylacteries of Herculaneum

  And the phials of that great city, Babylon?)

  I heard the houses burning and I heard

  The humming wings of the few who saved so many;

  I heard the mortal thunder of guns in battle,

  Like seething combers of pitch that swept and broke

  On steadfast coasts of devotion.

         I felt in my nerves the thousands upon thousands

  Who offed the lendings of another world

  And struggled starkly under empty skies,

  Whose tiny candles burned in vacuum,

  Who knew no moving of the resistless tide

  Beneath their tossing flotsam and were no more

  But such bare, forkèd animals as I,

  Who held no certainty but flux, and had

  No hitching-ring but this material hell—

  And yet were brave.

                                   Is unaccommodated man no more

  Than this—that flux and nuclear fission void

  The soul’s dimension of eternity?

  I hear the hollow prayers reverberate

  From empty sky. Their mocking echo spins

  In dizzy circles in the sickened brain:

  What do you seek beyond the firmament—

  Some stouter turf to bear your stumbling feet?

  Some kinder world? But whose vain ghost are you? [page 27]

  You are the figment of a sleeping god,

  Assembled in his dream a fleeting while

  To make disordered entity and then

  Dissolve. He tosses on his starry couch

  Until his midnight agony be done

  And you, the wavering phantom of his dream,

  Flee with the morning.

         One hand, one foot, one eye and half of heart

  And mind and soul once struggled free from the web

  Of nature. (Does Judas in the inky fire

  Still clutch for light?) But now in darkling horror

  The hands are tangled and the feet are snared.

  The eyes and heart, the mind and soul fast caught;

  We watch the spider’s coming and we think:

  Our daily bread the power without glory

  And life for never and never

  World without end or purpose….

       Today is a stew of bricks in a gaping pit;

  Whose hands will build tomorrow’s house with it?

VII

         Mystics like Rolle and Saint Bernard say much

  About that centre of our being, the soul.

  Some speak of the “spark of the soul” and liken it

  To a pin-point candle-flame that burns in us

  Now dim, now bright—that burns the stuff of life

  In fire of joy or fire of pain until

  One day the flame is swayed by draft of grace

  And, touching tinder, sets on fire the self [page 28]

  And every otherness it knows in one

  Pervading and undying blaze of light:

  The rose, the sunlight and the marriage-bed;

  The snake, the cancer, and the scuttling rat;

  The self that loves the other, the self that fears it;

  The beauty and the horror, the love and the terror—

  All burn in one eternal flame of love.

       I read their words as metaphors of vision

  That cannot be transmuted into words

  Nor rightly understood by him who lacks

  That vision. And what they saw, or felt, or knew,

  They did not see, perchance, completely whole;

  Perchance some darkness mingled with the light,

  Some shred of self remained, not burnt away,

  To gaze like Dante at the Rose of Light

  Yet separated still from Its effulgence,

  Still searching for some finite gauge of time

  Or space or matter to measure the Transfigured

  Before that vision ceased, before the pall

  Of finitude should cover the soul again.

         Alas, my sense-bound soul has never had

  The burning mystic’s vision of the Real.

         Yet, looking once, from this same narrow window

  (Where you stand and drum your fingers, Mr. Hammer)

  I knew a sudden quickening, one May.

  I saw that a mist of green had settled on

  The bare, black branches of the maple trees

  Whose limbs had borne and shed their drift of leaves

  So many times, and my apple tree had moved

  With life and thrust its tinted buds to light; [page 29]

  And as I looked a wonder grew in me

  And burst its bonds.

                            From empty-seeming sky

  And greenless earth these came to life, I thought,

  Which tremble now with beauty to the breeze.

  Out of the heavens came earth and out of earth

  Came apple-buds for invisible wind to stir;

  And out of heaven and earth I came, for the wind

  To stir this sudden beauty in my mind

  As if all things create had taken me

  Into themselves and made their Otherness

  A part of me.

                       What went I out to see?

  To see these apple buds be shaken in

  The wind? It burst to blossom in my mind

  With the wind, that it was not the leaves and buds

  That moved, but the wind alone; that what I saw

  That moment was the invisible wind itself,

  The very-wind.

                           And then I thought: There is

  No wind without some leaf or bud to move

  Within its power; nor can there be a love

  Without some thing beloved. I am that thing

  The very-wind would blow its love upon.  

         Looking at nature, caught within its web

  Did I for an instant see beyond its bounds?

  Wind bloweth when and bloweth where it listeth

  Its fleeting evidence of things unseen;

  Epiphanies die down, the fading leaves

  Hang heavy from the boughs.

         Once in my life I knew and loved a man

  Who had that “whole-ness” that is the quality [page 30]

  Saints’ love possesses. He touched to life the best

  In other men and when he spoke to them

  He had a “giving look” that made their hearts

  Leap up to answer as if he made them feel

  They had immortal souls. He seemed to think

  Of every man as a part of life’s great poem,

  As living, loving, sinning, dying creatures

  Like himself. He seemed to separate

  The man from his dross, the sinner from his sin,

  And see in every man what he could have been

  And might become some day.

         And yet he was not what the world delights

  To call a “fool.” He understood that evil

  Which lies like a dead corruption in the well

  Of nature, and poisons it and poisons us.

         He had some little vanities of a sort

  That hurt no one. He liked to say he owned

  A memory like steel for poetry,

  And when that memory failed him he would blame

  The poetry and call it bad.

                                            But egoisms

  That thrust and wound and nail us to our cross

  He had cast from him, well knowing them for what

  They were, and knowing too—how rare a knowledge—

  What he was doing in this shrouded world

  And whither he was going. To be with him

  Was to slough for a time the desperate onslaught

  That permeates all living things, that makes

  The sapling thrust aside the strangling vines

  And hurry upward before it is too late

  And it is overtopped and choked from light.

  He made one feel the pilot-tide that sweeps

  Beneath the storms and waves of this troublesome life.

         He came to the cross-roads of the soul and flesh [page 31]

  And had to pay death’s debt, as I have seen

  It paid by old and stately-standing trees,

  By dying from top down. Death cast its shadow

  Upon his mind, though its coming could not dull

  The sweetness of his smile; his thought and speech

  Became confused and I wept in my heart, for him

  And for us all, those tearless tears that burn

  Too deeply for our eyes to shed them ever:

  I wept for our immortal wheat brought down

  By the bitter sweep of the scythe.

                                                        He lived among

  The shards of times long passed away from him,

  And yet a strange thing was that he could speak

  Remembered pages from the Iliad,

  Lines conjured up from long-forgotten youth,

  And his voice would grow as strong and clear as ever.

         There came a time in the Valley of the Shadow

  When he awoke from sleep and we knew his mind

  Had cleared for a while. At first I was afraid

  To ask my question lest the shadow should

  Descend upon his answer and tear the truth

  Of his soul to broken words of hollow horror.

  But the hour was a gift to us unstinted;

  He spoke of many things that deeply lay

  Between us in our hearts, in quiet bursts

  Of talk as if all time were ours to use;

  And when we spoke a single word or phrase

  The heart would leap to the rest and understand.

         “I have been away from you,” he said…. “It seems

  That I have been busy with this thing called ‘dying.’ [page 32]

  I am given time, it seems, to return for a little

  And say farewell.”

                              The moments spent themselves.  .  .  .

“Now I must sleep,” he said at last; “I think

  There will not be another time like this.

  You must not let this dying make you suffer;

  We must die to be reborn.”

                                              I summoned courage

  To ask my question then. I asked in search

  Of that for which there are no proven words

  To give us certain answer. I sought from him

  Some surety from the secret of his spirit

  That would redeem the words that he might say

  To Very-Truth, because he uttered them

  I breathed the whispered words, “Shall we meet again?”

         He smiled and answered me with a quiet sentence:

“I think we shall; but it will not be the same

  As the meeting we imagine.”

         The simple words were nothing by themselves.

  A thousand million men have uttered them

  Each time the generations of mankind

  Renew themselves; their magic repetition

  Will not ensure our immortality.

  He did not say them from the other side

  Of anguish, safe in another world where pain,

  We hope, will be transmuted. He said the words

  In death. He said them with unspoken grief;

  For when that meeting came, it could not be

  In this sense-bound flesh we know and love so well

  In spite of its hourly ripening for the scythe. [page 33]

         Words do not tell the meaning of the soul,

  So he smiled to me.

                                  How can one tell in words

  The many depths of import that may lie

  Beneath a smile? (If we could see but once

  The smile Christ gave to that disciple he loved.

  I think of the word transfiguration in

  The Book of St. John.) It spoke with its own words:

  I go from my separate self to you in love.

  I made this love for you. It is created.

  I pour it into you and give myself

  To you to keep always.

                                       It made me feel

  That by some strange transpiercing of the walls

  Of our fleshly prison he was I—I he.

  As the stream of blood must flow to the separate parts

  Of the living body—even so I felt

  That the continuous sap of our tree of life,

  Which made his spirit tremble to the wind

  Of love, was nourished by the same deep roots

  As mine, lying in everlasting soil

  Beneath our separateness.

                                            A smile may be

  A force, like the wind that fills the leaves with motion.

         When he died his face on the pillow seemed so lined,

  It caught my heart, but it was only clay

  Graved by the lifelong struggle of the spirit

  Outward. I loved the spirit.

         Shall we ever meet again? . . . How could I know?

  I can only say that once I had the love [page 34]

  Of a oneness-knowing soul poured into me

  And that I keep it inwardly and give

  From it as best I can.

          I touched a shining mote of sand

          But when I took away my hand

          And looked for it, I looked in vain.

          I passed a soul one busy day

          But though I often went that way

          I could not find that soul again.

          I will not count the stars at night

          For if I lost one star to sight

          Its beam might not return to me;

          And when the starry host sweeps by

          I will not circumscribe the sky

          Lest I should lose infinity.

          I saw a snake devour a mouse

          I heard the rats invade the house,

          Two things I cannot look above:

          I cannot separate the sin

          From the soul that let it in

          And I can only pray to love.

          Each grain of sand or star or soul

          Must be my witness of God’s whole

          And show eternity anew;

          I pray to love each thing that’s born

          Lest starlight never see the morn

          And lest the sea sands prove too few.

         Though foxes had their holes and even rats

  Had walls to scurry in, there was no place [page 35]

  For Mary’s son to lay his head.

                                                    I like

  To think of the wind of love, to think how he took

  The lily of the field and the mustard seed

  And the nails that crucify the outstretched hands;

  And took all stuff of life, all forms soever

  To the utmost limits of the unfurled sky

  And by his Father’s love transmuted them,

  And built a home which, in those days of kingdoms,

  He called the Kingdom of Heaven.

  He summoned Peter and John to enter it

  And summoned Judas, and showed transfigured palms

  To Thomas Didymus; and bade us all

  Whose homes must be a strew of bricks some day,

  To come from this our otherness to it.

VIII

         I closed the door and turned the key in the lock.

  While Mr. Hammer lit a cigarette

  I looked at the bare limbs of the apple tree,

  Stripped for its winter sleep.

                                                “I always know

  At once,” he said, “what a house is worth to me.”

“Well, what is this one worth—to you?” I asked.

  And Mr. Hammer (on his way, like me,

  To the Kingdom of Heaven) made reply:

                                                                   “I’ll give

  You Fifteen Thousand for the house and grounds.

  The house has got too old; I’ll have to tear

  It down, of course. But I can use some bricks

  And some of the trim, perhaps, to build a new one.” [page 36]

Part Two

MOODS AND MOMENTS

[unnumbered page]

THE BASILISK

I’VE FORGOTTEN what day, but late in December. . . .

I had no particular thing to conceal,

I was simply having my usual meal,

Just sitting quietly eating and drinking

And musing—but what it was I was thinking

   I can’t remember. I can’t remember!

How did it get behind my chair?

There wasn’t even a draft at my back

But I knew that something demoniac

Had opened the door and stolen behind me

Lidlessly peering, meaning to find me—

It was there. I could feel its stare.

I did not look. I thought, “It will go

Perhaps, if I never turn my head

To see, not even once till I’m dead.”

Then I thought, “If it looked just once at me

And I at it, then whatever I’d see

The thing would go away—and I’d know.”

One day, because I hoped it would go,

I turned my head and looked behind

But I might as well have been stricken blind

At the open door, in the empty hall

There was nothing. Nothing! Nothing at all!—

Why should that horrify me so? [page 38]

THE UNICORN

       AT DUSK halfway to paradise

       I turned and saw a unicorn

       With hooves of flint and glassy eyes

       Who pawed the night and died at morn.

     “E’er morning come, as come it must,

       Show me your hoof prints in the dust;

       Is there a signature of flame

       Engirdled with your other name?”

       He vailed his neck at my surmise

       And he gored me with his blood-tipped horn.

PICTURES

                I WOULD paint a picture

                Ere I die,

                I would tint at shifting clouds

                Upon the sky.

                The clouds are vanishing, to form

                Some other way,

                But it was thus I painted

                In my day.

                Weaving clouds upon the sky

                Who rack and swirl and rend,

                You dissolve and I must die

                In the end. [page 39]

MACROCOSM

            THIS HEAVEN is too clear and bright,

            Too peaceful and too infinite;

            Its quiet will not stay with me,

            I cannot find its boundary.

            Beyond my thoughts it spreads too far

            To coffin private peace and war,

            It has no self-containing room

            To close about my single doom.

            Its round horizon lies unfurled

            To float forever round the world;

            Beyond my sight the cloudless sky

            Is troubled with artillery.

AFTERWARDS

  I MET A MAN from Hungary, and thought

  Of him as a brother. He told me how he fought

      In that other war

  And how he heard the enemy sing one day.

  I mused: we also sang in our own way

  As if a song were what we were fighting for—

      Isn’t it strange? I thought.

“We served on opposite sides that war,” I said,

“And either one of us might now be dead,

      Killed by the other.”

  I held my hand to him. He took it and smiled.

“We might be shaking hands with a man we had killed

  Those years ago as if he were a brother.

      Isn’t it strange?” we said. [page 40]

THE STRANGER

  WHEN I WAS a child I asked one day,

“Why is the house so dark, so still?”

  They said a stranger was coming to stay

  With us for a time—that he came by God’s will

“But who,” I asked, “is he coming to see—

  Is he visiting me?”

  It is many a year since I learnt his name

  And since I discovered what he did;

  I have known who he was each time he came

  To our house since then, though his face was hid.

  I have felt him enter and felt him go,

  So I know.

  He would come like a whisper at dead of night,

  But the things I saw and what I heard

  I heard without sound and saw without sight

  (It was never to me that he murmured his word):

  Have you found whatever you had in mind

  That you wanted to find?

  Will the whispering never come to an end?  .  .  .

  What if he stopped at my room one day

  And plucked at my sleeve and said, My friend,

  Were you waiting for me? I have something to say:

  Have you finished the thing you intended to do?

  And I’d say, “So it’s you?” [page 41]

A ROSE

     WHEN IT IS time my grave to close

     Let her who loved me and who mourns

     Throw down one rose

     From the living world above;

     But let the rose have thorns

     Lest we forget the fear that pricked with love.

THE APPLE

               YONDER withered apple

               clings to its tree,

               but the winter wind is sweeping

               and the snow swings free.

               Gnarled and ugly covering

               and brittle stem,

               live seeds and the shrivelled flesh

               to cover them.

               Fifty knife-cut wrinkles

               in a haggard skin—

               there was once a blossom

               when spring came in.

               Blow the stem asunder

               you death-keen wind,

               none can read the seed beneath

               the wrinkled rind. [page 42]

PAGAN NOCTURNE

AH CHLOE, how the earthly odours stir

And drowsy Luna on her couch of night

Lifts argent arms, anoints her hair with myrrh,

And flings the tresses to the meteor’s flight.

Pale nymphs are bathing in the foaming lawn—

Hark Chloe, do you hear that piping air?

Look, by that olive tree!—it is the Faun….

Ah sweet, there’s moonlight tangled in your hair.

How softly falls night’s mantle on us two.

Dear Chloe, turn while I whisper in your ear:

Death’s days are long, the nights of love how few!

The gods are kind; lie close, dear heart, lie near.

THE THING-WITH-NO-FACE

THIS HORROR mutters of primordial things

and strums my valetudinous heart-strings.

I serve a strange transpersonal semester

to some grey dwarfish thing of yester-

year, and I have danced against my will

with death and empty time and space in masked quadrille. [page 43]

RHODOPIS

Rhodopis (“Rosy-cheeked”) is a Greek translation of the Egyptian name Nitocris. Five millenniums ago, the courtesan Nitocris, like Cinderella, left her small footprint on the sands of legend. One Egyptian day when she was bathing in the Nile, an eagle flew away with one of her gilded sandals and let it fall into the lap of no less a person than the Pharaoh. Entranced with the beauty of the tiny sandal, he made search for her whom it would fit and made her his queen.

     THEY WHISPER that the tiny feet she had

     Were small to men’s undoing,

     But Rhodopis is neither good nor bad

     But only dead.

     No hearts now leap and tumble at her tread,

     No blood now mantles underneath her skin,

     No glow within,

     No flesh and nerve

     To hold the cloudy thing that wombs

     Beneath the body’s curve

     And wrings and twists a heart to love.

     Go ask the burning stars above

     And ask the grave

     Beneath the lotus-columned nave,

     Whose golden sandals filled from dusty tombs,

     Whose tiny feet, still flit through roofless rooms? [page 44]

POETA NASCITUR, NON FIT

    THERE’S A tidy on the rocking-chair.

    Look. His body marked it there,

    There were the tidy’s lace is curled—

    So he made his mark upon the world;

    If you touch it lightly, pouf! it’s gone

    Just like the breath of last week’s yawn.

    And here’s the table where he wrote,

    Here’s where feelings took him by the throat

    And squeezed from him some unread sonnet;

    Look at the useless papers on it!

    Really, it sometimes makes you wonder

    Whether writing’s not a blunder. . . .

    Let’s open the closet. Ugh, what dirt!

    Some letters. A photograph. A shirt.

    And look, on that shelf above the hooks—

    Well, they won’t give a nickel for those old books.

THE POETASTER AND THE FLY

    I LOVE all creatures here below—

    (That blasted fly. I’d like to swat him!)

    And—(let me see)—before I go

    From this sad world—(whack! whack! I got him!)

    I’ll write my signature with love—

    (The damn thing’s smeared the page)—above

    Some humble creature’s burying-pit

    To serve as epitaph for it. [page 45]

TO NICOLETTE

After the Mediaeval Chantefable “Aucassin et Nicolete,” vi, 25.

         “LET MEAGRE priests inhabit heaven

           And twang their harps from morn till even,”

           Said Aucassin the debonnaire,

         “But I would rather wend to hell,

           Though monks for me made toll and knell,

           Than rest in paradise the fair

           Unless my Nicolette be there,

           Sweet Nicolette de si bon aire.

         “In heaven are the halt and blind,

           The stricken lazar, the cowering hind.

           What should a gay young squire do there?

           The mumbling monks and lowly clowns

           May have their harps and golden crowns;

           And I may have my leman dear,

           To jolly hell I will repair

           With Nicolette de si bon aire.

         “In hell is gallant company

           More seeming to a youth like me;

           In cloth of gold and cloth of vair

           Full many a courteous dame, I ween,

           With lovers three may there be seen;

           And many a bard and jouster rare,

           Lysander, Hector, and Lothair,

           And—Nicolette de si bon aire.” [page 46]

ENVOY

         

I’m for the lattice ports at morn,

When dew is on the white hawthorn;

Like Aucassin the baceler

By lattice-side I’ll hold my trysts,

Leave heaven for philologists,

Let plods and pedants thither fare:

I’ll go with Aucassin, I swear,

To Nicolette de si bon aire.

LIFE IS SHORT

 

  LIFE IS short. Is short. Short.

  Another day, a month, a year—

  She lies within the heavy earth

  And dreams no dream, nor does she tremble

  When the soil each year bursts into life;

  Nothing of her is left behind

  To greet the sun when she has gone.

  Here lies cold clay. “Hope” was her name,

  She loved a little—not enough.

  Air filled the emptiness she was,

  Dew fell, the wind blew, the sun shone and the stars,

  It was as if she had never been,

  Never been at all,

  Never been. [page 47]

HAIL AND FAREWELL

           OUT OF THE brooding will,

           invisible, still,

           incontinent whirled

           into the world,

           a moment I tarry:

         “Oho, good morrow!

           ’t is bravely done!”

           and I flourish my cap at the sun. . . .

           Into the brooding will,

           invisible, still:

           world but a foaming flake

           far in my wake—

           little for sorrow.

EARTH REST

              MAKE NO TOMB in town

              In order and in row,

              With withered flowers upon,

              And a great white stone.

              Somewhere beneath the snow

              Where the earth is cold and sweet,

              Where the winter wind-drifts blow

              And the wild skies meet. [page 48]

BELMARYE

                 A NIGHTINGALE is singing

                 on the last green tree

                 at the uttermost boundary

                 of Belmarye.

                 The tree is greenly dying

                 its soil is dead;

                 he is singing of a planting

                 where the seed has fled;

                 far beyond the desert

                 and beyond the sea

                 he is singing of a planting,

                 in Belmarye.

THE SEED

               DANDELION seed

               born by a breeze,

               parent weed

               forgotten,

               lost in grassy seas.

               Blue vault, bright sun, green trees—

               hither thither down the sky.

               Whence? Whither? Why?

               Gently blown, lightly twirled

               wide, wide the world,

               hither tossed and thither hurled

               down the sky.

             “Shall I find a place to root

               live there, and bear my fruit?”

               The wind’s answer is a sigh;

               earth murmurs, “Mystery.” [page 49]

OAK

      THE ANCIENT sowed an acorn from His mind

  And He foreplanned that Oak should never move

  A single inch from the earth where he was sown,

  Should never lift his roots in wandering

  To find some greener, richer growing place.

  Oak does not think as we men do and try

  To reach for stars, his business is with sap.

  You’d say two neighbour oaks and the earth between

  Were one continuous span of life, one flow

  Of sap from tree to tree conducted through

  Contiguous soil; you’d think each living tree

  A vein and artery of Mother Earth. . . .

  Where Acorn falls and never moves again

  There oak will stand three centuries or more

  Then fall and rot to make a nourishing

  For some unborn and still undreamed of oak.

      But what of us, the restless ones, who sink

  Our roots in soil we carry round with us

  And label “mind”—who feed upon ourselves?

  One foot we lift from earth and then the other

  And when we jump we think we put a space

  Between our separated selves and Earth:

“I separate,” we think, “from other life;

  I infinite,” we say, and “I forever—

  Ever separate I!” till seventy rings

  Have girthed a growing oak and measured us.

  Our fleeting summers come and then they go

  And soon we fall and mix our dust for soil

  To nourish unborn babes and unsown oaks.

  Some olden poet long since laid to dust

  Is whispering in the rustling leaves of Oak,

  And in my separate mind some fallen tree,

  Whose oaken soil has made and fed my blood,

  Returns the whispered message of the leaves. [page 50]

THE VOYAGEUR

     A VOYAGER of lakes and windblown spruce

     He breaks the misty morning, spans the noon

     And dreams the midnight chuckling of the loon,

     The day the night he holds in midway truce,

     The morning ashes are the evening gleam

     His journey’s dawn and journey’s night are one.

     Life is his paddle flashing in the sun

     And time its swirl that eddies down the stream,

     That eddies down the stream and is no more;

     That swirl has vanished like the fire’s heat,

     Cold, cold the fire, still the paddle beat

     As still as needles on the forest floor;

     Strong was the paddle thrust and quick as birth

     But deep and dark and silent lies the earth.

DANCING PARTNERS

       I SAID to Death “Supposing it were true

       That from this drifting Inchoate

       There were no life but mine to dance with you,

       Your life my death one single state;

       Then if the music stopped and I were dead

       What would you do—I dead, I too?” . . .

       Death echoed me: “If I were dead, were dead

       What would you do?” [page 51]

TO A FUTURE POET

POET UNBORN, who ponder bitter rhymes

And turn a frayed and ancient calendar

To curse our shabby modes and worn out times

Because we sowed the seed of what you are,

We suffered once, like you, and once we wondered;

We looked upon the misshaped Past and wept

Then to the Future set our will, and blundered;

We laughed like you and dined in state, then slept.

Think well, the quickening air of every breath

You breathe today is from our sunny sky,

We too for glorious moments jeered at death

In self oblivion for some passer-by,

Like you. The way that you must tread, we go—

Up hill and down, like you, I and my peers,

We, earthy remnants of battered bones laid low

In green forgetful graves these many years.

Poet, do you as all men must,

Close up the book as I these passions do—

These roses, red for blood, that pricked once to the bone,

Long since borne down with days and dropping dust:

The singing has not made me less alone

Nor will it you. [page 52]

DESCENT FOR THE LOST

           JUDAS ISCARIOT dour and dark

           Carried the purse for Christ,

           Travelling weary miles with him,

           Dreaming of earthly power.

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet.

           Jesus the leader who loved and bled

           Took Judas’ soul to keep,

           Sharing Judas’ troubled heart

           And fending away the night.

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet.

           Judas the empty one feared the night

           And the vacant deeps within;

           He followed Christ and looked to him,

           But Judas was sick for power.

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet.

           Judas’ anguish was Christ’s own pain,

           For it was part of him.

         “Judas, Judas, thou troubled soul

           I cannot let thee go.”

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet. [page 53]

           But Judas hated Jesus’ love

           Although he leaned on him,

         “Thou severest me from what I am;

           What is Thy love to me?”

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet.

           Weary and weary the highway led

           To a cross and a potter’s field;

           Judas the lost one looked and chose,

           And Judas hanged himself.

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet.

           What comfort now for such a one

           Who chose the severed hell?

           And for the one who kept his soul,

           What comfort now for him?

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet.

           Christ has gone down to search the earth

           Where Judas’ bones lie low,

           Where only God can work the dust

           Of field and sepulchre.

           Green, green grows the grass

           Behind our tired feet. [page 54]

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