A WOMAN OF THIRTY
Marjorie Allen Seiffert
I. The Old Woman
A Morality Play
II. Love Poems in Summer
Singalese Love Songs I-V The Silent Pool Nocturne Theme Arranged for Organ I-III The Moonlight Sonata Possession Evening: the Taj Mahal The Gift The Bridge A Temple I-VII Candles Winter Night Last Days I-V Sorrow Prison The Dream House
III. Studies and Designs
Design for a Japanese Vase The Bow Moon (A Print by Hirosage) An Italian Chest The Pedlar Portrait of a Lady in Bed I-V Portrait of a Gentleman From the Madison Street Police Station La Felice The Journey The Last Illusion The Desert The Picnic
Mountain Trails I-VII October Morning October Afternoon Maternity The Father Speaks To Allen To Helen The Immortal To an Absent Child I-IV Summer Night Maura I-VI November Dusk Winter Valley I-IV
V. Love Poems in Autumn
Ballad The Pathway of Black Leaves I-IV Elegy Sequence I-X Disillusion November Afternoon Yareth at Solomon's Tomb Argolis St. Faith's Eve
Poems of Elijah Hay
The Golden Stag To Anne Knish Lolita Spectrum of Mrs. Q Epitaph A Sixpence Three Spectra Two Commentaries A Womanly Woman Lolita Now is Old The Shining Bird The King Sends Three Cats to Guinevere Ode in the New Mode Night
I. The Old Woman (A Morality Play)
The Old Woman (A Morality Play)
Characters: The Woman The House The Doctor The Deacon The Landlady
Doctor: There is an old woman Who ought to die—
Deacon: And nobody knows But what she's dead—
Doctor: The air will be cleaner When she's gone—
Deacon: But we dare not bury her Till she's dead—
Landlady: Come, young doctor From the first floor front, Come, dusty deacon, From the fourth floor back, You take her heels And I'll take her head—
Doctor and Deacon: We'll carry her And bury her If she's dead!
House: They roll her up In her old, red quilt, They carry her down At a horizontal tilt, She doesn't say "Yes" And she doesn't say "No," She doesn't say, "Gentlemen, Where do we go?"
Doctor: Out in the lot Where ash-cans die, There, old woman, There shall you lie!
Deacon: Let's hurry away And never look behind To see if her eyes Are dead and blind, To see if the quilt Lies over her face— Perhaps she'll groan Or move in her place!
House: The room is empty Where the old woman lay, And I no longer Smell like a tomb—
Landlady: Doctor, deacon, Can you say Who'll pay rent For the old woman's room?
* * * * * * *
House: The room is empty Down the hall, There are mice in the closet, Ghosts in the wall— A pretty little lady Comes to see—
Woman: Oh, what a dark room, Not for me!
Landlady: The room is large And the rent is low, There's a deacon above And a doctor below—
Deacon: When the little mice squeak I shall pray—
Doctor: I'll psycho-analyse The ghosts away—
Landlady: The bed is large And the mattress deep, Wrapped in a feather-bed You shall sleep—
Woman: But here's the door Without a key! An unlocked room Won't do for me!
Doctor: Here's a bolt—
Deacon: And here's a bar—
Landlady: You'll sleep soundly Where you are!
Woman: Good night, gentlemen, It's growing late, Good night, landlady, Pray don't wait! I'm going to bed, I'll bolt the door And sleep more soundly Than ever before!
Deacon: Good night, madam, I'll steal away—
Doctor: Glad a pretty lady Has come to stay!
House: She lights a candle— What do I see! That cloak looks like A quilt to me! She climbs into bed Where long she's lain, She's come back home, She won't leave again. She's found once more Her rightful place, Same old lady With a pretty new face. Let the deacon pray And the doctor talk, The mice will squeak And the ghosts will walk. There's a crafty smile On the landlady's face, The old woman's gone, But she's filled her place!
Landlady: It's nothing to me If the old woman's dead, There's somebody sleeping In every bed!
II. Love Poems in Summer
Singalese Love Songs
Your eyes are beautiful beggars, Careless singing minstrels, Who will not starve Nor sleep cold under the sky If they receive no largess Of mine.
Once lived a woman Of great charity—
At last Her own children Begged for bread.
I would make you love me That you might possess Desire—
For to your heart Beauty is a burned-out torch, And Faith, a blind pigeon, Friendship, a curious Persian myth, And Love, blank emptiness, Bearing no significance Nor any reality.
Only Weariness is yours: I would make you love me That you might possess Desire.
Is my love Of flesh or spirit? I only know to me Your eyes are wholly you.
Our glances dart Like the flash of a bird Gone, before the colour of his wing Is seen.
I have not bathed my soul In your eyes, My soul would drown.
I have starved to know your lips Yet my soul Does not die of want.
For only dreams are real, And fulfilment is an illusion, There is but one fulfilment, Blind Nature's way—
My arms reach toward illusion, And I would carry mist against my heart, Not the warm, heavy head Of a sleeping child.
Starving, I hold my dream.
What do you seek, Beloved?
When you have had All of me There will remain for you One beautiful desire the less.
You think you seek my love But you seek My denial.
Hunger, Want, Is the only pain I would not spare you— Alas, that too Will die!
The Silent Pool
Your smile is a heron, flying Over waters cool, My thoughts of you are blue Iris! Today is the silent pool Which shining heron and Iris blue Are mirrored on.
Tomorrow Will still reflect the Iris— My thoughts of you; But the heron will be gone.
It is enough To feel your beauty With the lingers Of my heart,
Your beauty, like the starlight, Filling night so gently, that it dreams Unwakened.
I should feel your beauty against my face Though I were blind.
Theme Arranged for Organ
What would you have of me, my friend, in truth, A breath of understanding, or a glance Into your soul's dark places? Can a word Aid in your brave attempt to smother youth? Of what avail that trifling circumstance, In such a tumult could my voice be heard?
Before your bitter need my lips are dumb So little can I give you. Should I come To feed a starving Titan with a crumb?
Alas, I am too foolish or too wise, Too soon am blinded or I see too far! How can I follow with expectant feet, What is the beacon light that holds your eyes, Can this blind alley lead to any star And through this dark confusion, what retreat?
For heaven is awed when comets crash to earth, But we, who grope and question our soul's worth, Stumbling, awaken only bitter mirth.
A breath, a glance, a word,—no more, my friend, This is the sum of what I have to give Leaving the tale for ever incomplete. No perfect moment, and no tragic end, Within your heart those images shall live And die like footsteps down an empty street.
Yet all the while a stifled instinct saith: "Spend your souls vigour to the utmost breath And let the hounds come baying at the death!"
The Moonlight Sonata
My soul storm-beaten as an ancient pier Stands forth into the sea; wave on slow wave Of shining music, luminous and grave, Lifting against me, pouring through me, here Find wafts of unforgotten chords, which rise And droop like clinging sea-weed. You, so white, So still, so helpless on this fathomless night Float like a corpse with living, tortured eyes. Deep waves wash you against me; you impart No comfort to my spirit, give no sign Your inarticulate lips can taste the brine Drowning the secret timbers of my heart.
I hold you fast, your hurrying breath, Your wandering feet, your restless heart, Are mine alone, for only death You vowed today, can make us part.
Your eager lips, athirst to drain Life's goblet of its golden wine Shall drink tonight or thirst in vain— I hold you fast for you are mine.
And when I search your soul until I see too deeply and divine That you can never love me—Still I hold you fast for you are mine!
Evening: the Taj Mahal (A Lover Speaks)
India and you Breathe through my soul tonight, You in your gown, impossibly white— I marvel greatly that it fail To glow and pale With iridescent light— How can it hang in silent nun-like folds? Think of the flaming mystery it holds, You... You...
We stand in that wide place Where love is frozen in marble, spire on spire, A snow-white nightingale with a heart of fire Soaring in space. We gaze, together, into the shining pool To catch the soul of beauty unaware Finding only the peaceful body there Of beauty drowned and still in waters cool.
Burning so luminously in these pure white things Somehow akin, are palpitating fires,
Intangible, yet visible as spires Or wings. And close at hand, an unseen Moslem sings Blind, haunting chants, which speak Of mystery, forevermore unguessed. O shining ones, I seek No farther, for my soul, content, Divines the secret of the Taj Mahal and you— Beauty and desire, possessed In white tranquillity, in flaming peace, Find rest.
What is this wine you have poured for me? You have offered up Your face in its pure transparency Like a crystal cup Which trembling fingers slowly lift— It is faintly masked With a tremulous smile. You have brought me a gift, Your love, unasked.
Could you trust my reckless hands so much? With no vow spoken, You gave me a goblet, which at a touch Were utterly broken! Your smile replied: "Since the glass was filled It little mattered Whether the wine were drunk or spilled Or the goblet shattered."
I walk the bridge of hours from dawn till night My heart beating so loud in joyous wonder To know your love, that I can scarcely breathe; But in the lonely darkness, with affright I faintly hear, like ominous, distant thunder The unseen ocean surging close beneath.
Our bridge so frail, eternity so vast! When we must sink into the deep at last Heart of my heart, will you still hold me fast?
Carven angels On the portals, Angels with crowns, and eagles And golden lions On the door.
This is why The alien worshippers went their way, Why you alone discovered The gates were open.
You touched the velvet curtains behind them, They parted to let you pass.
I make a window Of you, beloved, Through which the sun colours The silence.
Even your absences Are spaces I have filled With sapphire;
Your denials Are burning gold, I have painted your reluctance Emerald green:
Your silences Are crimson On which your words make delicate Black tracery.
As for me, My will is the grey lead Which I have bent to hold the coloured Panes of you.
My wish goes singing upward Holding a chime of bells In its heart:
Pigeons know my silent bells, Winds touch them and wonder.
That they might reach That high blue—
Till star fingers touch them Ever so gently—
And drifting clouds Lay cool cheeks against them—
My wish goes singing upward Reaching into silence.
Beauty passes But dust is eternal. Outside the temple Beauty dies in the wind.
So when my temple is fallen And lies in dust, Where then will be the memory Of your beauty?
I pray my dust That it may hold your image Tomorrow and for ever.
The beloved is returning, Let the bells ring!
I too am a tower Hung with bronze bells,
I too am a bell Chiming to the winds,
I too am the wind Ringing to the hills,
I too am the hills Singing to the sky.
I too am the sky! The beloved is returning, Let the bells ring!
There is no soul too poor to build a temple Where it may go apart And worship darkness.
For out of darkness Images shine... and fade...
Since now there is no worship nor any music, Let incense be a curved smile On lips that remember, And candles, notes of laughter In empty dusk.
Above, A coloured window slowly turns Black to the night.
Temples have fallen Before today, Stones are ever loosening their hold One on another...
You blocks of marble, sleeping in the sun, Can you remember chiming bells And incense?
Now there is only silence, Even the winged stones of archways Sleep in peace.
Silence is but the golden frame That holds your face, My thoughts, like unblown candle-flame In a holy place Surround you. From this secret shrine Somewhere apart Do you not feel my candles shine Upon your heart?
The I that does not love you I have kept hidden away In the dark.
(I never dreamed There was a You That does not love me!)
Tonight they met.
I hear their words Falling like icicles Upon me... I am frozen in terror... Have they killed the You That Loves me?
Beloved, can you hear me Through the bitter sound Of icicles falling? Can you see me from behind Your frozen eyes?
Shall I pretend These days are just like other days? One cannot spend Every day for seven weeks Saying good-bye.
So when I must I speak of your departure casually As though it were a hundred years away; As Youth is wont to say: "Sometime we all must die!"
We talk of all the happy things we have done, We pass them in review, "Do you remember?" is often on our lips.
One by one We touch our memories and put them all away— How shall I dare to look at them When you are gone!
There is no beginning to my love Nor any end— It is about your head Like the deep air, More than your breath can spend. Oft is about your heart Like arms of faith— Where you go, it is there.
There are no last things to say, What promise can I make? You know my love so well. All that I have is yours to take. (How will it be, with part of me away, Must not my soul be changed?)
Shall I stay young for memory's sake? Shall I be old and grave and grey? If I might choose, how could I tell!
The You I know I shall not see again, A stranger will return.
How shall I win the love Which he has kept apart With a blurred image which once was I?
I shall not know his heart, How can I learn?
Sorrow stands in a wide place, Blind—blind— Beauty and joy are petals blown Across her granite face, They cannot find Sight or sentience in stone.
Yesterday's beauty and joy lie deep In sorrow's heart, asleep.
I close the book—the story has grown dim, The plot confused; the hero fades Behind unmeaning words, and over him The covers close like window shades On empty windows. The watchful room Is weary. Dully the green lamp stares Into the shadows. The coals are dumb, The clock ticks heavily. The chairs Wait sullenly for guests who never come.
Suppose I leave this house, suppose my feet Plodding into the night Carry me down the empty street Made hideous with arcs of purple light... Inevitably I must return to bed. The house is waiting, chairs, and books, and clocks. I am their prisoner. I have no more chance Of escape, when all is said, Than a dying beetle in a box— And life, and love,—and death—have gone to France.
The Dream House
I steal across the sodden floor And dead leaves blow about, Where once we planned an iron door To shut the whole world out;
I find the hearth, its fires unlit, Its ashes cold—Tonight Only the stars give warmth to it, Only the moon gives light.
And yonder on our spacious bed Fashioned for love and sleep The Autumn goldenrod lies dead, The maple-leaves lie deep.
III. Studies and Designs
A Japanese Vase (A Design to be Wrought in Metals)
Five harsh, black birds in shining bronze come crying Into a silver sky, Piercing and jubilant is the shape of their flying, Their beaks are pointed with delight, Curved sharply with desire, The passionate direction of their flight, Clear and high, Stretches their bodies taut like humming wire. The cold wind blows into angry patterns the jet-bright Feathers of their wings, Their claws curl loosely, safely, about nothingness, They clasp no things. Direction and desire they possess By which in sharp, unswerving flight they hold Across an iron sea to the golden beach Whereon lies carrion, their feast. A shore of gold That birds wrought on a vase can never reach.
The Bow Moon (A print by Hiroshige)
From the dawn, Take San, Ungathered star, Follow me back through night Till I recapture Evening.
(The bending hours of darkness Sway apart like lilies Before the backward-blowing wind.)
At last, Bearing in her mysterious bosom Unravished beauty, Dark Yesterday rises to view against her silent sky Irrevocable... secret... Confronting the fantastic dream Of an impossible Tomorrow.
And that frail bridge, Delicate, immutable, Which rises higher than the moon, More everlasting than the fading sky, Joining What-was-not with What-might-have-been, That bridge were named "Today" If I had loved you, Take San, If you had loved me.
An Italian Chest (Lorenzo Designs a Bas-Relief)
Lust is the oldest lion of them all And he shall have first place, With a malignant growl, satirical, To curve in foliations prodigal Round and around his face, Extending till the echoes interlace With Pride and Prudence, two cranes, gaunt and tall.
Four lesser lions crouch and malign the cranes, Cursing and gossiping they shake their manes While from their long tongues leak Drops of thin venom as they speak. The cranes, unmoved, peck grapes and grains From a huge cornucopia, which rains A plenteous meal from its antique Interior (a note quite curiously Greek).
And nine long serpents twist And twine, twist and twine, A riotously beautiful design Whose elements consist Of eloquent spirals, fair and fine, Embracing cranes and lions, who exist Seemingly free, yet tangled in that living vine.
And in this chest shall be Two cubic meters of space Enough to hold all memory Of you and me— And this shall be the place Where silence shall embrace Our bodies, and obliterate the trace Our souls made on the purity Of night... Now lock the chest, for we Are dead, and lose the key!
Hark, people, to the cry Of this curious young magician-pedlar Seeking a golden bowl!
He wanders through the city Offering useful tin-ware For all the ancient metal You have left to rust In the dim, dusty attic Or mouldy cellar Of your soul.
He refuses nothing— Rusty nails Which may have played their part In a crucifixion— For ten of these he will give A new tin spoon.
The andirons Once guarding hearth-fires of content, Now dusty and forgotten In an obscure corner, He will give for these A new tin tea-kettle With a wooden handle.
And for this antique bowl Fashioned to hold Roses or wine?
The eyes of the pedlar glisten! O woman, if acid reveal Gold beneath the tarnished surface He will gladly give you His hands, his eyes, his soul, His young, white body—
If not, A mocking laugh And a bright tin sieve To hold your wine And roses.
Portrait of a Lady in Bed
I. THE COVERLET
My cowardice Covers me safely From everything...
From cold, which makes me yield And quietly die Beneath the snow;
From heat, which makes me faint Until cool nothingness receives me;
From hurt, (Seize me, O Lion, And I shall die of fright Before I feel your teeth!)
From love, Yes, most of all from love.
How can love touch me? Is it not heat, Or cold, Or a lion?
My cowardice covers me Safely From everything!
II. THE PILLOW
To know you think of me Sustains my Spirit Through the long night.
(My thought of you Is wine, banishing sleep!)
Your thoughts of me are feathers, Light nothings, Drifting, dancing, Floating, Blown by a breath of fancy Away from your sight.
They would choke me, They would blind me With the Nothing I am to you If I dared see them; But I bind them into a pillow, And to know that you think of me Sustains my spirit Through the night.
Harlequin, seeing me gay You loved me, For fools need mirth,
O solemn Harlequin!
Tall tragedians make me laugh Joyously, riotously, Tall, dark villains, and heroes with blonde hair Make me laugh uproariously... (I could elope with a tragedian!)
But you with your clowning, Harlequin, Brought bony truth too near—
Harlequin, I might have loved you But I could not make you gay!
IV. THE CURTAIN
I do not fear You, or me, or death,
There now is nothing left to fear But this, This curtain of blackness.
Once I feared you, And all you thought and felt
And all you said and did: I feared myself, And all you made me think and feel And say and do—
Now I no longer fear Thinking, feeling, saying, doing,
Nor blankness, silence, apathy, torpor—
I do not fear You, or me, or death—
I only fear This curtain of blackness Which is your absence.
V. THE DREAM
Harlequin comes to me, smiling, Through the white-shining birch trees Of the twilight wood.
He has forgiven My cowardice and hesitations, Soon I shall sink into his arms With all the imagined fervour... Of a thousand dreams.
Why does he come so slowly? There is no longer anything To mar our meeting...
This must be real For Harlequin is still clowning, He waves his arms grotesquely To make me smile....
Quick, into his arms With unspent fervour. Why are the trees all sighing? Look, whispering birches, if you will, I and my love embrace!
They do not look, They do not seem to care...
Embrace me, my beloved! (Can these by passionate kisses? They feel so thin and cool Like mist.)
The birches shiver As though the night-wind stirred them.
Can we be dead?
Portrait of a Gentleman
Tower of stone Rugged and lonely, My thoughts like ivy Embrace my memory of you, Climbing riotously, wantonly, Till the harsh walls Are clothed in tender green.
Tower of stone, Stark walls and a narrow door Which speak: "You who are not for me Are against me,— If you are mine, Enter!"
But who would be prisoned In unknown darkness?
Tower of stone Rugged and lonely, I dared not enter and I would not go Till clasping you My arms were bruised and torn.
From the Madison Street Police Station
I, John Shepherd, vagrant, Petition the park commissioners For wider benches.
My soul has long been reconciled To the prick of gunny-sack, (O well-remembered woollen fleeces!) And rustling vests of newspaper, And the chill of rubbers on unshod feet, But to the wasteful burning of dry leaves, God's shepherd's mattress, Never!
Descendant of ancient ones Who tended flocks and watched the midnight sky, My forebears saw the Eastern star appear Over Judean hills.
Where do your flocks graze, gentlemen? Are there no sheep or shepherds any more? All day long I sought the flocks And came by night to a wide, grassy place, Where I could sit and watch the stars wheel by— And in the morning some one brought me here.
La Felice, by the forest pond looks through leaves to the Western screen of Chinese gold that lies beyond black trees and boughs of golden-green.
The little body of La Felice weary of everything on earth has passed from love to love, till peace and beauty alone have any worth.
So still and deep the water lies, so fiery-cool, so yellow-clear; Here beauty sleeps! La Felice cries, I will give myself to beauty here!"
The mud is smooth and deep, the weeds beneath her feet are soft and cool, ripples widen and glistening beads of bubble rise on the forest pool.
The water reaches to her knee, now to her thigh, now to her breast, till like a child all peacefully does La Felice lie down to rest.
She struggles like a fearful bride with ecstasy—then La Felice turns quietly upon her side and over the sunset pool is peace.
Three women walked through the snow Beneath an empty sky, And one was blind, and one was old, And one was I.
Bravely the Blind One led, I questioned from behind "Tell me, where do we go?" She said "Have courage... I am blind!"
We came at last to a cliff, The Blind One plunged, and was gone— I looked behind me, stark and stiff The Old One stood in the dawn.
The deep crevasse was black Beneath the dawning day, I could not turn and travel back, The Old One barred the way.
I could not turn aside, (To lead, one dare not see) I think that day I must have died Such silence is in me.
The Last Illusion
Along the twilight road I met three women, And they were neither old nor very young; In her hands each bore what she most cherished, For they were neither rich, nor very poor.
In the hands of the first woman I saw white ashes in an urn, In the hands of the next woman I saw a tarnished mirror gleam, In the hands of the last woman I saw a heavy, jagged stone—
Along the twilight road I met three women, And they were neither fools nor very wise, For each was troubled lest another covet Her precious burden—so they walked alone.
Through dusty years, and drearily, Two lovers rode across a desert hill While patient love followed them wearily Through the long, sultry day... But when night came, the desert had its way, Turning, they found love cold and still.
It lay so pitiful a thing, Threadbare, and soiled, and worn— "Why have we kept such starveling love?" she cried, "Was it worth treasuring?" And he replied: "Bury it then! I shall not mourn!"
The wind came from the West, It seemed to blow Across a million graves to the sordid bier Where lay their love. She said: "We will bury it here!" They laid it low, They rode on, dispossessed.
And all around Rose silent hills against the darkening sky, Wave upon motionless wave. The night wind made a mournful sound. The woman turned: "It is lonely here! I am afraid!" she said. He made reply: "What is there left to lose or save? What is there left to fear? Our hearts are empty. Have we not buried our dead?" She said, "I fear the empty dark, be kind!" He said, "I am still here, be comforted!"
Then from its shallow grave Their love rose up and followed close behind.
Here they come, in pairs, carrying baskets, Pale clerks with brilliant neckties, and cheap serge suits, Steering girls by the arm, clerks, too, Pretty and slim and smart, Even to yellow kid boots, laced up behind.
They take the electric cars far into the country, They descend, gaily chattering, at the Amusement Park. Under the trees they eat the lunch they have carried— Salad, sausages, sandwiches, candy, warm beer. They ride in the roller-coaster, two in a seat, (Glorious danger! Warm, delicious proximity!) The unaccustomed beer floods their veins like heady wine, And smothered youth awakens with shrill screams of joy.
The sun sets, and evening is drowned in electric lights; Arm-in-arm, they wander under the trees Everywhere meeting others, wandering arm-in-arm In the same wistful wonder, seeking they know not what.
Two leave the park and the crowds—The stars shine out, A river runs at their feet, behind them, a leafy copse, Away on the other shore, the fields of grain Lie sleeping peacefully in the starlight. Tonight the world is theirs, a legacy From those who lived familiar friends with river, field and forest— Their forebears.
Through the night, the same earth-magic moves them Which swayed those ancient ones, long-dead— And these, too, lean and drink, Drink deeply from the river, the flowing river of life.
Slowly they return to the crowds and the brilliant lights, Dazzled, they look aside, silently climb on the cars. They cling to the swaying straps, weary, inert, confused. The lurching ear makes halt—they are thrown in each others' arms— Alien and unmoved, they sway apart again— The car moves through the fields and suburbs back to the town.
They leave the car in pairs, the picnic basket's Rattling dismally, plate and spoon and jar. The boy takes his girl to her lodgings in awkward silence.
They look askance—"Good-night!"—the front door closes, Indeed their eyes have not met, since by the river Those wondrous moments Linked them to earth and night, not to each other.
Mountain Trails (GLACIER PARK, SEPT. '17)
Night stands in the valley Her head Is bound with stars, While Dawn, a grey-eyed nun Steals through the silent trees. Behind the mountains Morning shouts and sings And dances upward.
The peaks even today show finger prints Where God last touched the earth Before he set it joyously in space Finding it good.
You, slender shining— You, downward leaping— Born from silent snow To drown at last in the blue silent Mountain lake— You are not snow or water, You are only a silver spirit Singing!
Sharp crags of granite, Pointing, threatening, Thrust fiercely up at me; And near the edge, their menace Would whirl me down.
Climbing desperately toward the heights I glance in terror behind me To be deafened—to be shattered— By a thunderbolt of beauty.
The mountains hold communion; They are priests, silent and austere, They have come together In a secret place With unbowed heads.
This hidden lake Is a sapphire cup— An offering clearer than wine, Colder than tears. The mountains hold it toward the sky In silence.
October is brown In field and row—
Yet goldenrod And goldenglow, Purple asters And ruddy oaks, Sumach spreading Crimson cloaks, Apples red And pumpkins gold—?
Perhaps it's gayer To be old!
The air is warm and winey-sweet, Over my head the oak-leaves shine Like rich Madeira, glossy brown, Or garnet red, like old Port wine. Wild grapes are ripening on the hill, Dead leaves curl thickly at my feet, Yet not one falls, it is so still. Crickets are singing in the sun, And aimlessly grasshoppers leap From discontent to discontent, Their days of leaping nearly done. There's a rich quietness of earth That holds no promise any more, And like a cup, Today is filled With the last wine the year shall pour.
Sturdy is earth, Dull and mighty, Unresentful— Of her own fertility Covering scars With healing green.
You cannot anger earth, You cannot cause her pain Nor make her remember Your hungry, querulous love.
At last your unwilling body She tranquilly receives And turns it to her uses.
The Father Speaks
My little son, when you were born There died a being, sweet and wild, A lovely, careless, radiant child, A passionate woman—her I mourn.
And in her place has come another, With troubled smile and brooding eyes, Insatiate of sacrifice And wholly, utterly your mother.
Beauty, the dream that I have dreamed so much Comes true in your quick smile, And on your cheek I see her touch And sometimes in your eyes a while Immortal beauty's fleeting image lies. Dear child, in whose veins beat The marching centuries of lovers' feet, All those brave, ardent ghosts in you arise— The souls who, loving beauty, gave you birth, With a chain of passion binding beauty to earth, A captured dream—these souls breathe with your breath Living again in beauty that knows no death.
Lie still in my arms, little four-years-old, Little bud that glows With more beauty and passion than it can hold, Little flaming rose,
The spring's red blossoms, when winter lies deep On a wind-swept world Of tossing branches, lie safely asleep In brown buds curled.
They wake—and the wind strips their petals away And spills them afar— Can I keep you from blooming, whatever I say, Wild bud that you are!
Child of a love denied, a dream unborn, Spirit more brave Than passion's unfulfilment, wiser than fate— Nor breast nor grave As cradle you have known,— I mourn That my soul knows its own Too late!
A soul's half-breath, Passion's unremembered dream, Perfume without a vase, Intangible you seem To life or death.
And when the coloured mantle of the days Slips from my shoulders, and I lie Forgetful, dumb, Mingled with earth in passionless embrace, Will you, forgotten as a bird, Singing unheard In space, Will you not come When every other dream is gone, Bringing to that silent place The shadow of a gesture flung By motionless hands, a floating echo hung From an unspoken word, And to the empty sky The sunset of a day which did not dawn And cannot die!
To an Absent Child
At first in dreams I pressed you so close That you melted away on my breast, But now I wait, breathless and motionless, Till I feel your slender arms caress me Like swallows blown against me And quickly flown.
Small flower, My body is the earth from which you sprang, But we are more to each other than earth and flower, Closer, even, than earth and flower, For the sky in me is one with the sky in you...
My love for you Is like sunlight shining in a quiet place, You shall feel my love like soft light Pouring about you.
I will not kiss you, For my kisses are a chain without an end; Nor take you in my arms, My arms would smother you against my breast; I will not even touch your shining head— But lift your eyes up, flower-face, And I will fill them as full of love As they can hold!
Ah no! If you were here I would sweep you into my arms and hold you close! Though my love is of the spirit I must feel your little restless body Pressed for a moment against my heart.
Rain, rain murmuring endless complaints In mournful whisperings that never cease, You bring my tired brain a certain peace Like Latin prayers to absent-minded saints.
And whether silently to earth you fall, Or dashed and driven in tempestuous flight Like souls before God's wrath, the thirsty night, The soft and fecund earth shall drink you all.
Maura dreams unwakened— The warm winds touch the bands That hold her hair. The call of a silver horn floats by, A lover tosses flowers into her hands.
Maura dreams unwakened— She joins the maidens in their dance, Her limbs follow slow rhythms, A lover leads her into the shade, She moves as in a trance.
What dim confusion Troubles her dream, What passionate caress Disturbs her spirit's rapt seclusion?
Earth draws her close. How warm Is lover-earth! Like a sleeping bird She gives herself, then suddenly She is a leaf whirled in the storm.
Somewhere in a quiet room, her soul unstirred, Dead... or sleeping, Through the blind tumult hears afar The note of a horn, like a silver thread. She has given her soul to an echo's keeping.
Who knows the mountain where the hunter rides Winding his horn? Maura who heard it in her dream Wakens forlorn, Too late to catch the tenuous thread Of silver sound Which in the troubled, intricate fugue of earth Is drowned.
Maura cannot follow over the hill, Her youth is landlocked as a hidden pool Where thirsty love drinks deep, A shining pool, where lingers The colour of an unseen golden sky, A pool where echoes fall asleep.
But restless fingers Trouble the waters cool, Snatch at reflected beauty, and destroy The mirrored dream. The pool is never still, And broken echoes die.
The silver call has gone, but there is left to her The gentleness of earth, The simple mysteries of sleep and death, Of love and birth. There are faces hungry for smiles, and starving fingers Reaching for dreams.
And like a memory are the wind-swept chords of night, And the wide melody of evening sky Where gleams A colour like the echo of a horn. There is a far hill where winds die, And over the hill lies music yet unborn.
Maura lies dead at last, The body she gave to child and lover Now feeds flower and tree.
Earth's arms are wide to her. What breast Offers such gentle sleeping? Her limbs lie peacefully.
From the dark West There comes a note like the echoing cry Of one who rides through the dusk alone After the hunt sweeps by.
It fades—the night wind is forlorn— Music is still, But Maura has followed the silver horn Over the distant hill, Over the hill where all winds die.
Where like ghosts of verdant days Whispering down, Leaves in the November dusk Drift and drown,
Stand two lovers, motionless And apart In their sturdy nakedness Of the heart,
Two dark figures, side by side Through the mist Standing as though time had died Since they kissed,
Whose deep roots, alive and sound Blindly reach Mingling in the fertile ground Each with each—
Pray that we, when gaunt and old Like bare trees Through our common earth may hold Close, like these!
Grey grasses drown in thin brown water Wound like a chain on the valley's Sunken breast.
Fallen leaves on the stream Float motionless—rest— So secretly the pale Water winds around Toward hidden pools,
Or sinking in the earth Is drowned.
Curved crimson stems, Thorny fingers of vine, Reach toward the wind.
Sunlight, thin and cold, Touches them—they shine.
Nothing passes for thorns to hold— Red thorns, Catching at shadows of the wind.
Silence in the valley, Silence without wings—
Like the caught breath Of an unspoken word When no words come.
Withered reeds, and thin brown water Above the reeds Are dumb.
For what are you waiting, winter valley, Withered valley, brown with reeds? You are hushed with waiting.
You are old with secrets, You are tranquil with forgetting.
You are harsh with thorns Of fruits long vanished.
V. Love Poems in Autumn
Follow, follow me into the South, And if you are brave and wise I'll buy you laughter for your mouth, Sorrow for your eyes.
I'll buy you laughter, wild and sweet, And sorrow, grey and still, But you must follow with willing feet Over the farthest hill.
Follow, follow me into the South, You may return tomorrow Wearing my kisses on your mouth, In your eyes my sorrow.
The Pathway of Black Leaves
I. THE TURNING
The pathway opened before her eyes Between black leaves— She laughed, and shivered, and turned aside From the dusty road.
Her feet moved on like heart-beats, She could not stop them; Relentlessly each step fulfilled itself And the steps behind it— A hidden chain, drawing her onward Captive.
And yet she said: "Now I walk free At last!"
The sign read:
"Paupers may pass untaxed, The Rich shall pay a penny, The Poor Must give all they possess."
She emptied her pockets bravely and passed through... They gave her a golden coin in return for her silver, Bearing on one side the head of a king, And on the other a worn inscription Curved like a wreath And written in a tongue she did not know.
III. THE INN
There was the inn, beside the path, Standing like the words of an ancient prophet Forgotten long, now suddenly come true.
"They who break bread here Shall not eat for hunger; They who lie here Shall not sleep."
All night long the black leaves, one by one, Laughed, and shivered, and fell into darkness.
She has come home To the house she knew: But she has forgotten The square oaken smile of the door.
The room is a stranger, The fire is sullen; On her hair a black leaf shines And clings where it fell.
Against her heart She has hidden away The bitter golden profile of a king.
I would be autumn earth, and hold Your beautiful body, slain, Where, lying still and cold, Only the winter rain Shall touch your limbs and face; Where the white frost shall wed. Your body to black mould In the close, passionless embrace Of that dark marriage bed: I would be autumn earth, and hold Your beautiful body, dead.
Shining highways Sing to your step, Windows beckon, Doorways open a square embrace.
Doors laugh gently Swinging together Behind you.
II. THE TOWER
There's a flag on my tower, And my windows Are orange to the night. They are set in grey stone that frowns At the black wind.
Inside, there's a guest at my hearth, And a fire Painting the grey stone gold. My windows are black With the hungry night peering through them.
Blackness lurks in corners, Wind snatches the sparks, Tongs and poker jangle together Like the iron bones Of a man that was hanged.
III. THEY WHO DANCE
The feet of dancers Shine with mirth, Their hearts are vibrant as bells:
The air flows by them Divided like water Cut by a gleaming ship.
Triumphantly their bodies sing, Their eyes are blind With music.
They move through threatening ghosts Feeling them cool as mist On their brows.
They who dance Find infinite golden floors Beneath their feet.
I took Night Into my arms, Night lay upon my breast.
If night had wings She would have brought me Stars for my hair.
The stars laughed Lightly From far away.
About my shoulders White mist curled.
V. PORTRAIT BY ZULOAGA
Death lies in wait For those who do not know What they desire, And Hell for those Who fear what they have taken.
These hands are wrinkled From stretching forth, Brown From the winds blowing upon them.
They are strong with seizing, They do not tremble.
Let there be dancing figures On our wine-flask, Swastikas on our rug, Inscriptions in our rings And on our dwelling.
Let us build ritual For our worship, Pledge our love With vows and holy promises.
If oaths are broken, Let it be darkly With threatening gestures.
Thus we ignore That we love and die Like insects.
I shall punish your blindness With a veil.
I shall choose words that join Gaily word to word, I shall weave them flauntingly Into veil upon veil,
I shall wind them defiantly Over my lips, over my eyes.
You shall not see your name On my lips, You shall not see your image In my eyes!
And through my veils I shall not see That you are blind.
I would be free From two old superstitions, Thanks and Forgiveness.
So I would think of you As Flame, As Wind, As Night,
To whom I have been Wind, And Flame And Night,
Together burned and swept, Now smothered In separate darkness.
I am dazed and weary From the shapelessness Of what I am—
I am poured Among haphazard stones In meaningless patterns.
Yesterday's sun dried me Between rounded cobbles, Today's deluge sweeps me Toward alien pavements, Tomorrow's sun shall dry me In a new design.
Better the turbid gutter Toward the open sea!
X. FOOLS SAY—
November's breath Is black in the branches of trees And under the bushes,
Harsh rain Whips down the rustling dance Of leaves.
There is smoke In the throat of the wind, Its teeth Bite away beauty.
Let fools say: "Spring Will come again!"
I touch joy and it crumbles under my fingers— The dust from it rises and fills the world, It blinds my eyes—I cannot see the sun. A choking fog of dust shuts me apart.
I remember the sparkling wind on a bright autumn morning, I let down my hair and danced in the golden gale, Then chased the wind as the wind chased fallen leaves— Wind cannot be caught and tamed like a bird.
I touch joy and it crumbles to dust in my fingers.
Upon our heads The oak leaves fall Like silent benedictions Closing Autumn's gorgeous ritual, And we, upborne by worship, Lift our eyes to the altar of distant hills.
Beloved How can I know What gods are yours, How can I guess the visions of your spirit, Or hear The silent prayers your heart has said?
Only by this I feel Your gods akin to mine, That when our lips have met On this last golden Autumn afternoon They have confessed in silence Our kisses were less precious than our dreams.
Today, our passion drowned in beauty, We turn away our faces toward the hills Where purple haze, old incense, Spreads its veil.
Yareth at Solomon's Tomb
At last Your search is at an end, King Solomon,
You, restless dreamer, For whom each face held promise Unfulfilled, Whose hungry arms held many women, (Though none could fill your need) Who seized, but never loved, This is your sepulchre...
I who till today Questioned my heart Now find it buried with you In this tomb;
So now I can forgive you That you never believed My love!
Like sun on grasses Warming to life Quaint beetles, curious weeds, Till earth awakens, pregnant beneath its rays— So came the shepherds down to Argolis.
As nameless trees Cast cloud-grey shadows there On moon-pale, tarnished snow, Till snow and shadow are lost, Alike confused and forgotten Among the withered reeds— So lies their memory across its heart.
St. Faith's Eve
We stood together on a balcony An hour when the night Died into blankness, And light mist Curling beneath us, hid the earth, And the cold, unburied stars Drew further into space...
I turned to meet your eyes And saw Like a light, rosy veil Your flesh sink gently down Leaving only the simple skeleton And a white voice which said: "This still is I, Do you love me Now?"
Quietly, and without sadness I looked upon you, For comfort blindly reached my soul And primitive beauty. Without passion, without fervour, I spoke at last: "Somehow Faith Shines from your empty eye-holes, And Truth Speaks mutely from your fleshless jaws. I choose your skeleton to lie with In the peaceful bed of earth Through all the dreamless, mornless, utter night!"
Poems of Elijah Hay
The Golden Stag
O hungry hearted ones, sharp-limbed, keen-eyed, Let me have place! I too would ride On your fantastic chase.
Your hunger is a silver hunting horn, I heard it sweep The frozen, peaceful morn: Its note bit me from sleep.
I will ride with you, hunters, even I, Toward a far hill To see the golden stag against the sky Uncaptured still.
To Anne Knish
Madam, you intrigue me!
I have come this far Cautiously sneezing Along the dusty highroad of convention, But now it leads no farther toward you.
Today I have reached the cross roads— A weather-beaten sign-board Blazons undecipherable wisdom Of which the arrow-heads, even, Have been effaced.
Eastward, it leads through cultivated fields Of intellectual fodder, Where well-fed cattle, herding together, Browse content: Are you of these?
Westward, is a lane, hedge-bordered, Shady, and of gentle indirection, In May, a bower of sentimental bloom, But this November weather Betrays its destiny, the poultry yard Where geese foregather.
And there ahead, the ancient, swampy way Modernized by a feeble plank or two: But the morass of passion lures me not! I see a vision of two plunging feet, Discreetly shod, yet struggling in vain— Slime Creeps ankle-high, knee-high, thigh-high, Till all is swallowed save a brave silk hat Floating alone, a symbol of the creed I perished shedding.
Yet somewhere you Intelligent of my distress Smile, undisturbed— I have no pedlar's license to submit, No wares to cry, nor any gift to bring— I do not know Anything new— In truth, then, what have I to do with you?
Yet, madam, you intrigue me!
How curious to find in you, Lolita, The geisha Who sits and strums in the immortal Attitude of submission. There is a ledger in place of her soul!
Your shoulders sang For admiration, Your hair wept for kisses, Your voice curved softly, a caress— You came among us as a suppliant, What had we you desired?
Bringing to market stolen goods, Holding to view used charms, Behold a hawker's spirit!
Eagles perch proudly In isolation, They swoop to seize a living prey— Crows hover to feed, Waiting with patience till the soul is fled Leaving a helpless body—carrion— (Vile thoughts obsess me!)
What did you want, Lolita?
Spectrum of Mrs. Q.
Fear not, beautiful lady, That I shall ravish you! Your arms are languorous lilies— There is not a thorn In all your slender greenness, And you are sweet to madden buzzing bees!
Fear not, beautiful lady, A hard, black cricket Inspects you.
Courage is a sword, Honour, but a shield... Here lies a turtle.
If I loved you, You would rear Eight healthy children To our love, (Forgetting me) And be happy.
But I do not love you, So you will write Eight hundred poems To our love, (Forgetting me) And be happy!
Of Mrs. X.
You— Too well fed for rebellion, Too lazy for self-respect, too timid for murder, Disgracefully steal the trade-mark of the fairy-tale— "And they lived together happily Ever after!"
Of Mrs. Z.
Madam, you are ever retreating, But are never Gone— Some day I shall pursue you Hoping to see you Vanish.
Of Mrs. Andsoforth.
Old ladies, bless their hearts, Are contented as house-flies Dozing against the wall. But you, Imprisoned in the forties, Delirious, frenzied, helpless, Are a fly, drowning in a cocktail!
I. TO AN ACTOR
You are a gilded card-case Which I took for a purse. Your spirit's coin was squandered long ago, And in its place Are white cards, all alike, Bearing a word, A name, Connoting nothing.
2. PHILOSOPHER TO ARTIST
You are a raisin, but I am a nut! What meat there is to you Can be seen at a glance— (Seeds, when they exist, are bitter) My calm, round glossiness, (For I am sound and free From wormy restlessness of spirit) Defies your casual inspection.
It takes sharp teeth And some determination To taste my kernel!
A Womanly Woman
You sit, a snug, warm kitten Blinking through the window At a storm-haunted world—
Sleet wind caterwauls Through icy trees, Which clack their hands at you Tauntingly.
Why should you leave Radiator and rubber-plant? Do people stand at attention to mourn a hero When they behold A frozen kitten In a gutter?
Lolita Now Is Old
Lolita now is old, She sits in the park, watching the young men pass And huddles her shawl against the cold.
One night last summer when the moon was red, Lolita, hearing an old song sung And amorous laughter down the street Left her bed— Lolita thought she was young.
With ancient finery on her back, A lace mantilla hiding her grey head, She crept into the warm and alien night.
Her trembling knees remembered the languid pace Of beauty on adventure bent—her fan Waved challenges with unforgotten grace. Cunningly she played her part For to her peering age Love was a well-remembered art.
Footsteps followed her—footsteps drew near! She dropped a rose—hush, he is here! There came hard arms and a panting kiss—
He felt the fraud of those withered lips, He cursed and spat—"Was it for this, You came, old woman, to the park?" Lolita gathered skirts and fled Through the dim dark.
Lolita huddles her shawl against the cold, She sits and mumbles by the fire. In truth Lolita knows she is old.
The Shining Bird
A bird is three things: Feathers, flight and song, And feathers are the least of these.
At last I hold her in my hands The shining bird whose flight along The perilous rim of trees Has made my days adventurous, my spirit strong.
And now her wings Are still—her vivid song But ceaseless twitterings.
Her words are feathers, falling Lightly, relentlessly, and without rest, Revealing to my face Her pinched and starveling breast Like poultry, dead and unashamed And naked in the market place.
A shattered flash of wings, A broken song, Echo and shine along the rim of trees.
The King Sends Three Cats to Guinevere
Queen Guinevere, Three sleek and silent cats Bring you gifts from me.
The first is a grey one, (I wanted a white one, I could not find one snowy white enough, Queen Guinevere,) He brings you purple grapes.
The second is a grey one, (I wanted a sleek one, Where could I find one sleek enough, Queen Guinevere?) He brings you a red apple.
The third one, too, is grey. (I wanted a black one, Not Hate itself could find one black enough, Queen Guinevere,) He brings you poison toadstools.
I send you three grey cats with gifts— (For uniformity of metaphor, Since Bacchus, Satan, and the Hangman Are not contemporaneous in my mythology) I send you three grey cats with gifts, Queen Guinevere, To warn you, sleekly, silently To pay the forfeit.
Ode in the New Mode
Your face Was a temple From which your soul Came to me beneath arched brows: And my soul knelt at your feet.
Then Inadvertently I saw your leg Curved and turned like a bird-song Dying into ecstatic silence at the garter...
Wretched Women! When you are wholly lovely Man cannot forget either of his two afflictions, Soul, or body!
I opened the door And night stared at me like a fool, Heavy dull night, clouded and safe— I turned again toward the uncertainties Of life within doors.
Once night was a lion, No, years ago, night was a python Weaving designs against space With undulations of his being— Night was a siren once.
O sodden, middle-aged night!