SWORD BLADES AND POPPY SEED
by Amy Lowell
[American (Massachusetts) poet, 1874-1925.]
[Note on text: Lines longer than 78 characters have been cut and continued on the next line, which is indented 2 spaces unless in a prose poem.]
SWORD BLADES AND POPPY SEED
_"Face invisible! je t'ai gravee en medailles D'argent doux comme l'aube pale, D'or ardent comme le soleil, D'airain sombre comme la nuit; Il y en a de tout metal, Qui tintent clair comme la joie, Qui sonnent lourd comme la gloire, Comme l'amour, comme la mort; Et j'ai fait les plus belles de belle argile Seche et fragile.
"Une a une, vous les comptiez en souriant, Et vous disiez: Il est habile; Et vous passiez en souriant.
"Aucun de vous n'a donc vu Que mes mains tremblaient de tendresse, Que tout le grand songe terrestre Vivait en moi pour vivre en eux Que je gravais aux metaux pieux, Mes Dieux."_
Henri de Regnier, "Les Medailles d'Argile".
No one expects a man to make a chair without first learning how, but there is a popular impression that the poet is born, not made, and that his verses burst from his overflowing heart of themselves. As a matter of fact, the poet must learn his trade in the same manner, and with the same painstaking care, as the cabinet-maker. His heart may overflow with high thoughts and sparkling fancies, but if he cannot convey them to his reader by means of the written word he has no claim to be considered a poet. A workman may be pardoned, therefore, for spending a few moments to explain and describe the technique of his trade. A work of beauty which cannot stand an intimate examination is a poor and jerry-built thing.
In the first place, I wish to state my firm belief that poetry should not try to teach, that it should exist simply because it is a created beauty, even if sometimes the beauty of a gothic grotesque. We do not ask the trees to teach us moral lessons, and only the Salvation Army feels it necessary to pin texts upon them. We know that these texts are ridiculous, but many of us do not yet see that to write an obvious moral all over a work of art, picture, statue, or poem, is not only ridiculous, but timid and vulgar. We distrust a beauty we only half understand, and rush in with our impertinent suggestions. How far we are from "admitting the Universe"! The Universe, which flings down its continents and seas, and leaves them without comment. Art is as much a function of the Universe as an Equinoctial gale, or the Law of Gravitation; and we insist upon considering it merely a little scroll-work, of no great importance unless it be studded with nails from which pretty and uplifting sentiments may be hung!
For the purely technical side I must state my immense debt to the French, and perhaps above all to the, so-called, Parnassian School, although some of the writers who have influenced me most do not belong to it. High-minded and untiring workmen, they have spared no pains to produce a poetry finer than that of any other country in our time. Poetry so full of beauty and feeling, that the study of it is at once an inspiration and a despair to the artist. The Anglo-Saxon of our day has a tendency to think that a fine idea excuses slovenly workmanship. These clear-eyed Frenchmen are a reproof to our self-satisfied laziness. Before the works of Parnassians like Leconte de Lisle, and Jose-Maria de Heredia, or those of Henri de Regnier, Albert Samain, Francis Jammes, Remy de Gourmont, and Paul Fort, of the more modern school, we stand rebuked. Indeed—"They order this matter better in France."
It is because in France, to-day, poetry is so living and vigorous a thing, that so many metrical experiments come from there. Only a vigorous tree has the vitality to put forth new branches. The poet with originality and power is always seeking to give his readers the same poignant feeling which he has himself. To do this he must constantly find new and striking images, delightful and unexpected forms. Take the word "daybreak", for instance. What a remarkable picture it must once have conjured up! The great, round sun, like the yolk of some mighty egg, BREAKING through cracked and splintered clouds. But we have said "daybreak" so often that we do not see the picture any more, it has become only another word for dawn. The poet must be constantly seeking new pictures to make his readers feel the vitality of his thought.
Many of the poems in this volume are written in what the French call "Vers Libre", a nomenclature more suited to French use and to French versification than to ours. I prefer to call them poems in "unrhymed cadence", for that conveys their exact meaning to an English ear. They are built upon "organic rhythm", or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing, rather than upon a strict metrical system. They differ from ordinary prose rhythms by being more curved, and containing more stress. The stress, and exceedingly marked curve, of any regular metre is easily perceived. These poems, built upon cadence, are more subtle, but the laws they follow are not less fixed. Merely chopping prose lines into lengths does not produce cadence, it is constructed upon mathematical and absolute laws of balance and time. In the preface to his "Poems", Henley speaks of "those unrhyming rhythms in which I had tried to quintessentialize, as (I believe) one scarce can do in rhyme." The desire to "quintessentialize", to head-up an emotion until it burns white-hot, seems to be an integral part of the modern temper, and certainly "unrhymed cadence" is unique in its power of expressing this.
Three of these poems are written in a form which, so far as I know, has never before been attempted in English. M. Paul Fort is its inventor, and the results it has yielded to him are most beautiful and satisfactory. Perhaps it is more suited to the French language than to English. But I found it the only medium in which these particular poems could be written. It is a fluid and changing form, now prose, now verse, and permitting a great variety of treatment.
But the reader will see that I have not entirely abandoned the more classic English metres. I cannot see why, because certain manners suit certain emotions and subjects, it should be considered imperative for an author to employ no others. Schools are for those who can confine themselves within them. Perhaps it is a weakness in me that I cannot.
In conclusion, I would say that these remarks are in answer to many questions asked me by people who have happened to read some of these poems in periodicals. They are not for the purpose of forestalling criticism, nor of courting it; and they deal, as I said in the beginning, solely with the question of technique. For the more important part of the book, the poems must speak for themselves.
Amy Lowell. May 19, 1914.
Sword Blades and Poppy Seed
The Captured Goddess The Precinct. Rochester The Cyclists Sunshine through a Cobwebbed Window A London Thoroughfare. 2 A.M. Astigmatism The Coal Picker Storm-Racked Convalescence Patience Apology A Petition A Blockhead Stupidity Irony Happiness The Last Quarter of the Moon A Tale of Starvation The Foreigner Absence A Gift The Bungler Fool's Money Bags Miscast I Miscast II Anticipation Vintage The Tree of Scarlet Berries Obligation The Taxi The Giver of Stars The Temple Epitaph of a Young Poet Who Died Before Having Achieved Success In Answer to a Request
The Great Adventure of Max Breuck Sancta Maria, Succurre Miseris After Hearing a Waltz by Bartok Clear, with Light, Variable Winds The Basket In a Castle The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde The Exeter Road The Shadow The Forsaken Late September The Pike The Blue Scarf White and Green Aubade Music A Lady In a Garden A Tulip Garden
Sword Blades And Poppy Seed
A drifting, April, twilight sky, A wind which blew the puddles dry, And slapped the river into waves That ran and hid among the staves Of an old wharf. A watery light Touched bleak the granite bridge, and white Without the slightest tinge of gold, The city shivered in the cold. All day my thoughts had lain as dead, Unborn and bursting in my head. From time to time I wrote a word Which lines and circles overscored. My table seemed a graveyard, full Of coffins waiting burial. I seized these vile abortions, tore Them into jagged bits, and swore To be the dupe of hope no more. Into the evening straight I went, Starved of a day's accomplishment. Unnoticing, I wandered where The city gave a space for air, And on the bridge's parapet I leant, while pallidly there set A dim, discouraged, worn-out sun. Behind me, where the tramways run, Blossomed bright lights, I turned to leave, When someone plucked me by the sleeve. "Your pardon, Sir, but I should be Most grateful could you lend to me A carfare, I have lost my purse." The voice was clear, concise, and terse. I turned and met the quiet gaze Of strange eyes flashing through the haze.
The man was old and slightly bent, Under his cloak some instrument Disarranged its stately line, He rested on his cane a fine And nervous hand, an almandine Smouldered with dull-red flames, sanguine It burned in twisted gold, upon His finger. Like some Spanish don, Conferring favours even when Asking an alms, he bowed again And waited. But my pockets proved Empty, in vain I poked and shoved, No hidden penny lurking there Greeted my search. "Sir, I declare I have no money, pray forgive, But let me take you where you live." And so we plodded through the mire Where street lamps cast a wavering fire. I took no note of where we went, His talk became the element Wherein my being swam, content. It flashed like rapiers in the night Lit by uncertain candle-light, When on some moon-forsaken sward A quarrel dies upon a sword. It hacked and carved like a cutlass blade, And the noise in the air the broad words made Was the cry of the wind at a window-pane On an Autumn night of sobbing rain. Then it would run like a steady stream Under pinnacled bridges where minarets gleam, Or lap the air like the lapping tide Where a marble staircase lifts its wide Green-spotted steps to a garden gate, And a waning moon is sinking straight Down to a black and ominous sea, While a nightingale sings in a lemon tree.
I walked as though some opiate Had stung and dulled my brain, a state Acute and slumbrous. It grew late. We stopped, a house stood silent, dark. The old man scratched a match, the spark Lit up the keyhole of a door, We entered straight upon a floor White with finest powdered sand Carefully sifted, one might stand Muddy and dripping, and yet no trace Would stain the boards of this kitchen-place. From the chimney, red eyes sparked the gloom, And a cricket's chirp filled all the room. My host threw pine-cones on the fire And crimson and scarlet glowed the pyre Wrapped in the golden flame's desire. The chamber opened like an eye, As a half-melted cloud in a Summer sky The soul of the house stood guessed, and shy It peered at the stranger warily. A little shop with its various ware Spread on shelves with nicest care. Pitchers, and jars, and jugs, and pots, Pipkins, and mugs, and many lots Of lacquered canisters, black and gold, Like those in which Chinese tea is sold. Chests, and puncheons, kegs, and flasks, Goblets, chalices, firkins, and casks. In a corner three ancient amphorae leaned Against the wall, like ships careened. There was dusky blue of Wedgewood ware, The carved, white figures fluttering there Like leaves adrift upon the air. Classic in touch, but emasculate, The Greek soul grown effeminate. The factory of Sevres had lent Elegant boxes with ornament Culled from gardens where fountains splashed And golden carp in the shadows flashed, Nuzzling for crumbs under lily-pads, Which ladies threw as the last of fads. Eggshell trays where gay beaux knelt, Hand on heart, and daintily spelt Their love in flowers, brittle and bright, Artificial and fragile, which told aright The vows of an eighteenth-century knight. The cruder tones of old Dutch jugs Glared from one shelf, where Toby mugs Endlessly drank the foaming ale, Its froth grown dusty, awaiting sale. The glancing light of the burning wood Played over a group of jars which stood On a distant shelf, it seemed the sky Had lent the half-tones of his blazonry To paint these porcelains with unknown hues Of reds dyed purple and greens turned blues, Of lustres with so evanescent a sheen Their colours are felt, but never seen. Strange winged dragons writhe about These vases, poisoned venoms spout, Impregnate with old Chinese charms; Sealed urns containing mortal harms, They fill the mind with thoughts impure, Pestilent drippings from the ure Of vicious thinkings. "Ah, I see," Said I, "you deal in pottery." The old man turned and looked at me. Shook his head gently. "No," said he.
Then from under his cloak he took the thing Which I had wondered to see him bring Guarded so carefully from sight. As he laid it down it flashed in the light, A Toledo blade, with basket hilt, Damascened with arabesques of gilt, Or rather gold, and tempered so It could cut a floating thread at a blow. The old man smiled, "It has no sheath, 'Twas a little careless to have it beneath My cloak, for a jostle to my arm Would have resulted in serious harm. But it was so fine, I could not wait, So I brought it with me despite its state." "An amateur of arms," I thought, "Bringing home a prize which he has bought." "You care for this sort of thing, Dear Sir?" "Not in the way which you infer. I need them in business, that is all." And he pointed his finger at the wall. Then I saw what I had not noticed before. The walls were hung with at least five score Of swords and daggers of every size Which nations of militant men could devise. Poisoned spears from tropic seas, That natives, under banana trees, Smear with the juice of some deadly snake. Blood-dipped arrows, which savages make And tip with feathers, orange and green, A quivering death, in harlequin sheen. High up, a fan of glancing steel Was formed of claymores in a wheel. Jewelled swords worn at kings' levees Were suspended next midshipmen's dirks, and these Elbowed stilettos come from Spain, Chased with some splendid Hidalgo's name. There were Samurai swords from old Japan, And scimitars from Hindoostan, While the blade of a Turkish yataghan Made a waving streak of vitreous white Upon the wall, in the firelight. Foils with buttons broken or lost Lay heaped on a chair, among them tossed The boarding-pike of a privateer. Against the chimney leaned a queer Two-handed weapon, with edges dull As though from hacking on a skull. The rusted blood corroded it still. My host took up a paper spill From a heap which lay in an earthen bowl, And lighted it at a burning coal. At either end of the table, tall Wax candles were placed, each in a small, And slim, and burnished candlestick Of pewter. The old man lit each wick, And the room leapt more obviously Upon my mind, and I could see What the flickering fire had hid from me. Above the chimney's yawning throat, Shoulder high, like the dark wainscote, Was a mantelshelf of polished oak Blackened with the pungent smoke Of firelit nights; a Cromwell clock Of tarnished brass stood like a rock In the midst of a heaving, turbulent sea Of every sort of cutlery. There lay knives sharpened to any use, The keenest lancet, and the obtuse And blunted pruning bill-hook; blades Of razors, scalpels, shears; cascades Of penknives, with handles of mother-of-pearl, And scythes, and sickles, and scissors; a whirl Of points and edges, and underneath Shot the gleam of a saw with bristling teeth. My head grew dizzy, I seemed to hear A battle-cry from somewhere near, The clash of arms, and the squeal of balls, And the echoless thud when a dead man falls. A smoky cloud had veiled the room, Shot through with lurid glares; the gloom Pounded with shouts and dying groans, With the drip of blood on cold, hard stones. Sabres and lances in streaks of light Gleamed through the smoke, and at my right A creese, like a licking serpent's tongue, Glittered an instant, while it stung. Streams, and points, and lines of fire! The livid steel, which man's desire Had forged and welded, burned white and cold. Every blade which man could mould, Which could cut, or slash, or cleave, or rip, Or pierce, or thrust, or carve, or strip, Or gash, or chop, or puncture, or tear, Or slice, or hack, they all were there. Nerveless and shaking, round and round, I stared at the walls and at the ground, Till the room spun like a whipping top, And a stern voice in my ear said, "Stop! I sell no tools for murderers here. Of what are you thinking! Please clear Your mind of such imaginings. Sit down. I will tell you of these things."
He pushed me into a great chair Of russet leather, poked a flare Of tumbling flame, with the old long sword, Up the chimney; but said no word. Slowly he walked to a distant shelf, And brought back a crock of finest delf. He rested a moment a blue-veined hand Upon the cover, then cut a band Of paper, pasted neatly round, Opened and poured. A sliding sound Came from beneath his old white hands, And I saw a little heap of sands, Black and smooth. What could they be: "Pepper," I thought. He looked at me. "What you see is poppy seed. Lethean dreams for those in need." He took up the grains with a gentle hand And sifted them slowly like hour-glass sand. On his old white finger the almandine Shot out its rays, incarnadine. "Visions for those too tired to sleep. These seeds cast a film over eyes which weep. No single soul in the world could dwell, Without these poppy-seeds I sell." For a moment he played with the shining stuff, Passing it through his fingers. Enough At last, he poured it back into The china jar of Holland blue, Which he carefully carried to its place. Then, with a smile on his aged face, He drew up a chair to the open space 'Twixt table and chimney. "Without preface, Young man, I will say that what you see Is not the puzzle you take it to be." "But surely, Sir, there is something strange In a shop with goods at so wide a range Each from the other, as swords and seeds. Your neighbours must have greatly differing needs." "My neighbours," he said, and he stroked his chin, "Live everywhere from here to Pekin. But you are wrong, my sort of goods Is but one thing in all its moods." He took a shagreen letter case From his pocket, and with charming grace Offered me a printed card. I read the legend, "Ephraim Bard. Dealer in Words." And that was all. I stared at the letters, whimsical Indeed, or was it merely a jest. He answered my unasked request: "All books are either dreams or swords, You can cut, or you can drug, with words. My firm is a very ancient house, The entries on my books would rouse Your wonder, perhaps incredulity. I inherited from an ancestry Stretching remotely back and far, This business, and my clients are As were those of my grandfather's days, Writers of books, and poems, and plays. My swords are tempered for every speech, For fencing wit, or to carve a breach Through old abuses the world condones. In another room are my grindstones and hones, For whetting razors and putting a point On daggers, sometimes I even anoint The blades with a subtle poison, so A twofold result may follow the blow. These are purchased by men who feel The need of stabbing society's heel, Which egotism has brought them to think Is set on their necks. I have foils to pink An adversary to quaint reply, And I have customers who buy Scalpels with which to dissect the brains And hearts of men. Ultramundanes Even demand some finer kinds To open their own souls and minds. But the other half of my business deals With visions and fancies. Under seals, Sorted, and placed in vessels here, I keep the seeds of an atmosphere. Each jar contains a different kind Of poppy seed. From farthest Ind Come the purple flowers, opium filled, From which the weirdest myths are distilled; My orient porcelains contain them all. Those Lowestoft pitchers against the wall Hold a lighter kind of bright conceit; And those old Saxe vases, out of the heat On that lowest shelf beside the door, Have a sort of Ideal, "couleur d'or". Every castle of the air Sleeps in the fine black grains, and there Are seeds for every romance, or light Whiff of a dream for a summer night. I supply to every want and taste." 'Twas slowly said, in no great haste He seemed to push his wares, but I Dumfounded listened. By and by A log on the fire broke in two. He looked up quickly, "Sir, and you?" I groped for something I should say; Amazement held me numb. "To-day You sweated at a fruitless task." He spoke for me, "What do you ask? How can I serve you?" "My kind host, My penniless state was not a boast; I have no money with me." He smiled. "Not for that money I beguiled You here; you paid me in advance." Again I felt as though a trance Had dimmed my faculties. Again He spoke, and this time to explain. "The money I demand is Life, Your nervous force, your joy, your strife!" What infamous proposal now Was made me with so calm a brow? Bursting through my lethargy, Indignantly I hurled the cry: "Is this a nightmare, or am I Drunk with some infernal wine? I am no Faust, and what is mine Is what I call my soul! Old Man! Devil or Ghost! Your hellish plan Revolts me. Let me go." "My child," And the old tones were very mild, "I have no wish to barter souls; My traffic does not ask such tolls. I am no devil; is there one? Surely the age of fear is gone. We live within a daylight world Lit by the sun, where winds unfurled Sweep clouds to scatter pattering rain, And then blow back the sun again. I sell my fancies, or my swords, To those who care far more for words, Ideas, of which they are the sign, Than any other life-design. Who buy of me must simply pay Their whole existence quite away: Their strength, their manhood, and their prime, Their hours from morning till the time When evening comes on tiptoe feet, And losing life, think it complete; Must miss what other men count being, To gain the gift of deeper seeing; Must spurn all ease, all hindering love, All which could hold or bind; must prove The farthest boundaries of thought, And shun no end which these have brought; Then die in satisfaction, knowing That what was sown was worth the sowing. I claim for all the goods I sell That they will serve their purpose well, And though you perish, they will live. Full measure for your pay I give. To-day you worked, you thought, in vain. What since has happened is the train Your toiling brought. I spoke to you For my share of the bargain, due." "My life! And is that all you crave In pay? What even childhood gave! I have been dedicate from youth. Before my God I speak the truth!" Fatigue, excitement of the past Few hours broke me down at last. All day I had forgot to eat, My nerves betrayed me, lacking meat. I bowed my head and felt the storm Plough shattering through my prostrate form. The tearless sobs tore at my heart. My host withdrew himself apart; Busied among his crockery, He paid no farther heed to me. Exhausted, spent, I huddled there, Within the arms of the old carved chair.
A long half-hour dragged away, And then I heard a kind voice say, "The day will soon be dawning, when You must begin to work again. Here are the things which you require." By the fading light of the dying fire, And by the guttering candle's flare, I saw the old man standing there. He handed me a packet, tied With crimson tape, and sealed. "Inside Are seeds of many differing flowers, To occupy your utmost powers Of storied vision, and these swords Are the finest which my shop affords. Go home and use them; do not spare Yourself; let that be all your care. Whatever you have means to buy Be very sure I can supply." He slowly walked to the window, flung It open, and in the grey air rung The sound of distant matin bells. I took my parcels. Then, as tells An ancient mumbling monk his beads, I tried to thank for his courteous deeds My strange old friend. "Nay, do not talk," He urged me, "you have a long walk Before you. Good-by and Good-day!" And gently sped upon my way I stumbled out in the morning hush, As down the empty street a flush Ran level from the rising sun. Another day was just begun.
The Captured Goddess
Over the housetops, Above the rotating chimney-pots, I have seen a shiver of amethyst, And blue and cinnamon have flickered A moment, At the far end of a dusty street.
Through sheeted rain Has come a lustre of crimson, And I have watched moonbeams Hushed by a film of palest green.
It was her wings, Goddess! Who stepped over the clouds, And laid her rainbow feathers Aslant on the currents of the air.
I followed her for long, With gazing eyes and stumbling feet. I cared not where she led me, My eyes were full of colours: Saffrons, rubies, the yellows of beryls, And the indigo-blue of quartz; Flights of rose, layers of chrysoprase, Points of orange, spirals of vermilion, The spotted gold of tiger-lily petals, The loud pink of bursting hydrangeas. I followed, And watched for the flashing of her wings.
In the city I found her, The narrow-streeted city. In the market-place I came upon her, Bound and trembling. Her fluted wings were fastened to her sides with cords, She was naked and cold, For that day the wind blew Without sunshine.
Men chaffered for her, They bargained in silver and gold, In copper, in wheat, And called their bids across the market-place.
The Goddess wept.
Hiding my face I fled, And the grey wind hissed behind me, Along the narrow streets.
The Precinct. Rochester
The tall yellow hollyhocks stand, Still and straight, With their round blossoms spread open, In the quiet sunshine. And still is the old Roman wall, Rough with jagged bits of flint, And jutting stones, Old and cragged, Quite still in its antiquity. The pear-trees press their branches against it, And feeling it warm and kindly, The little pears ripen to yellow and red. They hang heavy, bursting with juice, Against the wall. So old, so still!
The sky is still. The clouds make no sound As they slide away Beyond the Cathedral Tower, To the river, And the sea. It is very quiet, Very sunny. The myrtle flowers stretch themselves in the sunshine, But make no sound. The roses push their little tendrils up, And climb higher and higher. In spots they have climbed over the wall. But they are very still, They do not seem to move. And the old wall carries them Without effort, and quietly Ripens and shields the vines and blossoms.
A bird in a plane-tree Sings a few notes, Cadenced and perfect They weave into the silence. The Cathedral bell knocks, One, two, three, and again, And then again. It is a quiet sound, Calling to prayer, Hardly scattering the stillness, Only making it close in more densely. The gardener picks ripe gooseberries For the Dean's supper to-night. It is very quiet, Very regulated and mellow. But the wall is old, It has known many days. It is a Roman wall, Left-over and forgotten.
Beyond the Cathedral Close Yelp and mutter the discontents of people not mellow, Not well-regulated. People who care more for bread than for beauty, Who would break the tombs of saints, And give the painted windows of churches To their children for toys. People who say: "They are dead, we live! The world is for the living."
Fools! It is always the dead who breed. Crush the ripe fruit, and cast it aside, Yet its seeds shall fructify, And trees rise where your huts were standing. But the little people are ignorant, They chaffer, and swarm. They gnaw like rats, And the foundations of the Cathedral are honeycombed.
The Dean is in the Chapter House; He is reading the architect's bill For the completed restoration of the Cathedral. He will have ripe gooseberries for supper, And then he will walk up and down the path By the wall, And admire the snapdragons and dahlias, Thinking how quiet and peaceful The garden is. The old wall will watch him, Very quietly and patiently it will watch. For the wall is old, It is a Roman wall.
Spread on the roadway, With open-blown jackets, Like black, soaring pinions, They swoop down the hillside, The Cyclists.
Seeming dark-plumaged Birds, after carrion, Careening and circling, Over the dying Of England.
She lies with her bosom Beneath them, no longer The Dominant Mother, The Virile—but rotting Before time.
The smell of her, tainted, Has bitten their nostrils. Exultant they hover, And shadow the sun with Foreboding.
Sunshine through a Cobwebbed Window
What charm is yours, you faded old-world tapestries, Of outworn, childish mysteries, Vague pageants woven on a web of dream! And we, pushing and fighting in the turbid stream Of modern life, find solace in your tarnished broideries.
Old lichened halls, sun-shaded by huge cedar-trees, The layered branches horizontal stretched, like Japanese Dark-banded prints. Carven cathedrals, on a sky Of faintest colour, where the gothic spires fly And sway like masts, against a shifting breeze.
Worm-eaten pages, clasped in old brown vellum, shrunk From over-handling, by some anxious monk. Or Virgin's Hours, bright with gold and graven With flowers, and rare birds, and all the Saints of Heaven, And Noah's ark stuck on Ararat, when all the world had sunk.
They soothe us like a song, heard in a garden, sung By youthful minstrels, on the moonlight flung In cadences and falls, to ease a queen, Widowed and childless, cowering in a screen Of myrtles, whose life hangs with all its threads unstrung.
A London Thoroughfare. 2 A.M.
They have watered the street, It shines in the glare of lamps, Cold, white lamps, And lies Like a slow-moving river, Barred with silver and black. Cabs go down it, One, And then another. Between them I hear the shuffling of feet. Tramps doze on the window-ledges, Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks. The city is squalid and sinister, With the silver-barred street in the midst, Slow-moving, A river leading nowhere.
Opposite my window, The moon cuts, Clear and round, Through the plum-coloured night. She cannot light the city; It is too bright. It has white lamps, And glitters coldly.
I stand in the window and watch the moon. She is thin and lustreless, But I love her. I know the moon, And this is an alien city.
To Ezra Pound
With much friendship and admiration and some differences of opinion
The Poet took his walking-stick Of fine and polished ebony. Set in the close-grained wood Were quaint devices; Patterns in ambers, And in the clouded green of jades. The top was of smooth, yellow ivory, And a tassel of tarnished gold Hung by a faded cord from a hole Pierced in the hard wood, Circled with silver. For years the Poet had wrought upon this cane. His wealth had gone to enrich it, His experiences to pattern it, His labour to fashion and burnish it. To him it was perfect, A work of art and a weapon, A delight and a defence. The Poet took his walking-stick And walked abroad.
Peace be with you, Brother.
The Poet came to a meadow. Sifted through the grass were daisies, Open-mouthed, wondering, they gazed at the sun. The Poet struck them with his cane. The little heads flew off, and they lay Dying, open-mouthed and wondering, On the hard ground. "They are useless. They are not roses," said the Poet.
Peace be with you, Brother. Go your ways.
The Poet came to a stream. Purple and blue flags waded in the water; In among them hopped the speckled frogs; The wind slid through them, rustling. The Poet lifted his cane, And the iris heads fell into the water. They floated away, torn and drowning. "Wretched flowers," said the Poet, "They are not roses."
Peace be with you, Brother. It is your affair.
The Poet came to a garden. Dahlias ripened against a wall, Gillyflowers stood up bravely for all their short stature, And a trumpet-vine covered an arbour With the red and gold of its blossoms. Red and gold like the brass notes of trumpets. The Poet knocked off the stiff heads of the dahlias, And his cane lopped the gillyflowers at the ground. Then he severed the trumpet-blossoms from their stems. Red and gold they lay scattered, Red and gold, as on a battle field; Red and gold, prone and dying. "They were not roses," said the Poet.
Peace be with you, Brother. But behind you is destruction, and waste places.
The Poet came home at evening, And in the candle-light He wiped and polished his cane. The orange candle flame leaped in the yellow ambers, And made the jades undulate like green pools. It played along the bright ebony, And glowed in the top of cream-coloured ivory. But these things were dead, Only the candle-light made them seem to move. "It is a pity there were no roses," said the Poet.
Peace be with you, Brother. You have chosen your part.
The Coal Picker
He perches in the slime, inert, Bedaubed with iridescent dirt. The oil upon the puddles dries To colours like a peacock's eyes, And half-submerged tomato-cans Shine scaly, as leviathans Oozily crawling through the mud. The ground is here and there bestud With lumps of only part-burned coal. His duty is to glean the whole, To pick them from the filth, each one, To hoard them for the hidden sun Which glows within each fiery core And waits to be made free once more. Their sharp and glistening edges cut His stiffened fingers. Through the smut Gleam red the wounds which will not shut. Wet through and shivering he kneels And digs the slippery coals; like eels They slide about. His force all spent, He counts his small accomplishment. A half-a-dozen clinker-coals Which still have fire in their souls. Fire! And in his thought there burns The topaz fire of votive urns. He sees it fling from hill to hill, And still consumed, is burning still. Higher and higher leaps the flame, The smoke an ever-shifting frame. He sees a Spanish Castle old, With silver steps and paths of gold. From myrtle bowers comes the plash Of fountains, and the emerald flash Of parrots in the orange trees, Whose blossoms pasture humming bees. He knows he feeds the urns whose smoke Bears visions, that his master-stroke Is out of dirt and misery To light the fire of poesy. He sees the glory, yet he knows That others cannot see his shows. To them his smoke is sightless, black, His votive vessels but a pack Of old discarded shards, his fire A peddler's; still to him the pyre Is incensed, an enduring goal! He sighs and grubs another coal.
How should I sing when buffeting salt waves And stung with bitter surges, in whose might I toss, a cockleshell? The dreadful night Marshals its undefeated dark and raves In brutal madness, reeling over graves Of vanquished men, long-sunken out of sight, Sent wailing down to glut the ghoulish sprite Who haunts foul seaweed forests and their caves. No parting cloud reveals a watery star, My cries are washed away upon the wind, My cramped and blistering hands can find no spar, My eyes with hope o'erstrained, are growing blind. But painted on the sky great visions burn, My voice, oblation from a shattered urn!
From out the dragging vastness of the sea, Wave-fettered, bound in sinuous, seaweed strands, He toils toward the rounding beach, and stands One moment, white and dripping, silently, Cut like a cameo in lazuli, Then falls, betrayed by shifting shells, and lands Prone in the jeering water, and his hands Clutch for support where no support can be. So up, and down, and forward, inch by inch, He gains upon the shore, where poppies glow And sandflies dance their little lives away. The sucking waves retard, and tighter clinch The weeds about him, but the land-winds blow, And in the sky there blooms the sun of May.
Be patient with you? When the stooping sky Leans down upon the hills And tenderly, as one who soothing stills An anguish, gathers earth to lie Embraced and girdled. Do the sun-filled men Feel patience then?
Be patient with you? When the snow-girt earth Cracks to let through a spurt Of sudden green, and from the muddy dirt A snowdrop leaps, how mark its worth To eyes frost-hardened, and do weary men Feel patience then?
Be patient with you? When pain's iron bars Their rivets tighten, stern To bend and break their victims; as they turn, Hopeless, there stand the purple jars Of night to spill oblivion. Do these men Feel patience then?
Be patient with you? You! My sun and moon! My basketful of flowers! My money-bag of shining dreams! My hours, Windless and still, of afternoon! You are my world and I your citizen. What meaning can have patience then?
Be not angry with me that I bear Your colours everywhere, All through each crowded street, And meet The wonder-light in every eye, As I go by.
Each plodding wayfarer looks up to gaze, Blinded by rainbow haze, The stuff of happiness, No less, Which wraps me in its glad-hued folds Of peacock golds.
Before my feet the dusty, rough-paved way Flushes beneath its gray. My steps fall ringed with light, So bright, It seems a myriad suns are strown About the town.
Around me is the sound of steepled bells, And rich perfumed smells Hang like a wind-forgotten cloud, And shroud Me from close contact with the world. I dwell impearled.
You blazon me with jewelled insignia. A flaming nebula Rims in my life. And yet You set The word upon me, unconfessed To go unguessed.
I pray to be the tool which to your hand Long use has shaped and moulded till it be Apt for your need, and, unconsideringly, You take it for its service. I demand To be forgotten in the woven strand Which grows the multi-coloured tapestry Of your bright life, and through its tissues lie A hidden, strong, sustaining, grey-toned band. I wish to dwell around your daylight dreams, The railing to the stairway of the clouds, To guard your steps securely up, where streams A faery moonshine washing pale the crowds Of pointed stars. Remember not whereby You mount, protected, to the far-flung sky.
Before me lies a mass of shapeless days, Unseparated atoms, and I must Sort them apart and live them. Sifted dust Covers the formless heap. Reprieves, delays, There are none, ever. As a monk who prays The sliding beads asunder, so I thrust Each tasteless particle aside, and just Begin again the task which never stays. And I have known a glory of great suns, When days flashed by, pulsing with joy and fire! Drunk bubbled wine in goblets of desire, And felt the whipped blood laughing as it runs! Spilt is that liquor, my too hasty hand Threw down the cup, and did not understand.
Dearest, forgive that with my clumsy touch I broke and bruised your rose. I hardly could suppose It were a thing so fragile that my clutch Could kill it, thus.
It stood so proudly up upon its stem, I knew no thought of fear, And coming very near Fell, overbalanced, to your garment's hem, Tearing it down.
Now, stooping, I upgather, one by one, The crimson petals, all Outspread about my fall. They hold their fragrance still, a blood-red cone Of memory.
And with my words I carve a little jar To keep their scented dust, Which, opening, you must Breathe to your soul, and, breathing, know me far More grieved than you.
An arid daylight shines along the beach Dried to a grey monotony of tone, And stranded jelly-fish melt soft upon The sun-baked pebbles, far beyond their reach Sparkles a wet, reviving sea. Here bleach The skeletons of fishes, every bone Polished and stark, like traceries of stone, The joints and knuckles hardened each to each. And they are dead while waiting for the sea, The moon-pursuing sea, to come again. Their hearts are blown away on the hot breeze. Only the shells and stones can wait to be Washed bright. For living things, who suffer pain, May not endure till time can bring them ease.
Happiness, to some, elation; Is, to others, mere stagnation. Days of passive somnolence, At its wildest, indolence. Hours of empty quietness, No delight, and no distress.
Happiness to me is wine, Effervescent, superfine. Full of tang and fiery pleasure, Far too hot to leave me leisure For a single thought beyond it. Drunk! Forgetful! This the bond: it Means to give one's soul to gain Life's quintessence. Even pain Pricks to livelier living, then Wakes the nerves to laugh again, Rapture's self is three parts sorrow. Although we must die to-morrow, Losing every thought but this; Torn, triumphant, drowned in bliss.
Happiness: We rarely feel it. I would buy it, beg it, steal it, Pay in coins of dripping blood For this one transcendent good.
The Last Quarter of the Moon
How long shall I tarnish the mirror of life, A spatter of rust on its polished steel! The seasons reel Like a goaded wheel. Half-numb, half-maddened, my days are strife.
The night is sliding towards the dawn, And upturned hills crouch at autumn's knees. A torn moon flees Through the hemlock trees, The hours have gnawed it to feed their spawn.
Pursuing and jeering the misshapen thing A rabble of clouds flares out of the east. Like dogs unleashed After a beast, They stream on the sky, an outflung string.
A desolate wind, through the unpeopled dark, Shakes the bushes and whistles through empty nests, And the fierce unrests I keep as guests Crowd my brain with corpses, pallid and stark.
Leave me in peace, O Spectres, who haunt My labouring mind, I have fought and failed. I have not quailed, I was all unmailed And naked I strove, 'tis my only vaunt.
The moon drops into the silver day As waking out of her swoon she comes. I hear the drums Of millenniums Beating the mornings I still must stay.
The years I must watch go in and out, While I build with water, and dig in air, And the trumpets blare Hollow despair, The shuddering trumpets of utter rout.
An atom tossed in a chaos made Of yeasting worlds, which bubble and foam. Whence have I come? What would be home? I hear no answer. I am afraid!
I crave to be lost like a wind-blown flame. Pushed into nothingness by a breath, And quench in a wreath Of engulfing death This fight for a God, or this devil's game.
A Tale of Starvation
There once was a man whom the gods didn't love, And a disagreeable man was he. He loathed his neighbours, and his neighbours hated him, And he cursed eternally.
He damned the sun, and he damned the stars, And he blasted the winds in the sky. He sent to Hell every green, growing thing, And he raved at the birds as they fly.
His oaths were many, and his range was wide, He swore in fancy ways; But his meaning was plain: that no created thing Was other than a hurt to his gaze.
He dwelt all alone, underneath a leaning hill, And windows toward the hill there were none, And on the other side they were white-washed thick, To keep out every spark of the sun.
When he went to market he walked all the way Blaspheming at the path he trod. He cursed at those he bought of, and swore at those he sold to, By all the names he knew of God.
For his heart was soured in his weary old hide, And his hopes had curdled in his breast. His friend had been untrue, and his love had thrown him over For the chinking money-bags she liked best.
The rats had devoured the contents of his grain-bin, The deer had trampled on his corn, His brook had shrivelled in a summer drought, And his sheep had died unshorn.
His hens wouldn't lay, and his cow broke loose, And his old horse perished of a colic. In the loft his wheat-bags were nibbled into holes By little, glutton mice on a frolic.
So he slowly lost all he ever had, And the blood in his body dried. Shrunken and mean he still lived on, And cursed that future which had lied.
One day he was digging, a spade or two, As his aching back could lift, When he saw something glisten at the bottom of the trench, And to get it out he made great shift.
So he dug, and he delved, with care and pain, And the veins in his forehead stood taut. At the end of an hour, when every bone cracked, He gathered up what he had sought.
A dim old vase of crusted glass, Prismed while it lay buried deep. Shifting reds and greens, like a pigeon's neck, At the touch of the sun began to leap.
It was dull in the tree-shade, but glowing in the light; Flashing like an opal-stone, Carved into a flagon; and the colours glanced and ran, Where at first there had seemed to be none.
It had handles on each side to bear it up, And a belly for the gurgling wine. Its neck was slender, and its mouth was wide, And its lip was curled and fine.
The old man saw it in the sun's bright stare And the colours started up through the crust, And he who had cursed at the yellow sun Held the flask to it and wiped away the dust.
And he bore the flask to the brightest spot, Where the shadow of the hill fell clear; And he turned the flask, and he looked at the flask, And the sun shone without his sneer.
Then he carried it home, and put it on a shelf, But it was only grey in the gloom. So he fetched a pail, and a bit of cloth, And he went outside with a broom.
And he washed his windows just to let the sun Lie upon his new-found vase; And when evening came, he moved it down And put it on a table near the place
Where a candle fluttered in a draught from the door. The old man forgot to swear, Watching its shadow grown a mammoth size, Dancing in the kitchen there.
He forgot to revile the sun next morning When he found his vase afire in its light. And he carried it out of the house that day, And kept it close beside him until night.
And so it happened from day to day. The old man fed his life On the beauty of his vase, on its perfect shape. And his soul forgot its former strife.
And the village-folk came and begged to see The flagon which was dug from the ground. And the old man never thought of an oath, in his joy At showing what he had found.
One day the master of the village school Passed him as he stooped at toil, Hoeing for a bean-row, and at his side Was the vase, on the turned-up soil.
"My friend," said the schoolmaster, pompous and kind, "That's a valuable thing you have there, But it might get broken out of doors, It should meet with the utmost care.
What are you doing with it out here?" "Why, Sir," said the poor old man, "I like to have it about, do you see? To be with it all I can."
"You will smash it," said the schoolmaster, sternly right, "Mark my words and see!" And he walked away, while the old man looked At his treasure despondingly.
Then he smiled to himself, for it was his! He had toiled for it, and now he cared. Yes! loved its shape, and its subtle, swift hues, Which his own hard work had bared.
He would carry it round with him everywhere, As it gave him joy to do. A fragile vase should not stand in a bean-row! Who would dare to say so? Who?
Then his heart was rested, and his fears gave way, And he bent to his hoe again.... A clod rolled down, and his foot slipped back, And he lurched with a cry of pain.
For the blade of the hoe crashed into glass, And the vase fell to iridescent sherds. The old man's body heaved with slow, dry sobs. He did not curse, he had no words.
He gathered the fragments, one by one, And his fingers were cut and torn. Then he made a hole in the very place Whence the beautiful vase had been borne.
He covered the hole, and he patted it down, Then he hobbled to his house and shut the door. He tore up his coat and nailed it at the windows That no beam of light should cross the floor.
He sat down in front of the empty hearth, And he neither ate nor drank. In three days they found him, dead and cold, And they said: "What a queer old crank!"
Have at you, you Devils! My back's to this tree, For you're nothing so nice That the hind-side of me Would escape your assault. Come on now, all three!
Here's a dandified gentleman, Rapier at point, And a wrist which whirls round Like a circular joint. A spatter of blood, man! That's just to anoint
And make supple your limbs. 'Tis a pity the silk Of your waistcoat is stained. Why! Your heart's full of milk, And so full, it spills over! I'm not of your ilk.
You said so, and laughed At my old-fashioned hose, At the cut of my hair, At the length of my nose. To carve it to pattern I think you propose.
Your pardon, young Sir, But my nose and my sword Are proving themselves In quite perfect accord. I grieve to have spotted Your shirt. On my word!
And hullo! You Bully! That blade's not a stick To slash right and left, And my skull is too thick To be cleft with such cuffs Of a sword. Now a lick
Down the side of your face. What a pretty, red line! Tell the taverns that scar Was an honour. Don't whine That a stranger has marked you. * * * * * The tree's there, You Swine!
Did you think to get in At the back, while your friends Made a little diversion In front? So it ends, With your sword clattering down On the ground. 'Tis amends
I make for your courteous Reception of me, A foreigner, landed From over the sea. Your welcome was fervent I think you'll agree.
My shoes are not buckled With gold, nor my hair Oiled and scented, my jacket's Not satin, I wear Corded breeches, wide hats, And I make people stare!
So I do, but my heart Is the heart of a man, And my thoughts cannot twirl In the limited span 'Twixt my head and my heels, As some other men's can.
I have business more strange Than the shape of my boots, And my interests range From the sky, to the roots Of this dung-hill you live in, You half-rotted shoots
Of a mouldering tree! Here's at you, once more. You Apes! You Jack-fools! You can show me the door, And jeer at my ways, But you're pinked to the core.
And before I have done, I will prick my name in With the front of my steel, And your lily-white skin Shall be printed with me. For I've come here to win!
My cup is empty to-night, Cold and dry are its sides, Chilled by the wind from the open window. Empty and void, it sparkles white in the moonlight. The room is filled with the strange scent Of wistaria blossoms. They sway in the moon's radiance And tap against the wall. But the cup of my heart is still, And cold, and empty.
When you come, it brims Red and trembling with blood, Heart's blood for your drinking; To fill your mouth with love And the bitter-sweet taste of a soul.
See! I give myself to you, Beloved! My words are little jars For you to take and put upon a shelf. Their shapes are quaint and beautiful, And they have many pleasant colours and lustres To recommend them. Also the scent from them fills the room With sweetness of flowers and crushed grasses.
When I shall have given you the last one, You will have the whole of me, But I shall be dead.
You glow in my heart Like the flames of uncounted candles. But when I go to warm my hands, My clumsiness overturns the light, And then I stumble Against the tables and chairs.
Fool's Money Bags
Outside the long window, With his head on the stone sill, The dog is lying, Gazing at his Beloved. His eyes are wet and urgent, And his body is taut and shaking. It is cold on the terrace; A pale wind licks along the stone slabs, But the dog gazes through the glass And is content.
The Beloved is writing a letter. Occasionally she speaks to the dog, But she is thinking of her writing. Does she, too, give her devotion to one Not worthy?
I have whetted my brain until it is like a Damascus blade, So keen that it nicks off the floating fringes of passers-by, So sharp that the air would turn its edge Were it to be twisted in flight. Licking passions have bitten their arabesques into it, And the mark of them lies, in and out, Worm-like, With the beauty of corroded copper patterning white steel. My brain is curved like a scimitar, And sighs at its cutting Like a sickle mowing grass.
But of what use is all this to me! I, who am set to crack stones In a country lane!
My heart is like a cleft pomegranate Bleeding crimson seeds And dripping them on the ground. My heart gapes because it is ripe and over-full, And its seeds are bursting from it.
But how is this other than a torment to me! I, who am shut up, with broken crockery, In a dark closet!
I have been temperate always, But I am like to be very drunk With your coming. There have been times I feared to walk down the street Lest I should reel with the wine of you, And jerk against my neighbours As they go by. I am parched now, and my tongue is horrible in my mouth, But my brain is noisy With the clash and gurgle of filling wine-cups.
I will mix me a drink of stars,— Large stars with polychrome needles, Small stars jetting maroon and crimson, Cool, quiet, green stars. I will tear them out of the sky, And squeeze them over an old silver cup, And I will pour the cold scorn of my Beloved into it, So that my drink shall be bubbled with ice.
It will lap and scratch As I swallow it down; And I shall feel it as a serpent of fire, Coiling and twisting in my belly. His snortings will rise to my head, And I shall be hot, and laugh, Forgetting that I have ever known a woman.
The Tree of Scarlet Berries
The rain gullies the garden paths And tinkles on the broad sides of grass blades. A tree, at the end of my arm, is hazy with mist. Even so, I can see that it has red berries, A scarlet fruit, Filmed over with moisture. It seems as though the rain, Dripping from it, Should be tinged with colour. I desire the berries, But, in the mist, I only scratch my hand on the thorns. Probably, too, they are bitter.
Hold your apron wide That I may pour my gifts into it, So that scarcely shall your two arms hinder them From falling to the ground.
I would pour them upon you And cover you, For greatly do I feel this need Of giving you something, Even these poor things.
Dearest of my Heart!
When I go away from you The world beats dead Like a slackened drum. I call out for you against the jutted stars And shout into the ridges of the wind. Streets coming fast, One after the other, Wedge you away from me, And the lamps of the city prick my eyes So that I can no longer see your face. Why should I leave you, To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?
The Giver of Stars
Hold your soul open for my welcoming. Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me With its clear and rippled coolness, That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest, Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.
Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me, That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire, The life and joy of tongues of flame, And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune, I may rouse the blear-eyed world, And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.
Between us leapt a gold and scarlet flame. Into the hollow of the cupped, arched blue Of Heaven it rose. Its flickering tongues up-drew And vanished in the sunshine. How it came We guessed not, nor what thing could be its name. From each to each had sprung those sparks which flew Together into fire. But we knew The winds would slap and quench it in their game. And so we graved and fashioned marble blocks To treasure it, and placed them round about. With pillared porticos we wreathed the whole, And roofed it with bright bronze. Behind carved locks Flowered the tall and sheltered flame. Without, The baffled winds thrust at a column's bole.
Epitaph of a Young Poet Who Died Before Having Achieved Success
Beneath this sod lie the remains Of one who died of growing pains.
In Answer to a Request
You ask me for a sonnet. Ah, my Dear, Can clocks tick back to yesterday at noon? Can cracked and fallen leaves recall last June And leap up on the boughs, now stiff and sere? For your sake, I would go and seek the year, Faded beyond the purple ranks of dune, Blown sands of drifted hours, which the moon Streaks with a ghostly finger, and her sneer Pulls at my lengthening shadow. Yes, 'tis that! My shadow stretches forward, and the ground Is dark in front because the light's behind. It is grotesque, with such a funny hat, In watching it and walking I have found More than enough to occupy my mind.
I cannot turn, the light would make me blind.
The Great Adventure of Max Breuck
A yellow band of light upon the street Pours from an open door, and makes a wide Pathway of bright gold across a sheet Of calm and liquid moonshine. From inside Come shouts and streams of laughter, and a snatch Of song, soon drowned and lost again in mirth, The clip of tankards on a table top, And stir of booted heels. Against the patch Of candle-light a shadow falls, its girth Proclaims the host himself, and master of his shop.
This is the tavern of one Hilverdink, Jan Hilverdink, whose wines are much esteemed. Within his cellar men can have to drink The rarest cordials old monks ever schemed To coax from pulpy grapes, and with nice art Improve and spice their virgin juiciness. Here froths the amber beer of many a brew, Crowning each pewter tankard with as smart A cap as ever in his wantonness Winter set glittering on top of an old yew.
Tall candles stand upon the table, where Are twisted glasses, ruby-sparked with wine, Clarets and ports. Those topaz bumpers were Drained from slim, long-necked bottles of the Rhine. The centre of the board is piled with pipes, Slender and clean, the still unbaptized clay Awaits its burning fate. Behind, the vault Stretches from dim to dark, a groping way Bordered by casks and puncheons, whose brass stripes And bands gleam dully still, beyond the gay tumult.
"For good old Master Hilverdink, a toast!" Clamoured a youth with tassels on his boots. "Bring out your oldest brandy for a boast, From that small barrel in the very roots Of your deep cellar, man. Why here is Max! Ho! Welcome, Max, you're scarcely here in time. We want to drink to old Jan's luck, and smoke His best tobacco for a grand climax. Here, Jan, a paper, fragrant as crushed thyme, We'll have the best to wish you luck, or may we choke!"
Max Breuck unclasped his broadcloth cloak, and sat. "Well thought of, Franz; here's luck to Mynheer Jan." The host set down a jar; then to a vat Lost in the distance of his cellar, ran. Max took a pipe as graceful as the stem Of some long tulip, crammed it full, and drew The pungent smoke deep to his grateful lung. It curled all blue throughout the cave and flew Into the silver night. At once there flung Into the crowded shop a boy, who cried to them:
"Oh, sirs, is there some learned lawyer here, Some advocate, or all-wise counsellor? My master sent me to inquire where Such men do mostly be, but every door Was shut and barred, for late has grown the hour. I pray you tell me where I may now find One versed in law, the matter will not wait." "I am a lawyer, boy," said Max, "my mind Is not locked to my business, though 'tis late. I shall be glad to serve what way is in my power.
Then once more, cloaked and ready, he set out, Tripping the footsteps of the eager boy Along the dappled cobbles, while the rout Within the tavern jeered at his employ. Through new-burst elm leaves filtered the white moon, Who peered and splashed between the twinkling boughs, Flooded the open spaces, and took flight Before tall, serried houses in platoon, Guarded by shadows. Past the Custom House They took their hurried way in the Spring-scented night.
Before a door which fronted a canal The boy halted. A dim tree-shaded spot. The water lapped the stones in musical And rhythmic tappings, and a galliot Slumbered at anchor with no light aboard. The boy knocked twice, and steps approached. A flame Winked through the keyhole, then a key was turned, And through the open door Max went toward Another door, whence sound of voices came. He entered a large room where candelabra burned.
An aged man in quilted dressing gown Rose up to greet him. "Sir," said Max, "you sent Your messenger to seek throughout the town A lawyer. I have small accomplishment, But I am at your service, and my name Is Max Breuck, Counsellor, at your command." "Mynheer," replied the aged man, "obliged Am I, and count myself much privileged. I am Cornelius Kurler, and my fame Is better known on distant oceans than on land.
My ship has tasted water in strange seas, And bartered goods at still uncharted isles. She's oft coquetted with a tropic breeze, And sheered off hurricanes with jaunty smiles." "Tush, Kurler," here broke in the other man, "Enough of poetry, draw the deed and sign." The old man seemed to wizen at the voice, "My good friend, Grootver,—" he at once began. "No introductions, let us have some wine, And business, now that you at last have made your choice."
A harsh and disagreeable man he proved to be, This Grootver, with no single kindly thought. Kurler explained, his old hands nervously Twisting his beard. His vessel he had bought From Grootver. He had thought to soon repay The ducats borrowed, but an adverse wind Had so delayed him that his cargo brought But half its proper price, the very day He came to port he stepped ashore to find The market glutted and his counted profits naught.
Little by little Max made out the way That Grootver pressed that poor harassed old man. His money he must have, too long delay Had turned the usurer to a ruffian. "But let me take my ship, with many bales Of cotton stuffs dyed crimson, green, and blue, Cunningly patterned, made to suit the taste Of mandarin's ladies; when my battered sails Open for home, such stores will I bring you That all your former ventures will be counted waste.
Such light and foamy silks, like crinkled cream, And indigo more blue than sun-whipped seas, Spices and fragrant trees, a massive beam Of sandalwood, and pungent China teas, Tobacco, coffee!" Grootver only laughed. Max heard it all, and worse than all he heard The deed to which the sailor gave his word. He shivered, 'twas as if the villain gaffed The old man with a boat-hook; bleeding, spent, He begged for life nor knew at all the road he went.
For Kurler had a daughter, young and gay, Carefully reared and shielded, rarely seen. But on one black and most unfriendly day Grootver had caught her as she passed between The kitchen and the garden. She had run In fear of him, his evil leering eye, And when he came she, bolted in her room, Refused to show, though gave no reason why. The spinning of her future had begun, On quiet nights she heard the whirring of her doom.
Max mended an old goosequill by the fire, Loathing his work, but seeing no thing to do. He felt his hands were building up the pyre To burn two souls, and seized with vertigo He staggered to his chair. Before him lay White paper still unspotted by a crime. "Now, young man, write," said Grootver in his ear. "'If in two years my vessel should yet stay From Amsterdam, I give Grootver, sometime A friend, my daughter for his lawful wife.' Now swear."
And Kurler swore, a palsied, tottering sound, And traced his name, a shaking, wandering line. Then dazed he sat there, speechless from his wound. Grootver got up: "Fair voyage, the brigantine!" He shuffled from the room, and left the house. His footsteps wore to silence down the street. At last the aged man began to rouse. With help he once more gained his trembling feet. "My daughter, Mynheer Breuck, is friendless now. Will you watch over her? I ask a solemn vow."
Max laid his hand upon the old man's arm, "Before God, sir, I vow, when you are gone, So to protect your daughter from all harm As one man may." Thus sorrowful, forlorn, The situation to Max Breuck appeared, He gave his promise almost without thought, Nor looked to see a difficulty. "Bred Gently to watch a mother left alone; Bound by a dying father's wish, who feared The world's accustomed harshness when he should be dead;
Such was my case from youth, Mynheer Kurler. Last Winter she died also, and my days Are passed in work, lest I should grieve for her, And undo habits used to earn her praise. My leisure I will gladly give to see Your household and your daughter prosperous." The sailor said his thanks, but turned away. He could not brook that his humility, So little wonted, and so tremulous, Should first before a stranger make such great display.
"Come here to-morrow as the bells ring noon, I sail at the full sea, my daughter then I will make known to you. 'Twill be a boon If after I have bid good-by, and when Her eyeballs scorch with watching me depart, You bring her home again. She lives with one Old serving-woman, who has brought her up. But that is no friend for so free a heart. No head to match her questions. It is done. And I must sail away to come and brim her cup.
My ship's the fastest that owns Amsterdam As home, so not a letter can you send. I shall be back, before to where I am Another ship could reach. Now your stipend—" Quickly Breuck interposed. "When you once more Tread on the stones which pave our streets.—Good night! To-morrow I will be, at stroke of noon, At the great wharf." Then hurrying, in spite Of cake and wine the old man pressed upon Him ere he went, he took his leave and shut the door.
'Twas noon in Amsterdam, the day was clear, And sunshine tipped the pointed roofs with gold. The brown canals ran liquid bronze, for here The sun sank deep into the waters cold. And every clock and belfry in the town Hammered, and struck, and rang. Such peals of bells, To shake the sunny morning into life, And to proclaim the middle, and the crown, Of this most sparkling daytime! The crowd swells, Laughing and pushing toward the quays in friendly strife.
The "Horn of Fortune" sails away to-day. At highest tide she lets her anchor go, And starts for China. Saucy popinjay! Giddy in freshest paint she curtseys low, And beckons to her boats to let her start. Blue is the ocean, with a flashing breeze. The shining waves are quick to take her part. They push and spatter her. Her sails are loose, Her tackles hanging, waiting men to seize And haul them taut, with chanty-singing, as they choose.
At the great wharf's edge Mynheer Kurler stands, And by his side, his daughter, young Christine. Max Breuck is there, his hat held in his hands, Bowing before them both. The brigantine Bounces impatient at the long delay, Curvets and jumps, a cable's length from shore. A heavy galliot unloads on the walls Round, yellow cheeses, like gold cannon balls Stacked on the stones in pyramids. Once more Kurler has kissed Christine, and now he is away.
Christine stood rigid like a frozen stone, Her hands wrung pale in effort at control. Max moved aside and let her be alone, For grief exacts each penny of its toll. The dancing boat tossed on the glinting sea. A sun-path swallowed it in flaming light, Then, shrunk a cockleshell, it came again Upon the other side. Now on the lee It took the "Horn of Fortune". Straining sight Could see it hauled aboard, men pulling on the crane.
Then up above the eager brigantine, Along her slender masts, the sails took flight, Were sheeted home, and ropes were coiled. The shine Of the wet anchor, when its heavy weight Rose splashing to the deck. These things they saw, Christine and Max, upon the crowded quay. They saw the sails grow white, then blue in shade, The ship had turned, caught in a windy flaw She glided imperceptibly away, Drew farther off and in the bright sky seemed to fade.
Home, through the emptying streets, Max took Christine, Who would have hid her sorrow from his gaze. Before the iron gateway, clasped between Each garden wall, he stopped. She, in amaze, Asked, "Do you enter not then, Mynheer Breuck? My father told me of your courtesy. Since I am now your charge, 'tis meet for me To show such hospitality as maiden may, Without disdaining rules must not be broke. Katrina will have coffee, and she bakes today."
She straight unhasped the tall, beflowered gate. Curled into tendrils, twisted into cones Of leaves and roses, iron infoliate, It guards the pleasance, and its stiffened bones Are budded with much peering at the rows, And beds, and arbours, which it keeps inside. Max started at the beauty, at the glare Of tints. At either end was set a wide Path strewn with fine, red gravel, and such shows Of tulips in their splendour flaunted everywhere!
From side to side, midway each path, there ran A longer one which cut the space in two. And, like a tunnel some magician Has wrought in twinkling green, an alley grew, Pleached thick and walled with apple trees; their flowers Incensed the garden, and when Autumn came The plump and heavy apples crowding stood And tapped against the arbour. Then the dame Katrina shook them down, in pelting showers They plunged to earth, and died transformed to sugared food.
Against the high, encircling walls were grapes, Nailed close to feel the baking of the sun From glowing bricks. Their microscopic shapes Half hidden by serrated leaves. And one Old cherry tossed its branches near the door. Bordered along the wall, in beds between, Flickering, streaming, nodding in the air, The pride of all the garden, there were more Tulips than Max had ever dreamed or seen. They jostled, mobbed, and danced. Max stood at helpless stare.
"Within the arbour, Mynheer Breuck, I'll bring Coffee and cakes, a pipe, and Father's best Tobacco, brought from countries harbouring Dawn's earliest footstep. Wait." With girlish zest To please her guest she flew. A moment more She came again, with her old nurse behind. Then, sitting on the bench and knitting fast, She talked as someone with a noble store Of hidden fancies, blown upon the wind, Eager to flutter forth and leave their silent past.
The little apple leaves above their heads Let fall a quivering sunshine. Quiet, cool, In blossomed boughs they sat. Beyond, the beds Of tulips blazed, a proper vestibule And antechamber to the rainbow. Dyes Of prismed richness: Carmine. Madder. Blues Tinging dark browns to purple. Silvers flushed To amethyst and tinct with gold. Round eyes Of scarlet, spotting tender saffron hues. Violets sunk to blacks, and reds in orange crushed.
Of every pattern and in every shade. Nacreous, iridescent, mottled, checked. Some purest sulphur-yellow, others made An ivory-white with disks of copper flecked. Sprinkled and striped, tasselled, or keenest edged. Striated, powdered, freckled, long or short. They bloomed, and seemed strange wonder-moths new-fledged, Born of the spectrum wedded to a flame. The shade within the arbour made a port To o'ertaxed eyes, its still, green twilight rest became.
Her knitting-needles clicked and Christine talked, This child matured to woman unaware, The first time left alone. Now dreams once balked Found utterance. Max thought her very fair. Beneath her cap her ornaments shone gold, And purest gold they were. Kurler was rich And heedful. Her old maiden aunt had died Whose darling care she was. Now, growing bold, She asked, had Max a sister? Dropped a stitch At her own candour. Then she paused and softly sighed.
Two years was long! She loved her father well, But fears she had not. He had always been Just sailed or sailing. And she must not dwell On sad thoughts, he had told her so, and seen Her smile at parting. But she sighed once more. Two years was long; 'twas not one hour yet! Mynheer Grootver she would not see at all. Yes, yes, she knew, but ere the date so set, The "Horn of Fortune" would be at the wall. When Max had bid farewell, she watched him from the door.
The next day, and the next, Max went to ask The health of Jufvrouw Kurler, and the news: Another tulip blown, or the great task Of gathering petals which the high wind strews; The polishing of floors, the pictured tiles Well scrubbed, and oaken chairs most deftly oiled. Such things were Christine's world, and his was she Winter drew near, his sun was in her smiles. Another Spring, and at his law he toiled, Unspoken hope counselled a wise efficiency.
Max Breuck was honour's soul, he knew himself The guardian of this girl; no more, no less. As one in charge of guineas on a shelf Loose in a china teapot, may confess His need, but may not borrow till his friend Comes back to give. So Max, in honour, said No word of love or marriage; but the days He clipped off on his almanac. The end Must come! The second year, with feet of lead, Lagged slowly by till Spring had plumped the willow sprays.
Two years had made Christine a woman grown, With dignity and gently certain pride. But all her childhood fancies had not flown, Her thoughts in lovely dreamings seemed to glide. Max was her trusted friend, did she confess A closer happiness? Max could not tell. Two years were over and his life he found Sphered and complete. In restless eagerness He waited for the "Horn of Fortune". Well Had he his promise kept, abating not one pound.
Spring slipped away to Summer. Still no glass Sighted the brigantine. Then Grootver came Demanding Jufvrouw Kurler. His trespass Was justified, for he had won the game. Christine begged time, more time! Midsummer went, And Grootver waxed impatient. Still the ship Tarried. Christine, betrayed and weary, sank To dreadful terrors. One day, crazed, she sent For Max. "Come quickly," said her note, "I skip The worst distress until we meet. The world is blank."
Through the long sunshine of late afternoon Max went to her. In the pleached alley, lost In bitter reverie, he found her soon. And sitting down beside her, at the cost Of all his secret, "Dear," said he, "what thing So suddenly has happened?" Then, in tears, She told that Grootver, on the following morn, Would come to marry her, and shuddering: "I will die rather, death has lesser fears." Max felt the shackles drop from the oath which he had sworn.
"My Dearest One, the hid joy of my heart! I love you, oh! you must indeed have known. In strictest honour I have played my part; But all this misery has overthrown My scruples. If you love me, marry me Before the sun has dipped behind those trees. You cannot be wed twice, and Grootver, foiled, Can eat his anger. My care it shall be To pay your father's debt, by such degrees As I can compass, and for years I've greatly toiled.
This is not haste, Christine, for long I've known My love, and silence forced upon my lips. I worship you with all the strength I've shown In keeping faith." With pleading finger tips He touched her arm. "Christine! Beloved! Think. Let us not tempt the future. Dearest, speak, I love you. Do my words fall too swift now? They've been in leash so long upon the brink." She sat quite still, her body loose and weak. Then into him she melted, all her soul at flow.
And they were married ere the westering sun Had disappeared behind the garden trees. The evening poured on them its benison, And flower-scents, that only night-time frees, Rose up around them from the beamy ground, Silvered and shadowed by a tranquil moon. Within the arbour, long they lay embraced, In such enraptured sweetness as they found Close-partnered each to each, and thinking soon To be enwoven, long ere night to morning faced.
At last Max spoke, "Dear Heart, this night is ours, To watch it pale, together, into dawn, Pressing our souls apart like opening flowers Until our lives, through quivering bodies drawn, Are mingled and confounded. Then, far spent, Our eyes will close to undisturbed rest. For that desired thing I leave you now. To pinnacle this day's accomplishment, By telling Grootver that a bootless quest Is his, and that his schemes have met a knock-down blow."
But Christine clung to him with sobbing cries, Pleading for love's sake that he leave her not. And wound her arms about his knees and thighs As he stood over her. With dread, begot Of Grootver's name, and silence, and the night, She shook and trembled. Words in moaning plaint Wooed him to stay. She feared, she knew not why, Yet greatly feared. She seemed some anguished saint Martyred by visions. Max Breuck soothed her fright With wisdom, then stepped out under the cooling sky.
But at the gate once more she held him close And quenched her heart again upon his lips. "My Sweetheart, why this terror? I propose But to be gone one hour! Evening slips Away, this errand must be done." "Max! Max! First goes my father, if I lose you now!" She grasped him as in panic lest she drown. Softly he laughed, "One hour through the town By moonlight! That's no place for foul attacks. Dearest, be comforted, and clear that troubled brow.
One hour, Dear, and then, no more alone. We front another day as man and wife. I shall be back almost before I'm gone, And midnight shall anoint and crown our life." Then through the gate he passed. Along the street She watched his buttons gleaming in the moon. He stopped to wave and turned the garden wall. Straight she sank down upon a mossy seat. Her senses, mist-encircled by a swoon, Swayed to unconsciousness beneath its wreathing pall.
Briskly Max walked beside the still canal. His step was firm with purpose. Not a jot He feared this meeting, nor the rancorous gall Grootver would spit on him who marred his plot. He dreaded no man, since he could protect Christine. His wife! He stopped and laughed aloud. His starved life had not fitted him for joy. It strained him to the utmost to reject Even this hour with her. His heart beat loud. "Damn Grootver, who can force my time to this employ!"
He laughed again. What boyish uncontrol To be so racked. Then felt his ticking watch. In half an hour Grootver would know the whole. And he would be returned, lifting the latch Of his own gate, eager to take Christine And crush her to his lips. How bear delay? He broke into a run. In front, a line Of candle-light banded the cobbled street. Hilverdink's tavern! Not for many a day Had he been there to take his old, accustomed seat.
"Why, Max! Stop, Max!" And out they came pell-mell, His old companions. "Max, where have you been? Not drink with us? Indeed you serve us well! How many months is it since we have seen You here? Jan, Jan, you slow, old doddering goat! Here's Mynheer Breuck come back again at last, Stir your old bones to welcome him. Fie, Max. Business! And after hours! Fill your throat; Here's beer or brandy. Now, boys, hold him fast. Put down your cane, dear man. What really vicious whacks!"
They forced him to a seat, and held him there, Despite his anger, while the hideous joke Was tossed from hand to hand. Franz poured with care A brimming glass of whiskey. "Here, we've broke Into a virgin barrel for you, drink! Tut! Tut! Just hear him! Married! Who, and when? Married, and out on business. Clever Spark! Which lie's the likeliest? Come, Max, do think." Swollen with fury, struggling with these men, Max cursed hilarity which must needs have a mark.
Forcing himself to steadiness, he tried To quell the uproar, told them what he dared Of his own life and circumstance. Implied Most urgent matters, time could ill be spared. In jesting mood his comrades heard his tale, And scoffed at it. He felt his anger more Goaded and bursting;—"Cowards! Is no one loth To mock at duty—" Here they called for ale, And forced a pipe upon him. With an oath He shivered it to fragments on the earthen floor.
Sobered a little by his violence, And by the host who begged them to be still, Nor injure his good name, "Max, no offence," They blurted, "you may leave now if you will." "One moment, Max," said Franz. "We've gone too far. I ask your pardon for our foolish joke. It started in a wager ere you came. The talk somehow had fall'n on drugs, a jar I brought from China, herbs the natives smoke, Was with me, and I thought merely to play a game.
Its properties are to induce a sleep Fraught with adventure, and the flight of time Is inconceivable in swiftness. Deep Sunken in slumber, imageries sublime Flatter the senses, or some fearful dream Holds them enmeshed. Years pass which on the clock Are but so many seconds. We agreed That the next man who came should prove the scheme; And you were he. Jan handed you the crock. Two whiffs! And then the pipe was broke, and you were freed."
"It is a lie, a damned, infernal lie!" Max Breuck was maddened now. "Another jest Of your befuddled wits. I know not why I am to be your butt. At my request You'll choose among you one who'll answer for Your most unseasonable mirth. Good-night And good-by,—gentlemen. You'll hear from me." But Franz had caught him at the very door, "It is no lie, Max Breuck, and for your plight I am to blame. Come back, and we'll talk quietly.
You have no business, that is why we laughed, Since you had none a few minutes ago. As to your wedding, naturally we chaffed, Knowing the length of time it takes to do A simple thing like that in this slow world. Indeed, Max, 'twas a dream. Forgive me then. I'll burn the drug if you prefer." But Breuck Muttered and stared,—"A lie." And then he hurled, Distraught, this word at Franz: "Prove it. And when It's proven, I'll believe. That thing shall be your work.
I'll give you just one week to make your case. On August thirty-first, eighteen-fourteen, I shall require your proof." With wondering face Franz cried, "A week to August, and fourteen The year! You're mad, 'tis April now. April, and eighteen-twelve." Max staggered, caught A chair,—"April two years ago! Indeed, Or you, or I, are mad. I know not how Either could blunder so." Hilverdink brought "The Amsterdam Gazette", and Max was forced to read.
"Eighteen hundred and twelve," in largest print; And next to it, "April the twenty-first." The letters smeared and jumbled, but by dint Of straining every nerve to meet the worst, He read it, and into his pounding brain Tumbled a horror. Like a roaring sea Foreboding shipwreck, came the message plain: "This is two years ago! What of Christine?" He fled the cellar, in his agony Running to outstrip Fate, and save his holy shrine.
The darkened buildings echoed to his feet Clap-clapping on the pavement as he ran. Across moon-misted squares clamoured his fleet And terror-winged steps. His heart began To labour at the speed. And still no sign, No flutter of a leaf against the sky. And this should be the garden wall, and round The corner, the old gate. No even line Was this! No wall! And then a fearful cry Shattered the stillness. Two stiff houses filled the ground.
Shoulder to shoulder, like dragoons in line, They stood, and Max knew them to be the ones To right and left of Kurler's garden. Spine Rigid next frozen spine. No mellow tones Of ancient gilded iron, undulate, Expanding in wide circles and broad curves, The twisted iron of the garden gate, Was there. The houses touched and left no space Between. With glassy eyes and shaking nerves Max gazed. Then mad with fear, fled still, and left that place.
Stumbling and panting, on he ran, and on. His slobbering lips could only cry, "Christine! My Dearest Love! My Wife! Where are you gone? What future is our past? What saturnine, Sardonic devil's jest has bid us live Two years together in a puff of smoke? It was no dream, I swear it! In some star, Or still imprisoned in Time's egg, you give Me love. I feel it. Dearest Dear, this stroke Shall never part us, I will reach to where you are."
His burning eyeballs stared into the dark. The moon had long been set. And still he cried: "Christine! My Love! Christine!" A sudden spark Pricked through the gloom, and shortly Max espied With his uncertain vision, so within Distracted he could scarcely trust its truth, A latticed window where a crimson gleam Spangled the blackness, and hung from a pin, An iron crane, were three gilt balls. His youth Had taught their meaning, now they closed upon his dream.
Softly he knocked against the casement, wide It flew, and a cracked voice his business there Demanded. The door opened, and inside Max stepped. He saw a candle held in air Above the head of a gray-bearded Jew. "Simeon Isaacs, Mynheer, can I serve You?" "Yes, I think you can. Do you keep arms? I want a pistol." Quick the old man grew Livid. "Mynheer, a pistol! Let me swerve You from your purpose. Life brings often false alarms—"
"Peace, good old Isaacs, why should you suppose My purpose deadly. In good truth I've been Blest above others. You have many rows Of pistols it would seem. Here, this shagreen Case holds one that I fancy. Silvered mounts Are to my taste. These letters 'C. D. L.' Its former owner? Dead, you say. Poor Ghost! 'Twill serve my turn though—" Hastily he counts The florins down upon the table. "Well, Good-night, and wish me luck for your to-morrow's toast."