THE DEFEAT OF YOUTH AND OTHER POEMS
BY ALDOUS HUXLEY, AUTHOR OF "THE BURNING WHEEL."
The Defeat of Youth 5 Song of Poplars 16 The Reef 17 Winter Dream 19 The Flowers 20 The Elms 21 Out of the Window 21 Inspiration 22 Summer Stillness 23 Anniversaries 23 Italy 25 The Alien 26 A Little Memory 27 Waking 28 By the Fire 29 Valedictory 31 Love Song 32 Private Property 33 Revelation 34 Minoan Porcelain 34 The Decameron 35 In Uncertainty to a Lady 35 Crapulous Impression 36 The Life Theoretic 37 Complaint of a Poet Manque 37 Social Amenities 38 Topiary 38 On the Bus 39 Points and Lines 39 Panic 40 Return from Business 40 Stanzas 41 Poem 42 Scenes of the Mind 43 L'Apres-Midi D'un Faune 44 The Louse-Hunters 48
THE DEFEAT OF YOUTH
I. UNDER THE TREES.
There had been phantoms, pale-remembered shapes Of this and this occasion, sisterly In their resemblances, each effigy Crowned with the same bright hair above the nape's White rounded firmness, and each body alert With such swift loveliness, that very rest Seemed a poised movement: ... phantoms that impressed But a faint influence and could bless or hurt No more than dreams. And these ghost things were she; For formless still, without identity, Not one she seemed, not clear, but many and dim. One face among the legions of the street, Indifferent mystery, she was for him Something still uncreated, incomplete.
Bright windy sunshine and the shadow of cloud Quicken the heavy summer to new birth Of life and motion on the drowsing earth; The huge elms stir, till all the air is loud With their awakening from the muffled sleep Of long hot days. And on the wavering line That marks the alternate ebb of shade and shine, Under the trees, a little group is deep In laughing talk. The shadow as it flows Across them dims the lustre of a rose, Quenches the bright clear gold of hair, the green Of a girl's dress, and life seems faint. The light Swings back, and in the rose a fire is seen, Gold hair's aflame and green grows emerald bright.
She leans, and there is laughter in the face She turns towards him; and it seems a door Suddenly opened on some desolate place With a burst of light and music. What before Was hidden shines in loveliness revealed. Now first he sees her beautiful, and knows That he must love her; and the doom is sealed Of all his happiness and all the woes That shall be born of pregnant years hereafter. The swift poise of a head, a flutter of laughter— And love flows in on him, its vastness pent Within his narrow life: the pain it brings, Boundless; for love is infinite discontent With the poor lonely life of transient things.
Men see their god, an immanence divine, Smile through the curve of flesh or moulded clay, In bare ploughed lands that go sloping away To meet the sky in one clean exquisite line. Out of the short-seen dawns of ecstasy They draw new beauty, whence new thoughts are born And in their turn conceive, as grains of corn Germ and create new life and endlessly Shall live creating. Out of earthly seeds Springs the aerial flower. One spirit proceeds Through change, the same in body and in soul— The spirit of life and love that triumphs still In its slow struggle towards some far-off goal Through lust and death and the bitterness of will.
One spirit it is that stirs the fathomless deep Of human minds, that shakes the elms in storm, That sings in passionate music, or on warm Still evenings bosoms forth the tufted sleep Of thistle-seeds that wait a travelling wind. One spirit shapes the subtle rhythms of thought And the long thundering seas; the soul is wrought Of one stuff with the body—matter and mind Woven together in so close a mesh That flowers may blossom into a song, that flesh May strangely teach the loveliest holiest things To watching spirits. Truth is brought to birth Not in some vacant heaven: its beauty springs From the dear bosom of material earth.
VI. IN THE HAY-LOFT.
The darkness in the loft is sweet and warm With the stored hay ... darkness intensified By one bright shaft that enters through the wide Tall doors from under fringes of a storm Which makes the doomed sun brighter. On the hay, Perched mountain-high they sit, and silently Watch the motes dance and look at the dark sky And mark how heartbreakingly far away And yet how close and clear the distance seems, While all at hand is cloud—brightness of dreams Unrealisable, yet seen so clear, So only just beyond the dark. They wait, Scarce knowing what they wait for, half in fear; Expectance draws the curtain from their fate.
The silence of the storm weighs heavily On their strained spirits: sometimes one will say Some trivial thing as though to ward away Mysterious powers, that imminently lie In wait, with the strong exorcising grace Of everyday's futility. Desire Becomes upon a sudden a crystal fire, Defined and hard:—If he could kiss her face, Could kiss her hair! As if by chance, her hand Brushes on his ... Ah, can she understand? Or is she pedestalled above the touch Of his desire? He wonders: dare he seek From her that little, that infinitely much? And suddenly she kissed him on the cheek.
A stronger gust catches the cloud and twists A spindle of rifted darkness through its heart, A gash in the damp grey, which, thrust apart, Reveals black depths a moment. Then the mists Shut down again; a white uneasy sea Heaves round the climbers and beneath their feet. He strains on upwards through the wind and sleet, Poised, or swift moving, or laboriously Lifting his weight. And if he should let go, What would he find down there, down there below The curtain of the mist? What would he find Beyond the dim and stifling now and here, Beneath the unsettled turmoil of his mind? Oh, there were nameless depths: he shrank with fear.
The hills more glorious in their coat of snow Rise all around him, in the valleys run Bright streams, and there are lakes that catch the sun, And sunlit fields of emerald far below That seem alive with inward light. In smoke The far horizons fade; and there is peace On everything, a sense of blessed release From wilful strife. Like some prophetic cloak The spirit of the mountains has descended On all the world, and its unrest is ended. Even the sea, glimpsed far away, seems still, Hushed to a silver peace its storm and strife. Mountains of vision, calm above fate and will, You hold the promise of the freer life.
X. IN THE LITTLE ROOM.
London unfurls its incense-coloured dusk Before the panes, rich but a while ago With the charred gold and the red ember-glow Of dying sunset. Houses quit the husk Of secrecy, which, through the day, returns A blank to all enquiry: but at nights The cheerfulness of fire and lamp invites The darkness inward, curious of what burns With such a coloured life when all is dead— The daylight world outside, with overhead White clouds, and where we walk, the blaze Of wet and sunlit streets, shops and the stream Of glittering traffic—all that the nights erase, Colour and speed, surviving but in dream.
Outside the dusk, but in the little room All is alive with light, which brightly glints On curving cup or the stiff folds of chintz, Evoking its own whiteness. Shadows loom, Bulging and black, upon the walls, where hang Rich coloured plates of beauties that appeal Less to the sense of sight than to the feel, So moistly satin are their breasts. A pang, Almost of pain, runs through him when he sees Hanging, a homeless marvel, next to these, The silken breastplate of a mandarin, Centuries dead, which he had given her. Exquisite miracle, when men could spin Jay's wing and belly of the kingfisher!
In silence and as though expectantly She crouches at his feet, while he caresses His light-drawn fingers with the touch of tresses Sleeked round her head, close-banded lustrously, Save where at nape and temple the smooth brown Sleaves out into a pale transparent mist Of hair and tangled light. So to exist, Poised 'twixt the deep of thought where spirits drown Life in a void impalpable nothingness, And, on the other side, the pain and stress Of clamorous action and the gnawing fire Of will, focal upon a point of earth—even thus To sit, eternally without desire And yet self-known, were happiness for us.
She turns her head and in a flash of laughter Looks up at him: and helplessly he feels That life has circled with returning wheels Back to a starting-point. Before and after Merge in this instant, momently the same: For it was thus she leaned and laughing turned When, manifest, the spirit of beauty burned In her young body with an inward flame, And first he knew and loved her. In full tide Life halts within him, suddenly stupefied. Sight blackness, lightning-struck; but blindly tender He draws her up to meet him, and she lies Close folded by his arms in glad surrender, Smiling, and with drooped head and half closed eyes.
"I give you all; would that I might give more." He sees the colour dawn across her cheeks And die again to white; marks as she speaks The trembling of her lips, as though she bore Some sudden pain and hardly mastered it. Within his arms he feels her shuddering, Piteously trembling like some wild wood-thing Caught unawares. Compassion infinite Mounts up within him. Thus to hold and keep And comfort her distressed, lull her to sleep And gently kiss her brow and hair and eyes Seems love perfected—templed high and white Against the calm of golden autumn skies, And shining quenchlessly with vestal light.
But passion ambushed by the aerial shrine Comes forth to dance, a hoofed obscenity, His satyr's dance, with laughter in his eye, And cruelty along the scarlet line Of his bright smiling mouth. All uncontrolled, Love's rebel servant, he delights to beat The maddening quick dry rhythm of goatish feet Even in the sanctuary, and makes bold To mime himself the godhead of the place. He turns in terror from her trance-calmed face, From the white-lidded languor of her eyes, From lips that passion never shook before, But glad in the promise of her sacrifice: "I give you all; would that I might give more."
He is afraid, seeing her lie so still, So utterly his own; afraid lest she Should open wide her eyes and let him see The passionate conquest of her virgin will Shine there in triumph, starry-bright with tears. He thrusts her from him: face and hair and breast, Hands he had touched, lips that his lips had pressed, Seem things deadly to be desired. He fears Lest she should body forth in palpable shame Those dreams and longings that his blood, aflame Through the hot dark of summer nights, had dreamed And longed. Must all his love, then, turn to this? Was lust the end of what so pure had seemed? He must escape, ah God! her touch, her kiss.
XVII. IN THE PARK.
Laughing, "To-night," I said to him, "the Park Has turned the garden of a symbolist. Those old great trees that rise above the mist, Gold with the light of evening, and the dark Still water, where the dying sun evokes An echoed glory—here I recognize Those ancient gardens mirrored by the eyes Of poets that hate the world of common folks, Like you and me and that thin pious crowd, Which yonder sings its hymns, so humbly proud Of holiness. The garden of escape Lies here; a small green world, and still the bride Of quietness, although an imminent rape Roars ceaselessly about on every side."
I had forgotten what I had lightly said, And without speech, without a thought I went, Steeped in that golden quiet, all content To drink the transient beauty as it sped Out of eternal darkness into time To light and burn and know itself a fire; Yet doomed—ah, fate of the fulfilled desire!— To fade, a meteor, paying for the crime Of living glorious in the denser air Of our material earth. A strange despair, An agony, yet strangely, subtly sweet And tender as an unpassionate caress, Filled me ... Oh laughter! youth's conceit Grown almost conscious of youth's feebleness!
He spoke abrupt across my dream: "Dear Garden, A stranger to your magic peace, I stand Beyond your walls, lost in a fevered land Of stones and fire. Would that the gods would harden My soul against its torment, or would blind Those yearning glimpses of a life at rest In perfect beauty—glimpses at the best Through unpassed bars. And here, without, the wind Of scattering passion blows: and women pass Glitter-eyed down putrid alleys where the glass Of some grimed window suddenly parades— Ah, sickening heart-beat of desire!—the grace Of bare and milk-warm flesh: the vision fades, And at the pane shows a blind tortured face."
The days pass by, empty of thought and will: His thought grows stagnant at its very springs, With every channel on the world of things Dammed up, and thus, by its long standing still, Poisons itself and sickens to decay. All his high love for her, his fair desire, Loses its light; and a dull rancorous fire, Burning darkness and bitterness that prey Upon his heart are left. His spirit burns Sometimes with hatred, or the hatred turns To a fierce lust for her, more cruel than hate, Till he is weary wrestling with its force: And evermore she haunts him, early and late, As pitilessly as an old remorse.
Streets and the solitude of country places Were once his friends. But as a man born blind, Opening his eyes from lovely dreams, might find The world a desert and men's larval faces So hateful, he would wish to seek again The darkness and his old chimeric sight Of beauties inward—so, that fresh delight, Vision of bright fields and angelic men, That love which made him all the world, is gone. Hating and hated now, he stands alone, An island-point, measureless gulfs apart From other lives, from the old happiness Of being more than self, when heart to heart Gave all, yet grew the greater, not the less.
XXII. THE QUARRY IN THE WOOD.
Swiftly deliberate, he seeks the place. A small wind stirs, the copse is bright in the sun: Like quicksilver the shine and shadow run Across the leaves. A bramble whips his face, The tears spring fast, and through the rainbow mist He sees a world that wavers like the flame Of a blown candle. Tears of pain and shame, And lips that once had laughed and sung and kissed Trembling in the passion of his sobbing breath! The world a candle shuddering to its death, And life a darkness, blind and utterly void Of any love or goodness: all deceit, This friendship and this God: all shams destroyed, And truth seen now. Earth fails beneath his feet.
SONG OF POPLARS
Shepherd, to yon tall poplars tune your flute: Let them pierce, keenly, subtly shrill, The slow blue rumour of the hill; Let the grass cry with an anguish of evening gold, And the great sky be mute.
Then hearken how the poplar trees unfold Their buds, yet close and gummed and blind, In airy leafage of the mind, Rustling in silvery whispers the twin-hued scales That fade not nor grow old.
"Poplars and fountains and you cypress spires Springing in dark and rusty flame, Seek you aught that hath a name? Or say, say: Are you all an upward agony Of undefined desires?
"Say, are you happy in the golden march Of sunlight all across the day? Or do you watch the uncertain way That leads the withering moon on cloudy stairs Over the heaven's wide arch?
"Is it towards sorrow or towards joy you lift The sharpness of your trembling spears? Or do you seek, through the grey tears That blur the sky, in the heart of the triumphing blue, A deeper, calmer rift?"
So; I have tuned my music to the trees, And there were voices, dim below Their shrillness, voices swelling slow In the blue murmur of hills, and a golden cry And then vast silences.
My green aquarium of phantom fish, Goggling in on me through the misty panes; My rotting leaves and fields spongy with rains; My few clear quiet autumn days—I wish
I could leave all, clearness and mistiness; Sodden or goldenly crystal, all too still. Yes, and I too rot with the leaves that fill The hollows in the woods; I am grown less
Than human, listless, aimless as the green Idiot fishes of my aquarium, Who loiter down their dim tunnels and come And look at me and drift away, nought seen
Or understood, but only glazedly Reflected. Upwards, upwards through the shadows, Through the lush sponginess of deep-sea meadows Where hare-lipped monsters batten, let me ply
Winged fins, bursting this matrix dark to find Jewels and movement, mintage of sunlight Scattered largely by the profuse wind, And gulfs of blue brightness, too deep for sight.
Free, newly born, on roads of music and air Speeding and singing, I shall seek the place Where all the shining threads of water race, Drawn in green ropes and foamy meshes. There,
On the red fretted ramparts of a tower Of coral rooted in the depths, shall break An endless sequence of joy and speed and power: Green shall shatter to foam; flake with white flake
Shall create an instant's shining constellation Upon the blue; and all the air shall be Full of a million wings that swift and free Laugh in the sun, all power and strong elation.
Yes, I shall seek that reef, which is beyond All isles however magically sleeping In tideless seas, uncharted and unconned Save by blind eyes; beyond the laughter and weeping
That brood like a cloud over the lands of men. Movement, passion of colour and pure wings, Curving to cut like knives—these are the things I search for:—passion beyond the ken
Of our foiled violences, and, more swift Than any blow which man aims against time, The invulnerable, motion that shall rift All dimness with the lightning of a rhyme,
Or note, or colour. And the body shall be Quick as the mind; and will shall find release From bondage to brute things; and joyously Soul, will and body, in the strength of triune peace,
Shall live the perfect grace of power unwasted. And love consummate, marvellously blending Passion and reverence in a single spring Of quickening force, till now never yet tasted,
But ever ceaselessly thirsted for, shall crown The new life with its ageless starry fire. I go to seek that reef, far down, far down Below the edge of everyday's desire,
Beyond the magical islands, where of old I was content, dreaming, to give the lie To misery. They were all strong and bold That thither came; and shall I dare to try?
Oh wind-swept towers, Oh endlessly blossoming trees, White clouds and lucid eyes, And pools in the rocks whose unplumbed blue is pregnant With who knows what of subtlety And magical curves and limbs— White Anadyomene and her shallow breasts Mother-of-pearled with light.
And oh the April, April of straight soft hair, Falling smooth as the mountain water and brown; The April of little leaves unblinded, Of rosy nipples and innocence And the blue languor of weary eyelids.
Across a huge gulf I fling my voice And my desires together: Across a huge gulf ... on the other bank Crouches April with her hair as smooth and straight and brown As falling waters. Oh brave curve upwards and outwards. Oh despair of the downward tilting— Despair still beautiful As a great star one has watched all night Wheeling down under the hills. Silence widens and darkens; Voice and desires have dropped out of sight. I am all alone, dreaming she would come and kiss me.
Day after day, At spring's return, I watch my flowers, how they burn Their lives away.
The candle crocus And daffodil gold Drink fire of the sunshine— Quickly cold.
And the proud tulip— How red he glows!— Is quenched ere summer Can kindle the rose.
Purple as the innermost Core of a sinking flame, Deep in the leaves the violets smoulder To the dust whence they came.
Day after day At spring's return, I watch my flowers, how they burn Their lives away, Day after day ...
Fine as the dust of plumy fountains blowing Across the lanterns of a revelling night, The tiny leaves of April's earliest growing Powder the trees—so vaporously light, They seem to float, billows of emerald foam Blown by the South on its bright airy tide, Seeming less trees than things beatified, Come from the world of thought which was their home.
For a while only. Rooted strong and fast, Soon will they lift towards the summer sky Their mountain-mass of clotted greenery. Their immaterial season quickly past, They grow opaque, and therefore needs must die, Since every earth to earth returns at last.
OUT OF THE WINDOW
In the middle of countries, far from hills and sea, Are the little places one passes by in trains And never stops at; where the skies extend Uninterrupted, and the level plains Stretch green and yellow and green without an end. And behind the glass of their Grand Express Folk yawn away a province through, With nothing to think of, nothing to do, Nothing even to look at—never a "view" In this damned wilderness. But I look out of the window and find Much to satisfy the mind. Mark how the furrows, formed and wheeled In a motion orderly and staid, Sweep, as we pass, across the field Like a drilled army on parade. And here's a market-garden, barred With stripe on stripe of varied greens ... Bright potatoes, flower starred, And the opacous colour of beans. Each line deliberately swings Towards me, till I see a straight Green avenue to the heart of things, The glimpse of a sudden opened gate Piercing the adverse walls of fate ... A moment only, and then, fast, fast, The gate swings to, the avenue closes; Fate laughs, and once more interposes Its barriers. The train has passed.
Noonday upon the Alpine meadows Pours its avalanche of Light And blazing flowers: the very shadows Translucent are and bright. It seems a glory that nought surpasses— Passion of angels in form and hue— When, lo! from the jewelled heaven of the grasses Leaps a lightning of sudden blue. Dimming the sun-drunk petals, Bright even unto pain, The grasshopper flashes, settles, And then is quenched again.
The stars are golden instants in the deep Flawless expanse of night: the moon is set: The river sleeps, entranced, a smooth cool sleep Seeming so motionless that I forget The hollow booming bridges, where it slides, Dark with the sad looks that it bears along, Towards a sea whose unreturning tides Ravish the sighted ships and the sailors' song.
Once more the windless days are here, Quiet of autumn, when the year Halts and looks backward and draws breath Before it plunges into death. Silver of mist and gossamers, Through-shine of noonday's glassy gold, Pale blue of skies, where nothing stirs Save one blanched leaf, weary and old, That over and over slowly falls From the mute elm-trees, hanging on air Like tattered flags along the walls Of chapels deep in sunlit prayer. Once more ... Within its flawless glass To-day reflects that other day, When, under the bracken, on the grass, We who were lovers happily lay And hardly spoke, or framed a thought That was not one with the calm hills And crystal sky. Ourselves were nought, Our gusty passions, our burning wills Dissolved in boundlessness, and we Were almost bodiless, almost free.
The wind has shattered silver and gold. Night after night of sparkling cold, Orion lifts his tangled feet From where the tossing branches beat In a fine surf against the sky. So the trance ended, and we grew Restless, we knew not how or why; And there were sudden gusts that blew Our dreaming banners into storm; We wore the uncertain crumbling form Of a brown swirl of windy leaves, A phantom shape that stirs and heaves Shuddering from earth, to fall again With a dry whisper of withered rain.
Last, from the dead and shrunken days We conjured spring, lighting the blaze Of burnished tulips in the dark; And from black frost we struck a spark Of blue delight and fragrance new, A little world of flowers and dew. Winter for us was over and done: The drought of fluttering leaves had grown Emerald shining in the sun, As light as glass, as firm as stone. Real once more: for we had passed Through passion into thought again; Shaped our desires and made that fast Which was before a cloudy pain; Moulded the dimness, fixed, defined In a fair statue, strong and free, Twin bodies flaming into mind, Poised on the brink of ecstasy.
There is a country in my mind, Lovelier than a poet blind Could dream of, who had never known This world of drought and dust and stone In all its ugliness: a place Full of an all but human grace; Whose dells retain the printed form Of heavenly sleep, and seem yet warm From some pure body newly risen; Where matter is no more a prison, But freedom for the soul to know Its native beauty. For things glow There with an inward truth and are All fire and colour like a star. And in that land are domes and towers That hang as light and bright as flowers Upon the sky, and seem a birth Rather of air than solid earth.
Sometimes I dream that walking there In the green shade, all unaware At a new turn of the golden glade, I shall see her, and as though afraid Shall halt a moment and almost fall For passing faintness, like a man Who feels the sudden spirit of Pan Brimming his narrow soul with all The illimitable world. And she, Turning her head, will let me see The first sharp dawn of her surprise Turning to welcome in her eyes. And I shall come and take my lover And looking on her re-discover All her beauty:—her dark hair And the little ears beneath it, where Roses of lucid shadow sleep; Her brooding mouth, and in the deep Wells of her eyes reflected stars ...
Oh, the imperishable things That hands and lips as well as words Shall speak! Oh movement of white wings, Oh wheeling galaxies of birds ...!
A petal drifted loose From a great magnolia bloom, Your face hung in the gloom, Floating, white and close.
We seemed alone: but another Bent o'er you with lips of flame, Unknown, without a name, Hated, and yet my brother.
Your one short moan of pain Was an exorcising spell: The devil flew back to hell; We were alone again.
A LITTLE MEMORY
White in the moonlight, Wet with dew, We have known the languor Of being two.
We have been weary As children are, When over them, radiant, A stooping star,
Bends their Good-Night, Kissed and smiled:— Each was mother, Each was child.
Child, from your forehead I kissed the hair, Gently, ah, gently: And you were
Mistress and mother When on your breast I lay so safely And could rest.
Darkness had stretched its colour, Deep blue across the pane: No cloud to make night duller, No moon with its tarnish stain; But only here and there a star, One sharp point of frosty fire, Hanging infinitely far In mockery of our life and death And all our small desire.
Now in this hour of waking From under brows of stone, A new pale day is breaking And the deep night is gone. Sordid now, and mean and small The daylight world is seen again, With only the veils of mist that fall Deaf and muffling over all To hide its ugliness and pain.
But to-day this dawn of meanness Shines in my eyes, as when The new world's brightness and cleanness Broke on the first of men. For the light that shows the huddled things Of this close-pressing earth, Shines also on your face and brings All its dear beauty back to me In a new miracle of birth.
I see you asleep and unpassioned, White-faced in the dusk of your hair— Your beauty so fleetingly fashioned That it filled me once with despair To look on its exquisite transience And think that our love and thought and laughter Puff out with the death of our flickering sense, While we pass ever on and away Towards some blank hereafter.
But now I am happy, knowing That swift time is our friend, And that our love's passionate glowing, Though it turn ash in the end, Is a rose of fire that must blossom its way Through temporal stuff, nor else could be More than a nothing. Into day The boundless spaces of night contract And in your opening eyes I see Night born in day, in time eternity.
BY THE FIRE
We who are lovers sit by the fire, Cradled warm 'twixt thought and will, Sit and drowse like sleeping dogs In the equipoise of all desire, Sit and listen to the still Small hiss and whisper of green logs That burn away, that burn away With the sound of a far-off falling stream Of threaded water blown to steam, Grey ghost in the mountain world of grey. Vapours blue as distance rise Between the hissing logs that show A glimpse of rosy heat below; And candles watch with tireless eyes While we sit drowsing here. I know, Dimly, that there exists a world, That there is time perhaps, and space Other and wider than this place, Where at the fireside drowsily curled We hear the whisper and watch the flame Burn blinkless and inscrutable. And then I know those other names That through my brain from cell to cell Echo—reverberated shout Of waiters mournful along corridors: But nobody carries the orders out, And the names (dear friends, your name and yours) Evoke no sign. But here I sit On the wide hearth, and there are you: That is enough and only true. The world and the friends that lived in it Are shadows: you alone remain Real in this drowsing room, Full of the whispers of distant rain And candles staring into the gloom.
I had remarked—how sharply one observes When life is disappearing round the curves Of yet another corner, out of sight!— I had remarked when it was "good luck" and "good night" And "a good journey to you," on her face Certain enigmas penned in the hieroglyphs Of that half frown and queer fixed smile and trace Of clouded thought in those brown eyes, Always so happily clear of hows and ifs— My poor bleared mind!—and haunting whys.
There I stood, holding her farewell hand, (Pressing my life and soul and all The world to one good-bye, till, small And smaller pressed, why there I'd stand Dead when they vanished with the sight of her). And I saw that she had grown aware, Queer puzzled face! of other things Beyond the present and her own young speed, Of yesterday and what new days might breed Monstrously when the future brings A charger with your late-lamented head: Aware of other people's lives and will, Aware, perhaps, aware even of me ... The joyous hope of it! But still I pitied her; for it was sad to see A goddess shorn of her divinity. In the midst of her speed she had made pause, And doubts with all their threat of claws, Outstripped till now by her unconsciousness, Had seized on her; she was proved mortal now. "Live, only live! For you were meant Never to know a thought's distress, But a long glad astonishment At the world's beauty and your own. The pity of you, goddess, grown Perplexed and mortal." Yet ... yet ... can it be That she is aware, perhaps, even of me?
And life recedes, recedes; the curve is bare, My handkerchief flutters blankly in the air; And the question rumbles in the void: Was she aware, was she after all aware?
Dear absurd child—too dear to my cost I've found— God made your soul for pleasure, not for use: It cleaves no way, but angled broad obtuse, Impinges with a slabby-bellied sound Full upon life, and on the rind of things Rubs its sleek self and utters purr and snore And all the gamut of satisfied murmurings, Content with that, nor wishes anything more.
A happy infant, daubed to the eyes in juice Of peaches that flush bloody at the core, Naked you bask upon a south-sea shore, While o'er your tumbling bosom the hair floats loose.
The wild flowers bloom and die; the heavens go round With the song of wheeling planetary rings: You wriggle in the sun; each moment brings Its freight for you; in all things pleasures abound.
You taste and smile, then this for the next pass over; And there's no future for you and no past, And when, absurdly, death arrives at last, 'Twill please you awhile to kiss your latest lover.
All fly—yet who is misanthrope?— The actual men and things that pass Jostling, to wither as the grass So soon: and (be it heaven's hope, Or poetry's kaleidoscope, Or love or wine, at feast, at mass) Each owns a paradise of glass Where never a yearning heliotrope Pursues the sun's ascent or slope; For the sun dreams there, and no time is or was.
Like fauns embossed in our domain, We look abroad, and our calm eyes Mark how the goatish gods of pain Revel; and if by grim surprise They break into our paradise, Patient we build its beauty up again.
At your mouth, white and milk-warm sphinx, I taste a strange apocalypse: Your subtle taper finger-tips Weave me new heavens, yet, methinks, I know the wiles and each iynx That brought me passionate to your lips: I know you bare as laughter strips Your charnel beauty; yet my spirit drinks
Pure knowledge from this tainted well, And now hears voices yet unheard Within it, and without it sees That world of which the poets tell Their vision in the stammered word Of those that wake from piercing ecstasies.
Her eyes of bright unwinking glaze All imperturbable do not Even make pretences to regard The justing absence of her stays, Where many a Tyrian gallipot Excites desire with spilth of nard. The bistred rims above the fard Of cheeks as red as bergamot Attest that no shamefaced delays Will clog fulfilment, nor retard Full payment of the Cyprian's praise Down to the last remorseful jot. Hail priestess of we know not what Strange cult of Mycenean days!
Noon with a depth of shadow beneath the trees Shakes in the heat, quivers to the sound of lutes: Half shaded, half sunlit, a great bowl of fruits Glistens purple and golden: the flasks of wine Cool in their panniers of snow: silks muffle and shine: Dim velvet, where through the leaves a sunbeam shoots, Rifts in a pane of scarlet: fingers tapping the roots Keep languid time to the music's soft slow decline.
Suddenly from the gate rises up a cry, Hideous broken laughter, scarce human in sound; Gaunt clawed hands, thrust through the bars despairingly, Clutch fast at the scented air, while on the ground Lie the poor plague-stricken carrions, who have found Strength to crawl forth and curse the sunshine and die.
IN UNCERTAINTY TO A LADY
I am not one of those who sip, Like a quotidian bock, Cheap idylls from a languid lip Prepared to yawn or mock.
I wait the indubitable word, The great Unconscious Cue. Has it been spoken and unheard? Spoken, perhaps, by you ...?
Still life, still life ... the high-lights shine Hard and sharp on the bottles: the wine Stands firmly solid in the glasses, Smooth yellow ice, through which there passes The lamp's bright pencil of down-struck light. The fruits metallically gleam, Globey in their heaped-up bowl, And there are faces against the night Of the outer room—faces that seem Part of this still, still life ... they've lost their soul.
And amongst these frozen faces you smiled, Surprised, surprisingly, like a child: And out of the frozen welter of sound Your voice came quietly, quietly. "What about God?" you said. "I have found Much to be said for Totality. All, I take it, is God: God's all— This bottle, for instance ..." I recall, Dimly, that you took God by the neck— God-in-the-bottle—and pushed Him across: But I, without a moment's loss Moved God-in-the-salt in front and shouted: "Check!"
THE LIFE THEORETIC
While I have been fumbling over books And thinking about God and the Devil and all, Other young men have been battling with the days And others have been kissing the beautiful women. They have brazen faces like battering-rams. But I who think about books and such— I crumble to impotent dust before the struggling, And the women palsy me with fear. But when it comes to fumbling over books And thinking about God and the Devil and all, Why, there I am. But perhaps the battering-rams are in the right of it, Perhaps, perhaps ... God knows.
COMPLAINT OF A POET MANQUE
We judge by appearance merely: If I can't think strangely, I can at least look queerly. So I grew the hair so long on my head That my mother wouldn't know me, Till a woman in a night-club said, As I was passing by, "Hullo, here comes Salome ..."
I looked in the dirty gilt-edged glass, And, oh Salome; there I was— Positively jewelled, half a vampire, With the soul in my eyes hanging dizzily Like the gatherer of proverbial samphire Over the brink of the crag of sense, Looking down from perilous eminence Into a gulf of windy night. And there's straw in my tempestuous hair, And I'm not a poet: but never despair! I'll madly live the poems I shall never write.
I am getting on well with this anecdote, When suddenly I recall The many times I have told it of old, And all the worked-up phrases, and the dying fall Of voice, well timed in the crisis, the note Of mock-heroic ingeniously struck— The whole thing sticks in my throat, And my face all tingles and pricks with shame For myself and my hearers. These are the social pleasures, my God! But I finish the story triumphantly all the same.
Failing sometimes to understand Why there are folk whose flesh should seem Like carrion puffed with noisome steam, Fly-blown to the eye that looks on it, Fly-blown to the touch of a hand; Why there are men without any legs, Whizzing along on little trollies With long long arms like apes': Failing to see why God the Topiarist Should train and carve and twist Men's bodies into such fantastic shapes: Yes, failing to see the point of it all, I sometimes wish That I were a fabulous thing in a fool's mind, Or, at the ocean bottom, in a world that is deaf and blind, Very remote and happy, a great goggling fish.
ON THE BUS
Sitting on the top of the 'bus, I bite my pipe and look at the sky. Over my shoulder the smoke streams out And my life with it. "Conservation of energy," you say. But I burn, I tell you, I burn; And the smoke of me streams out In a vanishing skein of grey. Crash and bump ... my poor bruised body! I am a harp of twittering strings, An elegant instrument, but infinitely second-hand, And if I have not got phthisis it is only an accident. Droll phenomena!
POINTS AND LINES
Instants in the quiet, small sharp stars, Pierce my spirit with a thrust whose speed Baffles even the grasp of time. Oh that I might reflect them As swiftly, as keenly as they shine. But I am a pool of waters, summer-still, And the stars are mirrored across me; Those stabbing points of the sky Turned to a thread of shaken silver, A long fine thread.
The eyes of the portraits on the wall Look at me, follow me, Stare incessantly: I take it their glance means nothing at all? —Clearly, oh clearly! Nothing at all ...
Out in the gardens by the lake The sleeping peacocks suddenly wake; Out in the gardens, moonlit and forlorn, Each of them sounds his mournful horn: Shrill peals that waver and crack and break. What can have made the peacocks wake?
RETURN FROM BUSINESS
Evenings in trains, When the little black twittering ghosts Along the brims of cuttings, Against the luminous sky, Interrupt with their hurrying rumour every thought Save that one is young and setting, Headlong westering, And there is no recapture.
Thought is an unseen net wherein our mind Is taken and vainly struggles to be free: Words, that should loose our spirit, do but bind New fetters on our hoped-for liberty: And action bears us onward like a stream Past fabulous shores, scarce seen in our swift course; Glorious—and yet its headlong currents seem Backwaters of some nobler purer force.
There are slow curves, more subtle far than thought, That stoop to carry the grace of a girl's breast; And hanging flowers, so exquisitely wrought In airy metal, that they seem possessed Of souls; and there are distant hills that lift The shoulder of a goddess towards the light; And arrowy trees, sudden and sharp and swift, Piercing the spirit deeply with delight.
Would I might make these miracles my own! Like a pure angel, thinking colour and form, Hardening to rage in a flame of chiselled stone, Spilling my love like sunlight, golden and warm On noonday flowers, speaking the song of birds Among the branches, whispering the fall of rain, Beyond all thought, past action and past words, I would live in beauty, free from self and pain.
Books and a coloured skein of thoughts were mine; And magic words lay ripening in my soul Till their much-whispered music turned a wine Whose subtlest power was all in my control.
These things were mine, and they were real for me As lips and darling eyes and a warm breast: For I could love a phrase, a melody, Like a fair woman, worshipped and possessed.
I scorned all fire that outward of the eyes Could kindle passion; scorned, yet was afraid; Feared, and yet envied those more deeply wise Who saw the bright earth beckon and obeyed.
But a time came when, turning full of hate And weariness from my remembered themes, I wished my poet's pipe could modulate Beauty more palpable than words and dreams.
All loveliness with which an act informs The dim uncertain chaos of desire Is mine to-day; it touches me, it warms Body and spirit with its outward fire.
I am mine no more: I have become a part Of that great earth that draws a breath and stirs To meet the spring. But I could wish my heart Were still a winter of frosty gossamers.
SCENES OF THE MIND
I have run where festival was loud With drum and brass among the crowd Of panic revellers, whose cries Affront the quiet of the skies; Whose dancing lights contract the deep Infinity of night and sleep To a narrow turmoil of troubled fire. And I have found my heart's desire In beechen caverns that autumn fills With the blue shadowiness of distant hills; Whose luminous grey pillars bear The stooping sky: calm is the air, Nor any sound is heard to mar That crystal silence—as from far, Far off a man may see The busy world all utterly Hushed as an old memorial scene. Long evenings I have sat and been Strangely content, while in my hands I held a wealth of coloured strands, Shimmering plaits of silk and skeins Of soft bright wool. Each colour drains New life at the lamp's round pool of gold; Each sinks again when I withhold The quickening radiance, to a wan And shadowy oblivion Of what it was. And in my mind Beauty or sudden love has shined And wakened colour in what was dead And turned to gold the sullen lead Of mean desires and everyday's Poor thoughts and customary ways. Sometimes in lands where mountains throw Their silent spell on all below, Drawing a magic circle wide About their feet on every side, Robbed of all speech and thought and act, I have seen God in the cataract. In falling water and in flame, Never at rest, yet still the same, God shows himself. And I have known The swift fire frozen into stone, And water frozen changelessly Into the death of gems. And I Long sitting by the thunderous mill Have seen the headlong wheel made still, And in the silence that ensued Have known the endless solitude Of being dead and utterly nought. Inhabitant of mine own thought, I look abroad, and all I see Is my creation, made for me: Along my thread of life are pearled The moments that make up the world.
L'APRES-MIDI D'UN FAUNE
(From the French of Stephane Mallarme.)
I would immortalize these nymphs: so bright Their sunlit colouring, so airy light, It floats like drowsing down. Loved I a dream? My doubts, born of oblivious darkness, seem A subtle tracery of branches grown The tree's true self—proving that I have known No triumph, but the shadow of a rose. But think. These nymphs, their loveliness ... suppose They bodied forth your senses' fabulous thirst? Illusion! which the blue eyes of the first, As cold and chaste as is the weeping spring, Beget: the other, sighing, passioning, Is she the wind, warm in your fleece at noon? No, through this quiet, when a weary swoon Crushes and chokes the latest faint essay Of morning, cool against the encroaching day, There is no murmuring water, save the gush Of my clear fluted notes; and in the hush Blows never a wind, save that which through my reed Puffs out before the rain of notes can speed Upon the air, with that calm breath of art That mounts the unwrinkled zenith visibly, Where inspiration seeks its native sky. You fringes of a calm Sicilian lake, The sun's own mirror which I love to take, Silent beneath your starry flowers, tell How here I cut the hollow rushes, well Tamed by my skill, when on the glaucous gold Of distant lawns about their fountain cold A living whiteness stirs like a lazy wave; And at the first slow notes my panpipes gave These flocking swans, these naiads, rather, fly Or dive. Noon burns inert and tawny dry, Nor marks how clean that Hymen slipped away From me who seek in song the real A. Wake, then, to the first ardour and the sight, O lonely faun, of the old fierce white light, With, lilies, one of you for innocence. Other than their lips' delicate pretence, The light caress that quiets treacherous lovers, My breast, I know not how to tell, discovers The bitten print of some immortal's kiss. But hush! a mystery so great as this I dare not tell, save to my double reed, Which, sharer of my every joy and need, Dreams down its cadenced monologues that we Falsely confuse the beauties that we see With the bright palpable shapes our song creates: My flute, as loud as passion modulates, Purges the common dream of flank and breast, Seen through closed eyes and inwardly caressed, Of every empty and monotonous line.
Bloom then, O Syrinx, in thy flight malign, A reed once more beside our trysting-lake. Proud of my music, let me often make A song of goddesses and see their rape Profanely done on many a painted shape. So when the grape's transparent juice I drain, I quell regret for pleasures past and feign A new real grape. For holding towards the sky The empty skin, I blow it tight and lie Dream-drunk till evening, eyeing it. Tell o'er Remembered joys and plump the grape once more. Between the reeds I saw their bodies gleam Who cool no mortal fever in the stream Crying to the woods the rage of their desire: And their bright hair went down in jewelled fire Where crystal broke and dazzled shudderingly. I check my swift pursuit: for see where lie, Bruised, being twins in love, by languor sweet, Two sleeping girls, clasped at my very feet. I seize and run with them, nor part the pair, Breaking this covert of frail petals, where Roses drink scent of the sun and our light play 'Mid tumbled flowers shall match the death of day. I love that virginal fury—ah, the wild Thrill when a maiden body shrinks, defiled, Shuddering like arctic light, from lips that sear Its nakedness ... the flesh in secret fear! Contagiously through my linked pair it flies Where innocence in either, struggling, dies, Wet with fond tears or some less piteous dew. Gay in the conquest of these fears, I grew So rash that I must needs the sheaf divide Of ruffled kisses heaven itself had tied. For as I leaned to stifle in the hair Of one my passionate laughter (taking care With a stretched finger, that her innocence Might stain with her companion's kindling sense To touch the younger little one, who lay Child-like unblushing) my ungrateful prey Slips from me, freed by passion's sudden death, Nor heeds the frenzy of my sobbing breath.
Let it pass! others of their hair shall twist A rope to drag me to those joys I missed. See how the ripe pomegranates bursting red To quench the thirst of the mumbling bees have bled; So too our blood, kindled by some chance fire, Flows for the swarming legions of desire. At evening, when the woodland green turns gold And ashen grey, 'mid the quenched leaves, behold! Red Etna glows, by Venus visited, Walking the lava with her snowy tread Whene'er the flames in thunderous slumber die. I hold the goddess! Ah, sure penalty!
But the unthinking soul and body swoon At last beneath the heavy hush of noon. Forgetful let me lie where summer's drouth Sifts fine the sand and then with gaping mouth Dream planet-struck by the grape's round wine-red star.
Nymphs, I shall see the shade that now you are.
(From the French of Rimbaud).
When the child's forehead, full of torments red, Cries out for sleep and its pale host of dreams, His two big sisters come unto his bed, Having long fingers, tipped with silvery gleams.
They set him at a casement, open wide On seas of flowers that stir in the blue airs, And through his curls, all wet with dew, they slide Those terrible searching finger-tips of theirs.
He hears them breathing, softly, fearfully, Honey-sweet ruminations, slow respired: Then a sharp hiss breaks time and melody— Spittle indrawn, old kisses new-desired.
Down through the perfumed silences he hears Their eyelids fluttering: long fingers thrill, Probing a lassitude bedimmed with tears, While the nails crunch at every louse they kill.
He is drunk with Languor—soft accordion-sigh, Delirious wine of Love in Idleness; Longings for tears come welling up and die, As slow or swift he feels their magical caress.
B. H. Blackwell, Oxford.
THIS THIRD OF THE INITIATES SERIES OF POETRY BY PROVED HANDS, WAS PRINTED IN OXFORD AT THE VINCENT WORKS, AND FINISHED IN JUNE, MCMXVIII.
PUBLISHED BY B. H. BLACKWELL, BROAD STREET, OXFORD, AND SOLD IN AMERICA BY LONGMANS, GREEN & CO., NEW YORK.
INITIATES A SERIES OF POETRY BY PROVED HANDS UNIFORM VOLUMES IN DOLPHIN OLD STYLE TYPE ART, BOARDS, THREE SHILLINGS NET.
I. IN THE VALLEY OF VISION BY GEOFFREY FABER, AUTHOR OF "INTERFLOW."
II. SONNETS AND POEMS BY ELEANOR FARJEON, AUTHOR OF "NURSERY RHYMES OF LONDON TOWN."
III. THE DEFEAT OF YOUTH, AND OTHER POEMS BY ALDOUS HUXLEY, AUTHOR OF "THE BURNING WHEEL."
IV. SONGS FOR SALE AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE, EDITED BY E. B. C. JONES FROM BOOKS ISSUED RECENTLY BY B. H. BLACKWELL.
V. CLOWNS' HOUSES BY EDITH SITWELL, EDITOR OF "WHEELS."
THE SHELDONIAN SERIES OF REPRINTS AND RENDERINGS OF MASTERPIECES IN ALL LANGUAGES EDITED BY REGINALD HEWITT, M.A.
FIRST THREE BOOKS
I. SONGS AND SAYINGS OF WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE, MINNESAENGER ENGLISHED BY FRANK BETTS.
II. THE FUNERAL ORATION OF PERICLES ENGLISHED BY THOMAS HOBBES OF MALMESBURY.
III. BALLADES OF FRANCOIS VILLON INTERPRETED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY PAUL HOOKHAM.
The series is limited in the case of each volume to an edition of five hundred copies on hand-made paper, printed in two colours in Dolphin old style type, and published at two shillings and sixpence net.
OXFORD B. H. BLACKWELL, BROAD ST.
ADVENTURERS ALL A SERIES OF YOUNG POETS UNKNOWN TO FAME UNIFORM VOLUMES IN DOLPHIN OLD STYLE TYPE IN ART WRAPPERS TWO SHILLINGS AND SIXPENCE NET EACH.
"Beautiful little books ... containing poetry, real poetry."— The New Witness.
I., II., III. and IV. [Out of print.]
V. THE IRON AGE BY FRANK BETTS. WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY GILBERT MURRAY.
VI. THE TWO WORLDS BY SHERARD VINES.
VII. THE BURNING WHEEL BY A. L. HUXLEY.
VIII. A VAGABOND'S WALLET BY STEPHEN REID-HEYMAN.
IX. OP. I. BY DOROTHY L. SAYERS. [Out of print.]
X. LYRICAL POEMS BY DOROTHY PLOWMAN.
XI. THE WITCHES' SABBATH BY E. H. W. MEYERSTEIN.
XII. A SCALLOP SHELL OF QUIET POEMS BY FOUR WOMEN. INTRODUCED BY MARGARET L. WOODS.
XIII. AT A VENTURE POEMS BY EIGHT YOUNG WRITERS.
XIV. ALDEBARAN BY M. ST. CLARE BYRNE.
XV. LIADAIN AND CURITHIR BY MOIREEN FOX.
XVI. LINNETS IN THE SLUMS BY MARION PRYCE.
XVII. OUT OF THE EAST BY VERA AND MARGARET LARMINIE.
XVIII. DUNCH BY SUSAN MILES.
XIX. DEMETER AND OTHER POEMS BY ELEANOR HILL.
XX. CARGO BY S. BARRINGTON GATES.
XXI. DREAMS AND JOURNEYS BY FREDEGOND SHOVE.
XXII. THE PEOPLE'S PALACE BY SACHEVERELL SITWELL.
XXIII. GALLEYS LADEN POEMS BY FOUR WRITERS.
OXFORD B. H. BLACKWELL, BROAD ST.