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Behind the Arras

Written by: Bliss Carman | Biography
 | Quotes (2) |
 I like the old house tolerably well, 
Where I must dwell 
Like a familiar gnome; 
And yet I never shall feel quite at home. 
I love to roam. 
Day after day I loiter and explore 
From door to door; 
So many treasures lure 
The curious mind. What histories obscure 
They must immure! 

I hardly know which room I care for best; 
This fronting west, 
With the strange hills in view, 
Where the great sun goes,—where I may go too, 
When my lease is through,— 

Or this one for the morning and the east, 
Where a man may feast 
His eyes on looming sails, 
And be the first to catch their foreign hails 
Or spy their bales 

Then the pale summer twilights towards the pole! 
It thrills my soul 
With wonder and delight, 
When gold-green shadows walk the world at night, 
So still, so bright. 

There at the window many a time of year, 
Strange faces peer, 
Solemn though not unkind, 
Their wits in search of something left behind 
Time out of mind; 

As if they once had lived here, and stole back 
To the window crack 
For a peep which seems to say, 
"Good fortune, brother, in your house of clay!" 
And then, "Good day!" 

I hear their footsteps on the gravel walk, 
Their scraps of talk, 
And hurrying after, reach 
Only the crazy sea-drone of the beach 
In endless speech. 

And often when the autumn noons are still, 
By swale and hill 
I see their gipsy signs, 
Trespassing somewhere on my border lines; 
With what designs? 

I forth afoot; but when I reach the place, 
Hardly a trace, 
Save the soft purple haze 
Of smouldering camp-fires, any hint betrays 
Who went these ways. 

Or tatters of pale aster blue, descried 
By the roadside, 
Reveal whither they fled; 
Or the swamp maples, here and there a shred 
Of Indian red. 

But most of all, the marvellous tapestry 
Engrosses me, 
Where such strange things are rife, 
Fancies of beasts and flowers, and love and strife, 
Woven to the life; 

Degraded shapes and splendid seraph forms, 
And teeming swarms 
Of creatures gauzy dim 
That cloud the dusk, and painted fish that swim, 
At the weaver's whim; 

And wonderful birds that wheel and hang in the air; 
And beings with hair, 
And moving eyes in the face, 
And white bone teeth and hideous grins, who race 
From place to place; 

They build great temples to their John-a-nod, 
And fume and plod 
To deck themselves with gold, 
And paint themselves like chattels to be sold, 
Then turn to mould. 

Sometimes they seem almost as real as I; 
I hear them sigh; 
I see them bow with grief, 
Or dance for joy like any aspen leaf; 
But that is brief. 

They have mad wars and phantom marriages; 
Nor seem to guess 
There are dimensions still, 
Beyond thought's reach, though not beyond love's will, 
For soul to fill. 

And some I call my friends, and make believe 
Their spirits grieve, 
Brood, and rejoice with mine; 
I talk to them in phrases quaint and fine 
Over the wine; 

I tell them all my secrets; touch their hands; 
One understands 
Perhaps. How hard he tries 
To speak! And yet those glorious mild eyes, 
His best replies! 

I even have my cronies, one or two, 
My cherished few. 
But ah, they do not stay! 
For the sun fades them and they pass away, 
As I grow gray. 

Yet while they last how actual they seem! 
Their faces beam; 
I give them all their names, 
Bertram and Gilbert, Louis, Frank and James, 
Each with his aims; 

One thinks he is a poet, and writes verse 
His friends rehearse; 
Another is full of law; 
A third sees pictures which his hand can draw 
Without a flaw. 

Strangest of all, they never rest. Day long 
They shift and throng, 
Moved by invisible will, 
Like a great breath which puffs across my sill, 
And then is still; 

It shakes my lovely manikins on the wall; 
Squall after squall, 
Gust upon crowding gust, 
It sweeps them willy nilly like blown dust 
With glory or lust. 

It is the world-ghost, the time-spirit, come 
None knows wherefrom, 
The viewless draughty tide 
And wash of being. I hear it yaw and glide, 
And then subside, 

Along these ghostly corridors and halls 
Like faint footfalls; 
The hangings stir in the air; 
And when I start and challenge, "Who goes there?" 
It answers, "Where?" 

The wail and sob and moan of the sea's dirge, 
Its plangor and surge; 
The awful biting sough 
Of drifted snows along some arctic bluff, 
That veer and luff, 

And have the vacant boding human cry, 
As they go by;— 
Is it a banished soul 
Dredging the dark like a distracted mole 
Under a knoll? 

Like some invisible henchman old and gray, 
Day after day 
I hear it come and go, 
With stealthy swift unmeaning to and fro, 
Muttering low, 

Ceaseless and daft and terrible and blind, 
Like a lost mind. 
I often chill with fear 
When I bethink me, What if it should peer 
At my shoulder here! 

Perchance he drives the merry-go-round whose track 
Is the zodiac; 
His name is No-man's-friend; 
And his gabbling parrot-talk has neither trend, 
Beginning, nor end. 

A prince of madness too, I'd cry, "A rat!" 
And lunge thereat,— 
Let out at one swift thrust 
The cunning arch-delusion of the dust 
I so mistrust, 

But that I fear I should disclose a face 
Wearing the trace 
Of my own human guise, 
Piteous, unharmful, loving, sad, and wise 
With the speaking eyes. 

I would the house were rid of his grim pranks, 
Moaning from banks 
Of pine trees in the moon, 
Startling the silence like a demoniac loon 
At dead of noon. 

Or whispering his fool-talk to the leaves 
About my eaves. 
And yet how can I know 
'T is not a happy Ariel masking so 
In mocking woe? 

Then with a little broken laugh I say, 
Snatching away 
The curtain where he grinned 
(My feverish sight thought) like a sin unsinned, 
"Only the wind!" 

Yet often too he steals so softly by. 
With half a sigh, 
I deem he must be mild, 
Fair as a woman, gentle as a child, 
And forest wild. 

Passing the door where an old wind-harp swings, 
With its five strings, 
Contrived long years ago 
By my first predecessor bent to show 
His handcraft so, 

He lay his fingers on the aeolian wire, 
As a core of fire 
Is laid upon the blast 
To kindle and glow and fill the purple vast 
Of dark at last. 

Weird wise, and low, piercing and keen and glad, 
Or dim and sad 
As a forgotten strain 
Born when the broken legions of the rain 
Swept through the plain— 

He plays, like some dread veiled mysteriarch, 
Lighting the dark, 
Bidding the spring grow warm, 
The gendering merge and loosing of spirit in form, 
Peace out of storm. 

For music is the sacrament of love; 
He broods above 
The virgin silence, till 
She yields for rapture shuddering, yearning still 
To his sweet will. 

I hear him sing, "Your harp is like a mesh, 
Woven of flesh 
And spread within the shoal 
Of life, where runs the tide-race of the soul 
In my control. 

"Though my wild way may ruin what it bends, 
It makes amends 
To the frail downy clocks, 
Telling their seed a secret that unlocks 
The granite rocks. 

"The womb of silence to the crave of sound 
Is heaven unfound, 
Till I, to soothe and slake 
Being's most utter and imperious ache, 
Bid rhythm awake. 

"If with such agonies of bliss, my kin, 
I enter in 
Your prison house of sense, 
With what a joyous freed intelligence 
I shall go hence." 

I need no more to guess the weaver's name, 
Nor ask his aim, 
Who hung each hall and room 
With swarthy-tinged vermilion upon gloom; 
I know that loom. 

Give me a little space and time enough, 
From ravelings rough 
I could revive, reweave, 
A fabric of beauty art might well believe 
Were past retrieve. 

O men and women in that rich design, 
Sleep-soft, sun-fine, 
Dew-tenuous and free, 
A tone of the infinite wind-themes of the sea, 
Borne in to me, 

Reveals how you were woven to the might 
Of shadow and light. 
You are the dream of One 
Who loves to haunt and yet appears to shun 
My door in the sun; 

As the white roving sea tern fleck and skim 
The morning's rim; 
Or the dark thrushes clear 
Their flutes of music leisurely and sheer, 
Then hush to hear. 

I know him when the last red brands of day 
Smoulder away, 
And when the vernal showers 
Bring back the heart to all my valley flowers 
In the soft hours. 

O hand of mine and brain of mine, be yours, 
While time endures, 
To acquiesce and learn! 
For what we best may dare and drudge and yearn, 
Let soul discern. 

So, fellows, we shall reach the gusty gate, 
Early or late, 
And part without remorse, 
A cadence dying down unto its source 
In music's course; 

You to the perfect rhythms of flowers and birds, 
Colors and words, 
The heart-beats of the earth, 
To be remoulded always of one worth 
From birth to birth; 

I to the broken rhythm of thought and man, 
The sweep and span 
Of memory and hope 
About the orbit where they still must grope 
For wider scope, 

To be through thousand springs restored, renewed, 
With love imbrued, 
With increments of will 
Made strong, perceiving unattainment still 
From each new skill. 

Always the flawless beauty, always the chord 
Of the Overword, 
Dominant, pleading, sure, 
No truth too small to save and make endure. 
No good too poor! 

And since no mortal can at last disdain 
That sweet refrain, 
But lets go strife and care, 
Borne like a strain of bird notes on the air, 
The wind knows where; 

Some quiet April evening soft and strange, 
When comes the change 
No spirit can deplore, 
I shall be one with all I was before, 
In death once more.