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The Book of Annandale

Written by: Edwin Arlington Robinson | Biography
 | Quotes (9) |
 I

Partly to think, more to be left alone, 
George Annandale said something to his friends— 
A word or two, brusque, but yet smoothed enough 
To suit their funeral gaze—and went upstairs; 
And there, in the one room that he could call
His own, he found a sort of meaningless 
Annoyance in the mute familiar things 
That filled it; for the grate’s monotonous gleam 
Was not the gleam that he had known before, 
The books were not the books that used to be,
The place was not the place.
There was a lack Of something; and the certitude of death Itself, as with a furtive questioning, Hovered, and he could not yet understand.
He knew that she was gone—there was no need Of any argued proof to tell him that, For they had buried her that afternoon, Under the leaves and snow; and still there was A doubt, a pitiless doubt, a plunging doubt, That struck him, and upstartled when it struck, The vision, the old thought in him.
There was A lack, and one that wrenched him; but it was Not that—not that.
There was a present sense Of something indeterminably near— The soul-clutch of a prescient emptiness That would not be foreboding.
And if not, What then?—or was it anything at all? Yes, it was something—it was everything— But what was everything? or anything? Tired of time, bewildered, he sat down; But in his chair he kept on wondering That he should feel so desolately strange And yet—for all he knew that he had lost More of the world than most men ever win— So curiously calm.
And he was left Unanswered and unsatisfied: there came No clearer meaning to him than had come Before; the old abstraction was the best That he could find, the farthest he could go; To that was no beginning and no end— No end that he could reach.
So he must learn To live the surest and the largest life Attainable in him, would he divine The meaning of the dream and of the words That he had written, without knowing why, On sheets that he had bound up like a book And covered with red leather.
There it was— There in his desk, the record he had made, The spiritual plaything of his life: There were the words no eyes had ever seen Save his; there were the words that were not made For glory or for gold.
The pretty wife Whom he had loved and lost had not so much As heard of them.
They were not made for her.
His love had been so much the life of her, And hers had been so much the life of him, That any wayward phrasing on his part Would have had no moment.
Neither had lived enough To know the book, albeit one of them Had grown enough to write it.
There it was, However, though he knew not why it was: There was the book, but it was not for her, For she was dead.
And yet, there was the book.
Thus would his fancy circle out and out, And out and in again, till he would make As if with a large freedom to crush down Those under-thoughts.
He covered with his hands His tired eyes, and waited: he could hear— Or partly feel and hear, mechanically— The sound of talk, with now and then the steps And skirts of some one scudding on the stairs, Forgetful of the nerveless funeral feet That she had brought with her; and more than once There came to him a call as of a voice— A voice of love returning—but not hers.
Whose he knew not, nor dreamed; nor did he know, Nor did he dream, in his blurred loneliness Of thought, what all the rest might think of him.
For it had come at last, and she was gone With all the vanished women of old time,— And she was never coming back again.
Yes, they had buried her that afternoon, Under the frozen leaves and the cold earth, Under the leaves and snow.
The flickering week, The sharp and certain day, and the long drowse Were over, and the man was left alone.
He knew the loss—therefore it puzzled him That he should sit so long there as he did, And bring the whole thing back—the love, the trust, The pallor, the poor face, and the faint way She last had looked at him—and yet not weep, Or even choose to look about the room To see how sad it was; and once or twice He winked and pinched his eyes against the flame And hoped there might be tears.
But hope was all, And all to him was nothing: he was lost.
And yet he was not lost: he was astray— Out of his life and in another life; And in the stillness of this other life He wondered and he drowsed.
He wondered when It was, and wondered if it ever was On earth that he had known the other face— The searching face, the eloquent, strange face— That with a sightless beauty looked at him And with a speechless promise uttered words That were not the world’s words, or any kind That he had known before.
What was it, then? What was it held him—fascinated him? Why should he not be human? He could sigh, And he could even groan,—but what of that? There was no grief left in him.
Was he glad? Yet how could he be glad, or reconciled, Or anything but wretched and undone? How could he be so frigid and inert— So like a man with water in his veins Where blood had been a little while before? How could he sit shut in there like a snail? What ailed him? What was on him? Was he glad? Over and over again the question came, Unanswered and unchanged,—and there he was.
But what in heaven’s name did it all mean? If he had lived as other men had lived, If home had ever shown itself to be The counterfeit that others had called home, Then to this undivined resource of his There were some key; but now … Philosophy? Yes, he could reason in a kind of way That he was glad for Miriam’s release— Much as he might be glad to see his friends Laid out around him with their grave-clothes on, And this life done for them; but something else There was that foundered reason, overwhelmed it, And with a chilled, intuitive rebuff Beat back the self-cajoling sophistries That his half-tutored thought would half-project.
What was it, then? Had he become transformed And hardened through long watches and long grief Into a loveless, feelingless dead thing That brooded like a man, breathed like a man,— Did everything but ache? And was a day To come some time when feeling should return Forever to drive off that other face— The lineless, indistinguishable face— That once had thrilled itself between his own And hers there on the pillow,—and again Between him and the coffin-lid had flashed Like fate before it closed,—and at the last Had come, as it should seem, to stay with him, Bidden or not? He were a stranger then, Foredrowsed awhile by some deceiving draught Of poppied anguish, to the covert grief And the stark loneliness that waited him, And for the time were cursedly endowed With a dull trust that shammed indifference To knowing there would be no touch again Of her small hand on his, no silencing Of her quick lips on his, no feminine Completeness and love-fragrance in the house, No sound of some one singing any more, No smoothing of slow fingers on his hair, No shimmer of pink slippers on brown tiles.
But there was nothing, nothing, in all that: He had not fooled himself so much as that; He might be dreaming or he might be sick, But not like that.
There was no place for fear, No reason for remorse.
There was the book That he had made, though.
… It might be the book; Perhaps he might find something in the book; But no, there could be nothing there at all— He knew it word for word; but what it meant— He was not sure that he had written it For what it meant; and he was not quite sure That he had written it;—more likely it Was all a paper ghost.
… But the dead wife Was real: he knew all that, for he had been To see them bury her; and he had seen The flowers and the snow and the stripped limbs Of trees; and he had heard the preacher pray; And he was back again, and he was glad.
Was he a brute? No, he was not a brute: He was a man—like any other man: He had loved and married his wife Miriam, They had lived a little while in paradise And she was gone; and that was all of it.
But no, not all of it—not all of it: There was the book again; something in that Pursued him, overpowered him, put out The futile strength of all his whys and wheres, And left him unintelligibly numb— Too numb to care for anything but rest.
It must have been a curious kind of book That he had made it: it was a drowsy book At any rate.
The very thought of it Was like the taste of some impossible drink— A taste that had no taste, but for all that Had mixed with it a strange thought-cordial, So potent that it somehow killed in him The ultimate need of doubting any more— Of asking any more.
Did he but live The life that he must live, there were no more To seek.
—The rest of it was on the way.
Still there was nothing, nothing, in all this— Nothing that he cared now to reconcile With reason or with sorrow.
All he knew For certain was that he was tired out: His flesh was heavy and his blood beat small; Something supreme had been wrenched out of him As if to make vague room for something else.
He had been through too much.
Yes, he would stay There where he was and rest.
—And there he stayed; The daylight became twilight, and he stayed; The flame and the face faded, and he slept.
And they had buried her that afternoon, Under the tight-screwed lid of a long box, Under the earth, under the leaves and snow.
II Look where she would, feed conscience how she might, There was but one way now for Damaris— One straight way that was hers, hers to defend, At hand, imperious.
But the nearness of it, The flesh-bewildering simplicity, And the plain strangeness of it, thrilled again That wretched little quivering single string Which yielded not, but held her to the place Where now for five triumphant years had slept The flameless dust of Argan.
—He was gone, The good man she had married long ago; And she had lived, and living she had learned, And surely there was nothing to regret: Much happiness had been for each of them, And they had been like lovers to the last: And after that, and long, long after that, Her tears had washed out more of widowed grief Than smiles had ever told of other joy.
— But could she, looking back, find anything That should return to her in the new time, And with relentless magic uncreate This temple of new love where she had thrown Dead sorrow on the altar of new life? Only one thing, only one thread was left; When she broke that, when reason snapped it off, And once for all, baffled, the grave let go The trivial hideous hold it had on her,— Then she were free, free to be what she would, Free to be what she was.
—And yet she stayed, Leashed, as it were, and with a cobweb strand, Close to a tombstone—maybe to starve there.
But why to starve? And why stay there at all? Why not make one good leap and then be done Forever and at once with Argan’s ghost And all such outworn churchyard servitude? For it was Argan’s ghost that held the string, And her sick fancy that held Argan’s ghost— Held it and pitied it.
She laughed, almost, There for the moment; but her strained eyes filled With tears, and she was angry for those tears— Angry at first, then proud, then sorry for them.
So she grew calm; and after a vain chase For thoughts more vain, she questioned of herself What measure of primeval doubts and fears Were still to be gone through that she might win Persuasion of her strength and of herself To be what she could see that she must be, No matter where the ghost was.
—And the more She lived, the more she came to recognize That something out of her thrilled ignorance Was luminously, proudly being born, And thereby proving, thought by forward thought, The prowess of its image; and she learned At length to look right on to the long days Before her without fearing.
She could watch The coming course of them as if they were No more than birds, that slowly, silently, And irretrievably should wing themselves Uncounted out of sight.
And when he came Again, she might be free—she would be free.
Else, when he looked at her she must look down, Defeated, and malignly dispossessed Of what was hers to prove and in the proving Wisely to consecrate.
And if the plague Of that perverse defeat should come to be— If at that sickening end she were to find Herself to be the same poor prisoner That he had found at first—then she must lose All sight and sound of him, she must abjure All possible thought of him; for he would go So far and for so long from her that love— Yes, even a love like his, exiled enough, Might for another’s touch be born again— Born to be lost and starved for and not found; Or, at the next, the second wretchedest, It might go mutely flickering down and out, And on some incomplete and piteous day, Some perilous day to come, she might at last Learn, with a noxious freedom, what it is To be at peace with ghosts.
Then were the blow Thrice deadlier than any kind of death Could ever be: to know that she had won The truth too late—there were the dregs indeed Of wisdom, and of love the final thrust Unmerciful; and there where now did lie So plain before her the straight radiance Of what was her appointed way to take, Were only the bleak ruts of an old road That stretched ahead and faded and lay far Through deserts of unconscionable years.
But vampire thoughts like these confessed the doubt That love denied; and once, if never again, They should be turned away.
They might come back— More craftily, perchance, they might come back— And with a spirit-thirst insatiable Finish the strength of her; but now, today She would have none of them.
She knew that love Was true, that he was true, that she was true; And should a death-bed snare that she had made So long ago be stretched inexorably Through all her life, only to be unspun With her last breathing? And were bats and threads, Accursedly devised with watered gules, To be Love’s heraldry? What were it worth To live and to find out that life were life But for an unrequited incubus Of outlawed shame that would not be thrown down Till she had thrown down fear and overcome The woman that was yet so much of her That she might yet go mad? What were it worth To live, to linger, and to be condemned In her submission to a common thought That clogged itself and made of its first faith Its last impediment? What augured it, Now in this quick beginning of new life, To clutch the sunlight and be feeling back, Back with a scared fantastic fearfulness, To touch, not knowing why, the vexed-up ghost Of what was gone? Yes, there was Argan’s face, Pallid and pinched and ruinously marked With big pathetic bones; there were his eyes, Quiet and large, fixed wistfully on hers; And there, close-pressed again within her own, Quivered his cold thin fingers.
And, ah! yes, There were the words, those dying words again, And hers that answered when she promised him.
Promised him? … yes.
And had she known the truth Of what she felt that he should ask her that, And had she known the love that was to be, God knew that she could not have told him then.
But then she knew it not, nor thought of it; There was no need of it; nor was there need Of any problematical support Whereto to cling while she convinced herself That love’s intuitive utility, Inexorably merciful, had proved That what was human was unpermanent And what was flesh was ashes.
She had told Him then that she would love no other man, That there was not another man on earth Whom she could ever love, or who could make So much as a love thought go through her brain; And he had smiled.
And just before he died His lips had made as if to say something— Something that passed unwhispered with his breath, Out of her reach, out of all quest of it.
And then, could she have known enough to know The meaning of her grief, the folly of it, The faithlessness and the proud anguish of it, There might be now no threads to punish her, No vampire thoughts to suck the coward blood, The life, the very soul of her.
Yes, Yes, They might come back.
… But why should they come back? Why was it she had suffered? Why had she Struggled and grown these years to demonstrate That close without those hovering clouds of gloom And through them here and there forever gleamed The Light itself, the life, the love, the glory, Which was of its own radiance good proof That all the rest was darkness and blind sight? And who was she? The woman she had known— The woman she had petted and called “I”— The woman she had pitied, and at last Commiserated for the most abject And persecuted of all womankind,— Could it be she that had sought out the way To measure and thereby to quench in her The woman’s fear—the fear of her not fearing? A nervous little laugh that lost itself, Like logic in a dream, fluttered her thoughts An instant there that ever she should ask What she might then have told so easily— So easily that Annandale had frowned, Had he been given wholly to be told The truth of what had never been before So passionately, so inevitably Confessed.
For she could see from where she sat The sheets that he had bound up like a book And covered with red leather; and her eyes Could see between the pages of the book, Though her eyes, like them, were closed.
And she could read As well as if she had them in her hand, What he had written on them long ago,— Six years ago, when he was waiting for her.
She might as well have said that she could see The man himself, as once he would have looked Had she been there to watch him while he wrote Those words, and all for her.
… For her whose face Had flashed itself, prophetic and unseen, But not unspirited, between the life That would have been without her and the life That he had gathered up like frozen roots Out of a grave-clod lying at his feet, Unconsciously, and as unconsciously Transplanted and revived.
He did not know The kind of life that he had found, nor did He doubt, not knowing it; but well he knew That it was life—new life, and that the old Might then with unimprisoned wings go free, Onward and all along to its own light, Through the appointed shadow.
While she gazed Upon it there she felt within herself The growing of a newer consciousness— The pride of something fairer than her first Outclamoring of interdicted thought Had ever quite foretold; and all at once There quivered and requivered through her flesh, Like music, like the sound of an old song, Triumphant, love-remembered murmurings Of what for passion’s innocence had been Too mightily, too perilously hers, Ever to be reclaimed and realized Until today.
Today she could throw off The burden that had held her down so long, And she could stand upright, and she could see The way to take, with eyes that had in them No gleam but of the spirit.
Day or night, No matter; she could see what was to see— All that had been till now shut out from her, The service, the fulfillment, and the truth, And thus the cruel wiseness of it all.
So Damaris, more like than anything To one long prisoned in a twilight cave With hovering bats for all companionship, And after time set free to fight the sun, Laughed out, so glad she was to recognize The test of what had been, through all her folly, The courage of her conscience; for she knew, Now on a late-flushed autumn afternoon That else had been too bodeful of dead things To be endured with aught but the same old Inert, self-contradicted martyrdom Which she had known so long, that she could look Right forward through the years, nor any more Shrink with a cringing prescience to behold The glitter of dead summer on the grass, Or the brown-glimmered crimson of still trees Across the intervale where flashed along, Black-silvered, the cold river.
She had found, As if by some transcendent freakishness Of reason, the glad life that she had sought Where naught but obvious clouds could ever be— Clouds to put out the sunlight from her eyes, And to put out the love-light from her soul.
But they were gone—now they were all gone; And with a whimsied pathos, like the mist Of grief that clings to new-found happiness Hard wrought, she might have pity for the small Defeated quest of them that brushed her sight Like flying lint—lint that had once been thread.
… Yes, like an anodyne, the voice of him, There were the words that he had made for her, For her alone.
The more she thought of them The more she lived them, and the more she knew The life-grip and the pulse of warm strength in them.
They were the first and last of words to her, And there was in them a far questioning That had for long been variously at work, Divinely and elusively at work, With her, and with the grace that had been hers; They were eternal words, and they diffused A flame of meaning that men’s lexicons Had never kindled; they were choral words That harmonized with love’s enduring chords Like wisdom with release; triumphant words That rang like elemental orisons Through ages out of ages; words that fed Love’s hunger in the spirit; words that smote; Thrilled words that echoed, and barbed words that clung;— And every one of them was like a friend Whose obstinate fidelity, well tried, Had found at last and irresistibly The way to her close conscience, and thereby Revealed the unsubstantial Nemesis That she had clutched and shuddered at so long; And every one of them was like a real And ringing voice, clear toned and absolute, But of a love-subdued authority That uttered thrice the plain significance Of what had else been generously vague And indolently true.
It may have been The triumph and the magic of the soul, Unspeakably revealed, that finally Had reconciled the grim probationing Of wisdom with unalterable faith, But she could feel—not knowing what it was, For the sheer freedom of it—a new joy That humanized the latent wizardry Of his prophetic voice and put for it The man within the music.
So it came To pass, like many a long-compelled emprise That with its first accomplishment almost Annihilates its own severity, That she could find, whenever she might look, The certified achievement of a love That had endured, self-guarded and supreme, To the glad end of all that wavering; And she could see that now the flickering world Of autumn was awake with sudden bloom, New-born, perforce, of a slow bourgeoning.
And she had found what more than half had been The grave-deluded, flesh-bewildered fear Which men and women struggle to call faith, To be the paid progression to an end Whereat she knew the foresight and the strength To glorify the gift of what was hers, To vindicate the truth of what she was.
And had it come to her so suddenly? There was a pity and a weariness In asking that, and a great needlessness; For now there were no wretched quivering strings That held her to the churchyard any more: There were no thoughts that flapped themselves like bats Around her any more.
The shield of love Was clean, and she had paid enough to learn How it had always been so.
And the truth, Like silence after some far victory, Had come to her, and she had found it out As if it were a vision, a thing born So suddenly!—just as a flower is born, Or as a world is born—so suddenly.



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