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Best Famous Conrad Aiken Poems

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Written by Conrad Aiken |

Chance Meetings

In the mazes of loitering people, the watchful and furtive, 
The shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves, 
In the drowse of the sunlight, among the low voices, 
I suddenly face you, 
Your dark eyes return for a space from her who is with you, 
They shine into mine with a sunlit desire, 
They say an 'I love you, what star do you live on?' 
They smile and then darken, 
And silent, I answer 'You too--I have known you,--I love you!--' 
And the shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves 
Interlace with low voices and footsteps and sunlight 
To divide us forever.

Written by Conrad Aiken |


Here on the pale beach, in the darkness; 
With the full moon just to rise; 
They sit alone, and look over the sea, 
Or into each other's eyes.
She pokes her parasol into the sleepy sand, Or sifts the lazy whiteness through her hand.
'A lovely night,' he says, 'the moon, Comes up for you and me.
Just like a blind old spotlight there, Fizzing across the sea!' She pays no heed, nor even turns her head: He slides his arm around her waist instead.
'Why don't we do a sketch together-- Those songs you sing are swell.
Where did you get them, anyway? They suit you awfully well.
' She will not turn to him--will not resist.
Impassive, she submits to being kissed.
'My husband wrote all four of them.
You know,--my husband drowned.
He was always sickly, soon depressed.
' But still she hears the sound Of a stateroom door shut hard, and footsteps going Swiftly and steadily, and the dark sea flowing.
She hears the dark sea flowing, and sees his eyes Hollow with disenchantment, sick surprise,-- And hate of her whom he had loved too well.
She lowers her eyes, demurely prods a shell.
We might do an act together.
That would be very nice.
' He kisses her passionately, and thinks She's carnal, but cold as ice.

Written by Conrad Aiken |


(Bread and Music) Music I heard with you was more than music, And bread I broke with you was more than bread; Now that I am without you, all is desolate; All that was once so beautiful is dead.
Your hands once touched this table and this silver, And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd, And yet your touch upon them will not pass.
For it was in my heart you moved among them, And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes; And in my heart they will remember always,— They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.
II My heart has become as hard as a city street, The horses trample upon it, it sings like iron, All day long and all night long they beat, They ring like the hooves of time.
My heart has become as drab as a city park, The grass is worn with the feet of shameless lovers, A match is struck, there is kissing in the dark, The moon comes, pale with sleep.
My heart is torn with the sound of raucous voices, They shout from the slums, from the streets, from the crowded places, And tunes from the hurdy-gurdy that coldly rejoices Shoot arrows into my heart.
III Dead Cleopatra lies in a crystal casket, Wrapped and spiced by the cunningest of hands.
Around her neck they have put a golden necklace, Her tatbebs, it is said, are worn with sands.
Dead Cleopatra was once revered in Egypt, Warm-eyed she was, this princess of the South.
Now she is old and dry and faded, With black bitumen they have sealed up her mouth.
O sweet clean earth, from whom the green blade cometh! When we are dead, my best belovèd and I, Close well above us, that we may rest forever, Sending up grass and blossoms to the sky.
IV In the noisy street, Where the sifted sunlight yellows the pallid faces, Sudden I close my eyes, and on my eyelids Feel from the far-off sea a cool faint spray,— A breath on my cheek, From the tumbling breakers and foam, the hard sand shattered, Gulls in the high wind whistling, flashing waters, Smoke from the flashing waters blown on rocks; —And I know once more, O dearly belovèd! that all these seas are between us, Tumult and madness, desolate save for the sea-gulls, You on the farther shore, and I in this street.

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Written by Conrad Aiken |

The House Of Dust: Part 03: 06: Portrait Of One Dead

 This is the house.
On one side there is darkness, On one side there is light.
Into the darkness you may lift your lanterns— O, any number—it will still be night.
And here are echoing stairs to lead you downward To long sonorous halls.
And here is spring forever at these windows, With roses on the walls.
This is her room.
On one side there is music— On one side not a sound.
At one step she could move from love to silence, Feel myriad darkness coiling round.
And here are balconies from which she heard you, Your steady footsteps on the stair.
And here the glass in which she saw your shadow As she unbound her hair.
Here is the room—with ghostly walls dissolving— The twilight room in which she called you 'lover'; And the floorless room in which she called you 'friend.
' So many times, in doubt, she ran between them!— Through windy corridors of darkening end.
Here she could stand with one dim light above her And hear far music, like a sea in caverns, Murmur away at hollowed walls of stone.
And here, in a roofless room where it was raining, She bore the patient sorrow of rain alone.
Your words were walls which suddenly froze around her.
Your words were windows,—large enough for moonlight, Too small to let her through.
Your letters—fragrant cloisters faint with music.
The music that assuaged her there was you.
How many times she heard your step ascending Yet never saw your face! She heard them turn again, ring slowly fainter, Till silence swept the place.
Why had you gone? .
The door, perhaps, mistaken .
You would go elsewhere.
The deep walls were shaken.
A certain rose-leaf—sent without intention— Became, with time, a woven web of fire— She wore it, and was warm.
A certain hurried glance, let fall at parting, Became, with time, the flashings of a storm.
Yet, there was nothing asked, no hint to tell you Of secret idols carved in secret chambers From all you did and said.
Nothing was done, until at last she knew you.
Nothing was known, till, somehow, she was dead.
How did she die?—You say, she died of poison.
Simple and swift.
And much to be regretted.
You did not see her pass So many thousand times from light to darkness, Pausing so many times before her glass; You did not see how many times she hurried To lean from certain windows, vainly hoping, Passionate still for beauty, remembered spring.
You did not know how long she clung to music, You did not hear her sing.
Did she, then, make the choice, and step out bravely From sound to silence—close, herself, those windows? Or was it true, instead, That darkness moved,—for once,—and so possessed her? .
We'll never know, you say, for she is dead.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

Chiarascuro: Rose


Fill your bowl with roses: the bowl, too, have of crystal.
Sit at the western window.
Take the sun Between your hands like a ball of flaming crystal, Poise it to let it fall, but hold it still, And meditate on the beauty of your existence; The beauty of this, that you exist at all.
She The sun goes down,—but without lamentation.
I close my eyes, and the stream of my sensation In this, at least, grows clear to me: Beauty is a word that has no meaning.
Beauty is naught to me.
He The last blurred raindrops fall from the half-clear sky, Eddying lightly, rose-tinged, in the windless wake of the sun.
The swallow ascending against cold waves of cloud Seems winging upward over huge bleak stairs of stone.
The raindrop finds its way to the heart of the leaf-bud.
But no word finds its way to the heart of you.
She This also is clear in the stream of my sensation: That I am content, for the moment, Let me be.
How light the new grass looks with the rain-dust on it! But heart is a word that has no meaning, Heart means nothing to me.
He To the end of the world I pass and back again In flights of the mind; yet always find you here, Remote, pale, unattached .
O Circe-too-clear-eyed, Watching amused your fawning tiger-thoughts, Your wolves, your grotesque apes—relent, relent! Be less wary for once: it is the evening.
She But if I close my eyes what howlings greet me! Do not persuade.
Be tranquil.
Here is flesh With all its demons.
Take it, sate yourself.
But leave my thoughts to me.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

Turns And Movies: Duvals Birds

 The parrot, screeching, flew out into the darkness, 
Circled three times above the upturned faces 
With a great whir of brilliant outspread wings, 
And then returned to stagger on her finger.
She bowed and smiled, eliciting applause.
The property man hated her dirty birds.
But it had taken years—yes, years—to train them, To shoulder flags, strike bells by tweaking strings, Or climb sedately little flights of stairs.
When they were stubborn, she tapped them with a wand, And her eyes glittered a little under the eyebrows.
The red one flapped and flapped on a swinging wire; The little white ones winked round yellow eyes.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

The House Of Dust: Part 03: 01: As evening falls

 As evening falls,
And the yellow lights leap one by one
Along high walls;
And along black streets that glisten as if with rain,
The muted city seems
Like one in a restless sleep, who lies and dreams
Of vague desires, and memories, and half-forgotten pain .
Along dark veins, like lights the quick dreams run, Flash, are extinguished, flash again, To mingle and glow at last in the enormous brain And die away .
As evening falls, A dream dissolves these insubstantial walls,— A myriad secretly gliding lights lie bare .
The lovers rise, the harlot combs her hair, The dead man's face grows blue in the dizzy lamplight, The watchman climbs the stair .
The bank defaulter leers at a chaos of figures, And runs among them, and is beaten down; The sick man coughs and hears the chisels ringing; The tired clown Sees the enormous crowd, a million faces, Motionless in their places, Ready to laugh, and seize, and crush and tear .
The dancer smooths her hair, Laces her golden slippers, and runs through the door To dance once more, Hearing swift music like an enchantment rise, Feeling the praise of a thousand eyes.
As darkness falls The walls grow luminous and warm, the walls Tremble and glow with the lives within them moving, Moving like music, secret and rich and warm.
How shall we live tonight? Where shall we turn? To what new light or darkness yearn? A thousand winding stairs lead down before us; And one by one in myriads we descend By lamplit flowered walls, long balustrades, Through half-lit halls which reach no end.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

Turns And Movies: Rose And Murray

 After the movie, when the lights come up, 
He takes her powdered hand behind the wings; 
She, all in yellow, like a buttercup, 
Lifts her white face, yearns up to him, and clings; 
And with a silent, gliding step they move 
Over the footlights, in familiar glare, 
Panther-like in the Tango whirl of love, 
He fawning close on her with idiot stare.
Swiftly they cross the stage.
O lyric ease! The drunken music follows the sure feet, The swaying elbows, intergliding knees, Moving with slow precision on the beat.
She was a waitress in a restaurant, He picked her up and taught her how to dance.
She feels his arms, lifts an appealing glance, But knows he spent last evening with Zudora; And knows that certain changes are before her.
The brilliant spotlight circles them around, Flashing the spangles on her weighted dress.
He mimics wooing her, without a sound, Flatters her with a smoothly smiled caress.
He fears that she will someday queer his act; Feeling his anger.
He will quit her soon.
He nods for faster music.
He will contract Another partner, under another moon.
Meanwhile, 'smooth stuff.
' He lets his dry eyes flit Over the yellow faces there below; Maybe he'll cut down on his drinks a bit, Not to annoy her, and spoil the show.
Zudora, waiting for her turn to come, Watches them from the wings and fatly leers At the girl's younger face, so white and dumb, And the fixed, anguished eyes, ready for tears.
She lies beside him, with a false wedding-ring, In a cheap room, with moonlight on the floor; The moonlit curtains remind her much of spring, Of a spring evening on the Coney shore.
And while he sleeps, knowing she ought to hate, She still clings to the lover that she knew,— The one that, with a pencil on a plate, Drew a heart and wrote, 'I'd die for you.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

The House Of Dust: Part 02: 03: Interlude

 The warm sun dreams in the dust, the warm sun falls
On bright red roofs and walls;
The trees in the park exhale a ghost of rain;
We go from door to door in the streets again,
Talking, laughing, dreaming, turning our faces,
Recalling other times and places .
We crowd, not knowing why, around a gate, We crowd together and wait, A stretcher is carried out, voices are stilled, The ambulance drives away.
We watch its roof flash by, hear someone say 'A man fell off the building and was killed— Fell right into a barrel .
' We turn again Among the frightened eyes of white-faced men, And go our separate ways, each bearing with him A thing he tries, but vainly, to forget,— A sickened crowd, a stretcher red and wet.
A hurdy-gurdy sings in the crowded street, The golden notes skip over the sunlit stones, Wings are upon our feet.
The sun seems warmer, the winding street more bright, Sparrows come whirring down in a cloud of light.
We bear our dreams among us, bear them all, Like hurdy-gurdy music they rise and fall, Climb to beauty and die.
The wandering lover dreams of his lover's mouth, And smiles at the hostile sky.
The broker smokes his pipe, and sees a fortune.
The murderer hears a cry.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

The House Of Dust: Part 03: 13: The half-shut doors through which we heard that music

 The half-shut doors through which we heard that music
Are softly closed.
Horns mutter down to silence.
The stars whirl out, the night grows deep.
Darkness settles upon us.
A vague refrain Drowsily teases at the drowsy brain.
In numberless rooms we stretch ourselves and sleep.
Where have we been? What savage chaos of music Whirls in our dreams?—We suddenly rise in darkness, Open our eyes, cry out, and sleep once more.
We dream we are numberless sea-waves languidly foaming A warm white moonlit shore; Or clouds blown windily over a sky at midnight, Or chords of music scattered in hurrying darkness, Or a singing sound of rain .
We open our eyes and stare at the coiling darkness, And enter our dreams again.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

The House Of Dust: Part 01: 08: The white fog creeps from the cold sea over the city

 The white fog creeps from the cold sea over the city,
Over the pale grey tumbled towers,—
And settles among the roofs, the pale grey walls.
Along damp sinuous streets it crawls, Curls like a dream among the motionless trees And seems to freeze.
The fog slips ghostlike into a thousand rooms, Whirls over sleeping faces, Spins in an atomy dance round misty street lamps; And blows in cloudy waves over open spaces .
And one from his high window, looking down, Peers at the cloud-white town, And thinks its island towers are like a dream .
It seems an enormous sleeper, within whose brain Laborious shadows revolve and break and gleam.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

Morning Song Of Senlin

 from Senlin: A Biography 

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning 
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew, 
I arise, I face the sunrise, 
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die, And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet Stand before a glass and tie my tie.
Vine leaves tap my window, Dew-drops sing to the garden stones, The robin chips in the chinaberry tree Repeating three clear tones.
It is morning.
I stand by the mirror And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair: How small and white my face!— The green earth tilts through a sphere of air And bathes in a flame of space.
There are houses hanging above the stars And stars hung under a sea.
And a sun far off in a shell of silence Dapples my walls for me.
It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning Should I not pause in the light to remember God? Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable, He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
I will dedicate this moment before my mirror To him alone, and for him I will comb my hair.
Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence! I will think of you as I descend the stair.
Vine leaves tap my window, The snail-track shines on the stones, Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree Repeating two clear tones.
It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence, Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening, I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion, The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror, Unconcerned, I tie my tie.
There are horses neighing on far-off hills Tossing their long white manes, And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk, Their shoulders black with rains.
It is morning.
I stand by the mirror And suprise my soul once more; The blue air rushes above my ceiling, There are suns beneath my floor.
It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness And depart on the winds of space for I know not where, My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket, And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven, And a god among the stars; and I will go Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak And humming a tune I know.
Vine-leaves tap at the window, Dew-drops sing to the garden stones, The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree Repeating three clear tones.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

All Lovely Things

 All lovely things will have an ending, 
All lovely things will fade and die, 
And youth, that's now so bravely spending, 
Will beg a penny by and by.
Fine ladies soon are all forgotten, And goldenrod is dust when dead, The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten And cobwebs tent the brightest head.
Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!— But time goes on, and will, unheeding, Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn, And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.
Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!— But goldenrod and daisies wither, And over them blows autumn rain, They pass, they pass, and know not whither.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

Beloved Let Us Once More Praise The Rain

 Beloved, let us once more praise the rain.
Let us discover some new alphabet, For this, the often praised; and be ourselves, The rain, the chickweed, and the burdock leaf, The green-white privet flower, the spotted stone, And all that welcomes the rain; the sparrow too,— Who watches with a hard eye from seclusion, Beneath the elm-tree bough, till rain is done.
There is an oriole who, upside down, Hangs at his nest, and flicks an orange wing,— Under a tree as dead and still as lead; There is a single leaf, in all this heaven Of leaves, which rain has loosened from its twig: The stem breaks, and it falls, but it is caught Upon a sister leaf, and thus she hangs; There is an acorn cup, beside a mushroom Which catches three drops from the stooping cloud.
The timid bee goes back to the hive; the fly Under the broad leaf of the hollyhock Perpends stupid with cold; the raindark snail Surveys the wet world from a watery stone.
And still the syllables of water whisper: The wheel of cloud whirs slowly: while we wait In the dark room; and in your heart I find One silver raindrop,—on a hawthorn leaf,— Orion in a cobweb, and the World.

Written by Conrad Aiken |

The House Of Dust: Part 03: 08: Coffins: Interlude

 Wind blows.
Snow falls.
The great clock in its tower Ticks with reverberant coil and tolls the hour: At the deep sudden stroke the pigeons fly .
The fine snow flutes the cracks between the flagstones.
We close our coats, and hurry, and search the sky.
We are like music, each voice of it pursuing A golden separate dream, remote, persistent, Climbing to fire, receding to hoarse despair.
What do you whisper, brother? What do you tell me? .
We pass each other, are lost, and do not care.
One mounts up to beauty, serenely singing, Forgetful of the steps that cry behind him; One drifts slowly down from a waking dream.
One, foreseeing, lingers forever unmoving .
Upward and downward, past him there, we stream.
One has death in his eyes: and walks more slowly.
Death, among jonquils, told him a freezing secret.
A cloud blows over his eyes, he ponders earth.
He sees in the world a forest of sunlit jonquils: A slow black poison huddles beneath that mirth.
Death, from street to alley, from door to window, Cries out his news,—of unplumbed worlds approaching, Of a cloud of darkness soon to destroy the tower.
But why comes death,—he asks,—in a world so perfect? Or why the minute's grey in the golden hour? Music, a sudden glissando, sinister, troubled, A drift of wind-torn petals, before him passes Down jangled streets, and dies.
The bodies of old and young, of maimed and lovely, Are slowly borne to earth, with a dirge of cries.
Down cobbled streets they come; down huddled stairways; Through silent halls; through carven golden doorways; From freezing rooms as bare as rock.
The curtains are closed across deserted windows.
Earth streams out of the shovel; the pebbles knock.
Mary, whose hands rejoiced to move in sunlight; Silent Elaine; grave Anne, who sang so clearly; Fugitive Helen, who loved and walked alone; Miriam too soon dead, darkly remembered; Childless Ruth, who sorrowed, but could not atone; Jean, whose laughter flashed over depths of terror, And Eloise, who desired to love but dared not; Doris, who turned alone to the dark and cried,— They are blown away like windflung chords of music, They drift away; the sudden music has died.
And one, with death in his eyes, comes walking slowly And sees the shadow of death in many faces, And thinks the world is strange.
He desires immortal music and spring forever, And beauty that knows no change.