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by Richard Aldington |



The bitterness. the misery, the wretchedness of childhood 
Put me out of love with God. 
I can't believe in God's goodness; 
I can believe 
In many avenging gods. 
Most of all I believe 
In gods of bitter dullness, 
Cruel local gods 
Who scared my childhood. 


I've seen people put 
A chrysalis in a match-box, 
"To see," they told me, "what sort of moth would come." 
But when it broke its shell 
It slipped and stumbled and fell about its prison 
And tried to climb to the light 
For space to dry its wings. 

That's how I was. 
Somebody found my chrysalis 
And shut it in a match-box. 
My shrivelled wings were beaten, 
Shed their colours in dusty scales 
Before the box was opened 
For the moth to fly. 


I hate that town; 
I hate the town I lived in when I was little; 
I hate to think of it. 
There wre always clouds, smoke, rain 
In that dingly little valley. 
It rained; it always rained. 
I think I never saw the sun until I was nine -- 
And then it was too late; 
Everything's too late after the first seven years. 

The long street we lived in 
Was duller than a drain 
And nearly as dingy. 
There were the big College 
And the pseudo-Gothic town-hall. 
There were the sordid provincial shops -- 
The grocer's, and the shops for women, 
The shop where I bought transfers, 
And the piano and gramaphone shop 
Where I used to stand 
Staring at the huge shiny pianos and at the pictures 
Of a white dog looking into a gramaphone. 

How dull and greasy and grey and sordid it was! 
On wet days -- it was always wet -- 
I used to kneel on a chair 
And look at it from the window. 

The dirty yellow trams 
Dragged noisily along 
With a clatter of wheels and bells 
And a humming of wires overhead. 
They threw up the filthy rain-water from the hollow lines 
And then the water ran back 
Full of brownish foam bubbles. 

There was nothing else to see -- 
It was all so dull -- 
Except a few grey legs under shiny black umbrellas 
Running along the grey shiny pavements; 
Sometimes there was a waggon 
Whose horses made a strange loud hollow sound 
With their hoofs 
Through the silent rain. 

And there was a grey museum 
Full of dead birds and dead insects and dead animals 
And a few relics of the Romans -- dead also. 
There was a sea-front, 
A long asphalt walk with a bleak road beside it, 
Three piers, a row of houses, 
And a salt dirty smell from the little harbour. 

I was like a moth -- 
Like one of those grey Emperor moths 
Which flutter through the vines at Capri. 
And that damned little town was my match-box, 
Against whose sides I beat and beat 
Until my wings were torn and faded, and dingy 
As that damned little town. 


At school it was just as dull as that dull High Street. 
The front was dull; 
The High Street and the other street were dull -- 
And there was a public park, I remember, 
And that was damned dull, too, 
With its beds of geraniums no one was allowed to pick, 
And its clipped lawns you weren't allowed to walk on, 
And the gold-fish pond you mustn't paddle in, 
And the gate made out of a whale's jaw-bones, 
And the swings, which were for "Board-School children," 
And its gravel paths. 

And on Sundays they rang the bells, 
From Baptist and Evangelical and Catholic churches. 
They had a Salvation Army. 
I was taken to a High Church; 
The parson's name was Mowbray, 
"Which is a good name but he thinks too much of it --" 
That's what I heard people say. 

I took a little black book 
To that cold, grey, damp, smelling church, 
And I had to sit on a hard bench, 
Wriggle off it to kneel down when they sang psalms 
And wriggle off it to kneel down when they prayed, 
And then there was nothing to do 
Except to play trains with the hymn-books. 

There was nothing to see, 
Nothing to do, 
Nothing to play with, 
Except that in an empty room upstairs 
There was a large tin box 
Containing reproductions of the Magna Charta, 
Of the Declaration of Independence 
And of a letter from Raleigh after the Armada. 
There were also several packets of stamps, 
Yellow and blue Guatemala parrots, 
Blue stags and red baboons and birds from Sarawak, 
Indians and Men-of-war 
From the United States, 
And the green and red portraits 
Of King Francobello 
Of Italy. 


I don't believe in God. 
I do believe in avenging gods 
Who plague us for sins we never sinned 
But who avenge us. 

That's why I'll never have a child, 
Never shut up a chrysalis in a match-box 
For the moth to spoil and crush its brght colours, 
Beating its wings against the dingy prison-wall.

by Richard Aldington |

At the British Museum

 I turn the page and read: 
"I dream of silent verses where the rhyme 
Glides noiseless as an oar." 
The heavy musty air, the black desks, 
The bent heads and the rustling noises 
In the great dome 
Vanish ...
The sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky, 
The boat drifts over the lake shallows, 
The fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds, 
The oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns, 
And the swallows dive and swirl and whistle 
About the cleft battlements of Can Grande's castle...

by Richard Aldington |


 Four days the earth was rent and torn
By bursting steel,
The houses fell about us;
Three nights we dared not sleep,
Sweating, and listening for the imminent crash
Which meant our death. 

The fourth night every man,
Nerve-tortured, racked to exhaustion,
Slept, muttering and twitching,
While the shells crashed overhead.

The fifth day there came a hush;
We left our holes
And looked above the wreckage of the earth
To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
Across the untroubled blue.

by Richard Aldington |

The Faun Sees Snow for the First Time

Cloud-whirler, son-of-Kronos, 
Send vengeance on these Oreads 
Who strew 
White frozen flecks of mist and cloud 
Over the brown trees and the tufted grass 
Of the meadows, where the stream 
Runs black through shining banks 
Of bluish white. 

Are the halls of heaven broken up 
That you flake down upon me 
Feather-strips of marble? 

Dis and Styx! 
When I stamp my hoof 
The frozen-cloud-specks jam into the cleft 
So that I reel upon two slippery points ...

Fool, to stand here cursing 
When I might be running!

by Richard Aldington |

The Poplar

 Why do you always stand there shivering 
Between the white stream and the road? 

The people pass through the dust 
On bicycles, in carts, in motor-cars; 
The waggoners go by at down; 
The lovers walk on the grass path at night. 

Stir from your roots, walk, poplar! 
You are more beautiful than they are. 

I know that the white wind loves you, 
Is always kissing you and turning up 
The white lining of your green petticoat. 
The sky darts through you like blue rain, 
And the grey rain drips on your flanks 
And loves you. 
And I have seen the moon 
Slip his silver penny into your pocket 
As you straightened your hair; 
And the white mist curling and hesitating 
Like a bashful lover about your knees. 

I know you, poplar; 
I have watched you since I was ten. 
But if you had a little real love, 
A little strength, 
You would leave your nonchalant idle lovers 
And go walking down the white road 
Behind the waggoners. 

There are beautiful beeches down beyond the hill. 
Will you always stand there shivering?

by Richard Aldington |


 How could I love you more? 
I would give up 
Even that beauty I have loved too well 
That I might love you better. 
Alas, how poor the gifts that lovers give 
I can but give you of my flesh and strength, 
I can but give you these few passing days 
And passionate words that, since our speech began, 
All lovers whisper in all ladies' ears. 

I try to think of some one lovely gift
No lover yet in all the world has found; 
I think: If the cold sombre gods 
Were hot with love as I am 
Could they not endow you with a star 
And fix bright youth for ever in your limbs?
Could they not give you all things that I lack? 

You should have loved a god; I am but dust. 
Yet no god loves as loves this poor frail dust.

by Richard Aldington |


 Water ruffled and speckled by galloping wind 
Which puffs and spurts it into tiny pashing breaks 
Dashed with lemon-yellow afternoon sunlight. 
The shining of the sun upon the water 
Is like a scattering of gold crocus-petals 
In a long wavering irregular flight. 

The water is cold to the eye 
As the wind to the cheek. 

In the budding chestnuts 
Whose sticky buds glimmer and are half-burst open 
The starlings make their clitter-clatter; 
And the blackbirds in the grass 
Are getting as fat as the pigeons. 

Too-hoo, this is brave; 
Even the cold wind is seeking a new mistress.

by Richard Aldington |



Like a gondola of green scented fruits 
Drifting along the dark canals of Venice, 
You, O exquisite one, 
Have entered into my desolate city. 


The blue smoke leaps 
Like swirling clouds of birds vanishing. 
So my love leaps forth toward you, 
Vanishes and is renewed. 


A rose-yellow moon in a pale sky 
When the sunset is faint vermilion 
In the mist among the tree-boughs 
Art thou to me, my beloved. 


A young beech tree on the edge of the forest 
Stands still in the evening, 
Yet shudders through all its leaves in the light air 
And seems to fear the stars -
So are you still and so tremble. 


The red deer are high on the mountain, 
They are beyond the last pine trees. 
And my desires have run with them. 


The flower which the wind has shaken 
Is soon filled again with rain; 
So does my heart fill slowly with tears,
Until you return.

by Richard Aldington |


 In Nineveh 
And beyond Nineveh 
In the dusk 
They were afraid. 

In Thebes of Egypt 
In the dust 
They chanted of them to the dead. 

In my Lesbos and Achaia 
Where the God dwelt 
We knew them. 

Now men say "They are not": 
But in the dusk 
Ere the white sun comes -
A gay child that bears a white candle -
I am afraid of their rustling, 
Of their terrible silence, 
The menace of their secrecy.

by Richard Aldington |


 Plus quan se atque suos amavit omnes, 
- Catullus

You were my playmate by the sea. 
We swam together. 
Your girl's body had no breasts. 

We found prawns among the rocks; 
We liked to feel the sun and to do nothing; 
In the evening we played games with the others. 

It made me glad to be by you. 

Sometimes I kissed you, 
And you were always glad to kiss me; 
But I was afraid - I was only fourteen. 

And I had quite forgotten you, 
You and your name. 

To-day I pass through the streets. 
She who touches my arms and talks with me 
Is - who knows? - Helen of Sparta, 
Dryope, Laodamia ... 

And there are you 
A whore in Oxford Street.