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The Shadow

 Paul Jannes was working very late,
For this watch must be done by eight
To-morrow or the Cardinal
Would certainly be vexed.
Of all His customers the old prelate Was the most important, for his state Descended to his watches and rings, And he gave his mistresses many things To make them forget his age and smile When he paid visits, and they could while The time away with a diamond locket Exceedingly well.
So they picked his pocket, And he paid in jewels for his slobbering kisses.
This watch was made to buy him blisses From an Austrian countess on her way Home, and she meant to start next day.
Paul worked by the pointed, tulip-flame Of a tallow candle, and became So absorbed, that his old clock made him wince Striking the hour a moment since.
Its echo, only half apprehended, Lingered about the room.
He ended Screwing the little rubies in, Setting the wheels to lock and spin, Curling the infinitesimal springs, Fixing the filigree hands.
Chippings Of precious stones lay strewn about.
The table before him was a rout Of splashes and sparks of coloured light.
There was yellow gold in sheets, and quite A heap of emeralds, and steel.
Here was a gem, there was a wheel.
And glasses lay like limpid lakes Shining and still, and there were flakes Of silver, and shavings of pearl, And little wires all awhirl With the light of the candle.
He took the watch And wound its hands about to match The time, then glanced up to take the hour From the hanging clock.
Good, Merciful Power! How came that shadow on the wall, No woman was in the room! His tall Chiffonier stood gaunt behind His chair.
His old cloak, rabbit-lined, Hung from a peg.
The door was closed.
Just for a moment he must have dozed.
He looked again, and saw it plain.
The silhouette made a blue-black stain On the opposite wall, and it never wavered Even when the candle quavered Under his panting breath.
What made That beautiful, dreadful thing, that shade Of something so lovely, so exquisite, Cast from a substance which the sight Had not been tutored to perceive? Paul brushed his eyes across his sleeve.
Clear-cut, the Shadow on the wall Gleamed black, and never moved at all.
Paul's watches were like amulets, Wrought into patterns and rosettes; The cases were all set with stones, And wreathing lines, and shining zones.
He knew the beauty in a curve, And the Shadow tortured every nerve With its perfect rhythm of outline Cutting the whitewashed wall.
So fine Was the neck he knew he could have spanned It about with the fingers of one hand.
The chin rose to a mouth he guessed, But could not see, the lips were pressed Loosely together, the edges close, And the proud and delicate line of the nose Melted into a brow, and there Broke into undulant waves of hair.
The lady was edged with the stamp of race.
A singular vision in such a place.
He moved the candle to the tall Chiffonier; the Shadow stayed on the wall.
He threw his cloak upon a chair, And still the lady's face was there.
From every corner of the room He saw, in the patch of light, the gloom That was the lady.
Her violet bloom Was almost brighter than that which came From his candle's tulip-flame.
He set the filigree hands; he laid The watch in the case which he had made; He put on his rabbit cloak, and snuffed His candle out.
The room seemed stuffed With darkness.
Softly he crossed the floor, And let himself out through the door.
The sun was flashing from every pin And wheel, when Paul let himself in.
The whitewashed walls were hot with light.
The room was the core of a chrysolite, Burning and shimmering with fiery might.
The sun was so bright that no shadow could fall From the furniture upon the wall.
Paul sighed as he looked at the empty space Where a glare usurped the lady's place.
He settled himself to his work, but his mind Wandered, and he would wake to find His hand suspended, his eyes grown dim, And nothing advanced beyond the rim Of his dreaming.
The Cardinal sent to pay For his watch, which had purchased so fine a day.
But Paul could hardly touch the gold, It seemed the price of his Shadow, sold.
With the first twilight he struck a match And watched the little blue stars hatch Into an egg of perfect flame.
He lit his candle, and almost in shame At his eagerness, lifted his eyes.
The Shadow was there, and its precise Outline etched the cold, white wall.
The young man swore, "By God! You, Paul, There's something the matter with your brain.
Go home now and sleep off the strain.
" The next day was a storm, the rain Whispered and scratched at the window-pane.
A grey and shadowless morning filled The little shop.
The watches, chilled, Were dead and sparkless as burnt-out coals.
The gems lay on the table like shoals Of stranded shells, their colours faded, Mere heaps of stone, dull and degraded.
Paul's head was heavy, his hands obeyed No orders, for his fancy strayed.
His work became a simple round Of watches repaired and watches wound.
The slanting ribbons of the rain Broke themselves on the window-pane, But Paul saw the silver lines in vain.
Only when the candle was lit And on the wall just opposite He watched again the coming of IT, Could he trace a line for the joy of his soul And over his hands regain control.
Paul lingered late in his shop that night And the designs which his delight Sketched on paper seemed to be A tribute offered wistfully To the beautiful shadow of her who came And hovered over his candle flame.
In the morning he selected all His perfect jacinths.
One large opal Hung like a milky, rainbow moon In the centre, and blown in loose festoon The red stones quivered on silver threads To the outer edge, where a single, fine Band of mother-of-pearl the line Completed.
On the other side, The creamy porcelain of the face Bore diamond hours, and no lace Of cotton or silk could ever be Tossed into being more airily Than the filmy golden hands; the time Seemed to tick away in rhyme.
When, at dusk, the Shadow grew Upon the wall, Paul's work was through.
Holding the watch, he spoke to her: "Lady, Beautiful Shadow, stir Into one brief sign of being.
Turn your eyes this way, and seeing This watch, made from those sweet curves Where your hair from your forehead swerves, Accept the gift which I have wrought With your fairness in my thought.
Grant me this, and I shall be Honoured overwhelmingly.
" The Shadow rested black and still, And the wind sighed over the window-sill.
Paul put the despised watch away And laid out before him his array Of stones and metals, and when the morning Struck the stones to their best adorning, He chose the brightest, and this new watch Was so light and thin it seemed to catch The sunlight's nothingness, and its gleam.
Topazes ran in a foamy stream Over the cover, the hands were studded With garnets, and seemed red roses, budded.
The face was of crystal, and engraved Upon it the figures flashed and waved With zircons, and beryls, and amethysts.
It took a week to make, and his trysts At night with the Shadow were his alone.
Paul swore not to speak till his task was done.
The night that the jewel was worthy to give.
Paul watched the long hours of daylight live To the faintest streak; then lit his light, And sharp against the wall's pure white The outline of the Shadow started Into form.
His burning-hearted Words so long imprisoned swelled To tumbling speech.
Like one compelled, He told the lady all his love, And holding out the watch above His head, he knelt, imploring some Littlest sign.
The Shadow was dumb.
Weeks passed, Paul worked in fevered haste, And everything he made he placed Before his lady.
The Shadow kept Its perfect passiveness.
Paul wept.
He wooed her with the work of his hands, He waited for those dear commands She never gave.
No word, no motion, Eased the ache of his devotion.
His days passed in a strain of toil, His nights burnt up in a seething coil.
Seasons shot by, uncognisant He worked.
The Shadow came to haunt Even his days.
Sometimes quite plain He saw on the wall the blackberry stain Of his lady's picture.
No sun was bright Enough to dazzle that from his sight.
There were moments when he groaned to see His life spilled out so uselessly, Begging for boons the Shade refused, His finest workmanship abused, The iridescent bubbles he blew Into lovely existence, poor and few In the shadowed eyes.
Then he would curse Himself and her! The Universe! And more, the beauty he could not make, And give her, for her comfort's sake! He would beat his weary, empty hands Upon the table, would hold up strands Of silver and gold, and ask her why She scorned the best which he could buy.
He would pray as to some high-niched saint, That she would cure him of the taint Of failure.
He would clutch the wall With his bleeding fingers, if she should fall He could catch, and hold her, and make her live! With sobs he would ask her to forgive All he had done.
And broken, spent, He would call himself impertinent; Presumptuous; a tradesman; a nothing; driven To madness by the sight of Heaven.
At other times he would take the things He had made, and winding them on strings, Hang garlands before her, and burn perfumes, Chanting strangely, while the fumes Wreathed and blotted the shadow face, As with a cloudy, nacreous lace.
There were days when he wooed as a lover, sighed In tenderness, spoke to his bride, Urged her to patience, said his skill Should break the spell.
A man's sworn will Could compass life, even that, he knew.
By Christ's Blood! He would prove it true! The edge of the Shadow never blurred.
The lips of the Shadow never stirred.
He would climb on chairs to reach her lips, And pat her hair with his finger-tips.
But instead of young, warm flesh returning His warmth, the wall was cold and burning Like stinging ice, and his passion, chilled, Lay in his heart like some dead thing killed At the moment of birth.
Then, deadly sick, He would lie in a swoon for hours, while thick Phantasmagoria crowded his brain, And his body shrieked in the clutch of pain.
The crisis passed, he would wake and smile With a vacant joy, half-imbecile And quite confused, not being certain Why he was suffering; a curtain Fallen over the tortured mind beguiled His sorrow.
Like a little child He would play with his watches and gems, with glee Calling the Shadow to look and see How the spots on the ceiling danced prettily When he flashed his stones.
"Mother, the green Has slid so cunningly in between The blue and the yellow.
Oh, please look down!" Then, with a pitiful, puzzled frown, He would get up slowly from his play And walk round the room, feeling his way From table to chair, from chair to door, Stepping over the cracks in the floor, Till reaching the table again, her face Would bring recollection, and no solace Could balm his hurt till unconsciousness Stifled him and his great distress.
One morning he threw the street door wide On coming in, and his vigorous stride Made the tools on his table rattle and jump.
In his hands he carried a new-burst clump Of laurel blossoms, whose smooth-barked stalks Were pliant with sap.
As a husband talks To the wife he left an hour ago, Paul spoke to the Shadow.
"Dear, you know To-day the calendar calls it Spring, And I woke this morning gathering Asphodels, in my dreams, for you.
So I rushed out to see what flowers blew Their pink-and-purple-scented souls Across the town-wind's dusty scrolls, And made the approach to the Market Square A garden with smells and sunny air.
I feel so well and happy to-day, I think I shall take a Holiday.
And to-night we will have a little treat.
I am going to bring you something to eat!" He looked at the Shadow anxiously.
It was quite grave and silent.
He Shut the outer door and came And leant against the window-frame.
"Dearest," he said, "we live apart Although I bear you in my heart.
We look out each from a different world.
At any moment we may be hurled Asunder.
They follow their orbits, we Obey their laws entirely.
Now you must come, or I go there, Unless we are willing to live the flare Of a lighted instant and have it gone.
" A bee in the laurels began to drone.
A loosened petal fluttered prone.
"Man grows by eating, if you eat You will be filled with our life, sweet Will be our planet in your mouth.
If not, I must parch in death's wide drouth Until I gain to where you are, And give you myself in whatever star May happen.
O You Beloved of Me! Is it not ordered cleverly?" The Shadow, bloomed like a plum, and clear, Hung in the sunlight.
It did not hear.
Paul slipped away as the dusk began To dim the little shop.
He ran To the nearest inn, and chose with care As much as his thin purse could bear.
As rapt-souled monks watch over the baking Of the sacred wafer, and through the making Of the holy wine whisper secret prayers That God will bless this labour of theirs; So Paul, in a sober ecstasy, Purchased the best which he could buy.
Returning, he brushed his tools aside, And laid across the table a wide Napkin.
He put a glass and plate On either side, in duplicate.
Over the lady's, excellent With loveliness, the laurels bent.
In the centre the white-flaked pastry stood, And beside it the wine flask.
Red as blood Was the wine which should bring the lustihood Of human life to his lady's veins.
When all was ready, all which pertains To a simple meal was there, with eyes Lit by the joy of his great emprise, He reverently bade her come, And forsake for him her distant home.
He put meat on her plate and filled her glass, And waited what should come to pass.
The Shadow lay quietly on the wall.
From the street outside came a watchman's call "A cloudy night.
Rain beginning to fall.
" And still he waited.
The clock's slow tick Knocked on the silence.
Paul turned sick.
He filled his own glass full of wine; From his pocket he took a paper.
The twine Was knotted, and he searched a knife From his jumbled tools.
The cord of life Snapped as he cut the little string.
He knew that he must do the thing He feared.
He shook powder into the wine, And holding it up so the candle's shine Sparked a ruby through its heart, He drank it.
"Dear, never apart Again! You have said it was mine to do.
It is done, and I am come to you!" Paul Jannes let the empty wine-glass fall, And held out his arms.
The insentient wall Stared down at him with its cold, white glare Unstained! The Shadow was not there! Paul clutched and tore at his tightening throat.
He felt the veins in his body bloat, And the hot blood run like fire and stones Along the sides of his cracking bones.
But he laughed as he staggered towards the door, And he laughed aloud as he sank on the floor.
The Coroner took the body away, And the watches were sold that Saturday.
The Auctioneer said one could seldom buy Such watches, and the prices were high.

Poem by Amy Lowell
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