Anne Sexton |
Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce:
the courtroom a cement box,
a gas chamber for the infectious Jew in me
and a perhaps land, a possibly promised land
for the Jew in me,
but still a betrayal room for the till-death-do-us—
and yet a death, as in the unlocking of scissors
that makes the now separate parts useless,
even to cut each other up as we did yearly
under the crayoned-in sun.
The courtroom keeps squashing our lives as they break
into two cans ready for recycling,
flattened tin humans
and a tin law,
even for my twenty-five years of hanging on
by my teeth as I once saw at Ringling Brothers.
The gray room:
Judge, lawyer, witness
and me and invisible Skeezix,
and all the other torn
enduring the bewilderments
of their division.
Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce.
They arrive like round yellow fish,
sucking with love at the coral of our love.
Yet they wait,
in their short time,
like little utero half-borns,
half killed, thin and bone soft.
They breathe the air that stands
for twenty-five illicit days,
the sun crawling inside the sheets,
the moon spinning like a tornado
in the washbowl,
and we orchestrated them both,
calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.
There was a song, our song on your cassette,
that played over and over
and baptised the prodigals.
It spoke the unspeakable,
as the rain will on an attic roof,
letting the animal join its soul
as we kneeled before a miracle--
forgetting its knife.
The daisies confer
in the old-married kitchen
papered with blue and green chefs
who call out pies, cookies, yummy,
at the charcoal and cigarette smoke
they wear like a yellowy salve.
The daisies absorb it all--
the twenty-five-year-old sanctioned love
(If one could call such handfuls of fists
and immobile arms that!)
and on this day my world rips itself up
while the country unfastens along
with its perjuring king and his court.
It unfastens into an abortion of belief,
as in me--
the legal rift--
as on might do with the daisies
but does not
for they stand for a love
undergoihng open heart surgery
that might take
if one prayed tough enough.
And yet I demand,
even in prayer,
that I am not a thief,
a mugger of need,
and that your heart survive
on its own,
belonging only to itself,
whole, entirely whole,
in its dark cavern under your ribs.
I pray it will know truth,
if truth catches in its cup
and yet I pray, as a child would,
that the surgery take.
I dream it is taking.
Next I dream the love is swallowing itself.
Next I dream the love is made of glass,
glass coming through the telephone
that is breaking slowly,
day by day, into my ear.
Next I dream that I put on the love
like a lifejacket and we float,
jacket and I,
we bounce on that priest-blue.
We are as light as a cat's ear
and it is safe,
safe far too long!
And I awaken quickly and go to the opposite window
and peer down at the moon in the pond
and know that beauty has walked over my head,
into this bedroom and out,
flowing out through the window screen,
dropping deep into the water
I will observe the daisies
fade and dry up
wuntil they become flour,
snowing themselves onto the table
beside the drone of the refrigerator,
beside the radio playing Frankie
(as often as FM will allow)
snowing lightly, a tremor sinking from the ceiling--
as twenty-five years split from my side
like a growth that I sliced off like a melanoma.
It is six P.
as I water these tiny weeds
and their little half-life,
their numbered days
that raged like a secret radio,
recalling love that I picked up innocently,
as my five-year-old daughter
picked gum off the sidewalk
and it became suddenly an elastic miracle.
For me it was love found
like a diamond
where carrots grow--
the glint of diamond on a plane wing,
meaning: DANGER! THICK ICE!
but the good crunch of that orange,
the diamond, the carrot,
both with four million years of resurrecting dirt,
and the love,
although Adam did not know the word,
the love of Adam
obeying his sudden gift.
You, who sought me for nine years,
in stories made up in front of your naked mirror
or walking through rooms of fog women,
you trying to forget the mother
who built guilt with the lumber of a locked door
as she sobbed her soured mild and fed you loss
through the keyhole,
you who wrote out your own birth
and built it with your own poems,
your own lumber, your own keyhole,
into the trunk and leaves of your manhood,
you, who fell into my words, years
before you fell into me (the other,
both the Camp Director and the camper),
you who baited your hook with wide-awake dreams,
and calls and letters and once a luncheon,
and twice a reading by me for you.
But I wouldn't!
Yet this year,
yanking off all past years,
I took the bait
and was pulled upward, upward,
into the sky and was held by the sun--
the quick wonder of its yellow lap--
and became a woman who learned her own shin
and dug into her soul and found it full,
and you became a man who learned his won skin
and dug into his manhood, his humanhood
and found you were as real as a baker
or a seer
and we became a home,
up into the elbows of each other's soul,
an invisible purchase--
that inhabits our house forever.
blessed by the House-Die
by the altar of the color T.
and somehow managed to make a tiny marriage,
a tiny marriage
as in the child's belief in the tooth fairy,
so close to absolute,
so daft within a year or two.
The daisies have come
for the last time.
And I who have,
each year of my life,
spoken to the tooth fairy,
believing in her,
even when I was her,
am helpless to stop your daisies from dying,
although your voice cries into the telephone:
Marry me! Marry me!
and my voice speaks onto these keys tonight:
The love is in dark trouble!
The love is starting to die,
we are in the process of it.
The empty process of it.
I see two deaths,
and the two men plod toward the mortuary of my heart,
and though I willed one away in court today
and I whisper dreams and birthdays into the other,
they both die like waves breaking over me
and I am drowning a little,
but always swimming
among the pillows and stones of the breakwater.
And though your daisies are an unwanted death,
I wade through the smell of their cancer
and recognize the prognosis,
its cartful of loss--
I say now,
you gave what you could.
It was quite a ferris wheel to spin on!
and the dead city of my marriage
seems less important
than the fact that the daisies came weekly,
over and over,
likes kisses that can't stop themselves.
There sit two deaths on November 5th, 1973.
Let one be forgotten--
Bury it! Wall it up!
But let me not forget the man
of my child-like flowers
though he sinks into the fog of Lake Superior,
he remains, his fingers the marvel
of fourth of July sparklers,
his furious ice cream cones of licking,
remains to cool my forehead with a washcloth
when I sweat into the bathtub of his being.
For the rest that is left:
name it gentle,
as gentle as radishes inhabiting
their short life in the earth,
name it gentle,
gentle as old friends waving so long at the window,
or in the drive,
name it gentle as maple wings singing
themselves upon the pond outside,
as sensuous as the mother-yellow in the pond,
that night that it was ours,
when our bodies floated and bumped
in moon water and the cicadas
called out like tongues.
Let such as this
be resurrected in all men
whenever they mold their days and nights
as when for twenty-five days and nights you molded mine
and planted the seed that dives into my God
and will do so forever
no matter how often I sweep the floor.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning |
We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,
We build the house where we may rest,
And then, at moments, suddenly,
We look up to the great wide sky,
Inquiring wherefore we were born…
For earnest or for jest?
The senses folding thick and dark
About the stifled soul within,
We guess diviner things beyond,
And yearn to them with yearning fond;
We strike out blindly to a mark
Believed in, but not seen.
We vibrate to the pant and thrill
Wherewith Eternity has curled
In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
While, freshening upward to His feet,
In gradual growth His full-leaved will
Expands from world to world.
And, in the tumult and excess
Of act and passion under sun,
We sometimes hear—oh, soft and far,
As silver star did touch with star,
The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
Through all things that are done.
God keeps His holy mysteries
Just on the outside of man’s dream;
In diapason slow, we think
To hear their pinions rise and sink,
While they float pure beneath His eyes,
Like swans adown a stream.
Abstractions, are they, from the forms
Of His great beauty?—exaltations
From His great glory?—strong previsions
Of what we shall be?—intuitions
Of what we are—in calms and storms,
Beyond our peace and passions?
Things nameless! which, in passing so,
Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
We say, ‘Who passes?’—they are dumb.
We cannot see them go or come:
Their touches fall soft, cold, as snow
Upon a blind man’s face.
Yet, touching so, they draw above
Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
Our daily joy and pain advance
To a divine significance,
Our human love—O mortal love,
That light is not its own!
And sometimes horror chills our blood
To be so near such mystic Things,
And we wrap round us for defence
Our purple manners, moods of sense—
As angels from the face of God
Stand hidden in their wings.
And sometimes through life’s heavy swound
We grope for them!—with strangled breath
We stretch our hands abroad and try
To reach them in our agony,—
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
Which soon is large enough for death.
Walt Whitman |
TO conclude—I announce what comes after me;
I announce mightier offspring, orators, days, and then, for the present, depart.
I remember I said, before my leaves sprang at all,
I would raise my voice jocund and strong, with reference to consummations.
When America does what was promis’d,
When there are plentiful athletic bards, inland and seaboard,
When through These States walk a hundred millions of superb persons,
When the rest part away for superb persons, and contribute to them,
When breeds of the most perfect mothers denote America,
Then to me and mine our due fruition.
I have press’d through in my own right,
I have sung the Body and the Soul—War and Peace have I sung,
And the songs of Life and of Birth—and shown that there are many births:
I have offer’d my style to everyone—I have journey’d with confident step;
While my pleasure is yet at the full, I whisper, So long!
And take the young woman’s hand, and the young man’s hand, for the last time.
I announce natural persons to arise;
I announce justice triumphant;
I announce uncompromising liberty and equality;
I announce the justification of candor, and the justification of pride.
I announce that the identity of These States is a single identity only;
I announce the Union more and more compact, indissoluble;
I announce splendors and majesties to make all the previous politics of the earth
I announce adhesiveness—I say it shall be limitless, unloosen’d;
I say you shall yet find the friend you were looking for.
I announce a man or woman coming—perhaps you are the one, (So long!)
I announce the great individual, fluid as Nature, chaste, affectionate, compassionate,
I announce a life that shall be copious, vehement, spiritual, bold;
I announce an end that shall lightly and joyfully meet its translation;
I announce myriads of youths, beautiful, gigantic, sweet-blooded;
I announce a race of splendid and savage old men.
O thicker and faster! (So long!)
O crowding too close upon me;
I foresee too much—it means more than I thought;
It appears to me I am dying.
Hasten throat, and sound your last!
Salute me—salute the days once more.
Peal the old cry once more.
Screaming electric, the atmosphere using,
At random glancing, each as I notice absorbing,
Swiftly on, but a little while alighting,
Curious envelop’d messages delivering,
Sparkles hot, seed ethereal, down in the dirt dropping,
Myself unknowing, my commission obeying, to question it never daring,
To ages, and ages yet, the growth of the seed leaving,
To troops out of me, out of the army, the war arising—they the tasks I have set
To women certain whispers of myself bequeathing—their affection me more clearly
To young men my problems offering—no dallier I—I the muscle of their brains
So I pass—a little time vocal, visible, contrary;
Afterward, a melodious echo, passionately bent for—(death making me really undying;)
The best of me then when no longer visible—for toward that I have been incessantly
What is there more, that I lag and pause, and crouch extended with unshut mouth?
Is there a single final farewell?
My songs cease—I abandon them;
From behind the screen where I hid I advance personally, solely to you.
Camerado! This is no book;
Who touches this, touches a man;
(Is it night? Are we here alone?)
It is I you hold, and who holds you;
I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth.
O how your fingers drowse me!
Your breath falls around me like dew—your pulse lulls the tympans of my ears;
I feel immerged from head to foot;
Enough, O deed impromptu and secret!
Enough, O gliding present! Enough, O summ’d-up past!
Dear friend, whoever you are, take this kiss,
I give it especially to you—Do not forget me;
I feel like one who has done work for the day, to retire awhile;
I receive now again of my many translations—from my avataras ascending—while
doubtless await me;
An unknown sphere, more real than I dream’d, more direct, darts awakening rays about
Remember my words—I may again return,
I love you—I depart from materials;
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.
Walt Whitman |
OF these years I sing,
How they pass and have pass’d, through convuls’d pains as through parturitions;
How America illustrates birth, muscular youth, the promise, the sure fulfillment, the
Success, despite of people—Illustrates evil as well as good;
How many hold despairingly yet to the models departed, caste, myths, obedience,
How few see the arrived models, the Athletes, the Western States—or see freedom or
spirituality—or hold any faith in results,
(But I see the Athletes—and I see the results of the war glorious and
they again leading to other results;)
How the great cities appear—How the Democratic masses, turbulent, wilful, as I love
How the whirl, the contest, the wrestle of evil with good, the sounding and resounding,
How society waits unform’d, and is for awhile between things ended and things begun;
How America is the continent of glories, and of the triumph of freedom, and of the
and of the fruits of society, and of all that is begun;
And how The States are complete in themselves—And how all triumphs and glories are
complete in themselves, to lead onward,
And how these of mine, and of The States, will in their turn be convuls’d, and serve
parturitions and transitions,
And how all people, sights, combinations, the Democratic masses, too, serve—and how
fact, and war itself, with all its horrors, serves,
And how now, or at any time, each serves the exquisite transition of death.
OF seeds dropping into the ground—of birth,
Of the steady concentration of America, inland, upward, to impregnable and swarming
Of what Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and the rest, are to be,
Of what a few years will show there in Nebraska, Colorado, Nevada, and the rest;
(Or afar, mounting the Northern Pacific to Sitka or Aliaska;)
Of what the feuillage of America is the preparation for—and of what all sights,
South, East and West, are;
Of This Union, soak’d, welded in blood—of the solemn price paid—of the
lost, ever present in my mind;
—Of the temporary use of materials, for identity’s sake,
Of the present, passing, departing—of the growth of completer men than any yet,
Of myself, soon, perhaps, closing up my songs by these shores,
Of California, of Oregon—and of me journeying to live and sing there;
Of the Western Sea—of the spread inland between it and the spinal river,
Of the great pastoral area, athletic and feminine,
of all sloping down there where the fresh free giver, the mother, the Mississippi flows,
Of future women there—of happiness in those high plateaus, ranging three thousand
warm and cold;
Of mighty inland cities yet unsurvey’d and unsuspected, (as I am also, and as it must
Of the new and good names—of the modern developments—of inalienable homesteads;
Of a free and original life there—of simple diet and clean and sweet blood;
Of litheness, majestic faces, clear eyes, and perfect physique there;
Of immense spiritual results, future years, far west, each side of the Anahuacs;
Of these leaves, well understood there, (being made for that area;)
Of the native scorn of grossness and gain there;
(O it lurks in me night and day—What is gain, after all, to savageness and freedom?)
Charlotte Bronte |
ARRANGING long-locked drawers and shelves
Of cabinets, shut up for years,
What a strange task we've set ourselves !
How still the lonely room appears !
How strange this mass of ancient treasures,
Mementos of past pains and pleasures;
These volumes, clasped with costly stone,
With print all faded, gilding gone;
These fans of leaves, from Indian trees
These crimson shells, from Indian seas
These tiny portraits, set in rings
Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver's death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet's dusty cells.
I scarcely think, for ten long years,
A hand has touched these relics old;
And, coating each, slow-formed, appears,
The growth of green and antique mould.
All in this house is mossing over;
All is unused, and dim, and damp;
Nor light, nor warmth, the rooms discover
Bereft for years of fire and lamp.
The sun, sometimes in summer, enters
The casements, with reviving ray;
But the long rains of many winters
Moulder the very walls away.
And outside all is ivy, clinging
To chimney, lattice, gable grey;
Scarcely one little red rose springing
Through the green moss can force its way.
Unscared, the daw, and starling nestle,
Where the tall turret rises high,
And winds alone come near to rustle
The thick leaves where their cradles lie.
I sometimes think, when late at even
I climb the stair reluctantly,
Some shape that should be well in heaven,
Or ill elsewhere, will pass by me.
I fear to see the very faces,
Familiar thirty years ago,
Even in the old accustomed places
Which look so cold and gloomy now.
I've come, to close the window, hither,
At twilight, when the sun was down,
And Fear, my very soul would wither,
Lest something should be dimly shown.
Too much the buried form resembling,
Of her who once was mistress here;
Lest doubtful shade, or moonbeam trembling,
Might take her aspect, once so dear.
Hers was this chamber; in her time
It seemed to me a pleasant room,
For then no cloud of grief or crime
Had cursed it with a settled gloom;
I had not seen death's image laid
In shroud and sheet, on yonder bed.
Before she married, she was blest
Blest in her youth, blest in her worth;
Her mind was calm, its sunny rest
Shone in her eyes more clear than mirth.
And when attired in rich array,
Light, lustrous hair about her brow,
She yonder sata kind of day
Lit upwhat seems so gloomy now.
These grim oak walls, even then were grim;
That old carved chair, was then antique;
But what around looked dusk and dim
Served as a foil to her fresh cheek;
Her neck, and arms, of hue so fair,
Eyes of unclouded, smiling, light;
Her soft, and curled, and floating hair,
Gems and attire, as rainbow bright.
Reclined in yonder deep recess,
Ofttimes she would, at evening, lie
Watching the sun; she seemed to bless
With happy glance the glorious sky.
She loved such scenes, and as she gazed,
Her face evinced her spirit's mood;
Beauty or grandeur ever raised
In her, a deep-felt gratitude.
But of all lovely things, she loved
A cloudless moon, on summer night;
Full oft have I impatience proved
To see how long, her still delight
Would find a theme in reverie.
Out on the lawn, or where the trees
Let in the lustre fitfully,
As their boughs parted momently,
To the soft, languid, summer breeze.
Alas ! that she should e'er have flung
Those pure, though lonely joys away
Deceived by false and guileful tongue,
She gave her hand, then suffered wrong;
Oppressed, ill-used, she faded young,
And died of grief by slow decay.
Open that casketlook how bright
Those jewels flash upon the sight;
The brilliants have not lost a ray
Of lustre, since her wedding day.
But seeupon that pearly chain
How dim lies time's discolouring stain !
I've seen that by her daughter worn:
For, e'er she died, a child was born;
A child that ne'er its mother knew,
That lone, and almost friendless grew;
For, ever, when its step drew nigh,
Averted was the father's eye;
And then, a life impure and wild
Made him a stranger to his child;
Absorbed in vice, he little cared
On what she did, or how she fared.
The love withheld, she never sought,
She grew uncherishedlearnt untaught;
To her the inward life of thought
Full soon was open laid.
I know not if her friendlessness
Did sometimes on her spirit press,
But plaint she never made.
The book-shelves were her darling treasure,
She rarely seemed the time to measure
While she could read alone.
And she too loved the twilight wood,
And often, in her mother's mood,
Away to yonder hill would hie,
Like her, to watch the setting sun,
Or see the stars born, one by one,
Out of the darkening sky.
Nor would she leave that hill till night
Trembled from pole to pole with light;
Even then, upon her homeward way,
Longlong her wandering steps delayed
To quit the sombre forest shade,
Through which her eerie pathway lay.
You ask if she had beauty's grace ?
I know notbut a nobler face
My eyes have seldom seen;
A keen and fine intelligence,
And, better still, the truest sense
Were in her speaking mien.
But bloom or lustre was there none,
Only at moments, fitful shone
An ardour in her eye,
That kindled on her cheek a flush,
Warm as a red sky's passing blush
And quick with energy.
Her speech, too, was not common speech,
No wish to shine, or aim to teach,
Was in her words displayed:
She still began with quiet sense,
But oft the force of eloquence
Came to her lips in aid;
Language and voice unconscious changed,
And thoughts, in other words arranged,
Her fervid soul transfused
Into the hearts of those who heard,
And transient strength and ardour stirred,
In minds to strength unused.
Yet in gay crowd or festal glare,
Grave and retiring was her air;
'Twas seldom, save with me alone,
That fire of feeling freely shone;
She loved not awe's nor wonder's gaze,
Nor even exaggerated praise,
Nor even notice, if too keen
The curious gazer searched her mien.
Nature's own green expanse revealed
The world, the pleasures, she could prize;
On free hill-side, in sunny field,
In quiet spots by woods concealed,
Grew wild and fresh her chosen joys,
Yet Nature's feelings deeply lay
In that endowed and youthful frame;
Shrined in her heart and hid from day,
They burned unseen with silent flame;
In youth's first search for mental light,
She lived but to reflect and learn,
But soon her mind's maturer might
For stronger task did pant and yearn;
And stronger task did fate assign,
Task that a giant's strength might strain;
To suffer long and ne'er repine,
Be calm in frenzy, smile at pain.
Pale with the secret war of feeling,
Sustained with courage, mute, yet high;
The wounds at which she bled, revealing
Only by altered cheek and eye;
She bore in silencebut when passion
Surged in her soul with ceaseless foam,
The storm at last brought desolation,
And drove her exiled from her home.
And silent still, she straight assembled
The wrecks of strength her soul retained;
For though the wasted body trembled,
The unconquered mind, to quail, disdained.
She crossed the seanow lone she wanders
By Seine's, or Rhine's, or Arno's flow;
Fain would I know if distance renders
Relief or comfort to her woe.
Fain would I know if, henceforth, ever,
These eyes shall read in hers again,
That light of love which faded never,
Though dimmed so long with secret pain.
She will return, but cold and altered,
Like all whose hopes too soon depart;
Like all on whom have beat, unsheltered,
The bitter blasts that blight the heart.
No more shall I behold her lying
Calm on a pillow, smoothed by me;
No more that spirit, worn with sighing,
Will know the rest of infancy.
If still the paths of lore she follow,
'Twill be with tired and goaded will;
She'll only toil, the aching hollow,
The joyless blank of life to fill.
And oh ! full oft, quite spent and weary,
Her hand will pause, her head decline;
That labour seems so hard and dreary,
On which no ray of hope may shine.
Thus the pale blight of time and sorrow
Will shade with grey her soft, dark hair
Then comes the day that knows no morrow,
And death succeeds to long despair.
So speaks experience, sage and hoary;
I see it plainly, know it well,
Like one who, having read a story,
Each incident therein can tell.
Touch not that ring, 'twas his, the sire
Of that forsaken child;
And nought his relics can inspire
Save memories, sin-defiled.
I, who sat by his wife's death-bed,
I, who his daughter loved,
Could almost curse the guilty dead,
For woes, the guiltless proved.
And heaven did cursethey found him laid,
When crime for wrath was rife,
Coldwith the suicidal blade
Clutched in his desperate gripe.
'Twas near that long deserted hut,
Which in the wood decays,
Death's axe, self-wielded, struck his root,
And lopped his desperate days.
You know the spot, where three black trees,
Lift up their branches fell,
And moaning, ceaseless as the seas,
Still seem, in every passing breeze,
The deed of blood to tell.
They named him mad, and laid his bones
Where holier ashes lie;
Yet doubt not that his spirit groans,
In hell's eternity.
But, lo ! night, closing o'er the earth,
Infects our thoughts with gloom;
Come, let us strive to rally mirth,
Where glows a clear and tranquil hearth
In some more cheerful room.
Robert Seymour Bridges |
'Twas at that hour of beauty when the setting sun
squandereth his cloudy bed with rosy hues, to flood
his lov'd works as in turn he biddeth them Good-night;
and all the towers and temples and mansions of men
face him in bright farewell, ere they creep from their pomp
naked beneath the darkness;- while to mortal eyes
'tis given, ifso they close not of fatigue, nor strain
at lamplit tasks-'tis given, as for a royal boon
to beggarly outcasts in homeless vigil, to watch
where uncurtain's behind the great windows of space
Heav'n's jewel'd company circleth unapproachably-
'Twas at sunset that I, fleeing to hide my soul
in refuge of beauty from a mortal distress,
walk'd alone with the Muse in her garden of thought,
discoursing at liberty with the mazy dreams
that came wavering pertinaciously about me; as when
the small bats, issued from their hangings, flitter o'erhead
thru' the summer twilight, with thin cries to and fro
hunting in muffled flight atween the stars and flowers.
Then fell I in strange delusion, illusion strange to tell;
for as a man who lyeth fast asleep in his bed
may dream he waketh, and that he walketh upright
pursuing some endeavour in full conscience-so 'twas
with me; but contrawise; for being in truth awake
methought I slept and dreamt; and in thatt dream methought
I was telling a dream; nor telling was I as one
who, truly awaked from a true sleep, thinketh to tell
his dream to a friend, but for his scant remembrances
findeth no token of speech-it was not so with me;
for my tale was my dream and my dream the telling,
and I remember wondring the while I told it
how I told it so tellingly.
And yet now 'twould seem
that Reason inveighed me with her old orderings;
as once when she took thought to adjust theology,
peopling the inane that vex'd her between God and man
with a hierarchy of angels; like those asteroids
wherewith she later fill'd the gap 'twixt Jove and Mars.
Verily by Beauty it is that we come as WISDOM,
yet not by Reason at Beauty; and now with many words
pleasing myself betimes I am fearing lest in the end
I play the tedious orator who maundereth on
for lack of heart to make an end of his nothings.
Wherefor as when a runner who hath run his round
handeth his staff away, and is glad of his rest,
here break I off, knowing the goal was not for me
the while I ran on telling of what cannot be told.
For not the Muse herself can tell of Goddes love;
which cometh to the child from the Mother's embrace,
an Idea spacious as the starry firmament's
inescapable infinity of radiant gaze,
that fadeth only as it outpasseth mortal sight:
and this direct contact is 't with eternities,
this springtide miracle of the soul's nativity
that oft hath set philosophers adrift in dream;
which thing Christ taught, when he set up a little child
to teach his first Apostles and to accuse their pride,
saying, 'Unless ye shall receive it as a child,
ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So thru'out all his young mental apprenticehood
the child of very simplicity, and in the grace
and beauteous attitude of infantine wonder,
is apt to absorb Ideas in primal purity,
and by the assimilation of thatt immortal food
may build immortal life; but ever with the growth
of understanding, as the sensible images
are more and more corrupt, troubled by questioning thought,
or with vainglory alloy'd, 'tis like enought the boy
in prospect of his manhood wil hav cast to th' winds
his Baptism with his Babyhood; nor might he escape
the fall of Ev'ryman, did not a second call
of nature's Love await him to confirm his Faith
or to revoke him if he is whollylapsed therefrom.
And so mighty is this second vision, which cometh
in puberty of body and adolescence of mind
that, forgetting his Mother, he calleth it 'first Love';
for it mocketh at suasion or stubbornness of heart,
as the oceantide of the omnipotent Pleasur of God,
flushing all avenues of life, and unawares
by thousandfold approach forestalling its full flood
with divination of the secret contacts of Love,--
of faintest ecstasies aslumber in Nature's calm,
like thought in a closed book, where some poet long since
sang his throbbing passion to immortal sleep-with coy
tenderness delicat as the shifting hues
that sanctify the silent dawn with wonder-gleams,
whose evanescence is the seal of their glory,
consumed in self-becoming of eternity;
til every moment as it flyeth, cryeth 'Seize!
Seize me ere I die! I am the Life of Life.
'Tis thus by near approach to an eternal presence
man's heart with divine furor kindled and possess'd
falleth in blind surrender; and finding therewithal
in fullest devotion the full reconcilement
betwixt his animal and spiritual desires,
such welcome hour of bliss standeth for certain pledge
of happiness perdurable: and coud he sustain
this great enthusiasm, then the unbounded promise
would keep fulfilment; since the marriage of true minds
is thatt once fabled garden, amidst of which was set
the single Tree that bore such med'cinable fruit
that if man ate thereof he should liv for ever.
Friendship is in loving rather than in being lov'd,
which is its mutual benediction and recompense;
and tho' this be, and tho' love is from lovers learn'd,
it springeth none the less from the old essence of self.
No friendless man ('twas well said) can be truly himself;
what a man looketh for in his friend and findeth,
and loving self best, loveth better than himself,
is his own better self, his live lovable idea,
flowering by expansion in the loves of his life.
And in the nobility of our earthly friendships
we hav al grades of attainment, and the best may claim
perfection of kind; and so, since ther be many bonds
other than breed (friendships of lesser motiv, found
even in the brutes) and since our politick is based
on actual association of living men, 'twil come
that the spiritual idea of Friendship, the huge
vastidity of its essence, is fritter'd away
in observation of the usual habits of men;
as happ'd with the great moralist, where his book saith
that ther can be no friendship betwixt God and man
because of their unlimited disparity.
From this dilemma of pagan thought, this poison of faith,
Man-soul made glad escape in the worship of Christ;
for his humanity is God's Personality,
and communion with him is the life of the soul.
Of which living ideas (when in the struggle of thought
harden'd by language they became symbols of faith)
Reason builded her maze, wherefrom none should escape,
wandering intent to map and learn her tortuous clews,
chanting their clerkly creed to the high-echoing stones
of their hand-fashion'd temple: but the Wind of heav'n
bloweth where it listeth, and Christ yet walketh the earth,
and talketh still as with those two disciples once
on the road to Emmaus-where they walk and are sad;
whose vision of him then was his victory over death,
thatt resurrection which all his lovers should share,
who in loving him had learn'd the Ethick of happiness;
whereby they too should come where he was ascended
to reign over men's hearts in the Kingdom of God.
Our happiest earthly comradeships hold a foretaste
of the feast of salvation and by thatt virtue in them
provoke desire beyond them to out-reach and surmount
their humanity in some superhumanity
and ultimat perfection: which, howe'ever 'tis found
or strangeley imagin'd, answereth to the need of each
and pulleth him instinctivly as to a final cause.
Thus unto all who hav found their high ideal in Christ,
Christ is to them the essence discern'd or undeiscern'd
of all their human friendships; and each lover of him
and of his beauty must be as a bud on the Vine
and hav participation in him; for Goddes love
is unescapable as nature's environment,
which if a man ignore or think to thrust it off
he is the ill-natured fool that runneth blindly on death.
This Individualism is man's true Socialism.
This is the rife Idea whose spiritual beauty
multiplieth in communion to transcendant might.
This is thatt excelent way whereon if we wil walk
all things shall be added unto us-thatt Love which inspired
the wayward Visionary in his doctrinal ode
to the three christian Graces, the Church's first hymn
and only deathless athanasian creed,--the which
'except a man believe he cannot be saved.
This is the endearing bond whereby Christ's company
yet holdeth together on the truth of his promise
that he spake of his grat pity and trust in man's love,
'Lo, I am with you always ev'n to the end of the world.
Truly the Soul returneth the body's loving
where it hath won it.
and God so loveth the world.
and in the fellowship of the friendship of Christ
God is seen as the very self-essence of love,
Creator and mover of all as activ Lover of all,
self-express'd in not-self, mind and body, mother and child,
'twixt lover and loved, God and man: but ONE ETERNAL
in the love of Beauty and in the selfhood of Love.
Robert Frost |
(A Christmas Circular Letter)
THE CITY had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round.
The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, “A thousand.
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them.
Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.
Walt Whitman |
AS a strong bird on pinions free,
Joyous, the amplest spaces heavenward cleaving,
Such be the thought I’d think to-day of thee, America,
Such be the recitative I’d bring to-day for thee.
The conceits of the poets of other lands I bring thee not,
Nor the compliments that have served their turn so long,
Nor rhyme—nor the classics—nor perfume of foreign court, or indoor library;
But an odor I’d bring to-day as from forests of pine in the north, in Maine—or
of an Illinois prairie,
With open airs of Virginia, or Georgia, or Tennessee—or from Texas uplands, or
With presentment of Yellowstone’s scenes, or Yosemite;
And murmuring under, pervading all, I’d bring the rustling sea-sound,
That endlessly sounds from the two great seas of the world.
And for thy subtler sense, subtler refrains, O Union!
Preludes of intellect tallying these and thee—mind-formulas fitted for
sane, and large as these and thee;
Thou, mounting higher, diving deeper than we knew—thou transcendental Union!
By thee Fact to be justified—blended with Thought;
Thought of Man justified—blended with God:
Through thy Idea—lo! the immortal Reality!
Through thy Reality—lo! the immortal Idea!
Brain of the New World! what a task is thine!
To formulate the Modern.
Out of the peerless grandeur of the modern,
Out of Thyself—comprising Science—to recast Poems, Churches, Art,
(Recast—may-be discard them, end them—May-be their work is done—who knows?)
By vision, hand, conception, on the background of the mighty past, the dead,
To limn, with absolute faith, the mighty living present.
(And yet, thou living, present brain! heir of the dead, the Old World brain!
Thou that lay folded, like an unborn babe, within its folds so long!
Thou carefully prepared by it so long!—haply thou but unfoldest it—only maturest
It to eventuate in thee—the essence of the by-gone time contain’d in thee;
Its poems, churches, arts, unwitting to themselves, destined with reference to thee,
The fruit of all the Old, ripening to-day in thee.
Sail—sail thy best, ship of Democracy!
Of value is thy freight—’tis not the Present only,
The Past is also stored in thee!
Thou holdest not the venture of thyself alone—not of thy western continent alone;
Earth’s résumé entire floats on thy keel, O ship—is
With thee Time voyages in trust—the antecedent nations sink or swim with thee;
With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes, epics, wars, thou bear’st the
Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination-port triumphant:
—Steer, steer with good strong hand and wary eye, O helmsman—thou carryest great
Venerable, priestly Asia sails this day with thee,
And royal, feudal Europe sails with thee.
Beautiful World of new, superber Birth, that rises to my eyes,
Like a limitless golden cloud, filling the western sky;
Emblem of general Maternity, lifted above all;
Sacred shape of the bearer of daughters and sons;
Out of thy teeming womb, thy giant babes in ceaseless procession issuing,
Acceding from such gestation, taking and giving continual strength and life;
World of the Real! world of the twain in one!
World of the Soul—born by the world of the real alone—led to identity, body, by
Yet in beginning only—incalculable masses of composite, precious materials,
By history’s cycles forwarded—by every nation, language, hither sent,
Ready, collected here—a freer, vast, electric World, to be constructed here,
(The true New World—the world of orbic Science, Morals, Literatures to come,)
Thou Wonder World, yet undefined, unform’d—neither do I define thee;
How can I pierce the impenetrable blank of the future?
I feel thy ominous greatness, evil as well as good;
I watch thee, advancing, absorbing the present, transcending the past;
I see thy light lighting and thy shadow shadowing, as if the entire globe;
But I do not undertake to define thee—hardly to comprehend thee;
I but thee name—thee prophecy—as now!
I merely thee ejaculate!
Thee in thy future;
Thee in thy only permanent life, career—thy own unloosen’d mind—thy soaring
Thee as another equally needed sun, America—radiant, ablaze, swift-moving,
Thee! risen in thy potent cheerfulness and joy—thy endless, great hilarity!
(Scattering for good the cloud that hung so long—that weigh’d so long upon the
The doubt, suspicion, dread, of gradual, certain decadence of man;)
Thee in thy larger, saner breeds of Female, Male—thee in thy athletes, moral,
South, North, West, East,
(To thy immortal breasts, Mother of All, thy every daughter, son, endear’d alike,
Thee in thy own musicians, singers, artists, unborn yet, but certain;
Thee in thy moral wealth and civilization (until which thy proudest material wealth and
civilization must remain in vain;)
Thee in thy all-supplying, all-enclosing Worship—thee in no single bible, saviour,
Thy saviours countless, latent within thyself—thy bibles incessant, within thyself,
to any, divine as any;
Thee in an education grown of thee—in teachers, studies, students, born of thee;
Thee in thy democratic fetes, en masse—thy high original festivals, operas,
Thee in thy ultimata, (the preparations only now completed—the edifice on sure
Thee in thy pinnacles, intellect, thought—thy topmost rational joys—thy love,
In thy resplendent coming literati—thy full-lung’d orators—thy sacerdotal
These! these in thee, (certain to come,) to-day I prophecy.
Land tolerating all—accepting all—not for the good alone—all good for thee;
Land in the realms of God to be a realm unto thyself;
Under the rule of God to be a rule unto thyself.
(Lo! where arise three peerless stars,
To be thy natal stars, my country—Ensemble—Evolution—Freedom,
Set in the sky of Law.
Land of unprecedented faith—God’s faith!
Thy soil, thy very subsoil, all upheav’d;
The general inner earth, so long, so sedulously draped over, now and hence for what it is,
boldly laid bare,
Open’d by thee to heaven’s light, for benefit or bale.
Not for success alone;
Not to fair-sail unintermitted always;
The storm shall dash thy face—the murk of war, and worse than war, shall cover thee
(Wert capable of war—its tug and trials? Be capable of peace, its trials;
For the tug and mortal strain of nations come at last in peace—not war;)
In many a smiling mask death shall approach, beguiling thee—thou in disease shalt
The livid cancer spread its hideous claws, clinging upon thy breasts, seeking to strike
Consumption of the worst—moral consumption—shall rouge thy face with hectic:
But thou shalt face thy fortunes, thy diseases, and surmount them all,
Whatever they are to-day, and whatever through time they may be,
They each and all shall lift, and pass away, and cease from thee;
While thou, Time’s spirals rounding—out of thyself, thyself still extricating,
Equable, natural, mystical Union thou—(the mortal with immortal blent,)
Shalt soar toward the fulfilment of the future—the spirit of the body and the mind,
The Soul—its destinies.
The Soul, its destinies—the real real,
(Purport of all these apparitions of the real;)
In thee, America, the Soul, its destinies;
Thou globe of globes! thou wonder nebulous!
By many a throe of heat and cold convuls’d—(by these thyself solidifying;)
Thou mental, moral orb! thou New, indeed new, Spiritual World!
The Present holds thee not—for such vast growth as thine—for such
flight as thine,
The Future only holds thee, and can hold thee.
Alfred Lord Tennyson |
Once more the gate behind me falls;
Once more before my face
I see the moulder'd Abbey-walls,
That stand within the chace.
Beyond the lodge the city lies,
Beneath its drift of smoke;
And ah! with what delighted eyes
I turn to yonder oak.
For when my passion first began,
Ere that, which in me burn'd,
The love, that makes me thrice a man,
Could hope itself return'd;
To yonder oak within the field
I spoke without restraint,
And with a larger faith appeal'd
Than Papist unto Saint.
For oft I talk'd with him apart
And told him of my choice,
Until he plagiarized a heart,
And answer'd with a voice.
Tho' what he whisper'd under Heaven
None else could understand;
I found him garrulously given,
A babbler in the land.
But since I heard him make reply
Is many a weary hour;
'Twere well to question him, and try
If yet he keeps the power.
Hail, hidden to the knees in fern,
Broad Oak of Sumner-chace,
Whose topmost branches can discern
The roofs of Sumner-place!
Say thou, whereon I carved her name,
If ever maid or spouse,
As fair as my Olivia, came
To rest beneath thy boughs.
"O Walter, I have shelter'd here
Whatever maiden grace
The good old Summers, year by year
Made ripe in Sumner-chace:
"Old Summers, when the monk was fat,
And, issuing shorn and sleek,
Would twist his girdle tight, and pat
The girls upon the cheek,
"Ere yet, in scorn of Peter's-pence,
And number'd bead, and shrift,
Bluff Harry broke into the spence
And turn'd the cowls adrift:
"And I have seen some score of those
Fresh faces that would thrive
When his man-minded offset rose
To chase the deer at five;
"And all that from the town would stroll,
Till that wild wind made work
In which the gloomy brewer's soul
Went by me, like a stork:
"The slight she-slips of royal blood,
And others, passing praise,
Straight-laced, but all-too-full in bud
For puritanic stays:
"And I have shadow'd many a group
Of beauties, that were born
In teacup-times of hood and hoop,
Or while the patch was worn;
"And, leg and arm with love-knots gay
About me leap'd and laugh'd
The modish Cupid of the day,
And shrill'd his tinsel shaft.
"I swear (and else may insects prick
Each leaf into a gall)
This girl, for whom your heart is sick,
Is three times worth them all.
"For those and theirs, by Nature's law,
Have faded long ago;
But in these latter springs I saw
Your own Olivia blow,
"From when she gamboll'd on the greens
A baby-germ, to when
The maiden blossoms of her teens
Could number five from ten.
"I swear, by leaf, and wind, and rain,
(And hear me with thine ears,)
That, tho' I circle in the grain
Five hundred rings of years---
"Yet, since I first could cast a shade,
Did never creature pass
So slightly, musically made,
So light upon the grass:
"For as to fairies, that will flit
To make the greensward fresh,
I hold them exquisitely knit,
But far too spare of flesh.
Oh, hide thy knotted knees in fern,
And overlook the chace;
And from thy topmost branch discern
The roofs of Sumner-place.
But thou, whereon I carved her name,
That oft hast heard my vows,
Declare when last Olivia came
To sport beneath thy boughs.
"O yesterday, you know, the fair
Was holden at the town;
Her father left his good arm-chair,
And rode his hunter down.
"And with him Albert came on his.
I look'd at him with joy:
As cowslip unto oxlip is,
So seems she to the boy.
"An hour had past---and, sitting straight
Within the low-wheel'd chaise,
Her mother trundled to the gate
Behind the dappled grays.
"But as for her, she stay'd at home,
And on the roof she went,
And down the way you use to come,
She look'd with discontent.
"She left the novel half-uncut
Upon the rosewood shelf;
She left the new piano shut:
She could not please herseif
"Then ran she, gamesome as the colt,
And livelier than a lark
She sent her voice thro' all the holt
Before her, and the park.
"A light wind chased her on the wing,
And in the chase grew wild,
As close as might be would he cling
About the darling child:
"But light as any wind that blows
So fleetly did she stir,
The flower, she touch'd on, dipt and rose,
And turn'd to look at her.
"And here she came, and round me play'd,
And sang to me the whole
Of those three stanzas that you made
About my Ôgiant bole;'
"And in a fit of frolic mirth
She strove to span my waist:
Alas, I was so broad of girth,
I could not be embraced.
"I wish'd myself the fair young beech
That here beside me stands,
That round me, clasping each in each,
She might have lock'd her hands.
"Yet seem'd the pressure thrice as sweet
As woodbine's fragile hold,
Or when I feel about my feet
The berried briony fold.
O muffle round thy knees with fern,
And shadow Sumner-chace!
Long may thy topmost branch discern
The roofs of Sumner-place!
But tell me, did she read the name
I carved with many vows
When last with throbbing heart I came
To rest beneath thy boughs?
"O yes, she wander'd round and round
These knotted knees of mine,
And found, and kiss'd the name she found,
And sweetly murmur'd thine.
"A teardrop trembled from its source,
And down my surface crept.
My sense of touch is something coarse,
But I believe she wept.
"Then flush'd her cheek with rosy light,
She glanced across the plain;
But not a creature was in sight:
She kiss'd me once again.
"Her kisses were so close and kind,
That, trust me on my word,
Hard wood I am, and wrinkled rind,
But yet my sap was stirr'd:
"And even into my inmost ring
A pleasure I discern'd,
Like those blind motions of the Spring,
That show the year is turn'd.
"Thrice-happy he that may caress
The ringlet's waving balm---
The cushions of whose touch may press
The maiden's tender palm.
"I, rooted here among the groves
But languidly adjust
My vapid vegetable loves
With anthers and with dust:
"For ah! my friend, the days were brief
Whereof the poets talk,
When that, which breathes within the leaf,
Could slip its bark and walk.
"But could I, as in times foregone,
From spray, and branch, and stem,
Have suck'd and gather'd into one
The life that spreads in them,
"She had not found me so remiss;
But lightly issuing thro',
I would have paid her kiss for kiss,
With usury thereto.
O flourish high, with leafy towers,
And overlook the lea,
Pursue thy loves among the bowers
But leave thou mine to me.
O flourish, hidden deep in fern,
Old oak, I love thee well;
A thousand thanks for what I learn
And what remains to tell.
" ÔTis little more: the day was warm;
At last, tired out with play,
She sank her head upon her arm
And at my feet she lay.
"Her eyelids dropp'd their silken eaves
I breathed upon her eyes
Thro' all the summer of my leaves
A welcome mix'd with sighs.
"I took the swarming sound of life---
The music from the town---
The murmurs of the drum and fife
And lull'd them in my own.
"Sometimes I let a sunbeam slip,
To light her shaded eye;
A second flutter'd round her lip
Like a golden butterfly;
"A third would glimmer on her neck
To make the necklace shine;
Another slid, a sunny fleck,
From head to ankle fine,
"Then close and dark my arms I spread,
And shadow'd all her rest---
Dropt dews upon her golden head,
An acorn in her breast.
"But in a pet she started up,
And pluck'd it out, and drew
My little oakling from the cup,
And flung him in the dew.
"And yet it was a graceful gift---
I felt a pang within
As when I see the woodman lift
His axe to slay my kin.
"I shook him down because he was
The finest on the tree.
He lies beside thee on the grass.
O kiss him once for me.
"O kiss him twice and thrice for me,
That have no lips to kiss,
For never yet was oak on lea
Shall grow so fair as this.
Step deeper yet in herb and fern,
Look further thro' the chace,
Spread upward till thy boughs discern
The front of Sumner-place.
This fruit of thine by Love is blest,
That but a moment lay
Where fairer fruit of Love may rest
Some happy future day.
I kiss it twice, I kiss it thrice,
The warmth it thence shall win
To riper life may magnetise
The baby-oak within.
But thou, while kingdoms overset,
Or lapse from hand to hand,
Thy leaf shall never fail, nor yet
Thine acorn in the land.
May never saw dismember thee,
Nor wielded axe disjoint,
That art the fairest-spoken tree
From here to Lizard-point.
O rock upon thy towery-top
All throats that gurgle sweet!
All starry culmination drop
Balm-dews to bathe thy feet!
All grass of silky feather grow---
And while he sinks or swells
The full south-breeze around thee blow
The sound of minster bells.
The fat earth feed thy branchy root,
That under deeply strikes!
The northern morning o'er thee shoot,
High up, in silver spikes!
Nor ever lightning char thy grain,
But, rolling as in sleep,
Low thunders bring the mellow rain,
That makes thee broad and deep!
And hear me swear a solemn oath,
That only by thy side
Will I to Olive plight my troth,
And gain her for my bride.
And when my marriage morn may fall,
She, Dryad-like, shall wear
Alternate leaf and acorn-ball
In wreath about her hair.
And I will work in prose and rhyme,
And praise thee more in both
Than bard has honour'd beech or lime,
Or that Thessalian growth,
In which the swarthy ringdove sat,
And mystic sentence spoke;
And more than England honours that,
Thy famous brother-oak,
Wherein the younger Charles abode
Till all the paths were dim,
And far below the Roundhead rode,
And humm'd a surly hymn.
Philip Levine |
Rain filled the streets
once a year, rising almost
to door and window sills,
battering walls and roofs
until it cleaned away the mess
My father told
me this, he told me it ran
downtown and spilled into
the river, which in turn
emptied finally into the sea.
He said this only once
while I sat on the arm
of his chair and stared out
at the banks of gray snow
melting as the March rain
All the rest
of that day passed on
into childhood, into nothing,
or perhaps some portion hung
on in a tiny corner of thought.
Perhaps a clot of cinders
that peppered the front yard
clung to a spar of old weed
or the concrete lip of the curb
and worked its way back under
the new growth spring brought
and is a part of that yard
Perhaps light falling
on distant houses becomes
those houses, hunching them
down at dusk like sheep
browsing on a far hillside,
or at daybreak gilds
the roofs until they groan
under the new weight, or
after rain lifts haloes
of steam from the rinsed,
white aluminum siding,
and those houses and all
they contain live that day
in the sight of heaven.
In the blue, winking light
of the International Institute
of Social Revolution
I fell asleep one afternoon
over a book of memoirs
of a Spanish priest who'd
served his own private faith
in a long forgotten war.
An Anarchist and a Catholic,
his remembrances moved
inexplicably from Castilian
to Catalan, a language I
fine and gray, peculiar
to libraries, slipped
between the glossy pages
and my sight, a slow darkness
calmed me, and I forgot
the agony of those men
I'd come to love, forgot
the battles lost and won,
forgot the final trek
over hopeless mountain roads,
defeat, surrender, the vows
to live on.
I slept until
the lights came on and off.
A girl was prodding my arm,
for the place was closing.
A slender Indonesian girl
in sweater and American jeans,
her black hair falling
almost to my eyes, she told
me in perfect English
that I could come back,
and she swept up into a folder
the yellowing newspaper stories
and photos spilled out before
me on the desk, the little
chronicles of death themselves
curling and blurring
into death, and took away
the book still unfinished
of a man more confused
even than I, and switched off
the light, and left me alone.
In June of 1975 I wakened
one late afternoon in Amsterdam
in a dim corner of a library.
I had fallen asleep over a book
and was roused by a young girl
whose hand lay on my hand.
I turned my head up and stared
into her brown eyes, deep
She was crying.
For a second I was confused
and started to speak, to offer
some comfort or aid, but I
kept still, for she was crying
for me, for the knowledge
that I had wakened to a life
in which loss was final.
I closed my eyes a moment.
When I opened them she'd gone,
the place was dark.
out into the golden sunlight;
the cobbled streets gleamed
as after rain, the street cafes
crowded and alive.
far off the great bell
of the Westerkirk tolled
in the early evening.
of my oldest son, who years
before had sailed from here
into an unknown life in Sweden,
a life which failed, of how
he'd gone alone to Copenhagen,
Bremen, where he'd loaded trains,
Hamburg, Munich, and finally
-- sick and weary -- he'd returned
He slept in a corner
of the living room for days,
and woke gaunt and quiet,
still only seventeen, his face
in its own shadows.
of my father on the run
from an older war, and wondered
had he passed through Amsterdam,
had he stood, as I did now,
gazing up at the pale sky,
distant and opaque, for the sign
that never comes.
Had he drifted
in the same winds of doubt
and change to another continent,
another life, a family, some
years of peace, an early death.
I walked on by myself for miles
and still the light hung on
as though the day would
The gray canals
darkened slowly, the sky
above the high, narrow houses
deepened into blue, and one
by one the stars began
their singular voyages.