POETRY II

WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

Peace on Earth

The Archer is wake!
The Swan is flying!
Gold against blue
An Arrow is lying.
There is hunting in heaven⁠—
Sleep safe till to-morrow.

The Bears are abroad!
The Eagle is screaming!
Gold against blue
Their eyes are gleaming!
Sleep!
Sleep safe till to-morrow.

The Sisters lie
With their arms intertwining;
Gold against blue
Their hair is shining!
The Serpent writhes!
Orion is listening!
Gold against blue
His sword is glistening!
Sleep!
There is hunting in heaven⁠—
Sleep safe till to-morrow.

Postlude

Now that I have cooled to you
Let there be gold of tarnished masonry,
Temples soothed by the sun to ruin
That sleep utterly.
Give me hand for the dances,
Ripples at Philae, in and out,
And lips, my Lesbian,
Wall flowers that once were flame.

Your hair is my Carthage
And my arms the bow,
And our words arrows
To shoot the stars
Who from that misty sea
Swarm to destroy us.

But you there beside me⁠—
Oh how shall I defy you,
Who wound me in the night
With breasts shining
Like Venus and like Mars?
The night that is shouting Jason
When the loud eaves rattle
As with waves above me
Blue at the prow of my desire.

First Praise

Lady of dusk wood fastnesses,
Thou art my Lady.
I have known the crisp splintering leaf-tread with thee on before,
White, slender through green saplings;
I have lain by thee on the grey forest floor
Beside thee, my Lady.

Lady of rivers strewn with stones,
Only thou art my Lady.
Where thousand the freshets are crowded like peasants to a fair;
Clear skinned, wild from seclusion,
They jostle white armed down the tent-bordered thoroughfare
Praising my Lady.

Homage

Elvira, by love’s grace
There goeth before you
A clear radiance
Which maketh all vain souls
Candles when noon is.

The loud clangour of pretenders
Melteth before you
Like the roll of carts passing,
But you come silently
And homage is given.

Now the little by-path
Which leadeth to love
Is again joyful with its many;
And the great highway
From love
Is without passers.

The Fool’s Song

I tried to put a bird in a cage.
O fool that I am!
For the bird was Truth.
Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put
Truth in a cage!

And when I had the bird in the cage,
O fool that I am!
Why, it broke my pretty cage.
Sing merrily, Truth; I tried to put
Truth in a cage!

And when the bird was flown from the cage,
O fool that I am!
Why, I had nor bird nor cage.
Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put
Truth in a cage!
Heigh-ho! Truth in a cage.

From “The Birth of Venus,” Song

Come with us and play!
See, we have breasts as women!
From your tents by the sea
Come play with us: it is forbidden!

Come with us and play!
Lo, bare, straight legs in the water!
By our boats we stay,
Then swimming away
Come to us: it is forbidden!

Come with us and play!
See, we are tall as women!
Our eyes are keen:
Our hair is bright:
Our voices speak outright:
We revel in the sea’s green!
Come play:
It is forbidden!

Immortal

Yes, there is one thing braver than all flowers;
Richer than clear gems; wider than the sky;
Immortal and unchangeable; whose powers
Transcend reason, love and sanity!

And thou, beloved, art that godly thing!
Marvellous and terrible; in glance
An injured Juno roused against Heaven’s King!
And thy name, lovely One, is Ignorance.

Mezzo Forte

Take that, damn you; and that!
And here’s a rose
To make it right again!
God knows
I’m sorry, Grace; but then,
It’s not my fault if you will be a cat.

An After Song

So art thou broken in upon me, Apollo,
Through a splendour of purple garments⁠—
Held by the yellow-haired Clymène
To clothe the white of thy shoulders⁠—
Bare from the day’s leaping of horses.
This is strange to me, here in the modern twilight.

Crude Lament

Mother of flames,
The men that went ahunting
Are asleep in the snow drifts.
You have kept the fire burning!
Crooked fingers that pull
Fuel from among the wet leaves,
Mother of flames
You have kept the fire burning!
The young wives have fallen asleep
With wet hair, weeping,
Mother of flames!
The young men raised the heavy spears
And are gone prowling in the darkness.
O mother of flames,
You who have kept the fire burning!
Lo, I am helpless!
Would God they had taken me with them!

The Ordeal

O Crimson salamander,
Because of love’s whim
sacred!
Swim
the winding flame
Predestined to disman him
And bring our fellow home to us again.

Swim in with watery fang,
Gnaw out and drown
The fire roots that circle him
Until the Hell-flower dies down
And he comes home again.

Aye, bring him home,
O crimson salamander,
That I may see he is unchanged with burning⁠—
Then have your will with him,
O crimson salamander.

The Death of Franco of Cologne: His Prophecy of Beethoven

It is useless, good woman, useless: the spark fails me.
God! yet when the might of it all assails me
It seems impossible that I cannot do it.
Yet I cannot. They were right, and they all knew it
Years ago, but I⁠—never! I have persisted
Blindly (they say) and now I am old. I have resisted
Everything, but now, now the strife’s ended.
The fire’s out; the old cloak has been mended
For the last time, the soul peers through its tatters.
Put a light by and leave me; nothing more matters
Now; I am done; I am at last well broken!
Yet, by God, I’ll still leave them a token
That they’ll swear it was no dead man writ it;
A morsel that they’ll mark well the day they bit it,
That there’ll be sand between their gross teeth to crunch yet
When goodman Gabriel blows his concluding trumpet.
Leave me!
And now, little black eyes, come you out here!
Ah, you’ve given me a lively, lasting bout, year
After year to win you round me darlings!
Precious children, little gambollers! “farlings”
They might have called you once, “nearlings”
I call you now, I, first of all the yearlings,
Upon this plain, for I it was that tore you
Out of chaos! It was I bore you!
Ah, you little children that go playing
Over the five-barred gate, and will still be straying
Spite of all that I have ever told you
Of counterpoint and cadence which does not hold you⁠—
No more than chains will for this or that strange reason,
But you’re always at some new loving treason
To be away from me, laughing, mocking,
Witlessly, perhaps, but for all that forever knocking
At this stanchion door of your poor father’s heart till⁠—oh, well
At least you’ve shown that you can grow well
However much you evade me faster, faster.
But, black eyes, some day you’ll get a master,
For he will come! He shall, he must come!
And when he finishes and the burning dust from
His wheels settles⁠—what shall men see then?
You, you, you, my own lovely children!
Aye, all of you, thus with hands together
Playing on the hill or there in a tether,
Or running free, but all mine! Aye, my very namesakes
Shall be his proper fame’s stakes.
And he shall lead you!
And he shall meed you!
And he shall build you gold palaces!
And he shall wine you from clear chalices!
For I have seen it! I have seen it
Written where the world-clouds screen it
From other eyes
Over the bronze gates of paradise!

Portent

Red cradle of the night,
In you
The dusky child
Sleeps fast till his might
Shall be piled
Sinew on sinew.

Red cradle of the night,
The dusky child
Sleeping sits upright.
Lo how
The winds blow now!
He pillows back;
The winds are again mild.

When he stretches his arms out,
Red cradle of the night,
The alarms shout
From bare tree to tree,
Wild
In afright!
Mighty shall he be,
Red cradle of the night,
The dusky child!!

Con Brio

Miserly, is the best description of that poor fool
Who holds Lancelot to have been a morose fellow,
Dolefully brooding over the events which had naturally to follow
The high time of his deed with Guinevere.
He has a sick historical sight, if I judge rightly,
To believe any such thing as that ever occurred.
But, by the god of blood, what else is it that has deterred
Us all from an out and out defiance of fear
But this same perdamnable miserliness,
Which cries about our necks how we shall have less and less
Than we have now if we spend too wantonly?

Bah, this sort of slither is below contempt!

In the same vein we should have apple trees exempt
From bearing anything but pink blossoms all the year,
Fixed permanent lest their bellies wax unseemly, and the dear
Innocent days of them be wasted quite.

How can we have less? Have we not the deed?

Lancelot thought little, spent his gold and rode to fight
Mounted, if God was willing, on a good steed.

Ad Infinitum

Still I bring flowers
Although you fling them at my feet
Until none stays
That is not struck across with wounds:
Flowers and flowers
That you may break them utterly
As you have always done.

Sure happily
I still bring flowers, flowers,
Knowing how all
Are crumpled in your praise
And may not live
To speak a lesser thing.

Translations from the Spanish, “El Romancero”

I

Although you do your best to regard me
With an air seeming offended,
Never can you deny, when all’s ended,
Calm eyes, that you did regard me.

However much you’re at pains to
Offend me, by which I may suffer,
What offence is there can make up for
The great good he finds who attains you?
For though with mortal fear you reward me,
Until my sorry sense is plenished,
Never can you deny, when all’s ended,
Calm eyes, that you did regard me.

Thinking thus to dismay me
You beheld me with disdain,
But instead of destroying the gain,
In fact with doubled good you paid me.
For though you show them how hardly
They keep off from leniency bended,
Never can you deny, when all’s ended,
Calm eyes, that you did regard me.

II

Ah, little green eyes,
Ah, little eyes of mine,
Ah, Heaven be willing
That you think of me somewise.

The day of departure
You came full of grieving
And to see I was leaving
The tears ‘gan to start sure
With the heavy torture
Of sorrows unbrightened
When you lie down at night and
When there to you dreams rise,
Ah, Heaven be willing
That you think of me somewise.

Deep is my assurance
Of you, little green eyes,
That in truth you realise
Something of my durance
Eyes of hope’s fair assurance
And good premonition
By virtue of whose condition
All green colours I prize.
Ah, Heaven be willing
That you think of me somewise.

Would God I might know you
To which quarter bended
And why comprehended
When sighings overflow you,
And if you must go through
Some certain despair,
For that you lose his care
Who was faithful always.
Ah, Heaven be willing
That you think of me these days.

Through never a moment
I’ve known how to live lest
All my thoughts but as one pressed
You-ward for their concernment.
May God send chastisement
If in this I belie me
And if it truth be
My own little green eyes.
Ah, Heaven be willing
That you think of me somewise.

III

Poplars of the meadow,
Fountains of Madrid,
Now I am absent from you
All are slandering me.

Each of you is telling
How evil my chance is
The wind among the branches,
The fountains in their welling
To every one telling
You were happy to see.
Now I am absent from you
All are slandering me.

With good right I may wonder
For that at my last leaving
The plants with sighs heaving
And the waters in tears were.
That you played double, never
Thought I this could be,
Now I am absent from you
All are slandering me.

There full in your presence
Music you sought to waken,
Later I’m forsaken
Since you are ware of my absence.
God, wilt Thou give me patience
Here while suffer I ye,
Now I am absent from you
All are slandering me.

IV

The day draweth nearer,
And morrow ends our meeting,
Ere they take thee sleeping
Be up⁠—away, my treasure!

Soft, leave her breasts all unheeded,
Far hence though the master still remaineth!
For soon uptil our earth regaineth
The sun all embraces dividing.
N’er grew pleasure all unimpeded,
N’er was delight lest passion won,
And to the wise man the fit occasion
Has not yet refused a full measure:
Be up⁠—away, my treasure!

If that my love thy bosom inflameth
With honest purpose and just intention,
To free me from my soul’s contention
Give over joys the day shameth;
Who thee lameth he also me lameth,
And my good grace builds all in thy good grace;
Be up⁠—away! Fear leaveth place,
That thou art here, no more unto pleasure,
Be up⁠—away, my treasure!

Although thou with a sleep art wresting,
’Tis rightful thou bringst it close,
That of the favour one meeting shows
An hundred may hence be attesting.
’Tis fitting too thou shouldst be mindful
That the ease which we lose now, in kind, full
Many a promise holds for our leisure;
Ere they take thee sleeping;
Be up⁠—away, my treasure!

Hic Jacet

The coroner’s merry little children
Have such twinkling brown eyes.
Their father is not of gay men
And their mother jocular in no wise,
Yet the coroner’s merry little children
Laugh so easily.

They laugh because they prosper.
Fruit for them is upon all branches.
Lo! how they jibe at loss, for
Kind heaven fills their little paunches!
It’s the coroner’s merry, merry children
Who laugh so easily.

Contemporania

The corner of a great rain
Steamy with the country
Has fallen upon my garden.

I go back and forth now
And the little leaves follow me
Talking of the great rain,
Of branches broken,
And the farmer’s curses!

But I go back and forth
In this corner of a garden
And the green shoots follow me
Praising the great rain.

We are not curst together,
The leaves and I,
Framing devices, flower devices
And other ways of peopling
The barren country.

Truly it was a very great rain
That makes the little leaves follow me.

To Wish Myself Courage

On the day when youth is no more upon me
I will write of the leaves and the moon in a tree top!
I will sing then the song, long in the making⁠—
When the stress of youth is put away from me.

How can I ever be written out as men say?
Surely it is merely an interference with the long song⁠—
This that I am now doing.

But when the spring of it is worn like the old moon
And the eaten leaves are lace upon the cold earth⁠—
Then I will rise up in my great desire⁠—
Long at the birth⁠—and sing me the youth-song!

Sub Terra

Where shall I find you,
you my grotesque fellows
that I seek everywhere
to make up my band?
None, not one
with the earthy tastes I require;
the burrowing pride that rises
subtly as on a bush in May.

Where are you this day,
you my seven year locusts
with cased wings?
Ah my beauties how I long⁠—!
That harvest
that shall be your advent⁠—
thrusting up through the grass,
up under the weeds
answering me,
that shall be satisfying!
The light shall leap and snap
that day as with a million lashes!

Oh, I have you; yes
you are about me in a sense:
playing under the blue pools
that are my windows⁠—
but they shut you out still,
there in the half light. For the simple truth is
that though I see you clear enough
you are not there!

It is not that⁠—it is you,
you I want!

—God, if I could fathom
the guts of shadows!

You to come with me
poking into negro houses
with their gloom and smell!
In among children
leaping around a dead dog!
Mimicking
onto the lawns of the rich!
You!
to go with me a-tip-toe,
head down under heaven,
nostrils lipping the wind!

Pastoral

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel-staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best
of all colors.

No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.

Chickory and Daisies

I

Lift your flowers
on bitter stems
chickory!
Lift them up
out of the scorched ground!
Bear no foliage
but give yourself
wholly to that!

Strain under them
you bitter stems
that no beast eats⁠—
and scorn greyness!
Into the heat with them:
cool!
luxuriant! sky-blue!
The earth cracks and
is shriveled up;
the wind moans piteously;
the sky goes out
if you should fail.

II

I saw a child with daisies
for weaving into the hair
tear the stems
with her teeth!

Metric Figure

There is a bird in the poplars!
It is the sun!
The leaves are little yellow fish
swimming in the river.
The bird skims above them,
day is on his wings.
Phoebus!
It is he that is making
the great gleam among the poplars!
It is his singing
outshines the noise
of leaves clashing in the wind.

Woman Walking

An oblique cloud of purple smoke
across a milky silhouette
of house sides and tiny trees⁠—
a little village⁠—
that ends in a saw edge
of mist-covered trees
on a sheet of grey sky.

To the right, jutting in,
a dark crimson corner of roof.
To the left, half a tree:

—what a blessing it is
to see you in the street again,
powerful woman,
coming with swinging haunches,
breasts straight forward,
supple shoulders, full arms
and strong, soft hands (I’ve felt them)
carrying the heavy basket.
I might well see you oftener!
And for a different reason
than the fresh eggs
you bring us so regularly.

Yes, you, young as I,
with boney brows,
kind grey eyes and a kind mouth;
you walking out toward me
from that dead hillside!
I might well see you oftener.

Gulls

My townspeople, beyond in the great world,
are many with whom it were far more
profitable for me to live than here with you.
These whirr about me calling, calling!
and for my own part I answer them, loud as I can,
but they, being free, pass!
I remain! Therefore, listen!
For you will not soon have another singer.

First I say this: you have seen
the strange birds, have you not, that sometimes
rest upon our river in winter?

Let them cause you to think well then of the storms
that drive many to shelter. These things
do not happen without reason.

And the next thing I say is this:
I saw an eagle once circling against the clouds
over one of our principal churches⁠—
Easter, it was⁠—a beautiful day!⁠—:
three gulls came from above the river
and crossed slowly seaward!
Oh, I know you have your own hymns, I have heard them⁠—
and because I knew they invoked some great protector
I could not be angry with you, no matter
how much they outraged true music⁠—

You see, it is not necessary for us to leap at each other,
and, as I told you, in the end
the gulls moved seaward very quietly.

Appeal

You who are so mighty,
crimson salamander,
hear me once more.

I lay among the half burned sticks
at the edge of the fire.
The fiend was creeping in.
I felt the cold tips of fingers⁠—

O crimson salamander!

Give me one little flame,
one!
that I may bind it
protectingly about the wrist
of him that flung me here,
here upon the very center!

This is my song.

In Harbor

Surely there, among the great docks, is peace, my mind;
there with the ships moored in the river.
Go out, timid child,
and snuggle in among the great ships talking so quietly.
Maybe you will even fall asleep near them and be
lifted into one of their laps, and in the morning⁠—
There is always the morning in which to remember it all!

Of what are they gossiping? God knows.
And God knows it matters little for we cannot understand them.
Yet it is certainly of the sea, of that there can be no question.
It is a quiet sound. Rest! That’s all I care for now.
The smell of them will put us to sleep presently.
Smell! It is the sea water mingling here into the river⁠—
at least so it seems⁠—perhaps it is something else⁠—but what matter?

The sea water! It is quiet and smooth here!
How slowly they move, little by little trying
the hawsers that drop and groan with their agony.
Yes, it is certainly of the high sea they are talking.

Winter Sunset

Then I raised my head
and stared out over
the blue February waste
to the blue bank of hill
with stars on it
in strings and festoons⁠—
but above that:
one opaque
stone of a cloud
just on the hill
left and right
as far as I could see;
and above that
a red streak, then
icy blue sky!

It was a fearful thing
to come into a man’s heart
at that time: that stone
over the little blinking stars
they’d set there.

Apology

Why do I write today?

The beauty of
the terrible faces
of our nonentities
stirs me to it:

colored women
day workers⁠—
old and experienced⁠—
returning home at dusk
in cast off clothing
faces like
old Florentine oak.

Also

the set pieces
of your faces stir me⁠—
leading citizens⁠—
but not
in the same way.

Pastoral

The little sparrows
hop ingenuously
about the pavement
quarreling
with sharp voices
over those things
that interest them.
But we who are wiser
shut ourselves in
on either hand
and no one knows
whether we think good
or evil.
Meanwhile,
the old man who goes about
gathering dog-lime
walks in the gutter
without looking up
and his tread
is more majestic than
that of the Episcopal minister
approaching the pulpit
of a Sunday.
These things
astonish me beyond words.

Love Song

Daisies are broken
petals are news of the day
stems lift to the grass tops
they catch on shoes
part in the middle
leave root and leaves secure.

Black branches
carry square leaves
to the wood’s top.
They hold firm
break with a roar
show the white!

Your moods are slow
the shedding of leaves
and sure
the return in May!

We walked
in your father’s grove
and saw the great oaks
lying with roots
ripped from the ground.

M. B.

Winter has spent this snow
out of envy, but spring is here!
He sits at the breakfast table
in his yellow hair
and disdains even the sun
walking outside
in spangled slippers:

He looks out: there is
a glare of lights
before a theater,⁠—
a sparkling lady
passes quickly to
the seclusion of
her carriage.
Presently
under the dirty, wavy heaven
of a borrowed room he will make
re-inhaled tobacco smoke
his clouds and try them
against the sky’s limits!

Tract

I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral⁠—
for you have it over a troop
of artists⁠—
unless one should scour the world⁠—
you have the ground sense necessary.

See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ’s sake not black⁠—
nor white either⁠—and not polished!
Let it be weathered⁠—like a farm wagon⁠—
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.

Knock the glass out!
My God⁠—glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
how well he is housed or to see
the flowers or the lack of them⁠—
or what?
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass⁠—
and no upholstery phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom⁠—
my townspeople what are you thinking of?

A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.

No wreathes please⁠—
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes⁠—a few books perhaps⁠—
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
my townspeople⁠—
something will be found⁠—anything
even flowers if he had come to that.

So much for the hearse.
For heaven’s sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that’s no place at all for him⁠—
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down⁠—bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! I’d not have him ride
on the wagon at all⁠—damn him⁠—
the undertaker’s understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!

Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind⁠—as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly⁠—
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What⁠—from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us⁠—it will be money
in your pockets.
Go now
I think you are ready.

Promenade

I

Well, mind, here we have
our little son beside us:
a little diversion before breakfast!

Come, we’ll walk down the road
till the bacon will be frying.
We might better be idle?
A poem might come of it?
Oh, be useful. Save annoyance
to Flossie and besides⁠—the wind!
It’s cold. It blows our
old pants out! It makes us shiver!
See the heavy trees
shifting their weight before it.
Let us be trees, an old house,
a hill with grass on it!
The baby’s arms are blue.
Come, move! Be quieted!

II

So. We’ll sit here now
and throw pebbles into
this water-trickle.

Splash the water up!
(Splash it up, Sonny!) Laugh!
Hit it there deep under the grass.

See it splash! Ah, mind,
see it splash! It is alive!
Throw pieces of broken leaves
into it. They’ll pass through.
No! Yes⁠—just!

Away now for the cows! But⁠—
It’s cold!
It’s getting dark.
It’s going to rain.
No further!

III

Oh then, a wreath! Let’s
refresh something they
used to write well of.

Two fern plumes. Strip them
to the mid-rib along one side.
Bind the tips with a grass stem.
Bend and intertwist the stalks
at the back. So!
Ah! now we are crowned!
Now we are a poet!

Quickly!
A bunch of little flowers
for Flossie⁠—the little ones
only:
a red clover, one
blue heal-all, a sprig of
bone-set, one primrose,
a head of Indian tobacco, this
magenta speck and this
little lavender!
Home now, my mind!⁠—
Sonny’s arms are icy, I tell you⁠—
and have breakfast!

El Hombre

It’s a strange courage
you give me ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you lend no part!

Hero

Fool,
put your adventures
into those things
which break ships⁠—
not female flesh.

Let there pass
over the mind
the waters of
four oceans, the airs
of four skies!

Return hollow-bellied,
keen-eyed, hard!
A simple scar or two.

Little girls will come
bringing you
roses for your button-hole.

Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!

You sullen pig of a man
you force me into the mud
with your stinking ash-cart!

Brother!
—if we were rich
we’d stick our chests out
and hold our heads high!

It is dreams that have destroyed us.

There is no more pride
in horses or in rein holding.
We sit hunched together brooding
our fate.

Well⁠—
all things turn bitter in the end
whether you choose the right or
the left way
and⁠—
dreams are not a bad thing.

Canthara

The old black-man showed me
how he had been shocked
in his youth
by six women, dancing
a set-dance, stark naked below
the skirts raised round
their breasts:
bellies flung forward
knees flying!
—while
his gestures, against the
tiled wall of the dingy bath-room,
swished with ecstasy to
the familiar music of
his old emotion.

Mujer

Oh, black Persian cat!
Was not your life
already cursed with offspring?

We took you for rest to that old
Yankee farm⁠—so lonely
and with so many field mice
in the long grass⁠—
and you return to us
in this condition⁠—!

Oh, black Persian cat.

Summer Song

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,⁠—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,⁠—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky blue
where would they carry me?

Love Song

Sweep the house clean,
hang fresh curtains
in the windows
put on a new dress
and come with me!
The elm is scattering
its little loaves
of sweet smells
from a white sky!

Who shall hear of us
in the time to come?
Let him say there was
a burst of fragrance
from black branches.

Foreign

Artsybashev is a Russian.
I am an American.
Let us wonder, my townspeople,
if Artsybashev tends his own fires
as I do, gets himself cursed
for the baby’s failure to thrive,
loosens windows for the woman
who cleans his parlor⁠—
or has he neat servants
and a quiet library, an
intellectual wife perhaps and
no children⁠—an apartment
somewhere in a back street or
lives alone or with his mother
or sister⁠—

I wonder, my townspeople,
if Artsybashev looks upon
himself the more concernedly
or succeeds any better than I
in laying the world.

I wonder which is the bigger
fool in his own mind.

These are shining topics
my townspeople but⁠—
hardly of great moment.

A Prelude

I know only the bare rocks of today.
In these lies my brown sea-weed,⁠—
green quartz veins bent through the wet shale;
in these lie my pools left by the tide⁠—
quiet, forgetting waves;
on these stiffen white star fish;
on these I slip bare footed!

Whispers of the fishy air touch my body;
“Sisters,” I say to them.

History

I

A wind might blow a lotus petal
over the pyramids⁠—but not this wind.

Summer is a dried leaf.

Leaves stir this way then that
on the baked asphalt, the wheels
of motor cars rush over them,⁠—
gas smells mingle with leaf smells.

Oh, Sunday, day of worship!!!

The steps to the museum are high.
Worshippers pass in and out.
Nobody comes here today.
I come here to mingle faiance dug
from the tomb, turquoise colored
necklaces and belched wind from the
stomach; delicately veined basins
of agate, cracked and discolored and
the stink of stale urine!

Enter! Elbow in at the door.
Men? Women?
Simpering, clay fetish-faces counting
through the turnstile.
Ah!

II

This sarcophagus contained the body
of Uresh-Nai, priestess to the goddess Mut,
Mother of All⁠—

Run your finger against this edge!
—here went the chisel!⁠—and think
of an arrogance endured six thousand years
without a flaw!

But love is an oil to embalm the body.
Love is a packet of spices, a strong
smelling liquid to be squirted into
the thigh. No?
Love rubbed on a bald head will make
hair⁠—and after? Love is
a lice comber!
Gnats on dung!

“The chisel is in your hand, the block
is before you, cut as I shall dictate:
this is the coffin of Uresh-Nai,
priestess to the sky goddess,⁠—built
to endure forever!
Carve the inside
with the image of my death in
little lines of figures three fingers high.
Put a lid on it cut with Mut bending over
the earth, for my headpiece, and in the year
to be chosen I will rouse, the lid
shall be lifted and I will walk about
the temple where they have rested me
and eat the air of the place:

Ah⁠—these walls are high! This
is in keeping.”

III

The priestess has passed into her tomb.
The stone has taken up her spirit!
Granite over flesh: who will deny
its advantages?

Your death?⁠—water
spilled upon the ground⁠—
though water will mount again into rose-leaves⁠—
but you?⁠—would hold life still,
even as a memory, when it is over.
Benevolence is rare.

Climb about this sarcophagus, read
what is writ for you in these figures,
hard as the granite that has held them
with so soft a hand the while
your own flesh has been fifty times
through the guts of oxen,⁠—read!
“The rose-tree will have its donor
even though he give stingily.
The gift of some endures
ten years, the gift of some twenty
and the gift of some for the time a
great house rots and is torn down.
Some give for a thousand years to men of
one face, some for a thousand
to all men and some few to all men
while granite holds an edge against
the weather.
Judge then of love!”

IV

“My flesh is turned to stone. I
have endured my summer. The flurry
of falling petals is ended. Lay
the finger upon this granite. I was
well desired and fully caressed
by many lovers but my flesh
withered swiftly and my heart was
never satisfied. Lay your hands
upon the granite as a lover lays his
hand upon the thigh and upon the
round breasts of her who is
beside him, for now I will not wither,
now I have thrown off secrecy, now
I have walked naked into the street,
now I have scattered my heavy beauty
in the open market.
Here I am with head high and a
burning heart eagerly awaiting
your caresses, whoever it may be,
for granite is not harder than
my love is open, runs loose among you!

I arrogant against death! I
who have endured! I worn against
the years!”

V

But it is five o’clock. Come!
Life is good⁠—enjoy it!
A walk in the park while the day lasts.
I will go with you. Look! this
northern scenery is not the Nile, but⁠—
these benches⁠—the yellow and purple dusk⁠—
the moon there⁠—these tired people⁠—
the lights on the water!

Are not these Jews and⁠—Ethiopians?
The world is young, surely! Young
and colored like⁠—a girl that has come upon
a lover! Will that do?

Winter Quiet

Limb to limb, mouth to mouth
with the bleached grass
silver mist lies upon the back yards
among the outhouses.
The dwarf trees
pirouette awkwardly to it⁠—
whirling round on one toe;
the big tree smiles and glances
upward!
Tense with suppressed excitement
the fences watch where the ground
has humped an aching shoulder for
the ecstasy.

Dawn

Ecstatic bird songs pound
the hollow vastness of the sky
with metallic clinkings⁠—
beating color up into it
at a far edge⁠—beating it, beating it
with rising, triumphant ardor,⁠—
stirring it into warmth,
quickening in it a spreading change,⁠—
bursting wildly against it as
dividing the horizon, a heavy sun
lifts himself⁠—is lifted⁠—
bit by bit above the edge
of things,⁠—runs free at last
out into the open⁠—! lumbering
glorified in full release upward⁠—
songs cease.

Good Night

In brilliant gas light
I turn the kitchen spigot
and watch the water plash
into the clean white sink.
On the grooved drain-board
to one side is
a glass filled with parsley⁠—
crisped green.
Waiting
for the water to freshen⁠—
I glance at the spotless floor⁠—:
a pair of rubber sandals
lie side by side
under the wall-table,
all is in order for the night.

Waiting, with a glass in my hand
—three girls in crimson satin
pass close before me on
the murmurous background of
the crowded opera⁠—
it is
memory playing the clown⁠—
three vague, meaningless girls
full of smells and
the rustling sound of
cloth rubbing on cloth and
little slippers on carpet⁠—
high-school French
spoken in a loud voice!

Parsley in a glass,
still and shining,
brings me back. I take my drink
and yawn deliciously.
I am ready for bed.

Danse Russe

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,⁠—
if I in my north room
danse naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely.
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,⁠—

who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Portrait of a Woman in Bed

There’s my things
drying in the corner:
that blue skirt
joined to the grey shirt⁠—

I’m sick of trouble!
Lift the covers
if you want me
and you’ll see
the rest of my clothes⁠—
though it would be cold
lying with nothing on!

I won’t work
and I’ve got no cash.
What are you going to do
about it?
—and no jewelry
(the crazy fools)

But I’ve my two eyes
and a smooth face
and here’s this! look!
it’s high!
There’s brains and blood
in there⁠—
my name’s Robitza!
Corsets
can go to the devil⁠—
and drawers along with them!
What do I care!

My two boys?
—they’re keen!
Let the rich lady
care for them⁠—
they’ll beat the school
or
let them go to the gutter⁠—
that ends trouble.

This house is empty
isn’t it?
Then it’s mine
because I need it.

Oh, I won’t starve
while there’s the Bible
to make them feed me.

Try to help me
if you want trouble
or leave me alone⁠—
that ends trouble.

The county physician
is a damned fool
and you
can go to hell!

You could have closed the door
when you came in;
do it when you go out.
I’m tired.

Virtue

Now? Why⁠—
whirl-pools of
orange and purple flame
feather twists of chrome
on a green ground
funneling down upon
the steaming phallus-head
of the mad sun himself⁠—
blackened crimson!
Now?

Why⁠—
it is the smile of her
the smell of her
the vulgar inviting mouth of her!
It is⁠—Oh, nothing new
nothing that lasts
an eternity, nothing worth
putting out to interest,
nothing⁠—
but the fixing of an eye
concretely upon emptiness!

Come! here are⁠—
cross-eyed men, a boy
with a patch, men walking
in their shirts, men in hats
dark men, a pale man
with little black moustaches
and a dirty white coat,
fat men with pudgy faces,
thin faces, crooked faces
slit eyes, grey eyes, black eyes
old men with dirty beards,
men in vests with
gold watch chains. Come!

Conquest

Dedicated to F. W.

Hard, chilly colors:
straw grey, frost grey
the grey of frozen ground:
and you, O sun,
close above the horizon!
It is I holds you⁠—
half against the sky
half against a black tree trunk
icily resplendent!

Lie there, blue city, mine at last⁠—
rimming the banked blue grey
and rise, indescribable smoky yellow
into the overpowering white!

Portrait of a Young Man with a Bad Heart

Have I seen her?
Only through the window
across the street.

If I go meeting her
on the corner
some damned fool
will go blabbing it
to the old man and
she’ll get hell.
He’s a queer old bastard!
Every time he sees me
you’d think
I wanted to kill him.
But I figure it out
it’s best to let things
stay as they are⁠—
for a while at least.

It’s hard
giving up the thing
you want most
in the world, but with this
damned pump of mine
liable to give out⁠ ⁠…

She’s a good kid
and I’d hate to hurt her
but if she can get over it⁠—

it’d be the best thing.

Keller Gegen Dom

Witness, would you⁠—
one more young man
in the evening of his love
hurrying to confession:
steps down a gutter
crosses a street
goes in at a doorway
opens for you⁠—
like some great flower⁠—
a room filled with lamplight;
or whirls himself
obediently to
the curl of a hill
some wind-dancing afternoon;
lies for you in
the futile darkness of
a wall, sets stars dancing
to the crack of a leaf⁠—

and⁠—leaning his head away⁠—
snuffs (secretly)
the bitter powder from
his thumb’s hollow,
takes your blessing and
goes home to bed?

Witness instead
whether you like it or not
a dark vinegar smelling place
from which trickles
the chuckle of
beginning laughter

It strikes midnight.

Smell!

Oh strong ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing spring-time!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?

Ballet

Are you not weary,
great gold cross
shining in the wind⁠—
are you not weary
of seeing the stars
turning over you
and the sun
going to his rest
and you frozen with
a great lie
that leaves you
rigid as a knight
on a marble coffin?

—and you,
higher, still,
robin,
untwisting a song
from the bare
top-twigs,
are you not
weary of labor,
even the labor of
a song?

Come down⁠—join me
for I am lonely.

First it will be
a quiet pace
to ease our stiffness
but as the west yellows
you will be ready!

Here in the middle
of the roadway
we will fling
ourselves round
with dust lilies
till we are bound in
their twining stems!
We will tear
their flowers
with arms flashing!

And when
the astonished stars
push aside
their curtains
they will see us
fall exhausted where
wheels and
the pounding feet
of horses
will crush forth
our laughter.

Sympathetic Portrait of a Child

The murderer’s little daughter
who is barely ten years old
jerks her shoulders
right and left
so as to catch a glimpse of me
without turning round.

Her skinny little arms
wrap themselves
this way then that
reversely about her body!
Nervously
she crushes her straw hat
about her eyes
and tilts her head
to deepen the shadow⁠—
smiling excitedly!

As best as she can
she hides herself
in the full sunlight
her cordy legs writhing
beneath the little flowered dress
that leaves them bare
from mid-thigh to ankle⁠—

Why has she chosen me
for the knife
that darts along her smile?

The Ogre

Sweet child,
little girl with well shaped legs
you cannot touch the thoughts
I put over and under and around you.

This is fortunate for they would
burn you to an ash otherwise.
Your petals would be quite curled up.

This is all beyond you⁠—no doubt,
yet you do feel the brushings
of the fine needles;
the tentative lines of your whole body
prove it to me;
so does your fear of me,
your shyness;
likewise the toy baby cart
that you are pushing⁠—
and besides, mother has begun
to dress your hair in a knot.
These are my excuses.

Riposte

Love is like water or the air
my townspeople;
it cleanses, and dissipates evil gases.
It is like poetry too
and for the same reasons.

Love is so precious
my townspeople
that if I were you I would
have it under lock and key⁠—
like the air or the Atlantic or
like poetry!

The Old Men

Old men who have studied
every leg show
in the city
Old men cut from touch
by the perfumed music⁠—
polished or fleeced skulls
that stand before
the whole theater
in silent attitudes
of attention,⁠—
old men who have taken precedence
over young men
and even over dark-faced
husbands whose minds
are a street with arc-lights.
Solitary old men for whom
we find no excuses⁠—
I bow my head in shame
for those who malign you.
Old men
the peaceful beer of impotence
be yours!

Pastoral

If I say I have heard voices
who will believe me?

“None has dipped his hand
in the black waters of the sky
nor picked the yellow lilies
that sway on their clear stems
and no tree has waited
long enough nor still enough
to touch fingers with the moon.”

I looked and there were little frogs
with puffed out throats,
singing in the slime.

Spring Strains

In a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds
crowded erect with desire against
the sky⁠—
tense blue-grey twigs
slenderly anchoring them down, drawing
them in⁠—
two blue-grey birds chasing
a third struggle in circles, angles,
swift convergings to a point that bursts
instantly!

Vibrant bowing limbs
pull downward, sucking in the sky
that bulges from behind, plastering itself
against them in packed rifts, rock blue
and dirty orange!
But⁠—

(Hold hard, rigid jointed trees!)
the blinding and red-edged sun-blur⁠—
creeping energy, concentrated
counterforce⁠—welds sky, buds, trees,
rivets them in one puckering hold!
Sticks through! Pulls the whole
counter-pulling mass upward, to the right,
locks even the opaque, not yet defined
ground in a terrific drag that is
loosening the very tap-roots!

On a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds
two blue-grey birds, chasing a third,
at full cry! Now they are
flung outward and up⁠—disappearing suddenly!

Trees

Crooked, black tree
on your little grey-black hillock,
ridiculously raised one step toward
the infinite summits of the night:
even you the few grey stars
draw upward into a vague melody
of harsh threads.

Bent as you are from straining
against the bitter horizontals of
a north wind⁠—there below you
how easily the long yellow notes
of poplars flow upward in a descending
scale, each note secure in its own
posture⁠—singularly woven.

All voices are blent willingly
against the heaving contra-bass
of the dark but you alone
warp yourself passionately to one side
in your eagerness.

A Portrait in Greys

Will it never be possible
to separate you from your greyness?
Must you be always sinking backward
into your grey-brown landscapes⁠—and trees
always in the distance, always against
a grey sky?
Must I be always
moving counter to you? Is there no place
where we can be at peace together
and the motion of our drawing apart
be altogether taken up?
I see myself
standing upon your shoulders touching
a grey, broken sky⁠—
but you, weighted down with me,
yet gripping my ankles⁠—move
laboriously on,
where it is level and undisturbed by colors.

Invitation

You who had the sense
to choose me such a mother,
you who had the indifference
to create me,
you who went to some pains
to leave hands off me
in the formative stages,⁠—
(I thank you most for that
perhaps)
but you who
with an iron head, first,
fiercest and with strongest love
brutalized me into strength,
old dew-lap⁠—
I have reached the stage
where I am teaching myself
to laugh.
Come on,
take a walk with me.

Divertimiento

Miserable little woman
in a brown coat⁠—
quit whining!
My hand for you!
We’ll skip down the tin cornices
of Main Street
flicking the dull roof-line
with our toe-tips!
Hop clear of the bank! A
pin-wheel round the white flag-pole.

And I’ll sing you the while
a thing to split your sides
about Johann Sebastian Bach,
the father of music, who had
three wives and twenty-two children.

January Morning

Suite

I

I have discovered that most of
the beauties of travel are due to
the strange hours we keep to see them:

the domes of the Church of
the Paulist Fathers in Weehawken
against a smoky dawn⁠—the heart stirred⁠—
are beautiful as Saint Peters
approached after years of anticipation.

II

Though the operation was postponed
I saw the tall probationers
in their tan uniforms
hurrying to breakfast!

III

—and from basement entrys
neatly coiffed, middle aged gentlemen
with orderly moustaches and
well brushed coats

IV

—and the sun, dipping into the avenues
streaking the tops of
the irregular red houselets,
and
the gay shadows dropping and dropping.

V

—and a young horse with a green bed-quilt
on his withers shaking his head:
bared teeth and nozzle high in the air!

VI

—and a semicircle of dirt colored men
about a fire bursting from an old
ash can,

VII

—and the worn,
blue car rails (like the sky!)
gleaming among the cobbles!

VIII

—and the rickety ferry-boat “Arden”!
What an object to be called “Arden”
among the great piers,⁠—on the
ever new river!
“Put me a Touchstone
at the wheel, white gulls, and we’ll
follow the ghost of the Half Moon
to the North West Passage⁠—and through!
(at Albany!) for all that!”

IX

Exquisite brown waves⁠—long
circlets of silver moving over you!
enough with crumbling ice-crusts among you!
The sky has come down to you,
lighter than tiny bubbles, face to
face with you!
His spirit is
a white gull with delicate pink feet
and a snowy breast for you to
hold to your lips delicately!

X

The young doctor is dancing with happiness
in the sparkling wind, alone
at the prow of the ferry! He notices
the curdy barnacles and broken ice crusts
left at the slip’s base by the low tide
and thinks of summer and green
shell crusted ledges among
the emerald eel-grass!

XI

Who knows the Palisades as I do
knows the river breaks east from them
above the city⁠—but they continue south
—under the sky⁠—to bear a crest of
little peering houses that brighten
with dawn behind the moody
water-loving giants of Manhattan.

XII

Long yellow rushes bending
above the white snow patches;
purple and gold ribbon
of the distant wood:
what an angle
you make with each other as
you lie there in contemplation.

XIII

Work hard all your young days
and they’ll find you too, some morning
staring up under
your chiffonier at its warped
bass-wood bottom and your soul⁠—
out!
—among the little sparrows
behind the shutter.

XIV

—and the flapping flags are at
half mast for the dead admiral.

XV

All this⁠—
was for you, old woman.
I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can’t understand it?
But you got to try hard⁠—
But⁠—
Well, you know how
the young girls run giggling
on Park Avenue after dark
when they ought to be home in bed?
Well,
that’s the way it is with me somehow.

To a Solitary Disciple

Rather notice, mon cher,
that the moon is
tilted above
the point of the steeple
than that its color
is shell-pink.

Rather observe
that it is early morning
than that the sky
is smooth
as a turquoise.

Rather grasp
how the dark
converging lines
of the steeple
meet at the pinnacle⁠—
perceive how
its little ornament
tries to stop them⁠—

See how it fails!
See how the converging lines
of the hexagonal spire
escape upward⁠—
receding, dividing!
—sepals
that guard and contain
the flower!

Observe
how motionless
the eaten moon
lies in the protecting lines.

It is true:
in the light colors
of morning
brown-stone and slate
shine orange and dark blue.

But observe
the oppressive weight
of the squat edifice!
Observe
the jasmine lightness
of the moon.

Dedication for a Plot of Ground

This plot of ground
facing the waters of this inlet
is dedicated to the living presence of
Emily Richardson Wellcome
who was born in England; married;
lost her husband and with
her five year old son
sailed for New York in a two-master;
was driven to the Azores;
ran adrift on Fire Island shoal,
met her second husband
in a Brooklyn boarding house,
went with him to Puerto Rico
bore three more children, lost
her second husband, lived hard
for eight years in St. Thomas,
Puerto Rico, San Domingo, followed
the oldest son to New York,
lost her daughter, lost her “baby,”
seized the two boys of
the oldest son by the second marriage
mothered them⁠—they being
motherless⁠—fought for them
against the other grandmother
and the aunts, brought them here
summer after summer, defended
herself here against thieves,
storms, sun, fire,
against flies, against girls
that came smelling about, against
drought, against weeds, storm-tides,
neighbors, weasels that stole her chickens,
against the weakness of her own hands,
against the growing strength of
the boys, against wind, against
the stones, against trespassers,
against rents, against her own mind.

She grubbed this earth with her own hands,
domineered over this grass plot,
blackguarded her oldest son
into buying it, lived here fifteen years,
attained a final loneliness and⁠—

If you can bring nothing to this place
but your carcass, keep out.

K. McB.

You exquisite chunk of mud
Kathleen⁠—just like
any other chunk of mud!
—especially in April!
Curl up round their shoes
when they try to step on you,
spoil the polish!
I shall laugh till I am sick
at their amazement.
Do they expect the ground to be
always solid?
Give them the slip then;
let them sit in you;
soil their pants;
teach them a dignity
that is dignity, the dignity
of mud!

Lie basking in
the sun then⁠—fast asleep!
Even become dust on occasion.

Love Song

I lie here thinking of you:⁠—

the stain of love
is upon the world!
Yellow, yellow, yellow
it eats into the leaves,
smears with saffron
the horned branches that lean
heavily
against a smooth purple sky!
There is no light
only a honey-thick stain
that drips from leaf to leaf
and limb to limb
spoiling the colors
of the whole world⁠—

you far off there under
the wine-red selvage of the west!

The Wanderer

A Rococo Study

Advent

Even in the time when as yet
I had no certain knowledge of her
She sprang from the nest, a young crow,
Whose first flight circled the forest.
I know now how then she showed me
Her mind, reaching out to the horizon,
She close above the tree tops.
I saw her eyes straining at the new distance
And as the woods fell from her flying
Likewise they fell from me as I followed⁠—
So that I strongly guessed all that I must put from me
To come through ready for the high courses.

But one day, crossing the ferry
With the great towers of Manhattan before me,
Out at the prow with the sea wind blowing,
I had been wearying many questions
Which she had put on to try me:
How shall I be a mirror to this modernity?
When lo! in a rush, dragging
A blunt boat on the yielding river⁠—
Suddenly I saw her! And she waved me
From the white wet in midst of her playing!
She cried me, “Haia! Here I am, son!
See how strong my little finger is!
Can I not swim well?
I can fly too!” And with that a great sea-gull
Went to the left, vanishing with a wild cry⁠—
But in my mind all the persons of godhead
Followed after.

Clarity

“Come!” cried my mind and by her might
That was upon us we flew above the river
Seeking her, grey gulls among the white⁠—
In the air speaking as she had willed it:
“I am given,” cried I, “now I know it!
I know now all my time is forespent!
For me one face is all the world!
For I have seen her at last, this day,
In whom age in age is united⁠—
Indifferent, out of sequence, marvelously!
Saving alone that one sequence
Which is the beauty of all the world, for surely
Either there in the rolling smoke spheres below us
Or here with us in the air intercircling,
Certainly somewhere here about us
I know she is revealing these things!”

And as gulls we flew and with soft cries
We seemed to speak, flying, “It is she
The mighty, recreating the whole world,
This the first day of wonders!
She is attiring herself before me⁠—
Taking shape before me for worship,
A red leaf that falls upon a stone!
It is she of whom I told you, old
Forgiveless, unreconcilable;
That high wanderer of by-ways
Walking imperious in beggary!
At her throat is loose gold, a single chain
From among many, on her bent fingers
Are rings from which the stones are fallen,
Her wrists wear a diminished state, her ankles
Are bare! Toward the river! Is it she there?”
And we swerved clamorously downward⁠—
“I will take my peace in her henceforth!”

Broadway

It was then she struck⁠—from behind,
In mid air, as with the edge of a great wing!
And instantly down the mists of my eyes
There came crowds walking⁠—men as visions
With expressionless, animate faces;
Empty men with shell-thin bodies
Jostling close above the gutter,
Hasting⁠—nowhere! And then for the first time
I really saw her, really scented the sweat
Of her presence and⁠—fell back sickened!
Ominous, old, painted⁠—
With bright lips, and lewd Jew’s eyes
Her might strapped in by a corset
To give her age youth, perfect
In her will to be young she had covered
The godhead to go beside me.
Silent, her voice entered at my eyes
And my astonished thought followed her easily:
“Well, do their eyes shine, do their clothes fit?
These live I tell you! Old men with red cheeks,
Young men in gay suits! See them!
Dogged, quivering, impassive⁠—
Well⁠—are these the ones you envied?”
At which I answered her, “Marvelous old queen,
Grant me power to catch something of this day’s
Air and sun into your service!
That these toilers after peace and after pleasure
May turn to you, worshippers at all hours!”
But she sniffed upon the words warily⁠—
Yet I persisted, watching for an answer:
“To you, horrible old woman,
Who know all fires out of the bodies
Of all men that walk with lust at heart!
To you, O mighty, crafty prowler
After the youth of all cities, drunk
With the sight of thy archness! All the youth
That come to you, you having the knowledge
Rather than to those uninitiate⁠—
To you, marvelous old queen, give me always
A new marriage⁠—”
But she laughed loudly⁠—
“A new grip upon those garments that brushed me
In days gone by on beach, lawn, and in forest!
May I be lifted still, up and out of terror,
Up from before the death living around me⁠—
Tom up continually and carried
Whatever way the head of your whim is,
A burr upon those streaming tatters⁠—”
But the night had fallen, she stilled me
And led me away.

Paterson⁠—The Strike

At the first peep of dawn she roused me!
I rose trembling at the change which the night saw!
For there, wretchedly brooding in a corner
From which her old eyes glittered fiercely⁠—
“Go!” she said, and I hurried shivering
Out into the deserted streets of Paterson.

That night she came again, hovering
In rags within the filmy ceiling⁠—
“Great Queen, bless me with thy tatters!”
“You are blest, go on!”
“Hot for savagery,
Sucking the air! I went into the city,
Out again, baffled onto the mountain!
Back into the city!
Nowhere
The subtle! Everywhere the electric!”

“A short bread-line before a hitherto empty tea shop:
No questions⁠—all stood patiently,
Dominated by one idea: something
That carried them as they are always wanting to be carried,
‘But what is it,’ I asked those nearest me,
‘This thing heretofore unobtainable
That they seem so clever to have put on now!’

“Why since I have failed them can it be anything but their own brood?
Can it be anything but brutality?
On that at least they’re united! That at least
Is their bean soup, their calm bread and a few luxuries!

“But in me, more sensitive, marvelous old queen
It sank deep into the blood, that I rose upon
The tense air enjoying the dusty fight!
Heavy drink were the low, sloping foreheads
The flat skulls with the unkempt black or blond hair,
The ugly legs of the young girls, pistons
Too powerful for delicacy!
The women’s wrists, the men’s arms, red
Used to heat and cold, to toss quartered beeves
And barrels, and milk-cans, and crates of fruit!

“Faces all knotted up like burls on oaks,
Grasping, fox-snouted, thick-lipped,
Sagging breasts and protruding stomachs,
Rasping voices, filthy habits with the hands.

“Nowhere you! Everywhere the electric!

“Ugly, venemous, gigantic!
Tossing me as a great father his helpless
Infant till it shriek with ecstasy
And its eyes roll and its tongue hangs out!⁠—

“I am at peace again, old queen, I listen clearer now.”

Abroad

Never, even in a dream,
Have I winged so high nor so well
As with her, she leading me by the hand,
That first day on the Jersey mountains!
And never shall I forget
The trembling interest with which I heard
Her voice in a low thunder:
“You are safe here. Look child, look open-mouth!
The patch of road between the steep bramble banks;
The tree in the wind, the white house there, the sky!
Speak to men of these, concerning me!
For never while you permit them to ignore me
In these shall the full of my freed voice
Come grappling the ear with intent!
Never while the air’s clear coolness
Is seized to be a coat for pettiness;
Never while richness of greenery
Stands a shield for prurient minds;
Never, permitting these things unchallenged
Shall my voice of leaves and varicolored bark come free through!”
At which, knowing her solitude,
I shouted over the country below me:
“Waken! my people, to the boughs green
With ripening fruit within you!
Waken to the myriad cinquefoil
In the waving grass of your minds!
Waken to the silent phoebe nest
Under the eaves of your spirit!”

But she, stooping nearer the shifting hills
Spoke again. “Look there! See them!
There in the oat field with the horses,
See them there! bowed by their passions
Crushed down, that had been raised as a roof beam!
The weight of the sky is upon them
Under which all roof beams crumble.
There is none but the single roof beam:
There is no love bears against the great firefly!
At this I looked up at the sun
Then shouted again with all the might I had.
But my voice was a seed in the wind.
Then she, the old one, laughing
Seized me and whirling about bore back
To the city, upward, still laughing
Until the great towers stood above the marshland
Wheeling beneath: the little creeks, the mallows
That I picked as a boy, the Hackensack
So quiet that seemed so broad formerly:
The crawling trains, the cedar swamp on the one side⁠—
All so old, so familiar⁠—so new now
To my marvelling eyes as we passed
Invisible.

Soothsay

Eight days went by, eight days
Comforted by no nights, until finally:
“Would you behold yourself old, beloved?”
I was pierced, yet I consented gladly
For I knew it could not be otherwise.
And she⁠—“Behold yourself old!
Sustained in strength, wielding might in gript surges!
Not bodying the sun in weak leaps
But holding way over rockish men
With fern free fingers on their little crags,
Their hollows, the new Atlas, to bear them
For pride and for mockery! Behold
Yourself old! winding with slow might⁠—
A vine among oaks⁠—to the thin tops:
Leaving the leafless leaved,
Bearing purple clusters! Behold
Yourself old! birds are behind you.
You are the wind coming that stills birds,
Shakes the leaves in booming polyphony⁠—
Slow, winning high way amid the knocking
Of boughs, evenly crescendo,
The din and bellow of the male wind!
Leap then from forest into foam!
Lash about from low into high flames
Tipping sound, the female chorus⁠—
Linking all lions, all twitterings
To make them nothing! Behold yourself old!”
As I made to answer she continued,
A little wistfully yet in a voice clear cut:
“Good is my overlip and evil
My underlip to you henceforth:
For I have taken your soul between my two hands
And this shall be as it is spoken.”

St. James’ Grove

And so it came to that last day
When, she leading by the hand, we went out
Early in the morning, I heavy of heart
For I knew the novitiate was ended
The ecstasy was over, the life begun.

In my woolen shirt and the pale blue necktie
My grandmother gave me, there I went
With the old queen right past the houses
Of my friends down the hill to the river
As on any usual day, any errand.
Alone, walking under trees,
I went with her, she with me in her wild hair,
By Santiago Grove and presently
She bent forward and knelt by the river,
The Passaic, that filthy river.
And there dabbling her mad hands,
She called me close beside her.
Raising the water then in the cupped palm
She bathed our brows wailing and laughing:
“River, we are old, you and I,
We are old and by bad luck, beggars.
Lo, the filth in our hair, our bodies stink!
Old friend, here I have brought you
The young soul you long asked of me.
Stand forth, river, and give me
The old friend of my revels!
Give me the well-worn spirit,
For here I have made a room for it,
And I will return to you forthwith
The youth you have long asked of me:
Stand forth, river, and give me
The old friend of my revels!”

And the filthy Passaic consented!

Then she, leaping up with a fierce cry:
“Enter, youth, into this bulk!
Enter, river, into this young man!”
Then the river began to enter my heart,
Eddying back cool and limpid
Into the crystal beginning of its days.
But with the rebound it leaped forward:
Muddy, then black and shrunken
Till I felt the utter depth of its rottenness
The vile breadth of its degradation
And dropped down knowing this was me now.
But she lifted me and the water took a new tide
Again into the older experiences,
And so, backward and forward,
It tortured itself within me
Until time had been washed finally under,
And the river had found its level
And its last motion had ceased
And I knew all⁠—it became me.
And I knew this for double certain
For there, whitely, I saw myself
Being borne off under the water!
I could have shouted out in my agony
At the sight of myself departing
Forever⁠—but I bit back my despair
For she had averted her eyes
By which I knew well what she was thinking⁠—
And so the last of me was taken.

Then she, “Be mostly silent!”
And turning to the river, spoke again:
“For him and for me, river, the wandering,
But by you I leave for happiness
Deep foliage, the thickest beeches⁠—
Though elsewhere they are all dying⁠—
Tallest oaks and yellow birches
That dip their leaves in you, mourning,
As now I dip my hair, immemorial
Of me, immemorial of him
Immemorial of these our promises!
Here shall be a bird’s paradise,
They sing to you remembering my voice:
Here the most secluded spaces
For miles around, hallowed by a stench
To be our joint solitude and temple;
In memory of this clear marriage
And the child I have brought you in the late years.
Live, river, live in luxuriance
Remembering this our son,
In remembrance of me and my sorrow
And of the new wandering!”

The Late Singer

Here it is spring again
and I still a young man!
I am late at my singing.
The sparrow with the black rain on his breast
has been at his cadenzas for two weeks past:
What is it that is dragging at my heart?
The grass by the back door
is stiff with sap.
The old maples are opening
their branches of brown and yellow moth-flowers.
A moon hangs in the blue
in the early afternoons over the marshes.
I am late at my singing.

March

I

Winter is long in this climate
and spring⁠—a matter of a few days
only⁠—a flower or two picked
from mud or from among wet leaves
or at best against treacherous
bitterness of wind, and sky shining
teasingly, then closing in black
and sudden, with fierce jaws.

II

March,
you remind me of
the pyramids, our pyramids⁠—
stript of the polished stone
that used to guard them!
March,
you are like Fra Angelico
at Fiesole, painting on plaster!

March,
you are like a band of
young poets that have not learned
the blessedness of warmth
(or have forgotten it).

At any rate⁠—
I am moved to write poetry
for the warmth there is in it
and for the loneliness⁠—
a poem that shall have you
in it March.

III

See!
Ashur-ban-i-pal,
the archer king, on horse-back,
in blue and yellow enamel!
with drawn bow⁠—facing lions
standing on their hind legs,
fangs bared! his shafts
bristling in their necks!

Sacred bulls⁠—dragons
in embossed brickwork
marching⁠—in four tiers⁠—
along the sacred way to
Nebuchadnezzar’s throne hall!
They shine in the sun,
they that have been marching⁠—
marching under the dust of
ten thousand dirt years.

Now⁠—
they are coming into bloom again!
See them!
marching still, bared by
the storms from my calendar
—winds that blow back the sand!
winds that enfilade dirt!
winds that by strange craft
have whipt up a black army
that by pick and shovel
bare a procession to
the god, Marduk!

Natives cursing and digging
for pay unearth dragons with
upright tails and sacred bulls
alternately⁠—
in four tiers⁠—
lining the way to an old altar!
Natives digging at old walls⁠—
digging me warmth⁠—digging me
sweet loneliness⁠—
high enamelled walls.

IV

My second spring⁠—
passed in a monastery
with plaster walls⁠—in Fiesole
on the hill above Florence.

My second spring⁠—painted
a virgin⁠—in a blue aureole
sitting on a three-legged stool,
arms crossed⁠—
she is intently serious,
and still
watching an angel
with colored wings
half kneeling before her⁠—
and smiling⁠—the angel’s eyes
holding the eyes of Mary
as a snake’s holds a bird’s.
On the ground there are flowers,
trees are in leaf.

V

But! now for the battle!
Now for murder⁠—now for the real thing!
My third springtime is approaching!

Winds!
lean, serious as a virgin,
seeking, seeking the flowers of March.

Seeking
flowers nowhere to be found,
they twine among the bare branches
in insatiable eagerness⁠—
they whirl up the snow
seeking under it⁠—
they⁠—the winds⁠—snakelike
roar among yellow reeds
seeking flowers⁠—flowers.

I spring among them
seeking one flower
in which to warm myself!

I deride with all the ridicule
of misery⁠—
my own starved misery.

Counter-cutting winds
strike against me
refreshing their fury!

Come, good, cold fellows!
Have we no flowers?
Defy then with even more
desperation than ever⁠—being
lean and frozen!

But though you are lean and frozen⁠—
think of the blue bulls of Babylon.

Fling yourselves upon
their empty roses⁠—
cut savagely!

But⁠—
think of the painted monastery
at Fiesole.

Berket and the Stars

A day on the boulevards chosen out of ten years of
student poverty! One best day out of ten good ones.
Berket in high spirits⁠—“Ha, oranges! Let’s have one!”
And he made to snatch an orange from the vender’s cart.

Now so clever was the deception, so nicely timed
to the full sweep of certain wave summits,
that the rumor of the thing has come down through
three generations⁠—which is relatively forever!

A Celebration

A middle-northern March, now as always⁠—
gusts from the south broken against cold winds⁠—
but from under, as if a slow hand lifted a tide,
it moves⁠—not into April⁠—into a second March,
the old skin of wind-clear scales dropping
upon the mould: this is the shadow projects the tree
upward causing the sun to shine in his sphere.

So we will put on our pink felt hat⁠—new last year!
—newer this by virtue of brown eyes turning back
the seasons⁠—and let us walk to the orchid-house,
see the flowers will take the prize to-morrow
at the Palace.
Stop here, these are our oleanders.
When they are in bloom⁠—
You would waste words
It is clearer to me than if the pink
were on the branch. It would be a searching in
a colored cloud to reveal that which now, huskless,
shows the very reason for their being.

And these the orange-trees, in blossom⁠—no need
to tell with this weight of perfume in the air.
If it were not so dark in this shed one could better
see the white.
It is that very perfume
has drawn the darkness down among the leaves.
Do I speak clearly enough?
It is this darkness reveals that which darkness alone
loosens and sets spinning on waxen wings⁠—
not the touch of a finger-tip, not the motion
of a sigh. A too heavy sweetness proves
its own caretaker.
And here are the orchids!
Never having seen
such gaiety I will read these flowers for you:
This is an odd January, died⁠—in Villon’s time.
Snow, this is and this the stain of a violet
grew in that place the spring that foresaw its own doom.

And this, a certain July from Iceland:
a young woman of that place
breathed it toward the south. It took root there.
The color ran true but the plant is small.

This falling spray of snowflakes is
a handful of dead Februarys
prayed into flower by Rafael Arevalo Martinez
of Guatemala.
Here’s that old friend who
went by my side so many years: this full, fragile
head of veined lavender. Oh that April
that we first went with our stiff lusts
leaving the city behind, out to the green hill⁠—
May, they said she was. A hand for all of us:
this branch of blue butterflies tied to this stem.

June is a yellow cup I’ll not name; August
the over-heavy one. And here are⁠—
russet and shiny, all but March. And March?
Ah, March⁠—
Flowers are a tiresome pastime.
One has a wish to shake them from their pots
root and stem, for the sun to gnaw.

Walk out again into the cold and saunter home
to the fire. This day has blossomed long enough.
I have wiped out the red night and lit a blaze
instead which will at least warm our hands
and stir up the talk.
I think we have kept fair time.
Time is a green orchid.

April

If you had come away with me
into another state
we had been quiet together.
But there the sun coming up
out of the nothing beyond the lake was
too low in the sky,
there was too great a pushing
against him,
too much of sumac buds, pink
in the head
with the clear gum upon them,
too many opening hearts of
lilac leaves,
too many, too many swollen
limp poplar tassels on the
bare branches!
It was too strong in the air.
I had no rest against that
springtime!
The pounding of the hoofs on the
raw sods
stayed with me half through the night.
I awoke smiling but tired.

A Goodnight

Go to sleep⁠—though of course you will not⁠—
to tideless waves thundering slantwise against
strong embankments, rattle and swish of spray
dashed thirty feet high, caught by the lake wind,
scattered and strewn broadcast in over the steady
car rails! Sleep, sleep! Gulls’ cries in a wind-gust
broken by the wind; calculating wings set above
the field of waves breaking.
Go to sleep to the lunge between foam-crests,
refuse churned in the recoil. Food! Food!
Offal! Offal! that holds them in the air, wave-white
for the one purpose, feather upon feather, the wild
chill in their eyes, the hoarseness in their voices⁠—
sleep, sleep⁠ ⁠…

Gentlefooted crowds are treading out your lullaby.
Their arms nudge, they brush shoulders,
hitch this way then that, mass and surge at the crossings⁠—
lullaby, lullaby! The wild-fowl police whistles,
the enraged roar of the traffic, machine shrieks:
it is all to put you to sleep,
to soften your limbs in relaxed postures,
and that your head slip sidewise, and your hair loosen
and fall over your eyes and over your mouth,
brushing your lips wistfully that you may dream,
sleep and dream⁠—

A black fungus springs out about lonely church doors⁠—
sleep, sleep. The Night, coming down upon
the wet boulevard, would start you awake with his
message, to have in at your window. Pay no
heed to him. He storms at your sill with
cooings, with gesticulations, curses!
You will not let him in. He would keep you from sleeping.
He would have you sit under your desk lamp
brooding, pondering; he would have you
slide out the drawer, take up the ornamented dagger
and handle it. It is late, it is nineteen-nineteen⁠—
go to sleep, his cries are a lullaby;
his jabbering is a sleep-well-my-baby; he is
a crackbrained messenger.

The maid waking you in the morning
when you are up and dressing,
the rustle of your clothes as you raise them⁠—
it is the same tune.
At table the cold, greenish, split grapefruit, its juice
on the tongue, the clink of the spoon in
your coffee, the toast odors say it over and over.

The open street-door lets in the breath of
the morning wind from over the lake.
The bus coming to a halt grinds from its sullen brakes⁠—
lullaby, lullaby. The crackle of a newspaper,
the movement of the troubled coat beside you⁠—
sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep⁠ ⁠…
It is the sting of snow, the burning liquor of
the moonlight, the rush of rain in the gutters packed
with dead leaves: go to sleep, go to sleep.
And the night passes⁠—and never passes⁠—

Overture to a Dance of Locomotives

I

Men with picked voices chant the names
of cities in a huge gallery: promises
that pull through descending stairways
to a deep rumbling.
The rubbing feet
of those coming to be carried quicken a
grey pavement into soft light that rocks
to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
across and across from pale
earthcolored walls of bare limestone.

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.

A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
out at a high window, moves by the clock:
disaccordant hands straining out from
a center: inevitable postures infinitely
repeated⁠—

II

Two⁠—twofour⁠—twoeight!
Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.
This way ma’m!
—important not to take
the wrong train!
Lights from the concrete
ceiling hang crooked but⁠—
Poised horizontal
on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
packed with a warm glow⁠—inviting entry⁠—
pull against the hour. But brakes can
hold a fixed posture till⁠—
The whistle!

Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating
in a small kitchen. Taillights⁠—

In time: twofour!
In time: twoeight!

—rivers are tunneled: trestles
cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
the same gesture remain relatively
stationary: rails forever parallel
return on themselves infinitely.
The dance is sure.

Romance Moderne

Tracks of rain and light linger in
the spongy greens of a nature whose
flickering mountain⁠—bulging nearer,
ebbing back into the sun
hollowing itself away to hold a lake⁠—
or brown stream rising and falling
at the roadside, turning about,
churning itself white, drawing
green in over it⁠—plunging glassy funnels
fall⁠—
And⁠—the other world⁠—
the windshield a blunt barrier:
Talk to me. Sh! they would hear us.
—the backs of their heads facing us⁠—
The stream continues its motion of
a hound running over rough ground.

Trees vanish⁠—reappear⁠—vanish:
detached dance of gnomes⁠—as a talk
dodging remarks, glows and fades.
—The unseen power of words⁠—
And now that a few of the moves
are clear the first desire is
to fling oneself out at the side into
the other dance, to other music.
Peer Gynt. Rip Van Winkle. Diana.

If I were young I would try a new alignment⁠—
alight nimbly from the car, Good-bye!⁠—
Childhood companions linked two and two
criss-cross: four, three, two, one.
Back into self, tentacles withdrawn.
Feel about in warm self-flesh.
Since childhood, since childhood!
Childhood is a toad in the garden, a
happy toad. All toads are happy
and belong in gardens. A toad to Diana!

Lean forward. Punch the steersman
behind the ear. Twirl the wheel!
Over the edge! Screams! Crash!
The end. I sit above my head⁠—
a little removed⁠—or
a thin wash of rain on the roadway
—I am never afraid when he is driving⁠—
interposes new direction,
rides us sidewise, unforseen
into the ditch! All threads cut!
Death! Black. The end. The very end⁠—

I would sit separate weighing a
small red handful: the dirt of these parts,
sliding mists sheeting the alders
against the touch of fingers creeping
to mine. All stuff of the blind emotions.
But⁠—stirred, the eye seizes
for the first time⁠—The eye awake!⁠—
anything, a dirt bank with green stars
of scrawny weed flattened upon it under
a weight of air⁠—For the first time!⁠—
or a yawning depth: Big!
Swim around in it, through it⁠—
all directions and find
vitreous seawater stuff⁠—
God how I love you!⁠—or, as I say,
a plunge into the ditch. The end. I sit
examining my red handful. Balancing
—this⁠—in and out⁠—agh.

Love you? It’s
a fire in the blood, willy-nilly!
It’s the sun coming up in the morning.
Ha, but it’s the grey moon too, already up
in the morning. You are slow.
Men are not friends where it concerns
a woman? Fighters. Playfellows.
White round thighs! Youth! Sighs⁠—!
It’s the fillip of novelty. It’s⁠—

Mountains. Elephants humping along
against the sky⁠—indifferent to
light withdrawing its tattered shreds,
worn out with embraces. It’s
the fillip of novelty. It’s a fire in the blood.

Oh get a flannel shirt, white flannel
or pongee. You’d look so well!
I married you because I liked your nose.
I wanted you! I wanted you
in spite of all they’d say⁠—

Rain and light, mountain and rain,
rain and river. Will you love me always?
—A car overturned and two crushed bodies
under it.⁠—Always! Always!
And the white moon already up.
White. Clean. All the colors.
A good head, backed by the eye⁠—awake!
backed by the emotions⁠—blind⁠—
River and mountain, light and rain⁠—or
rain, rock, light, trees⁠—divided:
rain-light counter rocks-trees or
trees counter rain-light-rocks or⁠—

Myriads of counter processions
crossing and recrossing, regaining
the advantage, buying here, selling there
—You are sold cheap everywhere in town!⁠—
lingering, touching fingers, withdrawing
gathering forces into blares, hummocks,
peaks and rivers⁠—river meeting rock
—I wish that you were lying there dead
and I sitting here beside you.⁠—
It’s the grey moon⁠—over and over.
It’s the clay of these parts.

The Desolate Field

Vast and grey, the sky
is a simulacrum
to all but him whose days
are vast and grey, and⁠—
In the tall, dried grasses
a goat stirs
with nozzle searching the ground.
—my head is in the air
but who am I⁠ ⁠… ?
And amazed my heart leaps
at the thought of love
vast and grey
yearning silently over me.

Willow Poem

It is a willow when summer is over,
a willow by the river
from which no leaf has fallen nor
bitten by the sun
turned orange or crimson.
The leaves cling and grow paler,
swing and grow paler
over the swirling waters of the river
as if loath to let go,
they are so cool, so drunk with
the swirl of the wind and of the river⁠—
oblivious to winter,
the last to let go and fall
into the water and on the ground.

Approach of Winter

The half stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine,⁠—
like no leaf that ever was⁠—
edge the bare garden.

January

Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.

Blizzard

Snow:
years of anger following
hours that float idly down⁠—
the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes⁠—
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there⁠—
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.

To Waken an Old Lady

Old age is
a flight of small
cheeping birds
skimming
bare trees
above a snow glaze.
Gaining and failing
they are buffetted
by a dark wind⁠—
But what?
On harsh weedstalks
the flock has rested,
the snow
is covered with broken
seedhusks
and the wind tempered
by a shrill
piping of plenty.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Complaint

They call me and I go
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
perhaps vomiting,
perhaps laboring
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one gold needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.

The Cold Night

It is cold. The white moon
is up among her scattered stars⁠—
like the bare thighs of
the Police Sergeant’s wife⁠—among
her five children⁠ ⁠…
No answer. Pale shadows lie upon
the frosted grass. One answer:
It is midnight, it is still
and it is cold⁠ ⁠… !
White thighs of the sky! a
new answer out of the depths of
my male belly: In April⁠ ⁠…
In April I shall see again⁠—In April!
the round and perfect thighs
of the Police Sergeant’s wife
perfect still after many babies.
Oya!

Spring Storm

The sky has given over
its bitterness.
Out of the dark change
all day long
rain falls and falls
as if it would never end.
Still the snow keeps
its hold on the ground.
But water, water
from a thousand runnels!
It collects swiftly,
dappled with black
cuts a way for itself
through green ice in the gutters.
Drop after drop it falls
from the withered grass-stems
of the overhanging embankment.

The Delicacies

The hostess, in pink satin and blond hair⁠—dressed
high⁠—shone beautifully in her white slippers against
the great silent bald head of her little-eyed husband!
Raising a glass of yellow Rhine wine in the narrow
space just beyond the light-varnished woodwork and
the decorative column between dining-room and hall,
she smiled the smile of water tumbling from one ledge
to another.

We began with a herring salad: delicately flavoured
saltiness in scallops of lettuce-leaves.

The little owl-eyed and thick-set lady with masses
of grey hair has smooth pink cheeks without a wrinkle.
She cannot be the daughter of the little red-faced
fellow dancing about inviting lion-headed Wolff the
druggist to play the piano! But she is. Wolff is a
terrific smoker: if the telephone goes off at night⁠—so
his curled-haired wife whispers⁠—he rises from bed but
cannot answer till he has lighted a cigarette.

Sherry wine in little conical glasses, dull brownish
yellow, and tomatoes stuffed with finely cut chicken
and mayonnaise!

The tall Irishman in a Prince Albert and the usual
striped trousers is going to sing for us. (The piano
is in a little alcove with dark curtains.) The hostess’s
sister⁠—ten years younger than she⁠—in black net and
velvet, has hair like some filmy haystack, cloudy about
the eyes. She will play for her husband.

My wife is young, yes she is young and pretty when
she cares to be⁠—when she is interested in a discussion:
it is the little dancing mayor’s wife telling her of the
Day nursery in East Rutherford, ’cross the track,
divided from us by the railroad⁠—and disputes as to
precedence. It is in this town the saloon flourishes,
the saloon of my friend on the right whose wife has
twice offended with chance words. Her English is
atrocious! It is in this town that the saloon is situated,
close to the railroad track, close as may be, this side
being dry, dry, dry: two people listening on opposite
sides of a wall!⁠—The Day Nursery had sixty-five
babies the week before last, so my wife’s eyes shine
and her cheeks are pink and I cannot see a blemish.

Ice-cream in the shape of flowers and domestic
objects: a pipe for me since I do not smoke, a doll
for you.

The figure of some great bulk of a woman disappearing
into the kitchen with a quick look over the
shoulder. My friend on the left who has spent the
whole day in a car the like of which some old fellow
would give to an actress: flower-holders, mirrors,
curtains, plush seats⁠—my friend on the left who is
chairman of the Streets committee of the town council
—and who has spent the whole day studying automobile
fire-engines in neighbouring towns in view of
purchase⁠—my friend, at the Elks last week at the
breaking-up hymn, signalled for them to let Bill⁠—a
familiar friend of the saloon-keeper⁠—sing out all alone
to the organ⁠—and he did sing!

Salz-rolls, exquisite! and Rhine wine ad libitum.
A masterly caviare sandwich.

The children flitting about above stairs. The
councilman has just bought a National eight⁠—some
car!

For heaven’s sake I mustn’t forget the halves of
green peppers stuffed with cream cheese and whole
walnuts!

Thursday

I have had my dream⁠—like others⁠—
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky⁠—
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose⁠—and decide to dream no more.

The Dark Day

A three-day-long rain from the east⁠—
an interminable talking, talking
of no consequence⁠—patter, patter, patter.
Hand in hand little winds
blow the thin streams aslant.
Warm. Distance cut off. Seclusion.
A few passers-by, drawn in upon themselves,
hurry from one place to another.
Winds of the white poppy! there is no escape!⁠—
An interminable talking, talking,
talking⁠ ⁠… it has happened before.
Backward, backward, backward.

Time the Hangman

Poor old Abner, old white-haired nigger!
I remember when you were so strong
you hung yourself by a rope round the neck
in Doc Hollister’s barn to prove you could beat
the faker in the circus⁠—and it didn’t kill you.
Now your face is in your hands, and your elbows
are on your knees, and you are silent and broken.

To a Friend

Well, Lizzie Anderson! seventeen men⁠—and
the baby hard to find a father for!

What will the good Father in Heaven say
to the local judge if he do not solve this problem?
A little two pointed smile and⁠—pouff!⁠—
the law is changed into a mouthful of phrases.

The Gentle Man

I feel the caress of my own fingers
on my own neck as I place my collar
and think pityingly
of the kind women I have known.

The Soughing Wind

Some leaves hang late, some fall
before the first frost⁠—so goes
the tale of winter branches and old bones.

Spring

O my grey hairs!
You are truly white as plum blossoms.

Play

Subtle, clever brain, wiser than I am,
by what devious means do you contrive
to remain idle? Teach me, O master.

Lines

Leaves are greygreen,
the glass broken, bright green.

The Poor

By constantly tormenting them
with reminders of the lice in
their children’s hair, the
School Physician first
brought their hatred down on him,
But by this familiarity
they grew used to him, and so,
at last,
took him for their friend and adviser.

Complete Destruction

It was an icy day.
We buried the cat,
then took her box
and set fire to it
in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

Memory of April

You say love is this, love is that:
Poplar tassels, willow tendrils
the wind and the rain comb,
tinkle and drip, tinkle and drip⁠—
branches drifting apart. Hagh!
Love has not even visited this country.

Epitaph

An old willow with hollow branches
slowly swayed his few high bright tendrils
and sang:

Love is a young green willow
shimmering at the bare wood’s edge.

Daisy

The dayseye hugging the earth
in August, ha! Spring is
gone down in purple,
weeds stand high in the corn,
the rainbeaten furrow
is clotted with sorrel
and crabgrass, the
branch is black under
the heavy mass of the leaves⁠—
The sun is upon a
slender green stem
ribbed lengthwise.
He lies on his back⁠—
it is a woman also⁠—
he regards his former
majesty and
round the yellow center,
split and creviced and done into
minute flowerheads, he sends out
his twenty rays⁠—a little
and the wind is among them
to grow cool there!

One turns the thing over
in his hand and looks
at it from the rear: brownedged,
green and pointed scales
armor his yellow.
But turn and turn,
the crisp petals remain
brief, translucent, greenfastened,
barely touching at the edges:
blades of limpid seashell.

Primrose

Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow!
It is not a color.
It is summer!
It is the wind on a willow,
the lap of waves, the shadow
under a bush, a bird, a bluebird,
three herons, a dead hawk
rotting on a pole⁠—
Clear yellow!
It is a piece of blue paper
in the grass or a threecluster of
green walnuts swaying, children
playing croquet or one boy
fishing, a man
swinging his pink fists
as he walks⁠—
It is ladysthumb, forgetmenots
in the ditch, moss under
the flange of the carrail, the
wavy lines in split rock, a
great oaktree⁠—
It is a disinclination to be
five red petals or a rose, it is
a cluster of birdsbreast flowers
on a red stem six feet high,
four open yellow petals
above sepals curled
backward into reverse spikes⁠—
Tufts of purple grass spot the
green meadow and clouds the sky.

Queen-Ann’s-Lace

Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth⁠—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over⁠—
or nothing.

Great Mullen

One leaves his leaves at home
being a mullen and sends up a lighthouse
to peer from: I will have my way,
yellow⁠—A mast with a lantern, ten
fifty, a hundred, smaller and smaller
as they grow more⁠—Liar, liar, liar!
You come from her! I can smell djer-kiss
on your clothes. Ha, ha! you come to me,
you⁠—I am a point of dew on a grass-stem.
Why are you sending heat down on me
from your lantern?⁠—You are cowdung, a
dead stick with the bark off. She is
squirting on us both. She has had her
hand on you!⁠—Well?⁠—She has defiled
ME.⁠—Your leaves are dull, thick
and hairy.⁠—Every hair on my body will
hold you off from me. You are a
dungcake, birdlime on a fencerail.⁠—
I love you, straight, yellow
finger of God pointing to⁠—her!
Liar, broken weed, duncake, you have⁠—
I am a cricket waving his antenae
and you are high, grey and straight. Ha!

Waiting

When I am alone I am happy.
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafrass leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches.
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks.
I am crushed.

Are not my children as dear to me
as falling leaves or
must one become stupid
to grow older?
It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels.
Let us see, let us see!
What did I plan to say to her
when it should happen to me
as it has happened now?

The Hunter

In the flashes and black shadows
of July
the days, locked in each other’s arms,
seem still
so that squirrels and colored birds
go about at ease over
the branches and through the air.

Where will a shoulder split or
a forehead open and victory be?

Nowhere.
Both sides grow older.

And you may be sure
not one leaf will lift itself
from the ground
and become fast to a twig again.

Arrival

And yet one arrives somehow,
finds himself loosening the hooks of
her dress
in a strange bedroom⁠—
feels the autumn
dropping its silk and linen leaves
about her ankles.
The tawdry veined body emerges
twisted upon itself
like a winter wind⁠ ⁠… !

To a Friend Concerning Several Ladies

You know there is not much
that I desire, a few crysanthemums
half lying on the grass, yellow
and brown and white, the
talk of a few people, the trees,
an expanse of dried leaves perhaps
with ditches among them.
But there comes
between me and these things
a letter
or even a look⁠—well placed,
you understand,
so that I am confused, twisted
four ways and⁠—left flat,
unable to lift the food to
my own mouth:
Here is what they say: Come!
and come! and come! And if
I do not go I remain stale to
myself and if I go⁠—
I have watched
the city from a distance at night
and wondered why I wrote no poem.
Come! yes,
the city is ablaze for you
and you stand and look at it.

And they are right. There is
no good in the world except out of
a woman and certain women alone
for certain things. But what if
I arrive like a turtle
with my house on my back or
a fish ogling from under water?
It will not do. I must be
steaming with love, colored
like a flamingo. For what?
To have legs and a silly head
and to smell, pah! like a flamingo
that soils its own feathers behind.
Must I go home filled
with a bad poem?
And they say:
Who can answer these things
till he has tried? Your eyes
are half closed, you are a child,
oh, a sweet one, ready to play
but I will make a man of you and
with love on his shoulder⁠—!

And in the marshes
the crickets run
on the sunny dike’s top and
make burrows there, the water
reflects the reeds and the reeds
move on their stalks and rattle drily.

Youth and Beauty

I bought a dishmop⁠—
having no daughter⁠—
for they had twisted
fine ribbons of shining copper
about white twine
and made a towsled head
of it, fastened it
upon a turned ash stick
slender at the neck
straight, tall⁠—
when tied upright
on the brass wallbracket
to be a light for me⁠—
and naked,
as a girl should seem
to her father.

The Thinker

My wife’s new pink slippers
have gay pom-poms.
There is not a spot or a stain
on their satin toes or their sides.
All night they lie together
under her bed’s edge.
Shivering I catch sight of them
and smile, in the morning.
Later I watch them
descending the stair,
hurrying through the doors
and round the table,
moving stiffly
with a shake of their gay pom-poms!
And I talk to them
in my secret mind
out of pure happiness.

The Disputants

Upon the table in their bowl
in violent disarray
of yellow sprays, green spikes
of leaves, red pointed petals
and curled heads of blue
and white among the litter
of the forks and crumbs and plates
the flowers remain composed.
Cooly their colloquy continues
above the coffee and loud talk
grown frail as vaudeville.

The Tulip Bed

The May sun⁠—whom
all things imitate⁠—
that glues small leaves to
the wooden trees
shone from the sky
through bluegauze clouds
upon the ground.
Under the leafy trees
where the suburban streets
lay crossed,
with houses on each corner,
tangled shadows had begun
to join
the roadway and the lawns.
With excellent precision
the tulip bed
inside the iron fence
upreared its gaudy
yellow, white and red,
rimmed round with grass,
reposedly.

The Birds

The world begins again!
Not wholly insufflated
the blackbirds in the rain
upon the dead topbranches
of the living tree,
stuck fast to the low clouds,
notate the dawn.
Their shrill cries sound
announcing appetite
and drop among the bending roses
and the dripping grass.

The Nightingales

My shoes as I lean
unlacing them
stand out upon
flat worsted flowers
under my feet.
Nimbly the shadows
of my fingers play
unlacing
over shoes and flowers.

Spouts

In this world of
as fine a pair of breasts
as ever I saw
the fountain in
Madison Square
spouts up of water
a white tree
that dies and lives
as the rocking water
in the basin
turns from the stonerim
back upon the jet
and rising there
reflectively drops down again.

Blueflags

I stopped the car
to let the children down
where the streets end
in the sun
at the marsh edge
and the reeds begin
and there are small houses
facing the reeds
and the blue mist
in the distance
with grapevine trellises
with grape clusters
small as strawberries
on the vines
and ditches
running springwater
that continue the gutters
with willows over them.
The reeds begin
like water at a shore
their pointed petals waving
dark green and light.
But blueflags are blossoming
in the reeds
which the children pluck
chattering in the reeds
high over their heads
which they part
with bare arms to appear
with fists of flowers
till in the air
there comes the smell
of calamus
from wet, gummy stalks.

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Light Hearted William

Light hearted William twirled
his November moustaches
and, half dressed, looked
from the bedroom window
upon the spring weather.

Heigh-ya! sighed he gaily
leaning out to see
up and down the street
where a heavy sunlight
lay beyond some blue shadows.

Into the room he drew
his head again and laughed
to himself quietly
twirling his green moustaches.

Portrait of the Author

The birches are mad with green points
the wood’s edge is burning with their green,
burning, seething⁠—No, no, no.
The birches are opening their leaves one
by one. Their delicate leaves unfold cold
and separate, one by one. Slender tassels
hang swaying from the delicate branch tips⁠—
Oh, I cannot say it. There is no word.
Black is split at once into flowers. In
every bog and ditch, flares of
small fire, white flowers!⁠—Agh,
the birches are mad, mad with their green.
The world is gone, torn into shreds
with this blessing. What have I left undone
that I should have undertaken

O my brother, you redfaced, living man
ignorant, stupid whose feet are upon
this same dirt that I touch⁠—and eat.
We are alone in this terror, alone,
face to face on this road, you and I,
wrapped by this flame!
Let the polished plows stay idle,
their gloss already on the black soil.
But that face of yours⁠—!
Answer me. I will clutch you. I
will hug you, grip you. I will poke my face
into your face and force you to see me.
Take me in your arms, tell me the commonest
thing that is in your mind to say,
say anything. I will understand you⁠—!
It is the madness of the birch leaves opening
cold, one by one.

My rooms will receive me. But my rooms
are no longer sweet spaces where comfort
is ready to wait on me with its crumbs.
A darkness has brushed them. The mass
of yellow tulips in the bowl is shrunken.
Every familiar object is changed and dwarfed.
I am shaken, broken against a might
that splits comfort, blows apart
my careful partitions, crushes my house
and leaves me⁠—with shrinking heart
and startled, empty eyes⁠—peering out
into a cold world.

In the spring I would drink! In the spring
I would be drunk and lie forgetting all things.
Your face! Give me your face, Yang Kue Fei!
your hands, your lips to drink!
Give me your wrists to drink⁠—
I drag you, I am drowned in you, you
overwhelm me! Drink!
Save me! The shad bush is in the edge
of the clearing. The yards in a fury
of lilac blossoms are driving me mad with terror.
Drink and lie forgetting the world.

And coldly the birch leaves are opening one by one.
Coldly I observe them and wait for the end.
And it ends.

The Lonely Street

School is over. It is too hot
to walk at ease. At ease
in light frocks they walk the streets
to while the time away.
They have grown tall. They hold
pink flames in their right hands.
In white from head to foot,
with sidelong, idle look⁠—
in yellow, floating stuff,
black sash and stockings⁠—
touching their avid mouths
with pink sugar on a stick⁠—
like a carnation each holds in her hand⁠—
they mount the lonely street.

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
firetruck
moving
with weight and urgency
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

Colophon

Tamil Bookshelf logo

Poetry
was compiled from poems published between 1913 and 1921 by
William Carlos Williams.