08 June 2003

To The Old Chaos

Thinking more and more about spiritus munditiis, and dug out the Collected Poems of Conrad Aiken. If anyone's curious, I posted at the Round Table site a selection from Aiken for comparison with a classic poem by Wallace Stevens. But that discussion is entirely different. Here, I'm just going to post some fine lines from Aiken's The Divine Pilgrim, a volume unfortunately ignored these days. Shame really. Here are some random fragments from The Charnel Rose: A Symphony.

Here eyes were void, her eyes were deep:
She came like one who moved in sleep....

Roses, he thought, were kin to her,
Pure text of dust; and learning these
He might more surely win her,
Speak her own tongue to pledge and please.
What vernal kinship, then, then was this
That spoke and perished in a breath?
In leaves, she was near enough to kiss,
And yet, impalpable as death.
Spading dark earth, he tore apart
Exquisite roots: she fled from him.

I fear at the end of night our hearts must pass,
Let us drink this night while we have it, let us drink it all.

Madness for red! I devour the leaves of autumn.
I tire of the green of the world.
I am myself a mouth for blood.

Here's change, in changelessness: and we go down
Once more to the old chaos.

I will seek the eternal secret in this darkness:
The little seed that opens to gulf the world.

Now all is changed: we climb the stair;
The azure light is a pinnacled carven stair.

We are the soundless ecstasy of death.

And these are the symphony's final lines:

We are struck down. We hear no music.
The moisture of night is in our hands.
Time takes us. We are eternal.

Aiken's a poet of good, ringing moments more than he is a poet of sustained genius or force, and he's certainly no Eliot or Stevens. But he's interesting to dig up every now and again, especially when one wonders about the question of beauty in the world.

And, archived from Dr. J's Round Table

She rose in moonlight, and stood, confronting sea,
With her bare arms uplifted,
And lifted her voice in the silence foolishly:
And her face was small, and her voice was small.
'O moon!' she cried, 'I think how you must tire
Forever circling earth, so silently;
Earth, who is dark and makes you no reply.'
But the moon said nothing, no word at all,
She only heard the little waves rush and fall;
And saw the moon go quietly down the sky.
Like a white figurehead in the seafaring wind,
She stood in the moonlight,
And heard her voice cry, ghostly and thinned,
Over the seethe of foam,
Saying, 'O numberless waters, I think it strange
How you can always shadow her face, and change
And yet never weary of her, having no ease.'
But the sea said nothing, no word at all:
Unquietly, as in sleep, she saw it rise and fall;
And the moon spread a net of silver over the foam.

She lifted her hands and let them fall again,
Impatient of the silence. And in despair,
Hopeless of final answer against her pain,
She said, to the stealthy air,
'O air, far traveller, who from the stars are blown,
Float pollen of suns, you are an unseen sea
Lifting and bearing the words, eternally.
O air, do you not weary of your task?'
-- She stood in the silence, frightened and alone,
And heard her syllables ask and ask.

And then, as she walked in the moonlight, so alone,
Lost and small in a soulless sea,
Hearing no voice make answer to her own,
From that infinity, --
Suddenly she was aware of a low whisper,
A dreadful heartless sound; and she stood still, --
There in the beach grass, on a sandy hill, --
And heard the stars, making a ghostly whisper;
And the soulless whisper of sun and moon and tree;
And the sea, rising and falling with a blind moan.

And as she faded into the night,
A glimmer of white,
With her arms uplifted and her face bowed down;
Sinking, again, into the sleep of sands,
The sea-sands white and brown;
Or among the sea-grass rustling as one more blade,
Pushing before her face her cinquefoil hands;
Or sliding, stealthy as foam, into the sea,
With a slow seethe and whisper:

Too late to find her, yet not too late to see,
Came he, who sought forever unsatisfied,
And saw her enter and shut the darkness,
Desired and swift,
And caught at the rays of the moon, yet found but darkness,
Caught at the flash of his feet, to fill his hands
With the sleepy pour of sands.

'O moon!' he said: 'was it you I followed?
You, who put silver madness into my eyes? --'
But he only heard, in the dark, a stifled laughter,
And the rattle of dead leaves blowing.
'O wind! --' he said -- 'was it you I followed?
Your hand I felt against my face? --'
But he only heard, in the dark, a stifled laughter,
And shadows crept past him. with furtive pace,
Breathing night upon him; and one by one
The ghosts of leaves flew past him, seeking the sun.

And a silent star slipped golden down the darkness,
Down the great wall, leaving no trace in the sky,
And years went with it, and worlds. And he dreamed still
Of a fleeter shadow among the shadows running,
Foam into foam, without a gesture or cry,
Leaving him there, alone, on a lonely hill.

No comments:

Blog Archive