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AIKEN, Conrad

Her eyes, he says, are stars at dusk,

Her mouth as sweet as red-rose-musk;

And when she dances his young heart swells

With flutes and viols and silver bells;

His brain is dizzy, his senses swim,

When she slants her ragtime eyes at him...

Moonlight shadows, he bids her see,

Move no more silently than she.

It was this way, he says, she came,

Into his cold heart, bearing flame.

And now that his heart is all on fire

Will she refuse his heart's desire?―...”


It is moonlight. Alone in the silence

I ascend my stairs once more,

While waves remote in pale blue starlight

Crash on a white sand shore.

It is moonlight. The garden is silent.

I stand in my room alone.

Across my wall, from the far-off moon,

A rain of fire is thrown.

There are houses hanging above the stars,

And stars hung under the sea,

And a wind from the long blue vault of time

Waves my curtains for me.

I wait in the dark once more,

swung between space and space:

Before the mirror I lift my hands

And face my remembered face.


How is it that I am now so softly awakened,

My leaves shaken down with music?―

Darling, I love you.

It is not your mouth, for I have known mouths before,―

Though your mouth is more alive than roses,

Roses singing softly

To green leaves after rain.

It is not your eyes, for I have dived often in eyes,―

Though your eyes, even in the yellow glare of footlights,

Are windows into eternal dusk.

Nor is it the live white flashing of your feet,

Nor your gay hands, catching at motes in the spotlight;

Nor the abrupt thick music of your laughter,

When, against the hideous backdrop,

With all its crudities brilliantly lighted,

Suddenly you catch sight of your alarming shadow,

Whirling and contracting.

How is it, then, that I am now so keenly aware,

So sensitive to the surges of the wind, or the light,

Heaving silently under blue seas of air?―

Darling, I love you, I am immersed in you…


All Lovely Things

All lovely things will have an ending,

All lovely things will fade and die,

And youth, that's now so bravely spending,

Will beg a penny by and by.

Fine ladies soon are all forgotten,

And goldenrod is dust when dead,

The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten

And cobwebs tent the brightest head.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!—

But time goes on, and will, unheeding,

Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn,

And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!—

But goldenrod and daisies wither,

And over them blows autumn rain,

They pass, they pass, and know not whither.

The Nameless Ones

Pity the nameless, and the unknown, where

bitter in heart they wait on the stonebuilt stair,

bend to a wall, forgotten, the freezing wind

no bitterer than the suburbs of the mind;

who from an iron porch lift sightless eyes,

a moment, hopeless, to inflaming skies;

shrink from the light as quickly as from pain,

twist round a corner, bend to the wall again;

are to be seen leaning against a rail

by ornamental waters where toy yachts sail;

glide down the granite steps, touch foot to float,

hate, and 'desire, the sunlight on the boat;

explore a sullen alley where ash-cans wait,

symbols of waste and want, at every gate;

emerge in sun to mingle with the crowd,

themselves most silent where the world most loud;

anonymous, furtive, shadows in shadow hidden;

who lurk at the garden's edge like guests unbidden;

stare through the leaves with hate, yet wait to listen

as bandstand music begins to rise and glisten;

the fierce, the solitary, divine of heart,

passionate, present, yet godlike and apart;

who, in the midst of traffic, see a vision;

and, on a park bench, come to a last decision.

Bread and Music

Music I heard with you was more than music,

And bread I broke with you was more than bread;

Now that I am without you, all is desolate;

All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,

And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.

These things do not remember you, belovèd,

And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,

And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;

And in my heart they will remember always,—

They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

The House Of Dust: Snow Falls.

Snow falls. The sky is grey, and sullenly glares

With purple lights in the canyoned street.

The fiery sign on the dark tower wreathes and flares...

The trodden grass in the park is covered with white,

The streets grow silent beneath our feet...

The city dreams, it forgets its past to-night.

And one, from his high bright window looking down

Over the enchanted whiteness of the town,

Seeing through whirls of white the vague grey towers,

Desires like this to forget what will not pass,

The littered papers, the dust, the tarnished grass,

Grey death, stale ugliness, and sodden hours.

Deep in his heart old bells are beaten again,

Slurred bells of grief and pain,

Dull echoes of hideous times and poisonous places.

He desires to drown in a cold white peace of snow.

He desires to forget a million faces...

In one room breathes a woman who dies of hunger.

The clock ticks slowly and stops. And no one winds it.

In one room fade grey violets in a vase.

Snowflakes faintly hiss and melt on the window.

In one room, minute by minute, the flutist plays

The lamplit page of music, the tireless scales.

His hands are trembling, his short breath fails.

In one room, silently, lover looks upon lover,

And thinks the air is fire.

The drunkard swears and touches the harlot's heartstrings

With the sudden hand of desire.

And one goes late in the streets, and thinks of murder;

And one lies staring, and thinks of death.

And one, who has suffered, clenches her hands despairing,

And holds her breath...

Who are all these, who flow in the veins of the city,

Coil and revolve and dream,

Vanish or gleam?

Some mount up to the brain and flower in fire.

Some are destroyed; some die; some slowly stream.

And the new are born who desire to destroy the old;

And fires are kindled and quenched; and dreams are broken,

And walls flung down...

And the slow night whirls in snow over towers of dreamers,

And whiteness hushes the town.

The House of Dust: As evening falls

As evening falls,

And the yellow lights leap one by one

Along high walls;

And along black streets that glisten as if with rain,

The muted city seems

Like one in a restless sleep, who lies and dreams

Of vague desires, and memories, and half-forgotten pain . . .

Along dark veins, like lights the quick dreams run,

Flash, are extinguished, flash again,

To mingle and glow at last in the enormous brain

And die away . . .

As evening falls,

A dream dissolves these insubstantial walls,—

A myriad secretly gliding lights lie bare . . .

The lovers rise, the harlot combs her hair,

The dead man's face grows blue in the dizzy lamplight,

The watchman climbs the stair . . .

The bank defaulter leers at a chaos of figures,

And runs among them, and is beaten down;

The sick man coughs and hears the chisels ringing;

The tired clown

Sees the enormous crowd, a million faces,

Motionless in their places,

Ready to laugh, and seize, and crush and tear . . .

The dancer smooths her hair,

Laces her golden slippers, and runs through the door

To dance once more,

Hearing swift music like an enchantment rise,

Feeling the praise of a thousand eyes.

As darkness falls

The walls grow luminous and warm, the walls

Tremble and glow with the lives within them moving,

Moving like music, secret and rich and warm.

How shall we live tonight? Where shall we turn?

To what new light or darkness yearn?

A thousand winding stairs lead down before us;

And one by one in myriads we descend

By lamplit flowered walls, long balustrades,

Through half-lit halls which reach no end.

The House Of Dust: Of One Dead

This is the house. On one side there is darkness,

On one side there is light.

Into the darkness you may lift your lanterns—

O, any number—it will still be night.

And here are echoing stairs to lead you downward

To long sonorous halls.

And here is spring forever at these windows,

With roses on the walls.

This is her room. On one side there is music—

On one side not a sound.

At one step she could move from love to silence,

Feel myriad darkness coiling round.

And here are balconies from which she heard you,

Your steady footsteps on the stair.

And here the glass in which she saw your shadow

As she unbound her hair.

Here is the room—with ghostly walls dissolving—

The twilight room in which she called you 'lover';

And the floorless room in which she called you 'friend.'

So many times, in doubt, she ran between them!—

Through windy corridors of darkening end.

Here she could stand with one dim light above her

And hear far music, like a sea in caverns,

Murmur away at hollowed walls of stone.

And here, in a roofless room where it was raining,

She bore the patient sorrow of rain alone.

Your words were walls which suddenly froze around her.

Your words were windows,—large enough for moonlight,

Too small to let her through.

Your letters—fragrant cloisters faint with music.

The music that assuaged her there was you.

How many times she heard your step ascending

Yet never saw your face!

She heard them turn again, ring slowly fainter,

Till silence swept the place.

Why had you gone? . . . The door, perhaps, mistaken . . .

You would go elsewhere. The deep walls were shaken.

A certain rose-leaf—sent without intention—

Became, with time, a woven web of fire—

She wore it, and was warm.

A certain hurried glance, let fall at parting,

Became, with time, the flashings of a storm.

Yet, there was nothing asked, no hint to tell you

Of secret idols carved in secret chambers

From all you did and said.

Nothing was done, until at last she knew you.

Nothing was known, till, somehow, she was dead.

How did she die?—You say, she died of poison.

Simple and swift. And much to be regretted.

You did not see her pass

So many thousand times from light to darkness,

Pausing so many times before her glass;

You did not see how many times she hurried

To lean from certain windows, vainly hoping,

Passionate still for beauty, remembered spring.

You did not know how long she clung to music,

You did not hear her sing.

Did she, then, make the choice, and step out bravely

From sound to silence—close, herself, those windows?

Or was it true, instead,

That darkness moved,—for once,—and so possessed her? . . .

We'll never know, you say, for she is dead.

The House of Dust: Porcelain

Sometimes my wife comes there to speak to me . . .

Sometimes the grey cat waves his tail around me . . .

Goldfish swim in a bowl, glisten in sunlight,

Dilate to a gorgeous size, blow delicate bubbles,

Drowse among dark green weeds. On rainy days,

You'll see a gas-light shedding light behind me—

An eye-shade round my forehead. There I sit,

Twirling the tiny brushes in my paint-cups,

Painting the pale pink rosebuds, minute violets,

Exquisite wreaths of dark green ivy leaves.

On this leaf, goes a dream I dreamed last night

Of two soft-patterned toads—I thought them stones,

Until they hopped! And then a great black spider,—

Tarantula, perhaps, a hideous thing,—

It crossed the room in one tremendous leap.

Here,—as I coil the stems between two leaves,—

It is as if, dwindling to atomy size,

I cried the secret between two universes . . .

A friend of mine took hasheesh once, and said

Just as he fell asleep he had a dream,—

Though with his eyes wide open,—

And felt, or saw, or knew himself a part

Of marvelous slowly-wreathing intricate patterns,

Plane upon plane, depth upon coiling depth,

Amazing leaves, folding one on another,

Voluted grasses, twists and curves and spirals—

All of it darkly moving . . . as for me,

I need no hasheesh for it—it's too easy!

Soon as I shut my eyes I set out walking

In a monstrous jungle of monstrous pale pink roseleaves,

Violets purple as death, dripping with water,

And ivy-leaves as big as clouds above me.



Twilight is spacious, near things in it seem far,

And distant things seem near.

Now in the green west hangs a yellow star.

And now across old waters you may hear

The profound gloom of bells among still trees,

Like a rolling of huge boulders beneath seas.

Silent as though in evening contemplation

Weaves the bat under the gathering stars.

Silent as dew, we seek new incarnation,

Meditate new avatars.

In a clear dusk like this

Mary climbed up the hill to seek her son,

To lower him down from the cross, and kiss

The mauve wounds, every one.

Men with wings

In the dusk walked softly after her.

She did not see them, but may have felt

The winnowed air around her stir;

She did not see them, but may have known

Why her son's body was light as a little stone.

She may have guessed that other hands were there

Moving the watchful air.

Now, unless persuaded by searching music

Which suddenly opens the portals of the mind,

We guess no angels,

And are contented to be blind.

Let us blow silver horns in the twilight,

And lift our hearts to the yellow star in the green,

To find perhaps, if, while the dew is rising,

Clear things may not be seen.

Morning Song Of Senlin

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning

When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,

I arise, I face the sunrise,

And do the things my fathers learned to do.

Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops

Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,

And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet

Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Vine leaves tap my window,

Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,

The robin chips in the chinaberry tree

Repeating three clear tones.

It is morning. I stand by the mirror

And tie my tie once more.

While waves far off in a pale rose twilight

Crash on a white sand shore.

I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:

How small and white my face!—

The green earth tilts through a sphere of air

And bathes in a flame of space.

There are houses hanging above the stars

And stars hung under a sea. . .

And a sun far off in a shell of silence

Dapples my walls for me. . .

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning

Should I not pause in the light to remember God?

Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,

He is immense and lonely as a cloud.

I will dedicate this moment before my mirror

To him alone, and for him I will comb my hair.

Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence!

I will think of you as I descend the stair.

Vine leaves tap my window,

The snail-track shines on the stones,

Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree

Repeating two clear tones.

It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,

Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.

The walls are about me still as in the evening,

I am the same, and the same name still I keep.

The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,

The stars pale silently in a coral sky.

In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,

Unconcerned, I tie my tie.

There are horses neighing on far-off hills

Tossing their long white manes,

And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,

Their shoulders black with rains. . .

It is morning. I stand by the mirror

And surprise my soul once more;

The blue air rushes above my ceiling,

There are suns beneath my floor. . .

. . . It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness

And depart on the winds of space for I know not where,

My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,

And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.

There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,

And a god among the stars; and I will go

Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak

And humming a tune I know. . .

Vine-leaves tap at the window,

Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,

The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree

Repeating three clear tones.