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Venus and the Lute Player

Far in the background a blue mountain waits

To echo back the song

The note-necked swan, while it reverberates,

Paddles the tune along.

The player is a young man richly dressed.

His hand is never mute.

But quick in motion as if it caressed

Both lady and the lute.

Nude as the sunlit air the lady rests.

She does not listen with her dainty ear,

But trembles at the love song as her breasts

Turn pink to hear.

She does not rise up at his voice's fall,

But takes that music in,

By pointed leg and searching hand, with all

Her naked skin.

Out of that scene, far off, her hot eyes fall,

Hoping they will take in

The nearing lover, whom she can give all

Her naked skin.

For 1939

Now, in this time, I have seen the living face
Bleached of its blood, gray, and strange things done
In the name of mercy and the good of state.
Yet over all the proud, outpouring sun.

I have watched black hair on my father's head
Fade like autumn corn, the white hair thicken.
And I have seen a country hard with health
Grow soft like too ripe fruit, the great heart sicken.

I have seen the poor grown poorer, the rich frightened,
The window break, the way of the known world alter,
Certainty run from our torn hands like blood,
And, in the plain field, the brute plow falter.

And I have watched the electric cities glow
With their impersonal and hiding light
Where women with the masklike faces walked
The worn and human-hunting ways of night.

I have known the mind bound like a dog, laid bare
To any stranger in cruel vivisection,
I have seen a man's eyes break in marvelous
Dread of his own dark act and its detection:

That terror of the too self-conscious man,
Who, looking lonely inward, sees with fear
Through the tall trees of memory his own
Taut face twitch like the white tail of a deer.

Great body of this age, the blood excited,
The pulse so rapid that the wrist is shaken,
Proud in its swagger of power, but beneath
The bone is hollow and the marrow taken.

Yet here, now, is my home. The squint of my eyes
Comes from the common light. I lift my face
Full to the day's drive and and the wind blowing.
I drink the bubbling water of this place.

The shape of my living grows in the clear air:
The nerve's machine precision, the long hand
Empty of old skill, flexed knee aware
Of foot groping the changed, uncertain land.

Let it climb there clean in the day-rise, taking
The way and warp of its time. Give it the eyes
Of all men seeking quiet these days
And let its voice be frantic with their cries.

It is now the sun springs from the gnarled water
Over the western prairie. What man would,
Alone in dark house, turn away from light?
To live now, in the tangle of time, is good.