Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens


Table of Contents

header Anecdote of the Jar Bantams in Pine-Woods The Bird with the Coppery, Keen Claws The Comedian as the Letter C I. The World without Imagination II. Concerning the Thunderstorms of Yucatan III. Approaching Carolina IV. The Idea of a Colony V. A Nice Shady Home VI. And Daughters with Curls Disillusionment of Ten o' Clock Domination of Black The Doctor of Geneva The Emperor of Ice-Cream Gray Room A High-Toned Old Christian Woman The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad Metaphors of a Magnifico Nomad Exquisite Not Ideas about the thing but the Thing Itself Nuances of a Theme by Williams O Florida, Venereal Soil On the Manner of Addressing Clouds The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage Peter Quince at the Clavier The Plot Against the Giant Six Significant Landscapes The Snow Man Sunday Morning Tattoo Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird To the One of Fictive Music Valley Candle The Well Dressed Man with a Beard
Anecdote of the Jar I placed a jar in Tennessee, And round it was, upon a hill. It made the slovenly wilderness Surround that hill. The wilderness rose up to it, And sprawled around, no longer wild. The jar was round upon the ground And tall and of a port in air. It took dominion everywhere. The jar was gray and bare. It did not give of bird or bush, Like nothing else in Tennessee. Bantams in Pine-Woods Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan Of tan with henna hackles, halt! Damned universal cock, as if the sun Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail. Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal. Your world is you. I am my world. You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat! Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines, Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs, And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos. The Bird with the Coppery, Keen Claws Above the forest of the parakeets, A parakeet of parakeets prevails, A pip of life amid a mort of tails. (The rudiments of tropics are around, Aloe of ivory, pear of rusty rind.) His lids are white because his eyes are blind. He is not paradise of parakeets, Of his gold ether, golden alguazil, Except because he broods there and is still. Panache upon panache, his tails deploy Upward and outward, in green-vented forms, His tip a drop of water full of storms. But though the turbulent tinges undulate As his pure intellect applies its laws, He moves not on his coppery, keen claws. He munches a dry shell while he exerts His will, yet never ceases, perfect cock, To flare, in the sun-pallor of his rock. The Comedian as the Letter C I. The World without Imagination Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil, The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates Of snails, musician of pears, principium And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig Of things, this nincompated pedagogue, Preceptor to the sea? Crispin at sea Created, in his day, a touch of doubt. An eye most apt in gelatines and jupes, Berries of villages, a barber's eye, An eye of land, of simple salad-beds, Of honest quilts, the eye of Crispin, hung On porpoises, instead of apricots, And on silentious porpoises, whose snouts Dibbled in waves that were mustachios, Inscrutable hair in an inscrutable world. One eats one patÚ, even of salt, quotha. It was not so much the lost terrestrial, The snug hibernal from that sea and salt, That century of wind in a single puff. What counted was mythology of self, Blotched out beyond unblotching. Crispin, The lutanist of fleas, the knave, the thane, The ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches, cloak Of China, cap of Spain, imperative haw Of hum, inquisitorial botanist, And general lexicographer of mute And maidenly greenhorns, now beheld himself, A skinny sailor peering in the sea-glass. What word split up in clickering syllables And storming under multitudinous tones Was name for this short-shanks in all that brunt? Crispin was washed away by magnitude. The whole of life that still remained in him Dwindled to one sound strumming in his ear, Ubiquitous concussion, slap and sigh, Polyphony beyond his baton's thrust. Could Crispin stem verboseness in the sea, The old age of a watery realist, Triton, dissolved in shifting diaphanes Of blue and green? A wordy, watery age That whispered to the sun's compassion, made A convocation, nightly, of the sea-stars, And on the cropping foot-ways of the moon Lay grovelling. Triton incomplicate with that Which made him Triton, nothing left of him, Except in faint, memorial gesturings, That were like arms and shoulders in the waves, Here, something in the rise and fall of wind That seemed hallucinating horn, and here, A sunken voice, both of remembering And of forgetfulness, in alternate strain. Just so an ancient Crispin was dissolved. The valet in the tempest was annulled. Bordeaux to Yucatan, Havana next, And then to Carolina. Simple jaunt. Crispin, merest minuscule in the gates, Dejected his manner to the turbulence. The salt hung on his spirit like a frost, The dead brine melted in him like a dew Of winter, until nothing of himself Remained, except some starker, barer self In a starker, barer world, in which the sun Was not the sun because it never shone With bland complaisance on pale parasols, Beetled, in chapels, on the chaste bouquets. Against his pipping sounds a trumpet cried Celestial sneering boisterously. Crispin Became an introspective voyager. Here was the veritable ding an sich, at last, Crispin confronting it, a vocable thing, But with a speech belched out of hoary darks Noway resembling his, a visible thing, And excepting negligible Triton, free From the unavoidable shadow of himself That lay elsewhere around him. Severance Was clear. The last distortion of romance Forsook the insatiable egotist. The sea Severs not only lands but also selves. Here was no help before reality. Crispin beheld and Crispin was made new. The imagination, here, could not evade, In poems of plums, the strict austerity Of one vast, subjugating, final tone. The drenching of stale lives no more fell down. What was this gaudy, gusty panoply? Out of what swift destruction did it spring? It was caparison of mind and cloud And something given to make whole among The ruses that were shattered by the large. II. Concerning the Thunderstorms of Yucatan In Yucatan, the Maya sonneteers Of the Caribbean amphitheatre, In spite of hawk and falcon, green toucan And jay, still to the night-bird made their plea, As if raspberry tanagers in palms, High up in orange air, were barbarous. But Crispin was too destitute to find In any commonplace the sought-for aid. He was a man made vivid by the sea, A man come out of luminous traversing, Much trumpeted, made desperately clear, Fresh from discoveries of tidal skies, To whom oracular rockings gave no rest. Into a savage color he went on. How greatly had he grown in his demesne, This auditor of insects! He that saw The stride of vanishing autumn in a park By way of decorous melancholy; he That wrote his couplet yearly to the spring, As dissertation of profound delight, Stopping, on voyage, in a land of snakes, Found his vicissitudes had much enlarged His apprehension, made him intricate In moody rucks, and difficult and strange In all desires, his destitution's mark. He was in this as other freemen are, Sonorous nutshells rattling inwardly. His violence was for aggrandizement And not for stupor, such as music makes For sleepers halfway waking. He perceived That coolness for his heat came suddenly, And only, in the fables that he scrawled With his own quill, in its indigenous dew, Of an aesthetic tough, diverse, untamed, Incredible to prudes, the mint of dirt, Green barbarism turning paradigm. Crispin foresaw a curious promenade Or, nobler, sensed an elemental fate, And elemental potencies and pangs, And beautiful barenesses as yet unseen, Making the most of savagery of palms, Of moonlight on the thick, cadaverous bloom That yuccas breed, and of the panther's tread. The fabulous and its intrinsic verse Came like two spirits parlaying, adorned In radiance from the Atlantic coign, For Crispin and his quill to catechize. But they came parlaying of such an earth, So thick with sides and jagged lops of green, So intertwined with serpent-kin encoiled Among the purple tufts, the scarlet crowns, Scenting the jungle in their refuges, So streaked with yellow, blue and green and red In beak and bud and fruity gobbet-skins, That earth was like a jostling festival Of seeds grown fat, too juicily opulent, Expanding in the gold's maternal warmth. So much for that. The affectionate emigrant found A new reality in parrot-squawks. Yet let that trifle pass. Now, as this odd Discoverer walked through the harbor streets Inspecting the cabildo, the fašade Of the cathedral, making notes, he heard A rumbling, west of Mexico, it seemed, Approaching like a gasconade of drums. The white cabildo darkened, the fašade, As sullen as the sky, was swallowed up In swift, successive shadows, dolefully. The rumbling broadened as it fell. The wind, Tempestuous clarion, with heavy cry, Came bluntly thundering, more terrible Than the revenge of music on bassoons. Gesticulating lightning, mystical, Made pallid flitter. Crispin, here, took flight. An annotator has his scruples, too. He knelt in the cathedral with the rest, This connoisseur of elemental fate, Aware of exquisite thought. The storm was one Of many proclamations of the kind, Proclaiming something harsher than he learned From hearing signboards whimper in cold nights Or seeing the midsummer artifice Of heat upon his pane. This was the span Of force, the quintessential fact, the note Of Vulcan, that a valet seeks to own, The thing that makes him envious in phrase. And while the torrent on the roof still droned He felt the Andean breath. His mind was free And more than free, elate, intent, profound And studious of a self possessing him, That was not in him in the crusty town From which he sailed. Beyond him, westward, lay The mountainous ridges, purple balustrades, In which the thunder, lapsing in its clap, Let down gigantic quavers of its voice, For Crispin to vociferate again. III. Approaching Carolina The book of moonlight is not written yet Nor half begun, but, when it is, leave room For Crispin, fagot in the lunar fire, Who, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage Through sweating changes, never could forget That wakefulness or meditating sleep, In which the sulky strophes willingly Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs. Leave room, therefore, in that unwritten book For the legendary moonlight that once burned In Crispin's mind above a continent. America was always north to him, A northern west or western north, but north, And thereby polar, polar-purple, chilled And lank, rising and slumping from a sea Of hardy foam, receding flatly, spread In endless ledges, glittering, submerged And cold in a boreal mistiness of the moon. The spring came there in clinking pannicles Of half-dissolving frost, the summer came, If ever, whisked and wet, not ripening, Before the winter's vacancy returned. The myrtle, if the myrtle ever bloomed, Was like a glacial pink upon the air. The green palmettoes in crepuscular ice Clipped frigidly blue-black meridians, Morose chiaroscuro, gauntly drawn. How many poems he denied himself In his observant progress, lesser things Than the relentless contact he desired; How many sea-masks he ignored; what sounds He shut out from his tempering ear; what thoughts, Like jades affecting the sequestered bride; And what descants, he sent to banishment! Perhaps the Arctic moonlight really gave The liaison, the blissful liaison, Between himself and his environment, Which was, and is, chief motive, first delight, For him, and not for him alone. It seemed Elusive, faint, more mist than moon, perverse, Wrong as a divagation to Peking, To him that postulated as his theme The vulgar, as his theme and hymn and flight, A passionately niggling nightingale. Moonlight was an evasion, or, if not, A minor meeting, facile, delicate. Thus he conceived his voyaging to be An up and down between two elements, A fluctuating between sun and moon, A sally into gold and crimson forms, As on this voyage, out of goblinry, And then retirement like a turning back And sinking down to the indulgences That in the moonlight have their habitude. But let these backward lapses, if they would, Grind their seductions on him, Crispin knew It was a flourishing tropic he required For his refreshment, an abundant zone, Prickly and obdurate, dense, harmonious Yet with a harmony not rarefied Nor fined for the inhibited instruments Of over-civil stops. And thus he tossed Between a Carolina of old time, A little juvenile, an ancient whim, And the visible, circumspect presentment drawn From what he saw across his vessel's prow. He came. The poetic hero without palms Or jugglery, without regalia. And as he came he saw that it was spring, A time abhorrent to the nihilist Or searcher for the fecund minimum. The moonlight fiction disappeared. The spring, Although contending featly in its veils, Irised in dew and early fragrancies, Was gemmy marionette to him that sought A sinewy nakedness. A river bore The vessel inward. Tilting up his nose, He inhaled the rancid rosin, burly smells Of dampened lumber, emanations blown From warehouse doors, the gustiness of ropes, Decays of sacks, and all the arrant stinks That helped him round his rude aesthetic out. He savored rankness like a sensualist. He marked the marshy ground around the dock, The crawling railroad spur, the rotten fence, Curriculum for the marvellous sophomore. It purified. It made him see how much Of what he saw he never saw at all. He gripped more closely the essential prose As being, in a world so falsified, The one integrity for him, the one Discovery still possible to make, That prose should wear a poem's guise at last. IV. The Idea of a Colony Nota: his soil is man's intelligence. That's better. That's worth crossing seas to find. Crispin in one laconic phrase laid bare His cloudy drift and planned a colony. Exit the mental moonlight, exit lex, Rex and principium, exit the whole Shebang. Exeunt omnes. Here was prose More exquisite than any tumbling verse: A still new continent in which to dwell. What was the purpose of his pilgrimage, Whatever shape it took in Crispin's mind, If not, when all is said, to drive away The shadow of his fellows from the skies, And, from their stale intelligence released, To make a new intelligence prevail? Hence the reverberations in the words Of his first central hymns, the celebrants Of rankest trivia, tests of the strength Of his aesthetic, his philosophy, The more invidious, the more desired. The florist asking aid from cabbages, The rich man going bare, the paladin Afraid, the blind man as astronomer, The appointed power unwielded from disdain. His western voyage ended and began. The torment of fastidious thought grew slack, Another, still more bellicose, came on. He, therefore, wrote his prolegomena, And, being full of the caprice, inscribed Commingled souvenirs and prophecies. He made a singular collation. Thus: The natives of the rain are rainy men. Although they paint effulgent, azure lakes, And April hillsides wooded white and pink, Their azure has a cloudy edge, their white And pink, the water bright that dogwood bears. And in their music showering sounds intone. On what strange froth does the gross Indian dote, What Eden sapling gum, what honeyed gore, What pulpy dram distilled of innocence, That streaking gold should speak in him Or bask within his images and words? If these rude instances impeach themselves By force of rudeness, let the principle Be plain. For application Crispin strove, Abhorring Turk as Esquimau, the lute As the marimba, the magnolia as rose. Upon these premises propounding, he Projected a colony that should extend To the dusk of a whistling south below the south. A comprehensive island hemisphere. The man in Georgia waking among pines Should be pine-spokesman. The responsive man, Planting his pristine cores in Florida, Should prick thereof, not on the psaltery, But on the banjo's categorical gut, Tuck tuck, while the flamingos flapped his bays. Sepulchral se˝ors, bibbing pale mescal, Oblivious to the Aztec almanacs, Should make the intricate Sierra scan. And dark Brazilians in their cafÚs, Musing immaculate, pampean dits, Should scrawl a vigilant anthology, To be their latest, lucent paramour. These are the broadest instances. Crispin, Progenitor of such extensive scope, Was not indifferent to smart detail. The melon should have apposite ritual, Performed in verd apparel, and the peach, When its black branches came to bud, belle day, Should have an incantation. And again, When piled on salvers its aroma steeped The summer, it should have a sacrament And celebration. Shrewd novitiates Should be the clerks of our experience. These bland excursions into time to come, Related in romance to backward flights, However prodigal, however proud, Contained in their afflatus the reproach That first drove Crispin to his wandering. He could not be content with counterfeit, With masquerade of thought, with hapless words That must belie the racking masquerade, With fictive flourishes that preordained His passion's permit, hang of coat, degree Of buttons, measure of his salt. Such trash Might help the blind, not him, serenely sly. It irked beyond his patience. Hence it was, Preferring text to gloss, he humbly served Grotesque apprenticeship to chance event, A clown, perhaps, but an aspiring clown. There is a monotonous babbling in our dreams That makes them our dependent heirs, the heirs Of dreamers buried in our sleep, and not The oncoming fantasies of better birth. The apprentice knew these dreamers. If he dreamed Their dreams, he did it in a gingerly way. All dreams are vexing. Let them be expunged. But let the rabbit run, the cock declaim. Trinket pasticcio, flaunting skyey sheets, With Crispin as the tiptoe cozener? No, no: veracious page on page, exact. V. A Nice Shady Home Crispin as hermit, pure and capable, Dwelt in the land. Perhaps if discontent Had kept him still the pricking realist, Choosing his element from droll confect Of was and is and shall or ought to be, Beyond Bordeaux, beyond Havana, far Beyond carked Yucatan, he might have come To colonize his polar planterdom And jig his chits upon a cloudy knee. But his emprize to that idea soon sped. Crispin dwelt in the land and dwelling there Slid from his continent by slow recess To things within his actual eye, alert To the difficulty of rebellious thought When the sky is blue. The blue infected will. It may be that the yarrow in his fields Sealed pensive purple under its concern. But day by day, now this thing and now that Confined him, while it cosseted, condoned, Little by little, as if the suzerain soil Abashed him by carouse to humble yet Attach. It seemed haphazard denouement. He first, as realist, admitted that Whoever hunts a matinal continent May, after all, stop short before a plum And be content and still be realist. The words of things entangle and confuse. The plum survives its poems. It may hang In the sunshine placidly, colored by ground Obliquities of those who pass beneath, Harlequined and mazily dewed and mauved In bloom. Yet it survives in its own form, Beyond these changes, good, fat, guzzly fruit. So Crispin hasped on the surviving form, For him, of shall or ought to be in is. Was he to bray this in profoundest brass Arointing his dreams with fugal requiems? Was he to company vastest things defunct With a blubber of tom-toms harrowing the sky? Scrawl a tragedian's testament? Prolong His active force in an inactive dirge, Which, let the tall musicians call and call, Should merely call him dead? Pronounce amen Through choirs infolded to the outmost clouds? Because he built a cabin who once planned Loquacious columns by the ructive sea? Because he turned to salad-beds again? Jovial Crispin, in calamitous crape? Should he lay by the personal and make Of his own fate an instance of all fate? What is one man among so many men? What are so many men in such a world? Can one man think one thing and think it long? Can one man be one thing and be it long? The very man despising honest quilts Lies quilted to his poll in his despite. For realists, what is is what should be. And so it came, his cabin shuffled up, His trees were planted, his duenna brought Her prismy blonde and clapped her in his hands, The curtains flittered and the door was closed. Crispin, magister of a single room, Latched up the night. So deep a sound fell down It was as if the solitude concealed And covered him and his congenial sleep. So deep a sound fell down it grew to be A long soothsaying silence down and down. The crickets beat their tambours in the wind, Marching a motionless march, custodians. In the presto of the morning, Crispin trod, Each day, still curious, but in a round Less prickly and much more condign than that He once thought necessary. Like Candide, Yeoman and grub, but with a fig in sight, And cream for the fig and silver for the cream, A blonde to tip the silver and to taste The rapey gouts. Good star, how that to be Annealed them in their cabin ribaldries! Yet the quotidian saps philosophers And men like Crispin like them in intent, If not in will, to track the knaves of thought. But the quotidian composed as his, Of breakfast ribands, fruits laid in their leaves, The tomtit and the cassia and the rose, Although the rose was not the noble thorn Of crinoline spread, but of a pining sweet, Composed of evenings like cracked shutters flung Upon the rumpling bottomness, and nights In which those frail custodians watched, Indifferent to the tepid summer cold, While he poured out upon the lips of her That lay beside him, the quotidian Like this, saps like the sun, true fortuner. For all it takes it gives a humped return Exchequering from piebald fiscs unkeyed. VI. And Daughters with Curls Portentous enunciation, syllable To blessed syllable affined, and sound Bubbling felicity in cantilene, Prolific and tormenting tenderness Of music, as it comes to unison, Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last Deduction. Thrum, with a proud douceur His grand pronunciamento and devise. The chits came for his jigging, bluet-eyed, Hands without touch yet touching poignantly, Leaving no room upon his cloudy knee, Prophetic joint, for its diviner young. The return to social nature, once begun, Anabasis or slump, ascent or chute, Involved him in midwifery so dense His cabin counted as phylactery, Then place of vexing palankeens, then haunt Of children nibbling at the sugared void, And halidom for the unbraided femes, Green crammers of the green fruits of the world, Bidders and biders for its ecstasies, True daughters both of Crispin and his clay. All this with many mulctings of the man, Effective colonizer sharply stopped In the door-yard by his own capacious bloom. But that this bloom grown riper, showing nibs Of its eventual roundness, puerile tints Of spiced and weathery rouges, should complex The stopper to indulgent fatalist Was unforeseen. First Crispin smiled upon His goldenest demoiselle, inhabitant, She seemed, of a country of the capuchins, So delicately blushed, so humbly eyed, Attentive to a coronal of things Secret and singular. Second, upon A second similar counterpart, a maid Most sisterly to the first, not yet awake Excepting to the motherly footstep, but Marvelling sometimes at the shaken sleep. Then third, a thing still flaxen in the light, A creeper under jaunty leaves. And fourth, Mere blusteriness that gewgaws jollified, All din and gobble, blasphemously pink. A few years more and the vermeil capuchin Gave to the cabin, lordlier than it was, The dulcet omen fit for such a house. The second sister dallying was shy To fetch the one full-pinioned one himself Out of her botches, hot embosomer. The third one gaping at the orioles Lettered herself demurely as became A pearly poetess, peaked for rhapsody. The fourth, pent now, a digit curious. Four daughters in a world too intricate In the beginning, four blithe instruments Of differing struts, four voices several In couch, four more personŠ, intimate As buffo, yet divers, four mirrors blue That should be silver, four accustomed seeds Hinting incredible hues, four self-same lights That spread chromatics in hilarious dark, Four questioners and four sure answerers. Crispin concocted doctrine from the rout. The world, a turnip once so readily plucked, Sacked up and carried overseas, daubed out Of its ancient purple, pruned to the fertile main, And sown again by the stiffest realist, Came reproduced in purple, family font, The same insoluble lump. The fatalist Stepped in and dropped the chuckling down his craw, Without grace or grumble. Score this anecdote Invented for its pith, not doctrinal In form though in design, as Crispin willed, Disguised pronunciamento, summary, Autumn's compendium, strident in itself But muted, mused, and perfectly revolved In those portentous accents, syllables, And sounds of music coming to accord Upon his law, like their inherent sphere, Seraphic proclamations of the pure Delivered with a deluging onwardness. Or if the music sticks, if the anecdote Is false, if Crispin is a profitless Philosopher, beginning with green brag, Concluding fadedly, if as a man Prone to distemper he abates in taste, Fickle and fumbling, variable, obscure, Glozing his life with after-shining flicks, Illuminating, from a fancy gorged By apparition, plain and common things, Sequestering the fluster from the year, Making gulped potions from obstreperous drops, And so distorting, proving what he proves Is nothing, what can all this matter since The relation comes, benignly, to its end? So may the relation of each man be clipped. Disillusionment of Ten o' Clock The houses are haunted By white night-gowns. None are green, Or purple with green rings, Or green with yellow rings, Or yellow with blue rings. None of them are strange, With socks of lace And beaded ceintures. People are not going To dream of baboons and periwinkles. Only, here and there, an old sailor, Drunk and asleep in his boots, Catches tigers In red weather. Domination of Black At night, by the fire, The colors of the bushes And of the fallen leaves, Repeating themselves, Turned in the room, Like the leaves themselves Turning in the wind. Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks Came striding. And I remembered the cry of the peacocks. The colors of their tails Were like the leaves themselves Turning in the wind, In the twilight wind. They swept over the room, Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks Down to the ground. I heard them cry -- the peacocks. Was it a cry against the twilight Or against the leaves themselves Turning in the wind, Turning as the flames Turned in the fire, Turning as the tails of the peacocks Turned in the loud fire, Loud as the hemlocks Full of the cry of the peacocks? Or was it a cry against the hemlocks? Out of the window, I saw how the planets gathered Like the leaves themselves Turning in the wind. I saw how the night came, Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks I felt afraid. And I remembered the cry of the peacocks. The Doctor of Geneva The doctor of Geneva stamped the sand That lay impounding the Pacific swell, Patted his stove-pipe hat and tugged his shawl. Lacustrine man had never been assailed By such long-rolling opulent cataracts, Unless Racine or Bossuet held the like. He did not quail. A man who used to plumb The multifarious heavens felt no awe Before these visible, voluble delugings, Which yet found means to set his simmering mind Spinning and hissing with oracular Notations of the wild, the ruinous waste, Until the steeples of his city clanked and sprang In an unburgherly apocalypse. The doctor used his handkerchief and sighed. The Emperor of Ice-Cream Call the roller of big cigars, The muscular one, and bid him whip In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. Let the wenches dawdle in such dress As they are used to wear, and let the boys Bring flowers in last month's newspapers. Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. Take from the dresser of deal, Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet On which she embroidered fantails once And spread it so as to cover her face. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. Gray Room Although you sit in a room that is gray, Except for the silver Of the straw-paper, And pick At your pale white gown; Or lift one of the green beads Of your necklace, To let it fall; Or gaze at your green fan Printed with the red branches of a red willow; Or, with one finger, Move the leaf in the bowl-- The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia Beside you... What is all this? I know how furiously your heart is beating. A High-Toned Old Christian Woman Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame. Take the moral law and make a nave of it And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus, The conscience is converted into palms, Like windy citherns hankering for hymns. We agree in principle. That's clear. But take The opposing law and make a peristyle, And from the peristyle project a masque Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness, Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last, Is equally converted into palms, Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm, Madame, we are where we began. Allow, Therefore, that in the planetary scene Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed, Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade, Proud of such novelties of the sublime, Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk, May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres. This will make widows wince. But fictive things Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince. The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad The time of year has grown indifferent. Mildew of summer and the deepening snow Are both alike in the routine I know. I am too dumbly in my being pent. The wind attendant on the solstices Blows on the shutters of the metropoles, Stirring no poet in his sleep, and tolls The grand ideas of the villages. The malady of the quotidian... Perhaps, if summer ever came to rest And lengthened, deepened, comforted, caressed Through days like oceans in obsidian Horizons full of night's midsummer blaze; Perhaps, if winter once could penetrate Through all its purples to the final slate, Persisting bleakly in an icy haze; One might in turn become less diffident--- Out of such mildew plucking neater mould And spouting new orations of the cold. One might. One might. But time will not relent. Metaphors of a Magnifico Twenty men crossing a bridge, Into a village, Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges, Into twenty villages, Or one man Crossing a single bridge into a village. This is old song That will not declare itself . . . Twenty men crossing a bridge, Into a village, Are Twenty men crossing a bridge Into a village. That will not declare itself Yet is certain as meaning . . . The boots of the men clump On the boards of the bridge. The first white wall of the village Rises through fruit-trees. Of what was it I was thinking? So the meaning escapes. The first white wall of the village . . . The fruit-trees . . . Nomad Exquisite As the immense dew of Florida Brings forth The big-finned palm And green vine angering for life, As the immense dew of Florida Brings forth hymn and hymn From the beholder, Beholding all these green sides And gold sides of green sides, And blessed mornings, Meet for the eye of the young alligator, And lightning colors So, in me, come flinging Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames. Not Ideas about the thing but the Thing Itself At the earliest ending of winter, In March, a scrawny cry from outside Seemed like a sound in his mind. He knew that he heard it, A bird's cry, at daylight or before, In the early March wind. The sun was rising at six, No longer a battered panache above snow... It would have been outside. It was not from the vast ventriloquism Of sleep's faded papier-mache... The sun was coming from the outside. That scrawny cry--It was A chorister whose c preceded the choir. It was part of the colossal sun, Surrounded by its choral rings, Still far away. It was like A new knowledge of reality. Nuances of a Theme by Williams It's a strange courage you give me, ancient star: William Carlos Williams Shine alone in the sunrise toward which you lend no part! William Carlos Williams I Shine alone, shine nakedly, shine like bronze that reflects neither my face nor any inner part of my being, shine like fire, that mirrors nothing. II Lend no part to any humanity that suffuses you in its own light. Be not chimera of morning, Half-man, half-star. Be not an intelligence, Like a widow's bird Or an old horse. O Florida, Venereal Soil A few things for themselves, Convolvulus and coral, Buzzards and live-moss, Tiestas from the keys, A few things for themselves, Florida, venereal soil, Disclose to the lover. The dreadful sundry of this world, The Cuban, Polodowsky, The Mexican women, The negro undertaker Killing the time between corpses Fishing for crayfish... Virgin of boorish births, Swiftly in the nights, In the porches of Key West, Behind the bougainvilleas, After the guitar is asleep, Lasciviously as the wind, You come tormenting, Insatiable, When you might sit, A scholar of darkness, Sequestered over the sea, Wearing a clear tiara Of red and blue and red, Sparkling, solitary, still, In the high sea-shadow. Donna, donna, dark, Stooping in indigo gown And cloudy constellations, Conceal yourself or disclose Fewest things to the lover --- A hand that bears a thick-leaved fruit, A pungent bloom against your shade. On the Manner of Addressing Clouds Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns, Meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous, Eliciting the still sustaining pomps Of speech which are like music so profound They seem an exaltation without sound. Funest philosophers and ponderers, Their evocations are the speech of clouds. So speech of your processionals returns In the casual evocations of your tread Across the stale, mysterious seasons. These Are the music of meet resignation; these The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you To magnify, if in that drifting waste You are to be accompanied by more Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon. The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage But not on a shell, she starts, Archaic, for the sea. But on the first-found weed She scuds the glitters, Noiselessly, like one more wave. She too is discontent And would have purple stuff upon her arms, Tired of the salty harbors, Eager for the brine and bellowing Of the high interiors of the sea. Wind speeds her, Blowing upon her hands And watery back. She touches the clouds, where she goes In the circle of her traverse of the sea. Yet this is meagre play In the scurry and water-shine, As her heels foam--- Not as when the goldener nude Of a later day Will go, like the center of sea-green pomp, In an intenser calm, Scullion of fate, Across the spick torrent, ceaselessly, Upon her irretrievable way. Peter Quince at the Clavier I Just as my fingers on these keys Make music, so the self-same sounds On my spirit make a music, too. Music is feeling, then, not sound; And thus it is that what I feel, Here in this room, desiring you, Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk, Is music. It is like the strain Waked in the elders by Susanna; Of a green evening, clear and warm, She bathed in her still garden, while The red-eyed elders, watching, felt The basses of their beings throb In witching chords, and their thin blood Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna. II In the green water, clear and warm, Susanna lay. She searched The touch of springs, And found Concealed imaginings. She sighed, For so much melody. Upon the bank, she stood In the cool Of spent emotions. She felt, among the leaves, The dew Of old devotions. She walked upon the grass, Still quavering. The winds were like her maids, On timid feet, Fetching her woven scarves, Yet wavering. A breath upon her hand Muted the night. She turned -- A cymbal crashed, Amid roaring horns. III Soon, with a noise like tambourines, Came her attendant Byzantines. They wondered why Susanna cried Against the elders by her side; And as they whispered, the refrain Was like a willow swept by rain. Anon, their lamps' uplifted flame Revealed Susanna and her shame. And then, the simpering Byzantines Fled, with a noise like tambourines. IV Beauty is momentary in the mind -- The fitful tracing of a portal; But in the flesh it is immortal. The body dies; the body's beauty lives. So evenings die, in their green going, A wave, interminably flowing. So gardens die, their meek breath scenting The cowl of winter, done repenting. So maidens die, to the auroral Celebration of a maiden's choral. Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings Of those white elders; but, escaping, Left only Death's ironic scraping. Now, in its immortality, it plays On the clear viol of her memory, And makes a constant sacrament of praise. The Plot Against the Giant First Girl When this yokel comes maundering, Whetting his hacker, I shall run before him, Diffusing the civilest odors Out of geraniums and unsmelled flowers. It will check him. Second Girl I shall run before him, Arching cloths besprinkled with colors As small as fish-eggs. The threads Will abash him. Third Girl Oh, la . . . le pauvre! I shall run before him, With a curious puffing. He will bend his ear then. I shall whisper Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals. It will undo him. Six Significant Landscapes I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds. II The night is of the colour Of a woman's arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance. III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow. IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off. V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves. VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses -- As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon -- Rationalists would wear sombreros. The Snow Man One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; And have been cold a long time To behold the junipers shagged with ice, The spruces rough in the distant glitter Of the January sun; and not to think Of any misery in the sound of the wind, In the sound of a few leaves, Which is the sound of the land Full of the same wind That is blowing in the same bare place For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is. Sunday Morning I Complacencies of the peignoir, and late Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, And the green freedom of a cockatoo Upon a rug mingle to dissipate The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. She dreams a little, and she feels the dark Encroachment of that old catastrophe, As a calm darkens among water-lights. The pungent oranges and bright, green wings Seem things in some procession of the dead, Winding across wide water, without sound. The day is like wide water, without sound, Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet Over the seas, to silent Palestine, Dominion of the blood and sepulchre. II Why should she give her bounty to the dead? What is divinity if it can come Only in silent shadows and in dreams? Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else In any balm or beauty of the earth, Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven? Divinity must live within herself: Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow; Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued Elations when the forest blooms; gusty Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; All pleasures and all pains, remembering The bough of summer and the winter branch. These are the measures destined for her soul. III Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind. He moved among us, as a muttering king, Magnificent, would move among his hinds, Until our blood, commingling, virginal, With heaven, brought such requital to desire The very hinds discerned it, in a star. Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be The blood of paradise? And shall the earth Seem all of paradise that we shall know? The sky will be much friendlier then than now, A part of labor and a part of pain, And next in glory to enduring love, Not this dividing and indifferent blue. IV She says, "I am content when wakened birds, Before they fly, test the reality Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings; But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields Return no more, where, then, is paradise?" There is not any haunt of prophesy, Nor any old chimera of the grave, Neither the golden underground, nor isle Melodious, where spirits gat them home, Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured As April's green endures; or will endure Like her remembrance of awakened birds, Or her desire for June and evening, tipped By the consummation of the swallow's wings. V She says, "But in contentment I still feel The need of some imperishable bliss." Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams And our desires. Although she strews the leaves Of sure obliteration on our paths, The path sick sorrow took, the many paths Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love Whispered a little out of tenderness, She makes the willow shiver in the sun For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet. She causes boys to pile new plums and pears On disregarded plate. The maidens taste And stray impassioned in the littering leaves. VI Is there no change of death in paradise? Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, With rivers like our own that seek for seas They never find, the same receding shores That never touch with inarticulate pang? Why set the pear upon those river banks Or spice the shores with odors of the plum? Alas, that they should wear our colors there, The silken weavings of our afternoons, And pick the strings of our insipid lutes! Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, Within whose burning bosom we devise Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. VII Supple and turbulent, a ring of men Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn Their boisterous devotion to the sun, Not as a god, but as a god might be, Naked among them, like a savage source. Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, Out of their blood, returning to the sky; And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, The windy lake wherein their lord delights, The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, That choir among themselves long afterward. They shall know well the heavenly fellowship 3Of men that perish and of summer morn. And whence they came and whither they shall go The dew upon their feet shall manifest. VIII She hears, upon that water without sound, A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine Is not the porch of spirits lingering. It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay." Or old dependency of day and night, Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, Of that wide water, inescapable. Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; And, in the isolation of the sky, At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make Ambiguous undulations as they sink, Downward to darkness, on extended wings. Tattoo The light is like a spider. It crawls over the water. It crawls over the edges of the snow. It crawls under your eyelids And spreads its webs there-- Its two webs. The webs of your eyes Are fastened To the flesh and bones of you As to rafters or grass. There are filaments of your eyes On the surface of the water And in the edges of the snow. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird I Among twenty snowy mountains, The only moving thing Was the eye of the black bird. II I was of three minds, Like a tree In which there are three blackbirds. III The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. It was a small part of the pantomime. IV A man and a woman Are one. A man and a woman and a blackbird Are one. V I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after. VI Icicles filled the long window With barbaric glass. The shadow of the blackbird Crossed it, to and fro. The mood Traced in the shadow An indecipherable cause. VII O thin men of Haddam, Why do you imagine golden birds? Do you not see how the blackbird Walks around the feet Of the women about you? VIII I know noble accents And lucid, inescapable rhythms; But I know, too, That the blackbird is involved In what I know. IX When the blackbird flew out of sight, It marked the edge Of one of many circles. X At the sight of blackbirds Flying in a green light, Even the bawds of euphony Would cry out sharply. XI He rode over Connecticut In a glass coach. Once, a fear pierced him, In that he mistook The shadow of his equipage For blackbirds. XII The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying. XIII It was evening all afternoon. It was snowing And it was going to snow. The blackbird sat In the cedar-limbs. To the One of Fictive Music Sister and mother and diviner love, And of the sisterhood of the living dead Most near, most clear, and of the clearest bloom, And of the fragrant mothers the most dear And queen, and of diviner love the day And flame and summer and sweet fire, no thread Of cloudy silver sprinkles in your gown Its venom of renown, and on your head No crown is simpler than the simple hair. Now, of the music summoned by the birth That separates us from the wind and sea, Yet leaves us in them, until earth becomes, By being so much of the things we are, Gross effigy and simulacrum, none Gives motion to perfection more serene Than yours, out of our own imperfections wrought, Most rare, or ever of more kindred air In the laborious weaving that you wear. For so retentive of themselves are men That music is intensest which proclaims The near, the clear, and vaunts the clearest bloom, And of all the vigils musing the obscure, That apprehends the most which sees and names, As in your name, an image that is sure, Among the arrant spices of the sun, O bough and bush and scented vine, in whom We give ourselves our likest issuance. Yet not too like, yet not so like to be Too near, too clear, saving a little to endow Our feigning with the strange unlike, whence springs The difference that heavenly pity brings. For this, musician, in your girdle fixed Bear other perfumes. On your pale head wear A band entwining, set with fatal stones. Unreal, give back to us what once you gave: The imagination that we spurned and crave. Valley Candle My candle burned alone in an immense valley. Beams of the huge night converged upon it, Until the wind blew. The beams of the huge night Converged upon its image, Until the wind blew. The Well Dressed Man with a Beard After the final no there comes a yes And on that yes the future world depends. No was the night. Yes is this present sun. If the rejected things, the things denied, Slid over the western cataract, yet one, One only, one thing that was firm, even No greater than a cricket's horn, no more Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech Of the self that must sustain itself on speech, One thing remaining, infallible, would be Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing! Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart, Green in the body, out of a petty phrase, Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed: The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps, The aureole above the humming house... It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.
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