Selected Poems by Amy Lowell


Table of Contents

header Petals The Cyclists A London Thoroughfare, 2 A.M. Astigmatism The Taxi Patterns The Allies Bath Midday and Afternoon An Aquarium Aubade Decade Interlude The Garden by Moonlight Autumn Carrefour In Excelsis
Petals Life is a stream On which we strew Petal by petal the flower of our heart; The end lost in dream, They float past our view, We only watch their glad, early start. Freighted with hope, Crimsoned with joy, We scatter the leaves of our opening rose; Their widening scope, Their distant employ, We never shall know. And the stream as it flows Sweeps them away, Each one is gone Ever beyond into infinite ways. We alone stay While years hurry on, The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays. from A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass The Cyclists Spread on the roadway, With open-blown jackets, Like black, soaring pinions, They swoop down the hillside, The Cyclists. Seeming dark-plumaged Birds, after carrion, Careening and circling, Over the dying Of England. She lies with her bosom Beneath them, no longer The Dominant Mother, The Virile -- but rotting Before time. The smell of her, tainted, Has bitten their nostrils. Exultant they hover, And shadow the sun with Foreboding. from Sword Blades & Poppy Seed A London Thoroughfare. 2 A.M. They have watered the street, It shines in the glare of lamps, Cold, white lamps, And lies Like a slow-moving river, Barred with silver and black. Cabs go down it, One, And then another. Between them I hear the shuffling of feet. Tramps doze on the window-ledges, Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks. The city is squalid and sinister, With the silver-barred street in the midst, Slow-moving, A river leading nowhere. Opposite my window, The moon cuts, Clear and round, Through the plum-coloured night. She cannot light the city; It is too bright. It has white lamps, And glitters coldly. I stand in the window and watch the moon. She is thin and lustreless, But I love her. I know the moon, And this is an alien city. from Sword Blades & Poppy Seed Astigmatism To Ezra Pound;With much friendship and admiration and some differences of opinion The Poet took his walking-stick Of fine and polished ebony. Set in the close-grained wood Were quaint devices; Patterns in ambers, And in the clouded green of jades. The top was of smooth, yellow ivory, And a tassel of tarnished gold Hung by a faded cord from a hole Pierced in the hard wood, Circled with silver. For years the Poet had wrought upon this cane. His wealth had gone to enrich it, His experiences to pattern it, His labour to fashion and burnish it. To him it was perfect, A work of art and a weapon, A delight and a defence. The Poet took his walking-stick And walked abroad. Peace be with you, Brother. The Poet came to a meadow. Sifted through the grass were daisies, Open-mouthed, wondering, they gazed at the sun. The Poet struck them with his cane. The little heads flew off, and they lay Dying, open-mouthed and wondering, On the hard ground. "They are useless. They are not roses," said the Poet. Peace be with you, Brother. Go your ways. The Poet came to a stream. Purple and blue flags waded in the water; In among them hopped the speckled frogs; The wind slid through them, rustling. The Poet lifted his cane, And the iris heads fell into the water. They floated away, torn and drowning. "Wretched flowers," said the Poet, "They are not roses." Peace be with you, Brother. It is your affair. The Poet came to a garden. Dahlias ripened against a wall, Gillyflowers stood up bravely for all their short stature, And a trumpet-vine covered an arbour With the red and gold of its blossoms. Red and gold like the brass notes of trumpets. The Poet knocked off the stiff heads of the dahlias, And his cane lopped the gillyflowers at the ground. Then he severed the trumpet-blossoms from their stems. Red and gold they lay scattered, Red and gold, as on a battle field; Red and gold, prone and dying. "They were not roses," said the Poet. Peace be with you, Brother. But behind you is destruction, and waste places. The Poet came home at evening, And in the candle-light He wiped and polished his cane. The orange candle flame leaped in the yellow ambers, And made the jades undulate like green pools. It played along the bright ebony, And glowed in the top of cream-coloured ivory. But these things were dead, Only the candle-light made them seem to move. "It is a pity there were no roses," said the Poet. Peace be with you, Brother. You have chosen your part. from Sword Blades & Poppy Seed The Taxi When I go away from you The world beats dead Like a slackened drum. I call out for you against the jutted stars And shout into the ridges of the wind. Streets coming fast, One after the other, Wedge you away from me, And the lamps of the city prick my eyes So that I can no longer see your face. Why should I leave you, To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night? from Sword Blades & Poppy Seed Patterns I walk down the garden paths, And all the daffodils Are blowing, and the bright blue squills. I walk down the patterned garden-paths In my stiff, brocaded gown. With my powdered hair and jewelled fan, I too am a rare Pattern. As I wander down The garden paths. My dress is richly figured, And the train Makes a pink and silver stain On the gravel, and the thrift Of the borders. Just a plate of current fashion, Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes. Not a softness anywhere about me, Only whalebone and brocade. And I sink on a seat in the shade Of a lime tree. For my passion Wars against the stiff brocade. The daffodils and squills Flutter in the breeze As they please. And I weep; For the lime-tree is in blossom And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom. And the plashing of waterdrops In the marble fountain Comes down the garden-paths. The dripping never stops. Underneath my stiffened gown Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin, A basin in the midst of hedges grown So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding, But she guesses he is near, And the sliding of the water Seems the stroking of a dear Hand upon her. What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown! I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground. All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground. I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths, And he would stumble after, Bewildered by my laughter. I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes. I would choose To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths, A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover, Till he caught me in the shade, And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me, Aching, melting, unafraid. With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops, And the plopping of the waterdrops, All about us in the open afternoon -- I am very like to swoon With the weight of this brocade, For the sun sifts through the shade. Underneath the fallen blossom In my bosom, Is a letter I have hid. It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke. "Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell Died in action Thursday se'nnight." As I read it in the white, morning sunlight, The letters squirmed like snakes. "Any answer, Madam," said my footman. "No," I told him. "See that the messenger takes some refreshment. No, no answer." And I walked into the garden, Up and down the patterned paths, In my stiff, correct brocade. The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun, Each one. I stood upright too, Held rigid to the pattern By the stiffness of my gown. Up and down I walked, Up and down. In a month he would have been my husband. In a month, here, underneath this lime, We would have broke the pattern; He for me, and I for him, He as Colonel, I as Lady, On this shady seat. He had a whim That sunlight carried blessing. And I answered, "It shall be as you have said." Now he is dead. In Summer and in Winter I shall walk Up and down The patterned garden-paths In my stiff, brocaded gown. The squills and daffodils Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow. I shall go Up and down, In my gown. Gorgeously arrayed, Boned and stayed. And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace By each button, hook, and lace. For the man who should loose me is dead, Fighting with the Duke in Flanders, In a pattern called a war. Christ! What are patterns for? from Men, Women, and Ghosts The Allies August 14th, 1914 Into the brazen, burnished sky, the cry hurls itself. The zigzagging cry of hoarse throats, it floats against the hard winds, and binds the head of the serpent to its tail, the long snail-slow serpent of marching men. Men weighed down with rifles and knapsacks, and parching with war. The cry jars and splits against the brazen, burnished sky. This is the war of wars, and the cause? Has this writhing worm of men a cause? Crackling against the polished sky is an eagle with a sword. The eagle is red and its head is flame. In the shoulder of the worm is a teacher. His tongue laps the war-sucked air in drought, but he yells defiance at the red-eyed eagle, and in his ears are the bells of new philosophies, and their tinkling drowns the sputter of the burning sword. He shrieks, "God damn you! When you are broken, the word will strike out new shoots." His boots are tight, the sun is hot, and he may be shot, but he is in the shoulder of the worm. A dust speck in the worm's belly is a poet. He laughs at the flaring eagle and makes a long nose with his fingers. He will fight for smooth, white sheets of paper, and uncurdled ink. The sputtering sword cannot make him blink, and his thoughts are wet and rippling. They cool his heart. He will tear the eagle out of the sky and give the earth tranquillity, and loveliness printed on white paper. The eye of the serpent is an owner of mills. He looks at the glaring sword which has snapped his machinery and struck away his men. But it will all come again, when the sword is broken to a million dying stars, and there are no more wars. Bankers, butchers, shop-keepers, painters, farmers -- men, sway and sweat. They will fight for the earth, for the increase of the slow, sure roots of peace, for the release of hidden forces. They jibe at the eagle and his scorching sword. One! Two! -- One! Two! -- clump the heavy boots. The cry hurtles against the sky. Each man pulls his belt a little tighter, and shifts his gun to make it lighter. Each man thinks of a woman, and slaps out a curse at the eagle. The sword jumps in the hot sky, and the worm crawls on to the battle, stubbornly. This is the war of wars, from eye to tail the serpent has one cause: PEACE! from Men, Women, and Ghosts Bath The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air. The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light. Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot, and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air. from "Spring Day," in Men, Women, and Ghosts Midday and Afternoon Swirl of crowded streets. Shock and recoil of traffic. The stock-still brick facade of an old church, against which the waves of people lurch and withdraw. Flare of sunshine down side-streets. Eddies of light in the windows of chemists' shops, with their blue, gold, purple jars, darting colours far into the crowd. Loud bangs and tremors, murmurings out of high windows, whirring of machine belts, blurring of horses and motors. A quick spin and shudder of brakes on an electric car, and the jar of a church-bell knocking against the metal blue of the sky. I am a piece of the town, a bit of blown dust, thrust along with the crowd. Proud to feel the pavement under me, reeling with feet. Feet tripping, skipping, lagging, dragging, plodding doggedly, or springing up and advancing on firm elastic insteps. A boy is selling papers, I smell them clean and new from the press. They are fresh like the air, and pungent as tulips and narcissus. The blue sky pales to lemon, and great tongues of gold blind the shop-windows, putting out their contents in a flood of flame. from "Spring Day" in Men, Women and Ghosts An Aquarium Streaks of green and yellow iridescence, Silver shiftings, Rings veering out of rings, Silver -- gold -- Grey-green opaqueness sliding down, With sharp white bubbles Shooting and dancing, Flinging quickly outward. Nosing the bubbles, Swallowing them, Fish. Blue shadows against silver-saffron water, The light rippling over them In steel-bright tremors. Outspread translucent fins Flute, fold, and relapse; The threaded light prints through them on the pebbles In scarcely tarnished twinklings. Curving of spotted spines, Slow up-shifts, Lazy convolutions: Then a sudden swift straightening And darting below: Oblique grey shadows Athwart a pale casement. Roped and curled, Green man-eating eels Slumber in undulate rhythms, With crests laid horizontal on their backs. Barred fish, Striped fish, Uneven disks of fish, Slip, slide, whirl, turn, And never touch. Metallic blue fish, With fins wide and yellow and swaying Like Oriental fans, Hold the sun in their bellies And glow with light: Blue brilliance cut by black bars. An oblong pane of straw-coloured shimmer, Across it, in a tangent, A smear of rose, black, silver. Short twists and upstartings, Rose-black, in a setting of bubbles: Sunshine playing between red and black flowers On a blue and gold lawn. Shadows and polished surfaces, Facets of mauve and purple, A constant modulation of values. Shaft-shaped, With green bead eyes; Thick-nosed, Heliotrope-coloured; Swift spots of chrysolite and coral; In the midst of green, pearl, amethyst irradiations. Outside, A willow-tree flickers With little white jerks, And long blue waves Rise steadily beyond the outer islands. from Men, Women and Ghosts Aubade As I would free the white almond from the green husk So I would strip your trappings off, Beloved. And fingering the smooth and polished kernel I should see that in my hands glittered a gem beyond counting. Decade When you came, you were like red wine and honey, And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness. Now you are like morning bread, Smooth and pleasant. I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour, But I am completely nourished. Interlude When I have baked white cakes And grated green almonds to spread on them; When I have picked the green crowns from the strawberries And piled them, cone-pointed, in a blue and yellow platter; When I have smoothed the seam of the linen I have been working; What then? To-morrow it will be the same: Cakes and strawberries, And needles in and out of cloth If the sun is beautiful on bricks and pewter, How much more beautiful is the moon, Slanting down the gauffered branches of a plum-tree; The moon Wavering across a bed of tulips; The moon, Still, Upon your face. You shine, Beloved, You and the moon. But which is the reflection? The clock is striking eleven. I think, when we have shut and barred the door, The night will be dark Outside. The Garden by Moonlight A black cat among roses, Phlox, lilac-misted under a first-quarter moon, The sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still, It is dazed with moonlight, Contented with perfume, Dreaming the opium dreams of its folded poppies. Firefly lights open and vanish High as the tip buds of the golden glow Low as the sweet alyssum flowers at my feet. Moon-shimmer on leaves and trellises, Moon-spikes shafting through the snowball bush. Only the little faces of the ladies' delight are alert and staring, Only the cat, padding between the roses, Shakes a branch and breaks the chequered pattern As water is broken by the falling of a leaf. Then you come, And you are quiet like the garden, And white like the alyssum flowers, And beautiful as the silent sparks of the fireflies. Ah, Beloved, do you see those orange lilies? They knew my mother, But who belonging to me will they know When I am gone. Autumn They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia, Opulent, flaunting. Round gold Flung out of a pale green stalk. Round, ripe gold Of maturity, Meticulously frilled and flaming, A fire-ball of proclamation: Fecundity decked in staring yellow For all the world to see. They brought a quilled, yellow dahlia, To me who am barren Shall I send it to you, You who have taken with you All I once possessed? Carrefour O you, Who came upon me once Stretched under apple-trees just after bathing, Why did you not strangle me before speaking Rather than fill me with the wild honey of your words And then leave me to the mercy Of the forest bees? In Excelsis You -- you -- Your shadow is sunlight on a plate of silver; Your footsteps, the seeding-place of lilies; Your hands moving, a chime of bells across a windless air. The movement of your hands is the long, golden running of light from a rising sun; It is the hopping of birds upon a garden-path. As the perfume of jonquils, you come forth in the morning. Young horses are not more sudden than your thoughts, Your words are bees about a pear-tree, Your fancies are the gold-and-black striped wasps buzzing among red apples. I drink your lips, I eat the whiteness of your hands and feet. My mouth is open, As a new jar I am empty and open. Like white water are you who fill the cup of my mouth, Like a brook of water thronged with lilies. You are frozen as the clouds, You are far and sweet as the high clouds. I dare to reach to you, I dare to touch the rim of your brightness. I leap beyond the winds, I cry and shout, For my throat is keen as is a sword Sharpened on a hone of ivory. My throat sings the joy of my eyes, The rushing gladness of my love. How has the rainbow fallen upon my heart? How have I snared the seas to lie in my fingers And caught the sky to be a cover for my head? How have you come to dwell with me, Compassing me with the four circles of your mystic lightness, So that I say "Glory! Glory!" and bow before you As to a shrine? Do I tease myself that morning is morning and a day after? Do I think the air is a condescension, The earth a politeness, Heaven a boon deserving thanks? So you -- air -- earth -- heaven -- I do not thank you, I take you, I live. And those things which I say in consequence Are rubies mortised in a gate of stone.