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LAURA (RIDING) JACKSON
THE POEMS OF
LAURA RIDING

Copyright © Laura (Riding) Jackson 1938; 1980
All Rights Reserved

________________________________________________________________________
To
Schuyler Brinckerhoff Jackson

who knew, and exerted himself to his extreme to serve, the beneficent duty that words lay upon us, and help us to exert ourselves to serve
_________________________________________________________________________

Poems of Mythical Occasion

Forgotten Girlhood

Into Laddery Street

The stove was grey, the coal was gone.
In and out of the same room
One went, one came.
One turned into nothing.
One turned into whatever
Turns into children.

But remember the coal was gone.
Old Trouble carried her down
To her cellar where the rags were warm.

And turned her sooner
Than had her mother
Into one of the Laddery children,
And called her Lida For short and for long,
For long, for long.
In Laddery Street

Herself

I am hands And face And feet
And things inside of me
That I can’t see.
What knows in me?
Is it only something inside
That I can’t see?
Children
Children sleep at night.
Children never wake up
When morning comes.
Only the old ones wake up.
Old Trouble is always awake.

Children can’t see over their eyes.
Children can’t hear beyond their ears.
Children can’t know outside of their heads.

The old ones see.
The old ones hear.
The old ones know.
The old ones are old.

Toward the Corner

One, two, three.
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.
The organ-grinder is turning,
The children are sing-songing,
The organ grinder is stopping,
The children are hum-coming,
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.

One, two three.
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.
The bakeshop is sugar-crusting,
The children are window-tasting,
The bakeshop is.shop-shutting,
The children are sugar-dreaming,
The children are sugar-stealing,
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.

One, two three.
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.
Father Bell is evening-praying,
The night is empty-falling,
The rats are out,
The birds are in,
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.

One, two, three.
One, two, three.
Coming, Old Trouble, coming.
Somebody’s dead, who can it be?
Old Trouble, is it you?

Then say so, say so.
One, two, three,
Into the great rag-bag you go.
Going, Old Trouble, going.

Around the Corner

But don’t call Mother Damnable names.
The names will come back
At the end of a nine-tailed Damnable Strap.
Mother Damnable, Mother Damnable,
Good Mother Damnable.

Home, thieves, home.
Mother Damnable waits at her counting-table.
Thieves do the thieving,
But she does the counting.
Home, thieves, home.

Home Sparkey, home Dodo, home Henry, home Gring.
With Dodo I kiss,
With Henry and Gring
I go walking and talking,
With Sparkey I sing.

Then along comes Mother Damnable.
Off, thieves, off.
`Such nonsense is disgraceful among thieves.
Off, wench, off.’

A Second Away

One, two, three, four, more,
Knock at the door,
Come in, come in,
Stir the stew,
Warm love up
In a wooden pot
And serve it hot
With a wooden spoon.
Rap, rap,
Come in, come in,
Love’s the only thing
That deceives enjoyably.
Mother Mary and her Magdalenes,
We don’t care a curse how much we’re deceived
Or deceive.

Hey, Lida,
Away, away,
On a hobby horse
That is wooden together
With everything else
But Lida, Lida.

Hey, hey,
Away, away,
Until Lida falls off
At any next turning.

At any next turning
Off may come falling
Lost lady with question-marks
All over her nose,
All over her nose.

All the Way Back

Bill Bubble in a bowler hat
Walking by picked Lida up.
Lida said ‘I feel like dead.’
Bubble said
`Not dead but wed.’
No more trouble, no more trouble,
Safe in the arms of Husband Bubble.

A rocking-chair, a velvet hat,
Greengrocer, dinner, a five-room flat,
Come in, come in,
Same old pot and wooden spoon,
But it’s only soup staring up at the moon.

Have you heard about Bubble?
He was called away
To fight for his country
And got stuck in the chimney.
Then hey, Lida, away
On a hobby left over from Yesterday.

One, two, three,
Mother and Moon and Old Trouble and me.
How happy we’ll be
Together and all raggedy.
I’m not a full yard,
Old Trouble’s not a full inch,
The moon’s a hole
And mother’s a pinch.
The rest is tatters,
But to rag-pickers
Faults are perfection’s faults,
And only perfection matters.

    ##########

 

Incarnations

Do not deny,
Do not deny, thing out of thing.
Do not deny in the new vanity
The old, original dust.

From what grave, what past of flesh and bone
Dreaming, dreaming I lie
Under the fortunate curse,
Bewitched, alive, forgetting the first stuff ...
Death does not give a moment to remember in

Lest, like a statue’s too transmuted stone,
I grain by grain recall the original dust
And, looking down a stair of memory, keep saying:
This was never I.

Pride of head

If it were set anywhere else but so,
Rolling in its private exact socket
Like the sun set in a joint on a mountain ..
But here, nodding and blowing on my neck,
Of no precedent in nature
Or the beauties of architecture,
Flying my hair like a field of corn
Chance-sown on the neglected side of a hill,
My head is at the top of me
Where I live mostly and most of the time,
Where my face turns an inner look
On what’s outside of me
And meets the challenge of other things
Haughtily, by being what it is.

From this place of pride,
Gem of the larger, lazy continent just under it,
I, the idol of the head,
An autocrat sitting with my purposes crossed under me,
Watch and worry benignly over the rest,
Send all the streams of sense running down
To explore the savage, half-awakened land,
Tremendous continent of this tiny isle,
And civilize it as well as they can.

How blind and bright

Light, visibility of light,
Sun, visibility of sun.
Light, sun and seeing,
Visibility of men.

How blind is bright!
How blind is bright!

Eyes looking out for eyes
Meet only seeing, in common faith,
Visibility and brightness.

Night, invisibility of light,
No sun, invisibility of sun,
Eyes in eyes sheltered,
Night, night and night.
All light, all fire, all eyes,
Wrapt in one conference of doubt.

Eyes not looking out for eyes
Look inward and meet sight
In common loneliness,
Invisibility and darkness.

How bright is blind!
How bright is blind!

Because I sit here so

Because I sit here so,
Drooping and parched under this sun of sorrow,
I know
Somewhere
A flower or another like me
Hidden in a rare chance of difference
Wonders and withers unaccountably.

And if I sit here so,
Kindred and interlinked in circumstance
With others like me
Wherever I have been to dream—

And if I sit here so?

Stir me not,
Demons of the storm.
Were I as you would have me,
Astart with anger,
Gnawing the self-fold chain
Until the spell of unity break,
Madness would but thunder
Where sorrow had once burned,
A sun to smile in
And sit waiting under.

Because I sit here so,
Initiating in unrebellion
The perpetual ring
Of who are like me,
Death laughs along with us
And wears this garland of
Another and another dying
Alone, alike, and always.

Several love-stories 
The formulas of recognition
Apply themselves to memories.
There’s where,
There’s when, There’s there.

Yes, a nice time.
I met three fishermen out on the bay
Who couldn’t understand language.
I found a mercadon­—
What’s a mercadon?—
And dined with native nobility,
But there’s no place like home!

Yes, true-love—not travel.
It was a sky
Not-just to look at
But prove—
If possible,
If possible.

I went up of love,
I fell down of loves.
There’s no place like home!

Townsfolk, untwirl these casings
From Paris and Heaven.

The Mask

Cover up,
Oh, quickly cover up
All the new spotted places,
All the unbeautifuls,
The insufficiently beloved.

With what? with what?
With the uncovering of the lovelies,
With the patches that transformed
The more previous corruptions.

Is there no pure then?
The eternal taint wears beauty like a mask.
But a mask eternal.

The Signature

The effort to put my essence in me
Ended in a look of beauty.
Such looks fanatically mean cruelness
Toward self; toward others, sweetness.

But ghostly is that essence
Of which I was religious.
Nor may I claim defeat
Since others find my look sweet
And marvel how triumphant
The mere experiment.

So I grow ghostly,
Though great sincerity
First held a glass up to my name.
And great sincerity claim
For beauty the live image,
But no deathly fame:
The clear face spells
A bright illegibility of name.

Chloe Or ...

Chloe or her modern sister, Lil,
Stepping one day over the fatal sill,
Will say quietly: ‘Behold the waiting equipage!’
Or whistle Hello and end an age.

For both these girls have that cold ease
Of women overwooed, half-won, hard to please.
Death is one more honour they accept
Quizzically, ladies adept

In hiding what they feel, if they feel at all.
It can scarcely have the importance of a ball,
Is less impressive than the least man
Chloe, smiling, turns pale, or Lil tweaks with her fan.

Yet, they have been used so tenderly.
But the embarrassment of the suit will be Death’s not theirs.
They will avoid aggression
As usual, be saved by self-possession.

Both of them, or most likely, Lil,
No less immortal, will
Refuse to see anything distressing,
Keep Death, like all the others, guessing.

Yes And No

Across a continent imaginary
Because it cannot be discovered now
Upon this fully apprehended planet—
No more applicants considered,
Alas, alas—

Ran an animal unzoological,
Without a fate, without a fact,
Its private history intact
Against the travesty
Of an anatomy.

Not visible not invisible,
Removed by dayless night,
Did it ever fly its ground
Out of fancy into light,
Into space to replace
Its unwritable decease?

Ah, the minutes twinkle in and out
And in and out come and go
One by one, none by none,
What we know, what we don’t know.

The Number

The number is a secret,
How many elements assemble
To pronounce Alive—
And leave Alive to count places,
The conference adjourned
And the ghosts inaccurate,
Scattering poor memories.

Calamity if they remember
And long counting of fingers.
No sooner known the number,
There is division to prove the whole,
But never reassembling.
The elements are many
As they were in meeting.
The ghosts reminded,
The commemoration of the scene
Is man parading myriadly,
A precise madness distributing
Alive to ghosts accurately.

Chrysalis

Golden to itself it lay,
Its dreams as grains in twinkle-twinkle,
Inward only, to my eyes grey,
Mere cotton, mere butterfly to be.

The time of premonition is thought.
Long before flying, in my thought it flew,
 On that day on a tree-side
An old butterfly was new,
Clung wet with fright to its wings.

I blew more fright upon it,
Helped it shudder dry.
Because it could not cry
Stuttering it flew among the vines.
Among the vines my own eyes failed.
`Come away,’ they said,
`Out of sight is dead.’

So Slight

It was as near invisible
As night in early dusk.
So slight it was,
It was as unbelievable
As day in early dawn.

The summer impulse of a leaf
To flutter separately
Gets death and autumn.
Such faint rebellion
Was lately love in me.

So slight, it had no hope or sorrow,
It could but choose
A passing flurry for its nuptial,
Drift off and fall
Like thistledown without a bruise.

The Tillaquils

Dancing lamely on a lacquered plain,
Never a Tillaquil murmurs for legs.
Embrace rustles a windy wistfulness,
But feels for no hands.
Scant stir of being, yet rather they
Unfulfilled unborn than failing alive,
Escaping the public shame of history.

Once only two Tillaquils nearly a man and woman
Violated a hopeless code with hope,
Slept a single dream seeming in time.
`Come,’ he cried, coaxing her,
`Stairs stream upward not for rest at every step
But to reach the top always before Death.’
`Softly,’ she whispered,
‘Or two Tillaquils will wake.’

Death they passed always over and over,
Life grew always sooner and sooner.
But love like a grimace
Too real on Life’s face
Smiled two terrified dreams of Tillaquils
Tremblingly down the falling flights;
Who saved themselves in waking
The waste of being something
And danced traditionally
To nothingness and never;
With only a lost memory
Punishing this foolish pair
That nearly lived and loved
In one nightmare.

Take Hands

Take hands.
There is no love now.
But there are hands.
There is no joining now,
But a joining has been
Of the fastening of fingers
And their opening.
More than the clasp even, the kiss
Speaks loneliness,
How we dwell apart,
And how love triumphs in this.

Lucrece And Nara

Astonished stood Lucrece and Nara,
Face flat to face, one sense and smoothness.
‘Love, is this face or flesh,
Love, is this you?’
One breath drew the dear lips close
And whispered,
‘Nara, is there a miracle can last?’
‘Lucrece, is there a simple thing can stay?’

Unnoticed as a single raindrop
Broke each dawn until
Blindness as the same day fell.
‘How is the opalescence of my white hand, Nara?
Is it still pearly-cool?’
‘How is the faintness of my neck, Lucrece?
Is it blood shy with warmth, as always?’

Ghostly they clung and questioned
A thousand years, not yet eternal,
True to their fading,
Through their long watch defying
Time to make them whole, to part them.

A gentle clasp and fragrance played and hung
A thousand years and more
Around earth closely.
‘Earth will be long enough,
Love has no elsewhere.’

And when earth ended, was devoured
One shivering midsummer
At the dissolving border,
A sound of light was felt.
‘Nara, is it you, the dark?’
‘Lucrece, is it you, the quiet?’

The Nightmare

Of the two flowers growing
Each one side of the wall,
Which would the hungry child
In her nightmare
Pick to wear
If she did not fall
Frightened from the wall?

One was real,
One was false.
Both were same.

While she wavered they withered.
They died.
Hunger went.
There is no more a wall.
The nightmare is morning.
The child says, over-remembering:
Mother, the strangest thing,
Two flowers asleep,
One flower I saw, one I didn’t,
One was alive, one was dead.
I was so hungry to be hungry.
Now I’ll never know this way or that way,
Just because of breakfast and being awake.

The Sad Boy

Ay, his mother was a mad one
And his father was a bad one:
The two begot this sad one.

Alas for the single boot
The Sad Boy pulled out of the rank green pond,
Fishing for happiness
On the gloomy advice
Of a professional lover of small boys.

Pity the lucky Sad Boy
With but a single happy boot
And an extra foot
With no boot for it.

This was how the terrible hopping began
That wore the Sad Boy down
To a single foot
And started the great fright in the province
Where the Sad Boy became half of himself.

Wherever he went thumping and hopping,
Pounding a whole earth into a half-heaven,
Things split all around
Into a left side for the left magic,
Into no side for the missing right boot.

Mercy be to the Sad Boy,
Mercy be to the melancholy folk
On the Sad Boy’s right.

It was not for clumsiness
He lost the left boot
And the knowledge of his left side,
But because one awful Sunday
This dear boy dislimbed
Went back to the old pond
To fish up the other boot
And was quickly (being too light for his line)
Fished in.

Gracious how he kicks now—
And the almost-ripples show
Where the Sad Boy went in
And his mad mother
And his bad father after him.

Mortal

There is a man of me that sows.
There is a woman of me that reaps.
One for good,
And one for fair,
And they cannot find me anywhere.

Father and Mother, shadowy ancestry,
Can you make no more than this of me?

The Quids

The little quids, the monstrous quids,
The everywhere, everything, always quids,
The atoms of the Monoton,
Each turned an essence where it stood,
Ground a gisty dust from its neighbours’ edges,
Until a powdery thoughtfall stormed in and out—
The cerebration of a slippery quid enterprise.

Each quid stirred.
The united quids
Waved through a sinuous decision.
The quids, that had never done anything before
But be, be, be, be, be—
The quids resolved to predicate,
To dissipate themselves in grammar.

Oh, the Monoton didn’t care,
For whatever they did—
The Monoton’s contributing quids—
The Monoton would always remain the same.

A quid here and there gyrated in place-position,
While many turned inside-out for the fun of it.
And a few refused to be anything but
Simple unpredicated copulatives.
Little by little, this commotion of quids,
By ones, by tens, by casual millions,
Squirming within the state of things,
The metaphysical acrobats,
The naked, immaterial quids,
Turned in on themselves
And came out all dressed—
Each similar quid of the inward same,
Each similar quid dressed in a different way,
The quids’ idea of a holiday.

The quids could never tell what was happening.
But the Monoton felt itself differently the same
In its different parts.

The silly quids upon their learned exercise
Never knew, could never tell
What their wisdom was about,
What their carnival was like,
Being in, being in, being always in
Where they never could get out
Of the everywhere, everything, always in,
To derive themselves from the Monoton.

Enough

One sleep, one stirring,
Were one life enough
Were they enough one life.

One is so many, so many,
Innumerably, more and more wearily,
Never quite, never quite.

Will beauty, can beauty,
Allay the deficiency?
(Never quite, never quite.)

The lagging, the dying,
The more and more of the many,
The less of the one,
Until the diverse dwindling
Is none:
After the death,
What can go on?

Still the lagging
Of life now less than nothing,
An approaching
More ineffusively
A sum.

Room

Whatever is before goes behind.
Each makes room for the next of kind.
The unborn beggars cry `Unfed’
Until all are born and dead.
Death is the crumb
To which they come;
God the division of it,
The nothing and no more of it
When the procreative doom Stops making room—
The name of charity
By which to be is not to be.

Afternoon

The fever of afternoon
Is called afternoon,
Old sleep uptorn,
Not yet time for night-time,
No other name, for no names
In the afternoon but afternoon.

Love tries to speak but sounds
So close in its own ear.
The clock-ticks hear
The clock-ticks ticking back.
The fever fills where throats show,
But nothing in these horrors moves to swallow
While thirst trails afternoon
To husky sunset.

Evening appears with mouths
When afternoon can talk.
Supper and bed open and close
And love makes thinking dark.
More afternoons divide the night,
New sleep uptorn,
Wakeful suspension between dream and dream—
We never knew how long.
The sun is late by hours of soon and soon—
Then comes the quick fever, called day.
But the slow fever is called afternoon.

No More Are Lovely Palaces

No more are lovely palaces
And Taj-Mahal is old.
The listening tenements,
The wakeful entertainments,
Waited wide and many ages
For the spirits of the promises
That more than men would come,
Would come the visitants evoked
By lovely palaces
And such emblazoned places
Men would never light for men.

A little surer now you know
They do not come the way you go.
And better build you and more soberly—
Houses fitter for you to leave
Than to receive
The more than haughty hosts
Of the imperishable ghosts,
That swing death’s doors
And suck you into topless palaces,
Untrembling on the blowing bluish spaces,
Where you gasp out your gratitude
And say breathless:
Heaven’s hand is not gentle,
The lovely palaces were too lovely,
True lavish is the terrible.

Goat And Amalthea 

I have been assaulted by the moths
Thick in my eyes and throat many a night
When the thought of Amalthea was
Tall flame in the grimy wick.
Then I have blown the light out
And not remembered.
It is better to be dark with Amalthea
Than give her over to the moths and bats.

And Amalthea does not marvel that I can laugh
Or open my eyes to other eyes so brightly
Or strum upon my tongue
My best ballads over so merrily.

She fell of no plague or passion.
She was only swift, so swift, they say,
She ran till she stood still
As a bell swung round more than rings,
And was alive and dead in one day.
When the day went she was dead most fully.
She knew all.

I have come with Amalthea in my veins
Into a fifth season. Time is more than slow.
For winter is over, yet I see no summer.
Now it is always snow.

But I am love of her and I am now.
And she is death of me and she was long ago.
The centuries I weep her bring us nearer.
Yet we can never touch.
For Amalthea in her former time
Shall weep me longer.

The Virgin

My flesh is at a distance from me.
Yet approach and touch it:
It is as near as anyone can come.

This vestiary stuff
Is a true relic,
Though I have never worn it,
Though I shall never be dead.

And the possession?
The violence will be over,
A forgotten passion,
Before I learn of it.

To A Loveless Lover

1
How we happened to be both human,
Of the material of the machine ...

The one original substance is one.
Two is two’s destruction.
But love is the single word wherein
The double murder of the machine Is denied
In one suicide ...

Long very long ago,
A time unthinkable,
We loved each other.

Greet an old doubt
With contemporary conviction—
Lest going you give me lovelessness
And the accursed courage for a close.

2  
Did I surprise too truly, then,
Your all too prompt anticipation,
Tear down the wall of self,
Expose the terror of fulfilment?
As from a balcony,
Applaud the way I build the wall again.

3
The requisite spot of anguish having shown
Upon my cheek the growth of the disease
From the internal infection of the bone
To the full epidermal fever, please
Proceed as you intended, in the tone
With which your parting sonnet tried to freeze
My too unliterary passion to stone.

Though love is not yet dead, your lyric crow,
Smelling the near-corruption, may come and perch
In antecedent mourning, not to sing
But consecrate to your pedantic church
His ultra-polite yet energetic wing
That flaps your piety incognito.

4
The cycle of revenge comes round,
Your expiation ties in me.

Mercy, mercy for me
Who would only suffer,
Who would never sin.
The righteous are transfixed
While sinners are swept round to judgement.
Mercy, mercy for me where I stand
A bigot of forgiveness.

Druida

Above Druida, below Druida,
Round Druida when she loved,
The air and earth,
The grass and clouds,
Were golden, were laden,
Not with love—oh, less ethereal
Her radiation—
But with him heavily.

Her trance of him was timeless.
Her space of him was edgeless.
But meagre was the man,
He took ambition.
He heard a clock,
He saw a road.
When the clock struck,
Where the road began,
He called farewell to Druida.

A hundred huts heard the cry.
The heavy earth, the heavy air,
Lightened, melted.
The man was gone.
Druida laughed.
Follow him, follow him,
A hundred sisters said.

Druida followed.
Not to bless him, not to curse him,
Not to bring back the bridegroom,
But to pass him like a blind bird
Seeing all heaven ahead.

She follows him, she follows him,
A hundred sisters said,
Standing at their doors while the man fled
And Druida smiled along.

Druida found the sky.
Earth was but imagination,
Love but self-alienation,
Man but a lover not love.

She has passed him, she has passed him,
A hundred sisters cried.
And the man turned back.
And a hundred passions welcomed him
In a hundred huts.

Back To The Mother Breast

Back to the mother breast In another place—
Not for milk, not for rest,
But the embrace
Clean bone
Can give alone.

The cushioning years
Afraid of closer kiss
Put cure of tears
Before analysis;
And the vague infant cheek
Turned away to speak.

Now back to the mother brew
The later lullaby exploring,
The deep bequest
And franker singing
Out of the part
Where there is no heart.

As Well As Any Other

As yell as any other, Erato,
I can dwell separately on what we know
In common secrecy,
And celebrate the old, adoréd rose,
Retell—oh why—how similarly grows
The last leaf of the tree.

But for familiar sense what need can be
Of my most singular device or me,
If homage may be done
(Unless it is agreed we shall not break
The patent silence for mere singing’s sake)
As well by anyone?

Trust me not, then, if I have begun
Unwontedly and if I seem to shun
Unstrange and much-told ground:
For in peculiar earth alone can I
Construe the word and let the meaning lie
That rarely may be found.

John And I

Begin the story with a man; curtail
The matter of his hair and hands and eyes.
The simple character will be enough
For bearing out the name—pass by the flesh,
Since this is but a tale and therefore clean
Of the decay that dresses up the soul.
Then tell the wife and woman at one stroke
And let the detail lie uncut upon
The monument of this small artifice.
There was a man to be delivered of
His wife as of a poor witch of the shades
Of plausibility. The unasked help
Of that old fury, accident, sufficed.
She died or was devoured in one swift night
She ripped apart and sewed herself into,
A weighted sack that never bubbled once,
And sank. Perceive him madder than before,
With nothing but a nasty vacancy
In the dark, gangrened spot upon his brain
That she had occupied—repudiation
But nothing more: an itching, empty sore
That better had been left incurable.
The uselessness of words about this case
Is obvious. The literary end
Establishes a certain calm in us
If not in him; and he may stop
For all we know or care, where we leave off.
And yet, if this is death, how listlessly
How indecisively, the sentence drops,
And not through pity but embarrassment,
The provocation seeming trivial.

Then strip the narrative of mystery
And let it shiver out the meaning like
A naked foetus parted from its womb:
This way a character becomes a man
Impossible to end in words or their
Equivalent in silence. Therefore find
The fellow a good name. John makes a frame
That any not too fanciful idea
Or man can fit into .... And John looked out,
Deduced his world and wisdom from the sins
And freaks of creatures not designedly
Alive but born just in the course of things;
Construed his house among the others....
He was a man as far as he could see,
And where he could not, I, his chronicler,
Began. The woman, among other things,
Confused the issue—yet it was as bad
After her going, for there seems to be

Nothing for me to talk about. A touch
Night falls upon both of us. John sleeps,
Or else I sleep, my words obscure my words.
I have not done and yet I can’t go on—
The articles that make us two divide us,
I am aware only of certain rules
By which he’s rhetoric and I a fool,
The one who sets the problem, frets and loves,
While John evades, equivocates, evades.

There was an insufficiency in me
To which no one but John could minister,
A hunger no mere man could satisfy.
If I infringed upon the laws of art
By making John outlast himself till now,
It was to save him from the consequence
Of his genetic artfulness and falseness­—
Defection, malice and oblivion.
The laws of art? Could I not alter them?
The reason I must call the passion dead
Lies in an insufficiency in him
That leaves me stranded in a half-told tale.
His name is cold. Life feels the loss when death
Takes off a man, and not at all the corpse;
And so with John and me. Nor do I weep
Or yet deny, confronted with the shame
Of abut literary authorship,
That John and I are better off like this.

Lying Spying

(Lying spying what men say of dead men,

What men say of me—
I can’t remember anything.
Why can’t I remember
What I alive knew of death
I dead know nothing of?)

`Poor John, John, John, John,’
Said the parson as he perched
On the sharp left discomfort
Of John John’s tombstone—
John, John, John, John, John.

Cobbler on the right
Hammered out the memory
Of the nails of John’s soles.
Mercer in the middle
Remembered the measure
Of John’s extraordinary shroud.

But no further the parson, the mercer
Lying spying
In the graveyard,
Where night fell deeper darker
Dead men mumbled, might be mumbling
Something secret about life.

Lying spying
John, John, John, John, John,
Parson, cobbler, mercer, parson.

Prisms

What is beheld through glass seems glass.

The quality of what I am
Encases what I am not,
Smoothes the strange world.
I perceive it slowly,
In my time,
As my material,
As my pride,
As my possession:
The vision is love.

When life crashes like a cracked pane,
Still shall I love
Even the strange dead as the living once.
Death also sees, though distantly,
And I must trust then as now
A prism—of another kind,
Through which one may not put one’s hands to touch.

Postponement Of Self

I took another day,
I moved to another city,
I opened a new door to me.
Then again a last night came.
My bed said: ‘To sleep and back again?’
I said: ‘This time go forward.’

Arriving, arriving, not yet, not yet,
Yet yet arriving, till I am met.
For what would be her disappointment
Coming late (`She did not wait’).
I wait. And meet my mother.
Such is accident.
She smiles: long afterwards.
I sulk: long before.
I grow to six.
At six little girls in love with fathers.
He lifts me up.
See. Is this Me?
Is this Me I think
In all the different ways till twenty.
At twenty I say She.
Her face is like a flower.
In a city we have no flower-names, forgive me.
But flower-names not necessary
To diary of identity.

The Lullaby

Every poor fellow reminds me of my father.
With worse luck than that
He reminds me of my father
With worse luck than he had.
Which means me
Who have better luck than my father had
Because it is worse than bad.

Every fine fellow reminds me of me.
Good luck is hard come by.
It is not that innocency
Of how luck befalls.
It is a bad luck weary,
A worse luck turned into destiny,
A knowledge of bad luck
And with bad luck seamy.

A poor fellow knows a poor fellow.
A fine fellow knows a poor fellow and a fine fellow,
A poor fellow and a poor fellow.
Every poor fellow reminds me of me.
Every fine fellow reminds me of my father.

And it is not to be forgotten:
All luck is luck,
My father’s or mine.
He was a poor fellow.
His bad luck was perhaps no luck.
I am a fine fellow.
My good luck is perhaps no luck.
All luck is perhaps no luck.
All luck is luck or perhaps no luck.

For is this a way to divide,
By poorness and fineness,
By pity and pride?
Comparison of luck is how
All babies cry.
Mother! Cease rocking, promising,
Let us all choke
Rather than sob asleep
With pout of luck on every lip
Resentful birth renewing.

Helen's Burning

Her beauty, which we talk of,
Is but half her fate.
All does not come to light
Until the two halves meet
And we are silent
And she speaks,
Her whole fate saying,
She is, she is not, in one breath.

But we tell only half, fear to know all
Lest all should be to tell
And our mouths choke with flame
Of her consuming
And lose the gift of prophecy.

Helen's Faces

Bitterly have I been contested for,
Though never have I counted numbers—
They were too many, less than all.
And kindly have I warded off
Contest and bitterness,
Given each a replica of love,
Beguiled them with fine images.

To their hearts they held them.
Her dear face, its explicitness!
Clearly, of all women, the immediate one
To these immediate men.

But the original woman is mythical,
Lies lonely against no heart.
Her eyes are cold, see love far off,
Read no desertion when love removes,
The images out of fashion.

Undreamed of in her many faces
That each kept off the plunderer:
Contest and bitterness never raged round her.

The Tiger

The tiger in me I know late, not burning bright.
Of such women as I am, they say,
‘Woman, many women in one,’ winking.
Such women as I say, thinking,
‘A procession of one, reiteration
Of blinking eyes and disentangled brains
Measuring their length in love.
Each yard of thought is an embrace.
To these I have charms.
Shame, century creature.’
To myself, hurrying, I whisper,
‘The lechery of time greases their eyes.
Lust, earlier than time,
Unwinds their minds.
The green anatomy of desire
Plain as through glass
Quickens as I pass.’

Earlier than lust, not plain,
Behind a darkened face of memory,
My inner animal revives.
Beware, that I am tame.
Beware philosophies
Wherein I yield.

They cage me on three sides.
The fourth is glass.
Not to be image of the beast in me,
I press the tiger forward.
I crash through.
Now we are two.
One rides.

And now I know the tiger late,
And now they pursue:
‘A woman in a skin, mad at her heels
With pride, pretending chariot wheels—
Fleeing our learned days,
She reassumes the brute.’

The first of the pursuers found me.
With lady-ears I listened.
`Dear face, to find you here
After such tiger-hunt and pressing of
Thick forest, to find you here
In high house in a jungle,
To brave as any room
The tiger-cave and as in any room
Find woman in the room
With dear face shaking her dress

To wave like any picture queen ...’
`Dear pursuer, to find me thus
Belies no tiger. The tiger runs and rides,
But the lady is not venturous.
Like any picture queen she hides
And is unhappy in her room,
Covering her eyes against the latest year,
Its learning of old queens,
Its death to queens and pictures,
Its lust of century creatures,
And century creatures as one woman,
Such a woman as I,
Mirage of all green forests—
The colour of the season always
When hope lives of abolished pleasures.’

So to the first pursuer I prolonged
Woman’s histories and shames,
And yielded as became a queen
Picture-dreaming in a room
Among silk provinces where pain
Ruined her body without stain—
So white, so out of time, so story-like.
While woman’s pride escaped
In tiger stripes.
Hymn to the hostage queen
And her debauched provinces.
Down fell her room,
Down fell her high couches.
The first pursuer rose from his hot cloak.

‘Company,’ he cried, ‘the tiger made magic
While you slept and I dreamt of ravages.
The queen was dust.’
And Queen, Queen, Queen,
Crowded the Captain’s brain.
And Queen, Queen, Queen,
Spurred the whole train
With book-thoughts
And exploits of queen’s armies
On gold and silver cloth.
Until they stumbled on their eyes,
Read the number of the year,
Remembered the fast tiger.

The tiger recalled man’s fear
Of beast, in man-sweat they ran back,
Opened their books at the correct pages.
The chapter closed with queens and shepherdesses.
‘Peace to their dim tresses,’
Chanted the pious sages.

And now the tiger in me I knew late.
‘O pride,’ I comforted, ‘rest.
The mischief and the rape
Cannot come through.
We are in the time of never yet
Where bells peal backward,
Peal “forget, forget”.’

Here am I found forgotten.
The sun is used. The men are in the book.
I, woman, have removed the window
And read in my high house in the dark,
Sitting long after reading, as before,
Waiting, as in the book, to hear the bell,
Though long since has fallen away the door,
Long since, when like a tiger I was pursued
And the first pursuer, at such and such a date,
Found how the tiger takes the lady
Far away where she is gentle.
In the high forest she is gentle.
She is patient in a high house.
Ah me, ah me, says every lady in the end,
Putting the tiger in its cage
Inside her lofty head.
And weeps reading her own story.
And scarcely knows she weeps,
So loud the tiger roars.
Or thinks to close her eyes,
Though surely she must be sleeping,
To go on without knowing weeping,
Sleeping or not knowing,
Not knowing weeping,
Not knowing sleeping.

The Rugged Black Of Anger

The rugged black of anger
Has an uncertain smile-border.
The transition from one kind to another
May be love between neighbour and neighbour
Or natural death; or discontinuance
Because, so small is space,
The extent of kind must be expressed otherwise;
Or loss of kind when proof of no uniqueness
Confutes the broadening edge and discourages.

Therefore and therefore all things have experience
Of ending and of meeting,
And of ending that much more
As self grows faint of self dissolving
When more is the intenser self
That is another too, or nothing.
And therefore smiles come of least smiling—
The gift of nature to necessity
When relenting grows involuntary.

This is the account of peace,
Why the rugged black of anger
Has an uncertain smile-border,
Why crashing glass does not announce
The monstrous petal-advance of flowers,
Why singleness of heart endures
The mind coupled with other creatures.
Room for no more than love in such dim passages
Where between kinds lie only
Their own uncertain edges.

This such precise division of space
Leaves nothing for walls, nothing but
Weakening of place, gentleness.
The blacker anger, blacker the less
As anger greater, angrier grows;
And least where most,
Where anger and anger meet as two
And share one smile-border
To remain so.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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