Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, EARTH TEDIUM, by CONRAD AIKEN



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EARTH TEDIUM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: If part of earth, I am a sullen part
Last Line: And in all fruitfulness there lurks a pain.
Subject(s): Earth; Life; World


I.

IF part of earth, I am a sullen part,
A note discordant in her harmony;
For I cry out against her ceaselessly,
And bear a separate music in my heart;
Or if in truth my soul was born of earth,
Most strange that being her offspring I should hate
Her who in anguish opened wide the gate
To blinding light of sun, the gate of birth!
Only in autumn do I feel with her;
As fall her leaves, so fall the leaves in me,
In borrowed splendor, dropping wearily,
Back to the dust wherefrom she bade them stir.
Why did she wake, why bade she them to rise?
What joy had they of life? Dream you they heard
The cry of wind, or song of any bird:
Felt gratitude for rains or sunny skies?
Ah, I have often envied them for this:
They had no sorrows though they had no bliss.

II.

For us, her special tortures were prepared;
Ah sorceress! through our unhappy veins
Music of intermingled loves and pains
Slowly she breathed; nor have we since been spared.
May she have joy of us, so she desire!
And what escape? For her all life is sport;
No matter what illusions we may court, --
For you she scorns your glee, for me, my ire.
Shall I make brave sweet praise of life to sing?
Lo, with her terrible mirth she shakes high heaven;
Shall I cry out against this life I'm given?
Or sulk? No odds, she revels in the thing!
Yea, even if in my desperate plight I cry
'Earth has no soul, no sense, and knows us not,
Or if she ever knew us has forgot,' --
Still am I conscious of a leering eye.
O falling leaves, let me go down with you
To lie insensible in dust and dew!

III.

Still, if she laughs whichever way we take, --
Methinks it were the shrewder thing to go
Such path as, wisely followed, brings least woe,
Dreaming some dream least likely to awake.
Smiles she? -- I care not. You exist not, Earth!
Man is the thing: Most grave, most sure is he;
What pleasures him, will it not pleasure me?
So; I will sift the fine gold from his mirth.
Come, man! explain yourself to nakedness,
Tell me what wondrous ways you get your bliss!
I fear there is some mystery in this:
For what seems more to him, to me seems less.
Lack I some precious thing, some inward fire, --
Or have I too much light? Behold, a doubt.
Here is a music makes him sing and shout --
And makes me weep; his fear is my desire.
Man has great depths. . . . Methinks, then, I'll go down
And find his soul. . . Who knows? . . and find a clown.

IV.

Yet if of earth, and if a sullen part;
Though I cry out against her ceaselessly;
Still do I find my life sweet harmony,
And bear a luminous music in my heart;
And I have laughed these many times this day
At my poor brain, sad with eternal toil,
That, darkling, slowly digs in barren soil,
While birds sing, and my heart is out at play.
Poor anguished laborer! I love you well.
Most shrewd are you; your lightnings have laid bare
Man's littleness to me, and your despair;
Your speech is wondrous, though you speak of hell.
Most shrewd, most cruel -- to man, to me, to earth;
Keen hands that spare no blossom, rip all bloom;
Yet I have laughed to see you ache with doom, --
When all the while my heart, of other birth,
Had fled far from your darkness and your rain,
Into the world to see the sun again.

V.

Shall I drain all my pulses for my song,
As poets do who squeeze their poor hearts white, --
Bloodless and mute, (so they may only write,)
Bartering all their flesh for one sweet tongue? --
'Twere folly thus; they slay the self-same joy
That moved their hearts to sing; so will not I;
Rather, rejoice in this high autumn sky,
Greedy of pleasures as a thoughtless boy.
Rather, go walk the hills in whirling sun, --
In dancing moon, -- in blowing leaves and grass;
Watching sad autumn with her death-fires pass,
And winter skies grow grey, and earth grow dun;
And love her well whom blessed fate has given,
Take, uncomplaining, daily joy and pain,
Bending my dripping face, if it should rain,
To lift it high again when stars take heaven.
And, living so, my heart will sing, meseems,
Sweet of his own accord, undrugged by dreams.

VI.

Is not the poet he who loves earth best,
Who knows her wisest, deepest, who, her child,
Dreamily with her moods has wept and smiled,
Waking and sleeping ever at her breast?
Not he, forsooth, who walks aloof, apart,
Looking askance at her. . . . O hapless brain,
It is your madness that has brought me pain,
Weaning my heart from earth, its mother-heart.
No more this land of mist and dark and cold!
No more these doubtings and this deep dismay!
Into the sun we go once more to play,
My heart is young, although my brain be old.
He cannot sing of life who lives so little:
Who loves not, hates not; come then, love and hate,
While youth sings sweet, before it be too late, --
Young eyes will pearl, and bones too soon are brittle;
O falling leaves, my heart goes out to you, --
I live, while you go down to dust and dew!

VII.

You stars that shine this night so cold and clear,
This autumn night, while fitful winds are blowing;
Cold moon, -- across whose face wild clouds are flowing, --
Or swimming in an open azure space;
You stricken leaves, to whom this night brings death,
Burned by this frost, and by this wind blown down,
Yellows and reds that soon will be but brown,
Wearied with rains, now palsied at a breath;
All things deciduous that fall away,
When seasons change and generous suns are gone;
All things that droop with night, that lift with dawn,
All things that stay, or only seem to stay;
You moon decadent, and you waning sun,
To whom will yet succeed more suns and moons;
You seas that ebb and flow by barren dunes,
Whose flowing and whose ebbing soon are done:
All ye, bear witness: though my days be few,
Greatly I live, who shared one birth with you!

VIII.

Bear witness, Earth, that I have loved you well,
Before my brain grew arrogant and proud;
I was a part of wind and star and cloud,
Most sweet and earthly did my young heart smell.
Most sweet and earthly! Sweet as woods of fir,
As gentle clover fields that drowse in sun;
Keen as the winds that over cold seas run,
Pure as the breath that blows from Alpine spur!
Have I not tip-toed like a summer air
Into your roses, nor disturbed their sleep?
Yet tryst with terrible typhoon could I keep,
Whitening seas and laying green earth bare.
I have been seed, and drunk of sun and rain;
Felt the sure creeping bliss of opening flower;
Flared up and blackened under autumn's power;
Frozen in sod, been stretched in moveless pain.
All these and more I've been, in grief and mirth:
Yea, I have loved you well, -- bear witness, Earth!

IX.

True song, meseemeth, is but happiness,
And he that sings of grief sings not at all;
Let him make moan, -- like sere leaf let him fall;
But we need tune of joy, of hardiness.
O youth! you are the sweetest song of earth,
Her heart's true music; prithee stay with me;
Though I grow old still let me youthful be,
Let my grey ashes glow with central mirth.
And let a warmth be ever in my eyes,
Nor the sure snows of winter slake their fire, --
Let them be bright with ever young desire;
I would be glad, -- let other men be wise!
-- Pale leaves, -- although your burying time is near,
Though wild winds whirl you, yet be not dismayed:
You shall again make green some sunny glade,
You shall make glee with moon another year!
-- True song is this; I flout the cynic brain, --
Saying, "like these dead leaves, I live again!"

X.

Pitiless rain, that, ceaseless, all night long
Unwearying, beatest on this world like pain, --
Pelting dead leaves till they would go insane
If they had soul, or ear to hear your song:
O heartless rain! how like man's grief you are,
How like untoward fortune, desperate fate,
That beats him down in blindness, not in hate,
And all unwitting crushes his life's star!
From grey sky falling, purposeless as grief,
Falling forever, needless, born of chance,
Without a soul, most desolately you dance,
Making a night-long dirge on bough and leaf.
And like a dead leaf all night long I've lain
Borne down by you and powerless to rise,
And felt you tireless beating on my eyes,
And on my naked heart your pattering pain.
Whence came you, from what sadness were you born,
Symbol of all that's mournful and forlorn?

XI.

A world of paradox! Lo, in all sorrow
Some sweetness lurks, and laughter in all tears;
And often he desires who also fears,
And pain of bliss and bliss of pain do borrow;
Man's soul, meseems, was under April skies
Engendered; mixture strange of green and grey, --
The wayward wonder-child of March and May,
Black rains, bright sun, and tears in laughing eyes.
And this cold vale, shrinking beneath a cloud,
Grown old with fear, -- lo, in a moment's space,
Lifts to the hurried sun a mirthful face,
Out of the darkness shining, sweet and proud.
And this rain, now, that pitiless, heartless seems,
Pelting dead leaves, beating earth's bosom bare,
Mingles a song of love with its despair,
And where it wounds instils a breath of dreams;
-- Love has its secret sadness, like this rain,
And in all fruitfulness there lurks a pain.





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