Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, EPISODE, by CONRAD AIKEN



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EPISODE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: So, to begin with, dust blows down the street
Last Line: Saying no word, since there's no word to say.
Subject(s): Hearts; Love; Passion


I.

So, to begin with, dust blows down the street,
In lazy clouds and swirls, and after that
Tatters of paper and straws, and waves of heat,
And leaves plague-bitten; under a tree a cat,
Sprawls in the sapless grass, and shuts his eye.
And sitting behind closed shutters you hear a beat
Of melancholy steps go slowly by,
See crooked rays of shadows reeling
Fantastic fever shapes across your ceiling;
And in the enormous silence that ensues
You think how dusty and limp the green leaves hang,
Or hear a bell shake out its hourly news
In clang on languid clang.
And time and sky, those items of our lives,
Seem but as windlestraws
In the gigantic vortex of our hearts:
We move, we change, we hesitate, we pause,
In tune with vast self-generating laws;
The hour predestined comes; predestined it departs.

II.

And after days of dust have swirled and gone,
And sparrows arch their wings in the meagre shade,
When the late tulips have wilted on their stems,
And even by the pool's rim the grasses fade,
Then, after all, but now perhaps too late,
The long-expected clouds mount up again ...
Yes, we have had too long to wait:
There is no assuagement in the sound of rain.
We hear its pleasure among the leaves,
We hear its liquid parting from the eaves,
We look, and in each other's eyes
See lost illusions and answerless questions rise.
You light the lamp, and with your nerveless hands
Thrust your gleaming needle and draw your strands
Of lilac through pale silk ... You lower your head,
And you are silent, and for all I know
You wish this time had never come, that somehow it might go,
Or even—as I wish too—that we were dead.
We are agreed. And though we say no word,
We read each other's veins, profoundly know
The tedium of a tune too often heard,
Too much rehearsed ... We heard it come and go,
We played our parts with such pathetic care,
I the accompaniment and you the air,
Reversed our roles, with chord and discord chiming,
Suspension slowly to resolution climbing,—
Yet somehow, through no fault of you or me,
Drew out the affair too long, only to learn
Our sweet musicianship could only earn
A tardy kindness, sad futility.
Did you delay too long your acquiescence,
Surrendering only when desire was dead?
Did I persuade too long, command too seldom?
No answer shall be said,
There is no need for answer, for we know
When we first drew together, with slow steps,
Assaying and presaging with sure eyes,
It was predestined so.

III.

And now, you say, we cannot move apart.
The minutes, the hours, the days we wove together
In a mesh of pain have bound us, heart to heart:
We strain in a tender hatred, wondering whether
The hurt we do will hurt the other more,
Or more ourselves. We move in a close-linked pain,
And stretch, and feel soft anguish at the core,
And praise each other while our eyes complain.
We should have seen the coming of this day.
We should have known that two such lives as ours,
Such lives of ruined cities, crumbled houses,
Perspective of black ruins fouled with flowers,
Could not be brought together without probings.
We should have known the day must come at last
When we should see the alluring present crumble
Among the horrible slag-heaps of the past.
Too old we were at heart, and too accomplished
In pause and counter-pause, and feigned confusion;
Too skilfully we played, too well responded,
Too calmly saw and weighed the veiled allusion:
And yet, for all our wisdom, could not see
Where all was certainty no love could be.
We have deceived ourselves, but not each other:
Pretending love for what we could not love,
Now in a love of ghosts we are bound together
And struggle and cry and rage, and cannot move.

IV.

Shall we be honest then, and tear apart?
Your hands lie limp, you hear rebukes and pleadings,
And a soft fiery tearing in your heart
Presages sleepless nights, imagined bleedings.
No, we have grown together: ever motion,
In laugh, and look, and question and reply,
Since first we met and joined in this deception,
More subtly fused our brains, till 'you' and 'I'
Are mere abstractions, interchangeable,
And death to one is death to both.
We hate each other tenderly and well,
We think of partings and are nothing loth,
Our kissings are a fanged and poisonous thing;
And we should strike more bitterly, did we know
The pain would not return; and so we cling
In desperate heartlessness, and cannot go.
Two perfect lovers snared in a single snare!—
Snared in a love of making love too well.
Our music sweeps us on, we know not where,
Mad with desire we seize and crush and tear,
Only to find it is ourselves we torture,
Playing a dissonance which we cannot bear.
You are not she I passionately made love to,
Nor am I he you cunningly adored;
The lily we thrust our hands to is a sword.

V.

After long days of dust we lie and listen
To the silverly woven harmonies of rain,
Your eyes look past me, dark with pain,
You think how the thin leaves thrill and drip and glisten,
And touch my hair with your hand ... We should be wise,—
The tremor of your body seems to say,—
If like these leaves we forgot the dusty day;
And closed our eyes,
And took what passion gives, without complaining
That love is not our lot.
Steadily falls the rain, all night it will be raining,
And we shall sleep, and know it not.
This hand that touches me is not the hand
Of the silver queen I dreamed of, nor these lips
The red lips of the cool white-hearted nereid ...
Passion comes over us with its dark eclipse.

VI.

And so, to end with—who shall say the end?
Who first will break this compact—you and I?
This much we know—it must be done abruptly,
No soft preludic speech, no sudden cry,
No murderously indifferent glance of eye.
But some day one of us, grown half possessed
With pain unbearable, will walk away
Into the emptiness of time he came from,
Saying no word, since there's no word to say.





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