Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MEDITATION ON A JUNE EVENING, by CONRAD AIKEN



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MEDITATION ON A JUNE EVENING, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: As evening comes, my thoughts turn back to you
Last Line: And a certain place.
Subject(s): Love; Meditation; Memory


I.

As evening comes, my thoughts turn back to you.
Darkness is slanting through the eastern streets.
The lamps are waiting. The wry-faced moon repeats
Her vain nocturnal pose.
The lovers loiter to choose their favourite seats.
Across the lamplit grass, a paper blows.
My thoughts turn back to you,
Like tired music in a tired brain
Seeking solution in the worn refrain;
It returns, it returns,
It climbs and falls, struggles, disintegrates,
Is querulous, resentful, states, restates;
But always, like one haunted, comes again
To that one phrase of pain;
And that one phrase, you know as well as I,
Is the remembered pallor of your face;
And a certain silence, and a certain sky,
And a certain place.

I know you'll say 'to think these things is useless';
But music, then, is useless too.
Music persuades and captures the subtlest air.
As evening comes, my thoughts turn back to you.
Perhaps I misconceived you. You did not know—
How could you know? for none had ever told you—
That if you laughed or looked in such a way,
Letting the deep-seen challenge play
A shade too long,—letting it linger so
Like a glimpse of sky between the clouds,—
You did not know, we'll say,
That I should misinterpret this, believe
More meant than was intended; you did not know
That I would be so conscious, of these things,
So desperately conscious, like one who clings
To the merest shade of meaning, shadow of tone ...
And of course you would not wilfully deceive ...

II.

You're leaning, I'll suppose, out of your window,—
Watching that moon swimming above the rooftops,
Slipping through restless boughs of trees;
You smile a little, as I have often seen you;
Smiling, because you know how nights like these,
With all that's sorrowful in them, and spacious, and gay,
Are foolish ripples which time will smooth away.
Your smile is bitter. I have tasted it.
It is the smile of one who secretly cries.
Yes, I remember it now, it is exquisite;
A passionate plea for all that dies,
Twisted to irony, tortured to silent pain.
You would like this night to come again;
You would like to hear this music played once more,—
To tease the secret out of a certain refrain,
To snare it among the outspread nerves, and see
What was its pleasure. And that refrain meant—me?

We have walked together against the evening sun,
Weaving with words a music for the flesh.
Your eyes deny me; that episode is done.

III.

I could indict you, oh, on many counts:
To watch the sunlit shallows of your eyes
Darken and deepen with surprise.
Raindrops, falling on water, are ringed with ripples:
Each perfect ring dilates and dies.
And so, though I might prove my charge against you,
My words would die upon you, like drops of rain,
You would as sweetly mirror the sky again.
It is no use to close my eyes and say
'On such and such a day
Reading from such a book, on such a page,
Smiling, you leaned, and let your body rest
Trembling on mine, leaning your breast
Softly against my arm; until my veins
Cried out with music; it is no use, no use,
To say you could not know, you could not guess
That brush of your hand against my hand,
Touch of your dress,
Or dark eyes peering closely to understand,
Or idle question pitched in intimate tone,—
It is no use to say, if you had known
What death was in these things,
I should have not been spun in music, or caught
To stare, and question, and riddle the whole to nought ...'
... Why do I say these words? You do not hear them.
Like ghosts of remembered music, they rise unsought.

You tell me you are sorry—and as you say it
Your caught voice breaks, you turn away from me,
But not too soon for me to see
One instant, in your eyes,
Far snow-peaks melting under sunny skies.
You tear a leaf, turn back to me and smile,
Remembering our youth. But this was strange,
This quiet change;
And as we talk, striving to seem at ease,
To ignore the ghost of love that walks between us,
Each little while
That look returns, I am like one who sees
A face somehow familiar, somehow strange,
Glimpsed in a crowd; who does not know
If it were seen before, or only dreamed,
Or who it is ... Does pity tremble so?
Or was it, after all, what all these musings
Have sought, like restless music, to approach,—
Regret, and self-reproach?
And, if it were this, if it were really true
That you had teased your body with my presence,—
Played upon me, that you might thereby play
Deep music on yourself,—is this too late to say?
Is there still time? Could I yet capture you?
Would you admit you loved me, if you knew?
Was it a sign that I might yet demand,
Where asking was in vain?
These things are difficult to understand:
This may be real, or a grotesque in my brain.
A grain of sand
May seem a desert, stared at long enough:
Eyes, too intent, see blots and parallels.
Tremendous heavens peal in a scale of laughter.
A sidelong smile divulges smoking hells.

IV.

It is strange, when all is done, when all our talk is done,
That of all these years only such trivial things
Should so live on: these foolish trivial themes,
Persisting and persisting,
Like the inconsequent words we say in dreams.
We sit at tea; a gesture of your hand,
Touches your throat, light gleams across your eyes;
In casual intimate tone I hear you say
'How odd that you should think to come to-day.
What prompted it, I wonder?'—the words return
Foolish, indeed, but old with mystery,
Precious, because, in spite of all, they live
And have some secret of you yet to give.
It is as if I visited once more
A house I lived in once, now tenantless;
Or walked in a glare of noon along a shore
Where as a boy I played ... the rippled sands,
Pebbles wet with the tide,
Old grey boards, the purple vetch that crawls
Among dry matted weeds and grass,
Bottles, and broken glass,
Beach plums and tumbled walls—
They are like ghosts returned by light of day,
I stare at them, I touch them with my hands,
And listen, to learn what secret it is they say.
And I remember, on a certain night,
It was raining ... we heard the sound of rain.
And someone was playing a violin,—
Playing the same thing over and over,
Remote, uneasy, like one who tries to explain,
Playing it into the flesh, playing it into the brain.
Why do these phantom faces rise
Soon as I close my eyes?
I turn, but cannot escape, they follow me,
They beckon to me, the sad mouths open to speak,
The sad procession passes changelessly.

V.

The wry-faced moon goes up the sky.
The roofs are shiny, the fountain shoots and falls,
Against the stars, ringed with a ring of foam.
Inquisitive trees lean over the walls,
Glistening leaves like eyes
Fasten upon me to ask their ceaseless question.
My thoughts turn back to you
Like tired music in a tired brain
Seeking solution in the worn refrain;
It returns, it returns,
Climbs and falls, struggles, disintegrates,
Is querulous, resentful, states, restates;
But always, like one haunted, comes again
To that one phrase of pain.
And that one phrase, you know as well as I,
Is the remembered beauty of your face,
And a certain silence, and a certain sky,
And a certain place.





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