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



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SOPHISTICATION, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: This man, I thought, had come too far
Last Line: And then, had no more love for earth.
Subject(s): Earth; World


THIS man, I thought, had come too far
From the warm sunrise of his birth,
For he had followed and lost a star,
And now he had no love for earth;
But with pale face and empty eyes,
Listless, as all who've grown too wise,
With a sad absent step he came,
And loved no thing and loved no man;
No youth-fire through his spirit ran,
His light was but a candle flame.
I watched him like a lost soul meet
The living crowds that filled the street,
And he looked upon them hungrily,
And sought their faces wistfully,
As if to say, 'it is not much,
I only ask of you a touch;'
For they were warmer, he divined,
Their hearts were young, while his was old,
Their hands were warm, while his were cold,
Their souls were fire-light, bright and kind.
Only to pass them in the street,
These humbler folk who never thought,
Some wonder in his spirit wrought,
His heart re-heard some ancient beat.
And he had fleeting glimpse of sun,
A moment saw the splendor run
Between bright edges of the grey,
Whirled in a space of dazzling blue, --
The sky he'd known in childhood's day
Ere wisdom's sunless heaven he knew...
Then to his soul, a twilight room,
Returning, he would sit in gloom;
Musing his life, his time away
Slow night by night, dim day by day.

Through this grey spirit's twilight air
I think there often rose a prayer,
Unspoken, uttered without words,
Unconscious as the speech of birds,
A prayer, and yet to no god made,
Since of no god was he afraid;
To his own soul, perhaps, addressed;
Or Earth, to take him to her breast
And warm him there, in sun, in rain,
In wind, in cold, in blight of stars,
To give him life, with bliss and pain,
To make new blood beat in old scars:
So he might feel with death and birth,
Be moved to dance with morning-mirth,
Laugh in the sun, be sad with rains,
And feel earth stirring in his veins;
Feel wind on bough blow cool or warm,
And old leaves torn away by storm,
Feel cold rain-bubbles round a root,
And sun take dew from April shoot. . .
In apathy his feet had moved,
He never hated, never loved;
One by one and silently
The few who knew and loved him died,
Went seaward with the quiet tide,
Passed into greyness, quietly,
And left behind no hurt in him,
Nor left his searching eyes more dim.
For they had died like winter's grass,
The new would come, the old must pass.

In youth, he loved philosophy,
He learned its sad satiety;
And with a grey net, dreamlike fine,
He netted moon and star and sun,
The universe; but ah, that done,
He found his caught stars would not shine.
Caught sun and earth had ceased their song,
Too late he learned that truth is wrong
When it takes sunlight out of things,
And that the snared bird never sings. . .
Too late he learned this, too late knew
Philosophy is only true
When it sings out of brimful mirth,
Perfumed and flower-like out of earth,
And theory only then is truth
When it is youth's own praise of youth.
Life is not earth's life, when it turns
Against itself with morbid knife,
Only the dim towards dimness yearns,
That life is sick that questions life;
And this he knew, but knew too late,
For he had passed through wisdom's gate
And seen of what stuff life is made, --
The thin web woven out of dust,
Destroyed then by a foolish gust, --
Dust in blossom and dust decayed,
Endless and aimless. . . . Come so far
In search of truth's ignoble star
He faltered, turned, and ah, would then
Have fain been even as other men,
Dreamless and thoughtless, wise in mirth,
Wise in ignorance, roots of earth;
Taking their lives of kiss and pain
As calm trees take the sun and rain;
Taking their daylight seriously,
Wise, in their fools' serenity.
But who has seen truth through his brain
Hardly shall he return again
To live in senses, nothing more;
A hollow sea-shell flung ashore,
Life has no use for him, nor sings
Her warm song in him, he is sped;
He hears the lost sea's murmurings,
A ghost wind roaring through his head,
But that is all, he cannot move,
He dreams, but cannot hate or love.

All this he knew in bitterness,
And strove with in his loneliness.
Of truth a little cell he made
Wherein from year to year he stayed;
Seeing, through one bright window's space
The moon and all the stars go by,
And Earth, a young and lovely place,
And bright sun, swimming in bright sky.
Once he had known it, -- that was past;
Now in a cell had he been cast,
His cunning brain had built dark bars
Between him and the specious stars.

His greatest sorrow, I think, was this:
To know that earth, however sweet
Her memory came to him, to meet
And give him her maternal kiss,
Could never satisfy again
His merciless thrice-accursed brain;
He could look back and see her fair,
Yet knew he'd sorrow were he there.
A long while he had hoped, I think,
That some day he might deeply drink
Love from a woman's living mouth
And so put end to this long drouth.
He had looked much on lips and eyes,
And hungered for this miracle;
Alas, he knew this sham too well,
He was too scrupulously wise.
All magic but illusion is,
Illusion are love's ecstasies,
He saw too keenly, drove away
This magic by the light of day. . .
And though perhaps the woman came
Destined by earth to set him free,
His cold soul could not kindled be,
He saw the texture of the flame.
His mouth to hers he may have pressed,
Searched eyes, and yearned to be at rest;
But he saw keenly, drove away
This magic by bright light of day. . .
How often, in what sordid ways,
How pitiful, with wistful gaze,
He sought for love, -- hoping to find
Some human soul, some star-eyed face,
Sweetly to capture him and bind,
And give his soul a resting-place!
Some girl, some woman, magic-sweet,
With shining face and dancing feet,
Laughing, untameable and wild,
Heedless and thoughtless, earth's true child,
So living, and so wisely young,
With such sweet music on her tongue,
That he might cease to be so wise
And learn earth's passion at her eyes!
And the young harlots in the street,
These he followed with timid feet,
And the young maids who lit his gloom
Singing and dusting in his room,
He talked with, trembling, shy of face,
Yearning for this imagined grace. . .
Yearning to have one thing to love,
One face to make his still heart move,
One face to die for, bid him ache,
One heart to make his own heart break. . .
Alas, if flame there was, he came
Like salamander through that flame.
He heard love speak the magic word,
His heart was mute, it never stirred.

And so, to ease his banishment,
Wearily, year by year, he went
To theatre, cinematograph,
That haply he might cry or laugh,
Or swiftly taken unaware
Feel a cold horror creep his hair.
Often he smiled his cynic smile;
But felt well paid if every while
Suddenly came a gust of grief
Shaking his soul's trees, or a joy. . .
Afterwards, laughter might destroy. . .
But ah, what infinite relief!

So came the years and took him then
Quietly from the sight of men,
Unwept, unmissed. . . At times it seemed,
Or so he in his twilight dreamed,
That one so utterly without breath,
Unearthly even, might escape
Earth's restless change, by men called death, --
And keep forever one grey shape. . .
Now he is dead. So, every day,
Too subtle musing leads astray.
This man, I thought, had come too far
From the warm sunrise of his birth;
For he had followed and lost a star,
And then, had no more love for earth.





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