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



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YOUTH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O earth, o mother dust, green star of heaven
Last Line: Smiling the same smile, dancing, dawn to dawn.
Subject(s): Youth


O EARTH, O mother dust, green star of heaven,
Gay, rapid dancer, lover of the sun,
Thou of his many brides to whom was given
The thrill of life, still starting, never done:
Under whose mother heart warm quickenings run,
The fires of birth and tremulous ecstasy,
The boon and curse of his fierce love of thee:

O mother dust, so careless of thy young;
Who, still intent upon thy love's bright face,
Know of us only as thy love-song, sung
By thee, to him, passionately, through space;
Bright laughing queen, dancer of silver grace,
Who, so absorbed in thy sweet dance's moving,
Care not for us, the children of thy loving, --

Saving that thou must change, from time to time,
The ageing for the youthful, grey for green,
Lest, in thy love-song, Sun should miss its chime,
And thou, without thy vesture, seem less queen:
This cry to thee, out of thy soul, unseen,
One of thy children lifts in desolation, --
Asking to know the cause of his creation,

Asking to know if thou hast heart for him,
And for all these, the children of thy womb,
Who grope, and cry, and call on thee in hymn,
On whom thou smilest now, now givest gloom;
Thou scatterest darkness upon seed and bloom,
And some thou lovest, some thou makest die:
Therefore one of thy children lifts this cry,

Into the utter darkness of thy being,
Hoping that it may somehow dimly reach,
Cry to thy heart, and bend thy heart to seeing
These loveless, motherless children who beseech;
So mayest thou then give justice unto each,
Or happiness, maybe; or, if that were pain,
Take back our breaths and give us dark again.

I.

The surf broke whitely along Coney Beach,
But he was sickened by that shrieking crowd,
So, with a slow strong overhanded reach,
Out for the sea he swam, with head low bowed;
The June sky shone bright blue, without a cloud;
Fiercely over the sea the south wind whipped,
Spray blew, gulls veered, the sea raged in, white-lipped;

But he was goaded by that roar of throats,
He hated them, they had no strength, no nerve,
They did not dare to strike beyond the floats,
They clung to ropes . . . While he, with dip and swerve,
With face turned back, and brown arm's tireless curve,
Fought with the sea's alternate fall and rise,
Burst through, shook water out of mouth and eyes;

Then steadied, with a hard and rhythmic stroke,
Forged through the glorious tumult of cold green,
Slid down smooth backs, shot under crests that broke,
Rose strong again, laughed inwardly, serene;
By god, the real thing, this! He tingled keen;
True as a knife he flashed in sea and sun,
And laughed for joy to feel the strong blood run:

To feel his muscles working smooth and strong,
Beating this senseless force, bitterly beating,
Crushing the sea, his body all one song,
Fierce and sweet, and merciless in defeating . . .
Slowly the beach's sounds grew faint and fleeting,
He was alone, exultant, with the sea,
He had flung earth away, his soul was free . . .

Flung off mankind and all its sordidness, --
Its pettiness, all its cowardice, its greed;
Its timid, sneaking lusts, its bloodlessness, --
Throats that if cut, he thought, could hardly bleed . . .
He had flung all this off, and he was freed:
Of time and space, and all laws made by man;
For out, where no tides are, his strong soul ran.

Wind blew, sun shone, the sea came with a roar,
White burst and smother of foam, with green and blue,
Endlessly, rapidly, dizzying towards the shore
Wave upon wave under the wind they flew;
Sharply above him came the sea-gulls' mew,
He saw their white wings flash, their bodies lifting,
The yellow feet held close; he saw them drifting

Swiftly and lightly, like a shimmer, away,
Down wind, and wheel, -- he saw the keen eyes turning . . .
The air came strong, he breathed new life to-day,
Each hard breath set his soul more fiercely burning;
Life to a furious life in him was yearning;
Youth towered and shone in him, flamed in his eyes,
And he rose brightly up in clear bright skies.

By god, the real thing, this! -- He turned and lay
At ease, rising and falling, breathing deep,
And loved the sky, and looked across the bay, --
Over that blue floor watched the black squalls sweep,
Filling white sails and making schooners leap,
Trailing the thin smoke swiftly from the ferry,
Blowing the spray from wave-tops, mad and merry . . .

The real thing, this! and all these endless days,
These days of senseless drudgery, it was this
That set his soul in fever, -- in a craze, --
To break away, to feel the crushing bliss
Of life that wars with life, -- the seethe and hiss, --
Arm shattering wave, and blind wave smashing face,
Laughter and shout of wind, and gulls in race!

The surge washed over him; he lay at ease,
With head thrown back, rising and falling slow;
And he scorned life, now, as he scorned these seas,
They fought him hard, but could not overthrow;
He was the stronger life, and they must go;
Past his cheek went weeds and bubbles streaming,
Sun flashed, the foam burst white, but he lay dreaming.

Beauty and strength and youth -- he was all these;
He knew his power; he was the purest life,
Life as it came up out of slimy seas
AEons ago . . . ready and strong for strife,
Armed with a thirst that glittered like a knife,
A lust for life, for power, a hot clear passion
All earth unto his own heart's peace to fashion . . .

He was all this, -- selfish and fierce and strong,
Hating the weak, and all things he could beat,
Knowing that strength was right and weakness wrong,
Knowing that death was bitter and life was sweet,
His days a fruit to crush with hands and feet;
No hell, no heaven there was, no god or devil,
They were but snares, and snares were good and evil;

By god, he saw it now! there were no laws,
Not one in nature . . . strength was justice there,
Every heart for itself with teeth and claws . . .
But man! he saw man creeping, with sleek hair,
To kill the strong, -- in crowds, it wasn't fair,
They came and snarled and stamped him into dirt,
Virtuously, for fear his strength might hurt! . . .

He lashed out with his feet, broke wave with hands,
Shot green and shimmering through, made eddies spin,
Fast as the sea he burst towards the sands,
His heart cried out, he felt new life begin,
And like a god he flashed towards the din
Of men and women bickering on the beach;
Seeing the women splashing, screech on screech,

And fat men basking bellies in the sun,
And sickly city youths who dared not swim,
Who gasped in water and then came out to run
Self-conscious on the shore, flabby and slim, --
Turning sly eyes to sleek a woman's limb
Or bit of skin above the stocking gleaming,
Or breast that stood out clear from water streaming;

Pah, how it sickened him! Swiftly he came,
Caught lightly along in foam, a sea-god bright,
Flashed through the surf, burst through the crowd like flame,
Scattered the frightened children left and right,
Sent a youth spinning, who glowered but dared not fight,
Ran tingling, roseate, digging toes in sand,
And laughed because girls stared on every hand . . .

The June dusk came, in Jersey set the sun,
Warm smiling light lay over land and sea;
The tree-tops burned; he saw the sea-gulls run
Through upper rose-fire, shining, floating, free;
They made the most of life, and so would he, --
He mounted wind with them, strong wings were his,
Earth dropped beneath, he burst where sunlight is, --

Beat the earth down with dark and angry wings,
With every wing-beat felt his body lifting,
Lost sound and sight of earth and earthy things,
High up, triumphant, with a calm wind drifting;
To watch night rise, and stars through dark clouds rifting, --
Ah, that was life! and not this dusty sprawling,
These whimpering creatures in the darkness crawling!

He looked at all their white suspicious faces,
Hands pale and lean, limp and slavish and vile,
Insolence born of cowardice, slouching paces,
The crafty glance, insinuating smile . . .
They did not live -- they only breathed a while,
Tortured themselves, prayed, cursed beneath their breath,
Made a wry smiling face at god, -- then death . . .

Under his feet the electric motors hummed,
The bright train sped through night, a living thing;
The poles whipped past; rhythmic, the rail-frogs drummed;
Lights flashed and vanished by as if on wing;
This too was life, this speed! He heard it sing,
And there was power in it, and ecstasy,
Its exultation set his spirit free . . .

And when at last he lay that night in bed,
Tired deliciously, athirst for sleep,
All this new music triumphed in his head,
A thousand voices, shrill and sweet and deep;
In a vast cosmic ring he felt it sweep,
Like a great tide of stars he felt it run,
And he among them, round some blinding sun;

He heard the people passing in the street, --
The slow steps on the pavement rang out clear;
He heard his watch tick, musically sweet;
A drunkard sang, -- then silence, like a fear;
Then, like a fairy voice from some far sphere,
Came the slow bells from Metropolitan Tower,
Now near, now far, the quarters and then the hour;

Trolling out sweetly now, now fading far,
Then the deep solemn voice, twelve times it spoke,
And then the quiet . . . he lay and watched a star
Which dimmed and shone through blowing chimney-smoke;
So earth went on . . . But in him something broke,
An exquisite breaking, shot with fire of pain,
Something was born in him, and something slain;

He stared wild-eyed, lay mute, then laughed a second,
Drunken with wine of youth; and he knew now
That times had changed for good, that life had beckoned,
That he must go and live, he cared not how, --
Only to fight, take, kill, and never bow:
Stake all, win all, lose all, -- what mattered this?
Fighting for life, even to die were bliss!

II.

Weeks passed, a whirl of lights and sound and laughter,
A fever dream, vertiginous, roaring, mad,
He quit his job, not caring what came after,
And struck out blindly; money enough he had,
And life, by Christ, would go now as he bade;
He got it by the throat, he was its master;
Sing! went his whip, and life danced on the faster.

He drank, he cursed, he flung the world off spinning,
He fought three times, a girl the cause each time,
He broke Jake Franz's jaw to stop him grinning,
Whirled stars about his head and made them chime;
He got in with a gang whose work was crime,
Helped crack a jewelry store, then half killed one
Who called him cheat at cards, and pulled a gun . . .

At the stage doors he met with murmured curses,
He waltzed the queens away, he had his will;
He laughed to see the sports look black as hearses,
White blooded things! Did they have hands, to kill?
Touch of soft fingers on him made him thrill,
He strode, his nostrils quivered stiff with scorn,
He wondered why these little men were born . . .

He waltzed the queens away, -- his smile, his voice,
The youth that sang like music through his veins, --
They laughed and clung to him, they had no choice,
He was a love-song full of witching strains;
He danced them out of the world of work and pains,
Girl after girl, white arms came gladly after,
The music drew, he danced them off with laughter.

He did not love them, -- they were shining dust,
Speciously bright soft wonders filled with lies,
Timid and insolent, rotten with fawning lust,
Foolish, with no more depth than peacocks'-eyes;
They lusted after him, to make him prize,
To hold his body or even to take his soul --
He smiled, they wept and cursed, but he kept whole.

One after one he tempted, drew, eluded,
Smiled upon, only to show more keen his hate,
Boldly into their dusty hearts intruded;
He bade them know themselves, he came like fate;
They loved him? But they loved, he said, too late, --
Their life burned out; they should have thought of this!
Scornful, on pale lips then, a farewell kiss.

Youth yearns to youth, full blood loves full blood only,
He was too bright, too masterful, too keen,
He was too good for these, so he stood lonely,
A lonely king waiting the lonely queen;
An unsurpassable fire, unknown, unseen,
Impalpable dream, the warm bright mist of life,
Music, white stars; so dreamed he of a wife . . .

A wife? A mistress rather . . . he would not wed:
That was to stoop in chains, renounce his wings,
Break body and heart and soul for daily bread,
Get down and crawl among all crawling things!
Life is not life that only day's work brings!
Crush, master, show no mercy, take, not give --
No god save self, that is the way to live . . .

He walked Sixth Avenue, the night was fine;
And strangely, then, a doubt came, like a flame;
Was this way life? -- He quenched the doubt in wine,
Walked lightly out . . . In crowds the harlots came,
They laughed, they sang, they moved so free from shame,
So frank in lust! These creatures knew life's taste,
They danced it night and day, no hour to waste . . .

They danced, -- for what was living but a dance? --
Until they sank down whitely to the floor,
Their rioting done, -- seeing in that last glance,
New youth come laughing through the bursting door,
New eyes to shine, -- new dancers evermore, --
And this same savage, passionate music played:
Still the same music, though the dancers fade.

Doubt turned in him . . . only a moment's space . . .
Was life best so? Where was the fight in this?
Night-fears! . . . He knew a girl, she was fair of face,
She had soft hair, her mouth was cool to kiss;
And she could dance, and dancing would be bliss . . .
'Us for the music, kid, there's ragtime playing!
A night of nights!' -- She laughed, with no gainsaying . . .

'Only, I hope my Jake Franz won't be there --
Poor Jake! he loves me . . . and he might be jealous;
And then, besides, you hit him one, -- for fair;
He has been blowing round me like a bellows,
These last two weeks; -- you know, these love-sick fellows, --
Well, you can't say! -- O mother, -- hold me, honey!
Doesn't this music make your feet feel funny!'

The music wailed, -- sinuous, drawling, svelt, --
Languid, impassioned, a living and beating thing, --
Girls closed their eyes and let their bodies melt,
The men laughed strangely, held them close to swing;
There were tense movements, tense as crying string,
Short vibrant steps, quivering stiff with passion,
Body to body yearning, stripped of fashion;

Short breaths, arms held out straight, a subtle swaying, --
Sometimes a girl, with music almost crazed,
Wailed a few bars; and all the musicians playing
Leaned to their bows a little, like men half dazed . . .
Women were drunk with it, their skirts they raised,
They showed their knees, -- frantic they were, to tear
These husks away and leave bright bodies bare . . .

Frantic, in one fierce effort to be released,
To loose their souls from centuries of restraint,
They gave themselves, -- until the music ceased, --
Then staggered back to benches, flushed and faint;
They had forgotten puff and powder and paint,
They were but creatures drunken with mad moving,
Drugged with the body's lust, the body's loving.

Jim and his girl sat at a table drinking,
Watching the dancers in a haze of smoke.
And, as he watched them, back that doubt came slinking,
It seemed as if some voice within him spoke;
What was this life? A laugh, a smutty joke, --
A drink, a giddy step, a dance, a kiss, --
Then the long darkness of the last abyss.

This was not living, but a mad decay,
Shining in darkness, like all things that rot, --
A whore-house ball, garish and grim by day,
Lifeless and sallow and sad, a desolate spot;
Where was the music now? It answered not;
Shutters were drawn, closed like the eyes of death,
Smell of dead roses came, a febrile breath ...

Well, he would quit -- this night would be his last.
What he would do he could not say as yet; --
He drank, May talked; before his mind's eye passed
A host of things ... the Amazon, -- Tibet, --
Africa ... There, exploring, he might forget
These effete countries swarmed with maggot man, --
Masterful, where great winds, great rivers ran ...

Honduras, Hayti, -- rebellions every day;
He might be king -- or fly-blown in a ditch;
Imperial Caesar dead and turned to clay! ...
Turn socialist? Pah, no, -- it made him itch, --
Sick, scabrous dogs! ... Christ no, not that! ... But which?
He did not know; he smiled, May talked to him,
The smoke hung round the dancers, wreathing dim.

He heard and answered, with a dreamy smile,
May's smutty talk, -- she pressed his knee with hers;
Why not clear out to mountains for a while, --
Breathe pure air sweetened by the pines and firs,
Where blue-jay screeches and the swift hawk whirs, --
Why not? ... By god, he would! He'd go next day;
And at the thought he laughed and kissed this May.

They danced again; the music, like a sea,
Swept them away, as blind and light as foam,
They leapt to stars, wind bore them high and free,
They whirled, they laughed, May clutched a flying comb ...
The music stopped ... Jim stared: 'I'm going home;
I'm tired of you, -- and all this rutting crowd -- !
I'm quit.' -- He smiled, sarcastic, stiffly bowed ...

And stalked away, seeing Jake Franz look sour,
Pull down his waistcoat with elaborate care,
Smile subtly to himself, adjust a flower,
Pass one palm lightly over oily hair ...
Jim kissed his hand to him ... Thank god, fresh air!
He drew deep breaths, fair from the sea it came,
He filled his heart with new life like a flame.

Where were the stars? Ah, he remembered, then:
Above Fifth Avenue there are no stars;
They have been banished by the lights of men,
Theatre-lights, electric signs, bazars,
Cafes and Lobster-houses, glorious bars;
Well, he was quit of this, perhaps for good;
He yearned for mountains, valleys, field and wood ...

Where you could see the sun rise bright through trees,
Slanting his glamour over mountain-tops,
Touching the waves of forests broad as seas,
Taking the flash of dew from field and copse;
There in the pines a ghost-wind never stops,
And stars shine down at night through frosty air;
He could scorn man, see truth, he thought, from there ...

Yes! He would see life clear from windy heights,
Find a new path ... In this place who could see?
A maze of sweating days and feverish nights,
Imploring hands and mouths, a drunken glee,
Oaths and despair, -- abysmal misery;
He would go out ... and then would find a way.
He was aloft and walked in dawn of day.

Up a dark street he turned, deserted, quiet ...
He mused ... then suddenly, vaguely, he became
Aware as of some shadow ... His heart ran riot,
Jake Franz stood black ... 'By Jesus, it's a shame
The way you treat my girl! Say, what's your game?
What do you think I am, you swill-pail cat!
You think I'll eat your leavings? ... Tell me that!

Speak up, my boy! Things have to be explained.'
-- Nonchalant, sneering, then, he flicked Jim's chin;
Jim raged, lights ran, he struck out, something pained,
In Jake's hand flashed a knife-blade, long and thin;
Then Jake dropped downward, darkly, like a sin,
Out of the universe, silent as wind it seemed,
Lost in the bottomless darkness, only dreamed ...

Jim stood above him, staring ... Where had he gone?
Ah, he was there ... 'Get up, you fool!' he said,
He kicked him twice; vague pains went gleaming on,
There in his side, -- he felt it wet, he bled ...
No use though, as he knew: the man was dead,
Dead as the stone beneath him ... He felt pain ...
Angry, 'Get up, you fool!' he said again ...

He kicked the shape once more, then bending down
Scanned the white face, the thin jaw crushed aside,
The eyebrows puckered in a puzzled frown ...
'Dead as the dust!' Jim smiled. A wave of pride
Surged redly up in him, he beamed, wide-eyed;
Then somewhat peevish, stumblingly, he turned,
And walked off, slowly, -- for his side still burned ...

He washed his cut, changed clothes, and took a train;
Wound his watch carefully, and heard it tick
Faintly beneath his pillow ... Damn that pain ...
He tossed a bit, heard sleepers breathing thick, --
With clouded passion prayed that train be quick;
Lifting the shade he saw black woods go by,
Bright sea ... dark farm ... a cold moon in the sky ...

III.

Up the green valley filled with sun he walked,
The mountains dreamed in quiet round the sky,
The cold brook, flashing down, half sang, half talked,
Trees shook; and in blue heaven, frail and high,
Like a last flurry of snow went cirrus by;
The forests rose above him, burned or green,
Bare rocky summits glowed in sun, serene.

Earth! -- The strong mother, bitter and unkind,
Savagely laughing from her lover's kiss,
Tender, voluptuous, hard, unmerciful, blind, --
Earth, his fierce mother, he knew revealed in this;
Up the green road he walked, his heart was bliss,
Savagely laughing back, a bitter mirth;
Earth did not care for him, nor he for earth ...

Out of her rocks, her mountains, wind and rain,
Lightning and cold and ice, at kiss of sun
She gave his body birth and felt no pain;
Torpid she lay, she felt no hot blood run,
Smiled at her lord, nor knew what she had done;
Life was her smile to sun, her song of praise...
He had no debt, then, he would go his ways ...

Yes, go his ways, be true to her, her child, --
Merciless, hard, voluptuous, soft as dust;
Leave life unchecked in him, be clean and wild,
Fashion his days with strong hands, wreak his lust ...
Youth was a knife, he would not let it rust! --
But cut with it, cut merciless to the core;
Life sharpens, fighting life, and lives the more ...

He had known what it was to seize and kill,
To crush with hands, to feel the hot blood hum;
Stamped dust in dust, and known the savage thrill
Thick in his heart, a laughter in him, dumb;
Shining he rose from that -- now let life come, --
Legioned in dark, he had the strength to meet it,
Let a vast angry world come, he would beat it!

He found a farm, midway from town to town,
Blake's farm; old Blake was looking for a man;
A gentle soul, his face was seamed and brown,
Grief-struck it seemed, inscrutable to scan;
His wife had run away, so rumor ran;
He talked in whispers, held a pail of water:
Jim took the job because he saw Blake's daughter ...

Walking towards them, tall and sweet she came,
Lightly over the grass, as blossom snowing,
Jim's eyes flared up, he thought 'By god, fair game!'
And watched her keen ... Her soft white dress was blowing,
Softly, a little, a glimpse of stocking showing;
Three daisies shone like stars in her dark hair,
Her eyes were deep, her brown slim neck was bare.

Her soft dress blowing made a rustling sound;
Rhythmic she came; over her quiet face
The wind blew strays of hair, she slightly frowned,
An absent gesture brushed them back in place;
April she was, -- she came with April's grace,
Into his heart she came, softly as fire,
And in his eyes rose lightnings of desire.

She was the earth that's gentle, smiles in sun,
The soft green earth of spring, the hush of spring,
Young earth in whom have hardly yet begun
The blossom-fires that snow and burn and sing:
Youthful and grave, a wise and shining thing,
Unscathed by knowledge, therefore trebly wise,
Unburned by passion yet, with undimmed eyes.

'The new man, Jane; just show him round the farm;'
The old man whispered; Jane's face lighted then,
She smiled to Jim, her soul faced his soul, calm,
She had the frank straightforwardness of men.
She led him round, showed pasture, fallows, pen,
The apple orchard, full of grey old trees,
The barn, a poultry-yard, some hives of bees ...

Jim saw, but saw not; hungrily he listened
Lest he should miss her voice's slightest word,
Sweetly she spoke, and, hearing, Jim's eyes glistened,
Never before so sweet a voice he'd heard;
It bubbled, it broke in spray, like song of bird;
Like living waters that through a spring wood run,
A quiet glee, a flashing in warm sun.

Into his soul like song of fire it went,
Warm tremulous music, strangely bringing power,
An April stir, an innocent blandishment,
The spring blood pushing blindly out in flower ...
What was this change, the magic of an hour?
He yearned to reach out arms to her and take her,
She was so sweet! To crush, to bruise, to break her ...

She was so soft, so bright, so star-like pure,
She walked beside him there so frank and free,
Buoyantly quiet, smiling, always sure;
He watched her long, light step, the moving knee
Rippling the soft white dress so gracefully;
Fair game, by god! A savage strength in him
Sang to his finger-tips, his eyes swam dim ...

Quiet, 'You must be lonely here!' he said, --
'Here all alone with mountains and with sky ...'
They talked a space, with often turning head,
Each frankly pleased to have that other by ...
He thought, 'It won't be hard, she isn't shy, --
Two weeks, I'll have her!' -- Glancing down, he smiled,
Thinking her 'half a woman, half a child' ...

They saw the farm, -- it was a pleasant place,
Hard by a wood that sloped up to a hill, --
The brook between; below there was a race,
And when the wind came up you heard the mill;
At night you'd hear the woods, it was so still:
Jim lay awake, hearing soft sough of leaves,
The woods asleep, birds rustling in the eaves ...

And brook went droning downward, still the same,
Soft as a dream ... grey as the woof of sleep ...
Then, in his mind, her face came, bright as flame,
He saw her smiling, saw her eyes grow deep;
He heard her speaking, saw her gesture sweep
Over the deep fields, valley, shining hills,
Clover, and sun-flash on high mountain-rills . . .

Wild-carrot tossing whitely over meadows,
Brown fallow, shining glossy from the plough,
Over the fields, flying, went blue cloud-shadows, --
Dimly, as if through water . . . All this, now,
Came keenly, with a breath of balsam bough
Fresh from the woods . . . And he could see her face,
Quiet and calm, sweet spirit of this place . . .

Yes, it was calm, a shallow in life's river,
Gently it moved, and lingered much in sun . . .
He could stay here in languid ease forever,
Not looking outward where swift waters run;
No, though! He must get out, the fight was fun;
He would stay here till murder-fuss was over,
Laze here a while, and dream things out, in clover . . .

Ah! and for Jane! -- his eyes stared wide through night,
As if they saw her beauty somewhere there,
Walking so lithely through the sun's kind light . . .
His body yearned to hers, for she was fair,
Young, with young eyes, soft skin, and dark soft hair; --
Youth yearns to youth, full blood loves full blood only,
She would be mirth, his stay would not be lonely . . .

Only a while, he thought, only a while, --
He must go back to the dark world of men . . .
He would but stay a summer, kiss her smile,
Drink laughter from her bubbling mouth, and then, --
Well, she was nothing more! go back again . . .
He laughed at her . . . his dreams made vaguer riot . . .
Sleep-webs came floating down, and he lay quiet.

IV.

Out through the fields they walked when work was done;
Like bright quick thoughts a month of days had passed;
Time was but interchange of dark and sun,
Clouds piled and massed and vanished, piled and massed;
Dawn after dawn the patient spiders cast
New gossamers on the grass to flash with dew;
The crows cawed harsh; red-tasselled the tall corn grew.

The pumpkins glowed like fire among dark vines,
Over wide fields danced myriad golden-rod,
Yellowing earth; then came bright flash of tines,
The hay-forks tossed, scythe swished, and old Blake trod
Sadly and slowly, whispering thanks to God,
And praying God to give three fine days more, --
Three days of sun, to take in winter's store . . .

A month of days . . . Jim worked, he sang them by,
Blew them off, soft as dandelion greys;
For Jane was there, like full moon in the sky,
Jane, with her voice, her smile, her quiet ways;
Watching him work with wise and musing gaze,
Talking so wisely, brushing back stray hair,
Or broidering all day, quick, with soft arms bare.

'By god, I'll have her yet! Fool that I am!'
Jim rested back from hoeing, spat, changed grip,
Thought he was faint of will, -- not worth a damn;
He frowned: how had he let so much time slip?
He, the ring-master, -- where now was his whip?
Youth rose rebellious, savage flashed his hoe;
By god, to-night! The time had come to go.

The time had come: he must get back again,
Where there was life, and fighting, blood to spill,
He would walk strong and scornful among men,
Take power from them, be master, wreak his will;
He had known what it was to crush and kill --
He knew his strength; if he were killed instead, --
Well, he lived only once, but once was dead!

Life must be rich in deeds: it did not matter
If they were crime, so long as they were brave;
Let others make, it was his work to shatter,
His work to take and spend, let others save;
Life walked but once this night-road to the grave --
Ah, let it dance, then, sing, storm heights of power;
Savage and swift, crush life from every hour! . . .

. . . . . . .

'Come for a walk, Jane, there's a new moon shining,
Bright through the firs . . . We'll go, -- I know a place . . .'
Through the warm dark they stepped; a dog was whining;
The wind came faintly up, they heard the race;
He looked and saw the starlight on her face,
And his heart pained him, loudly beating, beating;
The fir-cones dropped, they walked; and time was fleeting.

The new moon swam through fir-tops, hid and shone,
The trees made sounds in sleep . . . or sounds in dream . . .
As if they dreamed of life long dead and gone.
At edge of wood, a soft slope down to stream,
Dark, was a clover bed; -- with whir and gleam
The big bees hung and hummed there in warm noon;
Sweetly it slept, now, drowsed by brook's slow tune . . .

'Here is my place . . . It is so soft, in clover . . .
So sweet . . . I'm sure the bees sleep here at night! . . .'
She laughed a while with him; O laugh of lover,
That cries so deep and dark, that sings so light!
They laughed a while, moon made their faces white,
He saw her white hands moving at her throat,
Clasping a brooch . . . On wind they seemed to float, --

Over the forest-tops, his heart was burning,
Touching the leaves, softer than dream they were . . .
Her dress shone pale, and all his soul went yearning
To feel that whiteness, kiss, and capture her;
Out of the woods came soft a still-and-stir,
They hardly breathed, dared not turn face to face;
Their hearts beat loudly in that sleeping place.

'Jane, there is something . . .' Speech was caught from him,
Fire surged up in him, filled throat and eyes,
'I love you, Jane . . .' 'O, and I love you, Jim --!'
The words had burst and paled, and they were wise;
But they sat still, they watched the glorious skies,
All the world's beauty through that darkness came,
Jane's breath broke sharply, Jim hung head in shame . . .

Her face was white with moonlight, her eyes deep,
Her eyes closed slowly, feeling his warm kiss,
Her softness came around his heart like sleep,
Through all his veins she went, a singing bliss;
Through all his veins, with fire and seethe and hiss,
Like blossom-fires of spring her body went,
He closed his eyes and knew now what life meant;

This was life's flower, life meant no more than this:
His mouth at her mouth, giving breath and taking,
Body and soul surrendered in one kiss,
The soul on fire within, the body shaking;
Life had been dream before, now came his waking,
She in his arms, her quick breath on his cheek,
Her soft hair falling, hearts too full to speak.

Life had been dream! His heart was loud with crying,
To think how frantic, foolish he had been,
Frantic in darkness, shouting, hitting, lying,
Feeling this power but turning it to sin;
That was all dreamed; he felt new life begin,
And a last passionate grief shook darkly through him
Lest this new wonder tame, unman, undo him . . .

'Jane, you're the stars, the suns, the moons of heaven,
And all the beauty and strength and height and fire,
The glory and power for which I've blindly striven,
Not knowing my aim, not knowing my own desire . . .'
He kissed her throat, they watched the moon climb higher,
And the stars marching, marching, never stopping;
The brook droned on, they heard the fircones dropping;

The moonlight made soft silver of the clover,
Tremulous in warm wind . . . Face close to face,
They saw this dark sweet world as love and lover,
They were the soul of night and of this place;
Darkly through deep eyes they went out through space,
Timeless, eternal, mingling the near and far,
Changing from life to dream, from earth to star . . .

Feeling the dream turn earth beneath their feet,
Feeling the star turn human in their hands,
In darkness finding dark eyes deep and sweet,
And a warm human face in firebrands . . .
Love's magic only a lover understands,
Magic and magian, he is both in one,
Shrinking to speck, dilating huge as sun . . .

Up from the valley's dark, two miles below,
The light wind brought a fading sound of bells,
The church clock struck the hour, sweet and slow,
Some notes they missed, some came with the wind's swells;
The wind came soft, sweet with the soft night smells,
Meadow and pines, and dew on new-mown grass;
So time passes, so even earth must pass . . .

Out of the clover then the lovers rose.
Moved arm in arm, like ghosts; Jim gazed at Jane,
And thought he walked on giddy heights of snows,
Or breathed star-fire . . . so sweet it was, 'twas pain;
And they must stop to kiss, and kiss again,
And touch with hands, and laugh, and walk on slowly,
Through the moon's light that lay so still and holy . . .

'Good-night!' -- Mouth fed on mouth, eyes closed with yearning,
Body to body quivered and then stood still,
And the hearts paused, and the blood ceased its burning,
To hear the music of one perfect will . . .
A long while then, leaning on window-sill,
Jim stared at night; he felt a great calm spread
Wide in his soul . . . as if his youth were dead . . .

As if all strength, all fierceness, lust for life,
The mad thirst, body's trembling greed for power,
His love of war, the glittering of the knife, --
Faded, dislimned, all vanished in this hour.
A sadness drooped his spirit . . . Would he cower, --
Dream life away? -- Well, maybe dream was best,
Dream, and the long slow years of calm and rest . . .

No feverish search through the mad universe,
Fighting to crush the small and kill the strong, --
Where was the good in that? That life was curse;
He would live calmly, usefully, and long,
Plough earth, sow corn, make life a pastoral song,
Take fill of love, and peace, and quiet mirth,
Close to the calm heart of his mother, Earth . . .

Long while Jim dreamed here, looking out at night,
Till elbows ached from leaning, eyes were strained;
But then Jane's face came back so sweet, so white,
In the moon's pale, -- and slow this trouble waned . . .
The waters roared far out, he yearned, he pained, --
New youth would fight them . . . Here they ran, not deep,
But calmly, smooth in sunlight, calm as sleep.

He would stay here untroubled by life's sound,
Through years to come he saw, year beyond year;
He would stay here, go this life's quiet round,
He saw himself grow old, still ploughing here . . .
So in his love he dreamed, -- stirred by no fear
That life was useless, useless age and youth,
Sorrow and joy . . . Love touched him, veiled the truth:

And life made slave of him . . . Meanwhile, the earth
Still through the starlight danced her endless song,
Turning her lord's love to slow death and birth,
Still changing grey for green, the weak for strong;
Life's cry she heard not, knew not right or wrong;
Youth rose, youth fell; she smiled to sun, danced on,
Smiling the same smile, dancing, dawn to dawn.





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