Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PRELUDE TO A FAIRY TALE, by EDITH SITWELL



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PRELUDE TO A FAIRY TALE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Clear as wistaria branches, waterfalls
Last Line: Shouted in all the gutters of the town.
Subject(s): Fairy Tales


CLEAR as wistaria branches, waterfalls
Droop by the lake; each flashing bright bird calls
the names of beauties that have long passed by, --
Still mirrored in that lake . . . a long-drawn sigh. . . .

Alas that Tamburini, Malibran, forsake
These waterfalls . . . the serres-chaudes of the lake
Beside these cantatrice-like waterfalls
See bunches of green grapes and leaves, with shawls

Of Spanish black lace; hooded belles are seen
In the Phoebus and the Sultan pelerine, --
All kinds of watered silks those great sprays wet, --
The gros de Sidon, foulard pekinet,

And Chine de Syr the wind loves; trellises,
All gilded by the heat, spangle the dresses
With emerald grapes; like flashing water, thin
Cashmere Alvandar and nacre pekin

Show by the lake's clear temple and great domes
In Venus' park where little Psyche roams.
How like the Wall of China is that lake
Reflecting Echo, but no sounds that wake!

And through the spreading branches of those grounds
You hear no sound of hunting horn and hounds
And see no stag. For no hounds ever bark
And no hares gallop in that leafy park.

Bright as the grass where mandarin-fish parch
Seems that Great Wall of China's dome and arch,
And drumming cascades sound of distant war
From caverns and from Echo's haunts afar.

The little path was yellow as nankin
And in the lake the small fish wave a fin;
There, in the dreamy park, the palace stables
Of Georgian architecture, steeples, gables,

Watched, near the haycocks, country nymphs' gowns float
Looped over a bright yellow petticoat
With leathern gaiters, and a carriage hat
That has bewildered many a leathern bat

In barns; the wind, that little Savoyard,
Decked them with wild flowers a la montagnard;
They haymake 'mid the marrows' dogskin flowers
And pumpkins where the dew now whines and cowers.

Came Master Cupid, knelt on the terrestrial,
Peaceful brink of that Empire Celestial,
The lake, and watched the small fish wave a fin, --
He wore his first long trousers of nankin.

A fish came like a little merry boy, --
He envied Master Cupid and his toy, --
He envied Master Cupid and his game.
The fish and the young prince were dressed the same, --

White nankin trousers and a flat Scotch bonnet, --
A thin blue frilly coat, -- gilt buttons on it.
As a boy climbs in thick-leaved apple-trees
Where leaves and fruit shake in a little breeze,

So Master Cupid watched his young friend shake
The great blue leafy branches of the lake.
"This endless lake seems like the Wall of China,"
He told his gaping friend, -- "but larger, finer --

And bright as bluest grass where your life parches
Seems that Great Wall of China's domes and arches. . . .
When you are grown-up, will you like the best,
Like Vulcan, my papa, a velvet vest?"

"My uniform will, then, bear rows of stars
To mimic the old grenadier god Mars, --
With Nelson, Caesar, Byron, and the rest;
The drumming cascades then will suit me best."

Just then, the lovely lake's vast park reflected
Not at all what Cupid had expected.
And Cupid ran to Vulcan: "O papa!
Come quick! For I have seen Mars kiss Mama!"

Like Good Prince Albert's seemed the gushing hair
Of Papa's bushed whiskers; resting there
They seemed like fireworks at the Crystal Palace
Exploding sharply, without ire or malice.

Where a thick bush had hunting shades that bark
At haymakers, -- there in the dreamy park
Papa sat sleeping where a shadow-hound
Hunted a hare-quick dream, and ever drowned

In that set piece of firework whiskers, more
And more each loud and partridge-whirring snore
Blew the peaceful lake's park quite away
With domes and temples, through the shining day,

Across the yellow nankin path, where cowers
The whining dew in marrows' dogskin flowers.
For like the dark earth, still Papa did keep
A slow and weary, most terrestrial sleep.

But Cupid too was dreaming, could not wake.
For this was but an echo that the lake
Still held; for deep within his woodland cottage
Mars waits for little Psyche with his pottage, --

That scullion Cinderella who now lives
To take the honey from the straw-thatched hives
Built by her bee-winged dreams, and mend the dress
Of that old housekeeper, sour Usefulness.

By haycocks like the castles of gold straw
For country satyrs, babyish leaves saw
The little girl bear velvet cream, and shining
Buns from Venus' stillroom, where lies whining

The dew in flowers of pumpkin and of marrow,
Upon the little yellow path so narrow. . . .
Until she reached the deep and bear-furred woods
Where cross owls mocked her from their leafy hoods.

There underneath the thin and swanskin leaves
Where pearled tears fall as a wood-god grieves,
Hides, still, a strawberry or violet
Budding small as a sweet triolet.

But Cinderella found the servants out,
And Marshal Mars loud-roaring with the gout
And aiming his old rusted blunderbuss
At nothing firing; with that martial fuss

Like Jove's the blunderbuss's repercussions
Fired but pears and apples furred as Russians, --
Hit but the candles' shadows, -- children dressed
In jangling bright clothes, -- so they join the blessed.

Mars cried: "The pirate ships have brought me home
And this damned gout will never let me roam;
Like Windsor Castle towered the thick-walled waves
(Enclosing gardens) -- country inns seemed caves

Where Mr. Pitt, attired as Charley Wagg
Began to dance and roar, began to brag
Of herring-silver harp-wires, waves that seem
Like sunburnt haycocks in a summer dream,

Or satyrs' castles of gold straw entwined
With blackest ivy buds and leaves, and lined
With lambs' wool, and amid those cocks of hay
The sirens play their harp-strings through the day,

And mariners dance jigs, mazarinettes,
And hornpipes, with the quickest coucoulettes,
The tarantella and the rigodoon,
The pas de Calais, blues, and the fazoon,

The schottische, prairie hunch, and the sheep-trot,
Among those haycocks, caring not a jot,
While the harps' herring-silver jangling sound
Makes them forget that they are dead and drowned,

And, on lone crags, nymphs bright as any queen,
In crinolines of tarlatine marine,
Walk where a few gauze tartan thin leaves grow
Among the ermine leaves of the cold snow.

All this is now beyond my furthest reach.
I'll poke the fire's tall fort and make a breach,"
Mars said: the blunderbuss's repercussions
Fired out pears and apples furred as Russians.

"But what has the fire given me
From its castellated town
With all that crackling martial fuss?
A shadow like a pony, brown
And shaggy, grumbling like a bear,
For me to ride to Anywhere, --
Quebec or Carolina, Greece,
Windsor Castle, Cannes, or Nice.
But when the candles' gin to wink,
That are jangling tinsel pink
As the rosebuds, quickly dare
Fresh shadows come like children dressed
In jangling bright clothes, Sunday best.
What's the use of that to me?" . . . .

And saying that, the Marshal banged his door
With a war's rumours, rumbling o'er the floor.
The angry sound then reached the maid, now fain
To seek Queen Venus' palace once again

Beside the swanskin pool where roses, pansies,
And strawberries and other pretty fancies,
With cherries and ripe plums, sing madrigals
In the green summer to the waterfalls.

Then through the distance, royal-blue as Punch's
Coachman's coat, she stared; there float, for bunches
Of marigolds and zinnias, double daisies,
The country inns where traveller Time lazies,

And drinking there, the bright and foxy beer,
The gods like peasants with a drunken cheer
Danced the polka, and the polonaise,
Where like the haycocks seemed the sun's gold rays.

The little bee-winged motes of afternoon
Make God in their own image, fainting soon
In darkness; and the bee within her hive
Thinks that in golden cells her god must live.

The dog creates a god that still can scent
A quarry; and the peaceful cattle lent
To God their browsing image; so the peasants'
Gods must reap the corn and shoot the pheasants.

These are the songs that Cinderella hears
Walking through leaves like chestnut horses' ears.
Mars' black and bristling dog like Cerberus
Still followed her and frisked and made a fuss.

Neptune -- Polka
"'TRA la la la --
See me dance the polka,'
Said Mr. Wagg like a bear,
'With my top hat
And my whiskers that --
(Tra la la la) trap the Fair.

Where the waves seem chiming haycocks
I dance the polka; there
Stand Venus' children in their gay frocks, --
Maroon and marine, -- and stare

To see me fire my pistol
Through the distance blue as my coat;
Like Wellington, Byron, the Marquis of Bristol,
Buzbied great trees float.

While the wheezing hurdy-gurdy
Of the marine wind blows me
To the tune of Annie Rooney, sturdy,
Over the sheafs of sea;

And bright as a seedsman's packet
With zinnias, candytufts chill,
Is Mrs. Marigold's jacket
As she gapes at the inn door still,

Where at dawn in the box of the sailor,
Blue as the decks of the sea,
Nelson awoke, crowed like the cocks,
Then back to dust sank he.

And Robinson Crusoe
Rues so
The bright and foxy beer, --
But he finds fresh isles in a negress' smiles, --
The poxy doxy dear,

As they watch me dance the polka,'
Said Mr. Wagg like a bear,
'In my top hat and my whiskers that, --
Tra la la la, trap the Fair.

Tra la la la la --
Tra la la la la --
Tra la la la la la la la
La
La
La!'"

Pluto -- Mazurka

"GOD Pluto is a kindly man; the children ran:
'Come help us with the games our dames ban.'
He drinks his beer and builds his forge, as red as George
The Fourth his face is that the flames tan.
Like baskets of ripe fruit the bird-songs' oaten flutes
All honeyed yellow sound in air, where
Among the hairy leaves fall trills of dew and sheaves
Are tasting of fresh green anew. Flare
His flames as tall
As Windsor Castle, all
Balmoral was not higher;
Like feathered masks and peas in pots and castled trees
Walled gardens of the sea, the flames seemed all of these.
As red and green as
Petticoats of queans
Among the flowering
Beans they
Bloom. . . . 'Come rest and be!
I care for nobody, not I, the world can be, -- and no one cares for me!'
In the lane, Hattie
Meddlesome Mattie,
Suddenly quarrel.
Flames like Balmoral
From feathered doxies
Blow up like boxes,
Cram full of matches, --
Each yells and scratches.
Flames green and yellow spirt from lips and eyes and skirt,
The leaves like chestnut horses' ears rear.
Ladies, though my forge has made me red as George
The Fourth, such flames we know not here, dear!"

Centaurs and Centauresses -- Jodelling Song

"WE bear velvet cream,
Green and babyish
Small leaves seem; each stream
Horses' tails that swish,

And the chimes remind
Us of sweet birds singing,
Like the jangling bells
On rose trees ringing.

Man must say farewell
To parents now,
And to William Tell,
And Mrs. Cow.

Man must say farewells
To storks and Bettes,
And to roses' bells,
And statuettes.

Forests white and black
In spring are blue
With forget-me-nots,
And to lovers true

Still the sweet bird begs
And tries to cozen
Them: 'Buy angels' eggs
Sold by the dozen.'

Gone are clouds like inns
On the gardens' brinks,
And the mountain djinns, --
Ganymede sells drinks;

While the days seem grey,
And his heart of ice,
Grey as chamois, or
The edelweiss,

And the mountain streams
Like cowbells sound --
Tirra lirra, drowned
In the waiter's dreams

Who has gone beyond
The forest waves,
While his true and fond
Ones seek their graves."

Ondines

"HERE we go gathering nuts and may
Though the blond fleeced water flows away
Like youth, -- help Venus' step-daughter
Beneath the sheep-fleeced trees with water.
Through the rose-leaves, green as rocks,
We found the wooden pump's thin box
And in that crystal cold
Limpidity sighing,
Like the rose's sorrowful dark heart
Darkness is lying.
The wooden pump is like a box,
And somebody is lying there,
A princess with her long black hair, --
Someone is sighing.
Through rose-buds, bright pink as a candle,
We brushed to touch the pump handle,
Through leaves as green as rocks;
And from the pump's thin wooden spout
The jangling water-drops came out,
Through tinsel-pink, thin petals frilled
Of marsh mallows limp and chilled,
And grew not old --
Flowering apart.
Oh, someone is crying."

Proserpine

"HELL'S flames seem flowering rows of beans,
As red as petticoats of queans;
They prick and scratch like bees and bears
And poverty and prickly pears.

Old women whine, old women stoop
From hovels low as a hen-coop;
The devil in his fouled night-shirt
Finds nothing there but plumes and dirt.

Hark not the sweet bird that begs, --
Buy not ever angels' eggs,
Nor let one in a ragged gown
Buy, destroy, your heart's walled town.

There is a witch who can destroy
Paris, and the towers of Troy;
But she can live: black cruelty
May only seize on Poverty.

A widow lived in poverty
In that glittering wood you see;
Black and ghastly was her face,
Bearded like a goat . . . disgrace

She brought, slew Anne as white as snow,
Or flowers that on dark branches grow. --
One winter day, Anne tried to tame
The green and yellow coxcomb flame:

'If you, sweet bird, will sing and grow,
I'll dig for you in the cold snow,
And find for you a ruby berry
Sweet and sparkling as a cherry.'

The feathered fire was cross instead
And sulky, -- lazy slug-a-bed;
Still it was dark, and stars outside
Shook their bright fleeces through the wide

Deep window . . . she must sweep the floor,
Then seek the forest well for more
Clear water, though the winds will prowl
Through those dark trees, will pounce and howl.

Then through the door the old witch crept.
'My pretty one, I thought you slept.'
Her dress was rustling like bunched leaves.
'A hole is in my bucket,' grieves

The witch. . . . They walked across the snow
Where the dark winds ever go,
Snuffling beast-like, try to wreak
Their rage, or peck Anne's snow-clear cheek.

They reached the forest well at morn,
As soft as young blades of the corn
Was the clear well-water;
The witch said, 'Draw me some, my daughter.'

From the water's deepest roots
She drew ripples soft as fruits,
Cold as snow; and like a bird
The old crone drank; the maid then heard

The soft snows ruffle up each feather,
Very angry, shrill together;
With cold bird-tongues across the plain
They hunted the old witch again.

When they reached the witch's door
Something rustled on the floor:
A black man hotter than a coal
Crept in through a glittering hole

Near the window . . . all the shade
Grew furred and black, a purring made.
And little Anne as white as snow
Screamed like a bird and tried to go.

The witch grows angry, pinches, scratches,
Then blows up like a box of matches,
With green and yellow flames that spirt
From lips and eyes and hands and skirt, --

Then grows calmer once again;
'Ere across the snowy plain
You must go, my dear, I'll give
This to please you while you live.'

She brought two apples harsh and cold. . . .
They were glittering like the air,
They were like the crowns of gold
Cannibal black kings do wear;

The coldest snows were far less dire, --
For ever since that gift of wicked
Doll, Anne melts within a thicket
Of thorns that glitter like a fire;

And snow-white Anne melts quite away. . . .
The other women find a thorn
In their fingers. . . . Doll did slay
With pins in wax, a babe new-born;

Before the Justice then they took
The witch. 'Go, in her chimney nook,
William Thick and William Read
You must watch all night and heed.'

In her crannied honied wall
Many a strange flower bright and tall
Grew; the shades sang like a wren,
Or speckled thrushes, dancing then. . . .

At three o'clock in the clear morning
Suddenly without a warning
Very strangely shook her hair;
It shone as bright as fire, and there

A glittering bright fly like a miller
Then came flying from her poll,
And it shone as bright as silver;
Like a rag-doll there lay Doll

Moaning; then she did confess
As they tweaked her, tore her dress, --
'My Familiar sucks my poll
Like a fly, and gives poor Doll

Devil's Silver.' That is why
Doll must hang until she die. . . .
In green baize forests in the park
Hunts Dian; doe-smooth hounds that bark

Run like waterfalls, and find
Never rabbit, doe, or hind.
Great red and white, bird-glossy flowers
Sing like birds in spring's quick showers

Among dark glittering leaves, have names
Of Venus' damsels and dead shames, --
Alaciel or Arrhinoe. . . .
There Dian's buskined damsel Chloe

Finds that ventriloquist's old doll
From rhododendron boughs doth loll,
Where roses seem to foresters
The heavenly chapel's choristers."

* * * * *

Clear then as Ariel, or the light that grew
In eastern quarries ripening precious dew
A sylph came, and the trees' vast waterfalls
Echoed this water-dripping song like flashing bright bird-calls,
To country nymphs who vanished like the motes
That Phoebus spreads among the glittering leaves,
Bound like the richest sheaves,
And only live now in the dark voice of the country nightingale
That still for rustic nymphs among the bunched leaves doth wail.

Sylph's Song -- Waltz

"DAISY and Lily,
Lazy and silly,
Walk by the shore of the wan grassy sea, --
Talking once more 'neath a swan-bosomed tree.
Rose castles,
Tourelles,
Those bustles
Where swells
Each foam-bell of ermine,
They roam and determine
What fashions have been and what fashions will be, --
What tartan leaves born,
What crinolines worn.
By Queen Thetis,
Pelisses
Of tarlatine blue,
Like the thin plaided leaves that the castle crags grew,
Or velours d'Afrande:
On the water-gods' land
Her hair seemed gold trees on the honey-cell sand
When the thickest gold spangles, on deep water seen,
Were like twanging guitar and like cold mandoline,
And the nymphs of great caves,
With hair like gold waves,
Of Venus, wore tarlatine.
Louise and Charlottine
(Boreas' daughters)
And the nymphs of deep waters,
The nymph Taglioni, Grisi the ondine,
Wear plaided Victoria and thin Clementine
Like the crinolined waterfalls;
Wood-nymphs wear bonnets, shawls,
Elegant parasols
Floating are seen.
The Amazons wear balzarine of jonquille
Beside the blond lace of a deep-falling rill;
Through glades like a nun
They run from and shun
The enormous and gold-rayed rustling sun;
And the nymphs of the fountains
Descend from the mountains
Like elegant willows
On their deep barouche pillows,
In cashmere Alvandar, barege Isabelle,
Like bells of bright water from clearest wood-well.
Our elegantes favouring bonnets of blond,
The stars in their apiaries,
Sylphs in their aviaries,
Seeing them, spangle these, and the sylphs fond
From their aviaries fanned
With each long fluid hand
The manteaux espagnoles,
Mimic the waterfalls
Over the long and the light summer land.

* * * * *

So Daisy and Lily,
Lazy and silly,
Walk by the shore of the wan grassy sea,
Talking once more 'neath a swan-bosomed tree.
Rose castles,
Tourelles,
Those bustles!
Mourelles
Of the shade in their train follow.
Ladies, how vain, -- hollow, --
Gone is the sweet swallow, --
Gone, Philomel!"

* * * * *

Behind the bee-hives, ruched cascades came down,
And splashed the red and white striped poil de chevre short gown
Of little Psyche, her skirts striped with seven
Rows of mohair angels made in Heaven.

Like baskets of ripe fruit that hang in air,
Honeyed and yellow, seem the bird-songs where
Among the hairy leaves fall trills of dew,
All tasting of the freshest green anew.

. . . . .

The honey-winged little breeze sipped near;
The lovely neighbours of the Silence hear
That shepherd, the young rainbow, lead his flocks
With gentle footsteps o'er the crags and rocks.

Through heavy leaves his footsteps' gilded beam
Shone . . . apricots so ripe their kernels seem
Gemmed amethysts, -- the rose abricotine,
And one who wears a blond lace pelerine,

The rose like the small angel Hortense, chant
Of the white rose that first Communicant,
So gauzy white and trembling that we see
Her candid pure as Agnes, Virginie,

Grew round the inn. . . . There on the balustrade
Are the nymphs' urns; the seeds of water laid
Deep in that earth blossomed to rich carnations,
Ranunculus, and leaves bunched as Alsatians'

Petticoats . . . and there a table rose
Like Alps, or Jupiter's great cage of snows;
A god and goddess, vast as Apennines,
Drink pastel-placid water, tinkling wines

That seem the gallantry of mandolines
Among the crackling greenery's vast sheens. . . .
"No rose but Jupiter's gold bees can tell
What lovely thieves deflowered each honey-cell."

And so each little honey-winged breeze
In the green dark seems Jupiter's gold bees.
"Oh more than heavenly rose, oh lovely one,
We seek thy gold for Death, that Solomon,

And Time, the mould from which our beauty grows,
In which it dies. Time shapes the poem's close
And measures our small distance to the sun,
And moments like his bee-winged motes that run.

Let us consider Beauty's earthly dress
From life's first trance; the mineral consciousness
Is blankness inside an invisible
And rigid box, defined, divisible,

And separate from its sheath . . . breathe not too deep,
If you would know the mineral's tranced sleep.
So measure breath that you too are apart
And are not consicous of the living heart.

But the plant seeks the light that is its lover, --
Knows never separation between cover
And sentience . . . the sun's heat and the dew's chill
It knows in sleep with an undreaming thrill.

And colour breathes that is reflected light,
The ray and perfume of the sun is white;
But when this intermingles, as in love,
With earthbound things, the dream begins to move.

Colour that sleeps as in a dreamless cloud
Deep in the mineral's trance within its shroud, --
This cloud then to a fluid changes, grows,
Deep in the stem and leaves of the dark rose.

The colour that was but a tranced cloud
Deep in the mineral, grew to music loud
As spring within the rose; at last it ran
Like blood within the heart of beast and man, --

The golden beasts that leap and dance like fire,
This bestial consciousness that is desire
Is the hot muscles' vast fluidity,
Muscular life, not physicality.

In the hot blood of every golden beast
We find this fiery cloud, -- with it the least
Of gilded honey-drops that heavenly lies
Like amber in the rose's heart, then dies.

Ah, could the ruby move from trance to sleep
It might become a rose whose perfume deep
Grows in eternity; that radiance is
Still unawakened by the spring light's kiss!

The rose might seek the untamed rainbow through
The humble Eden of a drop of dew;
Until at last in heavenly friendship grows
The ruby and the rainbow and the rose.

This was the song she heard, -- life's serenade
There in the wineshop in the gilded glade;
Men hearkened, but this old world's black renown
Shouted in all the gutters of the town.





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