Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DYING DECADENT, by LOUIS UNTERMEYER



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THE DYING DECADENT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And when the evening came he fell asleep
Last Line: Calling on things that he had long forgot.
Alternate Author Name(s): Lewis, Michael
Subject(s): Dreams; Immortality; Sleep; Nightmares


And when the evening came he fell asleep,
And dreamed a dream of pallid loveliness:

HE wandered in a forest dark and deep,
Where phantoms passed him with a soft caress;
Where shadows moved and ghostly spirits stood
Sphinxes of silence, wraiths of mystery;
A magic wood, a strange and scented wood
Where roses sprang from every withered tree.
A wood that woke his wonder and his fear,
A wood of whispered spells and shameful lore,
Beyond whose furthest rim he seemed to hear
A lonely sea upon a lonelier shore.
Visions swept by him with a chanted spell,
Crouched at his feet and murmured at his side—
And like a dim refrain there rose and fell
The restless minor of an ebbing tide...
Then, amidst broken sighs and wafts of song,
Borne on the breezes blowing from the west,
He saw one figure dancing in the throng
More wan and wonderful than all the rest.

The singing grew and nearer still she came,
A being made of rose and fire and mist;
Her deep eyes burning like the purple flame
Hid in the heart of every amethyst.
And, with the crooning of the distant sea,
She sang to charm his soul and still his fear:
"Oh, come, my love that wanders wearily;
Oh, come, for you have called, and I am here...
Oh, I have waited long to bring you there,
Beyond the border of the things that are,
Where all is terrible and strange and fair,
As were your dreams that reached my favorite star...
For you shall live and set the suns to rhyme;
You shall escape a mortal's petty fate;
You shall behold the birth and death of Time...
Oh come, my love, for you these wonders wait.

"Moonlight and music and the sound of waves,
Sea-spells incanted by a mermaid-muse,
And women's voices breathing slumb'rous staves,
These shall you have whenever you may choose.
And you shall know the maidens of the moon,
Lying on lilies shall you see them dance;
And you shall fling red roses to the tune,
Great roses while the magic scene enchants.
Wantons and queens shall take your heart to play
And lose it in a mesh of tangled hair;
And you shall always give your heart away,
And find a new one every hour there.
Here are the notes of every nightingale
Like rare pearls dropping in a golden pan;
And you shall hear white music in each dale,
Sweet silver sounds that are not heard by man.
And I shall show you all the world's delight,
The unknown passion of each flaming star;
Your eyes shall be endowed with keener sight
Beyond the border of the things that are.
Oh come, they wait you on the further strand—
Your drab and mournful mood they will exchange
For joy's resplendent purple in the land
Where all is rhythmical and fair and strange...
Oh come and learn the songs unborn, unsung,
And I shall give you all your longing craves,
That you may live in ecstasy among
Moonlight and music and the sound of waves."

Entranced he stood—so exquisite the art
That charmed him he could scarcely whisper low:
"And who are you that comes to stir my heart
With fragments of the songs I used to know———
You speak of wild and yet familiar things,
Exotic passions and uncanny bliss;
A thousand dreams your voice recalls and brings;
And who are you that shows me all of this?"
"I am the soul and spirit of your songs;
I am your ballad's grief, your lyric's fire.
I am the light for which your yearning longs;
Your curious rapture and your sick desire.
I am the burden that your lays beseech;
The one refrain that flows through all your themes.
I am the eerie glamor of your speech,
I am the mystic radiance of your dreams.
Come then with me, where all men's dreams are born,
Where winds shall lift your perfumed thoughts aloft;
Where there is never night or noon or morn,
Only a twilight, sensuous and soft.
And you shall know the wonder of each year,
The fiery secrets of a myriad Springs...
Lying on lilies shall you see them here;
And you shall live and touch immortal things."
She paused and sighed. Slowly he shook his head
As one who sees a guarded flame go out;
"Never to die? Nay that alone," he said,
"Were worse than all this wandering in doubt.
Nor would I go if Death himself should come
To crown Life's blessing with a greater gift;
In such a perfect world I would be dumb—
What could I long for when my fancies drift?...
And more than this, I do not choose to go;
For I am sick of strange and subtle sounds,
Of fevered phrases, tinted words that glow,
And all the twisting art that but astounds.
I do not long for tortured harmonies;
No more my languid soul is racked and tossed
With yearning for strange shores and stranger seas—
I seek the visions I have long since lost.
I seek the ways of simple love and hate,
Once more I long to join the virile race;
For I was blind till now, and now too late
I see the wonder of the commonplace.

"I long to hear men's voices, coarse and wild,
That never knew a poet's wan desire;
I long to hear them, as a little child
Listens to elders grouped about the fire...
To hear them as they mingle grave and gay—
The prudent planning for the week, and then
Amid the tritest gossip of the day,
Quaint, petty talk of merchandise and men.
I crave the usual and homely themes;
The everyday of which no mermaid sings. ...
These are the fairest fragments of my dreams;
These are the conquering and deathless things."

He ceased; a sudden radiance round him shone,
And all things melted like a phantom wrack.
And as he swept his hands and stood alone
He heard hoarse thunders and the dusk grew black.
Vast tremors shook the world from side to side—
The earth and sky became a monstrous blot...

And then it seems he woke, and waking, died;
Calling on things that he had long forgot.





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