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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE WANDERER: A ROCOCO STUDY (FIRST VERSION), by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Even in the time when still I
Last Line: And of the new wandering.
Subject(s): Wandering & Wanderers


Even in the time when still I
Had no certain vision of her
She sprang from the nest as a young crow
At first flight circling the forest,
And I know now how then she showed me
Her mind, flying near the tree tops,
Reaching out and over toward the horizon.
I saw her eyes straining in the new distance
And as the woods fell from her flying,
Likewise they fell from me as I followed --
So that I knew (that time) what I must put from me
To hold myself ready for the high courses.

But one day crossing the ferry
With the great towers of Manhattan before me,
Out at the prow with the sea-wind blowing
I had been wearying many questions
Which she had put on to try me:
How shall I be a mirror to this modernity?
When in a rush, dragging
A blunt boat on the yielding river --
Suddenly I saw her! and she waved me
From the white wet in midst of her playing!
She cried me, "Haia! here I am son!
See how strong my little finger! Can I not swim well?
I can fly too!" and with that a great sea-gull
Went to the left, vanishing with a wild cry.
But in my mind all the persons of godhead
Followed after.


Come! cried my mind and by her might
That was upon us we flew above the river
Seeking her, grey gulls among the white --
In air speaking as she had willed it --
"I am given, cried I, now I know it!
I know now all my time is forespent!
For me one face is all the world!
For this day I have at last seen her,
In whom age in age is united --
Indifferent, out of sequence, marvelously!
Saving alone that one sequence
Which is the beauty of all the world, for surely
Either there, in the rolling smoke spheres below us,
Or here with us in the air intercircling,
Certainly somewhere here about us
I know she is revealing these things!"
And as gulls we flew and with soft cries
We beset speech flying, "It is she,
The mighty, recreating the whole world
And this the first day of wonders!
Attiring herself before me --
Taking shape before me for worship
As a red leaf fallen upon a stone!
She of whom I told you, that old queen,
Forgiveless, unreconcilable!
That high wanderer of byways
Walking imperious in beggary --
On her throat a single chain of the many
Rings from which most stones are fallen,
Wrists wearing a diminished state, whose ankles
Are bare! Toward the river! Is it she there?
And we swerved clamorously downward --
In her I will take my peace henceforth!"


Then it was, as with the edge of a great wing
She struck! -- from behind, in mid air
And instantly down the mists of my eyes
There came crowds walking -- men as visions
With expressionless, animate faces;
Empty men with shell-thin bodies
Jostling close above the gutter,
Hasting nowhere! And then, for the first time,
I really scented the sweat of her presence
And turning saw her and -- fell back sickened!
Ominous, old, painted --
With bright lips and eyes of the street sort --
Her might strapped in by a corset
To give her age youth, perfect
In that will to be young she had covered
Her godhead to go beside me.
Silent, her voice entered at my eyes
And my astonished thought followed her easily:
Well, do their eyes shine, their clothes fit?
These live I tell you. Old men with red cheeks,
Young men in gay suits! See them!
Dogged, quivering, impassive --
"Well -- are these the ones you envied?"
At which I answered her, Marvelous old queen,
If I could only catch something of this day's
Air and sun into your service,
Those toilers after peace and after pleasure
That toil and pleasure drive, broken at all hours --
Would turn again worshippers at all hours! --
But she sniffed upon the words warily --
Yet I persisted, watching for an answer, --
To you, old harlot of greatest lusting --
Indiscriminate reveller in all ages --
Knower of all fires out of the bodies
Of all men that walked the night with lust at heart!
To you. O mighty, crafty prowler
After the youth of all cities, reeling drunk
With the sight of your archness! All the youth
That comes to you, you having the knowledge
Rather than to those uninitiate --
To you, marvelous old queen, give me,
Them and me, always a new marriage
Each hour of the day's high posting,
New grip upon that garment that brushed me
One time on beach, lawn, in forest!
May I be lifted still up and out of terror,
Up from the death living around me!
Torn up continually and carried
Whatever way the head of your whim is!
A bur upon those streaming tatters --
But with the fall of night she led me quietly away.


At the first peep of dawn she roused me
Trembling at those changes the night saw,
For brooding wretchedly in a corner
Of the room to which she had taken me --
Her old eyes glittering fiercely --
Go! she said and I hurried shivering
Out into the deserted streets of Paterson.

That night she came again, hovering
In rags within the filmy ceiling --
Great Queen, bless me with your tatters!
You are blest! Go on!

Hot for savagery,
I went sucking the air! Into the city,
Out again, baffled, on to the mountain!
Back into the city!
The subtle! Everywhere the electric!

A short bread-line before a hitherto empty tea shop:
No questions -- all stood patiently,
Dominated by one idea: something
That carried them as they are always wanting to be carried,
But what is it, I asked those nearest me,
This thing heretofore unobtainable
That they seem so clever to have put on now?

Why since I have failed them can it be anything
But their own brood? Can it be anything but brutality?
On that at least they're united! That at least
Is their bean soup, their calm bread and a few luxuries!

But in me more sensitive, marvelous old queen,
It sank deep into the blood, that I rose upon
The tense air enjoying the dusty fight!
Heavy wrought drink were the low foreheads,
The flat heads with the unkempt black or blond hair!
Below the skirt the ugly legs of the young girls
Pistons too powerful for delicacy!
The women's wrists, the men's arms, red,
Used to heat and cold, to toss quartered beeves
And barrels and milk cans and crates of fruit!
Faces all knotted up like burls on oaks,
Grasping, fox snouted, thick lipped,
Sagging breasts and protruding stomachs,
Rasping voices, filthy habits with the hands.

Nowhere you! Everywhere the electric!

Ugly, venomous, gigantic!
Tossing me as a great father his helpless
Infant till it shriek with ecstasy
And its eyes roll and its tongue hangs out --!

I am at peace again, old queen, I listen clearer now.


Never, even in a dream
Have I winged so high nor so well
As with her, leading by the hand,
That first day on the Jersey mountains.
And never shall I forget
The trembling interest with which I heard
Her low voice in a thunder:
You are safe here, look child, look open-mouth!
The patch of road between precipitous bramble banks,
The tree in the wind, the white house, the sky!
Speak to them of these concerning me!
For never while you permit them to ignore me
In these shall the full of my freed voice
Come grappling the ear with intent!
At which I cried out with all the might I had,
Waken! O people, to the boughs green
With unripe fruit within you!
Waken to the myriad cinquefoil
In the waving grass of your minds!
Waken to the silent Phoebe nest
Under the eaves of your spirit!

But she stooping nearer the shifting hills
Spoke again, Look there! See them!
There in the oat-field with the horses!
The weight of the sky is upon them,
The great fire-flies in the evening of heaven
Beneath which all roof beams crumble!
There is none but the single roof beam,
There is no love bears against the great fire-flies!

At this I shouted again still more loudly
But my voice was a seed in the wind,
And she, the old one, laughing
Seized me and whirling about, bore back
To the city, upward, still laughing
Until the great towers stood above the meadow
Wheeling beneath, the little creeks, the mallows
That I picked as a boy, the Hackensack
So quiet, that looked so broad formerly:
The crawling trains, the cedar swamp upon the one side --
All so old, so familiar -- so new now
To my marvelling eyes as we passed


Eight days went by, eight days
Comforted by no nights, until finally:
Would you behold yourself old, beloved?
And I was pierced! yet I consented gladly
For I knew it could not be otherwise.
And she -- Behold yourself old!
Sustained in strength, wielding might in gript surges.
Not bodying the sun in weak leaps
But holding way over rockish men
With fern free fingers on their little crags,
Their hollows, the new Atlas, to bear them
For pride and for mockery! Behold
Yourself old! Winding with slow might
A vine among oaks to the thin tops,
Leaving the leafless leaved,
Bearing purple clusters! Behold
Yourself old! Birds are behind you
In forest silent to the hills.
You are the wind coming that stills birds,
Shakes the leaves in booming polyphony --
Slow winning high way amid the knocking
Of boughs, evenly crescendo,
The din and bellow of the male wind!
Leap then from forest into foam!
Lash about from low into high flames
Tipping sound, the female chorus --
Linking all lions, all twitterings
To make them nothing! Behold yourself old.
And as I made to answer she continued,
A little wistfully, yet in a voice clear cut --
Good is my over lip and evil
My under lip to you henceforth,
For I have taken your soul between my two hands
And this shall be as it is spoken.


And so it came to that last day
When, she leading by the hand, we went out
Early in the morning, I heavy of heart
For I knew the novitiate was ended,
The ecstasy was over, the life begun.
In my woollen shirt and the pale blue necktie
My grandmother gave me, there I went
With the old queen right past the houses
Of my friends down the hill to the river
As on any usual day, any errand.
Alone, walking under trees,
I went with her, she with me, in her wild hair
By Santiago Grove and presently
She bent forward and knelt by the river,
The Passaic, that filthy river.
And there, dabbling her mad hands,
She called me close beside her.
Raising the black water, then in the cupped palm
She bathed our brows wailing and laughing:
River we are old, you and I,
We are old and in our state, beggars.
Lo the filth in our hair! our bodies stink!
Old friend, here I have brought you
The young soul you have long asked of me.
My arms in your depths, river,
Let us hold this child between us,
Let us make him yours and mine!
Such were her words spoken.
Stand forth river and give me
The old friend of my revels!
Give me the well-worn spirit
For here I have made a room for it
And I will return to you forthwith
The youth you have long wanted.
Stand forth river and give me
The old friend of my revels!
And the filthy Passaic consented!
Then she leaping up with a great cry --
Enter youth into this bulk!
Enter river into this young man!

Then the river began to enter my heart
Eddying back cool and limpid
Clear to the beginning of days!
But with the rebound it leaped again forward --
Muddy then black and shrunken
Till I felt the utter depth of its filthiness,
The vile breath of its degradation,
And sank down knowing this was me now.
But she lifted me and the water took a new tide
Again into the older experiences.
And so, backward and forward,
It tortured itself within me
Until time had been washed finally under,
And the river had found its level --
And its last motion had ceased
And I knew all -- it became me.
And I knew this for double certain
For there I saw myself, whitely,
Being borne off under the water!
I could have shouted out in my agony
At the sight of myself departing
Forever, but I bit back my despair
For she had averted her eyes
By which I knew well enough of her thoughts
And so the last of me was taken.
Then she -- Be mostly silent!
And turning to the river, spoke again:
For him and for me, river, the wandering,
But by you I leave, for happiness,
Deepest foliage, the thickest beeches
Though elsewhere they are all dying:
Tallest oaks and yellow birches
That dip leaves in you mourning
As now I dip my hair, immemorial
Of me, immemorial of him,
Immemorial of these our promises!
Here shall be a birds' paradise --
They sing to you rememb'ring my voice;
Here the most secluded spaces
For wide around, hallowed by a stench
To be our joint solitude and temple,
A memory of this clear marriage
And the child I have brought you in the late years!
Live river, live in luxuriance
Rememb'ring this our son,
In remembrance of me and my sorrow
And of the new wandering.

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