Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN ESCAPE, by LASCELLES ABERCROMBIE



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AN ESCAPE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A swift dark dream from the outer lands
Last Line: I wonder what he died of.
Subject(s): Death; Sleep; Escapes; Dead, The; Fugitives


Among mountains. Idwal, a poet.

IDWAL. A swift dark dream from the outer lands,
From the folk whose talk none understands,
Along my smooth sleep travelling,
Yet tampering not with my ken's rest,
Past as undisturbingly
As a night-jar o'er the quietude
Of the clear'd middle of a pine-wood
Seemeth to haunt the evening,
And leave the blue air yet more whist.
And yesternight it haunted me;
Again, suddenly, quietly,
Shadowy wings above my clear sleep.
But swift, so swift it might scarce be seen;
Not as with me it had to do,
But eagerly, as though it flew
From mystery to mystery,
And my sleep lay in between;—
Once before, and yesternight.
So twice I have felt its noiseless flight;
Twice has my sleep been the road
The dark message took in journeying
From the one to the other secret reign;—
Out of the dark lying behind,
Into that lying before, man's mind,
My sleep was the only bridge for the thing
Whereon to cross Reality.
But the third time, if it come again,
A stranger, unkindly from the abode
Of Beginnings sent to the place of Dooms,
Shewing me thus so easily
Way through the skirts of time to the glooms
That march both sides our bodily place,—
My soul will up and give it chase;
Out of my sleep my soul will slip
And ere that duty vanisheth
I'll o'ertake its moth-wing'd speed.
And be it a bird softlier fledge
Than white owl or brown night-jar,
Be softer the down on the wing's edge
Than combing crests of a snow-drift are
Which the smooth wind holloweth,
Of its shadowing I will be more aware
Than a mirror is of a swoon'd man's breath,
To find the guidance that I need.
I have great need of it: like a gaol'd man
Am I, who having piteously craved
The strange use of light, is all the more thereby
Discomforted, to see how narrow his den—
The walls surpris'd leering at him, and glistening
Dank and unwholesome, sick with a waterish brash
That dribbles down and clots the drooping beards
Of long white cellar-growth, hopeless of sun;
Qualm'd with loathing, to stare on his puddled bed,
The unclean floor, and know how he mates on it.
As it might be with such an one, with me.
To look in on my being and the room
Whereinto it is shut, I left the thorp
(Whose morning peat-smoke hanging in the elms
Is in my brain even now,—Ah, the last time!)
And lived a winter in these treeless hills.
And I, unwise, have let in light to my being;
The rash lamp has uncovered the thing it is.
I am not one being, but caged enmity:
There are two kinds, shut by some sleight, although
More jarring when they meet than fire and water,
To fight like spider and scorpion in my mind.
And 'tis a box so narrow they are in,
Thrust face to face and knee to knee by the walls,
Lidded and luted down with kneaded flesh,
How can they loose or escape from the mewed coil?
And so twy-spirited is my flesh. Now where
These souls began I know not, but there's one,
I know, that has been in Eternity
Before 'twas snared into this crafty body,
Still sorrows after the life it followed there;—
To this soul, strangely and I know not how,
The hills, and their great way of standing, gave
Heart, and this soul has thrown the other down;
It stands, in the midst of its captivity,
The master now: but it is still in the trap.
Rarely they planned this mind, the fowlers who
Lured with a hidden bait that unware soul
From out the unspoken region into the work
Contrived to gin it, this spider-work of mind.
For if that other hold it not for the trapper,
Yet is there no way out of his skill, the mind.
Who is the nooser of souls, the many-rumour'd,
The shifty-named? I think he's the same as Death:
Who profits by the trap, did he not make it
The toil is rigged, and the soul lies fettered there,
And at his own good time the unheard Death
Comes up behind and puts out dark hands, versed
In the secret make of the mind, and takes the soul;
But who the man they call Death is, and how
He uses souls he nets, who ever told?
Not like, that he who goes so noiselessly
And can make snares so well, hath good intent.
But it may be, the captured in my flesh
Is not to wait for Death, insanely struggling.
Yet how to leave this place, and the difficulties
About it set, the gapless and strong pound,
The intricate mind, shutting the strayed soul fast?
For round the knowledgeable mind, which is
The sounding coloured manifold plenteous world;
Round this that is lit, much unlit region of mind
Investing lies, the dark unknown besieging
The self-known mind, the world; yet all is mind.
Island it is, bewildered all about
With thicketted hedges, fenced and hoarded close.
And if through these the mind's prisoner wins, then all
The marches of the mind are swamp and fen;
No footing there, but all a flinching ground:
There thought and ken are shelving banks, washt loose,
Fretted from firmness, trembling half afloat
In unknown tides, dark waters that emerge
From out the unnoised deep beyond, and whelm
Over the bars of place and time, intruding,
Infesting with dim sloths of flood, and then
Back to the darkness slipping, leaving gloomed
Shaking and dangerous the mind's wet coast;—
There is no going through these lands.
And right
To my dear need, this limb of the otherwhere,
This two nights' dream of mine, comes, easily
Crossing the unsure dim untrodden parts
Of foreign mind as if his wont was there.
I think it is because the brawl is done
Within me, and he who has lost Eternity
Has killed the other, the dream found my sleep
So good to fare in on his messages.
No sleep like mine for him, and a third time
He'll use it so. By a strange awareness
I feel he's looking from his place to try
The passage of my sleep again. My want
Of him and of his skilful travelling
Will be awake even in my sleep, and hard
After his speed the forgotten trapann'd thing
That was the guest of Eternity once, will run
Out of its gaol, this World, the mind of man,
And be again free of its birthright house.
I have but to sleep a little, and 'tis ended.
And yet these three last nights have I hung back
From sleep, and delayed my delivering.
No more: the sleep-hunger dims my aching brain,
I have no strength against it. Scarcely am I
Moved that this is my last sight of the hills
And the morning that they wear so joyfully.
[A Parson comes in.
Parson. Good morning, lad: I thought I smelt your fire.
And how's the spring with you?
Idwal. Spring? Ay, is it Spring?
Parson. Are you just out of bed? But I have that
Will whet your wits. Some rascal of a tramp
Has broken in your cottage, stript it bare.
Idwal. Why, that's a pity.
Parson. It is; bare as my hand,
The dog! Well, I suppose you'll come down now
And help to catch the rogue. I'm sorry for you.
Idwal. It's sorry I am for that perverted tramp,
As having gone from being the earth's friend,
Whom she would have at all her private treats.
Now with the foolery called possession he
Has dirtied his own freedom, cozen'd all
His hearing with the lies of ownership.
The earth may call to him in vain henceforth,
He's got a step-dame now, his Goods. And yet
Perhaps he's wiser. If he pawns his theft
And drinks it all, why, he's all right again.
Parson. You talkt about the sanity of the hills
(Pah!) when you came here. Did you learn this
From you commercing with them? You'll start tramp
Henceforward, and own nought, not even trowsers?—
It's as I thought: the hills do you no good.
Idwal. No? Yet they've done me all I want.
Parson. No good;
I always thought you wrong in coming here;
You are alive, and these bare hills are dead.
What give they you of life? And life's the thing.
Man must find wisdom among men. Pope said—
Idwal. He did; quite right.
Often I have not known
Up here, if I be waking or asleep;
Yet something I have found of Life.
Parson. Ay, fancies,
Poet's reveries. One must see life, though.
Idwal. I have come near to seeing Life.
Parson. Up here?
Idwal. Maybe it's not what you call seeing Life;
It served for me though. This is what it was.
I saw where walkt a Spirit in the skies,
But not himself I saw, only a robe
Large-folded, pale; like rain seen from a height,
When to the sightless going of the wind
It clings, down narrows in the hills deep-hewn,
A flapping steam gathered to the huge gait;
And shews a stature mightier than the mountains,
Blotting them out, to such a spacious stride
Waving, loose from the wind's shoulders in broad trail
So kingly drawn, crags underneath its hem.
So, unsure as the wet wind's grey garment,
I saw the Spirit walk, holding a storm
About him, wearing Life. Not whence it came,
The downward misty shower of Life, I saw,
Nor where it fell, but only that the Spirit
Had put its falling as a vesture round him.
But listen now:
What is to let the Spirit putting off
His wrap? Suppose it be of no more use,
And he unbrooch it at the neck, uncloak
Himself of the web of carded waters, Life,
Cumbersome grown, and lay it on the ground?
What then of Life? A pool in a flat place
Alone to mark where once was thrown in a heap
The work of shimmer, a godly piece of craft,
Carelessly, as outworn, taken away
From being a fine spinning and a rayment,
Its fashion lost, only the substance left
Discarded, valueless, and not accounted,
Out of it all the skill that gave it worth.
See you?—But does not this look dangerous?—
I would escape from Life.
Parson. Then, I suppose, You are after death?
Idwal. What use is Death to me?
I spoke of Life as one broad tissued thing,
A whole, seamless and woven right across.
You, when you speak of life, mean still—Yourself
To my seeing, with a random light that lives
And shifts within the web, the cloak is shot;
And where the gleam comes, there is thought and feeling,
But shadow overtakes the rippling sheen,
And then the vagrom tide sets back again.
Death is the light removed; but you are still
In the same elements as when you lived,
When the light visited you; although you change
The habit of the sun for a dark wont
You do but shift your nation. Yet have I hope,
Though tangled thus in Life, to win escape.
Parson. To one like you, who sees so widely, then,
The matter of Self must be a thing too small
To be considered?
Idwal. But because I have learnt
Myself up here I would escape from Life.
Parson. Well, let us have your notions of the self.
Idwal. There is war in man.
Parson. Ay, you are not the first
To find that out.
Idwal. As far as concerns me
I am the first, however.
Parson. What is your war?
Idwal. It is of two desires.
Parson. Right, flesh and soul.
Idwal. I know not what those two words mean. I say,
Desire of infinite things, desire of finite.
But what you call your soul is more than half
The finite longing, and the infinite
Is all a cripple and a starveling in you.
But still, though maimed, it keeps the struggle up,
For 'tis the wrestle of the twain makes man.
—As two young winds, schooled 'mong the slopes and caves
Of rival hills that each to other look
Across a sunken tarn, on a still day
Run forth from their sundered nurseries, and meet
In the middle air, forgetting that they meant
A game there, each with his hold the other's flight
Hampering, till their spent lockt hatred falls
Troublesome on the lake, a foolish whirl
Of crooked motions dinting upon the calm
Which from its seat the sky had taught the waters;
So must these two desires, when they meet,
Grapple so fast their either aim is lost,
But in a wrangle round each other spin;
And each puts out his strength, not to go onward,
But quite to baulk and hinder and capsize
This insolent assult of the wrong desire:
And when they close, their struggle is called Man,
Distressing with his strife and flurry the bland
Pool of existence, that lay quiet before
Holding the calm watch of Eternity.
—He has another name, and that is—Evil.
Parson. And neither ever gets the upper hand?
Idwal. Ay, one not seldom—not the Infinite.
But if the finite longing has advantage
And need not give his whole force to the fight,
Then have you painters, singers,—I was one;
I am not now, the other is lord now.
But till the time when, three months back, I came
To this austerest earth, and left behind
Orchards and plains, by that desire I was
So mastered, that I never lookt at aught
Except to herd Time's flocks: enough for me
If on an early autumn afternoon
The whole country air smelt burning, and the blue
Wood-smoke loitered about the yellowing copse
And misted all the rides, and the earth seemed
To catch her breath and with a frightened air
Stand in the middle of her summer dance
Surprised, still holding in her listless hands
The fruits and flowers of her game, all tranced
In a glad posture, but a wild appeal
Setting her eyes and lips wide, what may mean
This strange sweet mischief working in her breast,
This longing of her limbs and heart for sleep.
Or could I be in a steep-sided dene
When the new gladness makes a straining song
Sleek every speckled throat, and at my feet
The turf is flower'd and makes sweet the breath
Of cattle, and between the blue there hangs
The golden green awakening of the oak,—
That was enough. But this is ended now,
And now the infinite desire within me
So easily reigns, shy things that not belong
To space or time may travel through me, free
From meetings with the impudent questioning
Of thoughts that have to do with size or shape,
Encounterings with matter, when it is
The kind called Memory. My friend, a man
Who has been way for these wandered strangers looks
After them gone, and sickens to be with them
Out of the world, and out of measurement.
Who knows our little world of din
Beleaguered round with silences,
Listens from out this noisy inn
To catch some rumour of him peace,
The quiet that around him is,
Soon finds the talkative throng'd room
Too close about him, too shut in,
And yearns to go from light to gloom.
Parson. As you do, I suppose. But how is he
To leave the world, since Death is of no use?
Idwal. Better visitors there be
That come to some few men than he,
The noiselessly-shod murderer,
So skilled in using his kind knife.
And where they come there's no more fear
Of staying in the toil of life,
Or being in death's captivity.
Parson. Now listen to me, boy. You have not thought,
It may be, you are doing wrong; but I,
Who know, I tell you here and now, you are;
This talk of life as a haphazard thing,
This strange distaste for being, is all wrong
And gravely wrong.
Idwal. Before my winter here
Wrong was a meaning to me. O, I went
Much in large vision of the good and bad:
The flies of hell blackening on the world,
And angels doing chores up and down heaven.
But lately quite another view of both
I got: I learnt to go outside my mind,
So saw the ministers of good and bad
In their own proper likeness,—not as they
Earnestly masquerade before us men.
When to the world, which is man's mind, they come
They have a part to play: 'tis only a part;
Outside, they are one set,—and foolish talk
It is that says they hate each other there.
I slipt outside the world once, and there pried
Upon a festival; fragrant it was
Of wine poured lavishly and spilt about
On the blue floor, like golden morning spilt
Over the sky; and you breathed music there.
You cannot think how blithe a fellowship,
How frank, was over all that gathering.
Angels and devils made up the whole party,
Sitting lovingly paired, wing laid to wing,
Leathery close to feathery, bat and bird;
Or dancing, wicked paws clasping white waists,
The delicate feet of angels twinkling bright
Among the hairy shins of fiends. 'Twas all
Clipping and dancing, good with evil, friends.
But where I go, nor good nor evil is.
Parson (to himself.) Poor lad! No use for me to talk with him.
Hazel perhaps can do it. I were best
Leave them together. [Aloud.
Hazel is close behind.
She needs must kneel among the primroses
And lift them up where I had trod on them,
Strange girl!
Idwal. Hazel is coming here, you said?
(To himself.) Ah, that stirs you, partner of mine?
Malingering were you? Still alive?
But you shall not handle me again
[Hazel comes in. The Parson goes.
Hazel. Good morning, brother. But how pale you look.
Your eyes, it is not health, such light in them
And once they had a way of looking glad
If they saw me come near. What is it, dear?
Idwal. No, Hazel, you are nothing to me now,
Nor all the world, nor all the songs I made.
I've found a better thing than you or these,
And I am leaving you and all of them.
Hazel. Are you ill, brother? dying?
Idwal. Nor ill nor dying,
But bidding God be with you, for my hand
Has found the latch it felt for, and the door
Is opening now that lets me out of the house
Of sky and earth; the winds that are without
Have learnt my name, and I must go to them.
They breathe against the door, impatient for me;
They have called to me, and I have hearken'd them:
Whether I would or no, they draw me now
Beyond beyond, into the elder dark.
And now I turn to you for the last time.
I do not see your eyes again, Hazel.
Hazel. You must come back with us and we will nurse you.
You dying and the Spring come down again!
Idwal. I am not dying, Hazel. I will try
To shew you how it is with me, Sweetheart—
Ah, that was wont spake, not myself, believe me.
Has it not been with you, all your spirit
Held by some beauty of the earth, as if
An outer voice startled you with your name,
Taking you out of the Hour's snake-eyed charm?—
Like a child, all intent upon his game,
Hears his dead mother softly calling him.
So held was I. With fine deceits and toils,
Nets of delight mastering all my limbs,
Prisoner was I in beauty of the earth,
And never knew my bondage: I heard no call.
—If you lie still, you may be tied with ropes
And be at ease. I know not why I paid
Heed all at once to the disquieting voice.
But when I did, my skin found, sure enough,
The ropes were there. But that is done; I step
Out of the writhen cordage I have fought,
The strangling of the world I freed my limbs from,
Thrown, see, at my feet, the foolish yarns.
I could have sworn they lived, and had within them
Striving, that made their bodies thicken and shrug
And roughen scales to rasp my skin, and hold
Against my labouring tight. What was mere rope
While I lay still, soon as I strained at it
Became a league of snakes. Well, they are dead,
And the world's felony has failed with me.
This was my winter's work up here, and now
I'm free to take the bidding of the voice.
Hazel. What voice? O love, it's not been good for you,
This lonely winter here among the hills.
Idwal. Hazel, you love me?—No, don't say you do,
But if you do, I'ld have you speak not quite
So tenderly. (I had forgot that break
Comes in her speaking when she's sorry,—at least
I thought that pang in me was dead that wont
Leap in my heart at it, like a shrill string
Across my soul shuddering. Pray God
She speak not so again.) Will you not see
We are all changed?
This is not he you played with. I have been
In furnaces up here. You need not bring
Love to me now; 'tis a tune I have no use for.
What, will you still look so? I tell you, he
Whose thoughts had more obedience for you
Than for the wind the barley has, and more
Husht speaking at your way, he is done, spoilt.
Upon that self, that reeved and wrangling twist
Of forces, that fierce marriage of two hates
Or loves (what we call love and hate are one),—
That seeming quiet made of greeds, there toucht
Release like fire, cheating the earth's hold,
Blessedly saving me from consciousness.
Out of the cinders it was bound in ran
The secret of the ore, fined, ready for founding;
And what was one thing, now is plainly two
Though in one body kept; the trial Self
Withstood not, but bewrayed its making close,
That it is twain. My Self has come to an end.
And yet the consummation hangs; to halve
Wholly and all asunder put my being.
But it will come; I shall be loosed, and then
Caught up by the hair out of the unseeing race
At once I am no longer part of the world,
But like the rush of waters o'er one drowned,
The lapse of all the worlds slurs over me
One fire, run into one broad streaming flame
Going its unknown errand across space,
And leaves me in the naked dark, alone,
Large, and one of the first and latter things
That were before limit and certainty
And this old unhealth, from the beginning mixt
Into them, Consciousness, the disease. And no
No longer tied, not altogether freed,
Will you come here to mischief me with love?
Go from me. O if you but knew how I
Am looking to be taken out of me,
Out of the toil of Self, the fixity
In mixture of these two unreconciled,
Each with desire it sickens at and loathes
Fastened to each,—you would not tease me thus.
Hazel. Ah, this is some false doing from outside:
You, whose glad senses stood so open, you
Who never failed of welcome for the green
And blue and gold of earth, who took in sun
And the grey presence of the rain alike, to be
Beauties within your heart, you to be harmed!—
This very morning, as I left the house,
I lookt up through the woods that hang behind,—
(For nowhere in the world surely is blue
So good for the heart as that of the early year
Between black leafless trunks at a slope's top)—
And looking up, Io, green against the blue!
Spring in her first glad hurry through the land
Had left on thorn and branch tatters and light
Frayings of her green careless robe. I thought,
Here is the Spring, and he'll be with us soon.
And then I thought of our delaying love.
It's gone from you then? But it's still with me.
My sister has a baby, a week old,—
To see her mothering it!—and I—never?
What am I saying?—
Love, do you hear me, love?—Is that word
Empty for you? nothing alight left in it?
See if I fill it not with stars again.
Look on me, and think, All of her is mine.
Does it not burn you? See, now I bare my arm.
Is it not well done, a good work, this flesh?—
And it was done for you. (Look still on me.)
O beauty of mine, catch me this man's spirit!
—And if it be required of me, I go
As far as sin to keep you. What care I
Who calls it sin? I am here charged by the earth
To bribe you back to her, spend I my holiest.
I dare not disobey her. Why, I am
The earth,—here in my being is the earth
Longing for motherhood as she ever does;
She would be good to you if you would let her.
—O the earth knows of her old enemy!
Not in the frame of things, not where there is
Comfort of light, nor any life but his,
But alone in his unhappiness he sits
Ill-favouredly eyeing her, bleak as his place,
Looking unwholesome charm at whom he can.
She knows not who he is, but that he turns
And sours man's blood, making it be a bane
Within his flesh, and an unkindly temper
Towards his blessing. O be very ware;
The outer wrong has hold upon your soul
To thieve it out of you and away from me.
It is a malice only: has it made
Promises to you? Did it use good words?
There is no trust in them. How can a thing
Never had nature do you any good,—
You, made of earth, who fetched your life from her?
But I have better than words for you. Look here,
I'll show you what the earth is.
You see a girl only? I say, I am
The earth's disguise; she has left to be hills
And to go in her ways of beautiful strength,
But hither on this errand for your loved love
Come out of being Spring, to stand before you
In me the whole desiring of the goddess,
And win you to her heart again, my heart.
Look! the earth here stands open-armed to you:
Will you not try if the beating and the warmth
Of my life near to yours may not be good?
But try it! If here be no happiness,
It were easily left, and no harm done.
Idwal. Aha, who's master now? Ask me not, dear,
Why I have been so dull and sluggarded.
Some demon, that was shut within my being,
And long time lay at the bottom of my soul,
Awoke and grappled with me unawares.
Down, by some trick, he pulled me, for he meant
To choke me and escape from out my soul.
All this time he has kept me under, hands
Tight on my throttle, lest I spoke. But now
Your voice surprised him with dismay, and I
Remembered that this soul is mine by right,
Heartened by you; now am I uppermost
And he is under my tread: 'tis his turn now.
Ah! 'tis the same as ever it was,—the brow
Like day beginning, frank, the loopt hair winds
Are friendly with. Surely for loving more
Than man you were made, Hazel. It is as if
The moonlight came in a borrowed body once
For lip-love to a man, that you want me.—
As new to me and strange it is as when
First I dared take and hold her hand, brown
As a meadow-pipit's egg, and holding found
The beating in her wrist close under my palm,
And marvelled that it was the self-same kind
Of life I had within my puddled flesh
That had put on such loveliness as you.
Now it begins again: it is as good,
As new and dinning as the first time was.
Like golden cymbals ringing in mine ears
It is to look at you. I dare not think
Too much, you're mine. O I'm alive again.
Only, I fear to sleep.
Hazel. What fear's in sleep?
Idwal. I half forget. But while he knelt on me,
Thrown, stupid, he knew the feud was not yet done;
He was not safe from me, though I was down.
And one of his bad kin lookt in on him
When sleep was round us, promising his aid.
Ah, but I feared that creature. Though he brought
No voice or shape to know him by, he was
About me a dark horror. What his land
Or folk is, know I not, but he was near
To naught is in the world.
And he, the fiend who fought me, eagerly lookt
For the next coming of his goblin friend,
And surely he would come along with sleep.
Three nights I have not slept.
Hazel. O my poor boy!
What, haunted?—and I thinking of you all winter
Making the stature of the lifted hills
Felt in that song of yours. And now—O come,
Be in my arms at home again and see
If you'll not sleep there. Come!
[She persuades him to her breast, and he sleeps awhile. Then her
father, the Parson, returns.
Parson. Asleep? That's good. A sound sleep, too.
Hazel. Father,
I'm frightened. Half an hour ago he sighed
And turned, shuddering. Put your hand on his heart;
I have not dared to.
Parson. There's no need for that;
He is not sleeping. Come away, my dear.
—Thank God she's dazed with it. Send she keep so,
And I may get her home.—Come on, my girl.
I wonder what he died of.






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