Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CITY: 1. VILLAGE FANTASY - THE QUEST, by STIRLING BOWEN



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THE CITY: 1. VILLAGE FANTASY - THE QUEST, by            
First Line: Outside we heard the january wind
Last Line: So happy as to wake in tim's back room.
Subject(s): Cities; Urban Life


Outside we heard the January wind
Come down the alley where our feet had sinned
By leading us. We heard it at the door
Where we had come, but thought of it no more,
Until it came again and shook the latch.
And then we only laughed because a match
That someone struck was suddenly blown out,
Just laughed and said that ghosts must be about,
We pounded on the table for a drink
And caught a distant promissory clink
Of glasses from the bar room down the hall.
We heard the wind again along the wall,
Outside the window this time, felt a draught
Sweep through the room, but this time no one laughed.
Instead we looked at where the door stood wide
And saw a lovely woman step inside
And turn to tell a man to follow her,
As though they rather wondered where they were.

The two went to a table where the smoke
From all our cigarets, as if to cloak
Their presences, moved slowly at a sign
Of wind that lingered, letting us divine
Uncertainly their smiles at one another,
Whether he be lover, friend, or brother,
What they drank, or why, or even when.
And though we would resume our talk again
It was about a wind that each one thought,
A wind and what that -- what a chance had brought!
(A chance, of course; who doubted it -- a chance.
The rest was just a wintry circumstance!)
It was not long then till we heard the start
Of sudden music from that darkened part
Of Tim's back room, of music swift and sweet,
A rhythm half barbaric that our feet
Must follow though our hearts take up with fear.

And then we saw the woman drawing near,
Swaying with the music as she came,
Singing with her lips a double flame.
A song of some fair city where the ways
Were endless and the nights were holidays.
And we forgot the crying violin
The while we watched the whirling dancer spin
The pattern of her dance upon the floor,
The while we listened as she sang us more
Of multitudes, of laden ships, of great
Emotions' hundred heights of love and hate.
She took us up the crowded avenue
And led us down the by-streets that she knew
And interspersed a verse or two of pain,
Until her song was still, till its refrain
Went silent on the strings. Behind my chair
I sensed her presence, felt her standing there.

We saw the violinist lay aside
His violin, with tenderness half pride,
And with his head upon the table fall
Asleep, as though 'twere some recessional
That he had played, recessional of life
Itself, or love, or sin, or all the strife
The city held of which she sang. And she?
She did not ask that I should rise and flee.
She only let, in passing me, her hand
Fall on my shoulder softly, let a strand
Of ribbon brush my cheek, and she was gone.
And though a wind at night or stars at dawn
Gave hint of her, though long I sought, I never
Found her after. Though I seek forever,
I might gain at most a far-off sound
Of music, sound of laughter, on the ground
A petal that had fallen from her hair,
Or violin, outworn, left lying there.
And I have thought of him she left in slumber,
Thought of all the others, of their number,
Thought how few who found her found their doom
So happy as to wake in Tim's back room.





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