Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PASSAGES FROM A POEM: THE NEW WORLD, by WITTER BYNNER



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PASSAGES FROM A POEM: THE NEW WORLD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Celia was laughing. Hopefully I said
Last Line: Will hear with me your voice and what it said!
Alternate Author Name(s): Morgan, Emanuel


I

Celia was laughing. Hopefully I said:
"How shall this beauty that we share,
This love, remain aware
Beyond our happy breathing of the air?
How shall it be fulfilled and perfected?
If you were dead
How then should I be comforted?"
But Celia knew instead:
"He who takes comfort here, shall find it there."
A halo gathered round her hair.
I looked and saw her wisdom bare
The living bosom of the countless dead . . .
. . . And there
I laid my head.

Again, when Celia laughed, I doubted her and said:
"Life must be led
In many ways more difficult to see
Than this immediate way
For you and me.

We stand together on our lake's edge, and the mystery
Of love has made us one, as day is made of night and night of day.
Aware of one identity
Within each other, we can say:
'I shall be everything you are,' . . .
We are uplifted till we touch a star.
We know that overhead
Is nothing more austere, more starry, or more deep to understand
Than is our union, human hand in hand.

. . . But over our lake come strangers -- a crowded launch, a lonely sailing
boy.
A mile away a train bends by. In every car
Strangers are travelling, each with particular
And unkind preference like ours, with privacy
Of understanding, with especial joy
Like ours. Celia, Celia, why should there be
Distrust between ourselves and them, disunity?
. . . How careful we have been
To trim this little circle that we tread,
To set a bar
To strangers and forbid them! Are they not as we,
Our very likeness and our nearest kin?
How can we shut them out and let stars in?"

She looked along the lake. And when I heard her speak,
The sun fell on the boy's white sail and her white cheek.
"I touch them all through you," she said. "I cannot know them now
Deeply and truly as my very own, except through you,
Except through one or two
Interpreters.
But not a moment stirs
Here between us, binding and interweaving us,
That does not bind these others to our care."

The sunlight fell in glory on her hair . . .
And then said Celia, radiant, when I held her near:
"They who find beauty who there, shall find it here."
And on her brow,
When I heard Celia speak,
Cities were populous
With peace and oceans echoed glories in her ear
And from her risen thought
Her lips had brought,
As from some peak
Down through the clouds, a mountain-air
To guide the lonely and uplift the weak.
"Record it all," she told me, "more than merely this,
More than the shine of sunset on our heads, more than a kiss,
More than our rapt agreement and delight
Watching the mountain mingle with the night. . . .
Tell that the love of the two incurs
The love of multitudes, makes way
And welcome for them, as a solitary star
Brings on the great array.
Go make a lovers' calendar,"
She said, "for every day."

And when the sun had put away
His dazzle, over the shadowy firs
The solitary star came out. . . . So on some night
To eyes of youth shall come my light
And hers.

II

"A stranger might be God," the Hindus cry.
But Celia says, importunate:
"The stranger must be God, and you and I."

III

Once in a smoking-car I saw a scene
That made my blood stand still. . . .
While the sun smouldered in a great ravine,
And I, with elbow on the window-sill,
Was watching the dim ember of the west,
Half-heard, but poignant as a bell
For fire, there came a moan; the voice of one in hell.
I turned. Across the car were two young men,
Yet hardly more than boys,
French by their look, and brothers,
And one was moaning on the other's breast.
His face was hid away. I could not tell
What words he said, half English and half French. I only knew
Both men were suffering, not one but two.
And then that face came into view,
Gaunt and unshaved, with shadows and wild eyes,
A face of madness and of desolation. And his cries,
For all his mate could do,
Rang out, a shrill and savage noise,
And tears ran down the stubble of his cheek.

The other face was younger, clean and sad.
With the manful, stricken beauty of a lad
Who had intended always to be glad.
. . . The touch of his compassion, like a mother's,
Pitied the madman, soothed him and caressed.
And then I heard him speak:
In a low voice: "MON FRERE, MON FRERE!
CALME-TOI! Right here's your place."
And, opening his coat, he pressed
Upon his heart the wanderer's face
And smoothed the tangled hair.
After a moment peaceful there
The maniac screamed -- struck out and fell
Across his brother's arm. Love could not quell
His anger. Wrists together high in air
He rose and with a yell
Brought down his handcuffs toward his brother's face --
But his hands were pinned below his waist,
By a burly, silent sheriff, and some hideous thing was bound,
Around his arms and feet
And he was laid upon the narrow seat.
And then that sound,
That moan
Of one forsaken and alone!
"Seigneur! le createur du ciel et de la terre!
Forgotten me, forgotten me!"
And when the voice grew weak
The brother leaned again, embraced
The huddled body. But a shriek
Repulsed him: "Non! Detache-moi! I don't care
For you. Non! Tu es l'homme qui m'a trahi!
Non! Tu n'es pas mon frere."

But as often as that stricken mind would fill
With the great anguish and the rush of hate,
The boy, his young eyes older, older,
Would curve his shoulder
To the other's pain and hold that haunted face close to his face
And say: "Oh, wait!
You will know me better by and by.
Mon pauvre petit, be still --
Right here's your place."
The seeing gleam, the blinded stare,
The cry:
"Non, tu n'es pas mon frere!"

I saw myself, myself as blind
As he. For something smothers
My reason. And I do not know my brothers . . .
But every day declare:
"Non, tu n'es pas mon frere!"

IV

I know a fellow in a steel-mill who, intent
Upon his labors and his happiness, had meant
In his own wisdom to be blest,
Had made his own unaided way
To schooling, opportunity,
Success. And then he loved and married. And his bride,
After a brief year, died.
I went to him to see
If I might comfort him. The comfort came to me.

"David," I said, "under the temporary ache
There is unwonted nearness with the dead."
I felt his two hands take
The sentence from me with a grip
Forged in the mills. He told me that his tears were shed
Before her breath went. After that, instead
Of grief, she came herself. He felt her slip
Into his being like a miracle, her lip
Whispering on his, to slake
His need of her. -- "And in the night I wake
With wonder and I find my bride
And her embrace there in our bed,
Within my very being! -- not outside.

. . . "We have each other more, much more,"
He said, "now than before.
This very moment while I shake
Your hand, my friend,
Not only I,
But she is touching you and laughs with me because I cried
For her . . . People would think me crazy if I told.
But something in what you said made me bold
To let you meet my bride!"

It was not madness. David's eye
Was clear and open-seeing.
His life
Had faced in death and understood in his young wife,
As I when Celia died,
The secret of God's being.

v

Celia, perhaps a few
Whom I shall tell of you
Will see with me your beauty who are dead,
Will hear with me your voice and what it said!





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