Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DARK ENCOUNTER, by EDWARD RALPH CHEYNEY



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DARK ENCOUNTER, by            
First Line: The grapes are mortal, the vintner divine
Last Line: A man in a world with need of men.
Alternate Author Name(s): Cheyney, Ralph
Subject(s): Mortality


The grapes are mortal, the vintner divine.
The grapes are crushed; but there is wine.

The lights and colors blared sobbed in his too sensitive mind
As though they were instruments in the jazz orchestra,
While he stretched slender shanks beneath the cabaret table
And snared by clatter, chatter, sadly thought
Of the prison walls that he was hemmed between,
Built up of turmoil, jobs, of can and ought.
If he could pass beyond, what might be seen?
Perhaps the world's a mirror -- past its rim
Dwells all that's here reflected blurred and dim.

A raucous macaw flew squawking by,
A smack of scarlet on his eye,
Then honey-sipping winged gems
Or flowers freed from slender stems
Or flying embers. humming-birds,
Bright jingles loosed from any words --
And then cacaphonous cockatoos,
Exquisite quetzals, proud hoopoos --

Explosions, they, of many hues,
Lashing yellows, flaming blues,
Gay founts of plumes, cascades of crests,
Brilliant tails and jewelled breasts!
And under all their vivid guise,
Anxious, pert, unhappy eyes!

He looked with wonder closer yet.
Those men he'd just heard try to get
A drink had strangely hawk-like backs.
Those waiters clad in sober blacks,
Were they not gravely croaking crows?
He saw no men wherever he chose
To look -- and claws, but not a hand.
Was this cafe a jungle land?
He sang as he stumbled to his feet
And made a clumsy, quick retreat,
"Oh, God, you vintner, serve the wine!
I'll drink of life in gulps, not sips.
And if my very self's the vine,
I'll not withhold my trembling lips."

His proud, unbridled nature then
Asserted power not of men.
He trotted, cantered, galloped, ran.
One half a horse, one half a man,
He felt at last himself and free.
He galloped now beside a sea.
Its waves all galloped gaily, too,
And tossed white manes on necks of blue.
The mountains galloped by his side.
He stopped and rolled and scratched his hide
There, kneeling on four knobby knees,
He watched the ballet of the trees,
The swaying trunks, the tossing limbs
That sun now brightens, shade now dims,
The shawls of emerald and jade
That glow within the forest glade.
A hamadryad softly stole
Out of each wrinkled, shaggy bole.
It made him rue his weight and size
To watch them bend and turn and rise.
He heard a blow, and then dull cracks.
He saw a woodsman's flashing axe.
He watched each dryad seek her tree
With face cast down and trembling knee.
He saw quite close each frightened face
Of the gentle, tree-indwelling race --
Each life is one with where she dwells;
Each soul is prisoned in its cells.
He recognized his wife's best friends --
Whom Domesticity commends --
The housewife host, both now and then
The wives of houses, not of men.

Night never leaves a forest quite,
There may be pools of molten light.
Sunshine will sprinkle down like snow;
But shadows never wholly go
And dark more speedily returns
Where every sapling early learns
Its need to raise its head to light.
The centaur soon was bathed in night.
And now the moonlight coats with gold
The topmost leaves and then the mold.
Now through the leafy porticos
The clangor of a revel flows
And down the shadowy colonnades
A boisterous band of spirits raids
With ringing shout and singing mirth
The exaltation of the earth --
Gods demonic, devils divine,
Minerva keeping all in line,
Apollo thumping on a drum,
Elijah slumberous and dumb,
Then sheep resembling men he knew --
Was this a fancy or was it true? --
Loyal employees almost well paid
And, consequently, more afraid
Of that which might disturb their peace
Than anxious to retain their fleece.
"Pater noster Te laudamus,"
They sang to an old hippopotamus . . .
His God, his neighbors and his boss
Had long seemed pompous, fat and cross.

A monkey shies nuts from the top of a tree
In supercilious charity.
Another swings by his tail from a bough,
"Return to our fathers' ways -- here's how!"
While armour-skinned rhinoceri
Wiggle their ears and yearn to fly.
A flock of doves here coyly cooed,
Of doves whose want is to be wooed,
Resembling women not thought lewd
Whose one pursuit is being pursued.
Near pranced a satyr, laughing, slim,
The centaur waved a hand to him.
(A cloven hoof doesn't threaten you
Except in a patent leather shoe.)
Then hands and mouths and embryos
Went past with shapes that no one knows;
Then thrones, a house, a motor car --
What things we have we often are --
An ad, a sale, a smug review --
For many ARE the things they do.
And now a pack of lean, long hounds
Ran baying the moon with dolorous sounds.

The centaur fled from this -- and found
Within himself a burning-ground,
Now ribald red, now hissing blue,
The sharp, clean flames burn ever through
All walls, all forms. They melt each cup
And lap big barns and nations up.
With pestilence and wars and hates
They temper souls, weld divers fates.
They dance on this great funeral pyre
Where we must live. He watched the fire.
Then he encountered, face to face,
The mistress of the burning-place.
Each lover has a secret name
He calls her by. She is the same
To all who trust her, her alone,
Who heed her voice as the undertone.
In her is Calvary's open tomb.
And hers the only fruitful womb.
* * * * *
The sun is now a bud that grows
Into a gorgeous, glowing rose.
Some petals rest upon the sea.
It is a blood-red mystery.
And now he stands erect again,
A man in a world with need of men.





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