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THE VASE, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: My heavy hammer sounded through the air
Last Line: I cursed the dawn and wept across the dark.
Subject(s): Vases

My heavy hammer sounded through the air,
I saw the river and the orchard trees,
The field, and the woods beyond, and the blue sky,
Then rose, then purple, with the setting sun.
Then I arose; happily tossed aside my day-long task,
Stiff with bending from the dawn to dusk
Before the block of marble I was hewing
Out of the rough, where my heavy hammer, falling
To the rhythm of the clear morning and the fair day,
Struck and resounded gladly through the air!

The vase was taking life in the fashioned stone.
Pure and graceful it arose, unformed
Still in its grace, and I stood by for days
With idle, restless hands, turning my head
To left, to right, following the slightest sound,
Yet did not polish its round nor raise the hammer.
The water flowed from the fountain as if taking breath.
In the silence, down the orchard branches, one by one,
I heard the fruit falling; I breathed the spent perfume
Of distant flowers on the wind; at times I heard—
Or thought I heard—dim voices talking low,
And one day while I dreamed, though I did not sleep,
I culled across the meadow and the stream
The sound of flutes.

And once,
Between yellow and gold leaves of the woods
I saw the shining yellow limbs
Of a dancing faun;
And on another time
He came out of the woods and followed the road
And sat on a mound
And caught a butterfly on his horn.

Once, too,
A centaur swam the river;
The water rippled over his human skin and over his fur;
He took a few steps among the reeds,
Sniffed the air, whinnied, and was gone again;
The next morning the print of his heel
Was on the grass. ...

Nude women
Went by; they carried baskets and sheaves;
They were far off, at the end of the plain.
One morning there were three at the fountain,
And one of them spoke to me. She was nude.
She said: "Carve the stone,
Carve it as my form is graven on your fancy,
Make my clear face smile on the stone;
Hear the hours fly around you
Danced by my sisters in their twining round,
Turning, singing, twining and untwined."

And I felt her warm kiss on my cheek.

Then the great orchard and the woods and plain
Shook with strange tumult, and the fountain flowed
More sparkling, and a laugh lay on its waters;
The three nymphs near three reeds held hands and danced;
The red fauns came in troops forth from the woods
And voices sang beyond the orchard trees
With flutes alert upon the tenuous air.

Earth sounded with the galloping of centaurs
To the sonorous deeps of the horizon,
And squatting there upon their quivering croups,
Holding bent staves and dark pot-bellied flasks,
Were hobbling satyrs stung by swarming bees,
And mane-spread mouths and purple lips were joined,
And in immense and murmurous frenzied round
Light feet, or heavy hooves, croups, tunics, fleeces,
Turned passionately round me grave and calm,
Carving upon the curved sides of the vase
The whirlwind of the forces of all life.

From the perfume given off by ripened earth
A sweet intoxication filled my thoughts;
And in the odor of fruits and trampled grapes,
In the thud of hooves and the patter of flying heels,
In the wild scent of stallions and he-goats,
Under the wind of the round and the shrill of the laughter,
I carved on the marble all that was stirring there;
And amidst the warm flesh and the heated emanations,
Whinnying of muzzle or murmuring of lips,
I felt on my hands, in rough or loving contact,
The breathing of nostrils or the moist mouth's kiss.

Twilight came, and at last my head was lifted.

My drunkenness was dead with the task done;
And there at last on its base, from foot to handles,
The great vase stood upright in the stillness;
And carved in a spiral on the living stone
The scattered round (and in a far-off wind
Echo revived its tumult) of goats, and gods,
And sweet nude women turned, and prancing centaurs,
And adroit fauns; silently turned along the sides,
While alone forever in the gloomy night
I cursed the dawn and wept across the dark.

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