Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MEMORY, by EDWARD SHANKS



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

MEMORY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: In silence and in darkness memory wakes
Last Line: Those prints of vanished hours.
Subject(s): Memory


IN silence and in darkness memory wakes
Her million-sheathed buds and breaks
That day-long winter when the light and noise
And hard bleak breath of the outward-looking will
Made barren her tender soil, when every voice
Of her million airy birds was dull or still.

One bud-sheath breaks:
One sudden voice awakes.

What change grew in our hearts seeing one night
That moth-winged ship drifting across the bay,
Her broad sail dimly white
On cloudy waters and hills as vague as they?
Some new thing touched our spirits with distant delight
Half seen, half noticed, as we loitered down,
Talking in whispers, to the little town,
Down from the narrow hill—
Talking in whispers, for the air so still
Imposed its stillness on our lips and made
A quiet equal with the equal shade
That filled the slanting walk. That phantom now
Slides with slack canvas and unwhispering prow
Through the dark sea that this dark room has made.

Or the night of the closed eyes will turn to day
And all day's colours start out of the gray,
The sun burns on the water. The tall hills
Push up their shady groves into the sky
And fail and cease where the intense light spills
Its parching torrent on the gaunt and dry
Rock of the further mountains, whence the snow
That softened their harsh edges long is gone
And nothing tempers now
The hot flood falling on the barren stone.

O memory, take and keep
All that my eyes, your servants, bring you home—
Those other days beneath the low white dome
Of smooth-spread clouds that creep
As slow and soft as sleep,
When shade grows pale and the cypress stands upright,
Distinct in the cool light,
Rigid and solid as a dark-hewn stone;
And many another night
That melts in darkness on the narrow quays
And changes every colour and every tone
And soothes the waters to a softer ease,
When under constellations coldly bright
The homeward sailors sing their way to bed
On ships that motionless in harbour float.
The circling harbour-lights flash green and red;
And, out beyond, a steady travelling boat
Breaking the swell with slow industrious oars
At each stroke pours
Pale lighted water from the lifted blade.
Now in the painted houses all around
Slow darkening windows call
The empty unwatched middle of the night.
The tide's few inches rise without a sound.
On the black promontory's windless head,
The last awake, the fireflies rise and fall
And tangle up their dithering skein of light.

O memory, take and keep
All that my eyes, your servants, bring you home!
Thick through the changing year
The unexpected rich-charged moments come,
That you 'twixt wake and sleep
In the lids of the closed eyes shall make appear.

This is life's certain good,
Though in the end it be not good at all,
When the dark end arises
And the stripped, startled spirit must let fall
The amulets that could
Prevail with life's but not death's sad devices.

Then, like a child from whom an older child
Forces its gathered treasures,
Its beads and shells and strings of withered flowers,
Tokens of recent pleasures,
The soul must lose in eyes weeping and wild
Those prints of vanished hours.





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