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THE ASYLUM, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: I came to this place one november day
Last Line: We lie nailed and living, love's pure gain
Subject(s): Bryan, William Jennings (1860-1925); November; Poetry & Poets; Pound, Ezra (1885-1972)

I came to this place one November day.
Mauve walls rose up then tranquilly, and still
Must rise to wind-burned eyes that way --
Old brickwork on a hill,
Surfaces of impunity beneath a gray
And listed sky. Yet I could read dismay
There rightward in a twisted beech
Whose nineteen leaves were glittering, each
A tear in a rigid eye caught in the pale
Deep-pouring wind. Now these walls
Are thin against the dense insistent gale,
No good when the wind talks in our halls,
Useless at night when these high window bars
Catch every whisper of wind that comes and falls,
Speaking, across my catacomb of stars.

Winds; words of the wind; rumor of great walls pierced
Like these, windward, but bomb-pierced. I know. Sun
Burnished the gape, spilled through, dispersed
In lumps of fume. Someone
Removed his helmet. Sorrow-stunned at first
We stood, even we, dunced at such grave bomb-burst,
But then groped forward through the nave.
Wind in a ruined choir. None save
A pigeon to meet us, bird fabulously white
That rose as we came near,
Fluttering and climbing the cascade of sunlight,
Quick wing-clamor in cumbrous air,
And vanished, left us there in that wrecked church.
Silence then; only the old world's wind to hear.
But we, with rifles poised, kept on our search.

Wind is a stealth of memory. Footsteps fall,
Dry leaves rustling, a woman of the proud South
Pacing her darkened entrance hall,
Once met there mouth to mouth,
A marvel in love and gravely beautiful,
O dreaming wind! Yet, dearest, I recall
Nine cities where your absolute art
Was love, making the meaning part
Of all madness, myth and history, hard earth
And its hard cities. This endures,
Bodiless in your skill; no violence or dearth
Can harm it, nor mortality that stirs
Like sounds in the wall. You are gone? This power,
So classical, is here and now and yours.
Wrack of the wind, dream-wrack, and then this flower.

I hurt. Hungrier flowers try my rank ground.
Indelible, one drifts across Japan,
Rooted as if its stem were wound
Into the heart of a man.
A crumpling sky, a blurted dawn -- the sound
Of history burst the years and history drowned.
We lived. An aftersilence fell
Like a wave flooding the plains of hell,
For what word matters? Pity? Shame? The roots
Try my breast-cage, my bone
Gleams in the rot. I hear you, sir, cahoots
Calling from many a dolmen stone,
Murther, murther! Come on then, jacket me,
A flawed mind's falling. Look, the petals bloom
On an idle wind, far, far out to sea!

But once winds lightened, freshening fair from the West.
Hayscent, grandfather told me, filled the plain.
Then came the Great Man, voice possessed,
Broad brow and flashing mane,
Chanting the silver words of labor blest,
Deliverance come for God's folk all oppressed.
And the city at the prairie edge
Rises to meet him. Poets pledge
His name to glory, sweet locust blooms in the park.
"Onward!" And triumph fills
Men's eyes. (Not who, but that he came.) The dark
Is fading. See, the sunlight spills
Like silver down the street. Onward! How slow
The years have been. And onward! Freedom wills
The day. (But this all happened long ago.)

It was our city too. Chrome and glass
Pitched in the splintering sun, a clumsy wind
Poking the avenue's crevasse,
Lifting old papers. Rescind
Such desultory years before we pass!
Something like that we pled, and spoke of class,
Betrayal, alienation. But . . .
Then as the doors that had been shut
Opened, and we could see within, and saw
Nothing, one by one,
And felt at our backs the wind like a dead claw
And in our brains the splinters of sun,
We tried to hurry, breathless, stumbling, tried
To find a way. But everything was done.
Belching, grinning, all the doors swung wide.

What does this wind say, plunging upon the land,
Torrents sinuous and thick? Shall
A long wind make me understand
One separable from all?
Ethics is not a study I had planned.
At the beginning is one cruel command:
Save thou thyself. But where? Dear crowd,
My dear little mad folk, cry loud,
Cry long, add your beseeching to this wind!
For it is a curious blast,
Both full and faint, as if my ears were dinned
By pulses not my own, but past.
Dusk, and the Troy fires wink below our hill.
And here we came to search the self at last,
And here the long wind comes, and comes to kill.

Gnarled wind blurs the light, my hurt and another's.
Yet his the more for that he knew twilight
At Hautefort, taught there by his guild-brothers,
En Arnaut for one, whose sight
Was music. And what has come of it? Wind smothers
And snuffs our looking. And he sought also the others
Deep in the tongues, makers who wrought
The clear eye-path newly. And what
Has come of it? And he gave us instruction, he that made
His canzos truly, he
That discovered again the shift and poise that weighed
In our speaking, heron wing and the sea.
And what has come of it? For he of us all had risen
To history, taking wide compass, curiously,
Now all hideous, false and false, rotting in wind's prison.

But if the wind should fall and silence spread
Like nightward dimness rising underseas,
Muffling many a fervid head,
Stilling the quick-tongued trees,
Stagnation creeping, loathed, in board and bed,
The weed, the bone, the dust, the spider's thread,
If nerve-song were suppressed to quell
Our quick wise hurting, if a smell
Of sleep-rot issued from us, black slime boiled
From our close scaly wall,
Water clotted and air's befoulment coiled
On each lost creature that could crawl
Apart beneath the mountainous dung-soft sky,
If this should be and if the wind should fall,
Could sane men live? Dear friends, could madmen die?

I came to this place one November day.
The winter deepened. Then at last came March,
Then May, and now another May,
Our outdoor season. A larch,
Of graceful habit, mounts its green display,
And we have almost nothing left to say.
Motley despondent pigeons pass
Like tick and tock across the grass.
The nurse assigned to govern shuffleboard
Is continually amazed,
Being young and pretty. The male attendants hoard
Their tedium like whiskey, poised
For anything. Up where the roofs are pearled
By sunlight, an arrow turns forever, seized
In our four winds, pointing across the world.

This nation was asylum when we came
On sea-qualms heaving west in wind-drenched ships
And found our plenty. But the home
We built here in these strips
Of wilderness could not resist the storm
That trailed us. It foundered like a tomb
Whose broken walls cannot protect
The dead from the toothy wind of fact.
Always this breaking. And is not the whole earth
Asylum? Is mankind
In refuge? Here is where we fled in birth.
Yet what we fled from we shall find,
It fills us now. And we shall search the air,
Turning drained eyes along the wind, as blind
Men do, but never find asylum here.

Then ultimately asylum is the soul.
Reason curls like a nut in wrinkled sleep,
And here, here on this windy knoll,
Our house was built to keep
One private semblance where we conceive our role.
Thus when our solemn inspectors come to stroll
The shadeless halls, our wives and friends,
We seldom mention how the winds
Shriek in their mouths. Gradually we feel
More natural, we try
To sink like the silent leaves that slide and reel
In anguish down the windy sky.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes we find out then
Our tiny irreducible selves. We die.
And after that we die again, again.

Persimmon wind, lost names raining. Thwart
Of forgetfulness! Lady, I'm a breath,
A puff in bare bones, a dry heart,
A small particular death,
And here I am -- this death, the unquestionable part
Of reason. Good night. The bones assert
What the bones know, and love will follow,
Follow. My sweetheart, fellow,
I lived with you, but now with these, all gone
Stark crazy. If love fails
To soothe such pain and runs like the salt sea down
The wounds of these particular halls,
Good night. Good-bye. Here's darkness and rain
And a small wind in broken walls, dear walls.
Here am I -- drowned, living, loving, and insane.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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