I SUMMER IDYLL The Arcadian Poets

Here on the dunes, where children's pumping feet press home into the tawny breasts, and rattle the fallen bones of cliffs (before, the gleam of a great emerald-glass crawling petal; behind, the bungalows as trim and bright with paint as little yachts) I lie; and if I look, the grass against them circles me, sharp and intent and stiff as rigging; shadows of gulls wave back. Here in the velvet lion's-paws of sun, the purr of sleepy light, I rest; and hear the summer wheel round me like my blood; and watch the fire - garnet, black and gold - feel the murmur of heat upon my lids: earth dances now; and heat, reeling in the bruised pebbles round me, stares like an audience through her shining garments, her light melismata of lacy skirt of flowers. In such a time, the heart erect with happiness, what else to think but the cool apple-blossom flush of an early love? - how else caress myself upon the moment's lissom its flesh-warmed silk; feel quivering beneath my hand live articulations, commerce of skin, a lover's body pleased and flowering out of sand? And revisiting love haunted by the sun? Love naked among boughs and garlands, among the feather-growing cold of woods, and flushed with coral under honey; love with a tongue of birds and fountains, where birds and fountains flashed like a bowl of jewels; love simple as a hand; legend or pastoral: kinder than the sweet aching of Amaryllis, than the sound (through gilded groves and fields) of Daphnis' flute: not only gods were sure of it. For mortals, bright from the running and the flower-throwing, soft hands of air lascivious in their kirtles - love on the tasselled grass where spring was strewing the excellently shining pools of sheep, stood round them strong and innocent as the sun: bodies awake as burning eyes, all else asleep: the love, the lovers, and the place, were one. She, if immortal, dancing like a sunny field, the grass of Paradise, and poets there; a gentle house, unguarded as a child, wide as the splendour of the air. Mortal, then rooted in what innocence, to be the grace and perfume of a tree, sweet as a lilac walking? - and her words like jewels dropping into water, all her speech delicate as an eyelash or her touch; and fingers like the bones of little birds. So, like a yacht's abandonment of all self but the grace only, a strong and comely sail, they leaned on loving. Summer: the restless gulf, the walking in us of a masterless will: veins running sunlight, the body one fierce hand of agony of love. And water beat, drowning in brilliance, gently by us, to the sound (through gilded groves and fields) of Daphnis' flute. Tree after tree alive in leopard's clothing swung into curtains, and bowed us into shade under whose lace of leaves the softly breathing grass beckoned round us; and smooth and free and wide as doors, the wind was opened upon day. Oh calmly rocking sky, and the sun a fall of angels shouting over us; love, the land at play - the reeling land where birds were bountiful and love a star in the heart, and love in the mouth like strawberries, and the amazed flesh sensitive as a moth. For such an amorous Arcadian space of air, of mother-kindly air more gently turning than a warm infant's head, more smooth and near than a wife's cheek; its huge blue burning intimate as a bed - for such a cone and pulse of spangled wind, the self unfolds as for a bride; its memory trails fingers through her pearls; the figment and the truth rise and mean war. Tired of the tireless rocking in a million beds, all birth behind her, careless now of praise, like an old woman, the sea smiles and nods; the sunlight aching in her eyes. Lips that were once Cassandra's or the leap of wolves, now ineffectual as eyelids, fall and fold and writhe and fall and lisp over themselves and their soft food, the shore's most glittering scroll.

II AUTUMN PASTORAL The Metaphysicals

Now as the declining sun makes a wide autumn in the water that all day lifted the glittering music of its leaves, and they whisper their delicate frost upon a shore grown old with its desertions; now all that lives by season takes its noon about it like a cloak - our hearts must know, breaking upon their boundaries, their season too. Oh love, love that comforts like a bed but blindly, in the misted flesh, knows of its loss, loving aware but not awake: the sad wondering of the ape's and the dog's face - those blunted images of spring - is all its good. Now, in the flush of wincing red and gold that lies lovely upon the fountains and the barren waves, the mystery of branching flesh - trees' tawny breasts, and coloured commerce of the leaves beautifully awake as eyes: in eyeless love, the touch and ecstacy of surfaces, light in the lost water, in the tall magniloquence of burning boughs, ended their will. Oh need, the echo in the trembling grove; the Greensleeves habit wherein lovers tired; the virgin like a mirror watching love too soon possessed: for what Elizabethan lord, whose mated passion held in check by tears was but a queen in pawn to be advanced, was chastity worn? were there no other gears to dress the fallen? Bodies that glanced like fever and October through the heart laid hands of medicine on the season's hurt. What would they have then? Love as bed and sacrifice, the beast in angel air, and the sun stalking guilty in the fields: convent of thought and incest of emotions - to forget in having all that urges to possess and shame in breaking. What loneliness came down upon them, shut like autumn and a door, their dying light? Rich in the bearded field the ripe and panic-fluttering wheat is gathered: what can it gather beyond the shudder of the act, strength torn together, the now of children? or the shape of bodies wise in bodies, sickle-flash repeated to a mist, a death in motion, deep glamour of silver on the rustling flesh? They rose from a boy's dreaming, from a faceless act anonymous and inhuman as the armoured sky: a ceremony of disguise, a locked and glassy gallery that watched them die strong and pathetic as the animal - rock under flinty sunlight, or the cast on athletes' limbs of blonde imperious oil: shallow appeasement of the artesian beast. Else a great Prince in prison lies: oh Christ were he alone; oh sharp intensity of bars. Feeling the close and clamour of the doors, pain like a runner's breast, and vain hands upon them, and the floors that did not echo to her feet (for dust, dropping like evening from the deciduous room, will settle everywhere softly at last), I fed on portraits in the empty portraits' home. I ate the stubble of love, echo of grain: bleak interlunar interseason of male thought, with a rod of blood between us. Sometimes when the windy curtains like a landscape shut our separate rising into pain, remembering that rod of blood, we knew ourselves left naked in the rut of passion to watch the feeble writhing wave that grew (till we became each other's superstition) in thundery space the desolation of wind, dark mansions of unfaithfulness. The love that grew among the foreign leaves, the spoiled thing, is powerful: it lives: and we were stained and parted by its guilty glass. Error by burning; grief of the wave too weak for the dry pebble; debt of the running bird: and every error, every falling-back, hurt like the sound of doors, was hard as peaches bitten to the naked bone, or the axe in the oak. For through the lovely clothing of their myth danger wore outward, was revolt or death, was loving better what they chose to lack. The shining flocks darkened upon the field; legend or pastoral slept like jewels in a world of ceremony unfulfilled: love being torn and vexed by sin by insufficiency by thought, being laid a barrier like sad music played between desire and will: between the hunger and the quivering plenty: lion or light of anger, but always lonely as an eye, always afraid, the false intangible fencing of a love's convention: dark forest, and dark mansion. Here is the spacious pity of the evening, grey medicinal-smelling woods grow cold about me; black with sunset the adored boughs hold their thin bright hands above landscape and sky, the fire and echo of bronze. The air is like a bather's flesh: and grave with odour of dying; with the sound of bones dropped underfoot in drifts, frailer - and dry - than veins. Sadness like orphans: but I choose the waste uncertainty and splendour of this calm: not the autumnal organ-throat, imperial time flushed thick with velvet suns that bruise the orchards under sweetness; not the torn virginity of woman-scented corn, the honeyed pearl and languor of her loosened thighs. There in the drumming rush and weight, the lechery, the sweet-juice-ecstatic hours that swarmed with the cathedral majesty of emperors drunk under swinging ponderous light, our blood was hurled within us like a ball poised one perpetual second after flight: shudder of drowning in the thirsty pool, moment of birds that fall unalterably through the printed gale of wheat. I chose what love became, this troubled season. Only our bodies being separate remember fields in their summer of quick early amber or, through the spare and breathy glass of this horizon, themselves a cornucopia. Between the sun and this our sunless lilac-pouring green, the tremor and the reaping have grown cold as prison; a lack in love with pain. In cages of dark air the rooks, wrestling their palisades like the shadows of gulls, feel the year tremble: heart of enormous dying bells: the wind where all the landscape shakes to a leashed yacht: feel the year tremble. The eye knows that whenever year comes back or makes this absence whole, it must be hard and shy - winter, a watching, and like tolerance of a lie. Only the sun, the season, the heart, know, breaking upon their boundaries, their season too.

III WINTER ELEGY The Shakespearian Tragic Heroes

The room is cold: night moves in it like hands, the commerce of dead flesh; I stand alone and feel the season's lips, silence of star and moon, the mineral bitter silence, eat as rat or pox eats, round me - diamond of cold, gnashed naked facet of the bone. From this dark lantern I look out, on wind leaping with huge paws horribly its dancing-ground. This is the weather of the wolf's fur; this is ikon-weather; pale cathedral cold in frozen images. There where no room is, no bed except the old unsearching earth - oh flood, oh organ-throat of the great modal wind, roaring like summer suns, the black whips whistling, the devouring saltsea moonlight fingering the blood! And the sad shining of the armour, bearing my father, bearing my years away, bearing my God. Cold like a gnat's voice, a taut wire; cold singing like an edge: and in it, anger shudder and bugle, clangour of power in fabric, strangling of strength, sleet hissing like hatred at the mothering fires; and fire of darkness burning on the winter's feet in a fierce wide-open falling of kingdoms - where only the ghost moves, or the enemy stars. We walk tonight: and ikon-armour shines, rags gutter, in the candles of the snow; ravaged boughs and curtains beat their chains on madness rising like a menacing bird: oh let me not be mad... what evil now flowers out of memory to the drumming word remember? - and foreboding being all I know? What beast roars to this landscape that I read for the earth's answer: "This is room, and bed, and you'? I know I have grown old: this evil place so old the former lineaments of land rise through it: it is thus my loosening face wears down to bear my ancestors: to end. Storm: and I hear within me chattering ghosts of No and Then and Now: and they are I returning, many as a wood, to die. I have become my history, my many pasts. And surely after me no future? Surely the bodies I had learnt like music, the desires of kind and form, deeper than root or blood, the fears - all we exchanged so tenderly and early, like rings - die with me? And what in age, beyond the blizzard of my years, oh still I turn: the child's face, the for-ever-blemished page never to turn, weeping, never to change and all be well? Oh inaccessible as time (haunter of your betrayals the usurped heart) waif of my horror, crier at windows, never to grow or live or enter, white face like a wave: oh mirror: am I not Love as you were? so love to Love, the flashing gust to crow and seven-fiery crystal in the candelabrum air, over their pain's uncovered page, the eyes laid bare; over the moonlit violet-shining foam of snow. For what have I to see but, rack and wheel, still time? And time grown inward like a tooth - lust and a simian rage, cut grinning throat of disgust and pity? In their own devouring gale, lost haters and lost lovers - fire on icy fire, around them blazes the last ache of ill, the fierce wide-open falling of angels; where passionless as altars burn the cold of hell and - for we walk tonight - an enemy star. For what have I to see but lovers bearing one thick-whispering image a hot hand on the eyes? The sleeplessness of hurt when the flesh lies drowned as a drugged man: image image image staring like a wild drumming burning under unturning skies: the image: heavier than statues, sick as dark blood, cut veins' transfusion of the dark: image of alien lust. Have they not felt (lost lovers and lost haters) the vertigo-printed hollow in sweet grass or in sand, the scented oil of love's handling on the breast, the spilt light of love patterned over act and limb? And love like slime in the mouth, a second mouthing of the cold spat meat of strangers; like a crumpled garment come hot from a hated body - and its shape and sweat pulling the skin like leeches? It is the cause, my soul ... the writhe and clutch and hurt and image image image of the cause, and noise of the coiled cause loud as the suckling of the seas. And yet it was not Love that made an aching season round them, echo and path of one wide autumn poured into the bed: but that oh sharp oh that irrevocable death when two can never be alone again, but vainly masked in conspiring silence, masked and lonely. Therefore not Love, but field and aftermath - the trembling company of mown waves - that never can be alone and flowering for a waking lover: straws that sleep strangled under the madman's breath. Out of the knife and prison of embracing slip the pale captives; from that loosening womb a bastard envy, treachery's unloosing. That mated passion should beget this flame! All they could not be, desired, nor may, the dagger's oily tooth, the inward scream of the live bolt thrust home: there is the stranger crouching to his play; death in the shadow of the crown; and the great wind shouting my kingdom down. Oh tightening springes, snow upon fire of blood, the world's wind naked on the skeleton, the white ruin of stars behind betrayed eyes; red image image image roaring in its horrible bed. Oh sprung cogs' intolerable fire, turned with the turning motion of the heart, crookedly wrenching, spoiling, weaving fear: still in the beauty of all this burning height I see the appalling legend of desire, and the hurt creature twisting in the night. It needs no ghost... tomorrow and tomorrow... and from war and stabbing arras, oh what birth so long remembered under armour breaks upon the steely ringing bitten impotence of earth? Or ripens from the blue reverberant stone of our torn seasons, a live and amorous fruit, a double body pleased and flowering from the death of king and chaos, withering sun and root? A bitter heaven like a scattered hearth, mad in the age and anger of sceptres, lies empty: the turning of their scornful eyes, the living mineral net of stars; the gods forsaking us behind betrayal, the vulcanic ambush of adulteries where Venus melts the visored lip of Mars and the fierce mesh of wind circles with huge coils horribly their dancing-ground. Lying alone, inhabited with all my past, the world a closed and singing claw of steel, I hear the voices of the imagined dead, they who were born for winter. Room and bed ring the armour and the cry of the ghost, the full ripe circling of the wheel. This to my bitten pillow... This is my school; this to the fingers of the cold and broadening waste.

Case Histories


(Tristam and Iseult)

i: Invocation at Evening

Suave white flame in the anguish of all beauty, flower from your garments like a martyr from smoke: now let shine, through the vase of the ravished city, the high intangible beacon that our love awoke. Altar of my love, but alive and oh more pale, and smoother, than wood fresh-planed, ungrained more tender than poppies under noon: let now your breath avail unvestal to my fire, and to what both surrender. Lithe as fire, lithe as the tongues of the blown trees; delicate as the lilacs the feather-boned-and-breasted: loosen as they do, unbound in the soft of the breeze, nets for its ghostly flesh, and their sweet cups tasted. Flesh that will whisper upon mine, fluttered shield of blood from the molten rose of the blood, and the beleaguered tower of blood unrelieved and not to yield: be calyx and be cradle to me, shadow tigered. And now lie still my love among the wild-beast shadows, white flame casting the unlasting shade that is I: how brief the bridal is, but long the nights that will be widows: peace only is to remember, this to remember-by.

ii: Epithalamion

Through the soft pole of quiet of this bed slant the transfinite cones: cages of time, eerie unmeanings of all space, those dread and overbearing multitudes that rhyme and unrhymed round the single point; and we, to enact their meaning, hub of all that moves, at peace before and after proving, see escape itself sleeps mute, and loves. Mute and asleep; yet all the power is there: stark as the day's tree, vehement as the night's fire-winded rage of stars, proud scroll of air - the dragon soar and scroll of amorous lights - we mimed in flesh: the whole is there, although the fury and the strangeness of the season may divine false weather, and we do not know the monsters in our future way. Question the clock, or the blood's calendar; but you have learnt by now they do not shift: still as basalt astonishment they are, and answer like known poems, a gone gift. No measure, then, for these upshining hours, these male and warlock solstices; no chart for the ourlandish coast this flood devours, nor the presentimental heart. Since, bared Andromedae, the lamp and you stretch helpless arms against a mystery and a wild season, let the wild be true. Beyond our window, gale-borne seagulls cry one clamouring message: quia the gulls call, the gulls call quia, quia, yet they know how we shall answer, and the missing fall upon amore langueo.

iii: The Elements

No, let the lamp shine still what use have we for darkness on our white and fervent sea, oh dolphin pale warm dolphin oh my love? Visibly play, be jewelled in this light, shiver and lapse upon our silent wave: while, through the curtained acres of the night, forlorn wings dip and slue; and, rocking like a mother (oh my care under the seagulls of all-rain-belled-air) the cold lace of the harbour hushes you. Day and the sowing of those coloured ships upon the new-turned water; sunlashed lips that mousled quay of headland; the strait fingers gilding you sleep through nets: what ran or shone, or held its burning peace, now beats and lingers in the unfolded flesh of girl and man. But we have more to do than breathe remembered air and leash the will: pasture and lamb, be lamb and pasture, till the cold lace of the harbour hushes you. Deep as the built of meadowed hillsides, long as the low-footing pines' consent and song in the wind's arms, the stillness of the lover the love being sealed: on these inverted skies culver and hawk (oh dove and kestrel) hover, twinned like a kiss, gentler than sleeping eyes: such quiet have we two, such waking quiet, skin to naked skin, that even past the lips which lock you in, the cold lace of the harbour hushes you Unalterable inward flame, that sings like the last breath of strings, light our tired ships to harbour, burning through darkness at last: where, blown by opiate wings, the cold lace of the harbour hushes you.