The time and the attainments dare not stay:
still from our lovesick arms the years break free,
and our deciduous passions stripped away
the gnashing axes fall. Like a tree
ambition rusts, and each remembered year
gathers about us. So for enslavement we
have won from earth the scent of juniper.
We who have sheltered in the pomp of steel,
agelong magnificence of worldly things,
find all our eagerness called back to heel,
time like a canker on the face of kings.
Now is the season of remote surrender
- the peacock flash, the winds' destructive wings,
and the loud epinikion of thunder.
A victory descending, but not ours:
the world's a wild unhappy little town,
but we that mutter against its emperors
have never leapt and plucked the eagles down.
We dream of bitterness, we defy from walls;
shelter, shut out with stone or diamond
the terrible greenwood where the lightning falls.
Cagers of winds, the warders of concealment,
are dying in Avilion with the knightly dead:
nor from their ashes rises up fulfilment,
but only shivering trumpets and the gold
wound-freezing water, and the moon in the mere
- cold weather and a belly full of blood.
And Robin my soul, what fools we mortals are.
For quiet captains gather at my bed
to hear the sagging towers at their backs
kneel down in dust. They have seen hours bleed
in the blue flame of hatred, bleeding wax.
So time that strips the silver from the mirror
breaks our brief sinews; our endeavour breaks,
lying on crumpled blankets, dreaming of terror.
They triumphed for a hand of days: no more:
their outlaw blood burst in the full of the moon.
They walked in purple, warp and pattern of power,
in clash of jewels, lovely stone on stone.
The glance from trembling lashes, lust in a corner,
shot like a pearl between them and the sun;
and all is gone but the dry dust of a banner.
They gather at my bed: they fled the siege,
the burning and the air that ran towards winter;
the rich earth rushing onwards into age
with songs of godhead: to the steady centre
where seasons lay enchained, no weapons rose,
slow daylight crept in circles, and the panther
- the panther-coloured spring - slept in the boughs.
There was Eve's garden, but the fruit was bitter
whose summer practice lured their youth away;
yet quiet roofs were there, and quiet water
suckling the lisping beaches in the bay.
Warm were their cheeks to the warm cheeks of air;
in winglike trees aslant across the clay,
drowsily, birds kept chorus everywhere.
The gnashing axes, and the lightning, fell;
the towers knelt down in dust, hell shook the gardens;
an alien victory thundered in the wheel.
And the world ran like mercury. Their burdens,
borne in concealment, withered up their joy:
the bugles and the honey-breasted maidens,
the time and the attainment, dared not stay.
In the unloosed fantastic summer weather
we two alone, my sweeter hemisphere,
sail at evening on the chestnut water.
It's well to see a future without fear:
but you who stare with living lilac eyes
towards that dead east - remember springs, my dear,
and how the soft volcanic light told lies,
and sick endeavour chose the sinister path,
dusk after dusk. And how the horror of birds,
the air with glory spinning like a moth,
the glittering harlequin season, hushed our words.
We had foretold, we thought, the autumnal fox
- and welcomed him, for death was in the cards.
Not this precarious ripeness, when the clocks
have stopped at fifty - and no fifty-one,
leaning to life across the windowsill,
draws back the cinnamon curtains of the sun.
The minutes lick their teeth and mean us ill:
surely from Saracen windows, from this pride
and this aloofness, may our saving skill
not win that older terror which has died?
And you, heart's ease, may still be beautiful,
and all the boats, the hazy spires, the bridges,
no more be stolen, incompatible?
But our need grow the world's need? The wave edges
green as a drake, between the slipping mortar:
oh transient sweet winds, bend your cages!
Towers, neigh out your clamour upon this water!
The river marches to the beat of tides,
unthinking; but the water's riches linger
- the crumpled pool of oars, the haunted reeds,
the crooked willow and the drifting singer
- though drums are in the blood, and something evil,
have taken us by the heart. For these are longer
horizons, beyond sand; the landless level.
For the heart stands on hills; and the high-hung clouds
beat in the mind, follow the sycophant drum.
And love is a pulse that walks our separate bloods,
a clock that ticks in a deserted room:
only a shining sector of the clock,
and puppets gesturing lonely martyrdom
crowd in upon us; wolves that scatter the flock.
Out of precarious conquest, from afar,
relaxing armour, Flodden still to pass,
the captains come, flying the feet of war,
seeing winter grinning secretly through glass.
Their memories are of arcadian earth;
the animal heart, the cat's elastic gaze,
cannot relent before the light of death.
The morning and the Schubert-coloured air,
the mountaineer ambition of the mind,
call us again towards defeat and fear:
the dreamer's door lies open to the wind.
The photographs of summer locked away,
the walls rolled back, the wolves come wailing.
the time and the attainment dare not stay.