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´╗┐Title: Sour Grapes - A Book of Poems
Author: Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  'SOUR GRAPES'

  _A Book of Poems_


  BOSTON
  THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY
  1921



  _Copyright, 1921, by_
  THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY

  The Four Seas Press
  Boston, Mass., U. S. A.



  To ALFRED KREYMBORG



Certain of the poems in this book have appeared in the magazines:
_Poetry_, _a Magazine of Verse_, _The Egoist_, _The Little Review_,
_The Dial_, _Others_, and _Contact_.



CONTENTS


                                          Page

  THE LATE SINGER                           11

  MARCH                                     12

  BERKET AND THE STARS                      17

  A CELEBRATION                             18

  APRIL                                     21

  A GOODNIGHT                               22

  OVERTURE TO A DANCE OF LOCOMOTIVES        24

  ROMANCE MODERNE                           26

  THE DESOLATE FIELD                        30

  WILLOW POEM                               31

  APPROACH OF WINTER                        32

  JANUARY                                   33

  BLIZZARD                                  34

  TO WAKEN AN OLD LADY                      35

  WINTER TREES                              36

  COMPLAINT                                 37

  THE COLD NIGHT                            38

  SPRING STORM                              39

  THE DELICACIES                            40

  THURSDAY                                  43

  THE DARK DAY                              44

  TIME, THE HANGMAN                         45

  TO A FRIEND                               46

  THE GENTLE MAN                            47

  THE SOUGHING WIND                         48

  SPRING                                    49

  PLAY                                      50

  LINES                                     51

  THE POOR                                  52

  COMPLETE DESTRUCTION                      53

  MEMORY OF APRIL                           54

  EPITAPH                                   55

  DAISY                                     56

  PRIMROSE                                  57

  QUEEN-ANN'S-LACE                          58

  GREAT MULLEN                              59

  WAITING                                   60

  THE HUNTER                                61

  ARRIVAL                                   62

  TO A FRIEND CONCERNING SEVERAL LADIES     63

  YOUTH AND BEAUTY                          65

  THE THINKER                               66

  THE DISPUTANTS                            67

  THE TULIP BED                             68

  THE BIRDS                                 69

  THE NIGHTINGALES                          70

  SPOUTS                                    71

  BLUEFLAGS                                 72

  THE WIDOW'S LAMENT IN SPRINGTIME          73

  LIGHT HEARTED WILLIAM                     74

  PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR                    75

  THE LONELY STREET                         77

  THE GREAT FIGURE                          78



SOUR GRAPES



THE LATE SINGER


  Here it is spring again
  and I still a young man!
  I am late at my singing.
  The sparrow with the black rain on his breast
  has been at his cadenzas for two weeks past:
  What is it that is dragging at my heart?
  The grass by the back door
  is stiff with sap.
  The old maples are opening
  their branches of brown and yellow moth-flowers.
  A moon hangs in the blue
  in the early afternoons over the marshes.
  I am late at my singing.



MARCH


I

  Winter is long in this climate
  and spring--a matter of a few days
  only,--a flower or two picked
  from mud or from among wet leaves
  or at best against treacherous
  bitterness of wind, and sky shining
  teasingly, then closing in black
  and sudden, with fierce jaws.


II

  March,
        you remind me of
  the pyramids, our pyramids--
  stript of the polished stone
  that used to guard them!
                           March,
  you are like Fra Angelico
  at Fiesole, painting on plaster!

  March,
        you are like a band of
  young poets that have not learned
  the blessedness of warmth
  (or have forgotten it).

  At any rate--
  I am moved to write poetry
  for the warmth there is in it
  and for the loneliness--
  a poem that shall have you
          in it March.


III

  See!
       Ashur-ban-i-pal,
  the archer king, on horse-back,
  in blue and yellow enamel!
  with drawn bow--facing lions
  standing on their hind legs,
  fangs bared! his shafts
  bristling in their necks!

  Sacred bulls--dragons
  in embossed brickwork
  marching--in four tiers--
  along the sacred way to
  Nebuchadnezzar's throne hall!
  They shine in the sun,
  they that have been marching--
  marching under the dust of
  ten thousand dirt years.

  Now--
  they are coming into bloom again!
  See them!
  marching still, bared by
  the storms from my calendar
  --winds that blow back the sand!
  winds that enfilade dirt!
  winds that by strange craft
  have whipt up a black army
  that by pick and shovel
  bare a procession to
                      the god, Marduk!

  Natives cursing and digging
  for pay unearth dragons with
  upright tails and sacred bulls
  alternately--
               in four tiers--
  lining the way to an old altar!
  Natives digging at old walls--
  digging me warmth--digging me
        sweet loneliness--
  high enamelled walls.


IV

  My second spring--
  passed in a monastery
  with plaster walls--in Fiesole
  on the hill above Florence.

  My second spring--painted
  a virgin--in a blue aureole
  sitting on a three-legged stool,
  arms crossed--
  she is intently serious,
                          and still
  watching an angel
  with coloured wings
  half kneeling before her--
  and smiling--the angel's eyes
  holding the eyes of Mary
  as a snake's holds a bird's.
  On the ground there are flowers,
  trees are in leaf.


V

  But! now for the battle!
  Now for murder--now for the real thing!
  My third springtime is approaching!
  Winds!
  lean, serious as a virgin,
  seeking, seeking the flowers of March.

  Seeking
  flowers nowhere to be found,
  they twine among the bare branches
  in insatiable eagerness--
  they whirl up the snow
  seeking under it--
  they--the winds--snakelike
  roar among yellow reeds
  seeking flowers--flowers.

  I spring among them
  seeking one flower
  in which to warm myself!

  I deride with all the ridicule
  of misery--
  my own starved misery.

  Counter-cutting winds
        strike against me
  refreshing their fury!

  Come, good, cold fellows!
        Have we no flowers?
  Defy then with even more
  desperation than ever--being
        lean and frozen!

  But though you are lean and frozen--
  think of the blue bulls of Babylon.

  Fling yourselves upon
         their empty roses--
                cut savagely!

  But--
  think of the painted monastery
         at Fiesole.



BERKET AND THE STARS


  A day on the boulevards chosen out of ten years of
  student poverty! One best day out of ten good ones.
  Berket in high spirits--"Ha, oranges! Let's have one!"
  And he made to snatch an orange from the vender's cart.

  Now so clever was the deception, so nicely timed
  to the full sweep of certain wave summits,
  that the rumor of the thing has come down through
  three generations--which is relatively forever!



A CELEBRATION


  A middle-northern March, now as always--
  gusts from the south broken against cold winds--
  but from under, as if a slow hand lifted a tide,
  it moves--not into April--into a second March,
  the old skin of wind-clear scales dropping
  upon the mould: this is the shadow projects the tree
  upward causing the sun to shine in his sphere.

  So we will put on our pink felt hat--new last year!
  --newer this by virtue of brown eyes turning back
  the seasons--and let us walk to the orchid-house,
  see the flowers will take the prize to-morrow
  at the Palace.
                Stop here, these are our oleanders.
  When they are in bloom--
                          You would waste words
  It is clearer to me than if the pink
  were on the branch. It would be a searching in
  a coloured cloud to reveal that which now, huskless,
  shows the very reason for their being.

  And these the orange-trees, in blossom--no need
  to tell with this weight of perfume in the air.
  If it were not so dark in this shed one could better
  see the white.
                It is that very perfume
  has drawn the darkness down among the leaves.
  Do I speak clearly enough?
  It is this darkness reveals that which darkness alone
  loosens and sets spinning on waxen wings--
  not the touch of a finger-tip, not the motion
  of a sigh. A too heavy sweetness proves
  its own caretaker.
  And here are the orchids!
                           Never having seen
  such gaiety I will read these flowers for you:
  This is an odd January, died--in Villon's time.
  Snow, this is and this the stain of a violet
  grew in that place the spring that foresaw its own doom.

  And this, a certain July from Iceland:
  a young woman of that place
  breathed it toward the south. It took root there.
  The colour ran true but the plant is small.

  This falling spray of snowflakes is
  a handful of dead Februarys
  prayed into flower by Rafael Arevalo Martinez
  of Guatemala.
                Here's that old friend who
  went by my side so many years: this full, fragile
  head of veined lavender. Oh that April
  that we first went with our stiff lusts
  leaving the city behind, out to the green hill--
  May, they said she was. A hand for all of us:
  this branch of blue butterflies tied to this stem.

  June is a yellow cup I'll not name; August
  the over-heavy one. And here are--
  russet and shiny, all but March. And March?
  Ah, March--
             Flowers are a tiresome pastime.
  One has a wish to shake them from their pots
  root and stern, for the sun to gnaw.

  Walk out again into the cold and saunter home
  to the fire. This day has blossomed long enough.
  I have wiped out the red night and lit a blaze
  instead which will at least warm our hands
  and stir up the talk.
                       I think we have kept fair time.
  Time is a green orchid.



APRIL


  If you had come away with me
  into another state
  we had been quiet together.
  But there the sun coming up
  out of the nothing beyond the lake was
  too low in the sky,
  there was too great a pushing
  against him,
  too much of sumac buds, pink
  in the head
  with the clear gum upon them,
  too many opening hearts of
  lilac leaves,
  too many, too many swollen
  limp poplar tassels on the
  bare branches!
  It was too strong in the air.
  I had no rest against that
  springtime!
  The pounding of the hoofs on the
  raw sods
  stayed with me half through the night.
  I awoke smiling but tired.



A GOODNIGHT


  Go to sleep--though of course you will not--
  to tideless waves thundering slantwise against
  strong embankments, rattle and swish of spray
  dashed thirty feet high, caught by the lake wind,
  scattered and strewn broadcast in over the steady
  car rails! Sleep, sleep! Gulls' cries in a wind-gust
  broken by the wind; calculating wings set above
  the field of waves breaking.
  Go to sleep to the lunge between foam-crests,
  refuse churned in the recoil. Food! Food!
  Offal! Offal! that holds them in the air, wave-white
  for the one purpose, feather upon feather, the wild
  chill in their eyes, the hoarseness in their voices--
  sleep, sleep....

  Gentlefooted crowds are treading out your lullaby.
  Their arms nudge, they brush shoulders,
  hitch this way then that, mass and surge at the crossings--
  lullaby, lullaby! The wild-fowl police whistles,
  the enraged roar of the traffic, machine shrieks:
  it is all to put you to sleep,
  to soften your limbs in relaxed postures,
  and that your head slip sidewise, and your hair loosen
  and fall over your eyes and over your mouth,
  brushing your lips wistfully that you may dream,
  sleep and dream--

  A black fungus springs out about lonely church doors--
  sleep, sleep. The Night, coming down upon
  the wet boulevard, would start you awake with his
  message, to have in at your window. Pay no
  heed to him. He storms at your sill with
  cooings, with gesticulations, curses!
  You will not let him in. He would keep you from sleeping.
  He would have you sit under your desk lamp
  brooding, pondering; he would have you
  slide out the drawer, take up the ornamented dagger
  and handle it. It is late, it is nineteen-nineteen--
  go to sleep, his cries are a lullaby;
  his jabbering is a sleep-well-my-baby; he is
  a crackbrained messenger.

  The maid waking you in the morning
  when you are up and dressing,
  the rustle of your clothes as you raise them--
  it is the same tune.
  At table the cold, greenish, split grapefruit, its juice
  on the tongue, the clink of the spoon in
  your coffee, the toast odors say it over and over.

  The open street-door lets in the breath of
  the morning wind from over the lake.
  The bus coming to a halt grinds from its sullen brakes--
  lullaby, lullaby. The crackle of a newspaper,
  the movement of the troubled coat beside you--
  sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep....
  It is the sting of snow, the burning liquor of
  the moonlight, the rush of rain in the gutters packed
  with dead leaves: go to sleep, go to sleep.
  And the night passes--and never passes--



OVERTURE TO A DANCE OF LOCOMOTIVES


I

  Men with picked voices chant the names
  of cities in a huge gallery: promises
  that pull through descending stairways
  to a deep rumbling.
                     The rubbing feet
  of those coming to be carried quicken a
  grey pavement into soft light that rocks
  to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
  across and across from pale
  earthcoloured walls of bare limestone.

  Covertly the hands of a great clock
  go round and round! Were they to
  move quickly and at once the whole
  secret would be out and the shuffling
  of all ants be done forever.

  A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
  out at a high window, moves by the clock:
  disaccordant hands straining out from
  a center: inevitable postures infinitely
  repeated--


II

  Two--twofour--twoeight!
  Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.
  This way ma'm!
                --important not to take
  the wrong train!
                  Lights from the concrete
  ceiling hang crooked but--
                            Poised horizontal
  on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
  packed with a warm glow--inviting entry--
  pull against the hour. But brakes can
  hold a fixed posture till--
                              The whistle!

  Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

  Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating
  in a small kitchen. Taillights--

  In time: twofour!
  In time: twoeight!

  --rivers are tunneled: trestles
  cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
  the same gesture remain relatively
  stationary: rails forever parallel
  return on themselves infinitely.
                                  The dance is sure.



ROMANCE MODERNE


  Tracks of rain and light linger in
  the spongy greens of a nature whose
  flickering mountain--bulging nearer,
  ebbing back into the sun
  hollowing itself away to hold a lake,--
  or brown stream rising and falling
  at the roadside, turning about,
  churning itself white, drawing
  green in over it,--plunging glassy funnels
  fall--
        And--the other world--
  the windshield a blunt barrier:
  Talk to me. Sh! they would hear us.
  --the backs of their heads facing us--
  The stream continues its motion of
  a hound running over rough ground.

  Trees vanish--reappear--vanish:
  detached dance of gnomes--as a talk
  dodging remarks, glows and fades.
  --The unseen power of words--
  And now that a few of the moves
  are clear the first desire is
  to fling oneself out at the side into
  the other dance, to other music.
  Peer Gynt. Rip Van Winkle. Diana.

  If I were young I would try a new alignment--
  alight nimbly from the car, Good-bye!--
  Childhood companions linked two and two
  criss-cross: four, three, two, one.
  Back into self, tentacles withdrawn.
  Feel about in warm self-flesh.
  Since childhood, since childhood!
  Childhood is a toad in the garden, a
  happy toad. All toads are happy
  and belong in gardens. A toad to Diana!

  Lean forward. Punch the steersman
  behind the ear. Twirl the wheel!
  Over the edge! Screams! Crash!
  The end. I sit above my head--
  a little removed--or
  a thin wash of rain on the roadway
  --I am never afraid when he is driving,--
  interposes new direction,
  rides us sidewise, unforseen
  into the ditch! All threads cut!
  Death! Black. The end. The very end--

  I would sit separate weighing a
  small red handful: the dirt of these parts,
  sliding mists sheeting the alders
  against the touch of fingers creeping
  to mine. All stuff of the blind emotions.
  But--stirred, the eye seizes
  for the first time--The eye awake!--
  anything, a dirt bank with green stars
  of scrawny weed flattened upon it under
  a weight of air--For the first time!--
  or a yawning depth: Big!
  Swim around in it, through it--
  all directions and find
  vitreous seawater stuff--
  God how I love you!--or, as I say,
  a plunge into the ditch. The end. I sit
  examining my red handful. Balancing
  --this--in and out--agh.

  Love you? It's
  a fire in the blood, willy-nilly!
  It's the sun coming up in the morning.
  Ha, but it's the grey moon too, already up
  in the morning. You are slow.
  Men are not friends where it concerns
  a woman? Fighters. Playfellows.
  White round thighs! Youth! Sighs--!
  It's the fillip of novelty. It's--

  Mountains. Elephants humping along
  against the sky--indifferent to
  light withdrawing its tattered shreds,
  worn out with embraces. It's
  the fillip of novelty. It's a fire in the blood.

  Oh get a flannel shirt, white flannel
  or pongee. You'd look so well!
  I married you because I liked your nose.
  I wanted you! I wanted you
  in spite of all they'd say--

  Rain and light, mountain and rain,
  rain and river. Will you love me always?
  --A car overturned and two crushed bodies
  under it.--Always! Always!
  And the white moon already up.
  White. Clean. All the colors.
  A good head, backed by the eye--awake!
  backed by the emotions--blind--
  River and mountain, light and rain--or
  rain, rock, light, trees--divided:
  rain-light counter rocks-trees or
  trees counter rain-light-rocks or--

  Myriads of counter processions
  crossing and recrossing, regaining
  the advantage, buying here, selling there
  --You are sold cheap everywhere in town!--
  lingering, touching fingers, withdrawing
  gathering forces into blares, hummocks,
  peaks and rivers--river meeting rock
  --I wish that you were lying there dead
  and I sitting here beside you.--
  It's the grey moon--over and over.
  It's the clay of these parts.



THE DESOLATE FIELD


  Vast and grey, the sky
  is a simulacrum
  to all but him whose days
  are vast and grey, and--
  In the tall, dried grasses
  a goat stirs
  with nozzle searching the ground.
  --my head is in the air
  but who am I...?
  And amazed my heart leaps
  at the thought of love
  vast and grey
  yearning silently over me.



WILLOW POEM


  It is a willow when summer is over,
  a willow by the river
  from which no leaf has fallen nor
  bitten by the sun
  turned orange or crimson.
  The leaves cling and grow paler,
  swing and grow paler
  over the swirling waters of the river
  as if loath to let go,
  they are so cool, so drunk with
  the swirl of the wind and of the river--
  oblivious to winter,
  the last to let go and fall
  into the water and on the ground.



APPROACH OF WINTER


  The half stripped trees
  struck by a wind together,
  bending all,
  the leaves flutter drily
  and refuse to let go
  or driven like hail
  stream bitterly out to one side
  and fall
  where the salvias, hard carmine,--
  like no leaf that ever was--
  edge the bare garden.



JANUARY


  Again I reply to the triple winds
  running chromatic fifths of derision
  outside my window:
                    Play louder.
  You will not succeed. I am
  bound more to my sentences
  the more you batter at me
  to follow you.
                And the wind,
  as before, fingers perfectly
  its derisive music.



BLIZZARD


  Snow:
  years of anger following
  hours that float idly down--
  the blizzard
  drifts its weight
  deeper and deeper for three days
  or sixty years, eh? Then
  the sun! a clutter of
  yellow and blue flakes--
  Hairy looking trees stand out
  in long alleys
  over a wild solitude.
  The man turns and there--
  his solitary track stretched out
  upon the world.



TO WAKEN AN OLD LADY


  Old age is
  a flight of small
  cheeping birds
  skimming
  bare trees
  above a snow glaze.
  Gaining and failing
  they are buffetted
  by a dark wind--
  But what?
  On harsh weedstalks
  the flock has rested,
  the snow
  is covered with broken
  seedhusks
  and the wind tempered
  by a shrill
  piping of plenty.



WINTER TREES


  All the complicated details
  of the attiring and
  the disattiring are completed!
  A liquid moon
  moves gently among
  the long branches.
  Thus having prepared their buds
  against a sure winter
  the wise trees
  stand sleeping in the cold.



COMPLAINT


  They call me and I go
  It is a frozen road
  past midnight, a dust
  of snow caught
  in the rigid wheeltracks.
  The door opens.
  I smile, enter and
  shake off the cold.
  Here is a great woman
  on her side in the bed.
  She is sick,
  perhaps vomiting,
  perhaps laboring
  to give birth to
  a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
  Night is a room
  darkened for lovers,
  through the jalousies the sun
  has sent one gold needle!
  I pick the hair from her eyes
  and watch her misery
  with compassion.



THE COLD NIGHT


  It is cold. The white moon
  is up among her scattered stars--
  like the bare thighs of
  the Police Seargent's wife--among
  her five children....
  No answer. Pale shadows lie upon
  the frosted grass. One answer:
  It is midnight, it is still
  and it is cold...!
  White thighs of the sky! a
  new answer out of the depths of
  my male belly: In April....
  In April I shall see again--In April!
  the round and perfect thighs
  of the Police Sergent's wife
  perfect still after many babies.
  Oya!



SPRING STORM


  The sky has given over
  its bitterness.
  Out of the dark change
  all day long
  rain falls and falls
  as if it would never end.
  Still the snow keeps
  its hold on the ground.
  But water, water
  from a thousand runnels!
  It collects swiftly,
  dappled with black
  cuts a way for itself
  through green ice in the gutters.
  Drop after drop it falls
  from the withered grass-stems
  of the overhanging embankment.



THE DELICACIES


  The hostess, in pink satin and blond hair--dressed
  high--shone beautifully in her white slippers against
  the great silent bald head of her little-eyed husband!
    Raising a glass of yellow Rhine wine in the narrow
  space just beyond the light-varnished woodwork and
  the decorative column between dining-room and hall,
  she smiled the smile of water tumbling from one ledge
  to another.

  We began with a herring salad: delicately flavoured
  saltiness in scallops of lettuce-leaves.

    The little owl-eyed and thick-set lady with masses
  of grey hair has smooth pink cheeks without a wrinkle.
  She cannot be the daughter of the little red-faced
  fellow dancing about inviting lion-headed Wolff the
  druggist to play the piano! But she is. Wolff is a
  terrific smoker: if the telephone goes off at night--so
  his curled-haired wife whispers--he rises from bed but
  cannot answer till he has lighted a cigarette.

    Sherry wine in little conical glasses, dull brownish
  yellow, and tomatoes stuffed with finely cut chicken
  and mayonnaise!

    The tall Irishman in a Prince Albert and the usual
  striped trousers is going to sing for us. (The piano
  is in a little alcove with dark curtains.) The hostess's
  sister--ten years younger than she--in black net and
  velvet, has hair like some filmy haystack, cloudy about
  the eyes. She will play for her husband.

    My wife is young, yes she is young and pretty when
  she cares to be--when she is interested in a discussion:
  it is the little dancing mayor's wife telling her of the
  Day nursery in East Rutherford, 'cross the track,
  divided from us by the railroad--and disputes as to
  precedence. It is in this town the saloon flourishes,
  the saloon of my friend on the right whose wife has
  twice offended with chance words. Her English is
  atrocious! It is in this town that the saloon is situated,
  close to the railroad track, close as may be, this side
  being dry, dry, dry: two people listening on opposite
  sides of a wall!--The Day Nursery had sixty-five
  babies the week before last, so my wife's eyes shine
  and her cheeks are pink and I cannot see a blemish.

    Ice-cream in the shape of flowers and domestic
  objects: a pipe for me since I do not smoke, a doll
  for you.

    The figure of some great bulk of a woman disappearing
  into the kitchen with a quick look over the
  shoulder. My friend on the left who has spent the
  whole day in a car the like of which some old fellow
  would give to an actress: flower-holders, mirrors,
  curtains, plush seats--my friend on the left who is
  chairman of the Streets committee of the town council--and
  who has spent the whole day studying automobile
  fire-engines in neighbouring towns in view of
  purchase,--my friend, at the Elks last week at the
  breaking-up hymn, signalled for them to let Bill--a
  familiar friend of the saloon-keeper--sing out all alone
  to the organ--and he did sing!

    Salz-rolls, exquisite! and Rhine wine _ad libitum_.
  A masterly caviare sandwich.

    The children flitting about above stairs. The
  councilman has just bought a National eight--some
  car!

    For heaven's sake I mustn't forget the halves of
  green peppers stuffed with cream cheese and whole
  walnuts!



THURSDAY


  I have had my dream--like others--
  and it has come to nothing, so that
  I remain now carelessly
  with feet planted on the ground
  and look up at the sky--
  feeling my clothes about me,
  the weight of my body in my shoes,
  the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
  at my nose--and decide to dream no more.



THE DARK DAY


  A three-day-long rain from the east--
  an interminable talking, talking
  of no consequence--patter, patter, patter.
  Hand in hand little winds
  blow the thin streams aslant.
  Warm. Distance cut off. Seclusion.
  A few passers-by, drawn in upon themselves,
  hurry from one place to another.
  Winds of the white poppy! there is no escape!--
  An interminable talking, talking,
  talking ... it has happened before.
  Backward, backward, backward.



TIME THE HANGMAN


  Poor old Abner, old white-haired nigger!
  I remember when you were so strong
  you hung yourself by a rope round the neck
  in Doc Hollister's barn to prove you could beat
  the faker in the circus--and it didn't kill you.
  Now your face is in your hands, and your elbows
  are on your knees, and you are silent and broken.



TO A FRIEND


  Well, Lizzie Anderson! seventeen men--and
  the baby hard to find a father for!

  What will the good Father in Heaven say
  to the local judge if he do not solve this problem?
  A little two pointed smile and--pouff!--
  the law is changed into a mouthful of phrases.



THE GENTLE MAN


  I feel the caress of my own fingers
  on my own neck as I place my collar
  and think pityingly
  of the kind women I have known.



THE SOUGHING WIND


  Some leaves hang late, some fall
  before the first frost--so goes
  the tale of winter branches and old bones.



SPRING


  O my grey hairs!
  You are truly white as plum blossoms.



PLAY


  Subtle, clever brain, wiser than I am,
  by what devious means do you contrive
  to remain idle? Teach me, O master.



LINES


  Leaves are greygreen,
  the glass broken, bright green.



THE POOR


  By constantly tormenting them
  with reminders of the lice in
  their children's hair, the
  School Physician first
  brought their hatred down on him,
  But by this familiarity
  they grew used to him, and so,
  at last,
  took him for their friend and adviser.



COMPLETE DESTRUCTION


  It was an icy day.
  We buried the cat,
  then took her box
  and set fire to it
  in the back yard.
  Those fleas that escaped
  earth and fire
  died by the cold.



MEMORY OF APRIL


  You say love is this, love is that:
  Poplar tassels, willow tendrils
  the wind and the rain comb,
  tinkle and drip, tinkle and drip--
  branches drifting apart. Hagh!
  Love has not even visited this country.



EPITAPH


  An old willow with hollow branches
  slowly swayed his few high bright tendrils
  and sang:

  Love is a young green willow
  shimmering at the bare wood's edge.



DAISY


  The dayseye hugging the earth
  in August, ha! Spring is
  gone down in purple,
  weeds stand high in the corn,
  the rainbeaten furrow
  is clotted with sorrel
  and crabgrass, the
  branch is black under
  the heavy mass of the leaves--
  The sun is upon a
  slender green stem
  ribbed lengthwise.
  He lies on his back--
  it is a woman also--
  he regards his former
  majesty and
  round the yellow center,
  split and creviced and done into
  minute flowerheads, he sends out
  his twenty rays--a little
  and the wind is among them
  to grow cool there!

  One turns the thing over
  in his hand and looks
  at it from the rear: brownedged,
  green and pointed scales
  armor his yellow.
  But turn and turn,
  the crisp petals remain
  brief, translucent, greenfastened,
  barely touching at the edges:
  blades of limpid seashell.



PRIMROSE


  Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow!
  It is not a color.
  It is summer!
  It is the wind on a willow,
  the lap of waves, the shadow
  under a bush, a bird, a bluebird,
  three herons, a dead hawk
  rotting on a pole--
  Clear yellow!
  It is a piece of blue paper
  in the grass or a threecluster of
  green walnuts swaying, children
  playing croquet or one boy
  fishing, a man
  swinging his pink fists
  as he walks--
  It is ladysthumb, forgetmenots
  in the ditch, moss under
  the flange of the carrail, the
  wavy lines in split rock, a
  great oaktree--
  It is a disinclination to be
  five red petals or a rose, it is
  a cluster of birdsbreast flowers
  on a red stem six feet high,
  four open yellow petals
  above sepals curled
  backward into reverse spikes--
  Tufts of purple grass spot the
  green meadow and clouds the sky.



QUEEN-ANN'S-LACE


  Her body is not so white as
  anemony petals nor so smooth--nor
  so remote a thing. It is a field
  of the wild carrot taking
  the field by force; the grass
  does not raise above it.
  Here is no question of whiteness,
  white as can be, with a purple mole
  at the center of each flower.
  Each flower is a hand's span
  of her whiteness. Wherever
  his hand has lain there is
  a tiny purple blemish. Each part
  is a blossom under his touch
  to which the fibres of her being
  stem one by one, each to its end,
  until the whole field is a
  white desire, empty, a single stem,
  a cluster, flower by flower,
  a pious wish to whiteness gone over--
  or nothing.



GREAT MULLEN


  One leaves his leaves at home
  being a mullen and sends up a lighthouse
  to peer from: I will have my way,
  yellow--A mast with a lantern, ten
  fifty, a hundred, smaller and smaller
  as they grow more--Liar, liar, liar!
  You come from her! I can smell djer-kiss
  on your clothes. Ha, ha! you come to me,
  you--I am a point of dew on a grass-stem.
  Why are you sending heat down on me
  from your lantern--You are cowdung, a
  dead stick with the bark off. She is
  squirting on us both. She has had her
  hand on you!--Well?--She has defiled
  ME.--Your leaves are dull, thick
  and hairy.--Every hair on my body will
  hold you off from me. You are a
  dungcake, birdlime on a fencerail.--
  I love you, straight, yellow
  finger of God pointing to--her!
  Liar, broken weed, duncake, you have--
  I am a cricket waving his antenae
  and you are high, grey and straight. Ha!



WAITING


  When I am alone I am happy.
  The air is cool. The sky is
  flecked and splashed and wound
  with color. The crimson phalloi
  of the sassafrass leaves
  hang crowded before me
  in shoals on the heavy branches.
  When I reach my doorstep
  I am greeted by
  the happy shrieks of my children
  and my heart sinks.
  I am crushed.

  Are not my children as dear to me
  as falling leaves or
  must one become stupid
  to grow older?
  It seems much as if Sorrow
  had tripped up my heels.
  Let us see, let us see!
  What did I plan to say to her
  when it should happen to me
  as it has happened now?



THE HUNTER


  In the flashes and black shadows
  of July
  the days, locked in each other's arms,
  seem still
  so that squirrels and colored birds
  go about at ease over
  the branches and through the air.

  Where will a shoulder split or
  a forehead open and victory be?

  Nowhere.
  Both sides grow older.

  And you may be sure
  not one leaf will lift itself
  from the ground
  and become fast to a twig again.



ARRIVAL


  And yet one arrives somehow,
  finds himself loosening the hooks of
  her dress
  in a strange bedroom--
  feels the autumn
  dropping its silk and linen leaves
  about her ankles.
  The tawdry veined body emerges
  twisted upon itself
  like a winter wind...!



TO A FRIEND CONCERNING SEVERAL LADIES


  You know there is not much
  that I desire, a few crysanthemums
  half lying on the grass, yellow
  and brown and white, the
  talk of a few people, the trees,
  an expanse of dried leaves perhaps
  with ditches among them.
  But there comes
  between me and these things
  a letter
  or even a look--well placed,
  you understand,
  so that I am confused, twisted
  four ways and--left flat,
  unable to lift the food to
  my own mouth:
  Here is what they say: Come!
  and come! and come! And if
  I do not go I remain stale to
  myself and if I go--
                      I have watched
  the city from a distance at night
  and wondered why I wrote no poem.
  Come! yes,
  the city is ablaze for you
  and you stand and look at it.

  And they are right. There is
  no good in the world except out of
  a woman and certain women alone
  for certain things. But what if
  I arrive like a turtle
  with my house on my back or
  a fish ogling from under water?
  It will not do. I must be
  steaming with love, colored
  like a flamingo. For what?
  To have legs and a silly head
  and to smell, pah! like a flamingo
  that soils its own feathers behind.
  Must I go home filled
  with a bad poem?
  And they say:
  Who can answer these things
  till he has tried? Your eyes
  are half closed, you are a child,
  oh, a sweet one, ready to play
  but I will make a man of you and
  with love on his shoulder--!

  And in the marshes
  the crickets run
  on the sunny dike's top and
  make burrows there, the water
  reflects the reeds and the reeds
  move on their stalks and rattle drily.



YOUTH AND BEAUTY


  I bought a dishmop--
  having no daughter--
  for they had twisted
  fine ribbons of shining copper
  about white twine
  and made a towsled head
  of it, fastened it
  upon a turned ash stick
  slender at the neck
  straight, tall--
  when tied upright
  on the brass wallbracket
  to be a light for me--
  and naked,
  as a girl should seem
  to her father.



THE THINKER


  My wife's new pink slippers
  have gay pom-poms.
  There is not a spot or a stain
  on their satin toes or their sides.
  All night they lie together
  under her bed's edge.
  Shivering I catch sight of them
  and smile, in the morning.
  Later I watch them
  descending the stair,
  hurrying through the doors
  and round the table,
  moving stiffly
  with a shake of their gay pom-poms!
  And I talk to them
  in my secret mind
  out of pure happiness.



THE DISPUTANTS


  Upon the table in their bowl
  in violent disarray
  of yellow sprays, green spikes
  of leaves, red pointed petals
  and curled heads of blue
  and white among the litter
  of the forks and crumbs and plates
  the flowers remain composed.
  Cooly their colloquy continues
  above the coffee and loud talk
  grown frail as vaudeville.



TULIP BED


  The May sun--whom
  all things imitate--
  that glues small leaves to
  the wooden trees
  shone from the sky
  through bluegauze clouds
  upon the ground.
  Under the leafy trees
  where the suburban streets
  lay crossed,
  with houses on each corner,
  tangled shadows had begun
  to join
  the roadway and the lawns.
  With excellent precision
  the tulip bed
  inside the iron fence
  upreared its gaudy
  yellow, white and red,
  rimmed round with grass,
  reposedly.



THE BIRDS


  The world begins again!
  Not wholly insufflated
  the blackbirds in the rain
  upon the dead topbranches
  of the living tree,
  stuck fast to the low clouds,
  notate the dawn.
  Their shrill cries sound
  announcing appetite
  and drop among the bending roses
  and the dripping grass.



THE NIGHTINGALES


  My shoes as I lean
  unlacing them
  stand out upon
  flat worsted flowers
  under my feet.
  Nimbly the shadows
  of my fingers play
  unlacing
  over shoes and flowers.



SPOUTS


  In this world of
  as fine a pair of breasts
  as ever I saw
  the fountain in
  Madison Square
  spouts up of water
  a white tree
  that dies and lives
  as the rocking water
  in the basin
  turns from the stonerim
  back upon the jet
  and rising there
  reflectively drops down again.



BLUEFLAGS


  I stopped the car
  to let the children down
  where the streets end
  in the sun
  at the marsh edge
  and the reeds begin
  and there are small houses
  facing the reeds
  and the blue mist
  in the distance
  with grapevine trellises
  with grape clusters
  small as strawberries
  on the vines
  and ditches
  running springwater
  that continue the gutters
  with willows over them.
  The reeds begin
  like water at a shore
  their pointed petals waving
  dark green and light.
  But blueflags are blossoming
  in the reeds
  which the children pluck
  chattering in the reeds
  high over their heads
  which they part
  with bare arms to appear
  with fists of flowers
  till in the air
  there comes the smell
  of calamus
  from wet, gummy stalks.



THE WIDOW'S LAMENT IN SPRINGTIME


  Sorrow is my own yard
  where the new grass
  flames as it has flamed
  often before but not
  with the cold fire
  that closes round me this year.
  Thirtyfive years
  I lived with my husband.
  The plumtree is white today
  with masses of flowers.
  Masses of flowers
  load the cherry branches
  and color some bushes
  yellow and some red
  but the grief in my heart
  is stronger than they
  for though they were my joy
  formerly, today I notice them
  and turn away forgetting.
  Today my son told me
  that in the meadows,
  at the edge of the heavy woods
  in the distance, he saw
  trees of white flowers.
  I feel that I would like
  to go there
  and fall into those flowers
  and sink into the marsh near them.



LIGHT HEARTED WILLIAM


  Light hearted William twirled
  his November moustaches
  and, half dressed, looked
  from the bedroom window
  upon the spring weather.

  Heigh-ya! sighed he gaily
  leaning out to see
  up and down the street
  where a heavy sunlight
  lay beyond some blue shadows.

  Into the room he drew
  his head again and laughed
  to himself quietly
  twirling his green moustaches.



PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR


  The birches are mad with green points
  the wood's edge is burning with their green,
  burning, seething--No, no, no.
  The birches are opening their leaves one
  by one. Their delicate leaves unfold cold
  and separate, one by one. Slender tassels
  hang swaying from the delicate branch tips--
  Oh, I cannot say it. There is no word.
  Black is split at once into flowers. In
  every bog and ditch, flares of
  small fire, white flowers!--Agh,
  the birches are mad, mad with their green.
  The world is gone, torn into shreds
  with this blessing. What have I left undone
  that I should have undertaken

  O my brother, you redfaced, living man
  ignorant, stupid whose feet are upon
  this same dirt that I touch--and eat.
  We are alone in this terror, alone,
  face to face on this road, you and I,
  wrapped by this flame!
  Let the polished plows stay idle,
  their gloss already on the black soil.
  But that face of yours--!
  Answer me. I will clutch you. I
  will hug you, grip you. I will poke my face
  into your face and force you to see me.
  Take me in your arms, tell me the commonest
  thing that is in your mind to say,
  say anything. I will understand you--!
  It is the madness of the birch leaves opening
  cold, one by one.

  My rooms will receive me. But my rooms
  are no longer sweet spaces where comfort
  is ready to wait on me with its crumbs.
  A darkness has brushed them. The mass
  of yellow tulips in the bowl is shrunken.
  Every familiar object is changed and dwarfed.
  I am shaken, broken against a might
  that splits comfort, blows apart
  my careful partitions, crushes my house
  and leaves me--with shrinking heart
  and startled, empty eyes--peering out
  into a cold world.

  In the spring I would drink! In the spring
  I would be drunk and lie forgetting all things.
  Your face! Give me your face, Yang Kue Fei!
  your hands, your lips to drink!
  Give me your wrists to drink--
  I drag you, I am drowned in you, you
  overwhelm me! Drink!
  Save me! The shad bush is in the edge
  of the clearing. The yards in a fury
  of lilac blossoms are driving me mad with terror.
  Drink and lie forgetting the world.

  And coldly the birch leaves are opening one by one.
  Coldly I observe them and wait for the end.
  And it ends.



THE LONELY STREET


  School is over. It is too hot
  to walk at ease. At ease
  in light frocks they walk the streets
  to while the time away.
  They have grown tall. They hold
  pink flames in their right hands.
  In white from head to foot,
  with sidelong, idle look--
  in yellow, floating stuff,
  black sash and stockings--
  touching their avid mouths
  with pink sugar on a stick--
  like a carnation each holds in her hand--
  they mount the lonely street.



THE GREAT FIGURE


  Among the rain
  and lights
  I saw the figure 5
  in gold
  on a red
  firetruck
  moving
  with weight and urgency
  tense
  unheeded
  to gong clangs
  siren howls
  and wheels rumbling
  through the dark city.





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