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Title: Leda
Author: Huxley, Aldous
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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                           BY THE SAME AUTHOR
                                 LIMBO



                               =L E D A=
                            BY ALDOUS HUXLEY


                                NEW YORK
                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



                         _All rights reserved_



                            C O N T E N T S


           LEDA                                              1
           THE BIRTH OF GOD                                 19
           ON HAMPSTEAD HEATH                               21
           SYMPATHY                                         22
           MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM                  23
           FROM THE PILLAR                                  24
           JONAH                                            25
           VARIATIONS ON A THEME                            26
           A MELODY BY SCARLATTI                            27
           A SUNSET                                         28
           LIFE AND ART                                     30
           FIRST PHILOSOPHER’S SONG                         31
           SECOND PHILOSOPHER’S SONG                        32
           FIFTH PHILOSOPHERS SONG                          33
           NINTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG                         34
           MORNING SCENE                                    36
           VERREY’S                                         37
           FRASCATI’S                                       38
           FATIGUE                                          39
           THE MERRY-GO-ROUND                               40
           BACK STREETS                                     41
           LAST THINGS                                      42
           GOTHIC                                           43
           EVENING PARTY                                    44
           BEAUTY                                           45
           SOLES OCCIDERE ET REDIRE POSSUNT                 55



    L E D A
      LEDA
  BROWN and bright as an agate, mountain-cool,
  Eurotas singing slips from pool to pool;
  Down rocky gullies; through the cavernous pines
  And chestnut groves; down where the terraced vines
  And gardens overhang; through valleys grey
  With olive trees, into a soundless bay
  Of the Ægean. Silent and asleep
  Lie those pools now: but where they dream most deep,
  Men sometimes see ripples of shining hair
  And the young grace of bodies pale and bare,
  Shimmering far down—the ghosts these mirrors hold
  Of all the beauty they beheld of old,
  White limbs and heavenly eyes and the hair’s river of gold,
  For once these banks were peopled: Spartan girls
  Loosed here their maiden girdles and their curls,
  And stooping o’er the level water stole
  His darling mirror from the sun through whole
  Rapturous hours of gazing.
                                  The first star
  Of all this milky constellation, far
  Lovelier than any nymph of wood or green,
  Was she whom Tyndarus had made his queen
  For her sheer beauty and subtly moving grace—
  Leda, the fairest of our mortal race.

  Hymen had lit his torches but one week
  About her bed (and still o’er her young cheek
  Passed rosy shadows of those thoughts that sped
  Across her mind, still virgin, still unwed,
  For all her body was her own no more),
  When Leda with her maidens to the shore
  Of bright Eurotas came, to escape the heat
  Of summer noon in waters coolly sweet.
  By a brown pool which opened smooth and clear
  Below the wrinkled water of a weir
  They sat them down under an old fir-tree
  To rest: and to the laughing melody
  Of their sweet speech the river’s rippling bore
  A liquid burden, while the sun did pour
  Pure colour out of heaven upon the earth.
  The meadows seethed with the incessant mirth
  Of grasshoppers, seen only when they flew
  Their curves of scarlet or sudden dazzling blue.
  Within the fir-tree’s round of unpierced shade
  The maidens sat with laughter and talk, or played,
  Gravely intent, their game of knuckle-bones;
  Or tossed from hand to hand the old dry cones
  Littered about the tree. And one did sing
  A ballad of some far-off Spartan king,
  Who took a wife, but left her, well-away!
  Slain by his foes upon their wedding-day.
  “That was a piteous story,” Leda sighed,
  “To be a widow ere she was a bride.”
  “Better,” said one, “to live a virgin life
  Alone, and never know the name of wife
  And bear the ugly burden of a child
  And have great pain by it. Let me live wild,
  A bird untamed by man!” “Nay,” cried another,
  “I would be wife, if I should not be mother.
  Cypris I honour; let the vulgar pay
  Their gross vows to Lucina when they pray.
  Our finer spirits would be blunted quite
  By bestial teeming; but Love’s rare delight
  Wings the rapt soul towards Olympus’ height.”
  “Delight?” cried Leda. “Love to me has brought
  Nothing but pain and a world of shameful thought.
  When they say love is sweet, the poets lie;
  ’Tis but a trick to catch poor maidens by.
  What are their boasted pleasures? I am queen
  To the most royal king the world has seen;
  Therefore I should, if any woman might,
  Know at its full that exquisite delight.
  Yet these few days since I was made a wife
  Have held more bitterness than all my life,
  While I was yet a child.” The great bright tears
  Slipped through her lashes. “Oh, my childish years!
  Years that were all my own, too sadly few,
  When I was happy—and yet never knew
  How happy till to-day!” Her maidens came
  About her as she wept, whispering her name,
  Leda, sweet Leda, with a hundred dear
  Caressing words to soothe her heavy cheer.
  At last she started up with a fierce pride
  Upon her face. “I am a queen,” she cried,
  “But had forgotten it a while; and you,
  Wenches of mine, you were forgetful too.
  Undress me. We would bathe ourself.” So proud
  A queen she stood, that all her maidens bowed
  In trembling fear and scarcely dared approach
  To do her bidding. But at last the brooch
  Pinned at her shoulder is undone, the wide
  Girdle of silk beneath her breasts untied;
  The tunic falls about her feet, and she
  Steps from the crocus folds of drapery,
  Dazzlingly naked, into the warm sun.
  God-like she stood; then broke into a run,
  Leaping and laughing in the light, as though
  Life through her veins coursed with so swift a flow
  Of generous blood and fire that to remain
  Too long in statued queenliness were pain
  To that quick soul, avid of speed and joy.
  She ran, easily bounding, like a boy,
  Narrow of haunch and slim and firm of breast.
  Lovelier she seemed in motion than at rest,
  If that might be, when she was never less,
  Moving or still, than perfect loveliness.
  At last, with cheeks afire and heaving flank,
  She checked her race, and on the river’s bank
  Stood looking down at her own echoed shape
  And at the fish that, aimlessly agape,
  Hung midway up their heaven of flawless glass,
  Like angels waiting for eternity to pass.
  Leda drew breath and plunged; her gasping cry
  Splashed up; the water circled brokenly
  Out from that pearly shudder of dipped limbs;
  The glittering pool laughed up its flowery brims,
  And everything, save the poor fish, rejoiced:
  Their idiot contemplation of the Moist,
  The Cold, the Watery, was in a trice
  Ended when Leda broke their crystal paradise.

  Jove in his high Olympian chamber lay
  Hugely supine, striving to charm away
  In sleep the long, intolerable noon.
  But heedless Morpheus still withheld his boon,
  And Jove upon his silk-pavilioned bed
  Tossed wrathful and awake. His fevered head
  Swarmed with a thousand fancies, which forecast
  Delights to be, or savoured pleasures past.
  Closing his eyes, he saw his eagle swift,
  Headlong as his own thunder, stoop and lift
  On pinions upward labouring the prize
  Of beauty ravished for the envious skies.
  He saw again that bright, adulterous pair,
  Trapped by the limping husband unaware,
  Fast in each other’s arms, and faster in the snare—
  And laughed remembering. Sometimes his thought
  Went wandering over the earth and sought
  Familiar places—temples by the sea,
  Cities and islands; here a sacred tree
  And there a cavern of shy nymphs.
                                    He rolled
  About his bed, in many a rich fold
  Crumpling his Babylonian coverlet,
  And yawned and stretched. The smell of his own sweat
  Brought back to mind his Libyan desert-fane
  Of mottled granite, with its endless train
  Of pilgrim camels, reeking towards the sky
  Ammonian incense to his hornèd deity;
  The while their masters worshipped, offering
  Huge teeth of ivory, while some would bring
  Their Ethiop wives—sleek wineskins of black silk,
  Jellied and huge from drinking asses’ milk
  Through years of tropical idleness, to pray
  For offspring (whom he ever sent away
  With prayers unanswered, lest their ebon race
  Might breed and blacken the earth’s comely face).
  Noon pressed on him a hotter, heavier weight.
  O Love in Idleness! how celibate
  He felt! Libido like a nemesis
  Scourged him with itching memories of bliss.
  The satin of imagined skin was sleek
  And supply warm against his lips and cheek,
  And deep within soft hair’s dishevelled dusk
  His eyelids fluttered; like a flowery musk
  The scent of a young body seemed to float
  Faintly about him, close and yet remote—
  For perfume and the essence of music dwell
  In other worlds among the asphodel
  Of unembodied life. Then all had flown;
  His dream had melted. In his bed, alone,
  Jove sweating lay and moaned, and longed in vain
  To still the pulses of his burning pain.
  In sheer despair at last he leapt from bed,
  Opened the window and thrust forth his head
  Into Olympian ether. One fierce frown
  Rifted the clouds, and he was looking down
  Into a gulf of azure calm; the rack
  Seethed round about, tempestuously black;
  But the god’s eye could hold its angry thunders back.
  There lay the world, down through the chasméd blue,
  Stretched out from edge to edge unto his view;
  And in the midst, bright as a summer’s day
  At breathless noon, the Mediterranean lay;
  And Ocean round the world’s dim fringes tossed
  His glaucous waves in mist and distance lost;
  And Pontus and the livid Caspian Sea
  Stirred in their nightmare sleep uneasily.
  And ’twixt the seas rolled the wide fertile land,
  Dappled with green and tracts of tawny sand,
  And rich, dark fallows and fields of flowers aglow
  And the white, changeless silences of snow;
  While here and there towns, like a living eye
  Unclosed on earth’s blind face, towards the sky
  Glanced their bright conscious beauty. Yet the sight
  Of his fair earth gave him but small delight
  Now in his restlessness: its beauty could
  Do nought to quench the fever in his blood.
  Desire lends sharpness to his searching eyes;
  Over the world his focused passion flies
  Quicker than chasing sunlight on a day
  Of storm and golden April. Far away
  He sees the tranquil rivers of the East,
  Mirrors of many a strange barbaric feast,
  Where un-Hellenic dancing-girls contort
  Their yellow limbs, and gibbering masks make sport
  Under the moons of many-coloured light
  That swing their lantern-fruitage in the night
  Of overarching trees. To him it seems
  An alien world, peopled by insane dreams.
  But these are nothing to the monstrous shapes—
  Not men so much as bastardy of apes—
  That meet his eyes in Africa. Between
  Leaves of grey fungoid pulp and poisonous green,
  White eyes from black and browless faces stare.
  Dryads with star-flowers in their woolly hair
  Dance to the flaccid clapping of their own
  Black dangling dugs through forests overgrown,
  Platted with writhing creepers. Horrified,
  He sees them how they leap and dance, or glide,
  Glimpse after black glimpse of a satin skin,
  Among unthinkable flowers, to pause and grin
  Out through a trellis of suppurating lips,
  Of mottled tentacles barbed at the tips
  And bloated hands and wattles and red lobes
  Of pendulous gristle and enormous probes
  Of pink and slashed and tasselled flesh . . .
                                        He turns
  Northward his sickened sight. The desert burns
  All life away. Here in the forkéd shade
  Of twin-humped towering dromedaries laid,
  A few gaunt folk are sleeping: fierce they seem
  Even in sleep, and restless as they dream.
  He would be fearful of a desert bride
  As of a brown asp at his sleeping side,
  Fearful of her white teeth and cunning arts.
  Further, yet further, to the ultimate parts
  Of the wide earth he looks, where Britons go
  Painted among their swamps, and through the snow
  Huge hairy snuffling beasts pursue their prey—
  Fierce men, as hairy and as huge as they.

  Bewildered furrows deepen the Thunderer’s scowl;
  This world so vast, so variously foul—
  Who can have made its ugliness? In what
  Revolting fancy were the Forms begot
  Of all these monsters? What strange deity—
  So barbarously not a Greek!—was he
  Who could mismake such beings in his own
  Distorted image. Nay, the Greeks alone
  Were men; in Greece alone were bodies fair,
  Minds comely. In that all-but-island there,
  Cleaving the blue sea with its promontories,
  Lies the world’s hope, the seed of all the glories
  That are to be; there, too, must surely live
  She who alone can medicinably give
  Ease with her beauty to the Thunderer’s pain.
  Downwards he bends his fiery eyes again,
  Glaring on Hellas. Like a beam of light,
  His intent glances touch the mountain height
  With passing flame and probe the valleys deep,
  Rift the dense forest and the age-old sleep
  Of vaulted antres on whose pebbly floor
  Gallop the loud-hoofed Centaurs; and the roar
  Of more than human shouting underground
  Pulses in living palpable waves of sound
  From wall to wall, until it rumbles out
  Into the air; and at that hollow shout
  That seems an utterance of the whole vast hill,
  The shepherds cease their laughter and are still.
  Cities asleep under the noonday sky
  Stir at the passage of his burning eye;
  And in their huts the startled peasants blink
  At the swift flash that bursts through every chink
  Of wattled walls, hearkening in fearful wonder
  Through lengthened seconds for the crash of thunder—
  Which follows not: they are the more afraid.
  Jove seeks amain. Many a country maid,
  Whose sandalled feet pass down familiar ways
  Among the olives, but whose spirit strays
  Through lovelier lands of fancy, suddenly
  Starts broad awake out of her dream to see
  A light that is not of the sun, a light
  Darted by living eyes, consciously bright;
  She sees and feels it like a subtle flame
  Mantling her limbs with fear and maiden shame
  And strange desire. Longing and terrified,
  She hides her face, like a new-wedded bride
  Who feels rough hands that seize and hold her fast;
  And swooning falls. The terrible light has passed;
  She wakes; the sun still shines, the olive trees
  Tremble to whispering silver in the breeze
  And all is as it was, save she alone
  In whose dazed eyes this deathless light has shone:
  For never, never from this day forth will she
  In earth’s poor passion find felicity,
  Or love of mortal man. A god’s desire
  Has seared her soul; nought but the same strong fire
  Can kindle the dead ash to life again,
  And all her years will be a lonely pain.

  Many a thousand had he looked upon,
  Thousands of mortals, young and old; but none—
  Virgin, or young ephebus, or the flower
  Of womanhood culled in its full-blown hour—
  Could please the Thunderer’s sight or touch his mind;
  The longed-for loveliness was yet to find.
  Had beauty fled, and was there nothing fair
  Under the moon? The fury of despair
  Raged in the breast of heaven’s Almighty Lord;
  He gnashed his foamy teeth and rolled and roared
  In bull-like agony. Then a great calm
  Descended on him: cool and healing balm
  Touched his immortal fury. He had spied
  Young Leda where she stood, poised on the river-side.

  Even as she broke the river’s smooth expanse,
  Leda was conscious of that hungry glance,
  And knew it for an eye of fearful power
  That did so hot and thunderously lour,
  She knew not whence, on her frail nakedness.
  Jove’s heart held but one thought: he must possess
  That perfect form or die—possess or die.
  Unheeded prayers and supplications fly,
  Thick as a flock of birds, about his ears,
  And smoke of incense rises; but he hears
  Nought but the soft falls of that melody
  Which is the speech of Leda; he can see
  Nought but that almost spiritual grace
  Which is her body, and that heavenly face
  Where gay, sweet thoughts shine through, and eyes are bright
  With purity and the soul’s inward light.
  Have her he must: the teasel-fingered burr
  Sticks not so fast in a wild beast’s tangled fur
  As that insistent longing in the soul
  Of mighty Jove. Gods, men, earth, heaven, the whole
  Vast universe was blotted from his thought
  And nought remained but Leda’s laughter, nought
  But Leda’s eyes. Magnified by his lust,
  She was the whole world now; have her he must, he must . . .
  His spirit worked; how should he gain his end
  With most deliciousness? What better friend,
  What counsellor more subtle could he find
  Than lovely Aphrodite, ever kind
  To hapless lovers, ever cunning, too,
  In all the tortuous ways of love to do
  And plan the best? To Paphos then! His will
  And act were one; and straight, invisible,
  He stood in Paphos, breathing the languid air
  By Aphrodite’s couch. O heavenly fair
  She was, and smooth and marvellously young!
  On Tyrian silk she lay, and purple hung
  About her bed in folds of fluted light
  And shadow, dark as wine. Two doves, more white
  Even than the white hand on the purple lying
  Like a pale flower wearily dropped, were flying
  With wings that made an odoriferous stir,
  Dropping faint dews of bakkaris and myrrh,
  Musk and the soul of sweet flowers cunningly
  Ravished from transient petals as they die.
  Two stripling cupids on her either hand
  Stood near with winnowing plumes and gently fanned
  Her hot, love-fevered cheeks and eyelids burning.
  Another, crouched at the bed’s foot, was turning
  A mass of scattered parchments—vows or plaints
  Or glad triumphant thanks which Venus’ saints,
  Martyrs and heroes, on her altars strewed
  With bitterest tears or gifts of gratitude.
  From the pile heaped at Aphrodite’s feet
  The boy would take a leaf, and in his sweet,
  Clear voice would read what mortal tongues can tell
  In stammering verse of those ineffable
  Pleasures and pains of love, heaven and uttermost hell.
  Jove hidden stood and heard him read these lines
  Of votive thanks—
      Cypris, this little silver lamp to thee
        I dedicate.
      It was my fellow-watcher, shared with me
      Those swift, short hours, when raised above my fate
      In Sphenura’s white arms I drank
        Of immortality.
  “A pretty lamp, and I will have it placed
  Beside the narrow bed of some too chaste
  Sister of virgin Artemis, to be
  A night-long witness of her cruelty.
  Read me another, boy,” and Venus bent
  Her ear to listen to this short lament.
      Cypris, Cypris, I am betrayed!
      Under the same wide mantle laid
      I found them, faithless, shameless pair!
      Making love with tangled hair.
  “Alas,” the goddess cried, “nor god, nor man,
  Nor medicinable balm, nor magic can
  Cast out the demon jealousy, whose breath
  Withers the rose of life, save only time and death.”
  Another sheet he took and read again.
      Farewell to love, and hail the long, slow pain
      Of memory that backward turns to joy.
      O I have danced enough and enough sung;
      My feet shall be still now and my voice mute;
      Thine are these withered wreaths, this Lydian flute,
        Cypris; I once was young.
  And piêtous Aphrodite wept to think
  How fadingly upon death’s very brink
  Beauty and love take hands for one short kiss—
  And then the wreaths are dust, the bright-eyed bliss
  Perished, and the flute still. “Read on, read on.”
  But ere the page could start, a lightning shone
  Suddenly through the room, and they were ’ware
  Of some great terrible presence looming there.
  And it took shape—huge limbs, whose every line
  A symbol was of power and strength divine,
  And it was Jove.
                   “Daughter, I come,” said he,
  “For counsel in a case that touches me
  Close, to the very life.” And he straightway
  Told her of all his restlessness that day
  And of his sight of Leda, and how great
  Was his desire. And so in close debate
  Sat the two gods, planning their rape; while she,
  Who was to be their victim, joyously
  Laughed like a child in the sudden breathless chill
  And splashed and swam, forgetting every ill
  And every fear and all, save only this:
  That she was young, and it was perfect bliss
  To be alive where suns so goldenly shine,
  And bees go drunk with fragrant honey-wine,
  And the cicadas sing from morn till night,
  And rivers run so cool and pure and bright . . .
  Stretched all her length, arms under head, she lay
  In the deep grass, while the sun kissed away
  The drops that sleeked her skin. Slender and fine
  As those old images of the gods that shine
  With smooth-worn silver, polished through the years
  By the touching lips of countless worshippers,
  Her body was; and the sun’s golden heat
  Clothed her in softest flame from head to feet
  And was her mantle, that she scarcely knew
  The conscious sense of nakedness. The blue,
  Far hills and the faint fringes of the sky
  Shimmered and pulsed in the heat uneasily,
  And hidden in the grass, cicadas shrill
  Dizzied the air with ceaseless noise, until
  A listener might wonder if they cried
  In his own head or in the world outside.
  Sometimes she shut her eyelids, and wrapped round
  In a red darkness, with the muffled sound
  And throb of blood beating within her brain,
  Savoured intensely to the verge of pain
  Her own young life, hoarded it up behind
  Her shuttered lids, until, too long confined,
  It burst them open and her prisoned soul
  Flew forth and took possession of the whole
  Exquisite world about her and was made
  A part of it. Meanwhile her maidens played,
  Singing an ancient song of death and birth,
  Seed-time and harvest, old as the grey earth,
  And moving to their music in a dance
  As immemorial. A numbing trance
  Came gradually over her, as though
  Flake after downy-feathered flake of snow
  Had muffled all her senses, drifting deep
  And warm and quiet.

                        From this all-but sleep
  She started into life again; the sky
  Was full of a strange tumult suddenly—
  Beating of mighty wings and shrill-voiced fear
  And the hoarse scream of rapine following near.
  In the high windlessness above her flew,
  Dazzlingly white on the untroubled blue,
  A splendid swan, with outstretched neck and wing
  Spread fathom wide, and closely following
  An eagle, tawny and black. This god-like pair
  Circled and swooped through the calm of upper air,
  The eagle striking and the white swan still
  ’Scaping as though by happy miracle
  The imminent talons. For the twentieth time
  The furious hunter stooped, to miss and climb
  A mounting spiral into the height again.
  He hung there poised, eyeing the grassy plain
  Far, far beneath, where the girls’ upturned faces
  Were like white flowers that bloom in open places
  Among the scarcely budded woods. And they
  Breathlessly watched and waited; long he lay,
  Becalmed upon that tideless sea of light,
  While the great swan with slow and creaking flight
  Went slanting down towards safety, where the stream
  Shines through the trees below, with glance and gleam
  Of blue aerial eyes that seem to give
  Sense to the sightless earth and make it live.
  The ponderous wings beat on and no pursuit:
  Stiff as the painted kite that guards the fruit,
  Afloat o’er orchards ripe, the eagle yet
  Hung as at anchor, seeming to forget
  His uncaught prey, his rage unsatisfied.
  Still, quiet, dead . . . and then the quickest-eyed
  Had lost him. Like a star unsphered, a stone
  Dropped from the vault of heaven, a javelin thrown,
  He swooped upon his prey. Down, down he came,
  And through his plumes with a noise of wind-blown flame
  Loud roared the air. From Leda’s lips a cry
  Broke, and she hid her face—she could not see him die,
  Her lovely, hapless swan.
                            Ah, had she heard,
  Even as the eagle hurtled past, the word
  That treacherous pair exchanged. “Peace,” cried the swan;
  “Peace, daughter. All my strength will soon be gone,
  Wasted in tedious flying, ere I come
  Where my desire hath set its only home.”
  “Go,” said the eagle, “I have played my part,
  Roused pity for your plight in Leda’s heart
  (Pity the mother of voluptuousness).
  Go, father Jove; be happy; for success
  Attends this moment.”
                        On the queen’s numbed sense
  Fell a glad shout that ended sick suspense,
  Bidding her lift once more towards the light
  Her eyes, by pity closed against a sight
  Of blood and death—her eyes, how happy now
  To see the swan still safe, while far below,
  Brought by the force of his eluded stroke
  So near to earth that with his wings he woke
  A gust whose sudden silvery motion stirred
  The meadow grass, struggled the sombre bird
  Of rage and rapine. Loud his scream and hoarse
  With baffled fury as he urged his course
  Upwards again on threshing pinions wide.
  But the fair swan, not daring to abide
  This last assault, dropped with the speed of fear
  Towards the river. Like a winged spear,
  Outstretching his long neck, rigid and straight,
  Aimed at where Leda on the bank did wait
  With open arms and kind, uplifted eyes
  And voice of tender pity, down he flies.
  Nearer, nearer, terribly swift, he sped
  Directly at the queen; then widely spread
  Resisting wings, and breaking his descent
  ’Gainst his own wind, all speed and fury spent,
  The great swan fluttered slowly down to rest
  And sweet security on Leda’s breast.
  Menacingly the eagle wheeled above her;
  But Leda, like a noble-hearted lover
  Keeping his child-beloved from tyrannous harm,
  Stood o’er the swan and, with one slender arm
  Imperiously lifted, waved away
  The savage foe, still hungry for his prey.
  Baffled at last, he mounted out of sight
  And the sky was void—save for a single white
  Swan’s feather moulted from a harassed wing
  That down, down, with a rhythmic balancing
  From side to side dropped sleeping on the air.
  Down, slowly down over that dazzling pair,
  Whose different grace in union was a birth
  Of unimagined beauty on the earth:
  So lovely that the maidens standing round
  Dared scarcely look. Couched on the flowery ground
  Young Leda lay, and to her side did press
  The swan’s proud-arching opulent loveliness,
  Stroking the snow-soft plumage of his breast
  With fingers slowly drawn, themselves caressed
  By the warm softness where they lingered, loth
  To break away. Sometimes against their growth
  Ruffling the feathers inlaid like little scales
  On his sleek neck, the pointed finger-nails
  Rasped on the warm, dry, puckered skin beneath;
  And feeling it she shuddered, and her teeth
  Grated on edge; for there was something strange
  And snake-like in the touch. He, in exchange,
  Gave back to her, stretching his eager neck,
  For every kiss a little amorous peck;
  Rubbing his silver head on her gold tresses,
  And with the nip of horny dry caresses
  Leaving upon her young white breast and cheek
  And arms the red print of his playful beak.
  Closer he nestled, mingling with the slim
  Austerity of virginal flank and limb
  His curved and florid beauty, till she felt
  That downy warmth strike through her flesh and melt
  The bones and marrow of her strength away.
  One lifted arm bent o’er her brow, she lay
  With limbs relaxed, scarce breathing, deathly still;
  Save when a quick, involuntary thrill
  Shook her sometimes with passing shudderings,
  As though some hand had plucked the aching strings
  Of life itself, tense with expectancy.
  And over her the swan shook slowly free
  The folded glory of his wings, and made
  A white-walled tent of soft and luminous shade
  To be her veil and keep her from the shame
  Of naked light and the sun’s noonday flame.

  Hushed lay the earth and the wide, careless sky.
  Then one sharp sound, that might have been a cry
  Of utmost pleasure or of utmost pain,
  Broke sobbing forth, and all was still again.



                            THE BIRTH OF GOD

      NIGHT is a void about me; I lie alone;
      And water drips, like an idiot clicking his tongue,
      Senselessly, ceaselessly, endlessly drips
      Into the waiting silence, grown
      Emptier for this small inhuman sound.
      My love is gone, my love who is tender and young.
      O smooth warm body! O passionate lips!
      I have stretched forth hands in the dark and nothing found:
      The silence is huge as the sky—I lie alone—
      My narrow room, a darkness that knows no bound.

      How shall I fill this measureless
      Deep void that the taking away
      Of a child’s slim beauty has made?
      Slender she is and small, but the loneliness
      She has left is a night no stars allay,
      And I am cold and afraid.

      Long, long ago, cut off from the wolfish pack,
      From the warm, immediate touch of friends and mate,
      Lost and alone, alone in the utter black
      Of a forest night, some far-off, beast-like man,
      Cowed by the cold indifferent hate
      Of the northern silence, crouched in fear,
      When through his bleared and suffering mind
      A sudden tremor of comfort ran,
      And the void was filled by a rushing wind,
      And he breathed a sense of something friendly and near,
      And in privation the life of God began.

      Love, from your loss shall a god be born to fill
      The emptiness, where once you were,
      With friendly knowledge and more than a lover’s will
      To ease despair?
      Shall I feed longing with what it hungers after,
      Seeing in earth and sea and air
      A lover’s smiles, hearing a lover’s laughter,
      Feeling love everywhere?

      The night drags on. Darkness and silence grow,
      And with them my desire has grown,
      My bitter need. Alas, I know,
      I know that here I lie alone.



                           ON HAMPSTEAD HEATH

  BENEATH the sunlight and blue of all-but Autumn
    The grass sleeps goldenly; woodland and distant hill
  Shine through the gauzy air in a dust of golden pollen,
    And even the glittering leaves are almost still.

  Scattered on the grass, like a ragman’s bundles carelessly dropped,
    Men sleep outstretched or, sprawling, bask in the sun;
  Here glows a woman’s bright dress and here a child is sitting,
    And I lie down and am one of the sleepers, one

  Like the rest of this tumbled crowd. Do they all, I wonder,
    Feel anguish grow with the calm day’s slow decline,
  Longing, as I, for a shattering wind, a passion
    Of bodily pain to be the soul’s anodyne?



                                SYMPATHY

            THE irony of being two . . . !
            Grey eyes, wide open suddenly,
            Regard me and enquire; I see a face
            Grave and unquiet in tenderness.
            Heart-rending question of women—never answered:
            “Tell me, tell me, what are you thinking of?”
            Oh, the pain and foolishness of love!
            What can I do but make my old grimace,
            Ending it with a kiss, as I always do?



                    MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM

              DIAPHENIA, drunk with sleep,
              Drunk with pleasure, drunk with fatigue,
              Feels her Corydon’s fingers creep—
              Ring-finger, middle finger, index, thumb—
              Strummingly over the smooth sleek drum
              Of her thorax.
                              Meanwhile Händel’s Gigue
              Turns in Corydon’s absent mind
              To Yakka-Hoola.
                                She can find
              No difference in the thrilling touch
              Of one who, now, in everything
              Is God-like. “Was there ever such
              Passion as ours?”
                                  His pianoing
              Gives place to simple arithmetic’s
              Simplest constatations:—six
              Letters in Gneiss and three in Gnu:
              Luncheon to-day cost three and two;
              In a year—he couldn’t calculate
              Three-sixty-five times thirty-eight,
              Figuring with printless fingers on
              Her living parchment.
                                          “Corydon!
              I faint, faint, faint at your dear touch.
              Say, is it possible . . . to love too much?”



                            FROM THE PILLAR

                  SIMEON, the withered stylite,
                    Sat gloomily looking down
                  Upon each roof and skylight
                    In all the seething town.

                  And in every upper chamber,
                    On roofs, where the orange flowers
                  Make weary men remember
                    The perfume of long-dead hours,

                  He saw the wine-drenched riot
                    Of harlots and human beasts,
                  And how celestial quiet
                    Was shattered by their feasts.

                  The steam of fetid vices
                    From a thousand lupanars,
                  Like smoke of sacrifices,
                    Reeked up to the heedless stars.

                  And the saint from his high fastness
                    Of purity apart
                  Cursed them and their unchasteness,
                    And envied them in his heart.



                                 JONAH

             A CREAM of phosphorescent light
             Floats on the wash that to and fro
             Slides round his feet—enough to show
             Many a pendulous stalactite
             Of naked mucus, whorls and wreaths
             And huge festoons of mottled tripes
             And smaller palpitating pipes
             Through which a yeasty liquor seethes.

             Seated upon the convex mound
             Of one vast kidney, Jonah prays
             And sings his canticles and hymns,
             Making the hollow vault resound
             God’s goodness and mysterious ways,
             Till the great fish spouts music as he swims.



                         VARIATIONS ON A THEME

           SWAN, Swan,
           Yesterday you were
           The whitest of things in this dark winter.
           To-day the snow has made of your plumes
           An unwashed pocket handkercher,
           An unwashed pocket handkercher . . .
           “Lancashire, to Lancashire!”—
           Tune of the antique trains long ago:
           Each summer holiday a milestone
           Backwards, backwards:—
           Tenby, Barmouth, and year by year
           All the different hues of the sea,
           Blue, green and blue.
           But on this river of muddy jade
           There swims a yellow swan,
           And along the bank the snow lies dazzlingly white.



                         A MELODY BY SCARLATTI

                HOW clear under the trees,
                How softly the music flows,
                Rippling from one still pool to another
                Into the lake of silence.



                                A SUNSET

          OVER against the triumph and the close—
            Amber and green and rose—
              Of this short day,
          The pale ghost of the moon grows living-bright
            Once more, as the last light
              Ebbs slowly away.
          Darkening the fringes of these western glories
            The black phantasmagories
              Of cloud advance
          With noiseless footing—vague and villainous shapes,
            Wrapped in their ragged fustian capes,
              Of some grotesque romance.
          But overhead where, like a pool between
            Dark rocks, the sky is green
              And clear and deep,
          Floats windlessly a cloud, with curving breast
            Flushed by the fiery west,
              In god-like sleep . . .
          And in my mind opens a sudden door
            That lets me see once more
              A little room
          With night beyond the window, chill and damp,
            And one green-lighted lamp
              Tempering the gloom,
          While here within, close to me, touching me
            (Even the memory
              Of my desire
          Shakes me like fear), you sit with scattered hair;
            And all your body bare
              Before the fire
          Is lapped about with rosy flame. . . . But still,
            Here on the lonely hill,
              I walk alone;
          Silvery green is the moon’s lamp overhead,
            The cloud sleeps warm and red,
              And you are gone.



                              LIFE AND ART

              YOU have sweet flowers for your pleasure;
                You laugh with the bountiful earth
              In its richness of summer treasure:
                Where now are your flowers and your mirth?
              Petals and cadenced laughter,
                Each in a dying fall,
              Droop out of life; and after
                Is nothing; they were all.

              But we from the death of roses
                That three suns perfume and gild
              With a kiss, till the fourth discloses
                A withered wreath, have distilled
              The fulness of one rare phial,
                Whose nimble life shall outrun
              The circling shadow on the dial,
                Outlast the tyrannous sun.



                        FIRST PHILOSOPHER’S SONG

               A POOR degenerate from the ape,
               Whose hands are four, whose tail’s a limb,
               I contemplate my flaccid shape
               And know I may not rival him,

               Save with my mind—a nimbler beast
               Possessing a thousand sinewy tails,
               A thousand hands, with which it scales,
               Greedy of luscious truth, the greased

               Poles and the coco palms of thought,
               Thrids easily through the mangrove maze
               Of metaphysics, walks the taut
               Frail dangerous liana ways

               That link across wide gulfs remote
               Analogies between tree and tree;
               Outruns the hare, outhops the goat;
               Mind fabulous, mind sublime and free!

               But oh, the sound of simian mirth!
               Mind, issued from the monkey’s womb,
               Is still umbilical to earth,
               Earth its home and earth its tomb.



                       SECOND PHILOSOPHER’S SONG

            IF, O my Lesbia, I should commit,
            Not fornication, dear, but suicide,
            My Thames-blown body (Pliny vouches it)
            Would drift face upwards on the oily tide
            With the other garbage, till it putrefied.

            But you, if all your lovers’ frozen hearts
            Conspired to send you, desperate, to drown—
            Your maiden modesty would float face down,
            And men would weep upon your hinder parts.

            ’Tis the Lord’s doing. Marvellous is the plan
            By which this best of worlds is wisely planned.
            One law He made for woman, one for man:
            We bow the head and do not understand.



                        FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG

            A MILLION million spermatozoa,
              All of them alive:
            Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah
              Dare hope to survive.

            And among that billion minus one
              Might have chanced to be
            Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne—
              But the One was Me.

            Shame to have ousted your betters thus,
              Taking ark while the others remained outside!
            Better for all of us, froward Homunculus,
              If you’d quietly died!



                        NINTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG

           GOD’S in His Heaven: He never issues
             (Wise Man!) to visit this world of ours.
           Unchecked the cancer gnaws our tissues,
             Stops to lick chops and then again devours.

           Those find, who most delight to roam
             ’Mid castles of remotest Spain,
           That there’s, thank Heaven, no place like home;
             So they set out upon their travels again.

           Beauty for some provides escape,
             Who gain a happiness in eyeing
           The gorgeous buttocks of the ape
             Or Autumn sunsets exquisitely dying.

           And some to better worlds than this
             Mount up on wings as frail and misty
           As passion’s all-too-transient kiss
             (Though afterwards—oh, _omne animal triste_!)

           But I, too rational by half
             To live but where I bodily am.
           Can only do my best to laugh.
             Can only sip my misery dram by dram.

           While happier mortals take to drink,
             A dolorous dipsomaniac,
           Fuddled with grief I sit and think,
             Looking upon the bile when it is black.

           Then brim the bowl with atrabilious liquor!
             We’ll pledge our Empire vast across the flood:
           For Blood, as all men know, than Water’s thicker,
             But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than Blood.



                             MORNING SCENE

               LIGHT through the latticed blind
               Spans the dim intermediate space
               With parallels of luminous dust
               To gild a nuptial couch, where Goya’s mind
               Conceived those agonising hands, that hair
               Scattered, and half a sunlit bosom bare,
               And, imminently above them, a red face
               Fixed in the imbecile earnestness of lust.



                                VERREY’S

                 HERE, every winter’s night at eight,
                 Epicurus lies in state,
                 Two candles at his head and two
                 Candles at his feet. A few
                 Choice spirits watch beneath the vault
                 Of his dim chapel, where default
                 Of music fills the pregnant air
                 With subtler requiem and prayer
                 Than ever an organ wrought with notes
                 Spouted from its tubal throats.
                 Black Ethiopia’s Holy Child,
                 The Cradled Bottle, breathes its mild
                 Meek spirit on the ravished nose,
                 The palate and the tongue of those
                 Who piously partake with me
                 Of this funereal agape.



                               FRASCATI’S

              BUBBLE-BREASTED swells the dome
              Of this my spiritual home,
              From whose nave the chandelier,
              Schaffhausen frozen, tumbles sheer.
              We in the round balcony sit,
              Lean o’er and look into the pit
              Where feed the human bears beneath,
              Champing with their gilded teeth.
              What negroid holiday makes free
              With such priapic revelry?
              What songs? What gongs? What nameless rites?
              What gods like wooden stalagmites?
              What steam of blood or kidney pie?
              What blasts of Bantu melody?
              Ragtime. . . . But when the wearied Band
              Swoons to a waltz, I take her hand.
              And there we sit in blissful calm,
              Quietly sweating palm to palm.



                                FATIGUE

THE mind has lost its Aristotelian elegance of shape: there is only a
darkness where bubbles and inconsequent balloons float up to burst their
luminous cheeks and vanish.

A woman with a basket on her head: a Chinese lantern quite askew: the
vague bright bulging of chemists’ window bottles; and then in my ears
the distant noise of a great river of people. And phrases, phrases—

It is only a question of saddle-bags,

Stane Street and Gondibert,

Foals in Iceland (or was it Foals in aspic?).

As that small reddish devil turns away with an insolent jut of his
hindquarters, I become aware that his curling pug’s tail is an electric
bell-push. But that does not disquiet me so much as the sight of all
these polished statues twinkling with high lights and all of them
grotesque and all of them colossal.



                           THE MERRY-GO-ROUND

THE machine is ready to start. The symbolic beasts grow resty,
curveting where they stand at their places in the great blue circle of
the year. The Showman’s voice rings out. “Montez, mesdames et messieurs,
montez. You, sir, must bestride the Ram. You will take the Scorpion.
Yours, madame, is the Goat. As for you there, blackguard boy, you must
be content with the Fishes. I have allotted you the Virgin,
mademoiselle.” . . . “Polisson!” “Pardon, pardon. Evidemment, c’est le
Sagittaire qu’on demande. Ohé, les dards! The rest must take what comes.
The Twins shall counterpoise one another in the Scales. So, so. Now away
we go, away.”

Ha, what keen air. Wind of the upper spaces. Snuff it deep, drink in the
intoxication of our speed. Hark how the music swells and rings. . . .
sphery music, music of every vagabond planet, every rooted star; sound
of winds and seas and all the simmering millions of life. Moving,
singing . . . so with a roar and a rush round we go and round, for ever
whirling on a ceaseless Bank Holiday of drunken life and speed.

But I happened to look inwards among the machinery of our roundabout,
and there I saw a slobbering cretin grinding at a wheel and sweating as
he ground, and grinding eternally. And when I perceived that he was the
author of all our speed and that the music was of his making, that
everything depended on his grinding wheel, I thought I would like to get
off. But we were going too fast.



                              BACK STREETS

BACK streets, gutters of stagnating darkness where men breathe
something that is not so much air as a kind of rarefied slime. . . . I
look back down the tunnelled darkness of a drain to where, at the mouth,
a broader, windier water-way glitters with the gay speed and motion of
sunlit life. But around all is dimly rotting; and the inhabitants are
those squamous, phosphorescent creatures that darkness and decay beget.
Little men, sheathed tightly in clothes of an exaggeratedly fashionable
cheapness, hurry along the pavements, jaunty and at the same time
furtive. There is a thin layer of slime over all of them. And then there
are the eyes of the women, with their hard glitter that is only of the
surface. They see acutely, but in a glassy, superficial way, taking in
the objects round them no more than my western windows retain the
imprint of the sunset that enriches them.

Back streets, exhalations of a difficulty puberty, I once lived on the
fringes of them.



                              LAST THINGS

THERE have been visions, dark in the minds of men, death and
corruption dancing across the secular abyss that separates eternity from
time to where sits the ineluctable judge, waiting, waiting through the
ages, and ponders all his predestinated decrees. There will be judgment,
and each, in an agony of shame, reluctant yet compelled, will turn his
own accuser. For

                         Tunc tua gesta noxia
                         Secreta quoque turpia
                         Videbunt mille millia
                         Virorum circumstantia.

There under the unwinking gaze of all the legions of just men made
perfect, the poor prisoner will uncover each dirty secret of his heart,
will act over again each shameful scene of his life. And those eyes of
saints and angels will shine impassively down upon his beastliness, and
to him, as he looks at their steady brilliance, they will seem a million
of little blazing loopholes slotted in the walls of hell.

Hildebert, this was your vision as you brooded over death and judgment,
hell and heaven, in your cloister, a thousand years ago. Do you not envy
us our peace of mind who know not four ultimates, but only one? For whom
the first of the Last Things is also the last—us, whom death
annihilates with all our shame and all our folly, leaving no trace
behind.



                                 GOTHIC

SHARP spires pierce upwards, and the clouds are full of tumbling
bells. Reckless, breakneck, head over heels down an airy spiral of
stairs run the bells. “Upon Paul’s steeple stands a tree.”

Up again and then once more to the bottom, two steps at a time. “As full
of apples as can be.”

Up again and down again: centuries of climbing have not worn the crystal
smoothness of the degrees.

Along the bellying clouds the little boys of London Town come running,
running as best they may, seeing that at every step they sink ankle-deep
through the woolly surface into the black heart of thunder beneath.

The apples on the trees are swaying in the wind, rocking to the clamour
of bells. The leaves are of bright green copper, and rattle together
with a scaly sound. At the roots of the tree sit four gargoyles playing
a little serious game with dice. The hunch-backed ape has won from the
manticore that crooked French crown with a hole in it which the
manticore got from the friar with the strawberry nose; he had it in turn
as an alms from the grave knight who lies with crossed legs down there,
through the clouds and the dizzy mist of bell-ringing, where the great
church is a hollow ship, full of bright candles, and stable in the midst
of dark tempestuous seas.



                             EVENING PARTY

“SANS Espoir, sans Espoir . . .” sang the lady while the piano
laboriously opened its box of old sardines in treacle. One detected
ptomaine in the syrup.

Sans Espoir . . . I thought of the rhymes—soir, nonchaloir,
reposoir—the dying falls of a symbolism grown sadly suicidal before the
broad Flemish back of the singer, the dewlaps of her audience. Sans
Espoir. The listeners wore the frozen rapture of those who gaze upon the
uplifted Host.

Catching one another’s eye, we had a simultaneous vision of pews, of
hyenas and hysteria.

Three candles were burning. They behaved like English aristocrats in a
French novel—perfectly, impassively. I tried to imitate their
milordliness.

One of the candles flickered, snickered. Was it a draught or was it
laughter?

Flickering, snickering—candles, you betrayed me. I had to laugh too.



                                 BEAUTY
                                   I

THERE is a sea somewhere—whether in the lampless crypts of the earth,
or among sunlit islands, or that which is an unfathomable and terrifying
question between the archipelagos of stars—there is a sea (and perhaps
its tides have filled those green transparent pools that glint like eyes
in a spring storm-cloud) which is for ever troubled and in travail—a
bubbling and a heaving up of waters as though for the birth of a
fountain.

The sick and the crippled lie along the brims in expectation of the
miracle. And at last, at last . . .

A funnel of white water is twisted up and so stands, straight and still
by the very speed of its motion.

It drinks the light; slowly it is infused with colour, rose and
mother-of-pearl. Slowly it takes shape, a heavenly body.

O dazzling Anadyomene!

The flakes of foam break into white birds about her head, fall again in
a soft avalanche of flowers. Perpetual miracle, beauty endlessly born.



                                   II

STEAMERS, in all your travelling have you trailed the meshes of your
long expiring white nets across this sea, or dipped in it your sliding
rail, or balanced your shadow far far down upon its glass-green sand?
Or, forgetting the preoccupations of commerce and the well-oiled
predestination of your machinery, did you ever put in at the real
Paphos?



                                  III

IN the city of Troy, whither our Argonautical voyages had carried us,
we found Helen and that lamentable Cressid who was to Chaucer the
feminine paradox, untenably fantastic but so devastatingly actual, the
crystal ideal—flawed; and to Shakespeare the inevitable trull, flayed
to show her physiological machinery and the logical conclusion of every
the most heartrendingly ingenuous gesture of maidenhood. (But, bless
you! our gorge doesn’t rise. We are cynically well up in the damning
Theory of woman, which makes it all the more amusing to watch ourselves
in the ecstatic practice of her. Unforeseen perversity.)

Fabulous Helen! At her firm breasts they used to mould delicate drinking
cups which made the sourest vinegar richly poisonous.

The geometry of her body had utterly outwitted Euclid, and the
Philosophers were baffled by curves of a subtlety infinitely more
elusive and Eleusinian than the most oracular speculations of
Parmenides. They did their best to make a coherent system out of the
incompatible, but empirically established, facts of her. Time, for
instance, was abolished within the circle of her arms. “It is eternity
when her lips touch me,” Paris had remarked. And yet this same Paris was
manifestly and notoriously falling into a decline, had lost whatever
sense or beauty he once possessed, together with his memory and all
skill in the nine arts which are memory’s daughters. How was it then,
these perplexed philosophers wondered, that she could at one and the
same moment give eternity like a goddess, while she was vampiring away
with that divine thirsty mouth of hers the last dregs of a poor mortal
life? They sought an insufficient refuge in Heraclitus’ theory of
opposites.

Meanwhile Troilus was always to be found at sunset, pacing up and down
the walls by the western gate—quite mad. At dusk the Greek camp-fires
would blossom along Xanthus banks—one after another, a myriad lights
dancing in the dark.

        As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night,
        O’er heaven’s pure azure spreads her something light.

He would repeat the simile to himself, but could never remember the
correct epithets. Not that they mattered—any more than anything else.



                                   IV

THERE are fine cities in the world—Manhattan, Ecbatana and
Hecatompylus—but this city of Troy is the most fabulous of them all.
Rome was seven hills of butcher’s meat, Athens an abstraction of marble,
in Alexandria the steam of kidney-puddings revolted the cœnobites,
darkness and size render London inappreciable, Paris is full of
sparrows, the snow lies gritty on Berlin, Moscow has no verisimilitude,
all the East is peopled by masks and apes and larvæ. But this city of
Troy is most of all real and fabulous with its charnel beauty.

“Is not Helen the end of our search—paradisal little World, symbol and
epitome of the Great? Dawn sleeps in the transparent shadow of roses
within her ear. The stainless candour of infinity—far-off peaks in
summer and the Milky Way—has taken marvellous form in her. The Little
World has its meteors, too, comets and shadowy clouds of hair, stars at
whose glance men go planet-struck. Meteors—yes, and history it has. The
past is still alive in the fragrance of her hair, and her young body
breathes forth memories as old as the beginning of life—Eros first of
gods. In her is the goal. I rest here with Helen.”

“Fool,” I said, “quote your Faustus. I go further.”



                                   V

FURTHER—but a hundred Liliputian tethers prevent me, the white nerves
which tie soul to skin. And the whole air is aching with epidermical
magnetism.

Further, further. But Troy is the birthplace of my homesickness. Troy is
more than a patriotism, for it is built of my very flesh; the
remembrance of it is a fire that sticks and tears when I would pull it
off.

But further. One last look at Troilus where he stands by the western
gate, staring over the plain. Further. When I have learnt the truth, I
will return and build a new palace with domes less ominously like
breasts, and there I will invent a safer Helen and a less paradoxical
Cressid, and my harem will be a library for enlightenment.



                                   VI

HERE are pagodas of diminishing bells. The leopard sleeps in the depth
of his rosy cavern, and when he breathes it is a smell of irresistible
sweetness; in the bestiaries he is the symbol of Christ in His
sepulchre.

This listening conch has collected all the rumours of pantheism; the dew
in this veined cup is the sacrament of nature, while these pale
thuribles worship in the dark with yellow lamps and incense.

Everywhere alchemical profusion—the golden mintage of glades and
ripples, vigils of passion enriched with silver under the fingers of the
moon; everywhere lavishness, colour, music; the smoothness of machinery,
incredible and fantastic ingenuities. God has lost his half-hunter in
the desert.

But we have not come to worship among these Gothic beeches, for all
their pillars and the lace-work of their green windows. We are looking
for other things than churches.



                                  VII

TREES, the half-fossilised exuberances of a passionate life, petrified
fountains of intemperance—with their abolition begins the realm of
reason.

Geometry, lines and planes, smooth edges, the ordered horror of
perspectives. In this country there are pavements bright and sleek as
water. The walls are precipices to which giants have nailed a perpetual
cataract of marble. The fringes of the sky are scalloped with a pattern
of domes and minarets. At night, too, the down-struck lamps are pyramids
of phantom green and the perfect circle they make upon the pavement is
magical.

Look over the parapet of the Acropolis. The bridges go dizzily down on
their swaying catenaries, the gull’s flight chained fast. The walls drop
clear into the valley, all the millions of basalt blocks calcined into a
single red monolith, fluted with thirstily shining organ pipes, which
seem for ever wet. There are no crevices for moss and toadflax, and even
the claws of the yellow lichen slip on its polished flanks.

The valley is all paved and inlaid with rivers of steel. No trees, for
they have been abolished.

“Glorious unnature,” cries the watcher at the parapet. His voice
launches into the abyss, following the curve of the bridges. “Glorious
unnature. We have triumphed.”

But his laughter as it descends is like a flight of broken steps.



                                  VIII

LET us abandon ourselves to Time, which is beauty’s essence. We live
among the perpetual degenerations of apotheoses. Sunset dissolves into
soft grey snow and the deep ocean of midnight, boundless as
forgetfulness or some yet undiscovered Pacific, contracts into the green
puddle of the dawn. The flowers burn to dust with their own brightness.
On the banks of ancient rivers stand the pitiful stumps of huge towers
and the ghosts of dead men straining to return into life. The woods are
full of the smell of transience. Beauty, then, is that moment of descent
when apotheosis tilts its wings downwards into the gulf. The ends of the
curve lose themselves parabolically somewhere in infinity. Our
sentimental eyes see only the middle section of this degeneration,
knowing neither the upper nor the lower extremes, which some have
thought to meet, godhead and annihilation.

Old Curiosity Shops! If I have said “Mortality is beauty,” it was a
weakness. The sense of time is a symptom of anæmia of the soul, through
which flows angelic ichor. We must escape from the dust of the shop.

Cloistered darkness and sleep offer us their lotuses. Not to perceive
where all is ugly, eaten into by the syphilis of time,
heart-sickening—this is beauty; not to desire where death is the only
consummation—wisdom.

Night is a measureless deep silence: daybreak brings back the fœtid
gutters of the town. O supreme beauty of a night that knows no
limitations—stars or the jagged edges of cock-crowing. Desperate, my
mind has desired it: never my blood, whose pulse is a rhythm of the
world.

At the other extreme, Beatrice lacks solidity, is as unresponsive to
your kisses as mathematics. She too is an oubliette, not a way of life;
an oubliette that, admittedly, shoots you upwards into light, not down
to death; but it comes to the same thing in the end.

What, then, is the common measure? To take the world as it is, but
metaphorically, informing the chaos of nature with a soul, qualifying
transience with eternity.

When flowers are thoughts, and lonely poplars fountains of aspiring
longing; when our actions are the poem of which all geographies and
architectures and every science and all the unclassed individual odds
and ends are the words, when even Helen’s white voluptuousness matches
some candour of the soul—then it will have been found, the permanent
and living loveliness.

It is not a far-fetched, dear-bought gem; no pomander to be smelt only
when the crowd becomes too stinkingly insistent; it is not a birth of
rare oboes or violins, not visible only from ten to six by state
permission at a nominal charge, not a thing richly apart, but an ethic,
a way of belief and of practice, of faith and works, mediæval in its
implication with the very threads of life. I desire no Paphian cloister
of pink monks. Rather a rosy Brotherhood of Common Life, eating,
drinking; marrying and giving in marriage; taking and taken in adultery;
reading, thinking, and when thinking fails, feeling immeasurably more
subtly, sometimes perhaps creating.

Arduous search for one who is chained by his desires to dead carcases,
whose eyes are dimmed with tears by the slow heart-breaking twilights
full of old family ghosts laid in lavender, whose despair cries out for
opiate and anodyne, craving gross sleep or a place on the airy
unsupported pinnacles which hang in the sterile upper chambers of ether.

Ventre à terre, head in air—your centaurs are your only poets. Their
hoofs strike sparks from the flints and they see both very near and
immensely far.



                    SOLES OCCIDERE ET REDIRE POSSUNT
                                FOREWORD

JOHN RIDLEY, the subject of this poem, was killed in February 1918.
“If I should perish,” he wrote to me only five weeks before his death,
“if I should perish—and one isn’t exactly a ’good life’ at the
moment—I wish you’d write something about me. It isn’t vanity (for I
know you’ll do me, if anything, rather less than justice!), not vanity,
I repeat; but that queer irrational desire one has for immortality of
any kind, however short and precarious—for frankly, my dear, I doubt
whether your verses will be so very much more perennial than brass.
Still, they’ll be something. One can’t, of course, believe in any
_au-delà_ for one’s personal self; one would have first to believe in
some kind of a friendly god. And as for being a spiritualist spook, one
of those wretched beings who seem to spend their eternity in trying to
communicate with the earth by a single telephone, where the number is
always engaged, and the line chronically out of order—well, all I can
say is, Heaven preserve me from such a future life. No, my only hope is
you—and a damned poor guarantee for eternity. Don’t make of me a khaki
image, I beg. I’d rather you simply said of me, as Erasmus did of his
brother, ‘Strenuus compotor, nec scortator ignavus.’ I sincerely hope,
of course, that you won’t have to write the thing at all—hope not, but
have very little doubt you will. Good-bye.”

The following poem is a tentative and provisional attempt to comply with
his request. Ridley was an adolescent, and suffered from that
instability of mind “produced by the mental conflict forced upon man by
his sensitiveness to herd suggestion on the one hand and to experience
on the other” (I quote from Mr. Trotter’s memorable work on Herd
Instinct), that characteristic instability which makes adolescence so
feebly sceptical, so inefficient, so profoundly unhappy. I have fished
up a single day from Ridley’s forgotten existence. It has a bedraggled
air in the sunlight, this poor wisp of Lethean weed. Fortunately,
however, it will soon be allowed to drop back into the water, where we
shall all, in due course, join it. “The greater part must be content to
be as though they had not been.”



        I
  BETWEEN the drawing of the blind
  And being aware of yet another day
  There came to him behind
  Close, pregnant eyelids, like a flame of blue,
  Intense, untroubled by the wind,
  A Mediterranean bay,
  Bearing a brazen beak and foamless oars
  To where, marmoreally smooth and bright,
  The steps soar up in one pure flight
  From the sea’s edge to the palace doors,
  That have shut, have shut their valves of bronze—
  And the windows too are lifeless eyes.

  The galley grated on the stone;
  He stepped out—and was alone:
  No white-sailed hopes, no clouds, nor swans
  To shatter the ocean’s calm, to break the sky’s.

  Up the slow stairs:
                        Did he know it was a dream?
  First one foot up, then the other foot,
  Shuddering like a mandrake root
  That hears the truffle-dog at work
  And draws a breath to scream;
  To moan, to scream.
                            The gates swing wide,
  And it is coolly dark inside,
  And corridors stretch out and out,
  Joining the ceilings to their floors,
  And parallels ring wedding bells
  And through a hundred thousand doors
  Perspective has abolished doubt.

  But one of the doors was shut,
  And behind it the subtlest lutanist
  Was shaking a broken necklace of tinkling notes,
  And somehow it was feminine music.
  Strange exultant fear of desire, when hearts
  Beat brokenly. He laid his hand on the latch—
  And woke among his familiar books and pictures;

  Real as his dream? He wondered. Ten to nine.
  Thursday. Wasn’t he lunching at his aunt’s?
  Distressing circumstance.
  But then he was taking Jenny out to dine,
  Which was some consolation. What a chin!
  Civilized ten thousand years, and still
  No better way than rasping a pale mask
  With imminent suicide, steel or obsidian:
  Repulsive task!
  And the more odious for being quotidian.
  If one should live till eighty-five . . .
  And the dead, do they still shave? The horrible dead, are they alive?

  But that lute, playing across his dream . . .
  Quick drops breaking the sleep of the water-wheel,
  Song and ebbing whisper of a summer stream,
  Music’s endless inconsequence that would reveal
  To souls that listened for it, the all
  Unseizable confidence, the mystic Rose,
  Could it but find the magical fall
  That droops, droops and dies into the perfect close . . .
  And why so feminine? But one could feel
  The unseen woman sitting there behind
  The door, making her ceaseless slow appeal
  To all that prowls and growls in the caves beneath
  The libraries and parlours of the mind.
  If only one were rational, if only
  At least one had the illusion of being so . . .

  Nine o’clock. Still in bed. Warm, but how lonely!
  He wept to think of all those single beds,
  Those desperate night-long solitudes,
  Those mental Salons full of nudes.
  Shelley was great when he was twenty-four.
  Eight thousand nights alone—minus, perhaps,
  Six, or no! seven, certainly not more.
    Five little bits of heaven
    (Tum-de-rum, de-rum, de-rum),
  Five little bits of Heaven and one that was a lapse,
  High-priced disgust: it stopped him suddenly
  In the midst of laughter and talk with a tingling down the
  (Like infants’ impoliteness, a terrible infant’s brightness),
  And he would shut his eyes so as not to see
  His own hot blushes calling him a swine.
  Atrocious memory! For memory should be
  Of things secure and dead, being past,
  Not living and disquieting. At last
  He threw the nightmare of his blankets off.

  Cloudy ammonia, camels in your bath:
  The earth hath bubbles as the water hath:
  He was not of them, too, too solidly
  Always himself. What foam of kissing lips,
  Pouting, parting with the ghost of the seven sips
  One smacks for hiccoughs!
                              Pitiable to be
  Quite so deplorably naked when one strips.

  There was his scar, a panel of old rose
  Slashed in the elegant buff of his trunk hose;
  Adonis punctured by his amorous boar,
  Permanent souvenir of the Great War.
  One of God’s jokes, typically good,
  That wound of his. How perfect that he should
  Have suffered it for—what?



        II
  OH, the dear front page of the _Times_!
  Chronicle of essential history:
  Marriage, birth, and the sly mysteriousness
  Of lovers’ greetings, of lovers’ meetings,
  And dirty death, impartially paid
  To courage and the old decayed.
  But nobody had been born to-day,
  Nobody married that he knew,
  Nobody died and nobody even killed;
    He felt a little aggrieved—
    Nobody even killed.
  But, to make up: “Tuesday, Colchester train:
  Wanted Brown Eyes’ address, with a view to meeting again.”
  Dear Brown Eyes, it had been nice of her
  To talk so friendly to a lonely traveller!
    Why is it nobody ever talks to me?

  And now, here was a letter from Helen.
  Better to open it rather than thus
  Dwell in a long muse and maze
  Over the scrawled address and the postmark,
  Staring stupidly.
  Love—was there no escape?
  Was it always there, always there?
  The same huge and dominant shape,
  Like Windsor Castle leaning over the plain;
  And the letter a vista cut through the musing forest,
  At the end the old Round Tower,
  Singing its refrain:
  Here we are, here we are, here we are again!

  The life so short, so vast love’s science and art,
  So many conditions of felicity.
    “Darling, will you become a part
    Of my poor physiology?
    And, my beloved, may I have
    The latchkey of your history?
    And while this corpse is what it is
    Dear, we must share geographies.”
  So many conditions of felicity.
  And now time was a widening gulf and space,
  A fixed between, and fate still kept them apart.
  Her voice quite gone; distance had blurred her face.
  The life so short, so vast love’s science and art.

  So many conditions—and yet, once,
  Four whole days,
  Four short days of perishing time,
  They had fulfilled them all.
  But that was long ago, ah! long ago,
  Like the last horse bus, or the Christmas pantomime,
  Or the Bells, oh, the Bells, of Edgar Allan Poe.



        III
  “HELEN, your letter, proving, I suppose,
  That you exist somewhere in space, who knows?
  Somewhere in time, perhaps, arrives this morning,
  Reminding me with a note of Lutheran warning
  That faith’s the test, not works. Works!—any fool
  Can do them if he tries to; but what school
  Can teach one to credit the ridiculous,
  The palpably non-existent? So with us,
  Votaries of the copulative cult,
  In this affair of love, _quicumque vult_,
  Whoever would be saved, must love without
  Adjunct of sense or reason, must not doubt
  Although the deity be far removed,
  Remote, invisible; who is not loved
  Best by voluptuous works, but by the faith
  That lives in absence and the body’s death.
  I have no faith, and even in love remain
  Agnostic. Are you here? The fact is plain,
  Constated by the heavenly vision of you,
  Maybe by the mouth’s warm touch; and that I love you,
  I then most surely know, most painfully.
  But now you’ve robbed the temple, leaving me
  A poor invisibility to adore,
  Now that, alas, you’re vanished, gone . . . no more;
  You take my drift. I only ask your leave
  To be a little unfaithful—not to you,
  My dear, to whom I was and will be true,
  But to your absence. Hence no cause to grieve;
  For absence may be cheated of a kiss—
  Lightly and laughing—with no prejudice
  To the so longed-for presence, which some day
  Will crown the presence of
                            Le Vostre J.
  (As dear unhappy Troilus would say).”



        IV
  OH, the maggots, the maggots in his brains!
  Words, words and words.
  A birth of rhymes and the strangest,
  The most unlikely superfœtations—
  New deep thoughts begot by a jingle upon a pun,
  New worlds glimpsed through the window of a word
  That has ceased, somehow, to be opaque.
  All the muses buzzing in his head.
  Autobiography crystallised under his pen, thus:

    “When I was young enough not to know youth,
    I was a Faun whose loves were Byzantine
    Among stiff trees. Before me naked Truth
    Creaked on her intellectual legs, divine
    In being inhuman, and was never caught
    By all my speed; for she could outrun thought.

    Now I am old enough to know I am young,
    I chase more plastic beauties, but inspire
    Life in their clay, purity in their dung
    With the creative breath of my desire.
    And utter truth is now made manifest
    When on a certain sleeping face and breast

    The moonlight dreams and silver chords are strung,
    And a god’s hand touches the aching lyre.”
    He read it through: a pretty, clinquant thing,
    Like bright spontaneous bird-song in the spring,
    Instinct with instinct, full of dewy freshness.
    Yes, he had genius, if he chose to use it;
    If he chose to—but it was too much trouble,
    And he preferred reading. He lit his pipe,
    Opened his book, plunged in and soon was drowned
    In pleasant seas . . . to rise again and find
    One o’clock struck and his unshaven face
    Still like a record in a musical box,
    And Auntie Loo miles off in Bloomsbury.



        V
        I.
  THE Open Sesame of “Master John,”
  And then the broad silk bosom of Aunt Loo.
  “Dear John, this is a pleasure. How are you?”
  “Well, thanks. Where’s Uncle Will?” “Your uncle’s gone
  To Bath for his lumbago. He gets on
  As well as anyone can hope to do
  At his age—for you know he’s seventy-two;
  But still, he does his bit. He sits upon

  The local Tribunal at home, and takes
  Parties of wounded soldiers out in brakes
  To see the country. And three times a week
  He still goes up to business in the City;
  And then, sometimes, at night he has to speak
  In Village Halls for the War Aims Committee.”

        II.
  “Well, have you any news about the war?
  What do they say in France?” “I daren’t repeat
  The things they say.” “You see we’ve got some meat
  For you, dear John. Really, I think before
  To-day I’ve had no lamb this year. We score
  By getting decent vegetables to eat,
  Sent up from home. This is a good receipt:
  The touch of garlic makes it. Have some more.

  Poor Tom was wounded on the twenty-third;
  Did you know that? And just to-day I heard
  News from your uncle that his nephew James
  Is dead—Matilda’s eldest boy.” “I knew
  One of those boys, but I’m so bad at names.
  Mine had red hair.” “Oh, now, that must be Hugh.”

        III.
  “Colonel McGillicuddy came to dine
  Quietly here, a night or two ago.
  He’s on the Staff and very much in the know
  About all sorts of things. His special line
  Is Tanks. He says we’ve got a new design
  Of super-Tank, with big guns, that can go
  (I think he said) at thirty miles or so
  An hour. That ought to make them whine

  For peace. He also said, if I remember,
  That the war couldn’t last beyond September,
  Because the Germans’ trucks were wearing out
  And couldn’t be replaced. I only hope
  It’s true. You know your uncle has no doubt
  That the whole thing was plotted by the Pope . . .”

  “. . . Good-bye, dear John. We _have_ had a nice talk.
  You must soon come again. Good-bye, good-bye. . . .”

  He tottered forth, full of the melancholy
  That comes of surfeit, and began to walk
  Slowly towards Oxford Street. The brazen sky
  Burned overhead. Beneath his feet the stones
  Were a grey incandescence, and his bones
  Melted within him, and his bowels yearned.



        VI
  THE crowd, the crowd—oh, he could almost cry
  To see those myriad faces hurrying by,
  And each a strong tower rooted in the past
  On dark unknown foundations, each made fast
  With locks nobody knew the secret of,
  No key could open: save that perhaps love
  Might push the bars half back and just peep in—
  And see strange sights, it may be. But for him
  They were locked donjons, every window bright
  With beckoning mystery; and then, Good Night!
  The lamp was out, they were passed, they were gone
  For ever . . . ever. And one might have been
  The hero or the friend long sought, and one
  Was the loveliest face his eyes had ever seen,
  (Vanished as soon) and he went lonely on.

  Then in a sudden fearful vision he saw
  The whole world spread before him—a vast sphere
  Of seething atoms moving to one law:
  “Be individual. Approach, draw near,
  Yes, even touch: but never join, never be
  Other than your own selves eternally.”
  And there are tangents, tangents of thought that aim
  Out through the gaps between the patterned stars
  At some fantastic dream without a name
  That like the moon shining through prison bars,
  Visits the mind with madness. So they fly,
  Those soaring tangents, till the first jet tires,
  Failing, faltering half-way up the sky,
  And breaks—poor slender fountain that aspires
  Against the whole strength of the heavy earth
  Within whose womb, darkly, it took birth.

  Oh, how remote he walked along the street,
  Jostling with other lumps of human meat!

  He was so tired. The café doors invite.
  Caverned within them, still lingers the night
  In shadowy coolness, soothing the seared sight.
  He sat there smoking, soulless and wholly crass,
  Sunk to the eyes in the warm sodden morass
  Of his own guts, wearily, wearily
  Ruminating visions of mortality—
  Memento Moris from the pink alcove,
  Nightmare oppressiveness of profane love.
  Cesspool within, and without him he could see
  Nothing but mounds of flesh and harlotry.
  Like a half-pricked bubble pendulous in space,
  The buttered leatheriness of a Jew’s face
  Looms through cigar-smoke; red and ghastly white,
  Death’s-head women fascinate the sight.
  It was the nightmare of a corpse. Dead, dead . . .
  Oh, to wake up, to live again! he fled
  From that foul place and from himself.



        VII
  TWIN domes of the Alhambra,
  Veiled tenderness of the sky above the Square:
  He sat him down in the gardens, under the trees,
  And in the dust, with the point of his umbrella,
  Drew pictures of the crosses we have to bear.

  The poor may starve, the sick have horrible pains—
  But there are pale eyes even in the London planes.

  Men may make war and money, mischief and love—
  But about us are colours and the sky above.

  Yes, here, where the golden domes ring clear,
  And the planes patiently, hopefully renew
  Their green refrain from year to year
  To the dim spring burden of London’s husky blue,
  Here he could see the folly of it. How?
  Confine a boundless possible within
  The prison of an ineluctable Now?
  Go slave to pain, woo forth original sin
  Out of her lair—and all by a foolish Act?
  Madness! But now, Wordsworth of Leicester Square,
  He’d learnt his lesson, learnt by the mere fact
  Of the place existing, so finely unaware
  Of syphilis and the restless in and out
  Of public lavatories, and evening shout
  Of winners and disasters, races and war.

  Troubles come thick enough. Why call for more
  By suiting action to the divine Word?
  His spleen was chronic, true; but he preferred
  Its subtle agony to the brute force
  That tugged the barbs of deep-anchored remorse.
  The sunlight wrapped folds of soft golden silk
  About him, and the air was warm as milk
  Against his skin. Long sitting still had made
  Cramped soreness such a pleasure, he was afraid
  To shift his tortured limbs, lest he should mar
  Life’s evenness. London’s noise from afar
  Smoothed out its harshness to soothe his thoughts asleep,
  Sound that made silence much more calm and deep.
  The domes of gold, the leaves, emerald bright,
  Were intense, piercing arrows of delight.
  He did not think; thought was a shallow thing
  To his deep sense of life, of mere being.
  He looked at his hand, lying there on his knee,
  The blue veins branching, the tendons cunningly
  Dancing like jacks in a piano if he shook
  A knot-boned finger. Only to look and look,
  Till he knew it, each hair and every pore—
  It seemed enough: what need of anything more?
  Thought, a blind alley; action, which at best
  Is cudgelling water that goes back to rest
  As soon as you give over your violences.
  No, wisdom culls the flowers of the five senses,
  Savouring the secret sweetness they afford:
  Instead of which he had a Medical Board
  Next week, and they would pass him fit. Good Lord!

  Well, let all pass.
                    But one must outdo fate,
  Wear clothes more modish than the fashion, run
  Faster than time, not merely stand and wait;
  Do in a flash what cannot be undone
  Through ten eternities. Predestinate?
  So would God be—that is, if there were one:
  General epidemic which spoils nobody’s fun.
  Action, action! Quickly rise and do
  The most irreparable things; beget,
  In one brief consummation of the will,
  Remorse, reaction, wretchedness, regret.
  Action! This was no time for sitting still.

  He crushed his hat down over his eyes
  And walked with a stamp to symbolise
  Action, action—left, right, left;
  Planting his feet with a slabby beat,
  Taking strange Procrustean steps,
  Lengthened, shortened to avoid
  Touching the lines between the stones—
  A thing which makes God so annoyed.

  Action, action! First of all
  He spent three pounds he couldn’t afford
  In buying a book he didn’t want,
  For the mere sake of having been
  Irrevocably extravagant.
  Then feeling very bold, he pressed
  The bell of a chance house; it might
  Disclose some New Arabian Night
  Behind its grimy husk, who knows?
  The seconds passed; all was dead.
  Arrogantly he rang once more.
  His heart thumped on sheer silence; but at last
  There was a shuffling; something behind the door
  Became approaching panic, and he fled.



        VIII
  “MISERY,” he said, “to have no chin,
  Nothing but brains and sex and taste:
  Only omissively to sin,
  Weakly kind and cowardly chaste.

  But when the war is over,
  I will go to the East and plant
  Tea and rubber, and make much money.
  I will eat the black sweat of niggers
  And flagellate them with whips.
  I shall be enormously myself,
    Incarnate Chin.”

  The anguish of thinking ill of oneself
  (St. Paul’s religion, poignant beyond words)
  Turns ere you know it to faint minor thirds
  Before the ritualistic pomps of the world—
  The glass-grey silver of rivers, silken skies unfurled,
  Urim and Thummim of dawn and sun-setting,
  And the lawn sleeves of a great episcopal cloud,
  Matins of song and vesperal murmuring,
  Incense of night-long flowers and earth new-ploughed;
  All beauties of sweetness and all that shine or sing.
  Conscience is smoothed by beauty’s subtle fingers
  Into voluptuousness, where nothing lingers
  Of bitterness, saving a sorrow that is
  Rather a languor than a sense of pain.

  So, from the tunnel of St. Martin’s Lane
  Sailing into the open Square, he felt
  His self-reproach, his good resolutions melt
  Into an ecstasy, gentle as balm,
  Before the spire, etched black and white on the calm
  Of a pale windless sky, St. Martin’s spire,
  And the shadows sleeping beneath the portico
  And the crowd hurrying, ceaselessly, to and fro.
  Alas, the bleached and slender tower that aches
  Upon the gauzy sky, where blueness breaks
  Into sweet hoarseness, veiled with love and tender
  As the dove’s voice alone in the woods: too slender,
  Too finely pencilled—black and bleaching white
  On smoky mist, too clear in the keen light
  Of utmost summer: and oh! the lives that pass
  In one swift stream of colour, too, too bright,
  Too swift—and all the lives unknown,
                                Alone.
                                    Alas. . . .

  A truce to summer and beauty and the pain
  Of being too consciously alive among
  The things that pass and the things that remain,
  (Oh, equal sadness!) the pain of being young.

  Truce, truce. . . . Once again he fled;—
  All his life, it seemed, was a flight;—
  Fled and found
  Sanctuary in a cinema house.
  Huge faces loomed and burst,
  Like bubbles in a black wind.
  He shut his eyes on them and in a little
  Slept; slept, while the pictures
  Passed and returned, passed once more and returned.
  And he, like God in the midst of the wheeling world,
  Slept on; and when he woke it was eight o’clock.
  Jenny? Revenge is sweet; he will have kept
    Dear Jenny waiting.



        IX
  TALL straight poplars stand in a meadow;
  The wind and sun caress them, dappling
  The deep green grass with shine and shadow;
  And a little apart one slender sapling
  Sways in the wind and almost seems
  Conscious of its own supple grace,
  And shakes its twin-hued leaves and gleams
  With silvery laughter, filling the place
  Where it stands with a sudden flash of human
  Beauty and grace; till from her tree
  Steps forth the dryad, now turned woman,
  And sways to meet him. It is she.

  Food and drink, food and drink:
  Olives as firm and sleek and green
  As the breasts of a sea god’s daughter,
  Swimming far down where the corpses sink
  Through the dense shadowy water.
  Silver and black on flank and back,
  The glossy sardine mourns its head.
  The red anchovy and the beetroot red,
  With carrots, build a gorgeous stair—
  Bronze, apoplexy and Venetian hair—
  And the green pallor of the salad round
  Sharpens their clarion sound.
    De lady take hors d’œuvres? and de gentleman too?
    Per due! Due! Echo answers: Du’ . . .
   “So, Jenny, you’ve found another Perfect Man.”
  “Perfect, perhaps; but not so sweet as you,
  Not such a baby.” “Me? A baby. Why,
  I am older than the rocks on which I sit. . . .”
    Oh, how delightful, talking about oneself!

  Golden wine, pale as a Tuscan primitive,
  And wine’s strange taste, half loathsome, half delicious:
  Come, my Lesbia, let us love and live.
  What though the mind still think that one thing’s vicious
  More than another? If the thought can give
  This wine’s rich savour to our laughing kiss,
  Let us preserve the Christian prejudice.
  Oh, there are shynesses and silences,
  Shynesses and silences!
  But luckily God also gave us wine.

  “Jenny, adorable—” (what draws the line
  At the mere word “love”?) “has anyone the right
  To look so lovely as you look to-night,
  To have such eyes, such a helmet of bright hair?”
  But candidly, he wondered, do I care?

  He heard her voice and himself spoke,
  But like faint light through a cloud of smoke,
  There came, unreal and far away,
  Mere sounds utterly empty—like the drone
  Of prayers, _crambe repetita_, prayers and praise,
  Long, long ago, in the old School Chapel days;
  Senseless, but so intrusive on one’s own
  Interior life one couldn’t even think . . .

  O sweet, rare, perilous, retchy drink!
  Another glass . . .



        X
  HOW cool is the moonless summer night, how sweet
  After the noise and the dizzy choking heat!
  The bloodless lamps look down upon their own
  Green image in the polished roadway thrown,
  And onward and out of sight the great road runs,
  Smooth and dark as a river of calm bronze.

  Freedom and widening space: his life expands,
  Ready, it seems, to burst the iron bands
  Of self, to fuse with other lives and be
  Not one but the world, no longer “I” but “She.”

  See, like the dolorous memory
  Of happy times in misery,
  An aged hansom fills the street
  With the superannuated beat
  Of hollow hoofs and bells that chime
  Out of another quieter time.

  “Good-night,” the last kiss, “and God bless you, my dear.”
  So, she was gone, she who had been so near,
  So breathing-warm—soft mouth and hands and hair—
  A moment since. Had she been really there,
  Close at his side, and had he kissed her? It seemed
  Unlikely as something somebody else had dreamed
  And talked about at breakfast, being a bore:
  Improbable, unsubstantial, dim, yet more
  Real than the rest of life; real as the blaze
  Of a sudden-seen picture, as the lightning phrase
  With which the poet-gods strangely create
  Their brief bright world beyond the reach of fate.
  Yet he could wonder now if he had kissed
  Her or his own loved thoughts. Did she exist
  Now she was history and safely stowed
  Down in the past? There (with a conscious smile),
  There let her rest eternal. And meanwhile,
  Lamp-fringed towards meeting parallels, the road
  Stretched out and out, and the old weary horse,
  Come from the past, went jogging his homeward course
  Uphill through time to some demoded place,
  On ghostly hoofs back to the safe Has-Been:—
  But fact returns insistent as remorse;
  Uphill towards Hampstead, back to the year of grace
  Nineteen hundred and seventeen.



        XI
  BETWEEN the drawing of the blind
    And being aware of yet another day . . .

              PRINTED BY MORRISON AND GIBB LTD., EDINBURGH



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in punctuation have been maintained.

A cover was created for this eBook.

[The end of _Leda_, by Aldous Huxley.]





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