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Title: Minna and Myself
Author: Bodenheim, Maxwell
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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                           Minna and Myself

                          _MAXWELL BODENHEIM_

                       Pagan Publishing Company
                New York City    ::    ::    ::    1918



                            ACKNOWLEDGMENT


     Our thanks to the following publications, for their kindness
             in permitting us to reprint, in this volume,
               poems that have appeared in their pages:
          The _Little Review_; _Poetry_; the _New Republic_;
                the _Century_; the New York _Tribune_;
                     the _Touchstone_; the _Seven
                   Arts_; the _Pagan_; the _Egoist_.

                           Copyright, 1918.
                  Pagan Publishing Co.      New York



                      DEDICATED BY BOTH OF US TO
                             FEDYA RAMSAY



CONTENTS


        MINNA
          Poems

        MYSELF
          Poems

        THE MASTER POISONER
          A One-Act Poetic Play by Maxwell Bodenheim and
          Ben Hecht

        POET’S HEART
          A Poetic Play in One Act



A FOREWORD


It is hard for me to realize that this is a first volume of verse. Most
of the initial ventures that have passed under my jaundiced eye have
been precisely what such early collections are expected to be. They
were, as Wilde expressed it somewhere, “promissory notes--that are never
met.”... But though it is hard for me to believe that this is a first
book, it is still harder for me to believe that this is Maxwell
Bodenheim’s first book. In these days of the much advertised “poetic
renaissance,” when the _Dial_ out-radicals the _Little Review_, and even
the New York _Tribune_ prints _vers-libre_ on its editorial page, I
expected to see nothing less than Bodenheim’s Collected works.... This
pleasure will evidently have to be deferred.... Meanwhile, here is an
indication, and no slight one, of how distinguished and decorative that
collection will be. Without Kreymborg’s caustic and acerb irony, or
Johns’ fluent lyricism, Bodenheim has something that neither they nor,
for that matter, any of his colleagues in “_Others_” possess. I refer to
his extreme sensitivity to words. Words, under his hands, have
unexpected growths; placid nouns and sober adjectives bear fantastic
fruit. It is a strange and often magic potion he brews from them; dark
and fiery liquids that he pours into curiously designed cups. Sometimes
he gets drunk with his own distillation, and reels between preciosity
and incoherence. Sometimes the mixture is so strong that even his
metaphors, crowding about each other, become inextricably mixed. But as
a rule, Bodenheim is as clear-headed as he is colorful. Among the
younger men he has no superior in his use of the verbal _nuance_.

But it is not merely as word-juggler that Bodenheim shines. He has an
imagination that he uses both as a tool and as a toy. Personally, I care
more for Bodenheim when he plays with his images (as in “Poet to His
Love,” “Hill Side Tree” and certain of the poems to “Minna”), than when
his figures attempt to build or destroy something (as in “To An Enemy,”
“The Interne,” “Soldiers”). It is as a decorator that his gifts serve
him best. Even such an intimate picture as “Factory Girl” is saved from
mawkishness by his delicate sense of design. The composition in which
Death is seen as

    “...a black slave with little silver birds
    Perched in a sleeping wreath upon his head”

has a quality that suggests the Beardsley of “Under the Hill.” In the
realm of the whimsical-grotesque, Bodenheim walks with a light but sure
footstep.

There are doubtless other things--sharper and more important--in the
following poems that will attract many. But the ones that I have found
seem to have a quiet, unofficial, dignity of their own. Others may ask
for more. For me, they are sufficient.

                                                      LOUIS UNTERMEYER.



MINNA


I

    Twilight pushes down your eyes
    With shimmering, pregnant fingers
    That leave you covered with still-born touch.
    With little whips of dead words
    Silence cuts your lips to a keener red.
    Your heart strikes its bed of dark mirth, in death,
    And your hands lie over it, guarding the corpse.
    Night will soon whisk away this room
    But you are already invisible.


II

    Your cheeks are spent diminuendos
    Sheering into the rose-veiled silence of your lips.
    Your eyes are gossamer coquettes
    Ringed with the sparkling breath of dead loves.
    Your body strays into lanterns of form
    Strewing the night within this room....
    The light dies; you are still
    And spill the frolicing night of your heart
    Over the darkness about you, making it pale.


III

    Your criss-crossed ringlets of hair
    Are tipped with faltering opalescence.
    At dawn a lost smile ever returns
    And hides in your hair because he fears
    The solemn marble profile of your face.
    His presence caresses your lips to wings of color
    That beat against each other and release
    Dulcet, feathery tinges of love descending to your heart.
    And thus, each morning, your rising heart
    Wears a new bridal robe.


IV

    Moonlight bends over black silence,
    Making it bloom to wild-flowers of sound
    That only green things can hear.
    A wind sprawls over an orchard,
    Frightening its silent litany to sound.
    A thread of star-light has fallen to this tree
    And curls among its leaves, tangling them to silence....
    Standing amidst these things, Beloved,
    We feel the words our hearts cannot form.


V

    Pain is a country cousin of yours.
    He flings buds of awakening desires
    Upon the stately weddings in your heart,
    And laughs.
    You must teach him better manners;
    Bind his mouth with pale sleep;
    Caress him with trailing hands
    That loosen the buds he has stolen, into flowers.


VI

    We met upon nearby hill-tops of our lives
    And shook the dust from us, revealing flame-laced clothes
    And eyeing each other in the same moment.
    You curved a longing to the wave of your arm:
    A longing for dark rest crossed by unbidden gifts.
    And my eyes deepened in answer....
    Then we floated down to the valley between us:
    The valley ringed with smooth honey-combs of sleep.


VII

    You have a morning-glory face
    Whose edges are sensitive to light
    And curl in beneath the burden of a smile.
    Remembered silence returns to the morning-glory
    And lattices its curves
    With shades of golden reverberations.
    Then the morning-glory’s heart careens to loves
    Whose scent beats on the sky-walls of your soul.


VIII

    You draw my heart about you, as a cloak,
    And your words steal over it like a reluctant color:
    A color of pain that fears to die.
    My heart ripples with your slight turning
    But sometimes moves when you are still,
    Beckoning to longings that have not reached your mouth.


IX

    Sedate and archaic, a twilight-frilled haze
    Walks over the meadows like rolled-out centuries
    Quivering in sprightly welcome.
    Trees pushed down by silence;
    Trees lolling in comely abandon;
    Trees pungently flamboyant,
    Their leaves spinning in the wind’s golden elusiveness.
    Trees probing the shrilly sensitive sunset
    Like little, laced nightmares leaning
    Upon a scarlet breast;
    Trees sprinkling their stifled mockery
    Upon the blue tomb of the air;
    Trees, are you silenced beings
    Whitening into the winding paradise
    Of old loves seeking a second death?
    And has this archaic, twilight-frilled haze
    Moulded me to your semblance?


X

    The wrinkled grimaces of eastern skies
    Are caught on the Chinese mirrors of your eyes
    And lie, pallid and benign.
    Your mouth is a senile dragon
    Spitting fire-fly words from its vermillion shroud.
    Your cheeks are shrunken silences of Gods
    Paling out upon ivoried Nirvanas of silk.
    Your face holds fugitive bits of your heart
    That wandered away and returned to rest.


XI

    Your body was puzzling, like a half-made figure
    Till the final shaping of your voice came
    And riotous secrets of lines curved out
    And trembled upon your limbs.
    Then silence touched your body to motion:
    Your limbs released fleeing andantes of pain
    And your heart flung little crescents of budding caresses
    Into the waiting hunger of your eyes.


XII

    You are a well sprayed with cool rubies of sound
    In which I bathe and rise with another skin
    Like moon-stone passion slyly courting
    The light breath of a tired dream.
    I drop my heart into the depths
    Of your disheveled serenity,
    And stroll off empty.
    When my heart has merged to your shades of pearl quietness
    I return and once more drop within you.


XIII

    The mellow anger of his hair
    Disputes his sleepy girl’s face.
    His robe glows like a painted wound
    Upon the bent meditation of his body.
    His hands are so thin that silence bruises them:
    Thin from the pressure brought by endless prayers...
    When you were with me I did not know
    That your voice was pouring him out in molten colors
    To be shaped by the fingers of my memory--
    This prince-made-of-many-deal-loves.


XIV

    Sometimes jaded, sometimes tranquil,
    Your eyes invade the tumult of your face.
    Your lips are the remnants of a love
    That made a sunset-cup of your face.
    The movements of your body
    Caress the couch you sit on into sound
    That seems to answer your words.
    You are restless because upon this couch
    The cold touch of your lover lies
    And seeps into you, reaching your heart.


XV

    Your arms, in faltering crescendos,
    Wander through the room
    Tinted with expectation of night.
    The room seems a tottering tomb
    Through which you roam with hands
    Striving to press each form into the shape
    Of someone buried beneath you....
    Only when night sprays the room with his breath
    Do you change to that which you seek.


XVI

    Two walls, dizzy with rain-touch
    And suffused with gauzily amorous sunlight,
    Creep over a hill and meet.
    And so our foreheads touch.

    Silence between our hands grows into clasped music
    Sprinkling our finger-tips with attenuated chords of touch.
    Our hearts weave low songs to this accompaniment:
    So low that even silence cannot hear.


XVII

    Afternoon sunlight limps tenuously away,
    Leaving a snarled retrospect of golden foot-marks.
    The sea is pregnant with gracious discords
    That falteringly shroud the sleep-rhythmed breasts of winds.
    The sky is a genially vacant stare.
    Remaining touches of starlight
    Tremble the leaves when air is still....
    And so my love for you strolls through this day,
    Picking up forgotten hints of its heart.


XVIII

_Maiden_

    My heart is a slovenly russet peasant-girl
    Flirting with staidly immaculate swains.

_Youth_

    And mine is summer-rain
    Strewing itself in mirthful swirls
    Over the odorous pain of flowers
    That long to dance.

_Maiden_

    My heart will walk through yours,
    Holding its crushed robe in both hands
    And quieting, with gentle nakedness,
    The mirthful rain and odorous pain in your heart.

_Youth_

    When your heart leaves mine it will be an old woman
    With two of my shrunken flowers for her breasts.


XIX

    Your breast is the bridal-couch of our stillness.
    The restless beggar of our breath
    Leaves the folding of stillness, reeling with gifts,
    With dreams in which we glimpse our own scars.
    We give these reflections of scars to stillness
    And she turns them into bitter hummingbirds
    Offering us the colored death of song
    Held out in her enticing hands.


XX

    Like prayers born dead, long shadows
    Strew the floor and clutch at your feet,
    But buoyant with paint you walk to and fro.
    The room is garlanded with unseen eyes
    That you must evade lest they touch you into sight
    And send you, naked, into the moonlight.


XXI

    Your body is a closed fan
    Holding long brush-strokes of glowing repose.
    Your words clumsily unloosen the fan
    And it dips to the rustling birth of forgotten doubts.
    Your soul bears the fan lightly in his hand
    And waves to the mirror his blind eyes cannot touch.


XXII

    The gown you wear is curiously like sound--
    Tangles of dahlia-murmurs taking shape
    In shrinking, mellow sprays.
    The everlasting journey of your heart
    Gliding over a sleepy litany
    That winds through scattered star-flowers of regrets:
    The everlasting journey of your heart
    Is like a fragile traveler of sound--
    A murmur seeking the love that gave it birth.


XXIII

    Whenever a love dies within you,
    Griefs, phosphorescent with unborn tears,
    Cut the glowing hush of a meadow within you:
    Griefs striking their pearl-voiced cymbals
    And shaping the silences once held by your love.
    Your new love blows a trumpet of sunlight
    Into the meadow, and your griefs
    Leap into the echo and return to you.


XXIV

    We blew a luminous confusion of thoughts
    Upon the silence of our souls,
    Staining it to little, weeping tints.
    Our hands pressed serpentine pain into each other
    And stroked it away to twilights of relief.
    Our lips shook before the tread of coming words,
    But closed again, finding no need for them.


XXV

    Upon an arched sarcophagus of pain
    Are figures painted in arrested embraces
    With outlines so light that we must bend close to see:
    Old loves almost merging to one tone
    Of pale regret that holds
    An inner glow of dead weeping.
    Our lips cling and our breath winds to a hand
    With touch like summer rain
    Blending the arrested figures upon the arched sarcophagus of pain.


XXVI

    Make of your voice, a dawn
    Dropping little gestures upon my forehead,
    While slumber-edged thoughts rise in my head
    And wave back greetings droll and confused.
    Pain has jested with the whirling night
    And both vanish like an untold prayer,
    So, make of your voice, a dawn
    Dropping little gestures upon my forehead.


XXVII

    Your mind is a little, clandestine pastel
    Shaped into a posture of rigid grief.
    Its colors huddle together
    And make a stunted, aching lyric....
    Ah frail-flowered moment preceding reality--
    Your eyelids open; the little pastel dies.



MYSELF



POET TO HIS LOVE


    An old silver church in a forest
    Is my love for you.
    The trees around it
    Are words that I have stolen from your heart.
    An old silver bell, the last smile you gave,
    Hangs at the top of my church.
    It rings only when you come through the forest
    And stand beside it.
    And then, it has no need for ringing,
    For your voice takes its place.



DEATH


    I shall walk down the road.
    I shall turn and feel upon my feet
    The kisses of Death, like scented rain.
    For Death is a black slave with little silver birds
    Perched in a sleeping wreath upon his head.
    He will tell me, his voice like jewels
    Dropped into a satin bag,
    How he has tip-toed after me down the road,
    His heart made a dark whirlpool with longing for me.
    Then he will graze me with his hands
    And I shall be one of the sleeping, silver birds
    Between the cold waves of his hair, as he tip-toes on.



TO GEORGIE MAY


    The ruins of your face were twined with youth.
    Vines of starlight questioned your face when you smiled.
    Your eyes dissolved over distances
    And steeped the graves of many loves.
    Night was kind to your body:
    The careless vehemence of curves
    Softened beneath your darkly-loosened dress.
    And your heart toyed with an emotion
    That left you vague hunger poised over death.



POET-VAGABOND GROWN OLD


    The dust of many roads has been my grey wine.
    Surprised beech-trees have bowed
    With me, to the plodding morning
    Humming tunes frail as webs of dead perfume,
    To his love in golden silks, the departed moon.
    Maidens like rose-flooded statues
    Have bathed me in the wine of their silence.

    But now I walk on, alone.
    And only after watching many evenings,
    Do I dance a bit with dying wisps of moon-light,
    To persuade myself that I am young.



BLIND


    Blinder than oak-trees in the wind
    Endlessly weaving sighs into a poem
    To sight,
    He sits, the light of one pale purple lantern
    Seeping into his dream-hollowed face,
    Like floating, transparent words
    Pale with unuttered meanings.
    He mends a flute and sighs as though
    Its shadow leaned heavily upon his heart
    And told him things his dead eyes could not grasp.



LOVE


    You seemed a caryatid melting
    Into the wind-blown, dark blue temple of the sky.
    But you bent down as I came closer, breaking the image.
    When I passed, you raised your head
    And blew the little feather of a smile upon me.
    I caught it on open lips and blew it back.
    And in that moment we loved,
    Although you stood still waiting for your lover,
    And I walked on to my love.



HILL-SIDE TREE


    Like a drowsy, rain-browned saint,
    You squat, and sometimes your voice
    In which the wind takes no part,
    Is like mists of music wedding each other.
    A drunken, odor-laced peddler is the morning wind.
    He brings you golden-scarfed cities
    Whose voices are swirls of bells burdened with summer;
    And maidens whose hearts are galloping princes.
    And you raise your branches to the sky,
    With a whisper that holds the smile you cannot shape.



INTRUSION


    The lilies sag with rain-drops:
    Their petals hold fire that does not break out.
    (As though it slept between vapor-silk
    It could not burn).
    And a young breeze stumbles upon the lilies
    And strokes them with his spinning hands....
    The lilies and the young breeze are not unlike
    Your silence and the rush of soft words breaking it.



CHANGE


    I came upon a maiden
    Blowing rose petals in the air
    And catching them, as they fell,
    Upon quick fingertips
    Her laugh fell lighter than the petals
    And dropped little gestures upon my forehead.
    I gave her sadness and she blew it up
    As she had blown the rose petals:
    And it almost seemed joy as her fingers caught it.
    But I was only a wanderer plaited with dust,
    Who gave her new petals to play with.



PORTRAITS


I

    You were in the room, yet your body
    Was stone cut in drooping lines
    And hued with decorous puzzling pinks and browns.
    Even your hair seemed an elfin wig
    Carelessly thrown upon your stone head.
    And your eyes were hollows cradling broken shadows.
    When you spoke your body did not change:
    It was as though a flock of sleepy birds
    Had issued from your stone mouth.


II

    Vague words tapered off to pale weariness,
    And sunlight was night smiling in his sleep.
    Your hands moved as though they sought a dying emotion:
    Your lips, drawn back, seemed evading sound.
    When twilight fell upon us,
    Like night striving to forget his dream,
    We had long since passed out of the room.



MEETING


    A mood whose heart was a flagon of ashes,
    Met another mood whose lips were stained
    With the odors of sleeping wine-songs.
    The second mood kissed the breast of the first
    And filled the ashen flagon with his pale purple breath.
    Then the two moods died, and he who bore them,
    Being an old man, sat down to make others.



COTTON-PICKER


    Like the arms of a child lifting shining white lilies
       from a little brown pond,
    Sunlight drew songs from this lithe, grimacing negress
    Whose skin was smoother than the cloudless sky above her.
    The flecks of cotton they picked brought a changing white stupor
    To the negroes about her, but she swung down her row,
    With broad smiles cutting her pent-up satin face.
    And though the afternoon slowly pressed down her back,
    She never ceased humming to her joyous Christ.



FRIENDSHIP


    Grey, drooping-shouldered bushes scrape the edges
    Of bending swirls of yellow-white flowers.
    So do my thoughts meet the wind-scattered color of you.

    A green-shadowed trance of water
    Is splintered to little, white tasseled awakenings
    By the beat of long, black oars.
    So do my thoughts enter yours.

    Split, brown-blue clouds press into each other
    Over hills dressed in mute, clinging haze.
    So do my thoughts slowly form
    Over the draped mystery of you.



FACTORY GIRL


    Why are your eyes like dry brown flower-pods,
    Still, gripped by the memory of lost petals?
    I feel that if I touched them
    They would crumble to falling brown dust
    And you would stand with blindness revealed.
    Yet, you would not shrink, for your life
    Has been long since memorized,
    And eyes would only melt out against its high walls.
    Besides, in the making of boxes
    Sprinkled with crude forget-me-nots,
    One is curiously blessed if ones eyes are dead.



DEATH


I

    A fan of smoke in the long, green-white revery of the sky,
    Slowly curls apart.
    So shall we rise and widen out in the silence of air.


II

    An old man runs down a little yellow road
    To an out-flung, white thicket uncovered by morning.
    So shall I swing to the white sharpness of death.



INTERLUDE


    Sun-light recedes on the mountains, in long gold shafts,
    Like the falling pillars of a temple.
    Then singing silence almost too nimble for ears:
    The mountain-tenors fling their broad voices
    Into the blue hall of the sky,
    And through a rigid column of these voices
    Night dumbly walks.
    Night, crushing sound between his fingers
    Until it forms a lightly frozen couch
    On which he dreams.



CHORUS GIRL


    Her voice was like rose-fragrance waltzing in the wind.
    She seemed a shadow stained with shadow colors
    Swinging through waves of sunlight.
    Perhaps her heart was an old minstrel
    Sleepily pawing at his little mandolin.



OLD AGE


    In me is a little painted square
    Bordered by old shops, with gaudy awnings.
    And before the shops sit smoking, open-bloused old men,
    Drinking sunlight.
    The old men are my thoughts:
    And I come to them each evening, in a creaking cart,
    And quietly unload supplies.
    We fill slim pipes and chat,
    And inhale scents from pale flowers in the center of the square....
    Strong men, tinkling women, and dripping, squealing children
    Stroll past us, or into the shops.
    They greet the shopkeepers, and touch their hats or foreheads to me....
    Some evening I shall not return to my people.



TO ONE DEAD


    I walked upon a hill
    And the wind, made solemnly drunk with your presence,
    Reeled against me.
    I stooped to question a flower,
    And you floated between my fingers and the petals,
    Tying them together.
    I severed a leaf from its tree
    And a water-drop in the green flagon
    Cupped a hunted bit of your smile.
    All things about me were steeped in your remembrance
    And shivering as they tried to tell me of it.



TO A DISCARDED STEEL RAIL


    Straight strength pitched into the surliness of the ditch:
    A soul you have--strength has always delicate, secret reasons.
    Your soul is a dull question.
    I do not care for your strength, but your stiff smile at Time:
    A smile which men call rust.



TO AN ENEMY


    I despise my friends more than you.
    I would have known myself but they stood before the mirrors
    And painted on them images of the virtues I craved.
    You came with sharpest chisel, scraping away the false paint.
    Then I knew and detested myself, but not you,
    For glimpses of you in the glasses you uncovered
    Showed me the virtues whose images you destroyed.



SOLDIERS


    The smile of one face is like a fierce mermaid
    Floating dead in a little pale-brown pond.
    The lips of one are twisted
    To a hieroglyphic of silence.
    The face of another is like a shining frog.
    Another face is met by a question
    That digs into it like sudden claws.
    Beside it is a face like a mirror
    In which a stiffened child dangles....

    Dead soldiers, in a sprawling crescent,
    Whose faces form a gravely mocking sentence.



FORGETFULNESS


    Happier than green-kirtled apple-trees
    Waving their soft-rimmed fans of light
    And taking the morning mist, in quick breaths,
    You sit in the woven meditation and surprise
    Of a morning uncovering its wind-wreathed head.
    And yet within the light stillness of your soul
    Dream-heavy guards sleep uneasily
    Over the body of your last slain sorrow.



THE INTERNE


    O the agony of having too much power!
    In my passive palm are hundreds of lives.
    Strange alchemy, they drain my blood.
      My heart becomes iron; my brain copper; my eyes silver; my lips brass.
    Merely by twitching a supple finger, I twirl lives from me,
    Strong-winged or fluttering and broken.
    They are my children: I am their mother and father.
    I watch them live and die.



REAR PORCHES OF AN APARTMENT BUILDING


    A sky that has never known sun, moon, or stars,
    A sky that is like a dead, kind face
    Would have the color of your eyes,
    O servant-girl singing of pear-trees in the sun
    And scraping the yellow fruit you once picked
    When your lavender-white eyes were alive.
    On the porch above you sit two women
    With faces the color of dry brown earth;
    They knit grey rosettes and nibble cakes.
    And on the porch above them are three children
    Gravely kissing each other’s foreheads,
    And an ample nurse with a huge red fan....
    The death of the afternoon to them
    Is but the lengthening of blue-black shadows on brick walls.



TO ONE DEAD


    Shaking nights, noons tame and dust-quiet, and wind-broken days
    Were hands modelling your face.
    Yet people glanced at you and pass on.

    And now they speak of you,
    Quickly weighing tiny, stray chips of you:
    They who did not know you.



THE MASTER-POISONER

MAXWELL BODENHEIM and BEN HECHT


PEOPLE

        Sobe        The Poisoner
        Fana        His Wife
        Maldor      His Assistant

_The Poisoner’s living-room. Purple velvet draperies embroidered with
huge lavendar and orange lilies hang over the rear wall, completely
covering it. One great scarlet cushion, four feet high and five feet
wide, stands at the center of the wall against the draperies. The right
and left walls have two small, narrow windows near the top, through
which a dimly glowing light pours, forming a triangle as it strikes the
floor. A narrow tall entrance blocked by orange-colored portieres stands
in the center of the right and left walls. The floor is black and
uncovered. A huge black candle three inches wide and five feet high
emerges from a black urn in the center of the floor, bisecting the
triangle formed by the two streams of pale light. White and scarlet
cushions are scattered about the floor. On two of these cushions sit
Sobe, the Poisoner, and Maldor, his Assistant. They sit to the left and
right of the candle, eyeing each other with a softly-smiling melancholy.
Sobe is tall, black-bearded, condor-faced, and clad in an orange robe,
and black sandals. Maldor is short and smooth-shaven, with the face of a
sleepy girl. He wears a white robe and sandals._

Maldor (_puzzled and wistful, speaks softly to the Poisoner_)

     A secretion from the intestines of the cane-rat found in the
     Hwang-Ho river, sprinkled with the pollen of jasmine-flowers,
     produces a most wonderful poison, O Master. When dropped into the
     eyes of a virgin, this poison will cause her face to contract in a
     twitching crescendo.

Sobe (_speaks listlessly_)

     The eyes of a virgin are too blank for a poisoner’s relish.

Maldor (_speaks with eager, hopeful emphasis_)

     The virgin, O Master, provides only the unimportant tinge to the
     process. The relish lies in the pompous complexity of the poison.

Sobe

     Complexity is but a shattered mirror.

Maldor (_still hopefully_)

     From the irridescent dimples of the Medusae fish I have extracted a
     saffron liquid, O master, which mixed with the larvae of
     dragon-flies, completes a most satisfactory poison. Administered in
     microscopic doses, it creates ribbons of flame in the blood and its
     enchanting victim expires, glowing with strange, phosphorescent
     colors.

Sobe

     I am sick of suavely terrifying poisons.

Maldor (_speaks wistfully_)

     What strange delicacy makes you almost brutal tonight, O Master?

Sobe (_speaks as to himself_)

     Wearisome poisons. A droll flutter ... and then always that dainty
     monotony--death.

Maldor (_speaks swiftly_)

     But surely our work still holds you, O Master. You have not become
     reconciled to the empty ferocity of death!

Sobe (_speaks gently_)

     Ah, Maldor, our poisons lend their little flourishes merely to
     life. I would like to poison death.

Maldor (_speaks aggrievedly_)

     But master, those cringing writhings, those indelicate squirmings
     and jocund acrobatics which our most fastidious poisons
     produce--what more tender satisfaction!

Sobe (_listlessly_)

     They are but interludes leaving me languidly envious of death, my
     master.

Maldor (_speaks with indignation_)

     You have no master! Your last poison of moth-blood produced an
     effect so exquisitely monstrous that even death was appalled. Ah,
     the bones of an old woman, dissolving within her, left her body, a
     loose grimace.

Sobe

     I am sick of all these sterile grimaces.

Maldor (_speaks slowly_)

     Some new and lethal poem has sighed itself into your heart.

Sobe (_softly_)

     There are no poisons remaining. We have signalled death with many
     diverting gestures. We have fitted too many clownish shrouds.

Maldor

     You are wistfully nervous. Some dream has burned your heart to an
     ashen bag.

Sobe

     I will tell you, Maldor, what I have done.

Maldor

     Surely, you have found no last contortion for life.

Sobe

     I have found the ultimate contortion.

Maldor

     Some nibbling horror....

Sobe

     No, Beauty.

Maldor (_after a pause_)

     Beware, master, beauty is life’s revenge upon death.

Sobe

     You know very little. Beauty is the devourer of death.

Maldor (_speaks slowly_)

     What poison is this?

Sobe (_speaks gently_)

     A drop taken into the blood, no more. The skin becomes a
     milk-tinted pond in which wine-ghosts timidly bathe. The eyes, like
     purple breasted birds, beat against the day. The mouth blooms into
     splendours. Ah, Maldor, the drop releases beauty from her thousand
     prisons. The victim stands washed in a flood of light before which
     imagination dies.

Maldor (_speaks maliciously_)

     What unique philanthropy is this? Has Sobe the Poisoner dreamed of
     immortality?

Sobe (_gently_)

     Sobe the Poisoner has made a drop of poison which will create
     beauty and death. In the soul of its victim these two monsters meet
     and strive against each other. Immortal beauty and death remain
     clutched in a stifling caress. The poison, as it works upon its
     victim, renders her more radiant and beautiful each moment, and
     each moment it paralyses her heart.

Maldor

     And then what happens?

Sobe

     Bereft of life, but with a beauty which must resist death, the
     tortured one remains my own. Thus with my poison I become death’s
     master. Thus that which should die, does not die. Thus death
     advancing creates a flame which it cannot stifle.

Maldor

     Beware.

Sobe (_speaks with quickened emphasis_)

     Death is my slave. I summon him. I open a jewelled gate which he
     cannot pass.

Maldor (_speaks softly_)

     I do not like this poison.

Sobe (_who smiles_)

     You are an amateur of death, Maldor.

Maldor (_softly_)

     I do not like this poison.

Sobe

     I will tell you another virtue of this poison, which perhaps will
     entice your fears.

Maldor

     What is this virtue?

Sobe

     Other poisons I have made provided us only with that little
     frenzied prelude to death. Our victims have amused us somewhat,
     with unconscious heavings--little, docile marionettes in the
     torments of poisons. But now, Maldor, our subject, inspired by the
     ever-increasing loveliness of her body, by the ever-growing flame
     of her beauty, resists in a torment beyond those instinctive spasms
     and dimly-felt agonies. Her overwhelming desire to prolong her
     beauty makes the struggle against death wondrously hideous.

Maldor

     But since you say she cannot die, where will those struggles lead
     her?

Sobe

     I do not know. I know only that a woman whose beauty feeds upon the
     shadows of death, must amuse us with a miracle.

Maldor (_softly_)

     The virtue of this poison does not appeal to me. The miracle you
     promise is cluttered with subtle doubts. Death, betrayed, may
     blindly wander. Let us rather return to our pathetically certain
     poisons and revel in the final froth-sprinkled caperings of life.
     Ah, the powdered hair of the white caterpillar, steeped in
     moon-light, will cause the eyes to swell out of their sockets, and
     the tongue to burst.

Sobe (_gently_)

     Where is Fana?

Maldor

     Fana!

Sobe

     Summon Fana to me.

Maldor

     Master, do not summon Fana.

Sobe

     I shall make Fana beautiful.

(_Fana draws aside the portieres at the left. Fana is tall, with a
majestic ugliness. She is dressed in a dark brown robe. Her face is
swathed in a pale brown veil, knotted at the nape of the neck, and
falling almost to her feet. She stands motionless. The two men turn and
stare at her._)

Sobe (_softly_)

     I shall bring the poison.

(_He rises and departs through the right entrance. Maldor rises and
continues to look steadily at Fana._)

Fana (_gently_)

     I heard the word beauty.

Maldor

     What else did you hear?

Fana

     I heard only the word beauty.

Maldor

     The master is evil tonight.

Fana

     More evil than always?

Maldor

     Even more.

Fana

     What does he do?

Maldor

     He frightens me with a mockery of death.

Fana

     What did he say of beauty?

Maldor

     Fana, go before he returns.

(_Maldor quickly walks to the right entrance, draws aside the portieres,
and peers cautiously out. He returns quickly to Fana._)

Maldor (_speaking quickly_)

     He has a poison to make you beautiful.

Fana

     Ah!

Maldor

     Go!

Fana

     Is he weary of my ugliness?

Maldor

     No. He has no thought for you. He seeks to enslave his master,
     Death.

Fana

     But I did hear him speak of beauty.

Maldor (_desperately_)

     He means to make you the flowered tomb of beauty. I can tell you no
     more. Go!

Fana

     Why do you tell me this? I have seen you smile upon things less
     subtle than tombs.

Maldor

     I love you.

Fana

     It is easy to love that which is veiled. But perhaps you love me
     because my face is so gentle a poison.

Maldor

     I know not ugliness. It is a mood which has forsaken me. I plead
     with you to go.

(_Maldor hears Sobe’s footfalls and seats himself impassively upon his
cushion._)

Fana (_softly_)

     I shall remain.

(_Sobe enters. He bows to Fana._)

Sobe

     Ah, Fana, I shall make your stay pleasant.

_Fana_--

     Yes, Master.

(_She seats herself behind the candle between Sobe and Maldor._)

_Sobe_ (_gently_)--

     You are very ugly, Fana. You wear a veil because you are ugly.

_Fana_--

     I heard you speak of beauty.

_Sobe_--

     Your body is like a broken cloud. Your face is like a pottery that
     crumbles in the light. You are not beautiful.

_Fana_ (_softly_)--

     Why do you tell me this so carefully?

_Sobe_--

     To make you dream.

_Fana_--

     Dreams are mirrors in which I do not care to look.

_Sobe_--

     I have a poison that will open your hearts to dreams.

_Fana_--

     The dream which poison brings is too long.

_Sobe_--

     This poison brings two dreams. One of beauty and one of death.
     Would you listen to them?

_Fana_--

     Listening to dreams one avoids the dreariness of sleep.

_Sobe_ (_gently_)--

     You are very ugly, Fana. I have a poison which will make you
     beautiful.

_Fana_--

     To lie beautiful in death is a lyric privilege, but so faint an
     echo.

_Sobe_--

     You reason too simply. I cannot promise you life. Perhaps your
     pleasure will be only that of one who greets a phantom lover. A
     moment of loveliness and the thought of eternal beauty embalmed in
     a dark dream, may be all that shall be given to you before death.

Fana

     And what else is possible?

Sobe

     It is possible that you will become so beautiful that you cannot
     die. It is possible that Death, feeding your beauty, will exhaust
     itself in a last gentle caress. Then you will still live, and
     Death, a eunuch, will drag himself after you.

Fana

     But why do you speak so eagerly? Surely your only interest does not
     lie in my exchanging one veil for another.

Maldor (_breaking his silence softly_)

     No, Fana, my master dreams of edged subtleties.

Sobe

     Make them simple with your telling, Maldor.

Maldor

     My master is weary of ordinary effects. He has watched too many
     frenzied struggles. No longer do they intrigue him. He yearns for
     something elaborate. He has dreamed of more fragile tortures. The
     poison he will give you brings no pain, but the beauty it creates
     within you will sharpen to madness your desire to live, and my
     master will sit and look into your eyes.

Sobe

     Have you finished, Maldor?

Maldor

     Yes.

Sobe (_gently_)

     I desire another assistant, Fana. As you see, one who will serve me
     more faithfully, and whose loves are not so obvious. I will tell
     you why I am so eager. I wish simply to master death.

Fana

     Have you the poison?

Sobe

     Here.

(_He takes from his robe a small flagon and hands it to her._)

Sobe

     I have hidden the drop in wine.

(_Fana rises and lifts her veil from her mouth. She drinks, smiling at
Maldor, who sits and stares impassively ahead of him. Sobe rises and
moves to the back of the room, watching her._)

Fana

     I have drunk.

Sobe (_softly_)

     Unveil yourself.

(_Fana unveils herself._)

Sobe

     Ah!

(_He draws aside a panel portiere in the rear draperies, and a long
narrow mirror is revealed._)

Sobe

     Look.

Fana

     Ah!

Sobe (_gazing at her intently_)

     You are beautiful.

Fana (_whispering_)

     I grow more beautiful.

Sobe (_he speaks as if growing dazed_)

     Your eyes....

Fana

     My eyes are like madly swinging torches.

Sobe

     Your mouth....

Fana

     My mouth is like the little red door to a palace.

Sobe

     Your hair....

Fana (_eyeing the mirror still_)

     My hair is like a misty pageant.

Sobe

     Your body....

Fana

     The wine of my body drenches my clothes.

Sobe

     You grow more beautiful.

Fana (_becomes exultant_)

     My beauty gathers over me like rose-flooded armor.

Sobe (_whispering_)

     Death slashes at your armor.

Fana (_exultant_)

     I cannot die.

Sobe

     The poison glides softly through your blood.

Fana (_she speaks softly_)

     I cannot die.

(_She turns and looks at him._)

Sobe (_shrinking back_)

     Do not look upon me.

(_Fana flings out both her arms and moves toward him. She speaks in a
strange voice._)

Fana

     What pleasures do you see in my eyes?

Sobe (_gasping_)

     The poison ... take it away....

Fana (_she sings_)

     My beauty, my beauty is a wildly chanting torrent.

Sobe (_speaks and holds his throat and gasps_)

     Death staggers from you ... and death blindly wanders....

Fana (_comes closer to him and speaks mockingly_)

     Ah, poisoner.

Sobe (_in anguish_)

     My heart breaks. (_He staggers; speaks faintly._) I am Death’s
     master!

(_He staggers another step forward and pitches headlong across the
scarlet cushion on which he sat. Maldor leans forward and touches his
throat as Fana softly laughs._)

Maldor

     He is dead.

(_Maldor straightens himself and stares impassively ahead of him. Fana
remains an instant staring at herself in the mirror, then turns, and
with an enigmatic smile, passes out of the room._)

[Curtain]



POET’S HEART


PEOPLE

        The Mad Shepherd
        The Narcissus Peddler
        The Slender Nun
        The Wine Jar Maiden
        The Poet

_A great window of palest purple light. The lower corner of the window
is visible. A dark purple wall frames the window, and narrow rectangles
of the wall, below and to the left of the window-corner, are visible.
Before the window corner is the portion of a pale pink floor. One tall
thin white candle stands against the dark purple rectangle of wall to
the left of the window-corner. It bears a narrow flame which remains
stationary. Soft and clear light pours in from the window-corner and dim
shapes stand behind it. The Mad Shepherd appears from the left. He holds
a reed to his lips, but does not blow into it. A long brown cloak drapes
him: black sandals are on his feet. His black hair caresses his
shoulders; his face is young. He pauses, three-fourths of his body
framed by the palest purple window-corner._

The Mad Shepherd (_addressing the palest purple window-corner_)

     I’ve lost a tune. It’s a spirit-rose, and a reed-limbed boy ran
     before me and whisked it past my ears before I could seize him.
     Have you seen him, window clearer than the clashing light-bubbles
     in a woman’s eyes? (_A pause._) I sat on a rock in the midst of my
     sheep and smiled at the piping of my young soul, as it climbed a
     spirit-tree. Soon it would whirl joyously on the tip of the tree,
     and my heart would turn with it. Then the song brushed past me and
     made my head a burning feather dropping down. I stumbled after it,
     over the sun-dazed hills, and the reed-limbed boy would often stop,
     touch both of my eyes with the song-flower, and spring away. I saw
     him dance into this black palace. I followed, through high
     corridors, to you, palest purple window, towering over me like a
     silent mass of breath-clear souls. He has gone. Palest purple
     window, tell me where he is?

(_There is a short silence. The Mad Shepherd stands despairingly
fingering his reed. The Narcissus Peddler appears from the right. He is
an old man, a huge basket of cut narcissus strapped to his back. His
body is tall and slender; his face a bit yellow, with a long
silver-brown beard. His head is bare. He wears a black velvet coat, pale
yellow shirt, soft grey, loose trousers, and black sandals. He rests his
basket upon the floor. The Mad Shepherd takes a step toward him,
wearily._)

The Narcissus Peddler

     A Voice walked into me, one day. How he found me, sleeping between
     two huge purple hills, I do not know. He said with a laugh that had
     ghosts of weeping in it that he knew a garden where narcissus
     flowers grew taller than myself. What was there to do?--my soul and
     I, we had to walk with him. He led us to this palace, spinning the
     thread of a laugh behind him so that we could follow. But now he
     has gone, and there is no garden--only a palest purple window.

The Mad Shepherd

     We can leap through this window, but it may be a trap.

The Narcissus Peddler

     Or a dream?

The Mad Shepherd

     Perhaps this is a dream that is true--an endless dream.

The Narcissus Peddler

     Can that be death?

Mad Shepherd (_pointing to the other’s basket_)

     With death, you would have left your narcissus behind you, for
     fragrance itself.

Peddler

     If my life has melted to an endless dream, my chase is over. I
     shall sit here and my soul will become an endless thought of
     narcissus.

(_He seats himself beside his basket; Shepherd stands despairingly; the
Slender Nun appears from the right: She is small and her body like a
thin drooping stem; she wears the black dress of a nun but her child
face is uncovered. Her feet are bare. She stops, standing a step away
from the Peddler._)

The Slender Nun

     I see a candle that is like an arm stiffened in prayer. (_She
     pauses._) Palest purple window, is my soul standing behind you and
     spreading to light that gently thrusts me down? A flamed-loosed
     angel lifted it from me. I ran after him. He seemed to touch you,
     window, like a vapor kiss dying upon pale purple silk. (_A
     pause._) Must I stand here always waiting for my soul, like a
     flower petal pressed deep into the earth by passing feet?

The Shepherd

     You have lost a soul and I a tune. Let me make you the tune and you
     make me your soul. You could sit with me on my rock in the hills
     and make a soul of my reed-rippling, and, piping of you, I might
     weave a new tune.

The Nun

     Can you give me a soul that will be Christ floating out in clear
     music? Only then I would go with you.

Shepherd (_sadly_)

     My music is like the wet, quick kiss of rain. It knows nothing of
     Christ.

(_A short silence._)

(_The Wine-Jar Maiden appears from the right. She is tall and pale
brown; upon her head is a long pale green jar; her hair is black and
spurts down. Her face is wide but delicately twisted. She wears a thin
simple pale green gown, with a black girdle about her waist, one
tasseled end hanging down. She stops a little behind the Slender Nun,
and lowers her wine-jar to the floor. The Nun turns and partly faces
her. The Narcissus Peddler looks up from where he has sat, in a reverie,
beside his basket._)

The Wine-Jar Maiden

     My heart was a wine jar stained with the roses of frail dreams and
     filled with wine that had turned to shaking, purple mist. One day I
     felt it wrenched from me, and mist-drops that flew from it, as it
     left, sank into my breast and made me shrink. I could not see the
     thief, but I followed the scent of my heart trailing behind him.
     It brought me here; but at this palest purple window it died. Scent
     of my heart, have you spread over this huge window, and must I
     stand forever looking upon you?

(_The Narcissus Peddler slowly rises and takes a stride toward the
palest purple window._)

The Narcissus Peddler

     That dim shape behind the window--I believe it is a huge narcissus.
     I am a rainbow-smeared knave to stand here juggling little golden
     balls of dreams. I shall spring through the window.

The Slender Nun

     Take my hand when you spring. Perhaps this is God’s forehead, and
     we shall melt into it, like billows of rain washing into a cliff.

The Wine-Jar Maiden

     If I leap through this window, a cloak of my heart-scent may hang
     to me. I shall touch the cloak, now and then, and that shall be my
     life.

The Mad Shepherd

     I must sit here, and whirl with my young spirit. If I cannot knit
     together strands of music better than the tune I ran after, then I
     should not have chased it.

(_After a short silence the Narcissus Peddler and the Slender Nun, hand
in hand, leap through the window-corner and vanish. The Wine Jar Maiden
leaps after them, a moment later, and also disappears. The Mad Shepherd
sits down and blows little fragments of piping into his reed, long
pauses separating them. As he does this, he looks up at the window, his
head motionless. The Narcissus Peddler, the Slender Nun and the Wine
Jar_ _Maiden appear from the left walking slowly, in single file, as
though in a trance. The Narcissus Peddler stands beside his basket,
which he left behind him; the Wine Jar Maiden beside her jar, and the
Slender Nun between them._)

The Mad Shepherd (_looking up, astonished_)

     You return, like sleep-drooping poplar trees that have been given
     wings, and after long journeyings, fly back to their little
     blue-green hills.

The Narcissus Peddler

     After we sprang we found ourselves in a high corridor, whose air
     was like the breath of a dying maiden--the corridor we first walked
     down, before we came to this palest purple window.

The Mad Shepherd (_wonderingly_)

     A dream with a strange, buried, quivering palace whose doors are
     closed....

(_The poet quietly appears from the right. He is dressed in a deep
crimson robe, pale brown turban and black sandals; his head is bare. He
surveys the others a moment, then touches the shoulder of the Wine Jar
Maiden. She turns and stares at him. The others turn also._)

     You are all in my heart--a wide space with many buried, black
     palaces, huge pale-purple windows, hills with rocks for mad
     shepherds, strolling flower-venders, wine-jar maidens dancing in
     high courtyards hushed with quilted star-light, and sometimes a
     slender nun walking alone through the aisles of old reveries. I
     have woven you into a poem, and you were drawn on by me. But when
     my poems are made I take my people to a far-off garden in my heart.
     There we sit beneath one of the shining trees and talk. There I
     shall give you your soul, your heart, your song--and your huge
     narcissus flower. And out of them make other poems, perhaps? Who
     knows? Come.

                        (_He leads them away._)





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