October 2016

Written in Albuquerque (Mesa SE), September 2001.  “I will light the very fire where God hides” was the first line of this that came to me, and I remember thinking, am I really going to write this poem? from this point of view?  It’s been called courageous:  I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that I picked the most melodramatic take on these events I possibly could, to blow people at poetry readings away, and for no other purpose.  If there was a serious intent (and I suppose there was some), it wasn’t to represent or defend the actions of the nineteen hijackers, who were utter maniacs as far as I’m concerned, but to make a point about the horribly destructive effects of belief in God.  We learned later that several of the perpetrators were unaware this would be a “martyrdom mission”—but my speaker is obviously one of those in the know.  A couple of them did indulge in alcohol the night before—for “Dutch courage?”  “The Creature” is the United States, if that needs to be clarified.  Published in my books The Closed Shrine and Wings of the Gray Moon, in the local zine Central Avenue, and in the chapbook Don McIver and Friends.  A somewhat creepy live performance also appeared on the CD anthology Poetic Democracy.

Morning, Shortly After Takeoff

September 11, 2001

 

They are serving drinks.

I will refuse one this time.

I look down at my watch

and away from the rest of the men.

I cleave to God’s words

pitched throughout my skull

as if by the most beautiful singer,

words about God’s aloneness,

no partner, no son, hid, unshared

but forever shuddering sounds

into human ears and wills,

making us yearn for silence

as he does.

Before my voice was a man’s

and they could see it wore no music,

my parents wanted me to train

for a prayer caller.

Instead I learned to steer

the soaring houses of the Creature

in the Creature’s own school.

I was hills.

I was deep tumbled hills

reeking of sheep and soldiers.

I was rough jokes in a thatched fort.

I was stone earth on thousands of foreheads.

I squatted in the dry cold

to hear of the Creature,

fat and sleepy,

who emptied screams into my skies.

My scalp is tight this morning

not from waiting the signal

but because I broke the law last night

and had a few.

Too many voices of people I’d never met,

never will,

were pushing around me,

pushing me down,

and I needed something to help me get up

not minutes from now.

One voice, one sound, one song

remains.

For an instant,

through me,

God will speak with silence.

I will be the most beautiful singer

and chant his life from the highest place,

an instant of message

wordless as the bursting air.

I will light the very fire where God hides,

a fire too fast for anything else to live there,

not a single thought or word,

not a single one of God’s Names,

only his blinding heart

for my blind heart

to draw near.

Dylan Thomas has to be read aloud.  I’ve been campaigning on the platform that all poetry ought to be read aloud, but Thomas in particular operated at the gentle borderline between meaning and music, crossing it so frequently and systematically that the two are inextricable.  He needs to be heard to be understood.  In his earlier poems, where the meaning is more personal and remote, the music doesn’t really yield much cognitive sense.  Of course you can read them as “language poetry,” but that label to me represents a failure of poetry, not an achievement.  Thomas eventually discovered a way to root his lyric invention in lived sensory depth.  This is done through the authority of narration.  You believe him when he says things are happening, though what those things are will always at least partly puzzle you.  But people who’ve heard Thomas’ rich dramatic voice will testify to his ability to wake printed words from sleep and make them squirm and live:  not just his own words either, for he had a broad, discerning knowledge of modern poetry.  As a twentysomething, I sat at a long table in the UNM Listening Library with headphones on and Thomas’ tipsy boom sweeping through my ears.  An old friend, Bill Murphy, was a Thomas nut, and first turned me on to the poem which is still my favorite, and the only one in Otros, “A Winter’s Tale.”  I also like “Vision and Prayer,” “Fern Hill,” “Lament” … most of the second half of his slim book.  Listen to Thomas say “A Winter’s Tale,” or read it aloud to yourself, and don’t try to extract a prose story from the snowfall-whirling words.  Though the words are often plain and blunt, what actually happens?  A man seems to run outdoors and die of exposure, but he is chasing a “she bird” who somehow comes to life in his house and has the power to resurrect ancient sights and sounds in the landscape.  The suicidal, delusional journey is presented as a kind of mystical union with an eternal bride.  Huh?  Well, did you forget this was poetry?  The lesson is in the telling.    Hear it and accept.

I mentioned Pound’s “Envoi (1919),” which refers to Lawes’ musical setting of this poem by Edmund Waller, a seventeenth-century English poet.  I admire the original too.

 

Song

 

      Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me

      That now she knows,

When I resemble her to thee,

How sweet and fair she seems to be.

 

      Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

      That hadst thou sprung

In deserts, where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

 

      Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

      Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And blush not so to be admired.

 

      Then die! that she

The common fate of all things rare

      May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

 

And then there is Walt Whitman.  What can I say?  I came to him well into my middle age.  He was “somewhere waiting for me.”  Patiently.  All the years I wasn’t interested and didn’t have time for him.  It was like finding a treasure under a floorboard in my living room.  I’d lugged around my parents’ copy of Leaves of Grass—a nineteenth-century printing—all my life, but hardly opened it till the eve of the new millenium.  Stephen Mitchell’s redaction of “Song of Myself” (in my old book its title is “Walt Whitman”) helped me find my way into this elderly and young spew of insights and declarations.  It’s really not to be missed, but you may have to wait, as I did, till you’ve lived some life before it can charm its way inside you.  In the meantime, as with most of Whitman’s great works, it will remain fresh and still, waiting.

Besides “Song of Myself” I also have Whitman’s lofty elegy for Lincoln, “Where Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloomed,” his bitter denunciation of postwar America “Respondez!,” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” in which he actually addresses us, the people of his future.  After your indulgence last time, letting me inflict the whole of “Anactoria” on you, I don’t want to fill up this entry with these long poems, especially the book-length “Song of Myself.”  Here is a shorter one that breathes essential Whitman to me.

 

There Was a Child Went Forth

 

There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

 

The early lilacs became part of this child,

And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phœbe-bird,

And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf,

And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and the beautiful curious liquid,

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part of him.

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him,

Winter-grain sprouts and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden,

And the apple-trees cover’d with blossoms and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road,

And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the tavern whence he had lately risen,

And the schoolmistress that pass’d on her way to the school,

And the friendly boys that pass’d, and the quarrelsome boys,

And the tidy and fresh-cheek’d girls, and the barefoot Negro boy and girl,

And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.

 

His own parents, he that had father’d him and she that had conceiv’d him in her womb and birth’d him,

They gave this child more of themselves than that,

They gave him afterward every day, they became part of him.

 

The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table,

The mother with mild words, clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by,

The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger’d, unjust,

The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,

The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture, the yearning and swelling heart,

Affection that will not be gainsay’d, the sense of what is real, the thought if after all it should prove unreal,

The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious whether and how,

Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?

Men and women crowding fast in the streets, if they are not flashes and specks what are they?

The streets themselves and the façades of houses, and goods in the windows,

Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank’d wharves, the huge crossing at the ferries,

The village of the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river between,

Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown two miles off,

The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little boat slack-tow’d astern,

The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,

The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,

The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud,

These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

Written in Albuquerque (Mesa SE), May 2001.  I planned this to be the first poem in a cycle about the Atlantis legend, but I was reading Tolkien’s Silmarillion at the time and figured I couldn’t possibly do better with the legend than he had done, so turned my poem into a love poem.  Ho hum, what else is new.  It was written shortly after Leisha broke up with me for the final time, but the woman in the poem isn’t Leisha (she seems to have red hair, for one thing).  My suspicion about Atlantis (which first shows up in Plato’s Critias) is that it was a volcanic island near Crete in the Mediterranean, not in the Atlantic Ocean.  The speaker therefore passes the “Pillars of Hercules” (more or less the Strait of Gibraltar) to sail away from it.  In ancient times this was the limit of the known world.  Dale Harris let me read this at one of her spring multimedia shows wearing a white robe, a white mask and a laurel crown.  I love Mitch Rayes’ music that goes with it on my CD Hush.  Published in my books The Closed Shrine and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the online journal Fickle Muses.

The Last Ship from Atlantis

 

The world burns in the night.

 

Salt tightens my nostrils

as prow cuts water

unshapen now, beyond the Pillars,

a mirror blotted not by fire

but the loss of it.

 

The world burns but I still take your hand

miles beneath me now, and green

as the snow on our mountaintops,

green as our white gates

gaped to streams of horses

jangling gold, bickering ivory,

the saddles sizzling in the scornful noon.

 

I still take your hand and kiss your airless mouth

as the dark sky beneath the dark sky

speeds away without changing

and deep winds cross us to wretched destinations

and slap us back even from there.

 

Hilarious to lose you

to the flying bleeding rocks

when I remember how you could melt the earth

with a sniff and gesture of face

and that walk of yours, tall as a star.

 

We lay in the cool of the dry peaks

and the cool of our sweet sweat,

the mild lime squares of ambergris

still buckled around your bare hips,

toes and fingers colored

after kings’ gowns or eyelids.

 

Lifted on an elbow, you swept

the sea and the gloried island

with your other arm, saying “Gift.”

 

And gift was given.

 

Nor did you and I have anything to do

with the givings and takings of gods,

with barters or oaths,

sins or merits.

 

Gift was the cry of finding, the cry of forsaking,

the same cry,

from your upward broken lips

and the sleep that doused you like June storm

so your thought could scamper in drifted buildings.

 

The hot small flower

you drew along my cheek

was the smash of our strange armadas,

our slaveries, our crawling vaults.

 

Oh, we were everything they killed us for:

I carry that like a tomb

in my open fists.

 

We landed on the world like a hawk

with a voice all hunger and harm.

 

Hunger and harm

were the flags of our plazas

the tribute of our tax

the bread we threw in the wine.

 

I will say you were innocent

with all this murder in your hair to the roots

because this is how you were born,

a tongue of rich pallor

dressed in thieves’ grabbings.

 

And I will say I’m condemned

though I was born how you were,

one of the hawk’s dead fingers,

because it wasn’t work, pleasure,

or any wakeful thing took me

to the harbor this morning,

just dim desire

to look on the lying sea,

and when the crap of our victories

the drench of our sciences

the cripples of our hopes

began to flog the ground to bits in gnashes of smoke

and heavenly vine of flame and spattered lace of screams

I made no attempt

to run between the nodding walls

and under the gods’ own clouds

and up the hills to you.

 

I sat out from shore with a few dried men

shrunk too small for our clothes, our shoes,

and watched you taken under

all day long

while the mountains spilled like suns

and the gods’ sun lowered

into faceless red ocean

and the thing was complete

and a night blew up,

and a wind.

 

We turned ourselves and passed the Pillars.

 

I know you would have me

bring something rescued

to a land we may or may not reach,

and bring it bravely

but the bravery itself

is all I’ve rescued

and it does me as much good

as my love does now.

 

Behind my back

where the fear went down with the love

the world burns

not for a sign or teaching

and not to marry its black element

to a last or first light

but because world swallowed you and you world

and drowned or undrowned,

you burn.

 

For a while, my standard bio has included “writer, artist, Maude activist and novice game-maker” and omitted the rest of my potential laundry list of identity labels. The labels I have used are about what I do — what I do by choice, or at least without too much coercion by necessity or social pressure. Most are self-explanatory, while my “Harold and Maude” reference is perhaps a bit oblique. If you’ve read “A God’s Life,” you may have gotten the clue in “A test.” When Harold asks Maude if she’s done with revolts, she answers, in part, “Still fighting for the Big Issues, but now in my small, individual way.”

Not that I was ever an activist on the scale of Maude. Being always a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, I was a bureaucrat activist, booking the visits to legislators and paying the bills, talking as little as possible to either persons or crowds but doing it a great deal more than I wished, doing it because I had to, for the sake of the cause, the demands of the position, or because I was the only person-of-oppressed-class-X handy. That last was always my very favorite. (Need I employ the sarcasm tag?)

Several things I think of as important to who I am align with various identity-based movements, but I’ve tended to be uncomfortable with identity politics, though I’ve involved myself in them on and off, in the past to a very active degree. Coming to identity politics for refuge from the larger world of being-expected-to-be-what-I-am-not, instead of being thus freed, I found myself subject to all new unreasonable expectations as the price of admission to the community, often as rigidly enforced as the usual norms, or more so. Not all the groups I’ve been involved with have been dominated by identity boundary enforcers, but none have been devoid of them either. 

And yet there is a reason still to employ these labels at times, which I shall get to after that laundry list of identity labels you’ve so patiently awaited. I give it to you here with only a little more ado, or rather a part of it, the parts that seem most important at present:

  • aspie/autism spectrum/neuroatypical
  • nonbinary/genderqueer/transgender/transexual
  • queer/bisexual
  • atheist who used to be a Jew but doesn’t particularly think ze is anymore
  • mentally ill/crazy/disabled
  • possessor nevertheless of the privilege attached to being white and American

What makes most of these labels important is that they involve things people get denigrated for. Why should the fact that people’s genitals aren’t really a factor in my attractions be a matter of identity? Because I think knowing people who are X may do more than anything else to counter the idea that people who are X can also be presumed to be anything else not fundamental to the definition of X, or to being human. So I feel a duty to be “out” about such things.

Being a Maude activist, I try not to restrain any of my queernesses (though one is to be often so quiet very little of me is particularly perceptible much of the time).

These labels name things important to who I am, but they aren’t so important in determining whom I can relate to, or who’s likely to relate to me or my writing. Some of my closest friends are straight cisgender males! Though each part is important to me, none is me, as no part is the whole of anyone.

Being a Maude activist, I try to be my whole self at all times (though I often fail).

First, two friends met at long-gone Albuquerque readings.  Jim Stewart now lives in Brooklyn, but was one of the original participants in the EJ’s reading I’ve mentioned before on this blog—a sassy, acerbic but funny performance poet, he concentrates on prose these days.  I like this wholly atypical poem of his best:

Yale Park at Dusk in November

 

crows and I have this in common:

we like these times

when the frozen air carries their voices

like an empty concert hall

with a silence underneath

that dulls the traffic noise all down Central

 

this same brittle gray sky

that sends them into shrieking ecstasy

makes me not mind so much

that they paint the concrete white and green

so I can’t walk without a nervous glance up

 

because around this time

a crow over the dry elm branches

isn’t really a bird, but the absence of a bird

a cookie cutter hole in the sky

where a bird would fit

and wherever that hole goes to

the sound comes out of

and if I looked into it long enough

it would look into me

 

The second friend is Aaron Stump, who leads a double life as an engineer, but continues to write lean passionate poems steeped in American tradition.  He came to me at another great defunct reading, the Sunday open mic at Best Price Books & Coffee, hosted by Juliette Torrez and then Kenn Rodriguez.  This is one of my favorite poems of his so far:

Elemental Hands

 

The bleak earth

with hands made for you, you tilled the soil

till it came up—green beans better than roses

picked em one by one split between

myself and the bucket and

i ate them hot

with supper

and the Earth, then, was just the earth to me.

 

The riled swarm

with hands made for you, you robbed the hive

spinning those frames

cutting up the comb

with that hot knife

hot and sweet, in a hot, sweet and heavy summer

spitting wax like it was a big man’s chew

and the Day, then, was just a day to me.

 

The calm waters

with hands made for you, you cast the line

baiting my hooks

with fat worms and minding my casts

drinking water out of mason jars

our smiling catfish-strung Polaroid

yellowed into gold by sun and memory

and a fish, then, was just a fish to me.

 

The sharp day

when hands made for you came cold

shovels trembled

and the sun burned, that day, blackened

and the world, then, was so many days

I had known, and tasted, and breathed

the Earth took you and i could not speak

Death was a wailing machine—i could not understand

 

These days

these elements of your hands, in my hands

when each day is born

and still I learn, to do what i could not.

and the Days wash upon me as water.

and the Earth is put under my feet.

and in this element still, I mourn and wonder;

can I live, with hands made for me, so well?

 

Algernon Charles Swinburne.  God help me, one of my very favorite poets.  I was going to begin this by lamenting that I couldn’t put the whole of his long poem “Anactoria” here, but actually, why the hell not?  You don’t have to read it, though I hope you do.  It captures both the attractions and the vices of this gifted master of the Decadence.  You know and I know that Sappho was probably only mildly bisexual, not a “Lesbian” in other than the geographical sense, and Swinburne himself knew, I’m sure, that she wasn’t into sadomasochism and he was projecting some of his own proclivities onto the ancient writer, but this Sappho’s desperate but defiant love is not to be missed, nor her attack on the Christian God—a being who would’ve been simply inconceivable to a real ancient Greek.  You can also sample here Swinburne’s heady prosodic gifts:  even people who can’t stand him admit that he was an incomparable metrical genius.  If he slides over into pure meaningless sound at times, that only endears him to me more.  (You know that if you know my own poetry!)  The critic Arnold Bennett said of “Anactoria” that Swinburne played “a rare trick” on England “by enshrining in the topmost heights of its poetry a lovely poem that cannot be discussed.”

Before that, however, I want to introduce you to the first Swinburne poem I ever encountered, a chorus from his verse play Atalanta in Calydon which the Fugs put on their first album under the title “Swinburne Stomp.”  Read away—

Chorus from Atalanta in Calydon

 

Before the beginning of years

      There came to the making of man

Time, with a gift of tears;

      Grief, with a glass that ran;

Pleasure, with pain for leaven;

      Summer, with flowers that fell;

Remembrance fallen from heaven,

      And madness risen from hell;

Strength without hands to smite;

      Love that endures for a breath:

Night, the shadow of light,

      And life, the shadow of death.

And the high gods took in hand

      Fire, and the falling of tears,

And a measure of sliding sand

      From under the feet of the years;

And froth and drift of the sea;

      And dust of the laboring earth;

And bodies of things to be

      From the houses of death and of birth;

And wrought with weeping and laughter,

      And fashioned with loathing and love

With life before and after

      And death beneath and above,

For a day and a night and a morrow,

      That his strength might endure for a span

With travail and heavy sorrow,

      The holy spirit of man.

From the winds of the north and the south

      They gathered as unto strife;

They breathed upon his mouth,

      They filled his body with life;

Eyesight and speech they wrought

      For the veils of the soul therein,

A time for labor and thought,

      A time to serve and to sin;

They gave him light in his ways,

      And love, and a space for delight,

And beauty and length of days,

      And night, and sleep in the night.

His speech is a burning fire;

      With his lips he travaileth;

In his heart is a blind desire,

      In his eyes foreknowledge of death;

He weaves, and is clothed with derision;

      Sows, and he shall not reap;

His life is a watch or a vision

      Between a sleep and a sleep.

 

Anactoria

 

My life is bitter with thy love;  thine eyes

Blind me, thy tresses burn me, thy sharp sighs

Divide my flesh and spirit with soft sound,

And my blood strengthens, and my veins abound.

I pray thee sigh not, speak not, draw not breath;

Let life burn down, and dream it is not death.

I would the sea had hidden us, the fire

(Wilt thou fear that, and fear not my desire?)

Severed the bones that bleach, the flesh that cleaves,

And let our sifted ashes drop like leaves.

I feel thy blood against my blood:  my pain

Pains thee, and lips bruise lips, and vein stings vein.

Let fruit be crushed on fruit, let flower on flower,

Breast kindle breast, and either burn one hour.

Why wilt thou follow lesser loves? are thine

Too weak to bear these hands and lips of mine?

I charge thee for my life’s sake, O too sweet

To crush love with thy cruel faultless feet,

I charge thee keep thy lips from hers or his,

Sweetest, till theirs be sweeter than my kiss:

Lest I too lure, a swallow for a dove,

Erotion or Erinna to my love.

I would my love could kill thee;  I am satiated

With seeing thee live, and fain would have thee dead.

I would earth had thy body as fruit to eat,

And no mouth but some serpent’s found thee sweet.

I would find grievous ways to have thee slain,

Intense device, and superflux of pain;

Vex thee with amorous agonies, and shake

Life at thy lips, and leave it there to ache;

Strain out thy soul with pangs too soft to kill,

Intolerable interludes, and infinite ill;

Relapse and reluctation of the breath,

Dumb tunes and shuddering semitones of death.

I am weary of all thy words and soft strange ways,

Of all love’s fiery nights and all his days,

And all the broken kisses salt as brine

That shuddering lips make moist with waterish wine,

And eyes the bluer for all those hidden hours

That pleasure fills with tears and feeds from flowers,

Fierce at the heart with fire that half comes through,

But all the flowerlike white stained round with blue;

The fervent underlid, and that above

Lifted with laughter or abashed with love;

Thine amorous girdle, full of thee and fair,

And leavings of the lilies in thine hair.

Yea, all sweet words of thine and all thy ways,

And all the fruit of nights and flower of days,

And stinging lips wherein the hot sweet brine

That Love was born of burns and foams like wine,

And eyes insatiable of amorous hours,

Fervent as fire and delicate as flowers,

Coloured like night at heart, but cloven through

Like night with flame, dyed round like night with blue,

Clothed with deep eyelids under and above—

Yea, all thy beauty sickens me with love;

Thy girdle empty of thee and now not fair,

And ruinous lilies in thy languid hair.

Ah, take no thought for Love’s sake;  shall this be,

And she who loves thy lover not love thee?

Sweet soul, sweet mouth of all that laughs and lives,

Mine is she, very mine;  and she forgives.

For I beheld in sleep the light that is

In her high place in Paphos, heard the kiss

Of body and soul that mix with eager tears

And laughter stinging through the eyes and ears;

Saw Love, as burning flame from crown to feet,

Imperishable, upon her storied seat;

Clear eyelids lifted toward the north and south,

A mind of many colours, and a mouth

Of many tunes and kisses;  and she bowed,

With all her subtle face laughing aloud,

Bowed down upon me, saying, “Who doth thee wrong,

Sappho?” but thou—thy body is the song,

Thy mouth the music;  thou art more than I,

Though my voice die not till the whole world die;

Though men that hear it madden;  though love weep,

Though nature change, though shame be charmed to sleep.

Ah, wilt thou slay me lest I kiss thee dead?

Yet the queen laughed from her sweet heart and said:

“Even she that flies shall follow for thy sake,

And she shall give thee gifts that would not take,

Shall kiss that would not kiss thee” (yea, kiss me)

“When thou wouldst not”—when I would not kiss thee!

Ah, more to me than all men as thou art,

Shall not my songs assuage her at the heart?

Ah, sweet to me as life seems sweet to death,

Why should her wrath fill thee with fearful breath?

Nay, sweet, for is she God alone? hath she

Made earth and all the centuries of the sea,

Taught the sun ways to travel, woven most fine

The moonbeams, shed the starbeams forth as wine,

Bound with her myrtles, beaten with her rods,

The young men and the maidens and the gods?

Have we not lips to love with, eyes for tears,

And summer and flower of women and of years?

Stars for the foot of morning, and for noon

Sunlight, and exaltation of the moon;

Waters that answer waters, fields that wear

Lilies, and languor of the Lesbian air?

Beyond those flying feet of fluttered doves,

Are there not other gods for other loves?

Yea, though she scourge thee, sweetest, for my sake,

Blossom not thorns and flowers not blood should break.

Ah that my lips were tuneless lips, but pressed

To the bruised blossom of thy scourged white breast!

Ah that my mouth for Muses’ milk were fed

On the sweet blood thy sweet small wounds had bled!

That with my tongue I felt them, and could taste

The faint flakes from thy bosom to the waist!

That I could drink thy veins as wine, and eat

Thy breasts like honey! that from face to feet

Thy body were abolished and consumed,

And in my flesh thy very flesh entombed!

Ah, ah, thy beauty! like a beast it bites,

Stings like an adder, like an arrow smites.

Ah sweet, and sweet again, and seven times sweet,

The paces and the pauses of thy feet!

Ah sweeter than all sleep or summer air

The fallen fillets fragrant from thine hair!

Yea, though their alien kisses do me wrong,

Sweeter thy lips than mine with all their song;

Thy shoulders whiter than a fleece of white,

And flower-sweet fingers, good to bruise or bite

As honeycomb of the inmost honey-cells,

With almond-shaped and roseleaf-coloured shells

And blood like purple blossom at the tips

Quivering;  and pain made perfect in thy lips

For my sake when I hurt thee;  O that I

Durst crush thee out of life with love, and die,

Die of thy pain and my delight, and be

Mixed with thy blood and molten into thee!

Would I not plague thee dying overmuch?

Would I not hurt thee perfectly? not touch

Thy pores of sense with torture, and make bright

Thine eyes with bloodlike tears and grievous light?

Strike pang from pang as note is struck from note,

Catch the sob’s middle music in thy throat,

Take thy limbs living, and new-mould with these

A lyre of many faultless agonies?

Feed thee with fever and famine and fine drouth,

With perfect pangs convulse thy perfect mouth,

Make thy life shudder in thee and burn afresh,

And wring thy very spirit through the flesh?

Cruel? but love makes all that love him well

As wise as heaven and crueller than hell.

Me hath love made more bitter toward thee

Than death toward man;  but were I made as he

Who hath made all things to break them one by one,

If my feet trod upon the stars and sun

And souls of men as his have alway trod,

God knows I might be crueller than God.

For who shall change with prayers or thanksgivings

The mystery of the cruelty of things?

Or say what God above all gods and years

With offering and blood-sacrifice of tears,

With lamentation from strange lands, from graves

Where the snake pastures, from scarred mouths of slaves,

From prison, and from plunging prows of ships

Through flamelike foam of the sea’s closing lips—

With thwartings of strange signs, and wind-blown hair

Of comets, desolating the dim air,

When darkness is made fast with seals and bars,

And fierce reluctance of disastrous stars,

Eclipse, and sound of shaken hills, and wings

Darkening, and blind inexpiable things—

With sorrow of labouring moons, and altering light

And travail of the planets of the night,

And weeping of the weary Pleiads seven,

Feeds the mute melancholy lust of heaven?

Is not his incense bitterness, his meat

Murder? his hidden face and iron feet

Hath not man known, and felt them on their way

Threaten and trample all things and every day?

Hath he not sent us hunger? who hath cursed

Spirit and flesh with longing? filled with thirst

Their lips who cried unto him? who bade exceed

The fervid will, fall short the feeble deed,

Bade sink the spirit and the flesh aspire,

Pain animate the dust of dead desire,

And life yield up her flower to violent fate?

Him would I reach, him smite, him desecrate,

Pierce the cold lips of God with human breath,

And mix his immortality with death.

Why hath he made us? what had all we done

That we should live and loathe the sterile sun,

And with the moon wax paler as she wanes,

And pulse by pulse feel time grow through our veins?

Thee too the years shall cover;  thou shalt be

As the rose born of one same blood with thee,

As a song sung, as a word said, and fall

Flower-wise, and be not any more at all,

Nor any memory of thee anywhere;

For never Muse has bound above thine hair

The high Pierian flower whose graft outgrows

All summer kinship of the mortal rose

And colour of deciduous days, nor shed

Reflex and flush of heaven about thine head,

Nor reddened brows made pale by floral grief

With splendid shadow from that lordlier leaf.

Yea, thou shalt be forgotten like spilt wine,

Except these kisses of my lips on thine

Brand them with immortality;  but me—

Men shall not see bright fire nor hear the sea,

Nor mix their hearts with music, nor behold

Cast forth of heaven, with feet of awful gold

And plumeless wings that make the bright air blind,

Lightning, with thunder for a hound behind

Hunting through fields unfurrowed and unsown,

But in the light and laughter, in the moan

And music, and in grasp of lip and hand

And shudder of water that makes felt on land

The immeasurable tremor of all the sea,

Memories shall mix and metaphors of me.

Like me shall be the shuddering calm of night,

When all the winds of the world for pure delight

Close lips that quiver and fold up wings that ache;

When nightingales are louder for love’s sake,

And leaves tremble like lute-strings or like fire;

Like me the one star swooning with desire

Even at the cold lips of the sleepless moon,

As I at thine;  like me the waste white noon,

Burnt through with barren sunlight;  and like me

The land-stream and the tide-stream in the sea.

I am sick with time as these with ebb and flow,

And by the yearning in my veins I know

The yearning sound of waters;  and mine eyes

Burn as that beamless fire which fills the skies

With troubled stars and travailing things of flame;

And in my heart the grief consuming them

Labours, and in my veins the thirst of these,

And all the summer travail of the trees

And all the winter sickness;  and the earth,

Filled full with deadly works of death and birth,

Sore spent with hungry lusts of birth and death,

Has pain like mine in her divided breath;

Her spring of leaves is barren, and her fruit

Ashes;  her boughs are burdened, and her root

Fibrous and gnarled with poison;  underneath

Serpents have gnawn it through with tortuous teeth

Made sharp upon the bones of all the dead,

And wild birds rend her branches overhead.

These, woven as raiment for his word and thought,

These hath God made, and me as these, and wrought

Song, and hath lit it at my lips;  and me

Earth shall not gather though she feed on thee.

As a shed tear shalt thou be shed;  but I—

Lo, earth may labour, men live long and die,

Years change and stars, and the high God devise

New things, and old things wane before his eyes

Who wields and wrecks them, being more strong than they—

But, having made me, me he shall not slay.

Nor slay nor satiate, like those herds of his

Who laugh and live a little, and their kiss

Contents them, and their loves are swift and sweet,

And sure death grasps and gains them with slow feet,

Love they or hate they, strive or bow their knees—

And all these end;  he hath his will of these.

Yea, but albeit he slay me, hating me—

Albeit he hide me in the deep dear sea

And cover me with cool wan foam, and ease

This soul of mine as any soul of these,

And give me water and great sweet waves, and make

The very sea’s name lordlier for my sake,

The whole sea sweeter—albeit I die indeed

And hide myself and sleep and no man heed,

Of me the high God hath not all his will.

Blossom of branches, and on each high hill

Clear air and wind, and under in clamorous vales

Fierce noises of the fiery nightingales,

Buds burning in the sudden spring like fire,

The wan washed sand and the waves’ vain desire,

Sails seen like blown white flowers at sea, and words

That bring tears swiftest, and long notes of birds

Violently singing till the whole world sings—

I Sappho shall be one with all these things,

With all high things for ever;  and my face

Seen once, my songs once heard in a strange place,

Cleave to men’s lives, and waste the days thereof

With gladness and much sadness and long love.

Yea, they shall say, earth’s womb has borne in vain

New things, and never this best thing again;

Borne days and men, borne fruits and wars and wine,

Seasons and songs, but no song more like mine.

And they shall know me as ye who have known me here,

Last year when I loved Atthis, and this year

When I love thee;  and they shall praise me, and say

“She hath all time as all we have our day,

Shall she not live and have her will”—even I?

Yea, though thou diest, I say I shall not die.

For these shall give me of their souls, shall give

Life, and the days and loves wherewith I live,

Shall quicken me with loving, fill with breath,

Save me and serve me, strive for me with death.

Alas, that neither moon nor snow nor dew

Nor all cold things can purge me wholly through,

Assuage me nor allay me nor appease,

Till supreme sleep shall bring me bloodless ease;

Till time wax faint in all his periods;

Till fate undo the bondage of the gods,

And lay, to slake and satiate me all through,

Lotus and Lethe on my lips like dew,

And shed around and over and under me

Thick darkness and the insuperable sea.