One long poem tonight from Conrad Aiken, written circa 1917-1918.
There are so many reasons I love Aiken’s poetry. His images, the unexpected turn of phrase–but most of all for the emotion.
When I read his poetry, I feel that I’m seeing what he saw, felt what he felt. Aiken was an observer of the world around him, recording his observations of both the internal and external landscape.
As far as I can tell from this far removed time, he never flinched.
NOCTURNE IN A MINOR KEY, by CONRAD AIKEN
I will say: I walked alone in whistling darkness.
Or heard a rush of rain through windless air.
Or stood in dust with yellow leaves around me.
But why recite these things? You will not hear me;
Or if you heard me, would not care.
I will say: I saw a sea-gull crossing water,
Or suddenly in the midnight heard a cry.
Or woke from sleep to hear the green leaves rustle.
I will say, I walked alone, and heard none call me;
You will not care, nor ask me why.
These are the notes whereof my life makes logic.
These are the hurrying notes of pain
That whirl like papers under street-lamps,
Blown through the darkness of my brain.
I will say: these things are trifles, yet they kill me.
Be patient, press your palm against my heartbeats,
Reverse my heart like an hour-glass,
And watch the downward sifting of my minutes
Until the time when I must pass.
You will have heard, at least, a poignant music
And seen futility;
You will know better than to weep for me.
I am the one
Who came too late, and found all windows dark.
I am the one
Who watched the fountain in the deserted park.
I saw the darkness rising like a wall.
I turned to the east and saw it red and grey,
Saw lovely faces blown like leaves away.
I heard slow waves of music lapse to silence,
And wished to speak, yet had no word to say.
I am the one whom ancient spring returning
With sound of leaves could not assuage.
I am the one who found your pity heartless,
Yet could not rail at you, nor rage.
You loved me once, you love me now no longer.
Must I take kindness for my daily wage?
I will say: I walk involved in webs of darkness,
Across my face feel filaments of shadows,
Yet hear you laugh, and seek for you.
Shall I not somewhere find the love I knew?
I will say: I walk at night in crowded places
And search for a perfumed secret in white faces,
And dream by night of faces seen by day.
Or climb dark stairs and in a dark room’s fragrance
Play such a music as pleas of rain might play.
The silver talons tear my heart,
The silver talons flash and tear.
Petals fall to the grass, and in that darkness
I see you passing there,
Smiling at me as if for one behind me,
Smiling at death, perhaps, who waits behind me.
The green-leaved bough leans down above my head;
The pale green leaves, with the lamplight on them shed,
Twinkle on delicate stems, whisper a little,
Tremble on breathless air.
The green-leaved bough leans down towards its image
Of twinkling leaves in the water there.
And I am a prey to trifles of no moment,
Caught in a snare of circumstance,
I laugh for a foolish laughter, weep for sorrow,
For every whim of the music bow and dance:
Twinkle with leaves, and flow and fall with water,
Lean with the leaning bough in arrested pain;
Die and am born again.
These are the thousand things by which I seek you,
The atoms of dust that fall and break my brain.
Say then: I see too much, and you too little.
You lean and laugh above the applauding music,
While I, apart, hear silence between the tones.
For you, there is no falling, save of petals;
For me, apart, the silences fall like stones.
How could we dance, then, to the self-same music,
Who see so much so little? I do you wrong
If I reproach you, call you too contented,
Too quick to thrill to a sentimental song.
Walk, then, among your tulips, turn your eyes,
Caress with a careful hand your jewelled hair,
Discern the flashing of wings in empty skies,
Pause for effect upon your marble stair.
And I will not reproach you, blaming only
The sinister glittering chaos of our time,
Through which, forever, lonely walks with lonely,—
The lover, ridiculous; the loved, sublime.