Classics  
Amy Lowell was born in 1874 at Sevenels, a ten-acre family estate in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her family was Episcopalian, of old New England stock, and at the top of Boston society. Lowell was the youngest of five children. Her elder brother Abbott Lawrence, a freshman at Harvard at the time ... Read more
Amy Lowell was born in 1874 at Sevenels, a ten-acre family estate in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her family was Episcopalian, of old New England stock, and at the top of Boston society. Lowell was the youngest of five children. Her elder brother Abbott Lawrence, a freshman at Harvard at the time ... Read more

They have watered the street,
It shines in the glare of lamps,
Cold, white lamps,
And lies
Like a slow-moving river,
Barred with silver and black.
Cabs go down it,
One,
And then another,
Between them I hear the shuffling of feet.
Tramps doze on the window-ledges,
Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks.
The city is squalid and sinister,
With the silver-barred street in the midst,
Slow-moving,
A river leading nowhere.

Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clear and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city:
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.

I stand in the window and watch the
moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city.

From out the dragging vastness of the sea,
Wave-fettered, bound in sinuous, seaweed strands,
He toils toward the rounding beach, and stands
One moment, white and dripping, silently,
Cut like a cameo in lazuli,
Then falls, betrayed by shifting shells, and lands
Prone in the jeering water, and his hands
Clutch for support where no support can be.
So up, and down, and forward, inch by inch,
He gains upon the shore, where poppies glow
And sandflies dance their little lives away.
The sucking waves retard, and tighter clinch
The weeds about him, but the land-winds blow,
And in the sky there blooms the sun of May.

But why did I kill him? Why? Why?
In the small, gilded room, near the stair?
My ears rack and throb with his cry,
And his eyes goggle under his hair,
As my fingers sink into the fair
White skin of his throat. It was I!

I killed him! My God! Don't you hear?
I shook him until his red tongue
Hung flapping out through the black, queer,
Swollen lines of his lips. And I clung
With my nails drawing blood, while I flung
The loose, heavy body in fear.

Fear lest he should still not be dead.
I was drunk with the lust of his life.
The blood-drops oozed slow from his head
And dabbled a chair. And our strife
Lasted one reeling second, his knife
Lay and winked in the lights overhead.

And the waltz from the ballroom I heard,
When I called him a low, sneaking cur.
And the wail of the violins stirred
My brute anger with visions of her.
As I throttled his windpipe, the purr
Of his breath with the waltz became blurred.

I have ridden ten miles through the dark,
With that music, an infernal din,
Pounding rhythmic inside me. Just Hark!
One! Two! Three! And my fingers sink in
To his flesh when the violins, thin
And straining with passion, grow stark.

One! Two! Three! Oh, the horror of sound!
While she danced I was crushing his throat.
He had tasted the joy of her, wound
Round her body, and I heard him gloat
On the favour. That instant I smote.
One! Two! Three! How the dancers swirl round!

He is here in the room, in my arm,
His limp body hangs on the spin
Of the waltz we are dancing, a swarm
Of blood-drops is hemming us in!
Round and round! One! Two! Three! And his sin
Is red like his tongue lolling warm.

One! Two! Three! And the drums are his knell.
He is heavy, his feet beat the floor
As I drag him about in the swell
Of the waltz. With a menacing roar,
The trumpets crash in through the door.
One! Two! Three! clangs his funeral bell.

One! Two! Three! In the chaos of space
Rolls the earth to the hideous glee
Of death! And so cramped is this place,
I stifle and pant. One! Two! Three!
Round and round! God! 'Tis he throttles me!
He has covered my mouth with his face!

And his blood has dripped into my heart!
And my heart beats and labours. One! Two!
Three! His dead limbs have coiled every part
Of my body in tentacles. Through
My ears the waltz jangles. Like glue
His dead body holds me athwart.

One! Two! Three! Give me air! Oh! My God!
One! Two! Three! I am drowning in slime!
One! Two! Three! And his corpse, like a clod,
Beats me into a jelly! The chime,
One! Two! Three! And his dead legs keep time.
Air! Give me air! Air! My God!

Guarded within the old red wall's embrace,
Marshalled like soldiers in gay company,
The tulips stand arrayed. Here infantry
Wheels out into the sunlight. What bold grace
Sets off their tunics, white with crimson lace!
Here are platoons of gold-frocked cavalry,
With scarlet sabres tossing in the eye
Of purple batteries, every gun in place.
Forward they come, with flaunting colours spread,
With torches burning, stepping out in time
To some quick, unheard march. Our ears are dead,
We cannot catch the tune. In pantomime
Parades that army. With our utmost powers
We hear the wind stream through a bed of flowers.

The chatter of little people
Breaks on my purpose
Like the water-drops which slowly wear the rocks to powder.
And while I laugh
My spirit crumbles at their teasing touch.

I

The Trumpet-Vine Arbour

The throats of the little red trumpet-flowers are wide open,
And the clangour of brass beats against the hot sunlight.
They bray and blare at the burning sky.
Red! Red! Coarse notes of red,
Trumpeted at the blue sky.
In long streaks of sound, molten metal,
The vine declares itself.
Clang! -- from its red and yellow trumpets.
Clang! -- from its long, nasal trumpets,
Splitting the sunlight into ribbons, tattered and shot with noise.

I sit in the cool arbour, in a green-and-gold twilight.
It is very still, for I cannot hear the trumpets,
I only know that they are red and open,
And that the sun above the arbour shakes with heat.
My quill is newly mended,
And makes fine-drawn lines with its point.
Down the long, white paper it makes little lines,
Just lines -- up -- down -- criss-cross.
My heart is strained out at the pin-point of my quill;
It is thin and writhing like the marks of the pen.
My hand marches to a squeaky tune,
It marches down the paper to a squealing of fifes.
My pen and the trumpet-flowers,
And Washington's armies away over the smoke-tree to the Southwest.
'Yankee Doodle,' my Darling! It is you against the British,
Marching in your ragged shoes to batter down King George.
What have you got in your hat? Not a feather, I wager.
Just a hay-straw, for it is the harvest you are fighting for.
Hay in your hat, and the whites of their eyes for a target!
Like Bunker Hill, two years ago, when I watched all day from the house-top
Through Father's spy-glass.
The red city, and the blue, bright water,
And puffs of smoke which you made.
Twenty miles away,
Round by Cambridge, or over the Neck,
But the smoke was white -- white!
To-day the trumpet-flowers are red -- red --
And I cannot see you fighting,
But old Mr. Dimond has fled to Canada,
And Myra sings 'Yankee Doodle' at her milking.
The red throats of the trumpets bray and clang in the sunshine,
And the smoke-tree puffs dun blossoms into the blue air.


II


The City of Falling Leaves

Leaves fall,
Brown leaves,
Yellow leaves streaked with brown.
They fall,
Flutter,
Fall again.
The brown leaves,
And the streaked yellow leaves,
Loosen on their branches
And drift slowly downwards.
One,
One, two, three,
One, two, five.
All Venice is a falling of Autumn leaves --
Brown,
And yellow streaked with brown.

'That sonnet, Abate,
Beautiful,
I am quite exhausted by it.
Your phrases turn about my heart
And stifle me to swooning.
Open the window, I beg.
Lord! What a strumming of fiddles and mandolins!
'Tis really a shame to stop indoors.
Call my maid, or I will make you lace me yourself.
Fie, how hot it is, not a breath of air!
See how straight the leaves are falling.
Marianna, I will have the yellow satin caught up with silver fringe,
It peeps out delightfully from under a mantle.
Am I well painted to-day, 'caro Abate mio'?
You will be proud of me at the 'Ridotto', hey?
Proud of being 'Cavalier Servente' to such a lady?'
'Can you doubt it, 'Bellissima Contessa'?
A pinch more rouge on the right cheek,
And Venus herself shines less . . .'
'You bore me, Abate,
I vow I must change you!
A letter, Achmet?
Run and look out of the window, Abate.
I will read my letter in peace.'
The little black slave with the yellow satin turban
Gazes at his mistress with strained eyes.
His yellow turban and black skin
Are gorgeous -- barbaric.
The yellow satin dress with its silver flashings
Lies on a chair
Beside a black mantle and a black mask.
Yellow and black,
Gorgeous -- barbaric.
The lady reads her letter,
And the leaves drift slowly
Past the long windows.
'How silly you look, my dear Abate,
With that great brown leaf in your wig.
Pluck it off, I beg you,
Or I shall die of laughing.'

A yellow wall
Aflare in the sunlight,
Chequered with shadows,
Shadows of vine leaves,
Shadows of masks.
Masks coming, printing themselves for an instant,
Then passing on,
More masks always replacing them.
Masks with tricorns and rapiers sticking out behind
Pursuing masks with plumes and high heels,
The sunlight shining under their insteps.
One,
One, two,
One, two, three,
There is a thronging of shadows on the hot wall,
Filigreed at the top with moving leaves.
Yellow sunlight and black shadows,
Yellow and black,
Gorgeous -- barbaric.
Two masks stand together,
And the shadow of a leaf falls through them,
Marking the wall where they are not.
From hat-tip to shoulder-tip,
From elbow to sword-hilt,
The leaf falls.
The shadows mingle,
Blur together,
Slide along the wall and disappear.
Gold of mosaics and candles,
And night blackness lurking in the ceiling beams.
Saint Mark's glitters with flames and reflections.
A cloak brushes aside,
And the yellow of satin
Licks out over the coloured inlays of the pavement.
Under the gold crucifixes
There is a meeting of hands
Reaching from black mantles.
Sighing embraces, bold investigations,
Hide in confessionals,
Sheltered by the shuffling of feet.
Gorgeous -- barbaric
In its mail of jewels and gold,
Saint Mark's looks down at the swarm of black masks;
And outside in the palace gardens brown leaves fall,
Flutter,
Fall.
Brown,
And yellow streaked with brown.

Blue-black, the sky over Venice,
With a pricking of yellow stars.
There is no moon,
And the waves push darkly against the prow
Of the gondola,
Coming from Malamocco
And streaming toward Venice.
It is black under the gondola hood,
But the yellow of a satin dress
Glares out like the eye of a watching tiger.
Yellow compassed about with darkness,
Yellow and black,
Gorgeous -- barbaric.
The boatman sings,
It is Tasso that he sings;
The lovers seek each other beneath their mantles,
And the gondola drifts over the lagoon, aslant to the coming dawn.
But at Malamocco in front,
In Venice behind,
Fall the leaves,
Brown,
And yellow streaked with brown.
They fall,
Flutter,
Fall.

You are beautiful and faded
Like an old opera tune
Played upon a harpsichord;
Or like the sun-flooded silks
Of an eighteenth-century boudoir.
In your eyes
Smoulder the fallen roses of out-lived minutes,
And the perfume of your soul
Is vague and suffusing,
With the pungence of sealed spice-jars.
Your half-tones delight me,
And I grow mad with gazing
At your blent colours.

My vigour is a new-minted penny,
Which I cast at your feet.
Gather it up from the dust,
That its sparkle may amuse you.

High up above the open, welcoming door
It hangs, a piece of wood with colours dim.
Once, long ago, it was a waving tree
And knew the sun and shadow through the leaves
Of forest trees, in a thick eastern wood.
The winter snows had bent its branches down,
The spring had swelled its buds with coming flowers,
Summer had run like fire through its veins,
While autumn pelted it with chestnut burrs,
And strewed the leafy ground with acorn cups.
Dark midnight storms had roared and crashed among
Its branches, breaking here and there a limb;
But every now and then broad sunlit days
Lovingly lingered, caught among the leaves.
Yes, it had known all this, and yet to us
It does not speak of mossy forest ways,
Of whispering pine trees or the shimmering birch;
But of quick winds, and the salt, stinging sea!
An artist once, with patient, careful knife,
Had fashioned it like to the untamed sea.
Here waves uprear themselves, their tops blown back
By the gay, sunny wind, which whips the blue
And breaks it into gleams and sparks of light.
Among the flashing waves are two white birds
Which swoop, and soar, and scream for very joy
At the wild sport. Now diving quickly in,
Questing some glistening fish. Now flying up,
Their dripping feathers shining in the sun,
While the wet drops like little glints of light,
Fall pattering backward to the parent sea.
Gliding along the green and foam-flecked hollows,
Or skimming some white crest about to break,
The spirits of the sky deigning to stoop
And play with ocean in a summer mood.
Hanging above the high, wide open door,
It brings to us in quiet, firelit room,
The freedom of the earth's vast solitudes,
Where heaping, sunny waves tumble and roll,
And seabirds scream in wanton happiness.

On winter nights beside the nursery fire
We read the fairy tale, while glowing coals
Builded its pictures. There before our eyes
We saw the vaulted hall of traceried stone
Uprear itself, the distant ceiling hung
With pendent stalactites like frozen vines;
And all along the walls at intervals,
Curled upwards into pillars, roses climbed,
And ramped and were confined, and clustered leaves
Divided where there peered a laughing face.
The foliage seemed to rustle in the wind,
A silent murmur, carved in still, gray stone.
High pointed windows pierced the southern wall
Whence proud escutcheons flung prismatic fires
To stain the tessellated marble floor
With pools of red, and quivering green, and blue;
And in the shade beyond the further door,
Its sober squares of black and white were hid
Beneath a restless, shuffling, wide-eyed mob
Of lackeys and retainers come to view
The Christening.
A sudden blare of trumpets, and the throng
About the entrance parted as the guests
Filed singly in with rare and precious gifts.
Our eager fancies noted all they brought,
The glorious, unattainable delights!
But always there was one unbidden guest
Who cursed the child and left it bitterness.


The fire falls asunder, all is changed,
I am no more a child, and what I see
Is not a fairy tale, but life, my life.
The gifts are there, the many pleasant things:
Health, wealth, long-settled friendships, with a name
Which honors all who bear it, and the power
Of making words obedient. This is much;
But overshadowing all is still the curse,
That never shall I be fulfilled by love!
Along the parching highroad of the world
No other soul shall bear mine company.
Always shall I be teased with semblances,
With cruel impostures, which I trust awhile
Then dash to pieces, as a careless boy
Flings a kaleidoscope, which shattering
Strews all the ground about with coloured shards.
So I behold my visions on the ground
No longer radiant, an ignoble heap
Of broken, dusty glass. And so, unlit,
Even by hope or faith, my dragging steps
Force me forever through the passing days.

Before me lies a mass of shapeless days,
Unseparated atoms, and I must
Sort them apart and live them. Sifted dust
Covers the formless heap. Reprieves, delays,
There are none, ever. As a monk who prays
The sliding beads asunder, so I thrust
Each tasteless particle aside, and just
Begin again the task which never stays.
And I have known a glory of great suns,
When days flashed by, pulsing with joy and fire!
Drunk bubbled wine in goblets of desire,
And felt the whipped blood laughing as it runs!
Spilt is that liquor, my too hasty hand
Threw down the cup, and did not understand.

They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia,
Opulent, flaunting.
Round gold
Flung out of a pale green stalk.
Round, ripe gold
Of maturity,
Meticulously frilled and flaming,
A fire-ball of proclamation:
Fecundity decked in staring yellow
For all the world to see.
They brought a quilled, yellow dahlia,
To me who am barren
Shall I send it to you,
You who have taken with you
All I once possessed?

Who shall declare the joy of the running!
Who shall tell of the pleasures of flight!
Springing and spurning the tufts of wild heather,
Sweeping, wide-winged, through the blue dome of light.
Everything mortal has moments immortal,
Swift and God-gifted, immeasurably bright.

So with the stretch of the white road before me,
Shining snowcrystals rainbowed by the sun,
Fields that are white, stained with long, cool, blue shadows,
Strong with the strength of my horse as we run.
Joy in the touch of the wind and the sunlight!
Joy! With the vigorous earth I am one.

See! I give myself to you, Beloved!
My words are little jars
For you to take and put upon a shelf.
Their shapes are quaint and beautiful,
And they have many pleasant colours and lustres
To recommend them.
Also the scent from them fills the room
With sweetness of flowers and crushed grasses.

When I shall have given you the last one,
You will have the whole of me,
But I shall be dead

There once was a man whom the gods didn't love,
And a disagreeable man was he.
He loathed his neighbours, and his neighbours hated him,
And he cursed eternally.

He damned the sun, and he damned the stars,
And he blasted the winds in the sky.
He sent to Hell every green, growing thing,
And he raved at the birds as they fly.

His oaths were many, and his range was wide,
He swore in fancy ways;
But his meaning was plain: that no created thing
Was other than a hurt to his gaze.

He dwelt all alone, underneath a leaning hill,
And windows toward the hill there were none,
And on the other side they were white-washed thick,
To keep out every spark of the sun.

When he went to market he walked all the way
Blaspheming at the path he trod.
He cursed at those he bought of, and swore at those he sold to,
By all the names he knew of God.

For his heart was soured in his weary old hide,
And his hopes had curdled in his breast.
His friend had been untrue, and his love had thrown him over
For the chinking money-bags she liked best.

The rats had devoured the contents of his grain-bin,
The deer had trampled on his corn,
His brook had shrivelled in a summer drought,
And his sheep had died unshorn.

His hens wouldn't lay, and his cow broke loose,
And his old horse perished of a colic.
In the loft his wheat-bags were nibbled into holes
By little, glutton mice on a frolic.

So he slowly lost all he ever had,
And the blood in his body dried.
Shrunken and mean he still lived on,
And cursed that future which had lied.

One day he was digging, a spade or two,
As his aching back could lift,
When he saw something glisten at the bottom of the trench,
And to get it out he made great shift.

So he dug, and he delved, with care and pain,
And the veins in his forehead stood taut.
At the end of an hour, when every bone cracked,
He gathered up what he had sought.

A dim old vase of crusted glass,
Prismed while it lay buried deep.
Shifting reds and greens, like a pigeon's neck,
At the touch of the sun began to leap.

It was dull in the tree-shade, but glowing in the light;
Flashing like an opal-stone,
Carved into a flagon; and the colours glanced and ran,
Where at first there had seemed to be none.

It had handles on each side to bear it up,
And a belly for the gurgling wine.
Its neck was slender, and its mouth was wide,
And its lip was curled and fine.

The old man saw it in the sun's bright stare
And the colours started up through the crust,
And he who had cursed at the yellow sun
Held the flask to it and wiped away the dust.

And he bore the flask to the brightest spot,
Where the shadow of the hill fell clear;
And he turned the flask, and he looked at the flask,
And the sun shone without his sneer.

Then he carried it home, and put it on a shelf,
But it was only grey in the gloom.
So he fetched a pail, and a bit of cloth,
And he went outside with a broom.

And he washed his windows just to let the sun
Lie upon his new-found vase;
And when evening came, he moved it down
And put it on a table near the place

Where a candle fluttered in a draught from the door.
The old man forgot to swear,
Watching its shadow grown a mammoth size,
Dancing in the kitchen there.

He forgot to revile the sun next morning
When he found his vase afire in its light.
And he carried it out of the house that day,
And kept it close beside him until night.

And so it happened from day to day.
The old man fed his life
On the beauty of his vase, on its perfect shape.
And his soul forgot its former strife.

And the village-folk came and begged to see
The flagon which was dug from the ground.
And the old man never thought of an oath, in his joy
At showing what he had found.

One day the master of the village school
Passed him as he stooped at toil,
Hoeing for a bean-row, and at his side
Was the vase, on the turned-up soil.

'My friend,' said the schoolmaster, pompous and kind,
'That's a valuable thing you have there,
But it might get broken out of doors,
It should meet with the utmost care.

What are you doing with it out here?'
'Why, Sir,' said the poor old man,
'I like to have it about, do you see?
To be with it all I can.'

'You will smash it,' said the schoolmaster, sternly right,
'Mark my words and see!'
And he walked away, while the old man looked
At his treasure despondingly.

Then he smiled to himself, for it was his!
He had toiled for it, and now he cared.
Yes! loved its shape, and its subtle, swift hues,
Which his own hard work had bared.

He would carry it round with him everywhere,
As it gave him joy to do.
A fragile vase should not stand in a bean-row!
Who would dare to say so? Who?

Then his heart was rested, and his fears gave way,
And he bent to his hoe again. . . .
A clod rolled down, and his foot slipped back,
And he lurched with a cry of pain.

For the blade of the hoe crashed into glass,
And the vase fell to iridescent sherds.
The old man's body heaved with slow, dry sobs.
He did not curse, he had no words.

He gathered the fragments, one by one,
And his fingers were cut and torn.
Then he made a hole in the very place
Whence the beautiful vase had been borne.

He covered the hole, and he patted it down,
Then he hobbled to his house and shut the door.
He tore up his coat and nailed it at the windows
That no beam of light should cross the floor.

He sat down in front of the empty hearth,
And he neither ate nor drank.
In three days they found him, dead and cold,
And they said: 'What a queer old crank!'

 
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