The Cross, the Cross
Goes deeper in than we know,
Deeper into life;
Right into the marrow
And through the bone.
Along the back of the baby tortoise
The scales are locked in an arch like a bridge,
Scale-lapping, like a lobster's sections
Or a bee's.
Then crossways down his sides
Tiger-stripes and wasp-bands.
Five, and five again, and five again,
And round the edges twenty-five little ones,
The sections of the baby tortoise shell.
Four, and a keystone;
Four, and a keystone;
Four, and a keystone;
Then twenty-four, and a tiny little keystone.
It needed Pythagoras to see life playing with counters on the living back
Of the baby tortoise;
Life establishing the first eternal mathematical tablet,
Not in stone, like the Judean Lord, or bronze, but in life-clouded, life-rosy tortoise shell.
The first little mathematical gentleman
Stepping, wee mite, in his loose trousers
Under all the eternal dome of mathematical law.
Fives, and tens,
Threes and fours and twelves,
All the volte face of decimals,
The whirligig of dozens and the pinnacle of seven.
Turn him on his back,
The kicking little beetle,
And there again, on his shell-tender, earth-touching belly,
The long cleavage of division, upright of the eternal cross
And on either side count five,
On each side, two above, on each side, two below
The dark bar horizontal.
It goes right through him, the sprottling insect,
Through his cross-wise cloven psyche,
Through his five-fold complex-nature.
So turn him over on his toes again;
Four pin-point toes, and a problematical thumb-piece,
Four rowing limbs, and one wedge-balancing head,
Four and one makes five, which is the clue to all mathematics.
The Lord wrote it all down on the little slate
Of the baby tortoise.
Outward and visible indication of the plan within,
The complex, manifold involvedness of an individual creature
On this small bird, this rudiment,
This little dome, this pediment
Of all creation,
This slow one.
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamor
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past
Why does the thin grey strand
Floating up from the forgotten
Cigarette between my fingers,
Why does it trouble me?
Ah, you will understand;
When I carried my mother downstairs,
A few times only, at the beginning
Of her soft-foot malady,
I should find, for a reprimand
To my gaiety, a few long grey hairs
On the breast of my coat; and one by one
I let them float up the dark chimney.
When the bare feet of the baby beat across the grass
The little white feet nod like white flowers in the wind,
They poise and run like ripples lapping across the water;
And the sight of their white play among the grass
Is like a little robin’s song, winsome,
Or as two white butterflies settle in the cup of one flower
For a moment, then away with a flutter of wings.
I long for the baby to wander hither to me
Like a wind-shadow wandering over the water,
So that she can stand on my knee
With her little bare feet in my hands,
Cool like syringa buds,
Firm and silken like pink young peony flowers.
Somewhere beneath that piano's superb sleek black
Must hide my mother's piano, little and brown with the back
That stood close to the wall, and the front's faded silk, both torn
And the keys with little hollows, that my mother's fingers had worn.
Softly, in the shadows, a woman is singing to me
Quietly, through the years I have crept back to see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the shaking strings
Pressing the little poised feet of the mother who smiles as she sings
The full throated woman has chosen a winning, living song
And surely the heart that is in me must belong
To the old Sunday evenings, when darkness wandered outside
And hymns gleamed on our warm lips, as we watched mother's fingers glide
Or this is my sister at home in the old front room
Singing love's first surprised gladness, alone in the gloom.
She will start when she sees me, and blushing, spread out her hands
To cover my mouth's raillery, till I'm bound in her shame's heart-spun bands
A woman is singing me a wild Hungarian air
And her arms, and her bosom and the whole of her soul is bare
And the great black piano is clamouring as my mother's never could clamour
And the tunes of the past are devoured of this music's ravaging glamour.
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
What large, dark hands are those at the window
Lifted, grasping in the yellow light
Which makes its way through the curtain web
At my heart to-night?
Ah, only the leaves! So leave me at rest,
In the west I see a redness come
Over the evening's burning breast --
For now the pain is numb.
The woodbine creeps abroad
Calling low to her lover:
The sunlit flirt who all the day
Has poised above her lips in play
And stolen kisses, shallow and gay
Of dalliance, now has gone away
-- She woos the moth with her sweet, low word,
And when above her his broad wings hover
Then her bright breast she will uncover
And yeild her honey-drop to her lover.
Into the yellow, evening glow
Saunters a man from the farm below,
Leans, and looks in at the low-built shed
Where hangs the swallow's marriage bed.
The bird lies warm against the wall.
She glances quick her startled eyes
Towards him, then she turns away
Her small head, making warm display
Of red upon the throat. Her terrors sway
Her out of the nest's warm, busy ball,
Whose plaintive cries start up as she flies
In one blue stoop from out the sties
Into the evening's empty hall.
Oh, water-hen, beside the rushes
Hide your quaint, unfading blushes,
Still your quick tail, and lie as dead,
Till the distance covers his dangerous tread.
The rabbit presses back her ears,
Turns back her liquid, anguished eyes
And crouches low: then with wild spring
Spurts from the terror of the oncoming
To be choked back, the wire ring
Her frantic effort throttling:
Piteous brown ball of quivering fears!
Ah soon in his large, hard hands she dies,
And swings all loose to the swing of his walk.
Yet calm and kindly are his eyes
And ready to open in brown surprise
Should I not answer to his talk
Or should he my tears surmise.
I hear his hand on the latch, and rise from my chair
Watching the door open: he flashes bare
His strong teeth in a smile, and flashes his eyes
In a smile like triumph upon me; then careless-wise
He flihgs the rabbit soft on the table board
And comes towards me: ah, the uplifted sword
Of his hand against my bosom, and oh, the broad
Blade of his hand that raises my face to applaud
His coming: he raises up my face to him
And caresses my mouth with his fingers, smelling grim
Of the rabbit's fur! God, I am caught in a snare!
I know not what fine wire is round my throat,
I only know I let him finger there
My pulse of life, letting him nose like a stoat
Who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood:
And down his mouth comes to my mouth, and down
His dark bright eyes descend like a fiery hood
Upon my mind: his mouth meets mine, and a flood
Of sweet fire sweeps across me, so I drown
Within him, die, and find death good.
Close your eyes, my love, let me make you blind;
They have taught you to see
Only a mean arithmetic on the face of things,
A cunning algebra in the faces of men,
And God like geometry
Completing his circles, and working cleverly.
I'll kiss you over the eyes till I kiss you blind;
If I can—if any one could.
Then perhaps in the dark you'll have got what you want to find.
You've discovered so many bits, with your clever eyes,
And I'm a kaleidoscope
That you shake and shake, and yet it won't come to your mind.
Now stop carping at me.—But God, how I hate you!
Do you fear I shall swindle you?
Do you think if you take me as I am, that that will abate you
Somehow?—so sad, so intrinsic, so spiritual, yet so cautious, you
Must have me all in your will and your consciousness—
I hate you.
At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise ...
When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding ...
When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio
A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,
Against the current of obscure Arno ...
Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.
A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.
And you think:
"The swallows are flying so late!"
Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop ...
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.
The swallows are gone.
At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats
By the Ponte Vecchio ...
Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;
Wings like bits of umbrella.
Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.
Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.
Not for me!
The feelings I don't have I don't have.
The feeling I don't have, I won't say I have.
The feelings you say you have, you don't have.
The feelings you would like us both to have, we neither of us have.
The feelings people ought to have, they never have.
If people say they've got feelings, you may be pretty sure they haven't got them.
So if you want either of us to feel anything at all
You'd better abandon all ideas of feelings altogether.
If I could have put you in my heart,
If but I could have wrapped you in myself,
How glad I should have been!
And now the chart
Of memory unrolls again to me
The course of our journey here, before we had to part.
And oh, that you had never, never been
Some of your selves, my love, that some
Of your several faces I had never seen!
And still they come before me, and they go,
And I cry aloud in the moments that intervene.
And oh, my love, as I rock for you to-night,
And have not any longer any hope
To heal the suffering, or make requite
For all your life of asking and despair,
I own that some of me is dead to-night.
Now I am all
One bowl of kisses,
Such as the tall
Of Egypt filled
For a God's excesses.
I lift to you
My bowl of kisses,
And through the temple's
Cry out to you
In wild caresses.
And to my lips'
Bright crimson rim
The passion slips,
And down my slim
White body drips
The shining hymn.
And still before
The altar I
Exult the bowl
Brimful, and cry
To you to stoop
And drink, Most High.
Oh drink me up
That I may be
Within your cup
Like a Mystery,
Like wine that is still
Of you and me
In One fulfill,...
Too far away, oh love, I know,
To save me from this haunted road,
Whose lofty roses break and blow
On a night-sky bent with a load
Of lights: each solitary rose,
Each arc-lamp golden does expose
Ghost beyond ghost of a blossom, shows
Night blenched with a thousand snows.
Of hawthorn and of lilac trees,
White lilac; shows discoloured night
Dripping with all the golden lees
Laburnum gives back to light.
And shows the red of hawthorn set
On high to the purple heaven of night,
Like flags in blenched blood newly wet,
Blood shed in the noiseless fight.
Of life for love and love for life,
Of hunger for a little food,
Of kissing, lost for want of a wife
Long ago, long ago wooed.
. . . . . .
Too far away you are, my love,
To steady my brain in this phantom show
That passes the nightly road above
And returns again below.
The enormous cliff of horse-chestnut trees
Has poised on each of its ledges
An erect small girl looking down at me;
White-night-gowned little chits I see,
And they peep at me over the edges
Of the leaves as though they would leap, should I call
Them down to my arms;
"But, child, you're too small for me, too small
Your little charms."
White little sheaves of night-gowned maids,
Some other will thresh you out!
And I see leaning from the shades
A lilac like a lady there, who braids
Her white mantilla about
Her face, and forward leans to catch the sight
Of a man's face,
Gracefully sighing through the white
Flowery mantilla of lace.
And another lilac in purple veiled
Discreetly, all recklessly calls
In a low, shocking perfume, to know who has hailed
Her forth from the night: my strength has failed
In her voice, my weak heart falls:
Oh, and see the laburnum shimmering
Her draperies down,
As if she would slip the gold, and glimmering
White, stand naked of gown.
. . . . . .
The pageant of flowery trees above
The street pale-passionate goes,
And back again down the pavement, Love
In a lesser pageant flows.
Two and two are the folk that walk,
They pass in a half embrace
Of linked bodies, and they talk
With dark face leaning to face.
Come then, my love, come as you will
Along this haunted road,
Be whom you will, my darling, I shall
Keep with you the troth I trowed.
How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--
Presentable, eminently presentable--
shall I make you a present of him?
Isn't he handsome? Isn't he healthy? Isn't he a fine specimen?
Doesn't he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn't it God's own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn't you like to be like that, well off, and quite the
Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.
How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--
Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable--
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life
than his own.
And even so, he's stale, he's been there too long.
Touch him, and you'll find he's all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.
Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
How beastly the bourgeois is!
Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp
what a pity they can't all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.
Butterfly, the wind blows sea-ward,
strong beyond the garden-wall!
Butterfly, why do you settle on my
shoe, and sip the dirt on my shoe,
Lifting your veined wings, lifting them?
big white butterfly!
Already it is October, and the wind
blows strong to the sea
from the hills where snow must have
fallen, the wind is polished with
Here in the garden, with red
geraniums, it is warm, it is warm
but the wind blows strong to sea-ward,
white butterfly, content on my shoe!
Will you go, will you go from my warm
Will you climb on your big soft wings,
as up an invisible rainbow, an arch
till the wind slides you sheer from the
and in a strange level fluttering you go
out to sea-ward, white speck!
We are a liars, because
the truth of yesterday becomes a lie tomorrow,
whereas letters are fixed,
and we live by the letter of truth.
The love I feel for my friend, this year,
is different from the love I felt last year.
If it were not so, it would be a lie.
Yet we reiterate love! love! love!
as if it were a coin with a fixed value
instead of a flower that dies, and opens a different bud.
Reject me not if I should say to you
I do forget the sounding of your voice,
I do forget your eyes that searching through
The mists perceive our marriage, and rejoice.
Yet, when the apple-blossom opens wide
Under the pallid moonlight's fingering,
I see your blanched face at my breast, and hide
My eyes from diligent work, malingering.
Ah, then, upon my bedroom I do draw
The blind to hide the garden, where the moon
Enjoys the open blossoms as they straw
Their beauty for his taking, boon for boon.
And I do lift my aching arms to you,
And I do lift my anguished, avid breast,
And I do weep for very pain of you,
And fling myself at the doors of sleep, for rest.
And I do toss through the troubled night for you,
Dreaming your yielded mouth is given to mine,
Feeling your strong breast carry me on into
The peace where sleep is stronger even than wine.
They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.
The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of
And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and in the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.
Then the great bull lies up against his bride
in the blue deep bed of the sea,
as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:
and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood
the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and
comes to rest
in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale's
And over the bridge of the whale's strong phallus, linking the
wonder of whales
the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and
keep passing, archangels of bliss
from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim
that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the
great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.
And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-
and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of
the beginning and the end.
And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring
when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood
and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat
encircling their huddled monsters of love.
And all this happens in the sea, in the salt
where God is also love, but without words:
and Aphrodite is the wife of whales
most happy, happy she!
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males
and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.
Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one's own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.
Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can't you smell it?
And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
that blows upon it through the orifices.
And can a man his own quietus make
with a bare bodkin?
With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
a bruise or break of exit for his life;
but is that a quietus, O tell me, is it quietus?
Surely not so! for how could murder, even self-murder
ever a quietus make?
O let us talk of quiet that we know,
that we can know, the deep and lovely quiet
of a strong heart at peace!
How can we this, our own quietus, make?
Build then the ship of death, for you must take
the longest journey, to oblivion.
And die the death, the long and painful death
that lies between the old self and the new.
Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
already our souls are oozing through the exit
of the cruel bruise.
Already the dark and endless ocean of the end
is washing in through the breaches of our wounds,
Already the flood is upon us.
Oh build your ship of death, your little ark
and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine
for the dark flight down oblivion.
Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.
We are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying
and nothing will stay the death-flood rising within us
and soon it will rise on the world, on the outside world.
We are dying, we are dying, piecemeal our bodies are dying
and our strength leaves us,
and our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood,
cowering in the last branches of the tree of our life.
We are dying, we are dying, so all we can do
is now to be willing to die, and to build the ship
of death to carry the soul on the longest journey.
A little ship, with oars and food
and little dishes, and all accoutrements
fitting and ready for the departing soul.
Now launch the small ship, now as the body dies
and life departs, launch out, the fragile soul
in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith
with its store of food and little cooking pans
and change of clothes,
upon the flood's black waste
upon the waters of the end
upon the sea of death, where still we sail
darkly, for we cannot steer, and have no port.
There is no port, there is nowhere to go
only the deepening blackness darkening still
blacker upon the soundless, ungurgling flood
darkness at one with darkness, up and down
and sideways utterly dark, so there is no direction any more
and the little ship is there; yet she is gone.
She is not seen, for there is nothing to see her by.
She is gone! gone! and yet
somewhere she is there.
And everything is gone, the body is gone
completely under, gone, entirely gone.
The upper darkness is heavy as the lower,
between them the little ship
It is the end, it is oblivion.
And yet out of eternity a thread
separates itself on the blackness,
a horizontal thread
that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.
Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
A little higher?
Ah wait, wait, for there's the dawn
the cruel dawn of coming back to life
out of oblivion
Wait, wait, the little ship
drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
of a flood-dawn.
Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.
A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.
The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
emerges strange and lovely.
And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
on the pink flood,
and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
filling the heart with peace.
Swings the heart renewed with peace
even of oblivion.
Oh build your ship of death. Oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.
It ought to be lovely to be old
to be full of the peace that comes of experience
and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.
The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies
they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
in their old age.
Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
stillness and satisfaction of autumn.
And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! -
And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life!
Yesterday the fields were only grey with scattered snow,
And now the longest grass-leaves hardly emerge;
Yet her deep footsteps mark the snow, and go
On towards the pines at the hills' white verge.
I cannot see her, since the mist's white scarf
Obscures the dark wood and the dull orange sky;
But she's waiting, I know, impatient and cold, half
Sobs struggling into her frosty sigh.
Why does she come so promptly, when she must know
That she's only the nearer to the inevitable farewell;
The hill is steep, on the snow my steps are slow—
Why does she come, when she knows what I have to tell?