Colors of Life: Poems and Songs and Sonnets by Max Eastman
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Sometimes

SOMETIMES a child's voice crying on the street
Comes winging like an arrow through the wind
To pierce my breast with you, my baby, and
My pen is weak, and all my thinking dreams
Are mist of yearning for the touch of you.

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Car-Window

A LIGHT is laughing thro' the scattered rain,
A color quickens in the meadow;
Drops are still, upon the window-pane--
They cast a silver shadow.

TODAY I saw a face--it was a beak,
That peered, with pale round yellow vapid eyes,
Above the bloody muck that had been lips
And teeth and chin. A plodding doctor poured
Some water through a rubber down a hole
He made in that black bag of horny blood.
The beak revived, it smiled--as chickens smile.
The doctor hopes he'll find the man a tongue
To tell with, what he used to be.

A MYRIAD curious fishes,
Tiny and pink and pale,
All swimming north together
With rhythmical fin and tail--

A mountain surges among them,
They dart and startle and float,
Mere wiggling minutes of terror,
Into that mountain's throat.

THE flowers we planted in the tender spring,
And through the summer watched their blossoming,
Died with our love in autumn's thoughtful weather,
Died and dropped downward altogether.

Today in April in the vivid grass
They flash again their laughter, pink and yellow,
They wake before the frosty sunbeams pass,
Gay bold to leave their chilly pillow.

But love sleeps longer in his wintry bed,
He sleeps as though the lifting light were dead,
And spring poured not her colors on the meadow,
He sleeps in his cold sober shadow.

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In My Room

    [Wang Wei was a great Chinese painter and poet, of the 8th century --Max Eastman]

IN THIS high room, my room of quiet space,
Sun-yellow softened for my happiness,
I learn of you, Wang Wei, and of your loves;
Your rhythmic fisher sweet with solitude
Beneath a willow by the river stream;
Your aged plum tree bearing lonely bloom
Beside the torrent's thunder; misty buds
Among your saplings; delicate-leaved bamboo.
My room is sweet because of you, Wang Wei,
Your tranquil and creative-fingered love
So many mounds of mournful years ago
In that cool valley where the colors lived.
My ceiling slopes a little like far mountains.
Your delicate-leaved bamboo can flourish here.

IN YOUR lips moving fervently,
   Your eyes hot with fire,
Life seems immortally young with desire,
   Life seems impetuous,
   Hungrily free,
Having no faith but its burning to be.

   You could dance laughingly,
   Draw where you move,
Hearts, hands and voices pouring you love.
   Youth be a carnival,
   Life be the queen,
You could go dancing and singing and seen!

   Whence came that tenderness
   Cruel and wild,
Arming with murder the hand of a child?
   Whence came that breaking fire,
   Nursed and caressed
With passion's white fingers for tyranny's breast?

   In your soul sacredly,
   Deeper than fear,
Burns there a miracle dreadful to hear?
   Virgin of murder,
   Was it God's breath,
Begetting a savior, that filled you with Death?

LOOSE-VEINED and languid as the yellow mist
That swoons along the river in the sun,
Your flesh of passion pale and amber-kissed
With years of heat that through your veins have run,

You lie with aching memories of love
Alone and naked by the weeping tree,
And indolent with inward longing move
Your slim and sallow limbs despondently.

If love came warm and burning to your dream,
And filled you all your avid veins require,
You would lie sadly still beside the stream,
Sobbing in torture of that vivid fire;

The same low sky would weave its fading blue,
The river still exhale its misty rain,
The willow trail its waving over you,
Your longing only quickened into pain.

Bed your desire among the pressing grasses;
Lonely lie, and let your thirsting breasts
Lie on you, lonely, till the fever passes,
Till the undulation of your longing rests.

YOU walk as vivid as a sunny storm
Across the drinking meadows, through the eyes
Of stricken men, with light and fury mingled,
Making passionate and making young.
You drive the mists, and lift the drooping heads,
And in the sultry place of custom raise
The naked colors of abounding life,
And sound the crimson windy call of liberty.

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To Love

LOVE, often your delicate fingers beckon,
And always I follow.

Oh, if I could stay, and possess your beauty
Beckoning always!

SCARRED with sensuality and pain
And weary labor in a mind not hard
Enough to think, a heart too always tender,
Sits the Christ of failure with his lovers.
They are wiser than his parables,
But he more potent, for he has the gift
Of hopelessness, and want of faith, and love.

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Hours

HOURS when I love you, are like tranquil pools,
The liquid jewels of the forest, where
The hunted runner dips his hand, and cools
His fevered ankles, and the ferny air
Comes blowing softly on his heaving breast,
Hinting the sacred mystery of rest.

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A Morning

AGAIN this morning the bold autumn,
Spreading through the woods her sacred fire,
Brings the rich color of your presence
Warmly luminous to my desire--

Brings to my heart the dear wild worship,
High and wayward as the windy air,
And to my pulse the hot sweet passion
Burning crimson like a poison there.

YOU make no answer. You have stolen away
Deliberately in that twilight sorrow
Where the dark flame that is your being shines
So well. Mysterious and deeply tender
In your motion you have softly left me,
And the little path along the house is still.
And I, a child forsaken of its mother,
I, a pilgrim leaning for a friend,
Grow faint, and tell myself in terror that
My love reborn and burning shall yet bring you--
More than friend and slender-bodied mother--
sweet-passioned spirit, shining home!

BORNE on the low lake wind there floats to me,
Out of the distant hill, a sigh of bells,
Mystic, worshipful, almost unheard,
As though the past should answer me, and I
In pagan solitude bow down my head.

OUR motion on the soft still misty river
Is like rest; and like the hours of doom
That rise and follow one another ever,
Ghosts of sleeping battle-cruisers loom
And languish quickly in the liquid gloom.

From watching them your eyes in tears are gleaming,
And your heart is still; and like a sound
In silence is your stillness in the streaming
Of light-whispered laughter all around,
Where happy passengers are homeward bound.

Their sunny journey is in safety ending,
But for you no journey has an end.
The tears that to your eyes their light are lending
Shine in softness to no waiting friend;
Beyond the search of any eye they tend.

There is no nest for the unresting fever
Of your passion, yearning, hungry-veined;
There is no rest nor blessedness forever
That can clasp you, quivering and pained,
Whose eyes burn ever to the Unattained.

Like time, and like the river's fateful flowing,
Flowing though the ship has come to rest,
Your love is passing through the mist and going,
Going infinitely from your breast,
Surpassing time on its immortal quest.

The ship draws softly to the place of waiting,
All flush forward with a joyful aim,
And while their hands with happy hands are mating,
Lips are laughing out a happy name--
You pause, and pass among them like a flame.

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Eyes

MY HEART is sick because of all the eyes
That look upon you drinkingly.
They almost touch you with their fever look!
keep your beauty like a mystic gem,
Clear-surfaced--give no fibre grain of hold
To those prehensile amorous bold eyes!
My heart is sick!
                           O love, let not my heart
Corrupt the flower of your liberty--
Go spend your beauty like the summer sky
That makes a radius of every glance,
And with your morning color light them all!

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X-Rays

YOUR eyes were gem-like in that dim deep chamber
Hushed and sombre with imprisoned fire,
With yellow ghostly globes of intense aether
Potent as the rays of pure desire.

Your voice was startled into vivid wonder,
When the winged wild whining mystic wheel
Took flight and shot the dark with frosty crashings
Like an ice-berg splitting to the keel.

Your flesh was never warmer to my passion
Than when, moving in that lumor green,
We saw with eyes our fragile bones enamoured
Clasping sadly on the pallid screen.

You seemed so virginal and so undreaming
Of the burning hunger in my eyes,
To peer more fever-deeply in your being
Than the very death of passion lies.

The subtle-tuned shy motions of your spirit,
Fashioned through the ages for the sun,
Were dumb in that green lustre-haunted cavern
Where you walked a naked skeleton;

Slim-hipped and fluent and of lovely motion,
Living to the tip of every bone,
And ah, too exquisitely vivid-moving
Ever to lie wanly down alone--

To lie forever down so still and slender,
Tracing on the ancient screen of night
That naked and pale writing of the wonder
Of your beauty breathing in the light.

DEATH is more tranquil than the life of love,
More calm, more sure, and more unanguished.
the path among the trees is far more tranquil to the dead
Than to these anxious hearts, uptroubled from their beds,
Who pace in pallid darkness on the leaves,
For no good reason--for no reason
But because their limbs will not lie still upon the sheet.
Their limbs will not lie still. how I pity them.
Sad hearts--their marrow is a-quiver,
And they can not lie them down in tranquil sadness like the dead.

   [These statues were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum after the sculptor's death. The figures alluded to are the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln, and the monument in memory of Mrs. Henry Adams, the original of which is in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington. --Max Eastman]

POET, thy dreams are grateful to the air
And the light loves them. Tho' they murmur not,
Their carven stillness is a music rare,
And like the song of one whose tongue hath caught
The clear ethereal essence of his thought.

I hear the talkers come, the changing throngs
That with the fashions of a day surround
Thy visions, and I hear them quell their tongues,
And hush their querulous shoes upon the ground;
Thy dreams are with the crown of silence crowned--

Though they feel not the glowing diadem,
Who sleep for aye in their cool shapes of stone.
Nor ever will the sunlight waken them,
Nor ever will they turn their eyes and moan,
To think that their brief Poet's life is gone.

The tender and the lofty soul is gone,
Who eyed them forth from darkness, and confessed
His spirit's motion in unmoving stone.
His praise upon no mortal tongue doth rest;
By these unwhispering lips it is expressed.

Soon will the ample arms of night withdraw
Her shuffling children from the twilit hall--
From that heroic presence, in dim awe
Of whom the dark withholds a while her pall,
And leaves him luminous above them all.

Then are ye lost in darkness and alone,
Ye ghostly spirits! And the moment rare
Doth quicken that too sad and nameless stone,
To move her robe, and spill her sable hair,
And be in silence mingled with the air;

For she is one with the dim glimmering hour,
And the white spirits beautiful and still,
And the veiled memory of the vanished power
That moulded them, the high and infinite will
That earth begets and earth does not fulfil.

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A Visit

YOU came with your small tapering flame of passion
Thinly burning like a nun's desire,
Your eyes in slim and half-expectant fashion
Faintly painting what your veins require
With little pallid pyramids of fire.

So very small and unfulfilled you sat,
Building a little talk to keep you there,
Your face and body pointed like a cat,
Your legs not reaching down from any chair,
Your thoughts not really reaching anywhere;

So dumb and tiny--yet Love guessed your mood,
And pressed his phial in its fervent bed,
And poured his thrilling philtre in my blood,
And all his lustre on your body shed,
And hot enamel on the words you said;

Your littleness became a monstrous thing,
A rank retort, a hot and waiting vat,
Your eyes green-copper like a snake in spring,
And lusty-bold your laying off your hat,
And fell your purpose like a hungry cat;

The dark fell on us through our narrowed eyes,
The heat lashed up around us from the floor,
Encrimsoning the lips of our surprise
To sway like music, and like burning pour
Across the truth that parted us before.

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Invocation

TRUTH, be more precious to me than the eyes
Of happy love; burn hotter in my throat
Than passion; and possess me like my pride;
More sweet than freedom; more desired than joy;
More sacred than the pleasing of a friend.

FLAME-Heart, take back your love. Swift, sure
And poignant as the dagger to the mark,
Your will is burning ever; it is pure.
Mine is vague water welling through the dark,
Holding all substances--except the spark.

Picture the pleasure of the meadow stream
When some clear striding naked-footed girl
Cuts swift and straightly as a gleam
Across its bosom ambling and aswirl
With mooning eddies and soft lips acurl;

Such was our meeting--fatefully so brief.
I have no purpose and no power to clutch.
Gleam onward, maiden, to your goal of grief;
And I more sadly flow, remembering much,
Yet doomed to take the form of all I touch.

SO BRIGHT and soft is the sweet air of morning,
And so tenderly the light descends,
And blesses with its gentle-falling fingers
All the leaves unto the valley's ends--

It brings them all to being when it touches
With its paleness every glowing vein;
The wild and flaming hollows of the forest
Kindle all their crimson in its rain;

And every curve receives its share of morning,
Every little shadow softly grows,
And motion finds a melody more tender
That like a phantom through the branches goes--

So bright and soft and tranquil-rendering,
And quiet in its giving, as though love,
The morning dream of life, were born of longing,
And really poured its being from above.

— The End —