CLOCKS TICK A CENTURY
Nightmare: A Tale for an Autumn Evening
After a Print by George Cruikshank
It was a gusty night, With the wind booming, and swooping, Looping round corners, Sliding over the cobble-stones, Whipping and veering, And careering over the roofs Like a thousand clattering horses. Mr. Spruggins had been dining in the city, Mr. Spruggins was none too steady in his gait, And the wind played ball with Mr. Spruggins And laughed as it whistled past him. It rolled him along the street, With his little feet pit-a-patting on the flags of the sidewalk, And his muffler and his coat-tails blown straight out behind him. It bumped him against area railings, And chuckled in his ear when he said "Ouch!" Sometimes it lifted him clear off his little patting feet And bore him in triumph over three grey flagstones and a quarter. The moon dodged in and out of clouds, winking. It was all very unpleasant for Mr. Spruggins, And when the wind flung him hard against his own front door It was a relief, Although the breath was quite knocked out of him. The gas-lamp in front of the house flared up, And the keyhole was as big as a barn door; The gas-lamp flickered away to a sputtering blue star, And the keyhole went out with it. Such a stabbing, and jabbing, And sticking, and picking, And poking, and pushing, and prying With that key; And there is no denying that Mr. Spruggins rapped out an oath or two, Rub-a-dub-dubbing them out to a real snare-drum roll. But the door opened at last, And Mr. Spruggins blew through it into his own hall And slammed the door to so hard That the knocker banged five times before it stopped. Mr. Spruggins struck a light and lit a candle, And all the time the moon winked at him through the window. "Why couldn't you find the keyhole, Spruggins?" Taunted the wind. "I can find the keyhole." And the wind, thin as a wire, Darted in and seized the candle flame And knocked it over to one side And pummelled it down—down—down—! But Mr. Spruggins held the candle so close that it singed his chin, And ran and stumbled up the stairs in a surprisingly agile manner, For the wind through the keyhole kept saying, "Spruggins! Spruggins!" behind him. The fire in his bedroom burned brightly. The room with its crimson bed and window curtains Was as red and glowing as a carbuncle. It was still and warm. There was no wind here, for the windows were fastened; And no moon, For the curtains were drawn. The candle flame stood up like a pointed pear In a wide brass dish. Mr. Spruggins sighed with content; He was safe at home. The fire glowed—red and yellow roses In the black basket of the grate— And the bed with its crimson hangings Seemed a great peony, Wide open and placid. Mr. Spruggins slipped off his top-coat and his muffler. He slipped off his bottle-green coat And his flowered waistcoat. He put on a flannel dressing-gown, And tied a peaked night-cap under his chin. He wound his large gold watch And placed it under his pillow. Then he tiptoed over to the window and pulled back the curtain. There was the moon dodging in and out of the clouds; But behind him was his quiet candle. There was the wind whisking along the street. The window rattled, but it was fastened. Did the wind say, "Spruggins"? All Mr. Spruggins heard was "S-s-s-s-s—" Dying away down the street. He dropped the curtain and got into bed. Martha had been in the last thing with the warming-pan; The bed was warm, And Mr. Spruggins sank into feathers, With the familiar ticking of his watch just under his head. Mr. Spruggins dozed. He had forgotten to put out the candle, But it did not make much difference as the fire was so bright... Too bright! The red and yellow roses pricked his eyelids, They scorched him back to consciousness. He tried to shift his position; He could not move. Something weighed him down, He could not breathe. He was gasping, Pinned down and suffocating. He opened his eyes. The curtains of the window were flung back, The fire and the candle were out, And the room was filled with green moonlight. And pressed against the window-pane Was a wide, round face, Winking—winking— Solemnly dropping one eyelid after the other. Tick—tock—went the watch under his pillow, Wink—wink—went the face at the window. It was not the fire roses which had pricked him, It was the winking eyes. Mr. Spruggins tried to bounce up; He could not, because— His heart flapped up into his mouth And fell back dead. On his chest was a fat pink pig, On the pig a blackamoor With a ten pound weight for a cap. His mustachios kept curling up and down like angry snakes, And his eyes rolled round and round, With the pupils coming into sight, and disappearing, And appearing again on the other side. The holsters at his saddle-bow were two port bottles, And a curved table-knife hung at his belt for a scimitar, While a fork and a keg of spirits were strapped to the saddle behind. He dug his spurs into the pig, Which trampled and snorted, And stamped its cloven feet deeper into Mr. Spruggins. Then the green light on the floor began to undulate. It heaved and hollowed, It rose like a tide, Sea-green, Full of claws and scales And wriggles. The air above his bed began to move; It weighed over him In a mass of draggled feathers. Not one lifted to stir the air. They drooped and dripped With a smell of port wine and brandy, Closing down, slowly, Trickling drops on the bed-quilt. Suddenly the window fell in with a great scatter of glass, And the moon burst into the room, Sizzling—"S-s-s-s-s—Spruggins! Spruggins!" It rolled toward him, A green ball of flame, With two eyes in the center, A red eye and a yellow eye, Dropping their lids slowly, One after the other. Mr. Spruggins tried to scream, But the blackamoor Leapt off his pig With a cry, Drew his scimitar, And plunged it into Mr. Spruggins's mouth.
Mr. Spruggins got up in the cold dawn And remade the fire. Then he crept back to bed By the light which seeped in under the window curtains, And lay there, shivering, While the bells of St. George the Martyr chimed the quarter after seven.
The Paper Windmill
The little boy pressed his face against the window-pane and looked out at the bright sunshiny morning. The cobble-stones of the square glistened like mica. In the trees, a breeze danced and pranced, and shook drops of sunlight like falling golden coins into the brown water of the canal. Down stream slowly drifted a long string of galliots piled with crimson cheeses. The little boy thought they looked as if they were roc's eggs, blocks of big ruby eggs. He said, "Oh!" with delight, and pressed against the window with all his might.
The golden cock on the top of the 'Stadhuis' gleamed. His beak was open like a pair of scissors and a narrow piece of blue sky was wedged in it. "Cock-a-doodle-do," cried the little boy. "Can't you hear me through the window, Gold Cocky? Cock-a-doodle-do! You should crow when you see the eggs of your cousin, the great roc." But the golden cock stood stock still, with his fine tail blowing in the wind. He could not understand the little boy, for he said "Cocorico" when he said anything. But he was hung in the air to swing, not to sing. His eyes glittered to the bright West wind, and the crimson cheeses drifted away down the canal.
It was very dull there in the big room. Outside in the square, the wind was playing tag with some fallen leaves. A man passed, with a dogcart beside him full of smart, new milkcans. They rattled out a gay tune: "Tiddity-tum-ti-ti. Have some milk for your tea. Cream for your coffee to drink to-night, thick, and smooth, and sweet, and white," and the man's sabots beat an accompaniment: "Plop! trop! milk for your tea. Plop! trop! drink it to-night." It was very pleasant out there, but it was lonely here in the big room. The little boy gulped at a tear.
It was queer how dull all his toys were. They were so still. Nothing was still in the square. If he took his eyes away a moment it had changed. The milkman had disappeared round the corner, there was only an old woman with a basket of green stuff on her head, picking her way over the shiny stones. But the wind pulled the leaves in the basket this way and that, and displayed them to beautiful advantage. The sun patted them condescendingly on their flat surfaces, and they seemed sprinkled with silver. The little boy sighed as he looked at his disordered toys on the floor. They were motionless, and their colours were dull. The dark wainscoting absorbed the sun. There was none left for toys.
The square was quite empty now. Only the wind ran round and round it, spinning. Away over in the corner where a street opened into the square, the wind had stopped. Stopped running, that is, for it never stopped spinning. It whirred, and whirled, and gyrated, and turned. It burned like a great coloured sun. It hummed, and buzzed, and sparked, and darted. There were flashes of blue, and long smearing lines of saffron, and quick jabs of green. And over it all was a sheen like a myriad cut diamonds. Round and round it went, the huge wind-wheel, and the little boy's head reeled with watching it. The whole square was filled with its rays, blazing and leaping round after one another, faster and faster. The little boy could not speak, he could only gaze, staring in amaze.
The wind-wheel was coming down the square. Nearer and nearer it came, a great disk of spinning flame. It was opposite the window now, and the little boy could see it plainly, but it was something more than the wind which he saw. A man was carrying a huge fan-shaped frame on his shoulder, and stuck in it were many little painted paper windmills, each one scurrying round in the breeze. They were bright and beautiful, and the sight was one to please anybody, and how much more a little boy who had only stupid, motionless toys to enjoy.
The little boy clapped his hands, and his eyes danced and whizzed, for the circling windmills made him dizzy. Closer and closer came the windmill man, and held up his big fan to the little boy in the window of the Ambassador's house. Only a pane of glass between the boy and the windmills. They slid round before his eyes in rapidly revolving splendour. There were wheels and wheels of colours—big, little, thick, thin—all one clear, perfect spin. The windmill vendor dipped and raised them again, and the little boy's face was glued to the window-pane. Oh! What a glorious, wonderful plaything! Rings and rings of windy colour always moving! How had any one ever preferred those other toys which never stirred. "Nursie, come quickly. Look! I want a windmill. See! It is never still. You will buy me one, won't you? I want that silver one, with the big ring of blue."
So a servant was sent to buy that one: silver, ringed with blue, and smartly it twirled about in the servant's hands as he stood a moment to pay the vendor. Then he entered the house, and in another minute he was standing in the nursery door, with some crumpled paper on the end of a stick which he held out to the little boy. "But I wanted a windmill which went round," cried the little boy. "That is the one you asked for, Master Charles," Nursie was a bit impatient, she had mending to do. "See, it is silver, and here is the blue." "But it is only a blue streak," sobbed the little boy. "I wanted a blue ring, and this silver doesn't sparkle." "Well, Master Charles, that is what you wanted, now run away and play with it, for I am very busy."
The little boy hid his tears against the friendly window-pane. On the floor lay the motionless, crumpled bit of paper on the end of its stick. But far away across the square was the windmill vendor, with his big wheel of whirring splendour. It spun round in a blaze like a whirling rainbow, and the sun gleamed upon it, and the wind whipped it, until it seemed a maze of spattering diamonds. "Cocorico!" crowed the golden cock on the top of the 'Stadhuis'. "That is something worth crowing for." But the little boy did not hear him, he was sobbing over the crumpled bit of paper on the floor.
The Red Lacquer Music-Stand
A music-stand of crimson lacquer, long since brought In some fast clipper-ship from China, quaintly wrought With bossed and carven flowers and fruits in blackening gold, The slender shaft all twined about and thickly scrolled With vine leaves and young twisted tendrils, whirling, curling, Flinging their new shoots over the four wings, and swirling Out on the three wide feet in golden lumps and streams; Petals and apples in high relief, and where the seams Are worn with handling, through the polished crimson sheen, Long streaks of black, the under lacquer, shine out clean. Four desks, adjustable, to suit the heights of players Sitting to viols or standing up to sing, four layers Of music to serve every instrument, are there, And on the apex a large flat-topped golden pear. It burns in red and yellow, dusty, smouldering lights, When the sun flares the old barn-chamber with its flights And skips upon the crystal knobs of dim sideboards, Legless and mouldy, and hops, glint to glint, on hoards Of scythes, and spades, and dinner-horns, so the old tools Are little candles throwing brightness round in pools. With Oriental splendour, red and gold, the dust Covering its flames like smoke and thinning as a gust Of brighter sunshine makes the colours leap and range, The strange old music-stand seems to strike out and change; To stroke and tear the darkness with sharp golden claws; To dart a forked, vermilion tongue from open jaws; To puff out bitter smoke which chokes the sun; and fade Back to a still, faint outline obliterate in shade. Creeping up the ladder into the loft, the Boy Stands watching, very still, prickly and hot with joy. He sees the dusty sun-mote slit by streaks of red, He sees it split and stream, and all about his head Spikes and spears of gold are licking, pricking, flicking, Scratching against the walls and furniture, and nicking The darkness into sparks, chipping away the gloom. The Boy's nose smarts with the pungence in the room. The wind pushes an elm branch from before the door And the sun widens out all along the floor, Filling the barn-chamber with white, straightforward light, So not one blurred outline can tease the mind to fright.
"O All ye Works of the Lord, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever. O let the Earth Bless the Lord; Yea, let it Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever. O ye Mountains and Hills, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever. O All ye Green Things upon the Earth, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever."
The Boy will praise his God on an altar builded fair, Will heap it with the Works of the Lord. In the morning air, Spices shall burn on it, and by their pale smoke curled, Like shoots of all the Green Things, the God of this bright World Shall see the Boy's desire to pay his debt of praise. The Boy turns round about, seeking with careful gaze An altar meet and worthy, but each table and chair Has some defect, each piece is needing some repair To perfect it; the chairs have broken legs and backs, The tables are uneven, and every highboy lacks A handle or a drawer, the desks are bruised and worn, And even a wide sofa has its cane seat torn. Only in the gloom far in the corner there The lacquer music-stand is elegant and rare, Clear and slim of line, with its four wings outspread, The sound of old quartets, a tenuous, faint thread, Hanging and floating over it, it stands supreme— Black, and gold, and crimson, in one twisted scheme!
A candle on the bookcase feels a draught and wavers, Stippling the white-washed walls with dancing shades and quavers. A bed-post, grown colossal, jigs about the ceiling, And shadows, strangely altered, stain the walls, revealing Eagles, and rabbits, and weird faces pulled awry, And hands which fetch and carry things incessantly. Under the Eastern window, where the morning sun Must touch it, stands the music-stand, and on each one Of its broad platforms is a pyramid of stones, And metals, and dried flowers, and pine and hemlock cones, An oriole's nest with the four eggs neatly blown, The rattle of a rattlesnake, and three large brown Butternuts uncracked, six butterflies impaled With a green luna moth, a snake-skin freshly scaled, Some sunflower seeds, wampum, and a bloody-tooth shell, A blue jay feather, all together piled pell-mell The stand will hold no more. The Boy with humming head Looks once again, blows out the light, and creeps to bed.
The Boy keeps solemn vigil, while outside the wind Blows gustily and clear, and slaps against the blind. He hardly tries to sleep, so sharp his ecstasy It burns his soul to emptiness, and sets it free For adoration only, for worship. Dedicate, His unsheathed soul is naked in its novitiate. The hours strike below from the clock on the stair. The Boy is a white flame suspiring in prayer. Morning will bring the sun, the Golden Eye of Him Whose splendour must be veiled by starry cherubim, Whose Feet shimmer like crystal in the streets of Heaven. Like an open rose the sun will stand up even, Fronting the window-sill, and when the casement glows Rose-red with the new-blown morning, then the fire which flows From the sun will fall upon the altar and ignite The spices, and his sacrifice will burn in perfumed light. Over the music-stand the ghosts of sounds will swim, 'Viols d'amore' and 'hautbois' accorded to a hymn. The Boy will see the faintest breath of angels' wings Fanning the smoke, and voices will flower through the strings. He dares no farther vision, and with scalding eyes Waits upon the daylight and his great emprise.
The cold, grey light of dawn was whitening the wall When the Boy, fine-drawn by sleeplessness, started his ritual. He washed, all shivering and pointed like a flame. He threw the shutters open, and in the window-frame The morning glimmered like a tarnished Venice glass. He took his Chinese pastilles and put them in a mass Upon the mantelpiece till he could seek a plate Worthy to hold them burning. Alas! He had been late In thinking of this need, and now he could not find Platter or saucer rare enough to ease his mind. The house was not astir, and he dared not go down Into the barn-chamber, lest some door should be blown And slam before the draught he made as he went out. The light was growing yellower, and still he looked about. A flash of almost crimson from the gilded pear Upon the music-stand, startled him waiting there. The sun would rise and he would meet it unprepared, Labelled a fool in having missed what he had dared. He ran across the room, took his pastilles and laid Them on the flat-topped pear, most carefully displayed To light with ease, then stood a little to one side, Focussed a burning-glass and painstakingly tried To hold it angled so the bunched and prismed rays Should leap upon each other and spring into a blaze. Sharp as a wheeling edge of disked, carnation flame, Gem-hard and cutting upward, slowly the round sun came. The arrowed fire caught the burning-glass and glanced, Split to a multitude of pointed spears, and lanced, A deeper, hotter flame, it took the incense pile Which welcomed it and broke into a little smile Of yellow flamelets, creeping, crackling, thrusting up, A golden, red-slashed lily in a lacquer cup.
"O ye Fire and Heat, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever. O ye Winter and Summer, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever. O ye Nights and Days, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever. O ye Lightnings and Clouds, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him for ever."
A moment so it hung, wide-curved, bright-petalled, seeming A chalice foamed with sunrise. The Boy woke from his dreaming. A spike of flame had caught the card of butterflies, The oriole's nest took fire, soon all four galleries Where he had spread his treasures were become one tongue Of gleaming, brutal fire. The Boy instantly swung His pitcher off the wash-stand and turned it upside down. The flames drooped back and sizzled, and all his senses grown Acute by fear, the Boy grabbed the quilt from his bed And flung it over all, and then with aching head He watched the early sunshine glint on the remains Of his holy offering. The lacquer stand had stains Ugly and charred all over, and where the golden pear Had been, a deep, black hole gaped miserably. His dear Treasures were puffs of ashes; only the stones were there, Winking in the brightness. The clock upon the stair Struck five, and in the kitchen someone shook a grate. The Boy began to dress, for it was getting late.
The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot, and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots.
The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.
In the fresh-washed sunlight, the breakfast table is decked and white. It offers itself in flat surrender, tendering tastes, and smells, and colours, and metals, and grains, and the white cloth falls over its side, draped and wide. Wheels of white glitter in the silver coffee-pot, hot and spinning like catherine-wheels, they whirl, and twirl—and my eyes begin to smart, the little white, dazzling wheels prick them like darts. Placid and peaceful, the rolls of bread spread themselves in the sun to bask. A stack of butter-pats, pyramidal, shout orange through the white, scream, flutter, call: "Yellow! Yellow! Yellow!" Coffee steam rises in a stream, clouds the silver tea-service with mist, and twists up into the sunlight, revolved, involuted, suspiring higher and higher, fluting in a thin spiral up the high blue sky. A crow flies by and croaks at the coffee steam. The day is new and fair with good smells in the air.
Over the street the white clouds meet, and sheer away without touching.
On the sidewalks, boys are playing marbles. Glass marbles, with amber and blue hearts, roll together and part with a sweet clashing noise. The boys strike them with black and red striped agates. The glass marbles spit crimson when they are hit, and slip into the gutters under rushing brown water. I smell tulips and narcissus in the air, but there are no flowers anywhere, only white dust whipping up the street, and a girl with a gay Spring hat and blowing skirts. The dust and the wind flirt at her ankles and her neat, high-heeled patent leather shoes. Tap, tap, the little heels pat the pavement, and the wind rustles among the flowers on her hat.
A water-cart crawls slowly on the other side of the way. It is green and gay with new paint, and rumbles contentedly, sprinkling clear water over the white dust. Clear zigzagging water, which smells of tulips and narcissus.
The thickening branches make a pink 'grisaille' against the blue sky.
Whoop! The clouds go dashing at each other and sheer away just in time. Whoop! And a man's hat careers down the street in front of the white dust, leaps into the branches of a tree, veers away and trundles ahead of the wind, jarring the sunlight into spokes of rose-colour and green.
A motor-car cuts a swathe through the bright air, sharp-beaked, irresistible, shouting to the wind to make way. A glare of dust and sunshine tosses together behind it, and settles down. The sky is quiet and high, and the morning is fair with fresh-washed air.
Midday and Afternoon
Swirl of crowded streets. Shock and recoil of traffic. The stock-still brick facade of an old church, against which the waves of people lurch and withdraw. Flare of sunshine down side-streets. Eddies of light in the windows of chemists' shops, with their blue, gold, purple jars, darting colours far into the crowd. Loud bangs and tremors, murmurings out of high windows, whirring of machine belts, blurring of horses and motors. A quick spin and shudder of brakes on an electric car, and the jar of a church-bell knocking against the metal blue of the sky. I am a piece of the town, a bit of blown dust, thrust along with the crowd. Proud to feel the pavement under me, reeling with feet. Feet tripping, skipping, lagging, dragging, plodding doggedly, or springing up and advancing on firm elastic insteps. A boy is selling papers, I smell them clean and new from the press. They are fresh like the air, and pungent as tulips and narcissus.
The blue sky pales to lemon, and great tongues of gold blind the shop-windows, putting out their contents in a flood of flame.
Night and Sleep
The day takes her ease in slippered yellow. Electric signs gleam out along the shop fronts, following each other. They grow, and grow, and blow into patterns of fire-flowers as the sky fades. Trades scream in spots of light at the unruffled night. Twinkle, jab, snap, that means a new play; and over the way: plop, drop, quiver, is the sidelong sliver of a watchmaker's sign with its length on another street. A gigantic mug of beer effervesces to the atmosphere over a tall building, but the sky is high and has her own stars, why should she heed ours?
I leave the city with speed. Wheels whirl to take me back to my trees and my quietness. The breeze which blows with me is fresh-washed and clean, it has come but recently from the high sky. There are no flowers in bloom yet, but the earth of my garden smells of tulips and narcissus.
My room is tranquil and friendly. Out of the window I can see the distant city, a band of twinkling gems, little flower-heads with no stems. I cannot see the beer-glass, nor the letters of the restaurants and shops I passed, now the signs blur and all together make the city, glowing on a night of fine weather, like a garden stirring and blowing for the Spring.
The night is fresh-washed and fair and there is a whiff of flowers in the air.
Wrap me close, sheets of lavender. Pour your blue and purple dreams into my ears. The breeze whispers at the shutters and mutters queer tales of old days, and cobbled streets, and youths leaping their horses down marble stairways. Pale blue lavender, you are the colour of the sky when it is fresh-washed and fair... I smell the stars... they are like tulips and narcissus... I smell them in the air.
"So..." they said, With their wine-glasses delicately poised, Mocking at the thing they cannot understand. "So..." they said again, Amused and insolent. The silver on the table glittered, And the red wine in the glasses Seemed the blood I had wasted In a foolish cause.
The gentleman with the grey-and-black whiskers Sneered languidly over his quail. Then my heart flew up and laboured, And I burst from my own holding And hurled myself forward. With straight blows I beat upon him, Furiously, with red-hot anger, I thrust against him. But my weapon slithered over his polished surface, And I recoiled upon myself, Panting.
In a dress all softness and half-tones, Indolent and half-reclined, She lay upon a couch, With the firelight reflected in her jewels. But her eyes had no reflection, They swam in a grey smoke, The smoke of smouldering ashes, The smoke of her cindered heart.
They sat in a circle with their coffee-cups. One dropped in a lump of sugar, One stirred with a spoon. I saw them as a circle of ghosts Sipping blackness out of beautiful china, And mildly protesting against my coarseness In being alive.
They took dead men's souls And pinned them on their breasts for ornament; Their cuff-links and tiaras Were gems dug from a grave; They were ghouls battening on exhumed thoughts; And I took a green liqueur from a servant So that he might come near me And give me the comfort of a living thing.
The front door was hard and heavy, It shut behind me on the house of ghosts. I flattened my feet on the pavement To feel it solid under me; I ran my hand along the railings And shook them, And pressed their pointed bars Into my palms. The hurt of it reassured me, And I did it again and again Until they were bruised. When I woke in the night I laughed to find them aching, For only living flesh can suffer.
Stravinsky's Three Pieces "Grotesques", for String Quartet
Thin-voiced, nasal pipes Drawing sound out and out Until it is a screeching thread, Sharp and cutting, sharp and cutting, It hurts. Whee-e-e! Bump! Bump! Tong-ti-bump! There are drums here, Banging, And wooden shoes beating the round, grey stones Of the market-place. Whee-e-e! Sabots slapping the worn, old stones, And a shaking and cracking of dancing bones; Clumsy and hard they are, And uneven, Losing half a beat Because the stones are slippery. Bump-e-ty-tong! Whee-e-e! Tong! The thin Spring leaves Shake to the banging of shoes. Shoes beat, slap, Shuffle, rap, And the nasal pipes squeal with their pigs' voices, Little pigs' voices Weaving among the dancers, A fine white thread Linking up the dancers. Bang! Bump! Tong! Petticoats, Stockings, Sabots, Delirium flapping its thigh-bones; Red, blue, yellow, Drunkenness steaming in colours; Red, yellow, blue, Colours and flesh weaving together, In and out, with the dance, Coarse stuffs and hot flesh weaving together. Pigs' cries white and tenuous, White and painful, White and— Bump! Tong!
Pale violin music whiffs across the moon, A pale smoke of violin music blows over the moon, Cherry petals fall and flutter, And the white Pierrot, Wreathed in the smoke of the violins, Splashed with cherry petals falling, falling, Claws a grave for himself in the fresh earth With his finger-nails.
An organ growls in the heavy roof-groins of a church, It wheezes and coughs. The nave is blue with incense, Writhing, twisting, Snaking over the heads of the chanting priests. 'Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine'; The priests whine their bastard Latin And the censers swing and click. The priests walk endlessly Round and round, Droning their Latin Off the key. The organ crashes out in a flaring chord, And the priests hitch their chant up half a tone. 'Dies illa, dies irae, Calamitatis et miseriae, Dies magna et amara valde.' A wind rattles the leaded windows. The little pear-shaped candle flames leap and flutter, 'Dies illa, dies irae;' The swaying smoke drifts over the altar, 'Calamitatis et miseriae;' The shuffling priests sprinkle holy water, 'Dies magna et amara valde;' And there is a stark stillness in the midst of them Stretched upon a bier. His ears are stone to the organ, His eyes are flint to the candles, His body is ice to the water. Chant, priests, Whine, shuffle, genuflect, He will always be as rigid as he is now Until he crumbles away in a dust heap. 'Lacrymosa dies illa, Qua resurget ex favilla Judicandus homo reus.' Above the grey pillars the roof is in darkness.
Towns in Colour
Red slippers in a shop-window, and outside in the street, flaws of grey, windy sleet!
Behind the polished glass, the slippers hang in long threads of red, festooning from the ceiling like stalactites of blood, flooding the eyes of passers-by with dripping colour, jamming their crimson reflections against the windows of cabs and tram-cars, screaming their claret and salmon into the teeth of the sleet, plopping their little round maroon lights upon the tops of umbrellas.
The row of white, sparkling shop fronts is gashed and bleeding, it bleeds red slippers. They spout under the electric light, fluid and fluctuating, a hot rain—and freeze again to red slippers, myriadly multiplied in the mirror side of the window.
They balance upon arched insteps like springing bridges of crimson lacquer; they swing up over curved heels like whirling tanagers sucked in a wind-pocket; they flatten out, heelless, like July ponds, flared and burnished by red rockets.
Snap, snap, they are cracker-sparks of scarlet in the white, monotonous block of shops.
They plunge the clangour of billions of vermilion trumpets into the crowd outside, and echo in faint rose over the pavement.
People hurry by, for these are only shoes, and in a window, farther down, is a big lotus bud of cardboard whose petals open every few minutes and reveal a wax doll, with staring bead eyes and flaxen hair, lolling awkwardly in its flower chair.
One has often seen shoes, but whoever saw a cardboard lotus bud before?
The flaws of grey, windy sleet beat on the shop-window where there are only red slippers.
Thompson's Lunch Room—Grand Central Station
Study in Whites
Wax-white— Floor, ceiling, walls. Ivory shadows Over the pavement Polished to cream surfaces By constant sweeping. The big room is coloured like the petals Of a great magnolia, And has a patina Of flower bloom Which makes it shine dimly Under the electric lamps. Chairs are ranged in rows Like sepia seeds Waiting fulfilment. The chalk-white spot of a cook's cap Moves unglossily against the vaguely bright wall— Dull chalk-white striking the retina like a blow Through the wavering uncertainty of steam. Vitreous-white of glasses with green reflections, Ice-green carboys, shifting—greener, bluer—with the jar of moving water. Jagged green-white bowls of pressed glass Rearing snow-peaks of chipped sugar Above the lighthouse-shaped castors Of grey pepper and grey-white salt. Grey-white placards: "Oyster Stew, Cornbeef Hash, Frankfurters": Marble slabs veined with words in meandering lines. Dropping on the white counter like horn notes Through a web of violins, The flat yellow lights of oranges, The cube-red splashes of apples, In high plated 'epergnes'. The electric clock jerks every half-minute: "Coming!—Past!" "Three beef-steaks and a chicken-pie," Bawled through a slide while the clock jerks heavily. A man carries a china mug of coffee to a distant chair. Two rice puddings and a salmon salad Are pushed over the counter; The unfulfilled chairs open to receive them. A spoon falls upon the floor with the impact of metal striking stone, And the sound throws across the room Sharp, invisible zigzags Of silver.
An Opera House
Within the gold square of the proscenium arch, A curtain of orange velvet hangs in stiff folds, Its tassels jarring slightly when someone crosses the stage behind. Gold carving edges the balconies, Rims the boxes, Runs up and down fluted pillars. Little knife-stabs of gold Shine out whenever a box door is opened. Gold clusters Flash in soft explosions On the blue darkness, Suck back to a point, And disappear. Hoops of gold Circle necks, wrists, fingers, Pierce ears, Poise on heads And fly up above them in coloured sparkles. Gold! Gold! The opera house is a treasure-box of gold. Gold in a broad smear across the orchestra pit: Gold of horns, trumpets, tubas; Gold—spun-gold, twittering-gold, snapping-gold Of harps. The conductor raises his baton, The brass blares out Crass, crude, Parvenu, fat, powerful, Golden. Rich as the fat, clapping hands in the boxes. Cymbals, gigantic, coin-shaped, Crash. The orange curtain parts And the prima-donna steps forward. One note, A drop: transparent, iridescent, A gold bubble, It floats... floats... And bursts against the lips of a bank president In the grand tier.
Afternoon Rain in State Street
Cross-hatchings of rain against grey walls, Slant lines of black rain In front of the up and down, wet stone sides of buildings. Below, Greasy, shiny, black, horizontal, The street. And over it, umbrellas, Black polished dots Struck to white An instant, Stream in two flat lines Slipping past each other with the smoothness of oil. Like a four-sided wedge The Custom House Tower Pokes at the low, flat sky, Pushing it farther and farther up, Lifting it away from the house-tops, Lifting it in one piece as though it were a sheet of tin, With the lever of its apex. The cross-hatchings of rain cut the Tower obliquely, Scratching lines of black wire across it, Mutilating its perpendicular grey surface With the sharp precision of tools. The city is rigid with straight lines and angles, A chequered table of blacks and greys. Oblong blocks of flatness Crawl by with low-geared engines, And pass to short upright squares Shrinking with distance. A steamer in the basin blows its whistle, And the sound shoots across the rain hatchings, A narrow, level bar of steel. Hard cubes of lemon Superimpose themselves upon the fronts of buildings As the windows light up. But the lemon cubes are edged with angles Upon which they cannot impinge. Up, straight, down, straight—square. Crumpled grey-white papers Blow along the side-walks, Contorted, horrible, Without curves. A horse steps in a puddle, And white, glaring water spurts up In stiff, outflaring lines, Like the rattling stems of reeds. The city is heraldic with angles, A sombre escutcheon of argent and sable And countercoloured bends of rain Hung over a four-square civilization. When a street lamp comes out, I gaze at it for fully thirty seconds To rest my brain with the suffusing, round brilliance of its globe.
Streaks of green and yellow iridescence, Silver shiftings, Rings veering out of rings, Silver—gold— Grey-green opaqueness sliding down, With sharp white bubbles Shooting and dancing, Flinging quickly outward. Nosing the bubbles, Swallowing them, Fish. Blue shadows against silver-saffron water, The light rippling over them In steel-bright tremors. Outspread translucent fins Flute, fold, and relapse; The threaded light prints through them on the pebbles In scarcely tarnished twinklings. Curving of spotted spines, Slow up-shifts, Lazy convolutions: Then a sudden swift straightening And darting below: Oblique grey shadows Athwart a pale casement. Roped and curled, Green man-eating eels Slumber in undulate rhythms, With crests laid horizontal on their backs. Barred fish, Striped fish, Uneven disks of fish, Slip, slide, whirl, turn, And never touch. Metallic blue fish, With fins wide and yellow and swaying Like Oriental fans, Hold the sun in their bellies And glow with light: Blue brilliance cut by black bars. An oblong pane of straw-coloured shimmer, Across it, in a tangent, A smear of rose, black, silver. Short twists and upstartings, Rose-black, in a setting of bubbles: Sunshine playing between red and black flowers On a blue and gold lawn. Shadows and polished surfaces, Facets of mauve and purple, A constant modulation of values. Shaft-shaped, With green bead eyes; Thick-nosed, Heliotrope-coloured; Swift spots of chrysolite and coral; In the midst of green, pearl, amethyst irradiations.
Outside, A willow-tree flickers With little white jerks, And long blue waves Rise steadily beyond the outer islands.
Some Books by Amy Lowell
What's O'Clock Legends Pictures of the Floating World Can Grande's Castle Men, Women and Ghosts Sword Blades and Poppy Seed A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (already online) A Critical Fable
Fir-Flower Tablets: Poems Translated from the Chinese (In collaboration with Florence Ayscough)
Tendencies in Modern American Poetry Six French Poets: Studies in Contemporary Literature John Keats