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Men, Women and Ghosts by Amy Lowell

Part 2 out of 4

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Theodore went under in this tearing wave,
He yielded to it, and its headlong flow
Filled him with all the energy she gave.
He was a youth again, and this bright glow,
This living, vivid joy he had to show
Her what she was to him. Laughing and crying,
She asked assurances there's no denying.

Over and over again her questions, till
He quite convinced her, every now and then
She kissed him, shivering as though doubting still.
But later when they were composed and when
She dared relax her probings, "Lottachen,"
He asked, "how is it your love has withstood
My inadvertence? I was made of wood."

She told him, and no doubt she meant it truly,
That he was sun, and grass, and wind, and sky
To her. And even if conscience were unruly
She salved it by neat sophistries, but why
Suppose her insincere, it was no lie
She said, for Heinrich was as much forgot
As though he'd never been within earshot.

But Theodore's hands in straying and caressing
Fumbled against the locket where it lay
Upon her neck. "What is this thing I'm pressing?"
He asked. "Let's bring it to the light of day."
He lifted up the locket. "It should stay
Outside, my Dear. Your mother has good taste.
To keep it hidden surely is a waste."

Pity again Charlotta, straight aroused
Out of her happiness. The locket brought
A chilly jet of truth upon her, soused
Under its icy spurting she was caught,
And choked, and frozen. Suddenly she sought
The clasp, but with such art was this contrived
Her fumbling fingers never once arrived

Upon it. Feeling, twisting, round and round,
She pulled the chain quite through the locket's ring
And still it held. Her neck, encompassed, bound,
Chafed at the sliding meshes. Such a thing
To hurl her out of joy! A gilded string
Binding her folly to her, and those curls
Which lay entwined beneath the clustered pearls!

Again she tried to break the cord. It stood.
"Unclasp it, Theodore," she begged. But he
Refused, and being in a happy mood,
Twitted her with her inefficiency,
Then looking at her very seriously:
"I think, Charlotta, it is well to have
Always about one what a mother gave.

As she has taken the great pains to send
This jewel to you from Dresden, it will be
Ingratitude if you do not intend
To carry it about you constantly.
With her fine taste you cannot disagree,
The locket is most beautifully designed."
He opened it and there the curls were, twined.

Charlotta's heart dropped beats like knitting-stitches.
She burned a moment, flaming; then she froze.
Her face was jerked by little, nervous twitches,
She heard her husband asking: "What are those?"
Put out her hand quickly to interpose,
But stopped, the gesture half-complete, astounded
At the calm way the question was propounded.

"A pretty fancy, Dear, I do declare.
Indeed I will not let you put it off.
A lovely thought: yours and your mother's hair!"
Charlotta hid a gasp under a cough.
"Never with my connivance shall you doff
This charming gift." He kissed her on the cheek,
And Lotta suffered him, quite crushed and meek.

When later in their room she lay awake,
Watching the moonlight slip along the floor,
She felt the chain and wept for Theodore's sake.
She had loved Heinrich also, and the core
Of truth, unlovely, startled her. Wherefore
She vowed from now to break this double life
And see herself only as Theodore's wife.

Part Fifth

It was no easy matter to convince
Heinrich that it was finished. Hard to say
That though they could not meet (he saw her wince)
She still must keep the locket to allay
Suspicion in her husband. She would pay
Him from her savings bit by bit -- the oath
He swore at that was startling to them both.

Her resolution taken, Frau Altgelt
Adhered to it, and suffered no regret.
She found her husband all that she had felt
His music to contain. Her days were set
In his as though she were an amulet
Cased in bright gold. She joyed in her confining;
Her eyes put out her looking-glass with shining.

Charlotta was so gay that old, dull tasks
Were furbished up to seem like rituals.
She baked and brewed as one who only asks
The right to serve. Her daily manuals
Of prayer were duties, and her festivals
When Theodore praised some dish, or frankly said
She had a knack in making up a bed.

So Autumn went, and all the mountains round
The city glittered white with fallen snow,
For it was Winter. Over the hard ground
Herr Altgelt's footsteps came, each one a blow.
On the swept flags behind the currant row
Charlotta stood to greet him. But his lip
Only flicked hers. His Concert-Meistership

Was first again. This evening he had got
Important news. The opera ordered from
Young Mozart was arrived. That old despot,
The Bishop of Salzburg, had let him come
Himself to lead it, and the parts, still hot
From copying, had been tried over. Never
Had any music started such a fever.

The orchestra had cheered till they were hoarse,
The singers clapped and clapped. The town was made,
With such a great attraction through the course
Of Carnival time. In what utter shade
All other cities would be left! The trade
In music would all drift here naturally.
In his excitement he forgot his tea.

Lotta was forced to take his cup and put
It in his hand. But still he rattled on,
Sipping at intervals. The new catgut
Strings he was using gave out such a tone
The "Maestro" had remarked it, and had gone
Out of his way to praise him. Lotta smiled,
He was as happy as a little child.

From that day on, Herr Altgelt, more and more,
Absorbed himself in work. Lotta at first
Was patient and well-wishing. But it wore
Upon her when two weeks had brought no burst
Of loving from him. Then she feared the worst;
That his short interest in her was a light
Flared up an instant only in the night.

`Idomeneo' was the opera's name,
A name that poor Charlotta learnt to hate.
Herr Altgelt worked so hard he seldom came
Home for his tea, and it was very late,
Past midnight sometimes, when he knocked. His state
Was like a flabby orange whose crushed skin
Is thin with pulling, and all dented in.

He practised every morning and her heart
Followed his bow. But often she would sit,
While he was playing, quite withdrawn apart,
Absently fingering and touching it,
The locket, which now seemed to her a bit
Of some gone youth. His music drew her tears,
And through the notes he played, her dreading ears

Heard Heinrich's voice, saying he had not changed;
Beer merchants had no ecstasies to take
Their minds off love. So far her thoughts had ranged
Away from her stern vow, she chanced to take
Her way, one morning, quite by a mistake,
Along the street where Heinrich had his shop.
What harm to pass it since she should not stop!

It matters nothing how one day she met
Him on a bridge, and blushed, and hurried by.
Nor how the following week he stood to let
Her pass, the pavement narrowing suddenly.
How once he took her basket, and once he
Pulled back a rearing horse who might have struck
Her with his hoofs. It seemed the oddest luck

How many times their business took them each
Right to the other. Then at last he spoke,
But she would only nod, he got no speech
From her. Next time he treated it in joke,
And that so lightly that her vow she broke
And answered. So they drifted into seeing
Each other as before. There was no fleeing.

Christmas was over and the Carnival
Was very near, and tripping from each tongue
Was talk of the new opera. Each book-stall
Flaunted it out in bills, what airs were sung,
What singers hired. Pictures of the young
"Maestro" were for sale. The town was mad.
Only Charlotta felt depressed and sad.

Each day now brought a struggle 'twixt her will
And Heinrich's. 'Twixt her love for Theodore
And him. Sometimes she wished to kill
Herself to solve her problem. For a score
Of reasons Heinrich tempted her. He bore
Her moods with patience, and so surely urged
Himself upon her, she was slowly merged

Into his way of thinking, and to fly
With him seemed easy. But next morning would
The Stradivarius undo her mood.
Then she would realize that she must cleave
Always to Theodore. And she would try
To convince Heinrich she should never leave,
And afterwards she would go home and grieve.

All thought in Munich centered on the part
Of January when there would be given
`Idomeneo' by Wolfgang Mozart.
The twenty-ninth was fixed. And all seats, even
Those almost at the ceiling, which were driven
Behind the highest gallery, were sold.
The inches of the theatre went for gold.

Herr Altgelt was a shadow worn so thin
With work, he hardly printed black behind
The candle. He and his old violin
Made up one person. He was not unkind,
But dazed outside his playing, and the rind,
The pine and maple of his fiddle, guarded
A part of him which he had quite discarded.

It woke in the silence of frost-bright nights,
In little lights,
Like will-o'-the-wisps flickering, fluttering,
Here -- there --
Spurting, sputtering,
Fading and lighting,
Together, asunder --
Till Lotta sat up in bed with wonder,
And the faint grey patch of the window shone
Upon her sitting there, alone.
For Theodore slept.

The twenty-eighth was last rehearsal day,
'Twas called for noon, so early morning meant
Herr Altgelt's only time in which to play
His part alone. Drawn like a monk who's spent
Himself in prayer and fasting, Theodore went
Into the kitchen, with a weary word
Of cheer to Lotta, careless if she heard.

Lotta heard more than his spoken word.
She heard the vibrating of strings and wood.
She was washing the dishes, her hands all suds,
When the sound began,
Long as the span
Of a white road snaking about a hill.
The orchards are filled
With cherry blossoms at butterfly poise.
Hawthorn buds are cracking,
And in the distance a shepherd is clacking
His shears, snip-snipping the wool from his sheep.
The notes are asleep,
Lying adrift on the air
In level lines
Like sunlight hanging in pines and pines,
Strung and threaded,
All imbedded
In the blue-green of the hazy pines.
Lines -- long, straight lines!
And stems,
Long, straight stems
Pushing up
To the cup of blue, blue sky.
Stems growing misty
With the many of them,
Red-green mist
Of the trees,
And these
Wood-flavoured notes.
The back is maple and the belly is pine.
The rich notes twine
As though weaving in and out of leaves,
Broad leaves
Flapping slowly like elephants' ears,
Waving and falling.
Another sound peers
Through little pine fingers,
And lingers, peeping.
Ping! Ping! pizzicato, something is cheeping.
There is a twittering up in the branches,
A chirp and a lilt,
And crimson atilt on a swaying twig.
Wings! Wings!
And a little ruffled-out throat which sings.
The forest bends, tumultuous
With song.
The woodpecker knocks,
And the song-sparrow trills,
Every fir, and cedar, and yew
Has a nest or a bird,
It is quite absurd
To hear them cutting across each other:
Peewits, and thrushes, and larks, all at once,
And a loud cuckoo is trying to smother
A wood-pigeon perched on a birch,
"Roo -- coo -- oo -- oo --"
"Cuckoo! Cuckoo! That's one for you!"
A blackbird whistles, how sharp, how shrill!
And the great trees toss
And leaves blow down,
You can almost hear them splash on the ground.
The whistle again:
It is double and loud!
The leaves are splashing,
And water is dashing
Over those creepers, for they are shrouds;
And men are running up them to furl the sails,
For there is a capful of wind to-day,
And we are already well under way.
The deck is aslant in the bubbling breeze.
"Theodore, please.
Oh, Dear, how you tease!"
And the boatswain's whistle sounds again,
And the men pull on the sheets:
"My name is Hanging Johnny,
Away-i-oh;
They call me Hanging Johnny,
So hang, boys, hang."
The trees of the forest are masts, tall masts;
They are swinging over
Her and her lover.
Almost swooning
Under the ballooning canvas,
She lies
Looking up in his eyes
As he bends farther over.
Theodore, still her lover!

The suds were dried upon Charlotta's hands,
She leant against the table for support,
Wholly forgotten. Theodore's eyes were brands
Burning upon his music. He stopped short.
Charlotta almost heard the sound of bands
Snapping. She put one hand up to her heart,
Her fingers touched the locket with a start.

Herr Altgelt put his violin away
Listlessly. "Lotta, I must have some rest.
The strain will be a hideous one to-day.
Don't speak to me at all. It will be best
If I am quiet till I go." And lest
She disobey, he left her. On the stairs
She heard his mounting steps. What use were prayers!

He could not hear, he was not there, for she
Was married to a mummy, a machine.
Her hand closed on the locket bitterly.
Before her, on a chair, lay the shagreen
Case of his violin. She saw the clean
Sun flash the open clasp. The locket's edge
Cut at her fingers like a pushing wedge.

A heavy cart went by, a distant bell
Chimed ten, the fire flickered in the grate.
She was alone. Her throat began to swell
With sobs. What kept her here, why should she wait?
The violin she had begun to hate
Lay in its case before her. Here she flung
The cover open. With the fiddle swung

Over her head, the hanging clock's loud ticking
Caught on her ear. 'Twas slow, and as she paused
The little door in it came open, flicking
A wooden cuckoo out: "Cuckoo!" It caused
The forest dream to come again. "Cuckoo!"
Smashed on the grate, the violin broke in two.

"Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" the clock kept striking on;
But no one listened. Frau Altgelt had gone.

The Cross-Roads

A bullet through his heart at dawn. On the table a letter signed
with a woman's name. A wind that goes howling round the house,
and weeping as in shame. Cold November dawn peeping through the windows,
cold dawn creeping over the floor, creeping up his cold legs,
creeping over his cold body, creeping across his cold face.
A glaze of thin yellow sunlight on the staring eyes. Wind howling
through bent branches. A wind which never dies down. Howling, wailing.
The gazing eyes glitter in the sunlight. The lids are frozen open
and the eyes glitter.

The thudding of a pick on hard earth. A spade grinding and crunching.
Overhead, branches writhing, winding, interlacing, unwinding, scattering;
tortured twinings, tossings, creakings. Wind flinging branches apart,
drawing them together, whispering and whining among them. A waning,
lobsided moon cutting through black clouds. A stream of pebbles and earth
and the empty spade gleams clear in the moonlight, then is rammed again
into the black earth. Tramping of feet. Men and horses.
Squeaking of wheels.

"Whoa! Ready, Jim?"

"All ready."

Something falls, settles, is still. Suicides have no coffin.

"Give us the stake, Jim. Now."

Pound! Pound!

"He'll never walk. Nailed to the ground."

An ash stick pierces his heart, if it buds the roots will hold him.
He is a part of the earth now, clay to clay. Overhead the branches sway,
and writhe, and twist in the wind. He'll never walk with a bullet
in his heart, and an ash stick nailing him to the cold, black ground.

Six months he lay still. Six months. And the water welled up in his body,
and soft blue spots chequered it. He lay still, for the ash stick
held him in place. Six months! Then her face came out of a mist of green.
Pink and white and frail like Dresden china, lilies-of-the-valley
at her breast, puce-coloured silk sheening about her. Under the young
green leaves, the horse at a foot-pace, the high yellow wheels of the chaise
scarcely turning, her face, rippling like grain a-blowing,
under her puce-coloured bonnet; and burning beside her, flaming within
his correct blue coat and brass buttons, is someone. What has dimmed the sun?
The horse steps on a rolling stone; a wind in the branches makes a moan.
The little leaves tremble and shake, turn and quake, over and over,
tearing their stems. There is a shower of young leaves,
and a sudden-sprung gale wails in the trees.

The yellow-wheeled chaise is rocking -- rocking, and all the branches
are knocking -- knocking. The sun in the sky is a flat, red plate,
the branches creak and grate. She screams and cowers, for the green foliage
is a lowering wave surging to smother her. But she sees nothing.
The stake holds firm. The body writhes, the body squirms.
The blue spots widen, the flesh tears, but the stake wears well
in the deep, black ground. It holds the body in the still, black ground.

Two years! The body has been in the ground two years. It is worn away;
it is clay to clay. Where the heart moulders, a greenish dust, the stake
is thrust. Late August it is, and night; a night flauntingly jewelled
with stars, a night of shooting stars and loud insect noises.
Down the road to Tilbury, silence -- and the slow flapping of large leaves.
Down the road to Sutton, silence -- and the darkness of heavy-foliaged trees.
Down the road to Wayfleet, silence -- and the whirring scrape of insects
in the branches. Down the road to Edgarstown, silence -- and stars like
stepping-stones in a pathway overhead. It is very quiet at the cross-roads,
and the sign-board points the way down the four roads, endlessly points
the way where nobody wishes to go.

A horse is galloping, galloping up from Sutton. Shaking the wide,
still leaves as he goes under them. Striking sparks with his iron shoes;
silencing the katydids. Dr. Morgan riding to a child-birth over Tilbury way;
riding to deliver a woman of her first-born son. One o'clock from
Wayfleet bell tower, what a shower of shooting stars! And a breeze
all of a sudden, jarring the big leaves and making them jerk up and down.
Dr. Morgan's hat is blown from his head, the horse swerves, and curves away
from the sign-post. An oath -- spurs -- a blurring of grey mist.
A quick left twist, and the gelding is snorting and racing
down the Tilbury road with the wind dropping away behind him.

The stake has wrenched, the stake has started, the body, flesh from flesh,
has parted. But the bones hold tight, socket and ball, and clamping them down
in the hard, black ground is the stake, wedged through ribs and spine.
The bones may twist, and heave, and twine, but the stake holds them still
in line. The breeze goes down, and the round stars shine, for the stake
holds the fleshless bones in line.

Twenty years now! Twenty long years! The body has powdered itself away;
it is clay to clay. It is brown earth mingled with brown earth. Only flaky
bones remain, lain together so long they fit, although not one bone is knit
to another. The stake is there too, rotted through, but upright still,
and still piercing down between ribs and spine in a straight line.

Yellow stillness is on the cross-roads, yellow stillness is on the trees.
The leaves hang drooping, wan. The four roads point four yellow ways,
saffron and gamboge ribbons to the gaze. A little swirl of dust
blows up Tilbury road, the wind which fans it has not strength to do more;
it ceases, and the dust settles down. A little whirl of wind
comes up Tilbury road. It brings a sound of wheels and feet.
The wind reels a moment and faints to nothing under the sign-post.
Wind again, wheels and feet louder. Wind again -- again -- again.
A drop of rain, flat into the dust. Drop! -- Drop! Thick heavy raindrops,
and a shrieking wind bending the great trees and wrenching off their leaves.

Under the black sky, bowed and dripping with rain, up Tilbury road,
comes the procession. A funeral procession, bound for the graveyard
at Wayfleet. Feet and wheels -- feet and wheels. And among them
one who is carried.

The bones in the deep, still earth shiver and pull. There is a quiver
through the rotted stake. Then stake and bones fall together
in a little puffing of dust.

Like meshes of linked steel the rain shuts down behind the procession,
now well along the Wayfleet road.

He wavers like smoke in the buffeting wind. His fingers blow out like smoke,
his head ripples in the gale. Under the sign-post, in the pouring rain,
he stands, and watches another quavering figure drifting down
the Wayfleet road. Then swiftly he streams after it. It flickers
among the trees. He licks out and winds about them. Over, under,
blown, contorted. Spindrift after spindrift; smoke following smoke.
There is a wailing through the trees, a wailing of fear,
and after it laughter -- laughter -- laughter, skirling up to the black sky.
Lightning jags over the funeral procession. A heavy clap of thunder.
Then darkness and rain, and the sound of feet and wheels.

A Roxbury Garden

I

Hoops

Blue and pink sashes,
Criss-cross shoes,
Minna and Stella run out into the garden
To play at hoop.

Up and down the garden-paths they race,
In the yellow sunshine,
Each with a big round hoop
White as a stripped willow-wand.

Round and round turn the hoops,
Their diamond whiteness cleaving the yellow sunshine.
The gravel crunches and squeaks beneath them,
And a large pebble springs them into the air
To go whirling for a foot or two
Before they touch the earth again
In a series of little jumps.

Spring, Hoops!
Spit out a shower of blue and white brightness.
The little criss-cross shoes twinkle behind you,
The pink and blue sashes flutter like flags,
The hoop-sticks are ready to beat you.
Turn, turn, Hoops! In the yellow sunshine.
Turn your stripped willow whiteness
Along the smooth paths.

Stella sings:
"Round and round, rolls my hoop,
Scarcely touching the ground,
With a swoop,
And a bound,
Round and round.
With a bumpety, crunching, scattering sound,
Down the garden it flies;
In our eyes
The sun lies.
See it spin
Out and in;
Through the paths it goes whirling,
About the beds curling.
Sway now to the loop,
Faster, faster, my hoop.
Round you come,
Up you come,
Quick and straight as before.
Run, run, my hoop, run,
Away from the sun."

And the great hoop bounds along the path,
Leaping into the wind-bright air.

Minna sings:
"Turn, hoop,
Burn hoop,
Twist and twine
Hoop of mine.
Flash along,
Leap along,
Right at the sun.
Run, hoop, run.
Faster and faster,
Whirl, twirl.
Wheel like fire,
And spin like glass;
Fire's no whiter
Glass is no brighter.
Dance,
Prance,
Over and over,
About and about,
With the top of you under,
And the bottom at top,
But never a stop.
Turn about, hoop, to the tap of my stick,
I follow behind you
To touch and remind you.
Burn and glitter, so white and quick,
Round and round, to the tap of a stick."

The hoop flies along between the flower-beds,
Swaying the flowers with the wind of its passing.

Beside the foxglove-border roll the hoops,
And the little pink and white bells shake and jingle
Up and down their tall spires;
They roll under the snow-ball bush,
And the ground behind them is strewn with white petals;
They swirl round a corner,
And jar a bee out of a Canterbury bell;
They cast their shadows for an instant
Over a bed of pansies,
Catch against the spurs of a columbine,
Jostle the quietness from a cluster of monk's-hood.
Pat! Pat! behind them come the little criss-cross shoes,
And the blue and pink sashes stream out in flappings of colour.

Stella sings:
"Hoop, hoop,
Roll along,
Faster bowl along,
Hoop.
Slow, to the turning,
Now go! -- Go!
Quick!
Here's the stick.
Rat-a-tap-tap it,
Pat it, flap it.
Fly like a bird or a yellow-backed bee,
See how soon you can reach that tree.
Here is a path that is perfectly straight.
Roll along, hoop, or we shall be late."

Minna sings:
"Trip about, slip about, whip about
Hoop.
Wheel like a top at its quickest spin,
Then, dear hoop, we shall surely win.
First to the greenhouse and then to the wall
Circle and circle,
And let the wind push you,
Poke you,
Brush you,
And not let you fall.
Whirring you round like a wreath of mist.
Hoopety hoop,
Twist,
Twist."

Tap! Tap! go the hoop-sticks,
And the hoops bowl along under a grape arbour.
For an instant their willow whiteness is green,
Pale white-green.
Then they are out in the sunshine,
Leaving the half-formed grape clusters
A-tremble under their big leaves.

"I will beat you, Minna," cries Stella,
Hitting her hoop smartly with her stick.
"Stella, Stella, we are winning," calls Minna,
As her hoop curves round a bed of clove-pinks.
A humming-bird whizzes past Stella's ear,
And two or three yellow-and-black butterflies
Flutter, startled, out of a pillar rose.
Round and round race the little girls
After their great white hoops.

Suddenly Minna stops.
Her hoop wavers an instant,
But she catches it up on her stick.
"Listen, Stella!"
Both the little girls are listening;
And the scents of the garden rise up quietly about them.
"It's the chaise! It's Father!
Perhaps he's brought us a book from Boston."
Twinkle, twinkle, the little criss-cross shoes
Up the garden path.
Blue -- pink -- an instant, against the syringa hedge.
But the hoops, white as stripped willow-wands,
Lie in the grass,
And the grasshoppers jump back and forth
Over them.

II

Battledore and Shuttlecock

The shuttlecock soars upward
In a parabola of whiteness,
Turns,
And sinks to a perfect arc.
Plat! the battledore strikes it,
And it rises again,
Without haste,
Winged and curving,
Tracing its white flight
Against the clipped hemlock-trees.
Plat!
Up again,
Orange and sparkling with sun,
Rounding under the blue sky,
Dropping,
Fading to grey-green
In the shadow of the coned hemlocks.
"Ninety-one." "Ninety-two." "Ninety-three."
The arms of the little girls
Come up -- and up --
Precisely,
Like mechanical toys.
The battledores beat at nothing,
And toss the dazzle of snow
Off their parchment drums.
"Ninety-four." Plat!
"Ninety-five." Plat!
Back and forth
Goes the shuttlecock,
Icicle-white,
Leaping at the sharp-edged clouds,
Overturning,
Falling,
Down,
And down,
Tinctured with pink
From the upthrusting shine
Of Oriental poppies.

The little girls sway to the counting rhythm;
Left foot,
Right foot.
Plat! Plat!
Yellow heat twines round the handles of the battledores,
The parchment cracks with dryness;
But the shuttlecock
Swings slowly into the ice-blue sky,
Heaving up on the warm air
Like a foam-bubble on a wave,
With feathers slanted and sustaining.
Higher,
Until the earth turns beneath it;
Poised and swinging,
With all the garden flowing beneath it,
Scarlet, and blue, and purple, and white --
Blurred colour reflections in rippled water --
Changing -- streaming --
For the moment that Stella takes to lift her arm.
Then the shuttlecock relinquishes,
Bows,
Descends;
And the sharp blue spears of the air
Thrust it to earth.

Again it mounts,
Stepping up on the rising scents of flowers,
Buoyed up and under by the shining heat.
Above the foxgloves,
Above the guelder-roses,
Above the greenhouse glitter,
Till the shafts of cooler air
Meet it,
Deflect it,
Reject it,
Then down,
Down,
Past the greenhouse,
Past the guelder-rose bush,
Past the foxgloves.

"Ninety-nine," Stella's battledore springs to the impact.
Plunk! Like the snap of a taut string.
"Oh! Minna!"
The shuttlecock drops zigzagedly,
Out of orbit,
Hits the path,
And rolls over quite still.
Dead white feathers,
With a weight at the end.

III

Garden Games

The tall clock is striking twelve;
And the little girls stop in the hall to watch it,
And the big ships rocking in a half-circle
Above the dial.
Twelve o'clock!
Down the side steps
Go the little girls,
Under their big round straw hats.
Minna's has a pink ribbon,
Stella's a blue,
That is the way they know which is which.
Twelve o'clock!
An hour yet before dinner.
Mother is busy in the still-room,
And Hannah is making gingerbread.

Slowly, with lagging steps,
They follow the garden-path,
Crushing a leaf of box for its acrid smell,
Discussing what they shall do,
And doing nothing.

"Stella, see that grasshopper
Climbing up the bank!
What a jump!
Almost as long as my arm."
Run, children, run.
For the grasshopper is leaping away,
In half-circle curves,
Shuttlecock curves,
Over the grasses.
Hand in hand, the little girls call to him:
"Grandfather, grandfather gray,
Give me molasses, or I'll throw you away."

The grasshopper leaps into the sunlight,
Golden-green,
And is gone.

"Let's catch a bee."
Round whirl the little girls,
And up the garden.
Two heads are thrust among the Canterbury bells,
Listening,
And fingers clasp and unclasp behind backs
In a strain of silence.

White bells,
Blue bells,
Hollow and reflexed.
Deep tunnels of blue and white dimness,
Cool wine-tunnels for bees.
There is a floundering and buzzing over Minna's head.

"Bend it down, Stella. Quick! Quick!"
The wide mouth of a blossom
Is pressed together in Minna's fingers.
The stem flies up, jiggling its flower-bells,
And Minna holds the dark blue cup in her hand,
With the bee
Imprisoned in it.
Whirr! Buzz! Bump!
Bump! Whiz! Bang!
BANG!!
The blue flower tears across like paper,
And a gold-black bee darts away in the sunshine.

"If we could fly, we could catch him."
The sunshine is hot on Stella's upturned face,
As she stares after the bee.
"We'll follow him in a dove chariot.
Come on, Stella."
Run, children,
Along the red gravel paths,
For a bee is hard to catch,
Even with a chariot of doves.

Tall, still, and cowled,
Stand the monk's-hoods;
Taller than the heads of the little girls.
A blossom for Minna.
A blossom for Stella.
Off comes the cowl,
And there is a purple-painted chariot;
Off comes the forward petal,
And there are two little green doves,
With green traces tying them to the chariot.
"Now we will get in, and fly right up to the clouds.
Fly, Doves, up in the sky,
With Minna and me,
After the bee."

Up one path,
Down another,
Run the little girls,
Holding their dove chariots in front of them;
But the bee is hidden in the trumpet of a honeysuckle,
With his wings folded along his back.

The dove chariots are thrown away,
And the little girls wander slowly through the garden,
Sucking the salvia tips,
And squeezing the snapdragons
To make them gape.
"I'm so hot,
Let's pick a pansy
And see the little man in his bath,
And play we're he."
A royal bath-tub,
Hung with purple stuffs and yellow.
The great purple-yellow wings
Rise up behind the little red and green man;
The purple-yellow wings fan him,
He dabbles his feet in cool green.
Off with the green sheath,
And there are two spindly legs.
"Heigho!" sighs Minna.
"Heigho!" sighs Stella.
There is not a flutter of wind,
And the sun is directly overhead.

Along the edge of the garden
Walk the little girls.
Their hats, round and yellow like cheeses,
Are dangling by the ribbons.
The grass is a tumult of buttercups and daisies;
Buttercups and daisies streaming away
Up the hill.
The garden is purple, and pink, and orange, and scarlet;
The garden is hot with colours.
But the meadow is only yellow, and white, and green,
Cool, and long, and quiet.
The little girls pick buttercups
And hold them under each other's chins.
"You're as gold as Grandfather's snuff-box.
You're going to be very rich, Minna."
"Oh-o-o! Then I'll ask my husband to give me a pair of garnet earrings
Just like Aunt Nancy's.
I wonder if he will.
I know. We'll tell fortunes.
That's what we'll do."
Plump down in the meadow grass,
Stella and Minna,
With their round yellow hats,
Like cheeses,
Beside them.
Drop,
Drop,
Daisy petals.
"One I love,
Two I love,
Three I love I say . . ."
The ground is peppered with daisy petals,
And the little girls nibble the golden centres,
And play it is cake.

A bell rings.
Dinner-time;
And after dinner there are lessons.

1777

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.

Bronze Tablets

The Fruit Shop

Cross-ribboned shoes; a muslin gown,
High-waisted, girdled with bright blue;
A straw poke bonnet which hid the frown
She pluckered her little brows into
As she picked her dainty passage through
The dusty street. "Ah, Mademoiselle,
A dirty pathway, we need rain,
My poor fruits suffer, and the shell
Of this nut's too big for its kernel, lain
Here in the sun it has shrunk again.
The baker down at the corner says
We need a battle to shake the clouds;
But I am a man of peace, my ways
Don't look to the killing of men in crowds.
Poor fellows with guns and bayonets for shrouds!
Pray, Mademoiselle, come out of the sun.
Let me dust off that wicker chair. It's cool
In here, for the green leaves I have run
In a curtain over the door, make a pool
Of shade. You see the pears on that stool --
The shadow keeps them plump and fair."
Over the fruiterer's door, the leaves
Held back the sun, a greenish flare
Quivered and sparked the shop, the sheaves
Of sunbeams, glanced from the sign on the eaves,
Shot from the golden letters, broke
And splintered to little scattered lights.
Jeanne Tourmont entered the shop, her poke
Bonnet tilted itself to rights,
And her face looked out like the moon on nights
Of flickering clouds. "Monsieur Popain, I
Want gooseberries, an apple or two,
Or excellent plums, but not if they're high;
Haven't you some which a strong wind blew?
I've only a couple of francs for you."
Monsieur Popain shrugged and rubbed his hands.
What could he do, the times were sad.
A couple of francs and such demands!
And asking for fruits a little bad.
Wind-blown indeed! He never had
Anything else than the very best.
He pointed to baskets of blunted pears
With the thin skin tight like a bursting vest,
All yellow, and red, and brown, in smears.
Monsieur Popain's voice denoted tears.
He took up a pear with tender care,
And pressed it with his hardened thumb.
"Smell it, Mademoiselle, the perfume there
Is like lavender, and sweet thoughts come
Only from having a dish at home.
And those grapes! They melt in the mouth like wine,
Just a click of the tongue, and they burst to honey.
They're only this morning off the vine,
And I paid for them down in silver money.
The Corporal's widow is witness, her pony
Brought them in at sunrise to-day.
Those oranges -- Gold! They're almost red.
They seem little chips just broken away
From the sun itself. Or perhaps instead
You'd like a pomegranate, they're rarely gay,
When you split them the seeds are like crimson spray.
Yes, they're high, they're high, and those Turkey figs,
They all come from the South, and Nelson's ships
Make it a little hard for our rigs.
They must be forever giving the slips
To the cursed English, and when men clips
Through powder to bring them, why dainties mounts
A bit in price. Those almonds now,
I'll strip off that husk, when one discounts
A life or two in a nigger row
With the man who grew them, it does seem how
They would come dear; and then the fight
At sea perhaps, our boats have heels
And mostly they sail along at night,
But once in a way they're caught; one feels
Ivory's not better nor finer -- why peels
From an almond kernel are worth two sous.
It's hard to sell them now," he sighed.
"Purses are tight, but I shall not lose.
There's plenty of cheaper things to choose."
He picked some currants out of a wide
Earthen bowl. "They make the tongue
Almost fly out to suck them, bride
Currants they are, they were planted long
Ago for some new Marquise, among
Other great beauties, before the Chateau
Was left to rot. Now the Gardener's wife,
He that marched off to his death at Marengo,
Sells them to me; she keeps her life
From snuffing out, with her pruning knife.
She's a poor old thing, but she learnt the trade
When her man was young, and the young Marquis
Couldn't have enough garden. The flowers he made
All new! And the fruits! But 'twas said that he
Was no friend to the people, and so they laid
Some charge against him, a cavalcade
Of citizens took him away; they meant
Well, but I think there was some mistake.
He just pottered round in his garden, bent
On growing things; we were so awake
In those days for the New Republic's sake.
He's gone, and the garden is all that's left
Not in ruin, but the currants and apricots,
And peaches, furred and sweet, with a cleft
Full of morning dew, in those green-glazed pots,
Why, Mademoiselle, there is never an eft
Or worm among them, and as for theft,
How the old woman keeps them I cannot say,
But they're finer than any grown this way."
Jeanne Tourmont drew back the filigree ring
Of her striped silk purse, tipped it upside down
And shook it, two coins fell with a ding
Of striking silver, beneath her gown
One rolled, the other lay, a thing
Sparked white and sharply glistening,
In a drop of sunlight between two shades.
She jerked the purse, took its empty ends
And crumpled them toward the centre braids.
The whole collapsed to a mass of blends
Of colours and stripes. "Monsieur Popain, friends
We have always been. In the days before
The Great Revolution my aunt was kind
When you needed help. You need no more;
'Tis we now who must beg at your door,
And will you refuse?" The little man
Bustled, denied, his heart was good,
But times were hard. He went to a pan
And poured upon the counter a flood
Of pungent raspberries, tanged like wood.
He took a melon with rough green rind
And rubbed it well with his apron tip.
Then he hunted over the shop to find
Some walnuts cracking at the lip,
And added to these a barberry slip
Whose acrid, oval berries hung
Like fringe and trembled. He reached a round
Basket, with handles, from where it swung
Against the wall, laid it on the ground
And filled it, then he searched and found
The francs Jeanne Tourmont had let fall.
"You'll return the basket, Mademoiselle?"
She smiled, "The next time that I call,
Monsieur. You know that very well."
'Twas lightly said, but meant to tell.
Monsieur Popain bowed, somewhat abashed.
She took her basket and stepped out.
The sunlight was so bright it flashed
Her eyes to blindness, and the rout
Of the little street was all about.
Through glare and noise she stumbled, dazed.
The heavy basket was a care.
She heard a shout and almost grazed
The panels of a chaise and pair.
The postboy yelled, and an amazed
Face from the carriage window gazed.
She jumped back just in time, her heart
Beating with fear. Through whirling light
The chaise departed, but her smart
Was keen and bitter. In the white
Dust of the street she saw a bright
Streak of colours, wet and gay,
Red like blood. Crushed but fair,
Her fruit stained the cobbles of the way.
Monsieur Popain joined her there.
"Tiens, Mademoiselle,
c'est le General Bonaparte, partant pour la Guerre!"

Malmaison

I

How the slates of the roof sparkle in the sun, over there, over there,
beyond the high wall! How quietly the Seine runs in loops and windings,
over there, over there, sliding through the green countryside! Like ships
of the line, stately with canvas, the tall clouds pass along the sky,
over the glittering roof, over the trees, over the looped and curving river.
A breeze quivers through the linden-trees. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! But the road is dusty. Already the Citoyenne Beauharnais
wearies of her walk. Her skin is chalked and powdered with dust,
she smells dust, and behind the wall are roses! Roses with
smooth open petals, poised above rippling leaves . . . Roses . . .
They have told her so. The Citoyenne Beauharnais shrugs her shoulders
and makes a little face. She must mend her pace if she would be back
in time for dinner. Roses indeed! The guillotine more likely.

The tiered clouds float over Malmaison, and the slate roof sparkles
in the sun.

II

Gallop! Gallop! The General brooks no delay. Make way, good people,
and scatter out of his path, you, and your hens, and your dogs,
and your children. The General is returned from Egypt, and is come
in a `caleche' and four to visit his new property. Throw open the gates,
you, Porter of Malmaison. Pull off your cap, my man, this is your master,
the husband of Madame. Faster! Faster! A jerk and a jingle
and they are arrived, he and she. Madame has red eyes. Fie! It is for joy
at her husband's return. Learn your place, Porter. A gentleman here
for two months? Fie! Fie, then! Since when have you taken to gossiping.
Madame may have a brother, I suppose. That -- all green, and red,
and glitter, with flesh as dark as ebony -- that is a slave; a bloodthirsty,
stabbing, slashing heathen, come from the hot countries to cure your tongue
of idle whispering.

A fine afternoon it is, with tall bright clouds sailing over the trees.

"Bonaparte, mon ami, the trees are golden like my star, the star I pinned
to your destiny when I married you. The gypsy, you remember her prophecy!
My dear friend, not here, the servants are watching; send them away,
and that flashing splendour, Roustan. Superb -- Imperial, but . . .
My dear, your arm is trembling; I faint to feel it touching me! No, no,
Bonaparte, not that -- spare me that -- did we not bury that last night!
You hurt me, my friend, you are so hot and strong. Not long, Dear,
no, thank God, not long."

The looped river runs saffron, for the sun is setting. It is getting dark.
Dark. Darker. In the moonlight, the slate roof shines palely milkily white.

The roses have faded at Malmaison, nipped by the frost. What need for roses?
Smooth, open petals -- her arms. Fragrant, outcurved petals -- her breasts.
He rises like a sun above her, stooping to touch the petals, press them wider.
Eagles. Bees. What are they to open roses! A little shivering breeze
runs through the linden-trees, and the tiered clouds blow across the sky
like ships of the line, stately with canvas.

III

The gates stand wide at Malmaison, stand wide all day. The gravel
of the avenue glints under the continual rolling of wheels.
An officer gallops up with his sabre clicking; a mameluke gallops down
with his charger kicking. `Valets de pied' run about in ones, and twos,
and groups, like swirled blown leaves. Tramp! Tramp! The guard is changing,
and the grenadiers off duty lounge out of sight, ranging along the roads
toward Paris.

The slate roof sparkles in the sun, but it sparkles milkily, vaguely,
the great glass-houses put out its shining. Glass, stone, and onyx
now for the sun's mirror. Much has come to pass at Malmaison.
New rocks and fountains, blocks of carven marble, fluted pillars uprearing
antique temples, vases and urns in unexpected places, bridges of stone,
bridges of wood, arbours and statues, and a flood of flowers everywhere,
new flowers, rare flowers, parterre after parterre of flowers. Indeed,
the roses bloom at Malmaison. It is youth, youth untrammeled and advancing,
trundling a country ahead of it as though it were a hoop. Laughter,
and spur janglings in tessellated vestibules. Tripping of clocked
and embroidered stockings in little low-heeled shoes over smooth grass-plots.
India muslins spangled with silver patterns slide through trees --
mingle -- separate -- white day fireflies flashing moon-brilliance
in the shade of foliage.

"The kangaroos! I vow, Captain, I must see the kangaroos."

"As you please, dear Lady, but I recommend the shady linden alley
and feeding the cockatoos."

"They say that Madame Bonaparte's breed of sheep is the best in all France."

"And, oh, have you seen the enchanting little cedar she planted
when the First Consul sent home the news of the victory of Marengo?"

Picking, choosing, the chattering company flits to and fro. Over the trees
the great clouds go, tiered, stately, like ships of the line
bright with canvas.

Prisoners'-base, and its swooping, veering, racing, giggling, bumping.
The First Consul runs plump into M. de Beauharnais and falls.
But he picks himself up smartly, and starts after M. Isabey. Too late,
M. Le Premier Consul, Mademoiselle Hortense is out after you. Quickly,
my dear Sir! Stir your short legs, she is swift and eager, and as graceful
as her mother. She is there, that other, playing too, but lightly, warily,
bearing herself with care, rather floating out upon the air than running,
never far from goal. She is there, borne up above her guests
as something indefinably fair, a rose above periwinkles. A blown rose,
smooth as satin, reflexed, one loosened petal hanging back and down.
A rose that undulates languorously as the breeze takes it,
resting upon its leaves in a faintness of perfume.

There are rumours about the First Consul. Malmaison is full of women,
and Paris is only two leagues distant. Madame Bonaparte stands
on the wooden bridge at sunset, and watches a black swan
pushing the pink and silver water in front of him as he swims,
crinkling its smoothness into pleats of changing colour with his breast.
Madame Bonaparte presses against the parapet of the bridge,
and the crushed roses at her belt melt, petal by petal, into the pink water.

IV

A vile day, Porter. But keep your wits about you. The Empress
will soon be here. Queer, without the Emperor! It is indeed,
but best not consider that. Scratch your head and prick up your ears.
Divorce is not for you to debate about. She is late? Ah, well,
the roads are muddy. The rain spears are as sharp as whetted knives.
They dart down and down, edged and shining. Clop-trop! Clop-trop!
A carriage grows out of the mist. Hist, Porter. You can keep on your hat.
It is only Her Majesty's dogs and her parrot. Clop-trop!
The Ladies in Waiting, Porter. Clop-trop! It is Her Majesty. At least,
I suppose it is, but the blinds are drawn.

"In all the years I have served Her Majesty she never before passed the gate
without giving me a smile!"

You're a droll fellow, to expect the Empress to put out her head
in the pouring rain and salute you. She has affairs of her own
to think about.

Clang the gate, no need for further waiting, nobody else will be coming
to Malmaison to-night.

White under her veil, drained and shaking, the woman crosses the antechamber.
Empress! Empress! Foolish splendour, perished to dust. Ashes of roses,
ashes of youth. Empress forsooth!

Over the glass domes of the hot-houses drenches the rain. Behind her
a clock ticks -- ticks again. The sound knocks upon her thought
with the echoing shudder of hollow vases. She places her hands on her ears,
but the minutes pass, knocking. Tears in Malmaison. And years to come
each knocking by, minute after minute. Years, many years, and tears,
and cold pouring rain.

"I feel as though I had died, and the only sensation I have
is that I am no more."

Rain! Heavy, thudding rain!

V

The roses bloom at Malmaison. And not only roses. Tulips, myrtles,
geraniums, camelias, rhododendrons, dahlias, double hyacinths.
All the year through, under glass, under the sky, flowers bud, expand, die,
and give way to others, always others. From distant countries they have
been brought, and taught to live in the cool temperateness of France.
There is the `Bonapartea' from Peru; the `Napoleone Imperiale';
the `Josephinia Imperatrix', a pearl-white flower, purple-shadowed,
the calix pricked out with crimson points. Malmaison wears its flowers
as a lady wears her gems, flauntingly, assertively. Malmaison decks herself
to hide the hollow within.

The glass-houses grow and grow, and every year fling up hotter reflections
to the sailing sun.

The cost runs into millions, but a woman must have something
to console herself for a broken heart. One can play backgammon and patience,
and then patience and backgammon, and stake gold napoleons on each game won.
Sport truly! It is an unruly spirit which could ask better. With her jewels,
her laces, her shawls; her two hundred and twenty dresses, her fichus,
her veils; her pictures, her busts, her birds. It is absurd that she
cannot be happy. The Emperor smarts under the thought of her ingratitude.
What could he do more? And yet she spends, spends as never before.
It is ridiculous. Can she not enjoy life at a smaller figure?
Was ever monarch plagued with so extravagant an ex-wife. She owes
her chocolate-merchant, her candle-merchant, her sweetmeat purveyor;
her grocer, her butcher, her poulterer; her architect, and the shopkeeper
who sells her rouge; her perfumer, her dressmaker, her merchant of shoes.
She owes for fans, plants, engravings, and chairs. She owes
masons and carpenters, vintners, lingeres. The lady's affairs
are in sad confusion.

And why? Why?

Can a river flow when the spring is dry?

Night. The Empress sits alone, and the clock ticks, one after one.
The clock nicks off the edges of her life. She is chipped like
an old bit of china; she is frayed like a garment of last year's wearing.
She is soft, crinkled, like a fading rose. And each minute flows by
brushing against her, shearing off another and another petal.
The Empress crushes her breasts with her hands and weeps. And the tall clouds
sail over Malmaison like a procession of stately ships bound for the moon.

Scarlet, clear-blue, purple epauletted with gold. It is a parade of soldiers
sweeping up the avenue. Eight horses, eight Imperial harnesses,
four caparisoned postilions, a carriage with the Emperor's arms on the panels.
Ho, Porter, pop out your eyes, and no wonder. Where else under the Heavens
could you see such splendour!

They sit on a stone seat. The little man in the green coat of a Colonel
of Chasseurs, and the lady, beautiful as a satin seed-pod, and as pale.
The house has memories. The satin seed-pod holds his germs of Empire.
We will stay here, under the blue sky and the turreted white clouds.
She draws him; he feels her faded loveliness urge him to replenish it.
Her soft transparent texture woos his nervous fingering. He speaks to her
of debts, of resignation; of her children, and his; he promises that she
shall see the King of Rome; he says some harsh things and some pleasant.
But she is there, close to him, rose toned to amber, white shot with violet,
pungent to his nostrils as embalmed rose-leaves in a twilit room.

Suddenly the Emperor calls his carriage and rolls away
across the looping Seine.

VI

Crystal-blue brightness over the glass-houses. Crystal-blue streaks
and ripples over the lake. A macaw on a gilded perch screams;
they have forgotten to take out his dinner. The windows shake. Boom! Boom!
It is the rumbling of Prussian cannon beyond Pecq. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! Swimming above their leaves, rotting beneath them.
Fallen flowers strew the unraked walks. Fallen flowers for a fallen Emperor!
The General in charge of him draws back and watches. Snatches of music --
snarling, sneering music of bagpipes. They say a Scotch regiment
is besieging Saint-Denis. The Emperor wipes his face, or is it his eyes.
His tired eyes which see nowhere the grace they long for. Josephine!
Somebody asks him a question, he does not answer, somebody else does that.
There are voices, but one voice he does not hear, and yet he hears it
all the time. Josephine! The Emperor puts up his hand to screen his face.
The white light of a bright cloud spears sharply through the linden-trees.
`Vive l'Empereur!' There are troops passing beyond the wall,
troops which sing and call. Boom! A pink rose is jarred off its stem
and falls at the Emperor's feet.

"Very well. I go." Where! Does it matter? There is no sword to clatter.
Nothing but soft brushing gravel and a gate which shuts with a click.

"Quick, fellow, don't spare your horses."

A whip cracks, wheels turn, why burn one's eyes following a fleck of dust.

VII

Over the slate roof tall clouds, like ships of the line, pass along the sky.
The glass-houses glitter splotchily, for many of their lights are broken.
Roses bloom, fiery cinders quenching under damp weeds. Wreckage and misery,
and a trailing of petty deeds smearing over old recollections.

The musty rooms are empty and their shutters are closed, only in the gallery
there is a stuffed black swan, covered with dust. When you touch it,
the feathers come off and float softly to the ground. Through a chink
in the shutters, one can see the stately clouds crossing the sky
toward the Roman arches of the Marly Aqueduct.

The Hammers

I

Frindsbury, Kent, 1786

Bang!
Bang!
Tap!
Tap-a-tap! Rap!
All through the lead and silver Winter days,
All through the copper of Autumn hazes.
Tap to the red rising sun,
Tap to the purple setting sun.
Four years pass before the job is done.
Two thousand oak trees grown and felled,
Two thousand oaks from the hedgerows of the Weald,
Sussex had yielded two thousand oaks
With huge boles
Round which the tape rolls
Thirty mortal feet, say the village folks.
Two hundred loads of elm and Scottish fir;
Planking from Dantzig.
My! What timber goes into a ship!
Tap! Tap!
Two years they have seasoned her ribs on the ways,
Tapping, tapping.
You can hear, though there's nothing where you gaze.
Through the fog down the reaches of the river,
The tapping goes on like heart-beats in a fever.
The church-bells chime
Hours and hours,
Dropping days in showers.
Bang! Rap! Tap!
Go the hammers all the time.
They have planked up her timbers
And the nails are driven to the head;
They have decked her over,
And again, and again.
The shoring-up beams shudder at the strain.
Black and blue breeches,
Pigtails bound and shining:
Like ants crawling about,
The hull swarms with carpenters, running in and out.
Joiners, calkers,
And they are all terrible talkers.
Jem Wilson has been to sea and he tells some wonderful tales
Of whales, and spice islands,
And pirates off the Barbary coast.
He boasts magnificently, with his mouth full of nails.
Stephen Pibold has a tenor voice,
He shifts his quid of tobacco and sings:
"The second in command was blear-eyed Ned:
While the surgeon his limb was a-lopping,
A nine-pounder came and smack went his head,
Pull away, pull away, pull away! I say;
Rare news for my Meg of Wapping!"
Every Sunday
People come in crowds
(After church-time, of course)
In curricles, and gigs, and wagons,
And some have brought cold chicken and flagons
Of wine,
And beer in stoppered jugs.
"Dear! Dear! But I tell 'ee 'twill be a fine ship.
There's none finer in any of the slips at Chatham."

The third Summer's roses have started in to blow,
When the fine stern carving is begun.
Flutings, and twinings, and long slow swirls,
Bits of deal shaved away to thin spiral curls.
Tap! Tap! A cornucopia is nailed into place.
Rap-a-tap! They are putting up a railing filigreed like Irish lace.
The Three Town's people never saw such grace.
And the paint on it! The richest gold leaf!
Why, the glitter when the sun is shining passes belief.
And that row of glass windows tipped toward the sky
Are rubies and carbuncles when the day is dry.
Oh, my! Oh, my!
They have coppered up the bottom,
And the copper nails
Stand about and sparkle in big wooden pails.
Bang! Clash! Bang!
"And he swigg'd, and Nick swigg'd,
And Ben swigg'd, and Dick swigg'd,
And I swigg'd, and all of us swigg'd it,
And swore there was nothing like grog."
It seems they sing,
Even though coppering is not an easy thing.
What a splendid specimen of humanity is a true British workman,
Say the people of the Three Towns,
As they walk about the dockyard
To the sound of the evening church-bells.
And so artistic, too, each one tells his neighbour.
What immense taste and labour!
Miss Jessie Prime, in a pink silk bonnet,
Titters with delight as her eyes fall upon it,
When she steps lightly down from Lawyer Green's whisky;
Such amazing beauty makes one feel frisky,
She explains.
Mr. Nichols says he is delighted
(He is the firm);
His work is all requited
If Miss Jessie can approve.
Miss Jessie answers that the ship is "a love".
The sides are yellow as marigold,
The port-lids are red when the ports are up:
Blood-red squares like an even chequer
Of yellow asters and portulaca.
There is a wide "black strake" at the waterline
And above is a blue like the sky when the weather is fine.
The inner bulwarks are painted red.
"Why?" asks Miss Jessie. "'Tis a horrid note."
Mr. Nichols clears his throat,
And tells her the launching day is set.
He says, "Be careful, the paint is wet."
But Miss Jessie has touched it, her sprigged muslin gown
Has a blood-red streak from the shoulder down.
"It looks like blood," says Miss Jessie with a frown.

Tap! Tap! Rap!
An October day, with waves running in blue-white lines and a capful of wind.
Three broad flags ripple out behind
Where the masts will be:
Royal Standard at the main,
Admiralty flag at the fore,
Union Jack at the mizzen.
The hammers tap harder, faster,
They must finish by noon.
The last nail is driven.
But the wind has increased to half a gale,
And the ship shakes and quivers upon the ways.
The Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard is coming
In his ten-oared barge from the King's Stairs;
The Marine's band will play "God Save Great George Our King";
And there is to be a dinner afterwards at the Crown, with speeches.
The wind screeches, and flaps the flags till they pound like hammers.
The wind hums over the ship,
And slips round the dog-shores,
Jostling them almost to falling.
There is no time now to wait for Commissioners and marine bands.
Mr. Nichols has a bottle of port in his hands.
He leans over, holding his hat, and shouts to the men below:
"Let her go!"
Bang! Bang! Pound!
The dog-shores fall to the ground,
And the ship slides down the greased planking.
A splintering of glass,
And port wine running all over the white and copper stem timbers.
"Success to his Majesty's ship, the Bellerophon!"
And the red wine washes away in the waters of the Medway.

II

Paris, March, 1814

Fine yellow sunlight down the rue du Mont Thabor.
Ten o'clock striking from all the clock-towers of Paris.
Over the door of a shop, in gilt letters:
"Martin -- Parfumeur", and something more.
A large gilded wooden something.
Listen! What a ringing of hammers!
Tap!
Tap!
Squeak!
Tap! Squeak! Tap-a-tap!
"Blaise."
"Oui, M'sieu."
"Don't touch the letters. My name stays."
"Bien, M'sieu."
"Just take down the eagle, and the shield with the bees."
"As M'sieu pleases."
Tap! Squeak! Tap!
The man on the ladder hammers steadily for a minute or two,
Then stops.
"He! Patron!
They are fastened well, Nom d'un Chien!
What if I break them?"
"Break away,
You and Paul must have them down to-day."
"Bien."
And the hammers start again,
Drum-beating at the something of gilded wood.
Sunshine in a golden flood
Lighting up the yellow fronts of houses,
Glittering each window to a flash.
Squeak! Squeak! Tap!
The hammers beat and rap.
A Prussian hussar on a grey horse goes by at a dash.
From other shops, the noise of striking blows:
Pounds, thumps, and whacks;
Wooden sounds: splinters -- cracks.
Paris is full of the galloping of horses and the knocking of hammers.
"Hullo! Friend Martin, is business slack
That you are in the street this morning? Don't turn your back
And scuttle into your shop like a rabbit to its hole.
I've just been taking a stroll.
The stinking Cossacks are bivouacked all up and down the Champs Elysees.
I can't get the smell of them out of my nostrils.
Dirty fellows, who don't believe in frills
Like washing. Ah, mon vieux, you'd have to go
Out of business if you lived in Russia. So!
We've given up being perfumers to the Emperor, have we?
Blaise,
Be careful of the hen,
Maybe I can find a use for her one of these days.
That eagle's rather well cut, Martin.
But I'm sick of smelling Cossack,
Take me inside and let me put my head into a stack
Of orris-root and musk."
Within the shop, the light is dimmed to a pearl-and-green dusk
Out of which dreamily sparkle counters and shelves of glass,
Containing phials, and bowls, and jars, and dishes; a mass
Of aqueous transparence made solid by threads of gold.
Gold and glass,
And scents which whiff across the green twilight and pass.
The perfumer sits down and shakes his head:
"Always the same, Monsieur Antoine,
You artists are wonderful folk indeed."
But Antoine Vernet does not heed.
He is reading the names on the bottles and bowls,
Done in fine gilt letters with wonderful scrolls.
"What have we here? `Eau Imperial Odontalgique.'
I must say, mon cher, your names are chic.
But it won't do, positively it will not do.
Elba doesn't count. Ah, here is another:
`Baume du Commandeur'. That's better. He needs something to smother
Regrets. A little lubricant, too,
Might be useful. I have it,
`Sage Oil', perhaps he'll be good now; with it we'll submit
This fine German rouge. I fear he is pale."
"Monsieur Antoine, don't rail
At misfortune. He treated me well and fairly."
"And you prefer him to Bourbons, admit it squarely."
"Heaven forbid!" Bang! Whack!
Squeak! Squeak! Crack!
CRASH!
"Oh, Lord, Martin! That shield is hash.
The whole street is covered with golden bees.
They look like so many yellow peas,
Lying there in the mud. I'd like to paint it.
`Plum pudding of Empire'. That's rather quaint, it
Might take with the Kings. Shall I try?" "Oh, Sir,
You distress me, you do." "Poor old Martin's purr!
But he hasn't a scratch in him, I know.
Now let us get back to the powders and patches.
Foolish man,
The Kings are here now. We must hit on a plan
To change all these titles as fast as we can.
`Bouquet Imperatrice'. Tut! Tut! Give me some ink --
`Bouquet de la Reine', what do you think?
Not the same receipt?
Now, Martin, put away your conceit.
Who will ever know?
`Extract of Nobility' -- excellent, since most of them are killed."
"But, Monsieur Antoine --"
"You are self-willed,
Martin. You need a salve
For your conscience, do you?
Very well, we'll halve
The compliments, also the pastes and dentifrices;
Send some to the Kings, and some to the Empresses.
`Oil of Bitter Almonds' -- the Empress Josephine can have that.
`Oil of Parma Violets' fits the other one pat."
Rap! Rap! Bang!
"What a hideous clatter!
Blaise seems determined to batter
That poor old turkey into bits,
And pound to jelly my excellent wits.
Come, come, Martin, you mustn't shirk.
`The night cometh soon' -- etc. Don't jerk
Me up like that. `Essence de la Valliere' --
That has a charmingly Bourbon air.
And, oh! Magnificent! Listen to this! --
`Vinaigre des Quatre Voleurs'. Nothing amiss
With that -- England, Austria, Russia and Prussia!
Martin, you're a wonder,
Upheavals of continents can't keep you under."
"Monsieur Antoine, I am grieved indeed
At such levity. What France has gone through --"
"Very true, Martin, very true,
But never forget that a man must feed."
Pound! Pound! Thump!
Pound!
"Look here, in another minute Blaise will drop that bird on the ground."
Martin shrugs his shoulders. "Ah, well, what then? --"
Antoine, with a laugh: "I'll give you two sous for that antiquated hen."
The Imperial Eagle sells for two sous,
And the lilies go up.
A man must choose!

III

Paris, April, 1814

Cold, impassive, the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Haughty, contemptuous, the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Like a woman raped by force, rising above her fate,
Borne up by the cold rigidity of hate,
Stands the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Tap! Clink-a-tink!
Tap! Rap! Chink!
What falls to the ground like a streak of flame?
Hush! It is only a bit of bronze flashing in the sun.
What are all those soldiers? Those are not the uniforms of France.
Alas! No! The uniforms of France, Great Imperial France, are done.
They will rot away in chests and hang to dusty tatters in barn lofts.
These are other armies. And their name?
Hush, be still for shame;
Be still and imperturbable like the marble arch.
Another bright spark falls through the blue air.
Over the Place du Carrousel a wailing of despair.
Crowd your horses back upon the people, Uhlans and Hungarian Lancers,
They see too much.
Unfortunately, Gentlemen of the Invading Armies, what they do not see,
they hear.
Tap! Clink-a-tink!
Tap!
Another sharp spear
Of brightness,
And a ringing of quick metal lightness
On hard stones.
Workmen are chipping off the names of Napoleon's victories
From the triumphal arch of the Place du Carrousel.

Do they need so much force to quell the crowd?
An old Grenadier of the line groans aloud,
And each hammer tap points the sob of a woman.
Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the faded-white-lily Bourbon king
Think it well
To guard against tumult,
A mob is an undependable thing.
Ding! Ding!
Vienna is scattered all over the Place du Carrousel
In glittering, bent, and twisted letters.
Your betters have clattered over Vienna before,
Officer of his Imperial Majesty our Father-in-Law!
Tink! Tink!
A workman's chisel can strew you to the winds,
Munich.
Do they think
To pleasure Paris, used to the fall of cities,
By giving her a fall of letters!

It is a month too late.
One month, and our lily-white Bourbon king
Has done a colossal thing;
He has curdled love,
And soured the desires of a people.
Still the letters fall,
The workmen creep up and down their ladders like lizards on a wall.
Tap! Tap! Tink!
Clink! Clink!
"Oh, merciful God, they will not touch Austerlitz!
Strike me blind, my God, my eyes can never look on that.
I would give the other leg to save it, it took one.
Curse them! Curse them! Aim at his hat.
Give me the stone. Why didn't you give it to me?
I would not have missed. Curse him!
Curse all of them! They have got the `A'!"
Ding! Ding!
"I saw the Terror, but I never saw so horrible a thing as this.
`Vive l'Empereur! Vive l'Empereur!'"
"Don't strike him, Fritz.
The mob will rise if you do.
Just run him out to the `quai',
That will get him out of the way.
They are almost through."
Clink! Tink! Ding!
Clear as the sudden ring
Of a bell
"Z" strikes the pavement.
Farewell, Austerlitz, Tilsit, Presbourg;
Farewell, greatness departed.
Farewell, Imperial honours, knocked broadcast by the beating hammers
of ignorant workmen.
Straight, in the Spring moonlight,
Rises the deflowered arch.
In the silence, shining bright,
She stands naked and unsubdued.

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