When I was mourning for the late departure
Of Sycorax the toad; when all the maidens
Trooped down the sheltered road with flowers and fruit
To celebrate the end of our possession; when
The warm summer squeezes the apples and grapes
Into the essence that we shall not drink alone....

When all this has occurred

And when suddenly, importunately
Demands grow like mushrooms on the spare soil
And cedars shoot up flourishing, like oaks
And streams burst out too strongly from the ground
And the trees are full of birds of countless plumage and hue

Then I wonder what I can do
Where I can go to satisfy the craze
That will not be remembered but by love
That heaven that is opening above
And the mute, still stalk in the calm field
And the deep groan and the inexpressible yield
And the salt sand on the shore where we stood
While the tide retired, and the shells stood sharp
In the sand, cutting our toes; and within
Within, there grows
Something that simply must of course grow tall

Till now the future offers to our hope
The multitude of undiluted scope.


Of course it could not all be fierce
The lion has his days of peace
When he will chew a stalk of grass
And ruminate upon the hunts of past
And different, difficult days; the eagle too
Rests sometimes, I suppose, on mountain ash
And plucks the fruit with his untidy hook
Before departing with a spread of wings
Inexpressibly broad and limiting
Our scope, our lives, to nothing...

The worm
Moves, in the earth, in his difficult way
Hardly very glorious, if at all

And we hang our coats in the hall
And we prepare for the meeting, that must be faced
And prepare to take our places, and our faces
Lifted, dilated, bloom with embarrassment
At the embraces
That must be waiting, in the difficult time before the stalls
Are quite vacated, before the audience has left
Before, indeed, the play has quite begun....
And is there only one
One way, one way alone, that we must go?
And are we not too slow?


"That remains to be determined, friend"
The dull and sullen jailor said at last
And loosed the bonds and shackles from his thighs
And fired the last salute before the voyage....

And at night, on the way
When the land recedes, when the moon is out
And the point of arrival is not yet determined
I saw, in the water, a single flash
A dolphin or a shark
The whales cannot be replaced; they are the only
Rumour of possibility but ourselves


What chance is there for us? "That is
To be determined" said the jailor. "Close the door".


Under the wings that spread so widely now
But were not always so deployed in use
(The feathers rusting and the features stained)
I saw a sudden, sad memorial
Of men all unidentified and lost
In a past as completely gone, as past
As the water when you pulled the chain
That time, in early childhood. I remember those features
And the ghostlike shape they took before the throne
And as they bobbed and danced away with hope
Entrancing printed on their faces, I
Wondered whatever could have made them think
That we should still remember them now
When even later men have been discarded...

Why should we think of them now?
What hope is there that we shall make the grade?

The jailor pulled his watch out, undismayed
To think that people on the road to sin
Had not been able to repair his net
And had been caught in love's strange enterprise
That is not all the purpose, is disguise.

Disguise for what? Disguise for what we do
When we are charged for duty, and replace
The faces that have passed in front of you
As many times as fishes on a plate

That sad receptacle is ours, they say
Ours were the noises that you heard last night
The groans, the sudden twists and strains which may
Not be too little to be true, despite

The seminal, longer hearing, and the way
That they had played with children all the day.


Prepare to interrupt, the music, please
I have sad announcement. It must be made

And yet it need not. No, forget it, play
Let the sweet music gather smiles and last
Until the last sad memory is past
And we have done it all before tonight
And so tonight is nothing. When they say
That they remember, let them think. They know
The dead, the red, the dreadful and the slow
The bear upon the sudden mountain road
The precipice, the forest and the snow
The wolves that made their presence felt as well
The morning light that nearly broke the spell
The awful past, and the more distant lake
So deep, it drowns all trace of you, and takes
More than you ever could decide to pack
When you set off with ladders on your back.

Next poem