She rose among us where we lay. She wept, we put our work away. She chilled our laughter, stilled our play; And spread a silence there. And darkness shot across the sky, And once, and twice, we heard her cry; And saw her lift white hands on high And toss her troubled hair. What shape was this who came to us, With basilisk eyes so ominous, With mouth so sweet, so poisonous, And tortured hands so pale? We saw her wavering to and fro, Through dark and wind we saw her go; Yet what her name was did not know; And felt our spirits fail. We tried to turn away; but still Above we heard her sorrow thrill; And those that slept, they dreamed of ill And dreadful things: Of skies grown red with rending flames And shuddering hills that cracked their frames; Of twilights foul with wings; And skeletons dancing to a tune; And cries of children stifled soon; And over all a blood-red moon A dull and nightmare size. They woke, and sought to go their ways, Yet everywhere they met her gaze, Her fixed and burning eyes. Who are you now, —we cried to her— Spirit so strange, so sinister? We felt dead winds above us stir; And in the darkness heard A voice fall, singing, cloying sweet, Heavily dropping, though that heat, Heavy as honeyed pulses beat, Slow word by anguished word. And through the night strange music went With voice and cry so darkly blent We could not fathom what they meant; Save only that they seemed To thin the blood along our veins, Foretelling vile, delirious pains, And clouds divulging blood-red rains Upon a hill undreamed. And this we heard: "Who dies for me, He shall possess me secretly, My terrible beauty he shall see, And slake my body's flame. But who denies me cursed shall be, And slain, and buried loathsomely, And slimed upon with shame." And darkness fell. And like a sea Of stumbling deaths we followed, we Who dared not stay behind. There all night long beneath a cloud We rose and fell, we struck and bowed, We were the ploughman and the ploughed, Our eyes were red and blind. And some, they said, had touched her side, Before she fled us there; And some had taken her to bride; And some lain down for her and died; Who had not touched her hair, Ran to and fro and cursed and cried And sought her everywhere. "Her eyes have feasted on the dead, And small and shapely is her head, And dark and small her mouth," they said, "And beautiful to kiss; Her mouth is sinister and red As blood in moonlight is." Then poets forgot their jeweled words And cut the sky with glittering swords; And innocent souls turned carrion birds To perch upon the dead. Sweet daisy fields were drenched with death, The air became a charnel breath, Pale stones were splashed with red. Green leaves were dappled bright with blood And fruit trees murdered in the bud; And when at length the dawn Came green as twilight from the east, And all that heaving horror ceased, Silent was every bird and beast, And that dark voice was gone. No word was there, no song, no bell, No furious tongue that dream to tell; Only the dead, who rose and fell Above the wounded men; And whisperings and wails of pain Blown slowly from the wounded grain, Blown slowly from the smoking plain; And silence fallen again. Until at dusk, from God knows where, Beneath dark birds that filled the air, Like one who did not hear or care, Under a blood-red cloud, An aged ploughman came alone And drove his share through flesh and bone, And turned them under to mould and stone; All night long he ploughed.
This poem is in the public domain.
we drank in the remains of ruined buildings and we sat in a cave or wrecked houses on farms given back to the bank listening to men who'd been raised in ways that were lost and we strained to make out the use of their news they were crazy or passed out speed notched with a cross they drank from the flask and the mouth they came in and shook off the rain inflamed and dismayed calm and arcane the least one seethed chanting whitman for hours then wept at the dregs of the fire foam formed at the edge of their lips we drank and waited for something to drop you and I looking and sifting for signs written in wax we were young we knew how to die but not how to last a small man who claimed he was blake raged all night and probably he was he had god in his sights white crosses shone in our eyes or acid mandalic in the ruins the men talked: seraphic and broken glowing with gnosis and rubbish we sorted their mad sacred words these dog-headed guides to the life after and the life after that
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Conway. Used with permission of the author.
“Truth,” said a traveller, “Is a rock, a mighty fortress; “Often have I been to it, “Even to its highest tower, “From whence the world looks black.” “Truth,” said a traveller, “Is a breath, a wind, “A shadow, a phantom; “Long have I pursued it, “But never have I touched “The hem of its garment.” And I believed the second traveller; For truth was to me A breath, a wind, A shadow, a phantom, And never had I touched The hem of its garment.
This poem is in the public domain.
I wear not the purple of earth-born kings,
Nor the stately ermine of lordly things;
But monarch and courtier, though great they be,
Must fall from their glory and bend to me.
My sceptre is gemless; yet who can say
They will not come under its mighty sway?
Ye may learn who I am,—there’s the passing chime,
And the dial to herald me, Old King Time!
Softly I creep, like a thief in the night,
After cheeks all blooming and eyes all light;
My steps are seen on the patriarch’s brow,
In the deep-worn furrows and locks of snow.
Who laughs at my power? the young and the gay;
But they dream not how closely I track their way.
Wait till their first bright sands have run,
And they will not smile at what Time hath done.
I eat through treasures with moth and rust;
I lay the gorgeous palace in dust;
I make the shell-proof tower my own,
And break the battlement, stone from stone.
Work on at your cities and temples, proud man,
Build high as ye may, and strong as ye can;
But the marble shall crumble, the pillar shall fall,
And Time, Old Time, will be king after all.
This poem appeared in Melaia and Other Poems (Charles Tilt, 1840). It is in the public domain.