Achilles' Song

- 1919-1988

I do not know more than the Sea tells me,
told me long ago, or I overheard Her
     telling distant roar upon the sands,
waves of meaning in the cradle of whose
     sounding and resounding power I
slept.

                              Manchild,     She sang

--or was it a storm uplifting the night
     into a moving wall in which
I was carried as if a mothering nest had
     been made in dread?

the wave of a life darker than my
     life before me sped, and I,
larger than I was, grown dark as
     the shoreless depth,
arose from myself, shaking the last
     light of the sun
from me.

                              Manchild,     She said,

Come back to the shores of what you are.
Come back to the crumbling shores.

     All night
The mothering tides in which your
     Life first formd in the brooding
light have quencht the bloody
     Splendors of the sun

and, under the triumphant processions
     of the moon, lay down
thunder upon thunder of an old
     longing, the beat

of whose repeated spell
     consumes you.

                              Thetis, then,
     my mother, has promised me
the mirage of a boat, a vehicle
     of water within the water,
and my soul would return from
     the trials of its human state,
from the long siege, from the
     struggling companions upon the plain,
from the burning towers and deeds
     of honor and dishonor,
the deeper unsatisfied war beneath
     and behind the declared war,
and the rubble of beautiful, patiently
     workt moonstones, agates, jades, obsidians,

turnd and retrund in the wash of
     the tides, the gleaming waste,
     the pathetic wonder,

words turnd in the phrases of song
     before our song ...or are they

beautiful, patiently workt remembrances of those
     long gone from me,
returned anew, ghostly in the light
     of the moon, old faces?

For Thetis, my mother, has promised
     me a boat,
a lover, an up-lifter of my spirit
     into the rage of my first element
rising, a princedom
     in the unreal, a share in Death

*

Time, time. It's time.

The business of Troy has long been done.

Achilles in lreuke has come home.

And soon you too     will be alone.

--December 10, 1968

More by Robert Duncan

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind, 
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart, 
an eternal pasture folded in all thought 
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light 
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am 
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved 
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words 
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing 
east against the source of the sun 
in an hour before the sun's going down

whose secret we see in a children's game 
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow 
as if it were a given property of the mind 
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize, 
where I dream in my little hood with many bells 
jangling when I'd turn my head.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and she sends me as far as her will goes. 
She lets me ride to the end of her curb 
where I fall back in anguish.
I dread that she will cast me away, 
for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

She would bring down the little birds. 
And I would bring down the little birds. 
When will she let me bring down the little birds, 
pierced from their flight with their necks broken, 
their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

I tread my mother's wrist and would draw blood.
Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
I have gone back into my hooded silence,
talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me, 
sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist. 
She uses a barb that brings me to cower. 
She sends me abroad to try my wings 
and I come back to her. I would bring down 
the little birds to her
I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood, 
and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying. 
She draws a limit to my flight.
Never beyond my sight, she says.
She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
She rewards me with meat for my dinner.
But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me, 
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding 
to the great falcon hunt, and me
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart 
to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet, 
straining, and then released for the flight.

My mother would be a falconress, 
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will, 
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own 
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind 
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew. 
And far, far beyond the curb of her will, 
were the blue hills where the falcons nest. 
And then I saw west to the dying sun--
it seemd my human soul went down in flames.

I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,
until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
far, far beyond the curb of her will

to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where
   the falcons nest
I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.
I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,
sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,
striking out from the blood to be free of her.

My mother would be a falconress,
and even now, years after this,
when the wounds I left her had surely heald,
and the woman is dead,
her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart 
were broken, it is stilld

I would be a falcon and go free.
I tread her wrist and wear the hood,
talking to myself, and would draw blood.

Such Is the Sickness of Many a Good Thing

Was he then Adam of the Burning Way? 
hid away in the heat like wrath 
        conceald in Love’s face, 
or the seed, Eris in Eros, 
        key and lock 
of what I was?        I could not speak 
        the releasing 
word.        For into a dark 
        matter he came 
and askt me to say what 
        I could not say.        "I .." 


All the flame in me stopt 
        against my tongue. 
My heart was a stone, a dumb 
        unmanageable thing in me, 
a darkness that stood athwart 
        his need 
for the enlightening, the 
        "I love you" that has 
only this one quick in time, 
        this one start 
when its moment is true. 


Such is the sickness of many a good thing 
that now into my life from long ago this 
refusing to say I love you has bound 
the weeping, the yielding, the 
        yearning to be taken again, 
into a knot, a waiting, a string 


so taut it taunts the song, 
it resists the touch. It grows dark 
to draw down the lover’s hand 
from its lightness to what’s 
        underground.