In the City of Night

- 1886-1950
(To the Memory of Edgar Allan Poe)



City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of twilight,
City that projects into the west,
City whose columns rest upon the sunset, city of square, threatening 
    masses blocking out the light:
City of twilight,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of midnight, city that the full moon overflows, city where the cats 
    prowl and the closed iron dust-carts go rattling through the shadows:
City of midnight,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of early morning, cool fresh-sprinkled city, city whose sharp roof 
    peaks are splintered against the stars, city that unbars tall haggard 
    gates in pity,
City of midnight,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of rain, city where the bleak wind batters the hard drops once and again, 
    sousing a shivering, cursing beggar who clings amid the stiff Apostles on the 
    cathedral portico;
City where the glare is dull and lowering, city where the clouds flare and flicker 
    as they pass upwards, where sputtering lamps stare into the muddy pools 
    beneath them;
City where the winds shriek up the streets and tear into the squares, city whose 
    cobbles quiver and whose pinnacles waver before the buzzing chatter of raindrops 
    in their flight;
City of midnight,
Drench me with your rain of sorrow.

City of vermilion curtains, city whose windows drip with crimson, tawdry, tinselled, 
    sensual city, throw me pitilessly into your crowds.
City filled with women's faces leering at the passers by,
City with doorways always open, city of silks and swishing laces, city where bands 
    bray dance-music all night in the plaza,
City where the overscented light hangs tepidly, stabbed with jabber of the crowd, 
    city where the stars stare coldly, falsely smiling through the smoke-filled air,
City of midnight,
Smite me with your despair.

City of emptiness, city of the white façades, city where one lonely dangling lantern 
    wavers aloft like a taper before a marble sarcophagus, frightening away the ghosts;
City where a single white-lit window in a motionless blackened house-front swallows 
    the hosts of darkness that stream down the street towards it;
City above whose dark tree-tangled park emerges suddenly, unlit, uncannily, a grey 
    ghostly tower whose base is lost in the fog, and whose summit has no end.
City of midnight,
Bury me in your silence.

City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of restlessness, city where I have tramped and wandered,
City where the herded crowds glance at me suspiciously, city where the churches are 
    locked, the shops unopened, the houses without hospitality,
City of restlessness,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of sleeplessness, city of cheap airless rooms, where in the gloom are heard snores 
    through the partition, lovers that struggle, couples that squabble, cabs that rattle, 
    cats that squall,
City of sleeplessness,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of feverish dreams, city that is being besieged by all the demons of darkness, city of 
    innumerable shadowy vaults and towers, city where passion flowers desperately and 
    treachery ends in death the strong:
City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

More by John Gould Fletcher

The Swan

Under a wall of bronze,
Where beeches dip and trail
Their branches in the water;
With red-tipped head and wings—
A beaked ship under sail—
There glides a single swan.

Under the autumn trees
He goes. The branches quiver,
Dance in the wraith-like water,
Which ripples beneath the sedge
With the slackening furrow that glides
In his wake when he is gone:
The beeches bow dark heads.

Into the windless dusk,
Where in mist great towers stand
Guarding a lonely strand,
That is bodiless and dim,
He speeds with easy stride;
And I would go beside,
Till the low brown hills divide
At last, for me and him.

The Skaters

Black swallows swooping or gliding
In a flurry of entangled loops and curves;
The skaters skim over the frozen river.
And the grinding click of their skates as they impinge upon the surface,
Is like the brushing together of thin wing-tips of silver.

Dawn

Above the east horizon,
The great red flower of the dawn
Opens slowly, petal by petal;
The trees emerge from darkness
With ghostly silver leaves,
Dew powdered.
Now consciousness emerges
Reluctantly out of tides of sleep;
Finding with cold surprise
No strange new thing to match its dreams,
But merely the familiar shapes
Of bedpost, window-pane, and wall.

Within the city,
The streets which were the last to fall to sleep,
Hold yet stale fragments of the night.
Sleep oozes out of stagnant ash-barrels,
Sleep drowses over litter in the streets.
Sleep nods upon the milkcans by back doors.
And, in shut rooms,
Behind the lowered window-blinds,
Drawn white faces unwittingly flout the day.

But, at the edges of the city,
Sleep is already washed away;
Light filters through the moist green leaves,
It runs into the cups of flowers,
It leaps in sparks through drops of dew,
It whirls against the window-panes
With waking birds;
Blinds are rolled up and chimneys smoke,
Feet clatter past in silent paths,
And down white vanishing ways of steel,
A dozen railway trains converge
Upon night’s stronghold.