You know what it is to be born alone, Baby tortoise! The first day to heave your feet little by little from the shell, Not yet awake, And remain lapsed on earth, Not quite alive. A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean. To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if it would never open Like some iron door; To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base And reach your skinny neck And take your first bite at some dim bit of herbage, Alone, small insect, Tiny bright-eye, Slow one. To take your first solitary bite And move on your slow, solitary hunt. Your bright, dark little eye, Your eye of a dark disturbed night, Under its slow lid, tiny baby tortoise, So indomitable. No one ever heard you complain. You draw your head forward, slowly, from your little wimple And set forward, slow-dragging, on your four-pinned toes, Rowing slowly forward. Wither away, small bird? Rather like a baby working its limbs, Except that you make slow, ageless progress And a baby makes none. The touch of sun excites you, And the long ages, and the lingering chill Make you pause to yawn, Opening your impervious mouth, Suddenly beak-shaped, and very wide, like some suddenly gaping pincers; Soft red tongue, and hard thin gums, Then close the wedge of your little mountain front, Your face, baby tortoise. Do you wonder at the world, as slowly you turn your head in its wimple And look with laconic, black eyes? Or is sleep coming over you again, The non-life? You are so hard to wake. Are you able to wonder? Or is it just your indomitable will and pride of the first life Looking round And slowly pitching itself against the inertia Which had seemed invincible? The vast inanimate, And the fine brilliance of your so tiny eye, Challenger. Nay, tiny shell-bird. What a huge vast inanimate it is, that you must row against, What an incalculable inertia. Challenger, Little Ulysses, fore-runner, No bigger than my thumb-nail, Buon viaggio. All animate creation on your shoulder, Set forth, little Titan, under your battle-shield. The ponderous, preponderate, Inanimate universe; And you are slowly moving, pioneer, you alone. How vivid your travelling seems now, in the troubled sunshine, Stoic, Ulyssean atom; Suddenly hasty, reckless, on high toes. Voiceless little bird, Resting your head half out of your wimple In the slow dignity of your eternal pause. Alone, with no sense of being alone, And hence six times more solitary; Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through immemorial ages Your little round house in the midst of chaos. Over the garden earth, Small bird, Over the edge of all things. Traveller, With your tail tucked a little on one side Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat. All life carried on your shoulder, Invincible fore-runner.
Monologue of a Mother
This is the last of all, this is the last!
I must hold my hands, and turn my face to the fire,
I must watch my dead days fusing together in dross,
Shape after shape, and scene after scene from my past
Fusing to one dead mass in the sinking fire
Where the ash on the dying coals grows swiftly, like heavy moss.
Strange he is, my son, whom I have awaited like a lover,
Strange to me like a captive in a foreign country, haunting
The confines and gazing out on the land where the wind is free;
White and gaunt, with wistful eyes that hover
Always on the distance, as if his soul were chaunting
The monotonous weird of departure away from me.
Like a strange white bird blown out of the frozen seas,
Like a bird from the far north blown with a broken wing
Into our sooty garden, he drags and beats
From place to place perpetually, seeking release
From me, from the hand of my love which creeps up, needing
His happiness, whilst he in displeasure retreats.
I must look away from him, for my faded eyes
Like a cringing dog at his heels offend him now,
Like a toothless hound pursuing him with my will,
Till he chafes at my crouching persistence, and a sharp spark flies
In my soul from under the sudden frown of his brow,
As he blenches and turns away, and my heart stands still.
This is the last, it will not be any more.
All my life I have borne the burden of myself,
All the long years of sitting in my husband’s house,
Never have I said to myself as he closed the door:
“Now I am caught!—You are hopelessly lost, O Self,
You are frightened with joy, my heart, like a frightened mouse.”
Three times have I offered myself, three times rejected.
It will not be any more. No more, my son, my son!
Never to know the glad freedom of obedience, since long ago
The angel of childhood kissed me and went. I expected
Another would take me,—and now, my son, O my son,
I must sit awhile and wait, and never know
The loss of myself, till death comes, who cannot fail.
Death, in whose service is nothing of gladness, takes me;
For the lips and the eyes of God are behind a veil.
And the thought of the lipless voice of the Father shakes me
With fear, and fills my eyes with the tears of desire,
And my heart rebels with anguish as night draws nigher.