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.
Scent of Irises
A faint, sickening scent of irises
Persists all morning. Here in a jar on the table
A fine proud spike of purple irises
Rising above the class-room litter, makes me unable
To see the class’s lifted and bended faces
Save in a broken pattern, amid purple and gold and sable.
I can smell the gorgeous bog-end, in its breathless
Dazzle of may-blobs, when the marigold glare overcast you
With fire on your cheeks and your brow and your chin as you dipped
Your face in the marigold bunch, to touch and contrast you,
Your own dark mouth with the bridal faint lady-smocks,
Dissolved on the golden sorcery you should not outlast.
You amid the bog-end’s yellow incantation,
You sitting in the cowslips of the meadow above,
Me, your shadow on the bog-flame, flowery may-blobs,
Me full length in the cowslips, muttering you love;
You, your soul like a lady-smock, lost, evanescent,
You with your face all rich, like the sheen of a dove.
You are always asking, do I remember, remember
The butter-cup bog-end where the flowers rose up
And kindled you over deep with a cast of gold?
You ask again, do the healing days close up
The open darkness which then drew us in,
The dark which then drank up our brimming cup.
You upon the dry, dead beech-leaves, in the fire of night
Burnt like a sacrifice; you invisible;
Only the fire of darkness, and the scent of you!
—And yes, thank God, it still is possible
The healing days shall close the darkness up
Wherein we fainted like a smoke or dew.
Like vapour, dew, or poison. Now, thank God,
The fire of night is gone, and your face is ash
Indistinguishable on the grey, chill day;
The night had burst us out, at last the good
Dark fire burns on untroubled, without clash
Of you upon the dead leaves saying me Yea.