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.
Now the great wheel of darkness and low clouds
Whirs and whirls in the heavens with dipping rim;
Against the ice-white wall of light in the west
Skeleton trees bow down in a stream of air.
Leaves, black leaves and smoke, are blown on the wind;
Mount upward past my window; swoop again;
In a sharp silence, loudly, loudly falls
The first cold drop, striking a shriveled leaf . . .
Doom and dusk for the earth! Upward I reach
To draw chill curtains and shut out the dark,
Pausing an instant, with uplifted hand,
To watch, between black ruined portals of cloud,
One star,—the tottering portals fall and crush it.
Here are a thousand books! here is the wisdom
Alembicked out of dust, or out of nothing;
Choose now the weightiest word, most golden page,
Most somberly musicked line; hold up these lanterns,—
These paltry lanterns, wisdoms, philosophies,—
Above your eyes, against this wall of darkness;
And you'll see—what? One hanging strand of cobweb,
A window-sill a half-inch deep in dust . . .
Speak out, old wise-men! Now, if ever, we need you.
Cry loudly, lift shrill voices like magicians
Against this baleful dusk, this wail of rain . . .
But you are nothing! Your pages turn to water
Under my fingers: cold, cold and gleaming,
Arrowy in the darkness, rippling, dripping—
All things are rain . . . Myself, this lighted room,
What are we but a murmurous pool of rain? . . .
The slow arpeggios of it, liquid, sibilant,
Thrill and thrill in the dark. World-deep I lie
Under a sky of rain. Thus lies the sea-shell
Under the rustling twilight of the sea;
No gods remember it, no understanding
Cleaves the long darkness with a sword of light.