The Vampire

- 1899-1973
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.

More by Conrad Aiken

Discordants [Dead Cleopatra lies in a crystal casket]

IV

Dead Cleopatra lies in a crystal casket,	
Wrapped and spiced by the cunningest of hands.	
Around her neck they have put a golden necklace,	
Her tatbebs, it is said, are worn with sands.	
 
Dead Cleopatra was once revered in Egypt—	        
Warm-eyed she was, this princess of the south.	
Now she is very old and dry and faded,	
With black bitumen they have sealed up her mouth.	
 
Grave-robbers pulled the gold rings from her fingers,	
Despite the holy symbols across her breast;	        
They scared the bats that quietly whirled above her.	
Poor lady! she would have been long since at rest	
 
If she had not been wrapped and spiced so shrewdly,	
Preserved, obscene, to mock black flights of years.	
What would her lover have said, had he foreseen it?	        
Had he been moved to ecstasy, or tears?	
 
O sweet clean earth from whom the green blade cometh!—	
When we are dead, my best-beloved and I,	
Close well above us that we may rest forever,	
Sending up grass and blossoms to the sky.

Dancing Adairs

Behold me, in my chiffon, gauze, and tinsel,
Flitting out of the shadow into the spotlight,
And into the shadow again, without a whisper!—
Firefly’s my name, I am evanescent.

Firefly’s your name. You are evanescent.
But I follow you  as remorselessly as darkness,
And shut you in and enclose you, at last, and always,
Till you are lost,—as a voice is lost in silence.

Till I am lost, as a voice is lost in silence. . .
Are you the one who would close so cool about me?
My fire sheds into and through you and beyond you:
How can your fingers hold me? I am elusive.

How can my fingers hold you? You are elusive?
Yes, you are flame, but I surround and love you,
Always extend beyond you, cool, eternal,
To take you into my heart’s great void of silence.

You shut me into your heart’s great void of silence. . .
O sweet and soothing end for a life of whirling!
Now I am still, whose life was mazed with motion.
Now I sink into you, for love of sleep.

Duval’s Birds

The parrot, screeching, flew out into the darkness,
Circled three times above the upturned faces
With a great whir of brilliant outspread wings,
And then returned to stagger on her finger.
She bowed and smiled, eliciting applause…
The property man hated her dirty birds.
But it had taken years—yes, years—to train them,
To shoulder flags, strike bells by tweaking strings,
Or climb sedately little flights of stairs.
When they were stubborn, she tapped them with a wand,
And her eyes glittered a little under the eyebrows.
The red one flapped and flapped on a swinging wire;
The little white ones winked round yellow eyes.