III. HIS CLOUDY DESTINY
- Senlin sat before us and we heard him.
- He smoked his pipe before us and we saw him.
- Was he small, with reddish hair,
- Did he light his pipe with a meditative stare
- And a twinkling flame reflected in blue eyes?
- 'I am alone': said Senlin; 'in a forest of leaves
- The single leaf that creeps and falls.
- The single blade of grass in a desert of grass
- That none foresaw and none recalls.
- The single shell that a green wave shatters
- In tiny specks of whiteness on brown sands . . .
- How shall you understand me with your hearts,
- Who cannot reach me with your hands? . . .'
- The city dissolves about us, and its walls
- Are the sands beside a sea.
- We plunge in a chaos of dunes, white waves before us
- Crash on kelp tumultuously,
- Gulls wheel over foam, the clouds blow tattered,
- The sun is swallowed . . . Has Senlin become a shore?
- Is Senlin a grain of sand beneath our footsteps,
- A speck of shell upon which waves will roar? . . .
- Senlin! we cry . . . Senlin! again . . . no answer,
- Only the crash of sea on a shell-white shore.
- Yet, we would say, this is no shore at all,
- But a small bright room with lamplight on the wall;
- And the familiar chair
- Where Senlin sat, with lamplight on his hair.
- Senlin, alone before us, played a music.
- Was it himself he played? . . . We sat and listened,
- Perplexed and pleased and tired.
- 'Listen!' he said, 'and you will learn a secret--
- Though it is not the secret you desired.
- I have not found a meaning that will praise you!
- Out of the heart of silence comes this music,
- Quietly speaks and dies.
- Look! there is one white star above black houses!
- And a tiny man who climbs toward the skies!
- Where does he walk to? What does he leave behind him?
- What was his foolish name?
- What did he stop to say, before he left you
- As simply as he came?
- "Death?" did it sound like, "love and god, and laughter,
- Sunlight, and work, and pain . . .?"
- No--it appears to me that these were symbols
- Of simple truths he found no way to explain.
- He spoke, but found you could not understand him--
- You were alone, and he was alone.
- "He sought to touch you, and found he could not reach you,--
- He sought to understand you, and could not hear you.
- And so this music, which I play before you,--
- Does it mean only what it seems to mean?
- Or is it a dance of foolish waves in sunlight
- Above a desperate depth of things unseen?
- Listen! Do you not hear the singing voices
- Out of the darkness of this sea?
- But no: you cannot hear them; for if you heard them
- You would have heard and captured me.
- Yet I am here, talking of laughter.
- Laughter and love and work and god;
- As I shall talk of these same things hereafter
- In wave and sod.
- Walk on a hill and call me: "Senlin! . . . Senlin! . . ."
- Will I not answer you as clearly as now?
- Listen to rain, and you will hear me speaking.
- Look for my heart in the breaking of a bough . . .'
- Senlin stood before us in the sunlight,
- And laughed, and walked away.
- Did no one see him leaving the doors of the city,
- Looking behind him, as if he wished to stay?
- Has no one, in the forests of the evening,
- Heard the sad horn of Senlin slowly blown?
- For somewhere, in the worlds-in-worlds about us,
- He changes still, unfriended and alone.
- Is he the star on which we walk at daybreak,
- The light that blinds our eyes?
- 'Senlin!' we cry. 'Senlin!' again . . . no answer:
- Only the soulless brilliance of blue skies.
- Yet we would say, this was no man at all,
- But a dream we dreamed, and vividly recall;
- And we are mad to walk in wind and rain
- Hoping to find, somewhere, that dream again.
- Conrad Aiken
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