Selections by

Conrad Aiken

on this page:

Morning Song of Senlin
Evening Song of Senlin
All Lovely Things
Turns and Movies
Chiarascuro: Rose

Poets' Corner Scripting
© 2008 S.L. Spanoudis and
All rights reserved worldwide.

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. Morning Song of Senlin

     from Senlin, A Biography

    IT is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
    When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
    I arise, I face the sunrise,
    And do the things my fathers learned to do.
    Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
    Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
    And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
    Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

    Vine leaves tap my window,
    Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
    The robin chips in the chinaberry tree
    Repeating three clear tones.

    It is morning. I stand by the mirror
    And tie my tie once more.
    While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
    Crash on a white sand shore.
    I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
    How small and white my face!--
    The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
    And bathes in a flame of space.
    There are houses hanging above the stars
    And stars hung under a sea. . .
    And a sun far off in a shell of silence
    Dapples my walls for me. . .

    It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
    Should I not pause in the light to remember God?
    Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
    He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
    I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
    To him alone, and for him I will comb my hair.
    Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence!
    I will think of you as I descend the stair.

    Vine leaves tap my window,
    The snail-track shines on the stones,
    Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree
    Repeating two clear tones.

    It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
    Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
    The walls are about me still as in the evening,
    I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
    The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
    The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
    In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
    Unconcerned, I tie my tie.

    There are horses neighing on far-off hills
    Tossing their long white manes,
    And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
    Their shoulders black with rains. . .

    It is morning. I stand by the mirror
    And surprise my soul once more;
    The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
    There are suns beneath my floor. . .

    . . . It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
    And depart on the winds of space for I know not where,
    My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
    And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
    There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
    And a god among the stars; and I will go
    Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
    And humming a tune I know. . .

    Vine-leaves tap at the window,
    Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
    The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
    Repeating three clear tones.

    Conrad Aiken


. Evening Song of Senlin

     from The Charnel Rose: Senlin, A Biography

    IT is moonlight. Alone in the silence
    I ascend my stairs once more,
    While waves, remote in a pale blue starlight,
    Crash on a white sand shore.
    It is moonlight. The garden is silent.
    I stand in my room alone.
    Across my wall, from the far-off moon,
    A rain of fire is thrown . . .

    There are houses hanging above the stars,
    And stars hung under a sea:
    And a wind from the long blue vault of time
    Waves my curtain for me . . .

    I wait in the dark once more,
    Swung between space and space:
    Before my mirror I lift my hands
    And face my remembered face.

    Is it I who stand in a question here,
    Asking to know my name? . . .
    It is I, yet I know not whither I go,
    Nor why, nor whence I came.

    It is I, who awoke at dawn
    And arose and descended the stair,
    Conceiving a god in the eye of the sun, --
    In a woman's hands and hair.
    It is I whose flesh is gray with the stones
    I builded into a wall:
    With a mournful melody in my brain
    Of a tune I cannot recall . . .

    There are roses to kiss: and mouths to kiss;
    And the sharp-pained shadow of death.
    I remember a rain-drop on my cheek, --
    A wind like a fragrant breath . . .
    And the star I laugh on tilts through heaven;
    And the heavens are dark and steep . . .
    I will forget these things once more
    In the silence of sleep.

    Conrad Aiken


. Discordants

    I. (Bread and Music)

    MUSIC I heard with you was more than music,
    And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
    Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
    All that was once so beautiful is dead.

    Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
    And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
    These things do not remember you, belovèd,
    And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

    For it was in my heart you moved among them,
    And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
    And in my heart they will remember always,--
    They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.


    My heart has become as hard as a city street,
    The horses trample upon it, it sings like iron,
    All day long and all night long they beat,
    They ring like the hooves of time.

    My heart has become as drab as a city park,
    The grass is worn with the feet of shameless lovers,
    A match is struck, there is kissing in the dark,
    The moon comes, pale with sleep.

    My heart is torn with the sound of raucous voices,
    They shout from the slums, from the streets, from the crowded places,
    And tunes from the hurdy-gurdy that coldly rejoices
    Shoot arrows into my heart.


    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 old and dry and faded,
    With black bitumen they have sealed up her mouth.

    O sweet clean earth, from whom the green blade cometh!
    When we are dead, my best belovèd and I,
    Close well above us, that we may rest forever,
    Sending up grass and blossoms to the sky.


    In the noisy street,
    Where the sifted sunlight yellows the pallid faces,
    Sudden I close my eyes, and on my eyelids
    Feel from the far-off sea a cool faint spray,--

    A breath on my cheek,
    From the tumbling breakers and foam, the hard sand shattered,
    Gulls in the high wind whistling, flashing waters,
    Smoke from the flashing waters blown on rocks;

    --And I know once more,
    O dearly belovèd! that all these seas are between us,
    Tumult and madness, desolate save for the sea-gulls,
    You on the farther shore, and I in this street.

    Conrad Aiken


. All Lovely Things

    ALL lovely things will have an ending,
    All lovely things will fade and die,
    And youth, that's now so bravely spending,
    Will beg a penny by and by.

    Fine ladies soon are all forgotten,
    And goldenrod is dust when dead,
    The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten
    And cobwebs tent the brightest head.

    Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!--
    But time goes on, and will, unheeding,
    Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn,
    And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.

    Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!--
    But goldenrod and daisies wither,
    And over them blows autumn rain,
    They pass, they pass, and know not whither.

    Conrad Aiken


.Selections from Turns and Movies

    I. Rose and Murray

    AFTER the movie, when the lights come up,
    He takes her powdered hand behind the wings;
    She, all in yellow, like a buttercup,
    Lifts her white face, yearns up to him, and clings;
    And with a silent, gliding step they move
    Over the footlights, in familiar glare,
    Panther-like in the Tango whirl of love,
    He fawning close on her with idiot stare.
    Swiftly they cross the stage. O lyric ease!
    The drunken music follows the sure feet,
    The swaying elbows, intergliding knees,
    Moving with slow precision on the beat.
    She was a waitress in a restaurant,
    He picked her up and taught her how to dance.
    She feels his arms, lifts an appealing glance,
    But knows he spent last evening with Zudora;
    And knows that certain changes are before her.

    The brilliant spotlight circles them around,
    Flashing the spangles on her weighted dress.
    He mimics wooing her, without a sound,
    Flatters her with a smoothly smiled caress.
    He fears that she will someday queer his act;
    Feeling his anger. He will quit her soon.
    He nods for faster music. He will contract
    Another partner, under another moon.
    Meanwhile, 'smooth stuff.' He lets his dry eyes flit
    Over the yellow faces there below;
    Maybe he'll cut down on his drinks a bit,
    Not to annoy her, and spoil the show. . .
    Zudora, waiting for her turn to come,
    Watches them from the wings and fatly leers
    At the girl's younger face, so white and dumb,
    And the fixed, anguished eyes, ready for tears.

    She lies beside him, with a false wedding-ring,
    In a cheap room, with moonlight on the floor;
    The moonlit curtains remind her much of spring,
    Of a spring evening on the Coney shore.
    And while he sleeps, knowing she ought to hate,
    She still clings to the lover that she knew,--
    The one that, with a pencil on a plate,
    Drew a heart and wrote, 'I'd die for you.'

    IV. 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.

    VI. Violet Moore and Bert Moore

    He thinks her little feet should pass
    Where dandelions star thickly grass;
    Her hands should lift in sunlit air
    Sea-wind should tangle up her hair.
    Green leaves, he says, have never heard
    A sweeter ragtime mockingbird,
    Nor has the moon-man ever seen,
    Or man in the spotlight, leering green,
    Such a beguiling, smiling queen.

    Her eyes, he says, are stars at dusk,
    Her mouth as sweet as red-rose musk;
    And when she dances his young heart swells
    With flutes and viols and silver bells;
    His brain is dizzy, his senses swim,
    When she slants her ragtime eyes at him. . .

    Moonlight shadows, he bids her see,
    Move no more silently than she.
    It was this way, he says, she came,
    Into his cold heart, bearing flame.
    And now that his heart is all on fire
    Will she refuse his heart's desire?--
    And O! has the Moon Man ever seen
    (Or the spotlight devil, leering green)
    A sweeter shadow upon a screen?

    VII. Zudora

    Here on the pale beach, in the darkness;
    With the full moon just to rise;
    They sit alone, and look over the sea,
    Or into each other's eyes. . .

    She pokes her parasol into the sleepy sand,
    Or sifts the lazy whiteness through her hand.

    'A lovely night,' he says, 'the moon,
    Comes up for you and me.
    Just like a blind old spotlight there,
    Fizzing across the sea!'

    She pays no heed, nor even turns her head:
    He slides his arm around her waist instead.

    'Why don't we do a sketch together--
    Those songs you sing are swell.
    Where did you get them, anyway?
    They suit you awfully well.'

    She will not turn to him--will not resist.
    Impassive, she submits to being kissed.

    'My husband wrote all four of them.
    You know,--my husband drowned.
    He was always sickly, soon depressed. . .'
    But still she hears the sound

    Of a stateroom door shut hard, and footsteps going
    Swiftly and steadily, and the dark sea flowing.

    She hears the dark sea flowing, and sees his eyes
    Hollow with disenchantment, sick surprise,--

    And hate of her whom he had loved too well. . .
    She lowers her eyes, demurely prods a shell.

    'Yes. We might do an act together.
    That would be very nice.'
    He kisses her passionately, and thinks
    She's carnal, but cold as ice.

    X. The Cornet

    When she came out, that white little Russian dancer,
    With her bright hair, and her eyes, so young, so young,
    He suddenly lost his leader, and all the players,
    And only heard an immortal music sung,--

    Of dryads flashing in the green woods of April,
    On cobwebs trembling over the deep, wet grass:
    Fleeing their shadows with laughter, with hands uplifted,
    Through the whirled sinister sun he saw them pass,--

    Lovely immortals gone, yet existing somewhere,
    Still somewhere laughing in woods of immortal green,
    Young he had lived among fires, or dreamed of living,
    Lovers in youth once seen, or dreamed he had seen. . .

    And watched her knees flash up, and her young hands beckon,
    And the hair that streamed behind, and the taunting eyes.
    He felt this place dissolving in living darkness,
    And through the darkness he felt his childhood rise.

    Soft, and shining, and sweet, hands filled with petals. . .
    And watching her dance, he was grateful to forget
    The fiddlers, leaning and drawing their bows together,
    And the tired fingers on the stops of his cornet.


    How is it that I am now so softly awakened,
    My leaves shaken down with music?--
    Darling, I love you.

    It is not your mouth, for I have known mouths before,--
    Though your mouth is more alive than roses,
    Roses singing softly
    To green leaves after rain.

    It is not your eyes, for I have dived often in eyes,--
    Though your eyes, even in the yellow glare of footlights,
    Are windows into eternal dusk.

    Nor is it the live white flashing of your feet,
    Nor your gay hands, catching at motes in the spotlight;
    Nor the abrupt thick music of your laughter,
    When, against the hideous backdrop,
    With all its crudities brilliantly lighted,
    Suddenly you catch sight of your alarming shadow,
    Whirling and contracting.

    How is it, then, that I am so keenly aware,
    So sensitive to the surges of the wind, or the light,
    Heaving silently under blue seas of air?--
    Darling, I love you, I am immersed in you.

    It is not the unraveled night-time of your hair,--
    Though I grow drunk when you press it upon my face:
    And though when you gloss its length with a golden brush
    I am strings that tremble under a bow.

    It was that night I saw you dancing,
    The whirl and impalpable float of your garment,
    Your throat lifted, your face aglow
    (Like water lilies in moonlight were your knees).

    It was that night I heard you singing
    In the green-room after your dance was over,
    Faint and uneven through the thickness of walls.

    (How shall I come to you through the dullness of walls,
    Thrusting aside the hands of bitter opinion?)

    It was that afternoon, early in June,
    When, tired with a sleepless night, and my act performed,
    Feeling as stale as streets,
    We met under dropping boughs, and you smiled to me:
    And we sat by a watery surface of clouds and sky.

    I hear only the susurration of intimate leaves;
    The stealthy gliding of branches upon slow air.

    I see only the point of your chin in sunlight;
    And the sinister blue of sunlight on your hair.

    The sunlight settles downward upon us in silence.

    Now we thrust up through grass blades and encounter,
    Pushing white hands amid the green.
    Your face flowers whitely among cold leaves.

    Soil clings to you, bark falls from you,
    You rouse and stretch upward, exhaling earth, inhaling sky,
    I touch you, and we drift off together like moons.
    Earth dips from under.

    We are alone in an immensity of sunlight,
    Specks in an infinite golden radiance,
    Whirled and tossed upon silent cataracts and torrents.
    Give me your hand darling! We float downward.

    XV. 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.

    Conrad Aiken


. Chiarascuro: Rose


    FILL your bowl with roses: the bowl, too, have of crystal.
    Sit at the western window. Take the sun
    Between your hands like a ball of flaming crystal,
    Poise it to let it fall, but hold it still,
    And meditate on the beauty of your existence;
    The beauty of this, that you exist at all.


    The sun goes down, -- but without lamentation.
    I close my eyes, and the stream of my sensation
    In this, at least, grows clear to me:
    Beauty is a word that has no meaning.
    Beauty is naught to me.


    The last blurred raindrops fall from the half-clear sky,
    Eddying lightly, rose-tinged, in the windless wake of the sun.
    The swallow ascending against cold waves of cloud
    Seems winging upward over huge bleak stairs of stone.
    The raindrop finds its way to the heart of the leaf-bud.
    But no word finds its way to the heart of you.


    This also is clear in the stream of my sensation:
    That I am content, for the moment, Let me be.
    How light the new grass looks with the rain-dust on it!
    But heart is a word that has no meaning,
    Heart means nothing to me.


    To the end of the world I pass and back again
    In flights of the mind; yet always find you here,
    Remote, pale, unattached . . . O Circe-too-clear-eyed,
    Watching amused your fawning tiger-thoughts,
    Your wolves, your grotesque apes -- relent, relent!
    Be less wary for once: it is the evening.


    But if I close my eyes what howlings greet me!
    Do not persuade. Be tranquil. Here is flesh
    With all its demons. Take it, sate yourself.
    But leave my thoughts to me.

    Conrad Aiken

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Poets' Corner Scripting © 2008 S.L. Spanoudis and theotherpages.org.
All rights reserved worldwide.