To Andrew Lytle
Paris, November 1929
Their faces are bony and sharp but very red, although
their ancestors nearly two hundred years have dwelt
by the miasmal banks of tidewaters where malarial fever
makes men gaunt and dosing with quinine shakes them
as with a palsy. Traveller to America (1799).
What years of the other times, what centuries
Broken, divided up and claimed? A few
Here and there to the taste, in vigilance
Ceaseless, but now a little stale, to keep us
Fearless, not worried as the hare scurrying
Without memory . . .
The Renascence, the age of Pericles, each
A broad, rich-carpeted stair to pride
With manhood now the cost-they're easy to follow
For the ways taken are all notorious,
Lettered, sculptured, and rhymed;
Those others, incuriously complete, lost,
Not by poetry and statues timed,
Shattered by sunlight and the impartial sleet.
What years . . . What centuries . . .
The bent eaves and the windows cracked,
The thin grass picked by the wind,
Heaved by the mole; the hollow pine that
Screams in the latest storm-these,
These emblems of twilight have we seen at length,
And the man red-faced and tall seen, leaning
In the day of his strength
Not as a pine, but the stiff form
Against the west pillar,
Hearing the ox-cart in the street-
His shadow gliding, a long nigger
Gliding at his feet.
Wanderers to the east, wanderers west:
I followed the cold northern track,
The sleet sprinkled the sea;
The dim foam mounted
The night, the ship mounted
The depths of night-
How absolute the sea!
With dawn came the gull to the crest,
Stared at the spray, fell asleep
Over the picked bones, the white face
Of the leaning man drowned deep;
The red-faced man, ceased wandering,
Never came to the boulevards
Nor covertly spat in the sawdust
Sunk in his collar
Shuffling the cards;
The man with the red face, the stiff back,
I cannot see in the rainfall
Down Saint-Michel by the quays,
At the corner the wind speaking
Destiny, the four ways.
I cannot see you
Yours was a secret fate,
The stiff-backed liars, the dupes:
The universal blue
Of heaven rots,
Your anger is out of date-
What did you say mornings?
The bent eaves
On the cracked house,
That ghost of a hound. . . .
The man red-faced and tall
Will cast no shadow
From the province of the drowned.