English poetry

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The House Of Dust: Part 03: 07: Porcelain

You see that porcelain ranged there in the window-
Platters and soup-plates done with pale pink rosebuds,
And tiny violets, and wreaths of ivy?
See how the pattern clings to the gleaming edges!
They’re works of art-minutely seen and felt,
Each petal done devoutly. Is it failure
To spend your blood like this?

Study them. . . you will see there, in the porcelain,
If you stare hard enough, a sort of swimming
Of lights and shadows, ghosts within a crystal-
My brain unfolding! There you’ll see me sitting
Day after day, close to a certain window,
Looking down, sometimes, to see the people. . .

Sometimes my wife comes there to speak to me. . .
Sometimes the grey cat waves his tail around me. . .
Goldfish swim in a bowl, glisten in sunlight,
Dilate to a gorgeous size, blow delicate bubbles,
Drowse among dark green weeds. On rainy days,
You’ll see a gas-light shedding light behind me-
An eye-shade round my forehead. There I sit,
Twirling the tiny brushes in my paint-cups,
Painting the pale pink rosebuds, minute violets,
Exquisite wreaths of dark green ivy leaves.
On this leaf, goes a dream I dreamed last night
Of two soft-patterned toads-I thought them stones,
Until they hopped! And then a great black spider,-
Tarantula, perhaps, a hideous thing,-
It crossed the room in one tremendous leap.
Here,-as I coil the stems between two leaves,-
It is as if, dwindling to atomy size,
I cried the secret between two universes. . .
A friend of mine took hasheesh once, and said
Just as he fell asleep he had a dream,-
Though with his eyes wide open,-
And felt, or saw, or knew himself a part
Of marvelous slowly-wreathing intricate patterns,
Plane upon plane, depth upon coiling depth,
Amazing leaves, folding one on another,
Voluted grasses, twists and curves and spirals-
All of it darkly moving. . . as for me,
I need no hasheesh for it-it’s too easy!
Soon as I shut my eyes I set out walking
In a monstrous jungle of monstrous pale pink roseleaves,
Violets purple as death, dripping with water,
And ivy-leaves as big as clouds above me.

Here, in a simple pattern of separate violets-
With scalloped edges gilded-here you have me
Thinking of something else. My wife, you know,-
There’s something lacking-force, or will, or passion,
I don’t know what it is-and so, sometimes,
When I am tired, or haven’t slept three nights,
Or it is cloudy, with low threat of rain,
I get uneasy-just like poplar trees
Ruffling their leaves-and I begin to think
Of poor Pauline, so many years ago,
And that delicious night. Where is she now?
I meant to write-but she has moved, by this time,
And then, besides, she might find out I’m married.
Well, there is more-I’m getting old and timid-
The years have gnawed my will. I’ve lost my nerve!
I never strike out boldly as I used to-
But sit here, painting violets, and remember
That thrilling night. Photographers, she said,
Asked her to pose for them; her eyes and forehead,-
Dark brown eyes, and a smooth and pallid forehead,-
Were thought so beautiful.-And so they were.
Pauline. . . These violets are like words remembered. . .
Darling! she whispered. . . Darling! . . . Darling! . . . Darling!
Well, I suppose such days can come but once.
Lord, how happy we were! . . .

Here, if you only knew it, is a story-
Here, in these leaves. I stopped my work to tell it,
And then, when I had finished, went on thinking:
A man I saw on a train. . . I was still a boy. . .
Who killed himself by diving against a wall.
Here is a recollection of my wife,
When she was still my sweetheart, years ago.
It’s funny how things change,-just change, by growing,
Without an effort. . . And here are trivial things,-
A chill, an errand forgotten, a cut while shaving;
A friend of mine who tells me he is married. . .
Or is that last so trivial? Well, no matter!

This is the sort of thing you’ll see of me,
If you look hard enough. This, in its way,
Is a kind of fame. My life arranged before you
In scrolls of leaves, rosebuds, violets, ivy,
Clustered or wreathed on plate and cup and platter. . .
Sometimes, I say, I’m just like John the Baptist-
You have my head before you. . . on a platter.

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Poem The House Of Dust: Part 03: 07: Porcelain - Conrad Aiken