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Prelude


ISSUE:  Autumn 1935

As if you were a child again; you smooth
a little space of sand, with careful fingers
pick out a twig, a stone, a scrap of paper,
or other obstacle; then, all prepared,
make, in that space of yellow sand, a poem:
with first a golden shell, and then a white;
a fernleaf after, then a twig, and then
a row of pebbles, each of different size,
one after other, a parade of soldiers;
a brown, and then a yellow, each one larger
than that before; and, at the last of all,
white as the foam, a carapace of crab.
Behind you, as you work, you hear the reeds
seethe in the little wind; the crows fly over,
a ragged caravan; and these you hear
cawing among the corn; the smell of waves
comes upward from the beach, part froth, part sound;
and while you stoop and work, you know these things.

But there is also at your back the sea;
this too you know; this too you fear; that wide
unaltering but always altered laughter;
which the wind’s hands will change, to change again;
which bears the seagull’s shadow and the ship
with equal ease. What will you do with this?
Will it be mentioned? You stoop once more, to add
a shark’s egg to your poem of sand, a front
of purple vetch with curled end, the fine tendrils
curled like a watchspring. Now the poem is perfect,
now it says everything. You rise and turn,
proud of your handiwork; and walk beside 
the margin of the sea. The long waves come
to drown their fading rims of foam in sand,
white arcs on intersected arcs of white,
with all their sound and all their power; you see
the wilderness; and in the face of this
your poem becomes the perfect shape it is:
the sea left out.
And thus, you know the world.
Thus, with a phrase, exclude the absolute.

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