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Only the Phoenix

ISSUE:  Summer 1945
I, a poor messenger, report these things in time
To the foreign faces in the northern foreign places,
To those whose gods are gods of rock, whose eyes are eyes of rock,
Whose walls are rocks and mountains, hard, men hard and not of islands.
My tongue stumbles and my head weaves; on my ears waves
Beat their eternal seven-swell, loud or low,
And the long look of the stranger sets me speaking.
I have no name,
I have no home, no harbour;
Naked I come to this world as, naked,
I came to another,
Bearing no weapons but my broken hands,
Who hold within my tongue a tale of deaths and terrors,
Raiders, wave-riders, warriors, wielders of the sword,
Wasters the waves held hidden and O death of islands.
I, a poor messenger, a man that was,
A thing that is, son of a sun now set,
Torn, palsied, pale, the heir of no standing house.
Father of nothing, no one, husband of none,
Listener, fearer, shivering under what
Approaches sibilant through the intimate air.
Descending from the trees, from the red earth rising,
Voices surround me with a surge of meaning,
Persuasive whispers ring me with their urging,
Meandering virgin sounds, pierced by the wind’s horn,
Saying “Return,” saying “Tend forward,” saying “O all
is fire.”
Their disembodied ardour
Strikes me from crack of cliff, from cleft of branches,
Crazes me in the shadows, and upon the sleeping sea
Has made me mad in the doldrums—
I, who bleeding came On a raft wafted by ten treacherous winds,
Straw, buffeted, whom all the streams of Ocean
Have, wild and wanton, whirled beyond the borders of the world,
From the form of life to death, the reality,
Through the traps of the Squid and the Harpies of the narrows,
Past the ice mountains and the liquid sands,
Outside the tempest’s strategems and the tactics of the snow,
Beyond the ravished harbours.
I, who listened,
Report these things to you whose ears are keyed
To the hammer clang and the iron clash upon the plain,
Whose speech is as the speech of hawks and falcons,
Whose eyes are as the eyes of kings and eagles,
Whose knowledge is the knowledge we had given
For what, as our possession, late betrayed us
And sent us down to darkness.
From my warnings,
Wild perhaps, and yet as heavy with black portents
As is the olive tree when, at the solstice,
Beneath it with their white, reed-woven baskets,
Gather those girls whose duty is to draw down
The fruit and mold it to their own best uses,
Hear all our history in a little whisper,
See your own deaths devouring my brain—
A horse with his white belly in the air,
Legs stiff, head lolling, hands, a severed finger,
A ring, a shard, a face, a pool, an arrow,
A smouldering robe of linen, a dead girl,
Patterns of veins and arteries in the sun, .

A chisel carving out a sculptor’s throat,
Unfinished frescoes on a golden wall,
Blood on a cloak and, on the trampled sand,
Their black-hulled ships.
It was the sea that slew us.
The murderers always come across the sea.
Black-bearded and night-eyed, with axes in their hands,
Feet padded like the cat’s, swart arms oak-crushing,
They bend cold iron to their burning uses,
Warm bodies to their icy love.
The innocent who woke to deeper sleep,
Brief solids, who were all made shades by shadows.
0 burn the towers and the temples, tear
Earth’s entrails out and feed them to the sea,
Drag down the curtains of the air, and draw
The throbbing soul through every human mouth,
So you fulfill my visions.,
All is smoke.
Where now is the subtle grass, our carpet and our mantle?
The pebble, weather-worn, perfect, with an ambassadorial smoothness?
The grain of sand, the sea’s soil, the bed of fantastic foliage,
Where hangs a garland on the drowned man’s hair,
Where weaves the simple anemone and the cunning, awkward crab,
Recoiler from the fisherman’s foot, devourer of the de-vourers?
Where, sea-girt, scented and shaded, soft
As summer leaves, my island? Cut from out
The bosom of the ocean and O drowned? The soil, the very soil
Taken, dank, down to the bottom of the midmost
Sea? Drowned, drowned or burned? By the sun destroyed?
By the sea spurned? The end was hidden from me by the night;
A film was on my eyes as, until now, my heart.
My island, where? My people, what? Who are they,
These fleshless ghosts who twitter like the fowl
That, foolish, flock the air? Where are the living?
Dead, dead; dead like the stones; like the still stones dead,
And I gnaw their bones at night and I sift their dust at noonday,
Poor messenger, survivor, recipient of sounds.
O legendary men, remember this:
There was a day, a day, a day like fire,
Red in the dawn and red in the noon reaches,
A sun that rode across the air all bloodied,
Loped mad throughout the nether vaults of heaven,
And dropped at last to sink his teeth in blood.
There was a diamond city by the sea,
A golden island and a silver people,
Gone, gone like tears in oceans, like a winter’s breath,
Through grievous war all gone.
And I alone,
Base metal, am their mirror, and yet cast no reflection,
Meanderer, mourner—
O gods of suns and cities,
O dear embers,
O island full of brightness,
O bright ashes,
O silent, mutilating, secret sea.


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