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Requiem in Three Voices

ISSUE:  Winter 1934

By this be seen how mighty is the Worm,
Ultimate dweller in the comely den,
That beauty, burgeoning its little term,
Grows adamantine in the hearts of men,
Bronze as a dream of Hellas, from the sod
Of Cyprian hills regiven to the light
Most tyrannously naked, and a god
Derisive and calamitously bright.

By this be known the Creeper’s wry deceit,
That she who once stood separate and clean
Commingles now with all the ancient sweet,
Phryne and Helen and the Cornish queen—
That now her lover, going down to sleep,
Must seek her among many in that deep.


For this alone is the strong horizon bent,
The pine-tree notched upon the straining clod,
To keep us mindful how the Archer sent
Her soul in flight against the gate of God,
To teach us how the Bowman and his craft
Hunted our summer down with sorry grace,
Put finger to that clean, unshaken shaft,
Drew, and let fly, and sought another place.

And whatsoever angels of upper light
Confound the marksman with celestial song,
All that we know is suddenness of flight
And in this dusk the whimper of the thong,
And this—that on no near and homely hill
Shall that quick arrow shudder and be still.


We who had need of her were never one,
We mummers in the body’s single sheath,
Our scare-head dragon shaken in the sun
By sacked and stumbling devotees beneath;
We do each other mischief in the tight
Ironic mask of snared and dancing bone,
Making division in the body’s night
Of her whom none of us could make his own,
Saying: “But mine the sweet and shapely dust—
I and the earth shall keep her—let us be!”
“But mine the glitter that so lately thrust
Upward to strong salvation—that was she.”
“And mine what death rejected when he went
With ribald shout to her white tenement.”


What then? The lady is lost, and I, her satyr,
Slump on haunches lax as a grape-hull, mute.
Now pied worm and water-seep debate her Chemic disposal under the vineyard root: Now with a grassy tremor cheating time Creeps to the oaken kennel and prevails Unspeakably, and the thumping pantomime Is like to prove too stout for the coffin nails.
Now to be secret with evasive laughter!
For here is the ready dryad who atones,
Snug in the forehead’s keeping.
Here, long after
His lust is spent among the sprawling bones,
I’ll keep her in a covert hard to find
And come in to her when I have a mind.


But here am I, her priest of the threadbare gown,
Saying: In the beginning was this bread Of our uncarnate unity put down Beside us in the desert, and we fed Full of that mystic body, till desire Quenched in the reedy nostril, and our sense Dwindled to celibate and seemly fire On the clean hearth of quiet continence.
Now what a little voice, how soon mistaken,
Speaks of the body broken, and the pain: A peascod tick of pebbles lightly shaken Against the skull of Lilith or Elaine—
A click of twigs down whose dark channels fled The chorded rains of April to their bed.


Now is the bacchic riot sweated through,
The requiescat silent in the dawn;
Goat-foot and hermit take their ancient due,
But not the soul made clean of priest and faun;
The weary body hot and long beguiled,
The prophet of her instant, white ascent Find ready peace; but here, unreconciled,
Is one who cannot tell what way she went.
Now to the bickering trinity a truce,
If only for this interval of night;
Long peace to him who knew her body’s use,
And holy peace upon her anchorite,
And passionate peace be his who here alone
Confirms this memory without a stone.


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