Herbert Sherman Gorman.

The barcarole of James Smith, a volume of poems online

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And then the flaming bite of steel on steel.
The thud of feet, the clattering of benches,
The sucked-in breath, the gasping in the

throat,

And then that sudden cry that all my days
Will still be ringing in my deafened ears.
Some say it was despair but I say laughter,
A loud and sudden laugh as Marlowe

stepped

80



THE SON OF DAWN

Across the threshold of this hopeless world
To make his debonair amends to God.
Who knows what happened next? Alone I

knelt

Beside that slender body, saw the face
Upon the floor in pale serenity
Turned upward to the still eternal stars. "

Then silence crept about the shadowy room
Wherein the candles flickered and winked

out.

The old man listened to the night and heard
Somewhere behind the fog the morning stars
Singing together. ... But the young man

turned

And listened to the watchman's heavy rattle
So like the bubbling in a dying throat
That reassured dark London all was well.



81



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

V Y/ITH willing arms I row and row

So dear a freight that I must know
The moment is the point of time
When James Smith changes, grows sublime,
And hurries to the flaming tryst
Of Love, that ancient alchemist,
And grows into his thoughts and comes
To half awaked millenniums.

I could imagine madrigals
With curiously dying falls
To creep into your little ears
And lift you with me through the years,
But you would barely understand
Why you were lifted, long for land,
And tell me to row back again
From heaven to the Vast Inane.
82



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

Meanwhile I sit and row the boat

And catch your laughter, watch your throat

And mouth sway perilously near

And burn away the atmosphere.

The sunset shakes me almost free

From river, boat, and lunacy.

You say it's rather like a fish

Of crimson on a golden dish?

It may be so. It may be I
Have other thoughts that signify
A closer meaning for us two. . . .
But I must row and what's to do?
If you could see yourself and be
The rower, look through eyes of me
Not knowing what was hid inside
Your little head but that's denied.

You'll be the freight until the end :
I'll be the rower and the friend.
And you will never know the thought
That makes you curiously wrought
In other substance than you are :
And I will steer by some vague star
83



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

That is not even lit for you,
And I daresay the star will do.

If I were not James Smith but one

Not haunted by the desert sun

Of too excessive visioning

Perhaps you'd be a different thing

And quite unusual, but that

At most is but conjectured at. ...

So willingly I row and row

And let you wonder while I know.



INTERMEZZO BETWEEN TWO GRIEFS
BY JAMES SMITH

'ITHE slender flute! . . .Ah, now the dying
* fall

And delicate andantes of slow grief ....
But surely now it well was worth it all?

He wonders and observes a falling leaf.



The smoke above the city marches
In swelling domes, in twisting arches,
And James Smith turns a dubious eye
Upon those monsters in the sky.
Those black behemoths ! Such a herd
Of elephants absurdly stirred
By every little mouse of wind
Brings wonderment to James Smith's mind.
85



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH



Crepuscular, the evening falls

To sleep behind the black atolls

Of smoke, and James, his vision doused,

Sits in the darkness quite unhoused,

Sits in the dark without a roof

While quaint stars wink their proud reproof

To one whose thoughts are quite as cold

As any dead man in the mould.

3

"The heart when it expends its fund
Of passion lies quite moribund ;
The brain when it is sucked of thought
In cozy comfort then may rot ;
The eye Xvhen it has seen too much
May turn it to the worm's wet touch;
The mouth when it has said it all
May fill with dust and cease to call."

4

So far James Smith ... You will observe
The rather fatalistic verve
86



TWO GRIEFS

Not quite so neatly wondered out
But James may yet be stung by doubt.
By day the smoke ; by night the fire
Of idiot stars in senseless choir,
And night and day the worn-out shield
Reflecting a lost battle-field.



He walks between the dark and dark,
And all the while sits in the Park
Unhoused, unfriended, undeterred
From any swift ambitious word.
But James is wise and silence suits
His darkness. . . . Playing slender flutes
Until the moon from heaven drops
Requires a knowledge of the stops.



The thing that was cannot return
To fret a heart that's ceased to burn
The thing that was is on its way
With Carthage, Zeus and Yesterday
87



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

But James Smith, emptied of his grief,
Amazedly feels no relief
And learns from Time, his senseless friend,
That Memory pays a dividend.

Meanwhile the flute. . . . Its silver music
swells

In delicate andantes of slow grief.
But is it wise to fret one's self with spells? ....

At which Time drops a torn ironic leaf.



88



MORGAN SULKS

TPHE lady turned and quite declined
* The chase, so Morgan, ill-resigned
To such a futile victory,
Grew sullen, scowled, and would not see
The end was quite the same as though
He'd run a hundred miles or so.

Whereat the lady, quite upset
Began to pout, began to fret;
And Morgan fiddled with his cup
And drank the tasteless mixture up.
Outside the twilight spun aloof,
Then squatted down upon the roof.

And long whips on the darkness rang ;
The evening stars together sprang ;
Their crystal hooves slashed through the dark ;
A far world spurted like a spark;
And Morgan, sulking in the house,
Would even chase a useless mouse!
89



PALE HANDS

AT times I am engulphed in shadowy
** trees

And haunted by your pale cerebral hands
That steal out of the dark in agonies

Of undecipherably vague demands.

They touch me on the mouth and on the

eyes
And through my hair they pass like dancing

flame;

They come between me and the iron skies,
Intolerable prophecies of shame.

What mad complexities of hidden things
Are lurking in these tiny palms that float

About me through the dark in lustrous rings
So amorously reaching for my throat?
90



INDIFFERENCE

AND if you cared would I sing better ?
This

Is quite the mockery of all my grief,
That Life's at best a sadly colored leaf,
And touched to crimson with an autumn

kiss.

That I may find a most unworthy bliss
In darkening the background for the

flare
Of one quick shade upon the changeless

air

May show the gods have made me quite
amiss.

But there it is .... Through pain and

pain I go

With just the eagerness you will not see
9 1



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

To taste the bitter pleasures I must

know ....

Be quite indifferent if you would be
The crimson in my grey : and do not let
Your heart be troubled lest my heart forget.



92



THE LAST FIRE

V7OU saw the last fires burning on the hill
In that far autumn twilight when we
took
The future by the hand through woods as

still

As your heart is today, and crossed the
brook.

The brook that gurgled through the quietude
Was just a slender stream that sauntered

on.
How were we two to know the thing we

should
That we had crossed our narrow Rubicon ?

And after, in the shadow of the leaves,
When your great eyes grew with the grow-
ing night

93



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

They left the hollows where the twilight

grieves

And mirrored back the bonfire on the
height.

And what quick flame was in your eyes I

knew ;
And how the moment caught us on our

way

Is Time's own story written for a .few
In dust of ashes in your eyes today.



94



GREEN BANKS

T^HE pale green banks that kneel beside the

stream

Where yellow waters flow serenely on
Know something of the swiftness of our

dream,
For there we loved before the flood of dawn

Burst through the dykes of night and flung

us two

On sadly separate uneven ways
And to what rock of chance your arms

upthrew
Is something I must guess at all my days.

There came an ending and I know it now

And what it was you know but will not tell :
And now there are but pale green banks that

bow

Above new waters that serenely swell.
95



THE DARK OCEAN OF LOVE



A ND even now when certain things make
^^ way

And I am stifled by vague contradictions,
I hardly think my mood will last a day

Or that these all-too-conscious male-
dictions
Will stir a hair on your dark lovely head

Or give you one sad sleepless hour for me,
For in that inner self that is not dead

You hold and fold me for eternity.

Long after what we both were is forgotten

And all my helpless love a thing for jeers,
And your white body as my own is rotten,
These moods will be a lesser thing than
tears.

96



THE DARK OCEAN OF LOVE

In these frail bodies that enfold our passion
So pallidly aware of love and lust,

We have reached something in some hidden

fashion
That will outlast the aching of our dust.

And you must know the secret of this wonder

Although it is not conscious in your

mind. . . .
Beyond the pain of spiritual blunder

I could see something if I were not blind.
So, helpless in my rage, I storm and curse

And build you out of clay and knock you

down,
Yet run to you between each halting verse

With eagerness to wear my thorny crown.

2

By me unnamed yet spoken in each act
That marks me individual and makes
My sole defense for being, you enact

In every gesture of my sad mistakes
A purpose blind to their condition. When
I least of all am worthy to be set
7 97



THE BARCAROLE OP JAMES SMITH

Among your passionate disciples, then
You stir about me like a vast regret.

Impalpably, like many waves you roll

Above me and around me and beyond;
I cannot seek but you will be the goal,
Though traveling beside me, strangely

fond.

I draw your life in every slightest breath :
Through me you live in wise and foolish

ways:

You are my birth, my life, my endless death,
My sleepless nights and half-determined
days.

There is no magic that shall ever turn

You into something I may comprehend :
Beyond the flesh you glitter and you burn

And in the flesh you find the promised

end. . . .
And I must live and die in you till Time

Becomes a distant pulse and nothing new
When I shall lose myself in my last rhyme

And drown in that dark ocean that is you,
98



KALEIDOSCOPE: SUBWAY HOUR

V V/HERE faces, whirling like a sea,

Spin into blackened yawning pits
And sweep down grinning toothless maws

To iron dragons rattling bits,
Where bells explode with brassy crash

And sudden shouts flare out of sight,
Fireworks of sound, I take my place

Upon the lintel of the Night.

Black waves of people foamed with cheeks

That bear the meager stamp of haste,
Dead faces with their smitten eyes,

By hurry torn and half defaced,
Smashed by the decade's aimless pile,

They swirl about me at the gate,
Rub elbows with the shadow, Death,

And jostle with contemptuous Fate.
99



MIDNIGHT

T^HE arc-light winks in irony

Across the dark deserted street
And silence, like a sullen beast,
Stands motionless on frozen feet.

The hungry cat slinks slowly by
With craning neck and yellow eyes,

And stops beyond the pool of light
That on the broken pavement lies.

He stretches forth a groping tongue

To drink the light .... The round arc
winks,

And in the swift eclipse the cat,

Bewildered, hisses, turns and blinks.

The moon between the chimneys peers
And glistens on the garbage cans
100



MIDNIGHT

And melts to silver mist the panes
Of glass in yawning window-spans.

The buildings stand like crowded tombs
With sleepers resting from carouse.

And nothing lives and moves except
The shadows in a vacant house.



101



SICK DAYS

come upon sick days :
The little room
That viewed your endless ways
Is like a tomb.

Lie still and do not move
And hold your breath

And be in life, poor love,
A hint of death.



102



THE FATALIST

hours and hours we twist and turn
Upon a bed that seems to burn ;
And then, for hours and hours, we sleep
Engulphed in caverns cold and deep.

And when we wake the shaken sun
Spills in our room oblivion,
And we are one with Time and place,
With body's ache and beauty's face.



103



THE LOCKED DOOR

IP you should open the door
* What would you find outside?
Only the rains that pour,
Only the wind that cried?

What is the reason you wait?

Why do you lock the door?
Who is it there at the gate

Knocking forevermore?

* ' Nothing, ' ' you answer, ' ' be still
Better to nail the door ....

Now you have had your will
I will go out no more."



104



THE RIDERS

TTHE stallions of the Night
'* Ride down the sky
With thunder of far hooves
And whinnied cry.

The naked riders pause

Outside our door,
And, strangely gossiping,

Ride on once more.

I long to rise but feel

Your body cling
To me like cold, damp leaves

Slow-withering.



105



NIGHTMARE

A ND by the quick spurt of a match I see
^* Your cold face etched against the

startled dark

That leaps sideways with terror at the flare
And then slinks back with velvet eyes that

mark

The horrible conjecture on my face ....
You lie so like the dead ! The shadows play
Such tricks upon your eyelids, making them
Seem open with mad eyes that stare my

way.

Alone in darkness, straining for the sound
Of your faint breath I stand and after years
I hear that sound and breathe again and

live

And with relief burst into bitter tears.
O, you are living ! See, you are not dead !
And glad and sorry I turn to my bed.
106



NIGHTMARE

My eyes spring open. Starting from my

sleep

I rise and light the candle that must throw
Its feeble reassurance on your face,
Setting the hollow brow and eyes aglow.
And as with stealthy steps I creep along,
The light before me like a thin spear veering,
Strange beasts of darkness scramble from your

bed,

Lifting their frightened snouts and dis-
appearing

Into the nothingness of Night. You turn
With muttered words but do not waken. I,
With sleepless eyes, stand by you till the

last
Dark furry beast pads out. You shudder,

sigh,

And so the long night eats itself away
Into the pale discomfiture of day.



107



IN THE DARK, IN THE NIGHT

IN the dark, in the night, I went down
To a street that I knew in the town,
To a street I had last seen through tears
And had lost in a jungle of years.

And the wind in the alley began
To revolve up and down like a man,
Like a man who could not find a door
That he knew had been there long before.

And the moon with a slow sullen stare
Bowed his heavy face over me there,
As I stood for a moment dry-eyed
By the houses that shuddered and sighed.



1 08



THE LONELY CABIN



the branches lift their cones
against a pale sky
Silence comes as ever on her furtive

feet,
Creeping through the dark road that we knew

in springtime

Round the lonely cabin where the shadows
meet.

Now I go no more there : rotting is the door-

way:
Overgrown with brambles is the little

path:
Grey and dank with dead leaves flows the

tiny streamlet

Where our dreams went sailing to the
ocean's wrath.

109



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

Scarlet was your young mouth, luminous

your white arms ;
Darker than the forest was your loosened

hair.
Now there is a silence where the cabin mourns

you,

Crumbling in the stillness of the days that
were.



no



JEWELS

HPHE jewelry you wore is gleaming

Upon my hands in such a light
That Time himself seems rapt and dreaming
Of you and me and one short night.

The days that pass, the nights that leave us

Such memories that will not go
Are only changing hues that grieve us,

Returning to perplex us so.

The jewelry you wore is brighter
Than my poor thoughts can ever be,

Remembering the bosom whiter
Than drifting moonlight on the sea.

These jewels lit your slender fingers
And deep between your breasts they shone ;

Your brief caress upon them lingers
And stirs me in the night alone.
in



THE BARCAROLE OF JAMES SMITH

You gleam for me somewhere, a jewel
Between the gates of day and night :

And all you leave me are these cruel
Embittered stones of red and white.



112



AFTER LOVE

w h have lived our Yesterdays

So fully, so completely, pause at last
And find, with startled eyes that view the

past
And all its mad ambiguous ways,

That we have lived all our Tomorrows,

too:
And there is nothing left to say or do.

No summer suns that greatly set

On unforgotten days and crowded hours
Will rise again for us ... Ironic powers

Take up the love we would forget
And hold it as a mirror where we see

How madly once we lived .... and foolishly.



MASTERBROOK

N TOW this was Masterbrook. He had a

^ way

Of lending such enlargement to his thought
By puffed up speech that he outshone the
day

Before the lesser fry which knew him not.

But wiser thinkers pricked the huge balloons
Of colored speech he soared so cleverly,

With needles of plain logic, and his tunes
From subtlety turned sheer banality.

And he was laughed at as such men are,

jeered

For their conspicuous affected airs ;
And called a wind-bag, nothing to be feared
In this brief world of tangled vague affairs.
114



MASTERBROOK

So Masterbrook would talk down Time to

laughter

While wiser men would talk it up to grief,
And when he died, to thousands who came

after
He stood a symbol and departed chief.



THE SATYRS AND THE MOON

VV7ITHIN the wood behind the hill

The moon got tangled in the trees.
Her splendor made the branches thrill
And thrilled the breeze.

The satyrs in the grotto bent

Their heads to see the wondrous sight.
" It is a god in banishment

Who stirs the night!''

The little satyr looked and guessed :

"It is an apple that one sees,
Brought from that garden of the West,

Hesperides."

"It is a cyclops' glaring eye."
"A temple dome from Babylon."

"A Titan's cup of ivory."
"A little sun."

116



THE SATYRS AND THE MOON

The tiny satyr jumped for joy

And kicked his hoofs in utmost glee.

" It is a wondrous silver toy
Bring it to me!"

A great wind whistled through the blue
And caught the moon and tossed it high ;

A bubble of pale fire it flew
Across the sky.

The satyrs gasped and looked and smiled,
And wagged their heads from side to side

Except their shaggy little child,
Who cried and cried.



117



THE DESERTED HOUSE

\V7HEN houses were the fashion this one
* * reared

Its cool, contemplative serenity
Of pillared porch for all about to see
And ponder how its calmness rather steered
The mind into wide oceans where Time

feared

No devastating storms. . . . Sincerity
Spread its grave cloak on mutability
And toward this dwelling place the House

Gods veered.
All that was when small children spun their

note
And transient mortals laughed and wept

and sang

Within the pleasant rooms; but now,
alas,

118



THE DESERTED HOUSE

The very silence has an iron throat

And where the swift desirous voices rang
Eternal stillness tells how all things
pass.



119



TWO SONNETS AT CORNWALL

A CROSS the valley weaving sunlight
^^ throws

Her thin transparent cloth of gold where

trees

Lie piled like Oriental jewelries
In heaps of shifting green. The river

flows

A subtly rippled blade of silver, glows
Like an enchanted sword upon the knees
Of some bright-mantled desert-prince who

sees
The summer and is still at what he knows.

The tawny hills like lions lift their heads
Into the curdling smoke of evening

And snuff the twilight . . . Over us the

reds
And lavenders of sunset drift and fling

120



TWO SONNETS AT CORNWALL

Their old eternal veils. . . . From where we lie
We look away into the night and sigh.

The last log of the sunset falls and flares
To gold and hot vermilion ere it turns
To crumbling ashes and a lone star burns
High up in heaven. Breaking through the

snares
Of net-like clouds, the slender moon now

dares
Adventure forth like some pale deer who

yearns

For scented fields of dark immortal ferns
And lifts his golden horns and proudly stares.

The night is on us. ... You and I must

rise

And journey downward to the quiet fires
Of little homes that lift against the skies
Their slender gonfalons of smoke. . . .

Desires
Are futile now. . . . Among our books and

friends
The vague interminable highway ends.

121



TO MY WIFE, JEAN

T^HE third Spring since our first goes flam-

ing down

The dolorous tideways of the iron town,
And Life, grown perfect in your perfect

eyes,
Lifts me again into the ardent skies.

With gradual strength renewed, with vision

clear,

I mount the golden stairway of the year
.\nd from the summit far as eye may scan
Behold the march of Time's bright caravan.

Across the deserts of dark sleep they go
In gold and silver and vermilion glow,
With high horns shattering the cloven night
With drums and daemons, dancers, men of
might.

122



TO MY WIFE, JEAN

Outward our way. The caravan awaits.
We must depart through Time's unclosing

gates.

The music shakes the night : the camel-bells
Ring magic in our blood that throbs and

swells.

The trappings glitter on the ochre sands
With gold and colors from barbaric lands;
In royal purple and unfading rose
We fare upon the way that Caesar goes.



123



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Online LibraryHerbert Sherman GormanThe barcarole of James Smith, a volume of poems → online text (page 3 of 3)