Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > The New Poetry: An Anthology
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  The New Poetry: An Anthology.  1917.
 
353. Peter Quince at the Clavier
 
By Wallace Stevens
 
 
I
JUST as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds
On my spirit make a music too.
 
Music is feeling then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,        5
Here in this room, desiring you,
 
Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
Is music. It is like the strain
Waked in the elders by Susanna:
 
Of a green evening, clear and warm,        10
She bathed in her still garden, while
The red-eyed elders, watching, felt
 
The basses of their being throb
In witching chords, and their thin blood
Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna.        15
 
II
In the green water, clear and warm,
Susanna lay.
She searched
The touch of springs,
And found        20
Concealed imaginings.
She sighed
For so much melody.
 
Upon the bank she stood
In the cool        25
Of spent emotions.
She felt, among the leaves,
The dew
Of old devotions.
 
She walked upon the grass,        30
Still quavering.
The winds were like her maids,
On timid feet,
Fetching her woven scarves,
Yet wavering.        35
 
A breath upon her hand
Muted the night.
She turned—
A cymbal crashed,
And roaring horns.        40
 
III
Soon, with a noise like tambourines,
Came her attendant Byzantines.
 
They wondered why Susanna cried
Against the elders by her side:
 
And as they whispered, the refrain        45
Was like a willow swept by rain.
 
Anon, their lamps’ uplifted flame
Revealed Susanna and her shame.
 
And then the simpering Byzantines,
Fled, with a noise like tambourines.        50
 
IV
Beauty is momentary in the mind—
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.
 
The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,        55
A wave, interminably flowing.
So gardens die, their meek breath scenting
The cowl of Winter, done repenting.
So maidens die, to the auroral
Celebration of a maiden’s choral.        60
 
Susanna’s music touched the bawdy strings
Of those white elders; but, escaping,
Left only Death’s ironic scraping.
Now, in its immortality, it plays
On the clear viol of her memory,        65
And makes a constant sacrament of praise.
 

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