Harriet Monroe, ed. (18601936). Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. 191222.
Prayers and Fantasies
By Richard Aldington
TO have passed so close to annihilation, and (which is worse) to have become stained so inalterably with the ideas and habits of massesthis leaves me immeasurably discouraged, out of love with myself.
Now I am good only to mimic inferior masters. My thoughts are stiflingheavy grey dust from a scorched road.
For me silence; or if speech, then some humble poem in prose. Indeed I am too conscientiousor shall we say too impotent?to dare the cool rhythm of prose, the sharp edges of poetry.
Nymphes de Parnasse! Encore un Pégasse raté!
Touch once again with the lips of thought the fair rigid limbs of goddesses men imagined beside the inland sea. Give the life of our blood to one among them, and worship in her oval of tremulous gold the beauty of that body whose embrace would murder us with ecstasy.
Recall from Orcus the Foam-born, lady of many names; make for her a broidered throne among the dusky colonnades of the soul.
Death, a fierce exaltation, sweeps from the lips of the conqueror; but from hers, gently, a frail kiss, breathes a savor of life.
Slowly, too slowly, the night, with its noise and its fear and its murder, yields to the dawn. One by one the guns cease. Quicker, O dawn, quickerdazzle the hateful stars, lighten for us the weight of the shadows.
The last rat scuttles away; the first lark thrills with a beating of wings and song. The light is soft; deliberately, consciously, the young dawn moves. My unclean flesh is penetrated with her sweetness and she does not disdain even me.
Out of the East as from a temple comes a procession of girls and young men, smiling, brave, candid, ignorant of grief.
Few know the full bitterness of night, but they alone will know the full beauty of dawnif dawn ever comes.
Life has deceived us. The thoughts we found so vivid and fresh were dull and crass as the prayers muttered to a worn rosary by an infidel priest.
The joy we felt in beauty, our sense of discovery at the touch of some age-green bronze; even the sick horror at some battlefield where the flesh had not quite fallen from the shattered bonesall this was old, a thousand times felt and forgotten.
And is the kiss of your mouth then but the reflection of dead kisses, the gleam of your breast a common thing? Was the touch of your hand but a worn memory of hands crumbled into cool dust?
And in the end one comes to love flowers as women, and women as flowers. Beauty recoils from excess. Imitate the wise Easterns, and let a few sprays of blossom decorate the empty chamber of the soul and spread their fragrance through its recesses.
Ah! To retain this fragrance, to make permanent this most precious of essences, this mingling of suave and acrid perfumessomething wild and tender and perverse and immortal!
I will make for myself, from tempered silver, an Aphrodite with narrow hips and small pointed breasts, and wide brow above gay, subtle eyes; and in her hand shall be a perfume ball sweet with this divine fragrance.
Escape, let the soul escape from this insanity, this insult to God, from this ruined landscape, these murdered fields, this bitterness, this agony, from this harsh death and disastrous mutilation, from this filth and labor, this stench of dead bodies and unwashed living bodiesescape, let the soul escape!
Let the soul escape and move with emotion along ilex walks under a quiet sky. There, lingering for a while beside the marble head of some shattered Hermes, it strews the violets of regret for a lost loveliness as transient as itself. Or perhaps, by some Homeric sea, watching the crisp foam blown by a straight wind, it gathers sea-flowers, exquisite in their acrid restraint of color and austere sparseness of petal.
There, perhaps, among flowers, at twilight, under the glimmer of the first stars, it will find a sensation of a quiet, almost kindly universe, indifferent to this festering activity.
The gods have ceased to be truth, they have become poetry. Now only simple pure hearts and those who are weary of doubt believe. Why not pray to the gods, any god? Perhaps even from the immensity of space will come a gently ironic echo.
Dionysios, lord of life and laughter, from whom come twin gifts of ecstasy, hear me.
I pray the noble Iacchos of reverent mien and wide tolerant eyes, to look mildly upon me and to show me the mystery of beauty, the mystery of vineyards, the mystery of death.
And I pray the young Dionysios, the bearer of the fawnskin, the charioteer of leopards, the lover of white breasts, to show me the mystery of love.
And grant that nothing ignoble may render me base to myself; let desire be always fresh and keen; let me never love or be loved through ennui, through pity or through lassitude.
The moon high-seated above the ridge, fills the ruined village with tranquil light and black broken shadowsruined walls, shattered timbers, piles of rubbish, torn-up ground, almost beautiful in this radiance, in this quiet June air. Lush grass in the tangled gardens sways very softly, and white moths dart over the bending sprays.
Somehow to-night the air blows clearer, sweeterthe chemistry of earth is slowly purifying the corrupting bodies, the waste and garbage of armies. Sweetness, darkness, clean peacethe marble rock of some Greek island, piercing its sparse garment of lavenders and mints like a naked nymph among rustling leaves.
Heavy-scented the air to-nightnew-mown hay?a pungent exotic odorah! phosfene .
And to-morrow there will be huddled corpses with blue horrible faces and foam on their writhed mouths.