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Conrad Potter Aiken 1889 (Savannah, Georgia) – 1973 (Savannah, Georgia)
She rose in moonlight, and stood, confronting sea,
With her bare arms uplifted,
And lifted her voice in the silence foolishly:
And her face was small, and her voice was small.
'O moon!' she cried, 'I think how you must tire
Forever circling earth, so silently;
Earth, who is dark and makes you no reply.'
She only heard the little waves rush and fall;
And saw the moon go quietly down the sky.
Like a white figurehead in the seafaring wind,
She stood in the moonlight,
And heard her voice cry, ghostly and thinned,
Over the seethe of foam,
Saying, 'O numberless waters, I think it strange
How you can always shadow her face, and change
And yet never weary of her, having no ease.'
But the sea said nothing, no word at all:
Unquietly, as in sleep, she saw it rise and fall;
And the moon spread a net of silver over the foam.
She lifted her hands and let them fall again,
Impatient of the silence. And in despair,
Hopeless of final answer against her pain,
She said, to the stealthy air,
'O air, far traveller, who from the stars are blown,
Float pollen of suns, you are an unseen sea
Lifting and bearing the words, eternally.
O air, do you not weary of your task?'
- She stood in the silence, frightened and alone,
And heard her syllables ask and ask.
And then, as she walked in the moonlight, so alone,
Lost and small in a soulless sea,
Hearing no voice make answer to her own,
From that infinity, -
Suddenly she was aware of a low whisper,
A dreadful heartless sound; and she stood still, -
There in the beach grass, on a sandy hill, -
And heard the stars, making a ghostly whisper;
And the soulless whisper of sun and moon and tree;
And the sea, rising and falling with a blind moan.
And as she faded into the night,
A glimmer of white,
With her arms uplifted and her face bowed down;
Sinking, again, into the sleep of sands,
The sea-sands white and brown;
Or among the sea-grass rustling as one more blade,
Pushing before her face her cinquefoil hands;
Or sliding, stealthy as foam, into the sea,
With a slow seethe and whisper:
Too late to find her, yet not too late to see,
Came he, who sought forever unsatisfied,
And saw her enter and shut the darkness,
Desired and swift,
And caught at the rays of the moon, yet found but darkness,
Caught at the flash of his feet, to fill his hands
With the sleepy pour of sands.
'O moon!' he said: 'was it you I followed?
You, who put silver madness into my eyes? -'
But he only heard, in the dark, a stifled laughter,
And the rattle of dead leaves blowing.
'O wind! -' he said - 'was it you I followed?
Your hand I felt against my face? -'
But he only heard, in the dark, a stifled laughter,
And shadows crept past him. with furtive pace,
Breathing night upon him; and one by one
The ghosts of leaves flew past him, seeking the sun.
And a silent star slipped golden down the darkness,
Down the great wall, leaving no trace in the sky,
And years went with it, and worlds. And he dreamed still
Of a fleeter shadow among the shadows running,
Foam into foam, without a gesture or cry,
Leaving him there, alone, on a lonely hill.
I. Part 2
Evening: in the twilight town
One by one the stars stepped down,
Each to assume his destined place:
And there he saw the destined face.
Her eyes were void, here eyes were deep:
She came like one who moved in sleep:
And when she looked across the night
Beneath, among, those points of light,
Into his heart she shot a pang,
As if a voice within him sang,
Sang and was silent. Down the street,
And lost in darkness, fled the feet;
Ambiguous, the street-lamp's gleam
Mocked at her eyes, and then the dream
From shuttered window, shadowed hall,
Chuckled beyond a lampless wall.
Among the crowding lights he went,
Where faces massed like lillies blent,
And this time plucked and made his own
Above snarled music's undertone:
Breathing the perfume of her hair,
He touched her arm, but suddenly there
As in a dance of shadows fleeing
(His eyes were shut for fear of seeing)
He watched red roses dropt apart
Each to disclose a charnel heart.
Ghostly with powder in the night,
Her hand upon his arm was white:
Her gown was light, and lightly blew,
A gauze of flame it burned him through.
Under the singing lamp she stood,
And smiled in subtly fugitive mood,
From depth to depth of wingless skies
Withdrawing batlike down her eyes:
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Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:
"The Charnel Rose: A Symphony" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 20 Sep. 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/7041/the-charnel-rose:-a-symphony>.