Not For That City
Not for that city of the level sun,
Its golden streets and glittering gates ablaze—
The shadeless, sleepless city of white days,
White nights, or nights and days that are as one—
We weary, when all is said , all thought, all done.
We strain our eyes beyond this dusk to see
What, from the threshold of eternity
We shall step into. No, I think we shun
The splendour of that everlasting glare,
The clamour of that never-ending song.
And if for anything we greatly long,
It is for some remote and quiet stair
Which winds to silence and a space for sleep
Too sound for waking and for dreams too deep.
The town is old and very steep
A place of bells and cloisters and grey towers,
And black-clad people walking in their sleep—
A nun, a priest, a woman taking flowers
To her new grave; and watched from end to end
By the great Church above, through the still hours:
But in the morning and the early dark
The children wake to dart from doors and call
Down the wide, crooked street, where, at the bend,
Before it climbs up to the park,
Ken's is in the gabled house facing the Castle wall.
When first I came upon him there
Suddenly, on the half-lit stair,
I think I hardly found a trace
Of likeness to a human face
In his. And I said then
If in His image God made men,
Some other must have made poor Ken—
But for his eyes which looked at you
As two red, wounded stars might do.
He scarcely spoke, you scarcely heard,
His voice broke off in little jars
To tears sometimes. An uncouth bird
He seemed as he ploughed up the street,
Groping, with knarred, high-lifted feet
And arms thrust out as if to beat
Always against a threat of bars.
And oftener than not there'd be
A child just higher than his knee
Trotting beside him. Through his dim
Long twilight this, at least, shone clear,
That all the children and the deer,
Whom every day he went to see
Out in the park, belonged to him.
"God help the folk that next him sits
He fidgets so, with his poor wits,"
The neighbours said on Sunday nights
When he would go to Church to "see the lights!"
Although for these he used to fix
His eyes upon a crucifix
In a dark corner, staring on
Till everybody else had gone.
And sometimes, in his evil fits,
You could not move him from his chair—
You did not look at him as he sat there,
Biting his rosary to bits.
While pointing to the Christ he tried to say,
"Take it away".
Nothing was dead:
He said "a bird" if he picked up a broken wing,
A perished leaf or any such thing
Was just "a rose"; and once when I had said
He must not stand and knock there any more,
He left a twig on the mat outside my door.
Not long ago
The last thrush stiffened in the snow,
While black against a sullen sky
The sighing pines stood by.
But now the wind has left our rattled pane
To flutter the hedge-sparrow's wing,
The birches in the wood are red again
And only yesterday
The larks went up a little way to sing
What lovers say
Who loiter in the lanes to-day;
The buds begin to talk of May
With learned rooks on city trees,
And if God please
With all of these
We, too, shall see another Spring.
But in that red brick barn upon the hill
I wonder—can one own the deer,
And does one walk with children still
As one did here?
Do roses grow
Beneath those twenty windows in a row—
And if some night
When you have not seen any light
They cannot move you from your chair
What happens there?
I do not know.
So, when they took
Ken to that place, I did not look
After he called and turned on me
His eyes. These I shall see—
In Nunhead Cemetary
It is the clay what makes the earth stick to his spade;
He fills in holes like this year after year;
The others have gone; they were tired, and half afraid
But I would rather be standing here;
There is nowhere else to go. I have seen this place
From the windows of the train that's going past
Against the sky. This is rain on my face -
It was raining here when I saw it last.
There is something horrible about a flower;
This, broken in my hand, is one of those
He threw it in just now; it will not live another hour;
There are thousands more; you do not miss a rose.
One of the children hanging about
Pointed at the whole dreadful heap and smiled
This morning after THAT was carried out;
There is something terrible about a child.
We were like children last week, in the Strand;
That was the day you laughed at me
Because I tried to make you understand
The cheap, stale chap I used to be
Before I saw the things you made me see.
This is not a real place; perhaps by-and-by
I shall wake - I am getting drenched with all this rain:
To-morrow I will tell you about the eyes of the Chrystal Palace train
Looking down on us, and you will laugh and I shall see what you see again.
Not here, not now. We said 'Not yet
Across our low stone parapet
Will the quick shadows of the sparrows fall.
But still it was a lovely thing
Through the grey months to wait for Spring
With the birds that go a-gypsying
In the parks till the blue seas call.
And next to these, you used to care
For the Lions in Trafalgar Square,
Who'll stand and speak for London when her bell of Judgement tolls -
And the gulls at Westminster that were
The old sea-captains souls.
To-day again the brown tide splashes step by step, the river stair,
And the gulls are there!
By a month we have missed our Day:
The children would have hung about
Round the carriage and over the way
As you and I came out.
We should have stood on the gulls' black cliffs and heard the sea
And seen the moon's white track,
I would have called, you would have come to me
And kissed me back.
You have never done that: I do not know
Why I stood staring at your bed
And heard you, though you spoke so low,
But could not reach your hands, your little head;
There was nothing we could not do, you said,
And you went, and I let you go!
Now I will burn you back, I will burn you through,
Though I am damned for it we two will lie
And burn, here where the starlings fly
To these white stones from the wet sky - ;
Dear, you will say this is not I -
It would not be you, it would not be you!
If for only a little while
You will think of it you will understand,
If you will touch my sleeve and smile
As you did that morning in the Strand
I can wait quietly with you
Or go away if you want me to -
God! What is God? but your face has gone and your hand!
Let me stay here too.
When I was quite a little lad
At Christmas time we went half mad
For joy of all the toys we had,
And then we used to sing about the sheep
The shepherds watched by night;
We used to pray to Christ to keep
Our small souls safe till morning light - ;
I am scared, I am staying with you to-night -
Put me to sleep.
I shall stay here: here you can see the sky;
The houses in the street are much too high;
There is no one left to speak to there;
Here they are everywhere,
And just above them fields and fields of roses lie -
If he would dig it all up again they would not die.