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Title: The Cruel Solstice

Date of first publication: 1944

Author: Sidney Keyes (1922-1943)

Date first posted: Mar. 24, 2015

Date last updated: Mar. 24, 2015

Faded Page eBook #20150363

This ebook was produced by: David T. Jones, Mardi Desjardins, Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net




by Sidney Keyes









First published by GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, Ltd.

Broadway House, 68-74 Carter Lane, London, E.C.

First published January, 1944

Reprinted April, 1944

Reprinted June, 1944







John Heath Stubb



Four Postures of Death—

I.Death and the Maiden
II.Death and the Lovers
III.Death and the Lady
IV.Death and the Plowman


Advice for a Journey


Moonlight Night on the Port

Two Offices of a Sentry—

I.Office for Noon
II.Office for Midnight


Greenwich Observatory

Paul Klee

War Poet

William Yeats in Limbo

Remember Your Lovers

The Gardener

St. John Baptist

Night Estuary

William Byrd

Early Spring

Hopes for a Lover

North Sea

A Hope for Those Separated by War

Song: The Heart’s Assurance

Design for a Monument


The Cruel Solstice

A Renunciation

Lover’s Complaint—


Lament for Harpsichord: The Flowering Orchards

The Migrant

The Doubtful Season

The Promised Landscape

The Kestrels



The Glass Tower in Galway

The Bards

Simon Magus

Don Juan in Winter


Dido’s Lament for Aeneas

Rome Remember

Lament for Adonis

Little Drawda


Orestes and the Furies


Time Will Not Grant


To Keep Off Fears

Being Not Proud

The Uncreated Images

Against Divination

The Expected Guest

The Wilderness

Note. I have to thank the following for permission to reprint some of these poems: Kingdom Come, The Listener, Modern Reading and Bugle Blast (Messrs. Ivor Nicholson & Watson), Poetry (London), Poetry Folios, Poetry Quarterly, Messrs. Faber & Faber; and The Hogarth Press.

Though not precisely a sequence, the poems have been arranged in a rough order of thought; and should be read consecutively, with the section of Legends as a sort of interlude.

S. K.


Four Postures of Death


He said, “Dance for me”, and he said,

“You are too beautiful for the wind

To pick at, or the sun to burn”. He said,

“I’m a poor tattered thing, but not unkind

To the sad dancer and the dancing dead”.


So I smiled and a slow measure

Mastered my feet and I was happy then.

He said, “My people are gentle as lilies

And in my house there are no men

To wring your young heart with a foolish pleasure”.


Because my boy had crossed me in a strange bed

I danced for him and was not afraid.

He said, “You are too beautiful for any man

To finger; you shall stay a maid

For ever in my kingdom and be comforted”.


He said, “You shall be my daughter and your feet move

In finer dances, maiden; and the hollow

Halls of my house shall flourish with your singing”.

He beckoned and I knew that I must follow

Into the kingdom of no love.


The Lover:

The briars fumble with the moon;

Far have I come, O far away

And heartsick sore, my own sweeting.

The Woman:

I stand before the ordered prison room.

I can give you no lover’s greeting.

The Lover:

Wind cracks the clouds, so has my face cracked open

With longing all this while, my cold face turning

Hopelessly to you, like a hound’s blind muzzle

Turned to the moon.

The Woman:

O you bring in a sickly moon

And you bring in the rain:

I will not open, my true love is gone,

You are his ghost. O never come again.

The Lover:

My feet are bleeding, you called me and your face

Called me a daylong dreary journeying.

The Woman:

Get back, get back into your likely place.

The time is past for all this havering.

The Lover:

I am a poor boy, pity

A poor boy on the roads, after your love.

The Woman:

It is too late: seek out a storied city

To house your silliness. Oh, my lost love . . .


Is here behind you. Get you in

Out of that muscular salacious wind.

Lie down by me: I have an art

To comfort you and still your restless mind.

The Woman:

I’ll close the window; and God send

We are damned easily . . .


Lie down by me, be gentle: at the end

Of time, God’s quiet hands will kill your fantasy.

The Lover:

And strangle me, God’s horny fingers, huge

Fingers of broken cloud, great creaking hands

That so beset me; briar-nails tear free

My soul into your wisdom, ravish me

Since she will not . . .

The Woman:

I am afraid, your hands are strong and cold.

Are you my enemy, or my forsaken lover?


Lie soft, lie still. I am sleep’s cruel brother.


O quietly I wait by the window and my frayed fine hand

Rests in the autumn sunlight.

Rests in the autumn sunlight.Quietly

The garden trees shake down their crown of leaves.

I have no fear because I have no lover.


I was never acquisitive, never would bind

Any man for myself: so from this brown and golden

Season of loneliness let him call me softly—

Expecting my compliance, not my welcome.


It may be an hour’s play, this waiting for the word—

He will speak softly, for they all spoke softly—

Or I may fill an autumn with contrition

And waiting for the arm across my shoulders.


Yet he must use no lover’s talk to me,

Nor shall his hand be ringed, even with sapphires.

He need not dance, for I have danced with others.

O let him come as bare and white as winter.


The wind comes and goes. The leaves and clouds

Fall through the branches. In a dream

Or perhaps a picture, quite without surprise

I turn to meet the question in his eyes.


The Rider:

O don’t, don’t ever ask me for alms:

The winter way I’m riding. Beggar, shun

My jingling bonebag equipage, beware

My horse’s lifted hoof, the sinewed whip.

I am the man started a long time since

To drive into the famous land some call

Posterity, some famine, some the valley

Of bones, valley of bones, valley of dry

Bones where a critical wind is always searching

The poor dried marrow for a drop of truth.

Better for you to ask no alms, my friend.

The Plowman:

It’s only the wind holds my poor bones together,

So take me with you to that famous land.

There I might wither, as I’m told some do,

Out of my rags and boast at last

The integrated skeleton of truth.

The Rider:

The wind creeps sharper there, my hopeful friend,

Than you imagine. There the crooked trees

Bend like old fingers; and at Hallowmass

The Lord calls erring bones to dance a figure.

The Plowman:

What figure, friend? Why should I fear that dancing?

The Rider:

No man may reasonably dance

That figure, friend. One saw it, one Ezekiel

Was only spared to tell of it. That valley

Is no man’s proper goal, but some must seek it.

The Plowman:

I might get clothing there. A skeleton

Cannot go naked.

The Rider:

Naked as the sky

And lonely as the elements, the man

Who knows that land. The drypoint artist there

Scrabbles among the wreckage; poets follow

The hard crevasses, silly as starved gulls

That scream behind the plow. Don’t stop me, friend,

Unless you are of those, and your fool’s pride

Would lure you to that land. . . .

The Plowman:

I will go with you.

Better plow-following, the searching wind

About my bones than this nonentity.

The Rider:

Then get you up beside me, gull-brained fool.


We’re driving to the famous land some call

Posterity, some famine, some the valley

Of bones, valley of bones, valley of dry

Bones where there is no heat nor hope nor dwelling:

But cold security, the one and only

Right of a workless man without a home.


Look, Aimée, and you, Victor, look—

The birds have taken all our cherries—

Down in the brown-walled orchard on the hillside

The cherry-trees are weeping for their fruit;

Only the clusters of green stalks

Remain; the stones are scattered on the grass.

There will be no more cherries, not this summer

Nor next, if we get another. God!

It’s beyond bearing that they eat our cherries

And fly away and leave the trees in mourning.

Soon an invader will be taking more than cherries:

They’ll be stealing our dreams or breaking up

Our history for firewood.

Our history for firewood.Children, see

The avenues of cherry-trees are broken

And trampled boughs crawl in the dust. See, Victor,

How the sun bouncing off the mountain strikes

Christ’s wooden throat above the cemetery:

Flesh broken like our cherry-trees and ravished.

The path runs open and smiling down the hill;

It leaps the walls and hides behind the ruins.


Now take this moment and create its image

Impregnable to time or trespasser,

And turn your mind to realise your loss.

The cherry-trees are broken and their fruit

Sown on the indecipherable mountains.

Realise your loss and take it in your hands

And turn it like a pebble. You perceive

It has a stone’s dumb smell; its patterns

Plot some forgotten map. Regard your loss.


Planting this lump of pain, perhaps a flower

Might burst from it; perhaps a cherry-tree,

Perhaps a world or a new race of men.


Regard your loss. The blossoms of the cherry

Are rotten now; the branch is violated;

The fruit is stolen and our dreams have failed.

Yet somewhere—O beyond what bitter ranges?—

A seed drops from the sky and like a bomb

Explodes into our orchard’s progeny,

And so our care may colonise a desert.

They cannot break our trees or waste our dreams,

For their despoiling is a kind of sowing.


Aimée and Victor, stop crying. Can’t you understand

They cannot steal our cherries or our joy?

Let them take what they want, even our dreams.

Somewhere our loss will plant a better orchard.

Advice for a Journey

The drums mutter for war and soon we must begin

To seek the country where they say that joy

Springs flowerlike among the rocks, to win

The fabulous golden mountain of our peace.


O my friends, we are too young

For explorers, have no skill nor compass,

Nor even that iron certitude which swung

Our fathers at their self-fulfilling North.


So take no rations, remember not your homes—

Only the blind and stubborn hope to track

This wilderness. The thoughtful leave their bones

In windy foodless meadows of despair.


Never look back, nor too far forward search

For the white Everest of your desire;

The screes roll underfoot and you will never reach

Those brittle peaks which only clouds may walk.


Others have come before you. The immortal

Live like reflections and their frozen faces

Will give you courage to ignore the subtle

Sneer of the gentian and the iceworn pebble.


The fifes cry death and the sharp winds call.

Set your face to the rock; go on, go out

Into the bad lands of battle, into the cloud-wall

Of the future, my friends, and leave your fear.


Go forth, my friends, the raven is no sibyl;

Break the clouds’ anger with your unchanged faces.

You’ll find, maybe, the dream under the hill—

But never Canaan, nor any golden mountain.


for R. B. and H. S., October ’42

O you will have no bells and the winter is coming,

But now the corn lies down to the stumbling thresher,

The sycamore drops its yellow-winged projectiles

And winter is coming, but first the season of fruit.


Your bells will be the voices of autumn rivers,

Your wine will be the dew on the fallen apple:

I sing for you who at the end of summer

Have crowned the year and come together at last.


There’s so much burning in the autumn world.

The flames spread through the stubble, and the wind

Comes out of Russia with a smell of fire.

The reapers do not sing, but the sickle whispers

Among the leaning wheat in the heat of noon.


O you have seen, as I have seen, the folly

Of those who think lost time can be repaid:

The girl who, mad with sorrow, hung her ring

On the wind’s finger, was not half so vain.

I sing for you who at the end of summer

Have crowned the year and come together at last.


These nights are kind as the memory of a mother.

The geese track south across the heavy moon.

Your winter will be a triumph of clear decision

And what incredible spring may lie beyond?

O live and love to see your happy children

Deny the sorrow of a burning world.


Though you will have no bells and the winter is coming

I sing your courage, who expect the spring.

Moonlight Night on the Port

  Some were unlucky. Blown a mile to shoreward

  Their crossed hands lie among the bitter marsh-grass.


Link arms and sing. The moon sails out

Spreading distraction on the faces, drawing

The useful hands to birdclaws. . . .

The useful hands to birdclaws. . . .If a ring

Flashes, what matter? Other hands are ringless.

We’ll never go home to-night, never to-night.


  And some shall be pulled down, revolving sickly

  On the tide’s whim, their bare feet scraping sand.


The moon is out, my lady; lady of different

Voices and gestures, with the same cold eyes.

The buoy swings ringing. Under the curved seawall

My hands reveal your soundings all the same.


  Some were more gallant, dragged across the seabed

  In iron cages, coughing out their lungs.


Singing in bars, running before the seven

Set winds of the heart; bearing our weakness bravely

Through all the frigid seasons, we have weighed

The chances against us, and refuse no kisses—

Even the tide’s kiss on this dog-toothed shore.


  For some are lucky, leaving their curved faces

  Propped in the moonlight while their bodies drown.

Two Offices of a Sentry


At the field’s border, where the cricket chafes

His brittle wings among the yellow weed,

I pause to hear the sea unendingly sifted

Between the granite fingers of the cape.

At this twelfth hour of unrelenting summer

I think of those whose ready mouths are stopped.

I remember those who crouch in narrow graves.

I weep for those whose eyes are full of sand.


The ones who gave themselves to every moment

Till time grew gentle as a sated lover;

The young swift-footed and the old keen-eyed,

Whose roads are freedom and whose stars are constant,

Stand by me as I watch this empty town.

I am in love with the wildness of the living.

I am in love with the rhythms of dead limbs.

I am in love with all those who have entered

The night that smells of petals and of dust.


For R.-J.

Our country was a country drowned long since,

By shark-toothed currents drowned:

And in that country walk the generations,

The dancing generations with grey eyes

Whose touch would be like rain, the generations

Who never thought to justify their beauty.

There once the flowering cherry grasped the wall

With childish fingers, once the gull swung crying

Across the morning or the evening mist;

Once high heels rattled on the terrace

Over the water’s talk, and the wind lifted

The hard leaves of the bay; the white sand drifted

Under the worm-bored rampart, under the white eyelid.


Our country was a country washed with colour.

Its light was good to us, sharp limning

The lover’s secret smile, the fine-drawn fingers;

It drew long stripes between the pointed jaws

Of sea-bleached wreckage grinning through the wrack

And turned cornelian the flashing eyeball.

For here the tide sang like a riding hero

Across the rock-waste, and the early sun

Was shattered in the teeth of shuttered windows.


But now we are the gowned lamenters

Who stand among the junipers and ruins.

We are the lovers who defied the sea

Until the tide returning threw us up

A foreign corpse with blue-rimmed eyes, and limbs

Drawn limp and racked between the jigging waves.

Greenwich Observatory

This onion-dome holds all intricacies

Of intellect and star-struck wisdom; so

Like Coleridge’s head with multitudinous

Passages riddled, full of strange instruments

Unbalanced by a touch, this organism

From wires and dials spins introverted life.

It never looks, squat on its concrete shoulders

Down at the river’s swarming life, nor sees

Cranes’ groping insect-like activity

Nor slow procession of funnels past the docks.

Turning its inner wheels, absorbed in problems

Of space and time, it never hears

Birds singing in the park or children’s laughter.

Alive, but in another way, it broods

On this its Highgate, hypnotised

In lunar reverie and calculation.

Yet night awakes it; blind lids open

Leaden to look upon the moon:

A single goggling telescopic eye

Enfolds the spheric wonder of the sky.

Paul Klee

The short-faced goblins with their heavy feet

Trampled your dreams, their spatulate

Fingers have torn the tracery of your wisdom:

But childlike you would not cry out, transforming

Your enemies to little angry phantoms

In clarity of vision exorcised.

Until at last they conquered by attrition,

And draining the last dregs of love away,

They left you from the angular

Prison of primary fears no way but flight:

Yet never could invade your waterworld of spirit

Since half divining there among the dance

Of shadowed currents lurking ever

Their unguessed image, luminous with fear.

And so they stirred the shallows till the sky

Flew blue in shards and thought sank even deeper,

Where crouched your passion’s residue confined:

The evil centre of a child’s clear mind.

War Poet

I am the man who looked for peace and found

My own eyes barbed.

I am the man who groped for words and found

An arrow in my hand.

I am the builder whose firm walls surround

A slipping land.

When I grow sick or mad

Mock me not nor chain me:

When I reach for the wind

Cast me not down:

Though my face is a burnt book

And a wasted town.

William Yeats in Limbo

Where folds the central lotus

Flesh and soul could never seek?

Under what black-scar’d mountain

May Pallas with Adonis meet?


Spirit-bodies’ loveliness

Cannot expiate my pain:

How should I learn wisdom

Being old and profane?


My thoughts have swarmed like bees

In an old ruined tower:

How should I go to drive them out

Lacking joy and power?


How could I learn youth again,

With figured symbols weaving

Truth so easily, now I

Am old and unbelieving?


By what chicanery of time

May sword and sheath be separated?

Silent be the singer who thinks of me

And how I was defeated.

Remember Your Lovers

Young men walking the open streets

Of death’s republic, remember your lovers.


When you foresaw with vision prescient

The planet pain rising across your sky

We fused your sight in our soft burning beauty:

We laid you down in meadows drunk with cowslips

And led you in the ways of our bright city.

Young men who wander death’s vague meadows,

Remember your lovers who gave you more than flowers.


When truth came prying like a surgeon’s knife

Among the delicate movements of your brain

We called your spirit from its narrow den

And kissed your courage back to meet the blade—

Our anæsthetic beauty saved you then.

Young men whose sickness death has cured at last,

Remember your lovers and covet their disease.


When you woke grave-chilled at midnight

To pace the pavement of your bitter dream

We brought you back to bed and brought you home

From the dark antechamber of desire

Into our lust as warm as candle-flame.

Young men who lie in the carven beds of death,

Remember your lovers who gave you more than dreams.


From the sun sheltering your careless head

Or from the painted devil your quick eye,

We led you out of terror tenderly

And fooled you into peace with our soft words

And gave you all we had and let you die.

Young men drunk with death’s unquenchable wisdom,

Remember your lovers who gave you more than love.

The Gardener

If you will come on such a day

As this, between the pink and yellow lines

Of parrot-tulips, I will be your lover.

My boots flash as they beat the silly gravel.

O come, this is your day.


Were you to lay your hand like a veined leaf

Upon my square-cut hand, I would caress

The shape of it, and that would be enough.

I note the greenfly working on the rose.

Time slips between my fingers like a leaf.


Do you resemble the silent pale-eyed angels

That follow children? Is your face a flower?

The lovers and the beggars leave the park—

And still you will not come. The gates are closing.


O it is terrible to dream of angels.

St. John Baptist

I, John, not reed but root;

Not vested priest nor saviour but a voice

Crying daylong like a cricket in the heat,

Demand your worship. Not of me

But of the traveller I am calling

From beyond Jordan and the limestone hills,

Whose runner and rude servant I am only.

Not man entirely but God’s watchman,

I dwell among these blistered rocks

Awaiting the wide dawn, the wonder

Of His first coming and the Dove’s descent.

Night Estuary

And yet the spiked moon menacing

The great humped dykes, scaring the plaintive seafowl,

Makes no right image, wakes no assertive echo.

Though one may stride the dykes with face upturned

To the yellow inflammation in the sky

And nostrils full of the living samphire scent,

There is no kindness in man’s heart for these.

In this place, and at this unmeaning hour,

There is no home for a man’s hope or his sorrow.


O you lion-hearted poet’s griefs, or griefs

Wild as the curlew’s cry of passage;

O hope uneasy as the rising ebb

Among the sedges, cold and questing guest;

Leave me alone this hour with the restive night.

Allow me to accept the witless landscape.

William Byrd

I have come very far, Lord. In my time

Men’s mouths have been shut up, the gabble and whine

Of shot has drowned the singing. You will pardon

My praise that rises only from a book—

(How long shall that book be hidden

Under a scarecrow gown, under evil writings?)

And you will pardon the tricks, the secret rooms,

The boarded windows, your house again a stall.

These things have made my house of praise more holy.

And so I try to remember how it was

When lovers sang like finches, and the Word

Was music.

Was music.Lord, I am no coward,

But an old man remembering the candle-flames

Reflected in the scroll-work, frozen trees

Praying for Advent, the willow cut at Easter.

The quires are dumb. My spirit sings in silence.

You will appoint the day of my arising.

Early Spring

Now that the young buds are tipped with a falling sun—

Each twig a candle, a martyr, St. Julian’s branched stag—

And the shadows are walking the cobbled square like soldiers

With their long legs creaking and their pointed hands

Reaching the railings and fingering the stones

Of what expended, unprojected graves:

The soil’s a flirt, the lion Time is tamed,

And pain like a cat will come home to share your room.

Hopes for a Lover

I’d have you proud as red brocade

And such a sight as Venus made

Extravagantly stepping from a shell.


I’d have you clear your way before

With such a look as Aias wore

On his way back from hell.


I’d have you strong as spider’s strand

And all volcanic as the land

Where the nymph fooled that cunning Ulysses.


I’d have you arrogantly ride

Love’s flurry, as the turning seas

Bore Arion upon a fish.

My last and dearest wish—

That you should let the arrows of my pride

Come at you again and again and never touch you.

North Sea

The evening thickens. Figures like a frieze

Cross the sea’s face, their cold unlifted heads

Disdainful of the wind that pulls their hair.

The brown light lies along the harbour wall.


And eastward looking, eastward wondering

I meet the eyes of Heine’s ghost, who saw

His failure in the grey forsaken waves

At Rulenstein one autumn. And between

Rises the shape in more than memory

Of Düsseldorf, the ringing, river-enfolding

City that brought such sorrow on us both.

A Hope for Those Separated by War

They crossed her face with blood,

They hung her heart.

They dragged her through a pit

Full of quick sorrow.

Yet her small feet

Ran back on the morrow.


They took his book and caged

His mind in a dark house.

They took his bright eyes

To light their rooms of doubt.

Yet his thin hands

Crawled back and found her out.

Song: The Heart’s Assurance

O never trust the heart’s assurance—

Trust only the heart’s fear:

And what I’m saying is, Go back, my lovely—

Though you will never hear.


O never trust your pride of movement—

Trust only pride’s distress:

The only holy limbs are the broken fingers

Still raised to praise and bless.


For the careless heart is bound with chains

And terribly cast down:

The beast of pride is hunted out

And baited through the town.

Design for a Monument

The stone doves settle on the lady’s tomb.


Grey scrolls of lettering upon her eyes

Will never hide the image of regret;

And she who walked in a rich robe of safety

Now shrinks beneath the rough immodest shroud.


O elegies are empty as the waiting

Of timid ancestors and scraping parents

Who worked so long towards that ruined face.

All walks at evening among the stolid yews,

And mornings at high windows, are forgotten

Like folds in a gold robe laid out to rot.

The lovers who rode with her lie scattered

Among their horses’ big-eyed skulls in the meadow;

The yellow charlock scratches at her door.


It is not easy to lament a lady

Whose past was greater than the singer’s age.

They who fly falcons at the angry sun

Or ride black horses through the armoured night

Have wept for her a day, then fallen sick

And laid their bones in cold heraldic houses:

And I am left to pause before her tomb

Where grey doves cover her with granite leaves.


The Cruel Solstice

To-night the stranger city and the old

Moon that stands over it proclaim

A cruel solstice, coming ice and cold

Thoughts and the darkening of the heart’s flame.


“Stand up”, speaks soul, “let wisdom turn the time

Into an image of your day’s despite”;

O clever soul, we were born separate,

Held only in hard glance or studied rhyme.


“Sleep then, tired singer, stop the mouth

Of the unhappy month and take your rest.”

O cunning voice, I have not strength enough,

Being no stranger here, but uncouth guest.


So must I walk or falter by the wall

Wondering at my impotence

Of thought and action; at the fall

Of love and cities and the heart’s false diligence.


To-night I cannot speak, remembering

For all my daily talk, I dare not enter

The empty month; can only stand and think

Of you, my dearest, and the approaching winter.

A Renunciation

Strong angels bear God’s canopy,

Strong horsemen ride the loose immoderate wind:

But O my dark girl from her balcony

Laughs down and puts their glory out of mind.


Sharp stars are wiser than the astronomer,

The stinking goat more potent than the great

Lover of girls, that cold Casanova:

And righteous wars forget the cause of hate.


The high djinn-master Solomon

Could never understand his women’s talk:

So I would be an unobservant man

Frequenting gardens where dark women walk.

Lover’s Complaint


The trains cry and are frightened

Far from my distraction; spare

My peace, my voice, my city

Of desolation, desolate because you are there.


There was a month and two people walked in it

But were not you or I:

My sight is broken and the signs are taken

That kept me safe in abject poetry.


Spare too my willing mind

That served your images:

There is a night and two people lie in it,

And the green planet rages.


Were I to pass now on the creaking stair

You would not know my face:

The months and the night and my own mind

Have taken a ghost’s grace.


For my private streets and summers

Are any alien comer’s;

And the tall miraculous city

That I walked in will never house me.


O sing, caged lark, sing caged

Poetical bird, you liar;

Sing high to-day, your female

Rapture, your cagebird fire

Won’t fool me now, the day’s already aged

Ten years and your voice falls stale.


O sing, erotic season, sing

Dream-heavy mind;

Light’s terrible ministry

Perform, clear morning wind.

But my ears have aged and everything

Has turned round wretchedly.

Lament for Harpsichord: The Flowering Orchards

The days and faces: O to take the faces

And crumbling features of my love and build them

Into a wall about our flowered April.

Rain seeks the root. The cloudy spring approaches.


If we could for a moment be alone,

Had it been possible for us to meet

Among the flowering orchards of the South

Or when the summer flashed and rocketed

Between green sedges like a kingfisher:

If we could be alone, my dear, my dearest,

With the pale light of April and the open

Roads of a tired heart, my far, my farthest,

There might be hope and heavy trees this summer

Instead of these hard blooms, this backward spring—

The gapped walls and the falling faces,

The scraggy birds that will not learn to sing.


Those flowering orchards, O to save those orchards

Of starred illusion from the climbing blight.

Silver it settles on the leaves and fissures

The strong bole slowly, to its circled heart.

If we could be alone for a moment only

While the spring grows, while blossoms fight

Within the bud. . . .

Within the bud. . . .If we had met before

And in another place, what wonders might we see

Sheltered by days and faces, under a flowering tree?

The Migrant

Slimmer than thrush, the ringneck ousel

Haunts these black becks, recalling chalk-ribbed downs

You walk this month; the heavy wrack

Stumbling across them in the winter dusk;

The gulls’ extended shadows on the turf;

A Hampshire naturalist seeking, noting

The flocks, the fluting birds, (was it indeed

Migration brought them, or mere Providence?)

The ringnecked birds in autumn on those downs.

So by the millrace and the stony ridge

I look for something different, for a sign

That love has flown into another country,

Migrating from this frost—not, as I fear,

Frozen and starved. The quick bird calls

Thinly among the willows, and I think

Of spring and of that winter friend. O voice,

O bird-throat, bird-throat, you know not

My deeper fear of time, my silly hope

That spring may find us eager and unchanged.

The Doubtful Season

The doubtful season of the brain’s black weather

Blew through me, but you waited for its end.

My months were all named backwards till you showed me

That even the mind is not deceived for ever.


O in October it would be the blazoned

Leaves of the chestnut on the cobbled pavement:

And we would seek in the corridors of autumn

Denial of faith and of the summer’s achievement.


And in the early year it was another

Sign of evasion when the poplars clattered

To sharpened ears above the metal river—

And I would turn to find your eyes were shuttered.


Even that almost parting on the stair

I could not understand, nor why the candles

Sprouted such flowers between our sculptured faces:

Nor why the river glinted in your hair.


O in July it was our love was started

Like any hare among the watchful grasses;

Its running is my song, my only story

How time turns back and the doubtful season passes.

The Promised Landscape

For R.-J.

How shall I sing for you—

Sharing only

The scared dream of a soldier:

A young man’s unbearable

Dream of possession?

How shall I sing for you

With the foul tongue of a soldier?


We march through new mountains

Where crows inhabit

The pitiful cairns.

At morning, the rock-pools

Are matted with ice.

But you are the mountains

And you the journey.


We lie in a ruined farm

Where rats perform

Marvels of balance

Among the rafters.

And rain kisses my lips

Because you are the sky

That bends always over me.


How shall I sing for you

Knowing only

The explorer’s sorrow,

The soldier’s weariness?

New ranges and rivers

Are never quite revealing

Your promised figure.


How dare I sing for you

I the least worthy

Of lovers you’ve had:

You the most lovely

Of possible landscapes?

September, 1942

The Kestrels

When I would think of you, my mind holds only

The small defiant kestrels—how they cut

The raincloud with sharp wings, continually circling

About a storm-rocked elm, with passionate cries.

It was an early month. The plow cut hard.

The may was knobbed with chilly buds. My folly

Was great enough to lull away my pride.


There is no virtue now in blind reliance

On place or person or the forms of love.

The storm bears down the pivotal tree, the cloud

Turns to the net of an inhuman fowler

And drags us from the air. Our wings are clipped.

Yet still our love and luck lies in our parting:

Those cries and wings surprise our surest act.


Bull-chested and iron-eyed heroes

And weeping women

Surround me while I sleep;

Waking, I meet the continual procession

Of hawk-headed, bird-clawed women

And weeping men.


The Glass Tower in Galway


One was an eye and others

Snake-headed travesties; one high-legged and mincing

As a stork. And there were whining small ones

Like sickly children. O they were a beastly

Sea-born race, spawned on the rocks of Galway

Among the dried shark-eggs and the dirty froth.

They moved and cried and the wind blew hard from the West,

Ruffling the treacherous pale places over the reefs.

They cried, “Ours is the land”,

And the gulls dared not dispute them

Nor even the old falcon circling the misty cape.

They took the crooked fields and straggling coasts

Of Galway, spreading later East and South

Through heather-topped hills and the stinking bogs of Connaught,

To caper lastly on the inland pastures

Where only the moon and the waving grasses mocked them.

But where the sea had retched them up

They built a tower, above the cross-grained tides

And wheezing potholed beaches, on a headland;

Of glass they reared it, riveted askew,

Sustained by witchcraft; in the autumn gales

Ringing like a goblet till the mountains quivered.

It was their shrine, and cruel sea-rites

Went forward there while they possessed the land:

Sometimes it shook with screaming and children’s corpses

Drifted southward, mauled by the grumbling seals.

Yet still on summer nights impassively

It faced the empty West with its inane transparency.


But as the inhuman years neared their completion

A race came from the South; sun-bronzed

Cloud-riding Danaan people out of Egypt.

And there were battles. First among the ravaged

Hills and then raging by the stony beaches.

Wars passed; the sea took many dead, the tower

Fell and its rites were celebrated

Now only in the deep sea caverns where its masters

Sought refuge; now the fretful tide

Coughed round those altars without sacrifice;

Outlawed by history, the sea-born race

Rotted off Galway, the Atlantic shark

And groping spider-crab their only heir.

Those reefs and beaches now lay shadowless

Under the moon; the wheeling falcon saw

A new age coming, like the early sun

Gilding the spindrift, bronze on the wet sand.


But even that age is dead and songs

Forget its buried kings who lie

Under high cairns, their requiem the curlews’

Insatiable crying, their epitaph

In lichens written, and great deeds engraved

On buried shards of bronze. For history

Despises even them, turning their prowess

Into a tale of ogres, fame and truth

Lost in the wreck of their enormous bones.


Bats roost in the high white halls

And the heroes are finished.


Their swords are stacked for scrap

In the cold waste places.


Their tombs scattered and broken

Nourish the blue thistle.


For time will never repent

Nor the seasons pity them.


There’s no hope in hoping now:

God has left us like a girl.

The Bards

Now it is time to remember the winter festivals

Of the old world, and see their raftered halls

Hung with hard holly; tongues’ confusion; slow

Beat of the heated blood in those great palaces

Decked with the pale and sickled mistletoe;

And voices dying when the blind bard rises

Robed in his servitude, and the high harp

Of sorrow sounding, stills those upturned faces.


O it is such long learning, loneliness

And dark despite to master

The bard’s blind craft; in bitterness

Of heart to strike the strings and muster

The shards of pain to harmony, not sharp

With anger to insult the merry guest.

O it is glory for the old man singing

Dead valour and his own days coldly cursed.


How ten men fell by one heroic sword

And of fierce foray by the unwatched ford,

Sing, blinded face; quick hands in darkness groping

Pluck the sad harp; sad heart forever hoping

Valhalla may be songless, enter

The moment of your glory, out of clamour

Moulding your vision to such harmony

That drunken heroes cannot choose but honour

Your stubborn blinded pride, your inward winter.

Simon Magus

The hands affright, it is the cunning hands

Have driven my weak masters out of doors:

For a gold piece or healing water-kiss

Shaped like a cross, make my hands strong as yours.


The hand fails because of the unpurged eye.

The kiss fails because of the cold coin.

There is no power on earth can circumvent

The stubborn intellect, proud as a god’s pain.


Go pray, Simon; hide your noisy heart

Clapper-tongued and lolling with conceit.

Meet your master in his house of fire

And practise wonders on the silly dead.

For you the mathematics of desire,

The frigid neophyte, the cold symbolic bed.

Don Juan in Winter

Where once it was under archways

The legendary two-backed beast and bright

As younger years the moonlight, dog-legged shadows

Hunting not then, sparing your hopeful night:


Now they run loose about the traitor streets,

You see in archways waiting the wronged man

You spitted, and the beast run down and cornered

Can only howl, harder its hunting than


The shame and terror of its own past quarry,

The cry at midnight. Now the hunt is up

For every dealer in expensive passion

And every drinker from the jewelled cup.


Alone in winter now, you dare not loiter

Along old ways, beside the terraced shore:

Your steps avoid the high-wrought palaces

Whose keys your fingers were, but are no more.


It is not vengefully nor yet in wisdom

You’re punished so. The night will never fail;

But pretty faces fall and fail and never

Escape from their tired mirrors. Years as pale


As shipwreck are your portion, you once diver;

Once hunter, hunting. Serenaded windows yawn

Satirically like old gap-toothed women,

And age’s dunghill cock crows up your dawn.


The various voices are his poem now.


Under the currents, under the shifting lights

Of midway water, rolls his fleshy wreck:

Its gurnard eye reflects those airy heights

Where once it noted white Arcturus set.


Gull-swift and swerving, the wet spirit freed

Skims the huge breakers. Watching at the prow

Of any southbound vessel, sailor, heed

Never that petrel spirit, cruel as pride.


Let no cliff-haunting woman, no girl claim

Kinship with Glaucus, neither sow

The tide with daffodils, nor call his name

Into the wind, for he is glorified—

And cold Aegean voices speak his fame.

Dido’s Lament for Aeneas

He never loved the frenzy of the sun

Nor the clear seas.

He came with hero’s arms and bullock’s eyes

Afraid of nothing but his nagging gods.

He never loved the hollow-sounding beaches

Nor rested easily in carven beds.


The smoke blows over the breakers, the high pyre waits.

His mind was a blank wall throwing echoes,

Not half so subtle as the coiling flames.

He never loved my wild eyes nor the pigeons

Inhabiting my gates.

Rome Remember

The bright waves scour the wound of Carthage.

The shadows of gulls run spiderlike through Carthage.

The cohorts of the sand are wearing Carthage

Hollow and desolate as a turning wave;

But the bronze eagle has flown east from Rome.


Rome remember, remember the seafowls’ sermon

That followed the beaked ships westward to their triumph.

O Rome, you city of soldiers, remember the singers

That cry with dead voices along the African shore.


Rome remember, the courts of learning are tiled

With figures from the east like running nooses.

The desolate bodies of boys in the blue glare

Of falling torches cannot stir your passion.

Remember the Greeks who measured out your doom.

Remember the soft funereal Etruscans.


O when the rain beats with a sound like bells

Upon your bronze-faced monuments, remember

This European fretful-fingered rain

Will turn to swords in the hand of Europe’s anger.

Remember the Nordic snarl and the African sorrow.


The bronze wolf howls when the moon turns red.

The trolls are massing for their last assault.

Your dreams are full of claws and scaly faces

And the Gothic arrow is pointed at your heart.


Rome remember your birth in Trojan chaos.

O think how savage will be your last lamenters.

How alien the lovers of your ghost.

Lament for Adonis

I bring you branches and sing scattering branches.

My feet have never turned this way before.

My tears are statues in my lighted eyes.

My mind is a stone with grief going over it

Like white brook-water in the early year.

I bring you tears and sing scattering tears.

My grief for you is cold and heavy as iron.

Your beauty was a wound in the world’s side.


I bring you blood and sing scattering blood.

Little Drawda

All Souls, ’41

Under the shaken trees, wait O unlucky

Returner, you rejected one:

There is no way of comforting you. Wait

Under the shaken trees and the clock striking one.


In the moon’s wicked glitter linger now

You tired ghost:

You have no stance of safety but shift

In the moon’s glitter, an uprooted ghost.


On this strong night, remain you lonely

Seeker beside me, though my heart is dumb:

We may together solve the unexpected

Secret of living, now that the clock is dumb.


Hour ten he rose, ten-sworded, every finger

A weighted blade, and strapping round his loins

The courage of attack, he threw the window

Open to look on his appointed night.


Where lay, beneath the winds and creaking flares

Tangled like lovers or alone assuming

The wanton postures of the drunk with sleep,

An army of twisted limbs and hollow faces

Thrown to and fro between the winds and shadows.

O hear the wind, the wind that shakes the dawn.

And there before the night, he was aware

Of the flayed fields of home, and black with ruin

The helpful earth under the tracks of tanks.

His bladed hand, in pity falling, mimicked

The crumpled hand lamenting the broken plow;

And the oracular metal lips in anger

Squared to the shape of the raped girl’s yelling mouth.

He heard the wind explaining nature’s sorrow

And humming in the wire hair of the dead.


He turned, and his great shadow on the wall

Swayed like a tree. His eyes grew cold as lead.

Then, in a rage of love and grief and pity

He made the pencilled map alive with war.

Orestes and the Furies

This self-absorbed Orestes speaking riddles

Wanders the falling woods of his own past;

Remembering the pillared house, he weeps for

A mother murdered and a sister lost.


Of Agamemnon felled like groaning timber—

Alas the day he turned his back on Troy—

The hunted hero muses, and his mother

Who made him tremble like a lovestruck boy.


The mask of tragic pride upon his features

Is painted with inexorable art.

The guilty hands of mother and of sister

Are both the iron hand upon his heart.


Observing shapes of judgment in the sky

He seeks the dark, yet dare not turn his back

Upon those shattered mirrors where he sees

The snake-haired Furies running on his track.


Time Will Not Grant

Time will not grant the unlined page

Completion or the hand respite:

The Magi stray, the heavens rage,

The careful pilgrim stumbles in the night.


Take pen, take eye and etch

Your vision on this unpropitious time;

Faces are fluid, actions never reach

Perfection but in reflex or in rhyme.


Take now, not soon; your lost

Minutes roost home like curses.

Nicolo, Martin, every unhoused ghost

Proclaims time’s strange reverses.


Fear was Donne’s peace; to him,

Charted between the minstrel cherubim,

Terror was decent. Rilke tenderly

Accepted autumn like a rooted tree.

But I am frightened after every good day

That all my life must change and fall away.


Rising, the light ran round inside his eyes.

Then at a later hour, without surprise,

He noted singing birds that raked the sky

With pointed rods of sound like surgeons’ knives.


The walls were scrawled with moss. The trees

Grabbed at the sun like grey anemones.

At noon he met a girl whose body sang

Thin as a cricket, till his eardrums rang.


Black dancers crossed his brain. The bearded sun

Whirled past him, locked with prancing Capricorn.

A dog began to howl; until he cried

It was too much. And then his wonder died.


Evening found him lost but unafraid

Surveying the wry landscape in his head.

Night ravished him, and so was brought to birth

A great cold passion to destroy the earth.

To Keep Off Fears

Fear of jammed window and of rising footsteps

Out of fear’s stair, where a tall phantom mounts

Through time and action at the brain:


Fear of the enormous mountain leaning

Across thought’s lake, where blinded fishes move

As cold and intricate as love:


Fear of the fisherman

Who raised Leviathan

On a steel line from his creative mirror:

Fear of the moonlight shifting against the door:


Fear finally of tripwire and garotte

Reaching possessive from an easy air:

These bring the careful man into despair.


Then let me never crouch against the wall

But meet my fears and fight them till I fall.

Being Not Proud

Being not proud to praise a lonely man’s

Heroic loveless dream-humility most often

Comes to the drunken or the moonstruck mind—

I seek new pain to soften

Like rain the stony soul, or careful wind.


Moses’ great parleying on Sinai

Brought anger on him and defeat:

Love, being no frigid stonecrop-flower,

Blooms not among pride’s wrack and sleet

Nor ornaments an introverted tower.


The bones of heroes crowned with stone and statue

Nourish no flower nor bitter cry;

Yet groping painfully, love’s roots may save

The dumb soul of a stone, or justify

The holed heart in a crossroad grave.

The Uncreated Images

The commerce of lithe limbs is fool’s delight.


O hours and watches, O unending summer

Within the lover’s blood and cloudy blooms

That nightly rise and break about the body—

These are the currency of dreams and language,

The uncreated images of truth.


Night’s wink is momentary, and dividing

The coloured shapes of passion which it spawned,

Night strikes through the membrane to the gristled socket

And tumbles like a pebble through the skull.


There is no speech to tell the shape of love

Nor any but the wounded eye to see it;

Whether in memory, or listening to the talk

Of rain among the gutters; or at dawn

The sentry’s feet striking the chilly yard,

There is no synonym for love’s great word—

No way of comforting the limbs

That have lain lovelocked at an earlier season,

Nor any coin to close the tired eye

That day chastises with its rods of light.

The separate limbs perform a faithless task—

The eye devours created images.


The commerce of lithe limbs is fool’s delight,

Cry limb and eyeball, waiting for the night.

Against Divination

Not in the night time, in the weary bed

Comes wisdom, neither to the wild

Symbolic leaf of autumn. Never seek

Your solace from the automatic hand

Of medium, or lover’s partial gaze:

Truth is not found in book or litten glass

At midnight. Ghosts are liars. None may turn

Winter’s hard sentence but the silly man,

The workless plowman or the unhoused poet

Who walks without a thought and finds his peace

In tall clouds mounting the unbroken wind,

In dry leaves beating at the heavens’ face.

The Expected Guest

  The table is spread, the lamp glitters and sighs;

  Light on my eyes, light on the high curved iris

  And springing from glaze to steel, from cup to knife

  Makes sacramental my poor midnight table,

  My broken scraps the pieces of a god.


O when they bore you down, the grinning soldiers,

Was it their white teeth you could not forget?

And when you met the beast in the myrtle wood,

When the spear broke and the blood broke out on your side

What Syrian Veronica above you

Stooped with her flaxen cloth as yet unsigned?

And either way, how could you call your darling

To drink the cup of blood your father filled?

We are dying to-night, you in the agèd darkness

And I in the white room my pride has rented.

And either way, we have to die alone.


  The laid table stands hard and white as to-morrow

  The lamp sings. The West wind jostles the door.

  Though broken the bread, the brain, the brave body

  There cannot now be any hope of changing

  The leavings to living bone, the bone to bread:

  For bladed centuries are drawn between us.

  The room is ready, but the guest is dead.

The Wilderness


The red rock wilderness

Shall be my dwelling place.


Where the wind saws at the bluffs

And the pebble falls like thunder

I shall watch the clawed sun

Tear the rocks asunder.


The seven-branched cactus

Will never sweat wine:

My own bleeding feet

Shall furnish the sign.


The rock says “Endure”.

The wind says “Pursue”.

The sun says “I will suck your bones

And afterwards bury you”.


Here where the horned skulls mark the limit

Of instinct and intransigeant desire

I beat against the rough-tongued wind

Towards the heart of fire.


So knowing my youth, which was yesterday,

And my pride which shall be gone to-morrow,

I turn my face to the sun, remembering gardens

Planted by others—Longinus, Guillaume de Lorris

And all love’s gardeners, in an early May.

O sing, small ancient bird, for I am going

Into the sun’s garden, the red rock desert

I have dreamt of and desired more than the lilac’s promise.

The flowers of the rock shall never fall.


O speak no more of love and death

And speak no word of sorrow:

My anger’s eaten up my pride

And both shall die to-morrow.


Knowing I am no lover, but destroyer,

I am content to face the destroying sun.

There shall be no more journeys, nor the anguish

Of meeting and parting, after the last great parting

From the images of dancing and the gardens

Where the brown bird chokes in its song:

Until that last great meeting among mountains

Where the metal bird sings madly from the fire.


O speak no more of ceremony,

Speak no more of fame:

My heart must seek a burning land

To bury its foolish pain.


By the dry river at the desert edge

I regret the speaking rivers I have known;

The sunlight shattered under the dark bridge

And many tongues of rivers in the past.

Rivers and gardens, singing under the willows,

The glowing moon. . . .

The glowing moon. . . .And all the poets of summer

Must lament another spirit’s passing over.


O never weep for me, my love,

Or seek me in this land:

But light a candle for my luck

And bear it in your hand.


In this hard garden where the earth’s ribs

Lie bare from her first agony, I seek

The home of the gold bird, the predatory Phœnix.

O louder than the tongue of any river

Call the red flames among the shapes of rock:

And this is my calling. . . .

And this is my calling. . . .Though my love must sit

Alone with her candle in a darkened room

Listening to music that is not present or

Turning a flower in her childish hands

And though we were a thousand miles apart . . .

This is my calling, to seek the red rock desert

And speak for all those who have lost the gardens,

Forgotten the singing, yet dare not find the desert—

To sing the song that rises from the fire.

  It is not profitable to remember

How my friends fell, my heroes turned to squalling

Puppets of history; though I would forget

The way of this one’s failure, that one’s exile—

How the small foreign girl

Grew crazed with her own beauty; how the poet

Talks to the wall in a deserted city;

How others danced until the Tartar wind

Blew in the doors; or sitting alone at midnight

Heard Solomon Eagle beat his drum in the streets:

This is the time to ask their pardon

For any act of coldness in the past.

There is no kind of space can separate us:

No weather, even this cruel sun, can change us;

No dress, though you in shining satin walk

Or you in velvet, while I run in tatters

Against the fiery wind. There is no loss,

Only the need to forget. This is my calling. . . .

  But behind me the rattle of stones underfoot,

Stones from the bare ridge rolling and skidding:

A voice I know, but had consigned to silence,

Another calling: my own words coming back. . . .


  “And I would follow after you

Though it were a thousand mile:

Though you crossed the deserts of the world to the kingdom of death, my dear,

I would follow after you and stand beside you there.”


Who is this lady, flirting with the wind,

Blown like a tangle of dried flowers through the desert?

This is my lover whom I left

Alone at evening between the candles—

White fingers nailed with flame—in an empty house.

Here we have come to the last ridge, the river

Crossed and the birds of summer left to silence.

And we go forth, we go forth together

With our lank shadows dogging us, scrambling

Across the raw red stones.

Across the raw red stones.There is no parting

From friends, but only from the ways of friendship:

Nor from our lovers, though the forms of love

Change often as the landscape of this journey

To the dark valley where the gold bird burns.

I say, Love is a wilderness and these bones

Proclaim no failure, but the death of youth.

We say, You must be ready for the desert

Even among the orchards starred with blossom,

Even in spring, or at the waking moment

When the man turns to the woman, and both are afraid.

All who would save their life must find the desert—

The lover, the poet, the girl who dreams of Christ,

And the swift runner, crowned with another laurel:

They all must face the sun, the red rock desert,

And see the burning of the metal bird.

Until you have crossed the desert and faced that fire

Love is an evil, a shaking of the hand,

A sick pain draining courage from the heart.


We do not know the end, we cannot tell

That valley’s shape, nor whether the white fire

Will blind us instantly. . . .

Will blind us instantly. . . .Only we go

Forward, we go forward together, leaving

Nothing except a worn-out way of loving.


Flesh is fire, the fire of flesh burns white

Through living limbs: a cold fire in the blood.

We must learn to live without love’s food.


We shall see the sky without birds, the wind

Will blow no leaves, will ruffle no new river.

We shall walk in the desert together.

Flesh is fire, frost and fire.

We have turned in time, we shall see

The Phœnix burning under a rich tree.

Flesh is fire.


Solomon Eagle’s drum shall be filled with sand:

The dancers shall wear out their skilful feet,

The pretty lady be wrapped in a rough sheet.


We go now, but others must follow:

The rivers are drying, the trees are falling,

The red rock wilderness is calling.


And they will find who linger in the garden

The way of time is not a river but

A pilferer who will not ask their pardon.


Flesh is fire, frost and fire:

Flesh is fire in this wilderness of fire

Which is our dwelling.

Printed at The Westminster Press

411a Harrow Road

London, W.9


It was unclear at several page breaks whether a new stanza was started. Our best guess was used.

[The end of The Cruel Solstice by Sidney Keyes]