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Title: The Upward Pass--Poems

Date of first publication: 1928

Author: Henry Bellamann (1882-1945)

Date first posted: Jan. 29, 2022

Date last updated: Jan. 29, 2022

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This eBook was produced by: Al Haines, Chuck Greif & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

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The Upward Pass


Author of ‘Cups of Illusion’

The Riverside Press Cambridge



The Riverside Press



Grateful acknowledgment is made to The Yale Review, Poet Lore, Fugitive, The Double Dealer, The Lyric, The Reviewer, Voices, Art and Archæology, The Columbia Record, Broom, and Parnassus for permission to reprint poems that have appeared in their pages.



The Upward Pass1
A Triptych: Three Men Hear a World Walk By7
In the Greek Room14
Portrait of a Man15
The Gulf Stream17
En Fête18
The Knotted Cord27
Mask and Frieze32
The Wind36
Songs of Discontent38
Soirée Japonaise41
Panels for a Japanese Screen43
Index to a Book of the Moon44
Hill Pieces48
Prelude to ‘The Pavilion’53
The Pavilion56
The Stranger58
Mind Dark59
The Poet Returns from the World to His Garden61
The Sculptor63
Promenade with the Infanta65
Rondelet Macabre67
Notations from a Music Master’s Notebook68
A Masque of Cards76




Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita


Observe, beloved, the increasing years,
How darkly fruitful they become with tears—
And on our feet, renowned of silver dancing,
The first reluctance in the light advancing!


The upward pass grows warier,
Eluding rose of hyacinth
Upon the slopes, obscurely undulant;
Its lunar curve is charier
Of that redundant labyrinth
Spread by the sun, demurely scintillant.
The upward pass seems cynical,
Denying remedy in green—
Uncertain even of a starlit stair,
Its indirection, finical
And sheer, becomes concretely clean
Of dithyramb and of the dance of prayer.


We must forswear the transient,
Although the living pulse be stem
To all that windy diadem
Upon the fig tree of content.
The gayety of bloom that shed
A leafy ecstasy below
Gives hint that you and I should go
While the black earth remembers red.
Perceive the sober blue across
The face of all the higher rocks—
Its thin endurance gravely mocks
The apple branches’ yearly loss,
And renders somehow sinister
Vivacious flickerings of birds—
We see them now as written words
Of Death’s discreetest minister.


I can believe the final measure
Of that clear music heard together
In the first dawn of youthful weather
Must close on some quite certain pleasure.
We have been told through long devotion
How last things are in first things dwelling{11}
As fruit is in the May-bud’s swelling—
How often we have heard without emotion!
(Each one must tread a separate pattern,
Seeming to all the world eccentric
Ending at last designs concentric
And perfect as the rings of Saturn.)
And yet, surprise will crowd our altars
When we in some exact conclusion
Rend veils of solemn old delusion
And fling behind us well-thumbed Psalters.


I see your silver image glow
Upon the loom; I count the breath
Tossed to and fro by life and death;
I watch the increasing pattern grow.
I can accept a plan of doom;
(The years compound propitiate pain:
The years decline like passing rain.)
But—Who the weaver? What the loom?


Now have we seen that signal from the hills—
A gilded hieroglyph upon the air—
A falling flutter of a broken wing
That gropes and staggers in a dizzy ring,{12}
Something beset with more than mortal ills,
Something abandoned to a desperate care.
A single leaf, as yellow as the moon—
So has Death set a single golden sail,
The first envoy of all that later fleet
Intent and certain of our keen defeat.
(A wind has stirred along the hills’ high noon—
And all the trees are shivering and pale.)
If there were reason to discover now
A new simplicity in older ways
I could proclaim historical lament
And cry the hope of some quite sure content
In such hypocrisies as sweetly bow
To blind destroyers of these perfect days.
I praise the candor of this somber fate,
Its high design and reckless love of law—
Ourselves the mates of stars in lofty stress
The equal sharers of divine duress—
Perhaps its rudeness and our scornful hate
Together may anneal the seeming flaw.


Look now on either side the edge
Of snow that cuts the world in two;
This is the reach of that great wedge
Of mountain shouldering the blue.{13}
Here are the last waves of the storm
Fixed sharp, and frozen in the bland
Immensity, as tides leave form
Of their retreat upon the sand.
Prepare now for the clear surprise
Of avalanche along your track,
One shout of your exultant rise
Will loose the mountain at your back ...
See! Half a shining world drops sheer—
White-feathered, wild, upon the way
We came—is gone; nor can we hear
One echo break this perfect day.


I rise from fear as one might rise from death
With certain knowledge of an empty place,
Assured that when the ebb of failing breath
Is done, I shall not wake, nor shall I dream.
(There is tranquillity in this, the grace
Of a quite solitary heritage ...)
And so departing, leave no single trace
Of guiding light, or dark misguiding fate.
Nor is there left a cause for noble rage,
Seeing that things are simply what they seem;
There is no caged, no keeper, and no cage—
Only a music silenced soon or late.


I have gone back to some forgotten places
No longer haunted by the grotesque faces
With which we always mask the unknown hosts.
I found no more than gay, sun-haunted spaces,
Bright gardens peopled by amazing races
Who seemed, and were, no more, no less, than ghosts.
I was a stranger in those cheery regions
Bewildered by the insubstantial legions
Of jack-o’-lanterns lit with candle fires:
But less a stranger to oncoming years,
Less cold, less shaken with recurrent fears,
And still a leman of the old desires.



I have been blind so long I have forgot
The pictures of the world that go with words—
I understand that words are just the sound
Of things, somewhat as shadow is the blot
Which men and trees make on a field of light;
And so I hear the wings of speech in flight
About my ears like subtle, unknown birds
Passing to secret islands in the night.
I miss completeness in all words you say—
The faces of the ghostly actors blur:
I find I listen past the echoing play
For signals of more certain utterance.
I hear a curious language of my own,
Continuous in the multitudinous drone
Of falling steps that chatter dissonance
Of delicate staccato counterpoint
Above the Doric choruses of streets.
So when I tap my way along the walk
I read the whole orchestral cry that beats
Upon my senses—spell out the ringing talk{16}
Of April romance on the lyric stone,
And the dull tread, like muffled elegies,
Of those who walk already with the dead.
Those steps are but the marching sound of dreams;
The sound of hope, the sound of those who run
Like stripped and broken leaves in twisting streams
Of wind—they are the whispers of delight;
They are the trumpet notes of victory;
They are the mordant thunders of lament.
I do not fully understand the lore
Of words, but I can hear on stony streets
The straining and exulting feet of men
Crying the soul’s long epic, step by step.


He sat alone in that old basement room
For forty years and heard the muffled boom
Of passing feet outside the window, where,
If he looked up at all, he saw no more
Than feet that seemed to wave in empty air,
Although an ever-changing beat would pour
Like noisy waters down the narrow stair.
The shelves were filled with worn, misshapen shoes—
An ark arranged grotesquely two by twos.{17}
I can remember that it seemed too dark,
Too grim a place for simple, casual things
Like shoes.
Sometimes he talked to us, the stark,
Severely straight and simple talk that rings
With sober echoes of a few great books.
And if he saw exchange of wondering looks,
He snapped, his rich Bavarian accent thick,
‘I know a thing or two. I’ve been to school:
My friends, I spent a year at Göttingen;
But this humped back of mine made trouble quick,
The kind that turns a wise man out a fool.
Und now—I fix old shoes!’
We watched him go.
He labored down his stair as though he dug
A painful way into the stubborn ground,
While we who loitered in the courthouse shade
Would smile a little, wonder, then forget
About his talk of Hegel and of Kant,
To have this wonder reawake sometime
When passing by the rusty swinging sign
Which read, ‘Here I. K. Schwartz Makes Old Shoes New.’
One day, about a year ago, I think,
He sat with me on this same shaded bench;
I still can see the way he had to wrench{18}
His wrinkled neck to bring his face around
To mine—it gave his voice a half-choked sound—
And how his stained and crooked fingers crawled
Along his stick and scratched as though they scrawled
A crabbed legend of the words he spoke.
‘For forty years I twist my head and look
Out of that piece of window in my shop.
Always I see those feet that never stop—
At last I learn to read them like a book.
I know a lonesome step: I know the way
It wears a shoe.
I know a guilty walk—
Listening so long I understand the talk
Of all of them ...
For forty years and more!...
‘You know the motif of Beethoven’s Fifth?
Four notes! You know the way they pound and roar
And make your whole thought swing and go in time
To those four notes?
For forty years I hear a symphony
Of walking, running, scraping feet up there.
And when I walk, my humped back bends me down
So that I see but one thing of this town{19}
Shoes and forever shoes
Tramping their dreadful carrousel!
‘I’m not so crazy as I sound, my friend,
But forty years it is I’ve worked on shoes.
Perhaps you have not thought of shoes so much;
You do not know all that a shoe can tell.
You bring a pair of them to me to mend
And when I look at them they tell me news
Of you you hardly know yourself—some things
You could not know.
And then I patch and sew,
And all the time I work I read your life.
‘It is not good to think so much of shoes—
One day you wake and find your eyes refuse
To see another thing but walking feet
All dressed in worn-out shoes that seem to beat
Their stories in and in upon your brain
Until the grinding patter comes to eat
It full of holes like sod beneath the eaves
When there has been a week of steady rain.
‘Old shoes forever standing in my hands—
See how my hands are knotted up and bent!—
Old shoes forever sounding in my ear—
This devil symphony of shoes goes on
Even at night. I lie awake and hear
Them curse and mutter, whine and beg till dawn.{20}
‘Schiller, and Goethe, and Beethoven ...
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt!” ...
‘Who could remember when the grimy shoes
Of a whole town have walked for forty years
Across the heart?’
. . . . . . . .
Old I. K. Schwartz has shot himself. I hear
He rigged a shotgun with a wooden bar,
And that the buckshot made a purple smear
Above his heart quite like the brutal scar
A hob-nailed boot might leave on human flesh.


This is already half a grave, this bed;
I know what Heine meant, but then the dead
Are eaten quickly in the dark by worms
Far more dispassionate than things assumed
To be a mercy to a man who burns
In little fires, yet never is consumed.
Soft pillows, coverlets, and all the bland,
Slow-rotting silences devour flesh
As surely as the creeping, grinding sand
Which breaks the coffin lid and rends the mesh
Which fettered once the dreams we call a soul.
Not least among the terrors of this quiet room
Is the dull throb of feet that pass the gate,{21}
As, step by step, they measure off the length
Of life, and tick away the springs of strength.
This ceiling is a sort of sounding board,
And when the steps play most like xylophones
I think that hands, no longer flesh, but bones,
Are rattling dice inside my skull—
And then I think the ceiling is a floor
And that those feet come waltzing through the door
While heads hang down like grapes on swinging vines.
How can they walk so slowly on the way
With feet like the indifferent pendulums
Exasperating clocks might swing in hell?
I know if I could move myself to-day
My feet would go ringing like a bell
Outspeeding all the world to that black door
Which swallows the last step of every man.
I wonder if the oceanic roar
Of steps will still shake through six feet of earth
Until, hating the grave as I hate this bed,
I clamor in my shroud for some new birth?


Broken and stained and old, wrenched from the earth
That covers and forgets all perfect things,
These lordly images from Grecian springs
Wear the full glory of their artist birth.
Broken and old and stained, a secret mirth
Is on their lips, and in their fragment wings
The airs of flight. A pride and calmness clings
To them—the mark of an immortal worth.
What if they spoke? What if their marble hands
Could move, their maimed and marble feet could walk?
What unknown grace of speech and life would be?
And could we bear again the brute commands
Of our own days—the dull, unsubtle talk?
Better that dream we should not know or see!


He has an air compounded subtly well
Of certain attributes possessing fame
As having graced the practices and name
Of all the better Medici. The fell
Deceits of scoffers never quite dispel
His almost perfect patience with their game,
While savory triumphs in his look proclaim
Foreknowledge of their just and certain hell.
Men tell two stories of the thing that lies
Secure behind the azure of his gaze.
A few insist on splendors—bright, and gold—
Like secret stars that move in sunlit skies;
But more will smile and say the sapphire blaze
Of skies but masks a waste of arid cold.


‘The game is plentiful—the weather fine,’
My friend wrote from the country in this wise.
His letter hinted all the gay emprise
Of autumn hunts, the certain anodyne
Of hills and trees, October air like wine,
The ardor of the ride, the brilliant skies,
The hounds, the view halloo, and laughing cries
When quarry breaks before the beaters’ line.
In leafless places of the hills to-day
Feathered and furry game goes stark with fear,
And wild eyes watch from sheltered holes
The cavalcades of death upon their way.
Huddled and silent in their caves they hear
The sure advance of laughing, monstrous trolls.


They say a tropic river threads the seas
Bearing the strangest things to northern lands:
Vermilion fish, like flowers, with silver bands,
And bronze seaweed from scarlet coral keys.
Green birds that mock the moon from tall palm trees
Where ghost-gray monkeys hang by cunning hands,
Follow the thinning blue to northern sands,
And there among the black pines scream and freeze.
The while this ardent current chills and fades,
Splendors of ice drift slowly south, each one
A frozen torch of borealic fire,
Each one a spectral ship with rainbow sails,
Sinking and fading as it nears the sun
In this relentless river of desire.



Your love is like a fête in early spring
With lanterns swinging row on colored row
And mandolins where many dancers go,
And—just the hint of chill that night-winds bring.
My love is dancing, too, in maddening swing
To demon drums that roar, now loud, now low,
Finding the hours too quick, the years too slow
As days burn high and red in a closing ring.
En fête! I see you near, but know you far,
And find it strange that I who am so wise
Have not the wish to break this mortal spell,
But, hurl my soul out like a falling star,
Beyond the circle where the wild flames rise,
To find a Heaven, or a deeper Hell.


To find a Heaven, or a deeper Hell!
These are the desperate goals on either hand
With no mid-choice of mere content to stand
Between two ecstasies—no tale to tell
Of half-acceptances which can compel
The rage and clamor of the blood to bland
And even measure like unhurried sand
In glass, or voices of a distant bell.
I know that I am clearly dedicate—
Constrained by circumstances of the soul—
To this necessity of resolute
And changeless immolation—that no fate
Of less extremity could now take toll:
Gaunt destiny rides toward the absolute.



I am less homesick for Byzantium,
Less exigent of some like victories,
And more content to lose lost centuries,
Their lustered wonder and the richest sum
Of all their ministrations to our dumb
And tedious day. The doubtful penuries—
Negations of our arid verities—
Seem unimportant all, since you have come
With fantasies transcending heritage
Of all the crowns on Glory’s weary brow—
Transforming relic dust to golden fleece,
Translating wisdom that it may presage
A wiser laughter, so that I am now
Less homesick for Byzantium and Greece.


Translating wisdom into wiser laughter—
For this I thank you always from my heart,
Certain that I shall always know hereafter
A deeper wisdom and a deeper art
Not in the casual maze of living only,
But in the subtler tangles which the days
Contrive to snare the soul upon its lonely
And unillumined, fate-appointed ways.
There is an art in all this blithe uncaring—
So have I seen a juggler play with swords,
Meeting their danger with a brilliant daring
That only courage to the hand affords;
There is a grace in it, as well—a gesture
Marking some quite rare investiture.


I think that you are star-born—clearly so,
And here in passage to some further star—
A brilliant changeling quick amid the slow
Retreat and sure advance of days which bar
The ways of flight. And so you are alone
Sometimes in lonely regions of the soul
Where only star-born wings escape the stone
And dust of known roads to an unknown goal.
Yes, you are star-born, clearly so! Something
Is in your eyes, a look perhaps that gazes
Past the shadow and the stain which ring
The earth—past and far past to golden mazes
Where swing eternally the golden cars
Of stars and stars, and yet more golden stars.



The dogwood is a cloud of stars once more,
The Judas tree a pillar now of fire.
These April answers to the soul’s desire
Are certain signals of a deeper lore
Than changing seasons in a march before
Our ravished eyes—are more than singing lyre
Of winds in trees, or all the wingèd choir
That comes in April from a tropic shore.
They are the sign and countersign of all
You are to us in other months than spring,
You who are May when skies declare November,
You who are June when last leaves wheel and fall,
When grass and waves are still in a frozen ring—
Then are you still the spring—and we remember.


Surely the green earth was less green last year,
The gaily repetitious birds less gay;
And April had a less enchanting way,
With skies less radiant, and stars less near.
What if a year is gone—dropped down the sheer
Lost deep where even this most lovely day
Must sink with all Earth’s gracious things, and stay?—
Surely last April was less green, less dear.
For we have laughed a whole year round with you,
Have mocked a little, wept, and smiled again
And so have learned a deeper laughter still.
Because of this, and this, we know it true
That last spring was less green in every lane,
Less radiant her wings above the hill.


There are no changing seasons in your soul,
No autumn and no weariness to send
Our own hearts questing to some strange world end,
Where only perfect springs forever roll.
You feel no chilling winds from an unkind pole,
No fading month, no ruthless storms that rend
The blossom sheaths, no winter to attend
On restless change and take a summer’s toll.
What is it like to live a life secure
And free beneath the penitential moons,
To be a welcome season all the year,
To make your natal April so endure
That we forget the months are not all Junes?
How do you hold your springtime all the year?


I gave you all that once I gave to God:
The grave allegiance of my lonely soul
That straightly burned like altar fire; the roll
Of solemn syllables; the flowering rod
Of faith; the thoughts that link this dreaming clod
To stars; my secret rosary—the whole
Brave ritual of names that chime and toll
The perfect worship I once gave to God.


I think the mystery lies there,
Its answer, too.
You stand before your smoke-veiled altar,
Say your words so, and so—
‘Inscrutable—the will of God.
The first and great unknown—
The word of God’ ...
I have my altar, too, and altar smoke,
In crucible, and fire, and the balance
Of scales so slight that the faint far light
Of unseen stars can turn them.
What does it all come to, you say,
When I have done?
There’s only paper
And a host of numbers crowding
Like the print of some old language
Lost, or never known.
How well you say the very thing—
The mystery lies there, its answer, too.
From the fountain of beginning
Whence comes the universe,
The rain of stars and all the falling spray{36}
Of worlds that make the Milky Way—
From that deep source rises and falls
Cascades of numbers only.
Word of God, you say;
I say, God—no, more—
Mother of all the multitude of gods.
They learned the first word long ago,
Of that great stream of language
Pouring its spheres of fire
Across the scrolls of space—
They learned the first word
With a knotted cord.
They measured, made an angle,
Turned in such wise—so—
‘Cording the temple’ was the phrase—
And the first word was said.
Follows all we know,
All we are to know.
Grammarians of numbers, from Euclid down,
Charted systole and diastole
Of a tide of numbers that is the will of—
You whisper—God:—
We’ll not quarrel now about a name.
The mystery is there—
I think the answer, too.
A number, a simple great first number
Folding and unfolding itself{37}
In clear geometry upon the sky,
Here in the cryptic curve
Of a dead seashell,
There in the swirl of leaves that winds
A spiral of myriad laughter
On a slender stem.
Look at this silent string
Taut on the mystic curve
Of the harp’s romantic frame.
It sustains a weight of—what?
Numbers—numbers only.
I touch it and it clothes itself
In a bright haze of—what, again?
Numbers—numbers that murmur a rain
Of delicate words from the gold lexicon
Of suns and stars and meteors.
Must I recall for you the lesser miracles?—
The calculus of stone and strain
In the lyric arch of wingèd bridges
Plunging across dark, hungry gulfs?
There’s evil in them, too, you know.
Kreisler’s violin might find a numbered word
Which uttered against stone and steel
Would break the spirit links
On which we ride securely.
That’s the other half your mystery—
Maybe that’s your devil,{38}
Against whose subtle searching
You sought aid this morning
In words that are themselves but numbers
Beating a formula of unknown powers
Across the sea of silence that divides us.
We go different paths, my friend,
Seeking the same end, a last word
Of which the first was spoken
When the world was young.
Light—the cheer and comfort,
And the ecstasy of artists painting the spring
As it veils bare branches with satin buds
And all the wantonness of bloom—
Light—only a pattern of numbers
Laid upon the eye!
Sound, thought, love—
Numbers—numbers in symphony somewhere
In the close bound cells of brain.
We go on various paths,
Seeking the same thing,
Muttering difficult words
Whose numbered sum is—you say, God, again:
I say, the Great Number, the Last Good,
The end of a long story
Written in tears and blood and pain{39}
The end of a long story
Whose first word was said
With a knotted cord,
In Egypt, when the world was young.


The frieze is finished:
all day I moulded,
and struck new splendors
from reluctant stone.
Noon and afternoons,
while others climbed
ridge upon ridge of hills,
caressing fatigue
with spiced pine branches
under the eastward shadows
of high rocks;
while others walked
in the waist-high ferns,
and leaned importunate faces
on the blanched elder-bloom,
looking with gay eyes
on the west-running flood
of day—
noon and afternoon
and into the closing shell
of night I waited
beside the blind marble
and found these splendors
and wrought them{41}
wreath and shoulder
and thigh—
struck them at last
from white stone.
Were you not pleased
with the hills
and the farther hemlocks,
with green filterings of sun
on the wind-ridged grasses
and green-mossed tree trunks—
were you not filled,
eyes and soul,
and content,
Must I find new shapes—
new, darker shapes,
and contorted—
to please you?
These are massed splendors—
and vast:
there is soberness
and austere nobilities
upon them.
Do you see the very flicker,
arrested, of fingers,
the twining reach
of arms,{42}
the knees pausing subtly—
all of them still
like a pause after wind,
after fire,
after running?
There is the turn of calm brows—
white unfrowned brows,
and lips
calm after smiling—
cool, moon-lustered, upon us ...
My mouth is sharply salt,
my hands crisped still
to the chisel.
Is not the cool moon-luster
and the lips,
calm after smiling,
the pause, and the stillness?
You ask the strange glory
of pain,
figures sharp with ridged muscles,
and eyes deep in nets.
Quick, then—
a mask in red clay!
I will command all wariness{43}
of fingers—
significance of swift pressures—
I will freeze shadows
into stiff darkness
under eyes
under mouth—
keen shades of agony,
quick as the gray run of winter waters,
these, and sly dagger thrusts
of distress
under mouth
under eyes ...
These were things learned
while I stood dust-covered,
covered with fine chips
of flaked stone—
stone mixed with sweat—
things learned
while the slow travail of stone
came to white birth—
things learned
while bitter stone smiled at last
under relentless chisels.
This is the last summation,
the calculus of grief
in burnt red,
in choice clay.


Only the wind is ageless.
The sea was long since old;
Its tides more bitter
Than the bitterest tears,
Are hag-ridden of the moon—
The moon itself shrunken and blind
And mayhaps mad.
The once tumultuous earth lies mouldering.
Worm-eaten, oblivious and black,
The rocks are rotting in the dark.
Thin scums of life
Creep with the seasons
Hunted by hungry suns
And stilled at last with snow.
Only the wind is ageless,
Restless, variable, and fresh
With all caprice.
The wind flows as a river,
Is still, or darts like a falcon
Through the changing zones.
All else is destined to its way:
Earth, moon and stars{45}
Move on the unexploring feet
Of age.
Only the wind is young
And friend to youth.
Its wings are eager
Of discovery.
It mocks the moon,
It drives the sea,
And scorns the land.
Its beauty rides invisible
And all its ways are ways
Of gay disdain.
Only the clouds belong to it—
The lonely, lovely clouds
That are the trailing garments
Of its processional.
Only the clouds can be
So proud, remote and secret,
But they pass:
The wind returns—
Only the wind in all the universe
Is ageless.



For a long time your presence
Was like the thin gray shadow
Of bare branches
Broken on the ground.
I did not look up.
One day I lifted my eyes
And found the tree
Fluttering with plum-blossoms!


I meant to kiss you lightly ...
I meant to stir
Little circles of casual flight
Among some jaunty birds
Whimpering their musical discontent
On the gray branches
Before the spring.
I was unprepared
For this tumult of wings—
This deep cry from an aching voice
That drips wild sparkles
Through the night ...
I meant to kiss you lightly!


I said my thoughts were fixed and clear
As the hard writing of bare branches
Against March skies.
I had believed the wintry plains
Would sooner bloom with hyacinth
Than those ashy branches
Be frivolous with flowers.
The dogwood has betrayed me—
Its austere fingers
Juggle a sudden constellation
Of giddy stars;
The peach trees swarm with blossoms
Like rose-winged bees;
The shadow of the Judas tree
Is blurred with shaking fire!


You know how well I play with words—
How I have made of them
Eager birds to search strange skies,
Trained them as leopards
To leap and snarl—
How I have made them
Thin-breathed music
To flutter on a thread of silk.
You know how well I play with words.{48}
And now the thing I wish to say,
Wish most to say,
Slides like light
From spinning silver balls,
Goes like fire on running water ...
My words drift,
Pale moths,
Into the dark!


My spring thoughts of you
Rise in many gay colors—
Lo, gardens in bloom!
* * *
Why do you sorrow
For day-stars in your garden?
Look! The hummingbird!
* * *
One violet bloomed—
Summer’s key is in the door.
Give me but one word.
* * *
The moon draws the tide—
Broken spray lies on the sand.
I sing at your door.
* * *
In the flower cup
One drop of dew mirrors heaven.
I have but one song.
* * *{50}
Clouds swallow the stars—
The rice fields bloom with fireflies.
So—remembered smiles.
* * *
In the dark forest
Wind and waterfall singing—
I weep here alone.


You sat beneath the plum trees;
(Warm flower-snow fell)
You spoke idly of summer:
In the silences
Scarlet drums beat furiously.
* * *
A leaf falls through the cold air:
In a crystal ball
A yellow butterfly floats.
Leaf and butterfly
Journey deathward together.
* * *
The leaves—dry little old women—
Fluttering deathward,
Gather in sheltered corners
And whisper fragments
Of the legend of summer.
* * *
In the deep moss-gray waters
There is a still gold—
Fallen suns of many days.
In your eyes old loves
Sink to a hidden coolness.


I. Ill Argia

Beware that silver-green!
It is a leprosy, which,
touching the eye,
will eat along the secret ways
where the soul sleeps
until at last,
green-silver-scaled moon-snakes
curl through the empty veins
whence the last drop of blood
has fled.

II. The Mad Sisters

Ophelia’s sister
mourns Ophelia dead:
nightly she strays
through the laurel grove,
shreds of her bridal lace
blown from the bramble branch,
nightly she stares in wan amaze
at Ophelia’s face
drowned in the garden pool.

III. Valkyrie

She rides on a smoky cloud,
her shining hat
swung at her saddle bow.

IV. Faerie

Under a floating mushroom
Fata Morgana blows bubbles of stars
across the sky.

V. Troll Garden

I cannot see the tendrils of a star,
nor yet the vine on which the moon is bred:
I should like to gather pods of moon-seed
when the bloom is shed.

VI. October

Wild horses neigh above the house
as the windy hunters go ...
Too faint and far the call,
but through a shutter crack
I see the gleaming horn
the leader blows.

VII. Legend

A golden pheasant
clears the thicket on the hill.
... Gilt-feathered careless bird
tumbling along high grass—
while black foxes on the ground
slant their eyes,
and brush the grass
with silver dusted tails.

VIII. Poisson d’Or

He recedes,
thins to a gold-leaf fin,
swells to a mythic serpent,
makes ten eyes,
rises again from his fern
a delicate orange moon.

IX. Japanese New Moon

Fold after fold
the sea uncovers her deep.
From jaws of dragon rocks
a black breath curls up
against the day.
The silver flower breaks—
a last curled petal drops
softly down the western sky.

X. The Moon Remembers

The sun forgets—
he flings indifferent light
across the empty galleries.{55}
But the moon remembers,
and she sets the stage
that old enchantments walk again—
frail silver ghosts,
beneath the marble-columned fronts
that stand with unchanged gesture
looking beyond the aging trees
hung with eternal elegies
of ancient moss.


I. Prelude Before Dawn

Before dawn a cloud,
Meaningless and vague,
Hung like an unlit altar lamp
In the blue east nave.
Then the fire burned upon it:
Rose windows flamed
North, south,
And west.

II. Skylines

The skyline of these hills
writes out the slow speech
of the centuries.
The strife of wind and snow
the long rains blur,
peacock blue shades violet—
and a new word is said.
The palimpsest of spring
obscures the rocky lettering
of antique tragedy:
the artistry of mist{57}
glosses the grim text—
and an old word is lost.
The language is forgotten—
or unlearned—
written out along the skylines
of these hills
in the slow speech of centuries.

III. Ancient Drama

I have been sick with longing
for these high reaches
of the hills—
here where the keen wings of eagles
cut the shining winds—
here where the white clouds
go foaming through the gaps
like cataracts.
Struggle is here,
and the vast play of purple
over green and bluer green:
the ancient drama
of the soul at war
with untoward gods
portrayed in choric gestures
by twisted pines{58}
that still aspire,
and kneeling, still defy.
I can forget
in these sharp hours—
I can forget the hopeless elegy
of the long marshes,
and the triumph of the sea
beating all night
across the prostrate sand.

IV. Repetition

Once more a fleet of colored sails
sets out from these high cliffs
upon the tide of autumn winds.
How swift and light they are—
eager upon eccentric courses
toward their secret ports—
and yet how freighted each
with cargoes of the year!
Dreams and illusions
and the gold of youth—
I watch them go—
each one bears away from me
the perfect treasures of a year
and none returns!

V. Fulfillment

Strange how dying things can be so beautiful:
This resolution of daring scarlet
must have lurked the summer through
in the wistful purple of the dreaming hills.
And so to-day
the cool monotony of leaves
turns Romany rout
in a last dance toward the setting sun.

VI. The Ascent

The intricate way of valley waters
seems but a shaken scarf;
the even tread of long winds
on the tumult of tree-waves
is like motion seen through glass:
the illusion of swift moving things
sinks to a crystal certainty.
The restless flight of vision
folds tired wings among the peaks,
and the soul’s quest ends
on Fujiyamas of new faith.

VII. Hill Trees

Plunge toward the valley,
Hill trees!{60}
Snap the sly vines,
Beseech the still valleys—
Wolf winds are in the ways,
Wolf winds!
(Sycamore skeletons
rot on the rocks.)
Sleek sided winds
Breathe cold in the ways.
Twist out of their paths,
Seek the soft flowing grass,
Leap like green swirling seas—
Wolf winds are in the ways,
Wolf winds!

VIII. November Rain

Sharp-pointed hoofs
of the wild-riding rains
slash at the crowding trees.
Steel-colored lashes
flick through mimosa leaves.
Thin, cruel hands
twist the naked whiteness
of the crepe-myrtles.
Underfoot—crimson splashes.


There—lower than the Dipper—
to the right—
do you see that blur
like the print of a gilt finger?
That is the cloudy gate of stars:
they say we came that way.
you and I and the sun
and a little whirl-i-gig company
of planets—
came through that smother of stars
half a million years ago.
We were not awake—you and I—
when this seven-wheeled pavilion
rolled through the hollow gate.
Over there—
no, above the bright one—
between the two dim ones;
they say we go that way
in a million years, or so.
It will be late—
and we shall be asleep{62}
maybe awake again after a sleep—
after a thousand sleeps.
Earth has a blue-green gown
flowered with sea and trees,
and fluttered with wind.
She hums quite softly to herself,
treading the swaying edge
of her ice-blue wheel.
This is a peaceful track—
this curve from the gold-blurred gate
to those outlying signs
faint on the rim of night.
Tame stars,
and worn stars,
shells of dry stars,
and husks of pale, dead stars,
float by.
Perhaps beyond the posts,
these two dim posts,
the way is black
and savage stars
with manes and tails
and devastating breath
threaten the road.
Perhaps the eye of the meekest star{63}
is a flame of death:
perhaps the bluer sea of a lonelier sky
is the grave of the gayest star.
Perhaps we go to the high estate
of suns—
those wild, white suns,
Lords of a purple space,—
two thousand snow white suns
in a leisured dance,
after a thousand sleeps—
after a thousand thousand sleeps.


Earth and moon:
A pale moth wing
and a silver midge,
adventuring together.
Fountains of stars in the east
blown spray of flung stars
on the spreading rise—
a plume-curl of high stars
at the poised turn of midnight.
Cataracts of stars in the west
drop fall upon fall
of spent glitter—
a winking drift of thin shine
at the cool rise of morning.
In the still black,
in the white spinning,
earth and moon
dance a bright adventure.
In the still black
and the white spinning{65}
is the scarlet flutter;
the pallid trembling
of all our days:
Crusades, and solemn wars,
and wide migrations,
the glitter of Sargon’s men,
the pomp of Shi-hwang-ti’s
great gates;—
these, all of these,
and the blossom robes
of jasmine breasted dancers
are but a rumor of shaken music
in the quick bubbling days,
a casual flutter of flutes
and a skein of singing—
raveling silver.
Preoccupied, the earth and moon
are lost in wanton spinning—
earth and moon,
a slight moth wing
and a dizzy midge,
adventuring together.


I have seen a wild bird lose its way:
The flock,
A wavering pennant,
Kept familiar roads;
But in the air, as on the land,
Unknown lanes have strange allure—
One bird would fly alone.
Then in a distant garden
Where trees and vines are tamed
By wall and hedge,
Wide, bright wings would strike
In expert daring on a passing storm,
And eager eyes
Would look most curiously
Upon the sky.
Sometimes would sound
On cloistered afternoons
A note—
A single note—
That stirred the idle peacocks
To unrestful dreams.


I can’t remember, quite—
I sit here in the sun,
And the ordered world
Swims back to me,
Forms itself in patterns
Of houses and trees
And flower beds.
Sky and clouds
Bend their circles
Over the town that slowly—
Slowly brings itself in focus,
As though a glass were set
To my blurred vision.
I can’t remember, quite—
I sit here in the sun,
Volition drained,
Little by little
A world of roofs
And towers
Paints itself on my sight.
I sit here in the sun,
And flash from world to world.{68}
If I could remember—
But this commonplace of lawn,
These walls and latticed windows
Rise like a flood
And drown in a slow, strangling death
That other sight and sound.
If I could remember—
You see, Beethoven heard—
And he remembered;
Angelo saw and held the vision,
But his hand was strong—
Blake rode upon the same dark wings.
If I could remember
While I sit here in the sun—
But the colors fade
And the sounds stray
When this world of commonplace
Swims slowly back to me.


They say, my friendly leaves,
that you are unimportant,
that your tilt and ripple
is too slight to trace a record
of significance:
they say your complex whisper
never can be heard
above orchestral magnitudes
of loops and terminals ...
No one remembers
that you are dial and sure compass
of the winds that pour across the latitudes,
or that the same law slants your gesture
which charts the frozen circles of Uranus
and the moon.
They say, my spectral fountain,
your cadenzas are too faint,
too much like Mozart
played on old claviers ...
When you are still
I see a field of stars
upon your polished astronomic plate{70}
there I have watched the ways
of savage suns and meteors.
How your most casual spent drop
shakes ultimate heaven
and starts wild chaos
in the Milky Way!
Walled in,
this garden is a laboratory
where every chemistry of earth
gives up its secret.
Here upon strange disks and cylinders
the faintest far earth tremors write.
and the chariots of the nebulæ
fill the green alleys
with imagined thunder.


My hands remember
When my eyes forget.
They know the secrets
Of your slenderness—
They recall the slightest line,
The faintest pulse,
Of all your loveliness.
Here upon the shadow
My hands remake you,
Vibrant and aflame,
Until you stand
Taut and perfect
As the strung passion
Of the archer’s bow.
My eyes forget
But my hands still know
The slightest lovely line
Of all your secret slenderness.
Nightly, on the shadow,
You quiver into life again
On their remembrance.


The years fall like jewels
Slipping from a loosened string
Into a restless pool.
Some are pearl,
Some are red—
Some shine like tears ...
Dropping through my eager fingers
One by one.
Some day I shall hold an empty string
And a still crystal will steal
Across the troubled waves.
Then these flying jewels
Will gleam in the quiet deep
Like faithful stars;
And if you lean to look at them
They will bend a crown about your head.


The flowers stand respectfully in rows,
the grasses bend beside the walk,
and the sky silvers a still mirror
in the porphyry jar.
Like a ring bent to clasp a jewel
the garden holds this little figure
pearled and laced.
‘Who is that who stares so?—
Seems to look as though he saw
only a child walk there
with tired little legs
bent beneath the loveliness and weight
of cloth of gold.’
‘I’m not sure—
I think they say he’s named


Death owns
Such solemn words:
Dirge and doom, shroud and tomb—
Always against my ear they toll
Like bells.


That first clod fell.
Earth spoke her ancient triumph when
That first clod fell.
Her final word in your red clay cell
Was not to you but to living men.
I could not think you dead—and then
That first clod fell!



Uplifted faces
of slim, laughing girls—
as wild roses on a hedge.

I. Jaqueline Dent

I am your teacher, you my pupil, say;
then I should be counting pieces-of-eight
and other hoarded things
into your reverent hands.
we play a game as gamblers play,
Matching our worlds as they match cards.
We match our play—
Worn cards and skill
against your questing nerve.
We match our play—
Do you go my way,
or do I go yours?

II. Eloise Tracey

I’ve heard it whispered you were born
with neither cross nor creed to bless—
You have that dowered look
that Hagar’s children often wear—
almost a dancer’s grace,
almost a royal pride—
something denied the rest of us—
as though a love most rich
and unafraid,
had journeyed far and sought
bright stuffs and strange deep gems
to clothe and crown you!

III. Carrie Dyer

You wait with what slow patience
some magic from my lips
that your good biscuit-making fingers
may learn the subtlety and indirection
of this little compliment
Chopin paid a Countess.
Laughter and kisses and tears,
a gesture of youth
in the stark face of Death
while the Polish exquisite
danced toward Père la Chaise.{78}
How does it go, now?
Let us see.

IV. Sue Kittrell

Rutledge, Ravenal, and Rhett:
Flowered names often on your lips ...
Chaucerian tricks
(something Charleston lends)
to make your flying speech
just past clear comprehension.
Reluctant of fortissimos,
your playing peeps out from the silence
half-heard, as one half-sees
painted silken ladies
in a folded fan.

V. Doris McKee

You could walk unseen
with silver birches
in the April shine ...
You are heir to that one
who challenged the hot old priest
and took his acolyte
to be father to wild, straight sons.{79}
In this musty room
I hear the faculty give voice
to ancient blames.
... you shining gold and white
under the spring-lit trees.

VI. Edna Bentley

You have the line of cheek and chin
and dark fanatic eyes
so often seen in quaintly drawn
mediæval heads.
They lived in little cities
walled from the wilderness,
knew God and the saints
through Dante’s bitter speech
and Savonarola’s threats.
You live, walled tight,
in Orangeburg,
know God from the harsh echo
of outworn creeds—
burnt cinders of Savonarola’s fire,
backwash of Dante’s hell.
God walks with man.
You still pile bricks along your walls!

VII. Carey Moore

by your eyes’ amazing blue.
You will play to-day—Brahms?
I wonder.
Capriccio ...
... sun on swift water,
terrace on terrace of mountain fire,
a silver globe of whirling rain!

VIII. Dorothy Grant

Something of Venice
and of Singapore,
something of England
in haughty windows,
and of France
in tight-lipped garden gates:
something of all of these is Charleston!
Something of all of these are you.
I think you should be always standing
at the curve of gracious stairs
with lovely faded walls behind you
and the fall of plumed wistaria—
slight as shadows
purpling on a crumbling wall.

IX. Mary Larkin

... Bread and butter manners—
manners like your father’s
smoothly buttered sermons.
... Is this your writing, girl?
the jig-step of your thoughts?
Now I know your mind
races at night over the tiles
the flame-eyed cat I thought it was.

X. Frances Gaylord

You are so slight and quick of turn,
it seems you must have learned
some trick of motion
from the swallow’s wing,
or from the blown flight
of silver moths
across the low rice fields.
You are an ivory cup,
most finely carved,
and brimming with a scarlet draught.
What will happen
when that cup is raised
to this new day,
and some chance light{82}
strikes sultry red
across the ivory rim?

XI. Esther Cain

Professor Vale and Doctor Gray,
Dean Cartwright, and Tutor Waite:
Running river,
do you heed them,
these old snags that break
your silver chain?
Better snap them—
take them with you
to the sea.

XII. Louise Traylor

The supercilious Dean
makes sad eyebrows
at the mention of your name.
Ladies in Hampton Street
creak their Sunday taffetas
with sighs
as your car, orange pennants on the back,
and five co-eds on the running board,
roars out the Camden road.
But I have heard adagios
singing under your hands{83}
until my head bowed
in memory of Rubinstein,
and mighty allegros
running like chariot horses
before the whiplash
of your thin brown arms.
Oh chilly-fingered, school-girl crew,
do you hear the Valkyr cry—
Walhalla bound?


I. The Queen of Diamonds

His violin twines frosty variations
on a torrid theme.
Her necklace pricks a blue fire curve
of secret snows.
There is no hint of answering relations.
The arabesque of sounding passion,
the rigid rainbow of the jeweled line,
preserve unpromising divergence.

II. The Jack of Spades

And now that Napierkowska’s dancing
brings us to agreement,
note how Blandino’s observation
of her most casual undulation
takes on the clear notation
of clamorous approval.
Bereft of certain marks of station
we guess perforce at pips—
if clubs,
if spades.{85}
And yet—
the fine perfection of his partnering,
affirming and fulfilling all her fantasy,
bears rhythms of the curled and perfumed
valet’s supple acquiescence.

III. The Queen of Spades

The mise-en-scène should be—perfect!
Set the Byzantine screen
back of the carved gold chair
so that an ivory light
strikes her regal profile.
You have heard the red silk strings
of huge Æolian harps
twist the straight shafts of silence
to a filigree of singing lizard shapes?
—Just so Lydia’s fine-skeined mind
can shred the wings of speech
until you have a nest of stinging words
biting each other’s heads.
It is tormented music—
finally deformed—
when she talks.
Set the screen—I hear her step—
Walpurgis preludes sound!

IV. The Queen of Clubs

Unfolding gold rotundities
of notes from fine French horns
turn her thoughts on effigies
not to be named.
The white hail of xylophones
remind her far too much
of porcine hoofs beating across a bridge;
while rich bassoons seem always clothed
in fish scales squirming like a dragon’s tail.
She has consulted Dr. Freud,
who talks like Dr. Faust enlightened—
perhaps she yet may listen
to César Franck without unlocking
that black box
which makes Pandora’s seem
a chest of fairies.

V. The Queen of Hearts

Let sound premonitory music—
Janet’s deft and jeweled fingers
know the intricate key paths
where dance the slight ironic feet
of melodies in cap and bells—
a super jazz—
love’s weary, time-stiff smile
quirked to a new grimace.{87}
Lenora’s entrance must have music!
Her long Italian neck,
her pendant pearls
have panoplied significance.
There are the gestures of antiquity,
the garments worn by amorous queens—
just now a little frayed,
a little fissured at the seams.
We listen for a warning Rat-a-planh,
Janet’s fingers rattle bony dissonances:

VI. The Jack of Hearts

In gay recitals of adventure
his eyebrows hinted at selection,
both of prey and spoils;—
there was suggestion,
if exquisite,
of many insolent refusals.
Adroitly, then,
he indicated dim old gardens
where lips and hands,{88}
almost imperial,
were faint with wonder
that, of cool intention,
their utmost boon remained
in dereliction.
How strange it was
that two of us observed,
beneath the fall of lace
on his unsculptured hands,
coarctate gestures
which were the definite inscription
of high familiarity
with buxom heartiness and unreserve—
the very mould, still fingered,
of generous bulk—
un peu roturière!

VII. The King of Spades

If sinister intent were indexed
by the play and interplay
of mordant words and Merlin attitudes,
we might receive delicious thrills
from peering down the sheer abyss
of his complete malignity.
But steadily one feels
through all the mellow threat and thunder
of his impending ruthlessness,
the break of sensitive harmonies
entirely benevolent.

[The end of The Upward Pass--Poems by Henry Bellamann]