White Nocturne, by Conrad Aiken

White Nocturne

I The first soft snowflakes hovering down the night,
From one white cloud that hurries beneath the stars, --
Whispering over the black unfrozen pool,
Silently falling on withered leaves,
Eddying slowly among bare boughs of trees, --
The music you are to me is as ghostly as these,
Softly falling, softly passing,
Wandering slowly on dreamless air..
The first soft snowflakes slanting down this night
Melt on the lifted palms of your hands,
Or in the fragrant darkness of your hair..
One of them finds your lip, and you quietly laugh,
A laught that means to say
'This was the kiss you gave me yesterday,
Or the ghost of it--ah yes, the ghost of it..
For the ghost of it is all we have to-day..'
The first slow snowflakes pass
Leaving a sprinkled whiteness on leaves and grass,
The cloud whirls ghostlike against the cold bright stars,
Over the long black boughs that seem to reach
Forlornly after it,
And now it is gone, and suddenly we seem
To walk in silence where before we walked in speech..
But the silence itself is exquisite,
Like a pause in music, ghostly with overtones,
And, silent, we seem to hear
The echoes of words we spoke and heard last year.
Clearly our footsteps sound on the moistened stones,
Clearly the lamplit hill-street gleams before us,
And silently we climb,
Climbing our tragic destiny together,
From lamp to lamp up the bright street of time. II You sit beneath the lamp and talk to me,
With dark hair somehow turned to fire,
Your white hands lie in your lap, or touch your lips,
And your talk, like music, weaving intricately,
Plays upon me. It is a magic of white
Touching and changing all familiar things;
It flows in the windy night,
It quietly opens secret doors, it sings,
It returns upon itself, repeats, denies,
Or takes sweet pleasure in silence. And all the while
You sit beneath the lamp, and smile,
Or turn away your eyes.
We remember, you seem to say, --
Choosing strange words to say it, in another way, --
How slowly and how inevitably we change,
How what was then familiar now grows strange..
White valleys fall between us,
Your words become a wind, and heavily blow,
We seem to be crying across a chasm of snow,
Trying to hear the half-remembered words,
Trying to guess what we no longer know.
Yes, life changes, we are never the same..
Your eyes grow dark with a tiny flame,
You say the words, and wait,
And a sudden terror seizes me, for I fear
That you have divined the things that I have forgotten,
Things that still shine before you white and clear.
Yes, it is strange.. You sigh, your talk flows on,
You touch your hair with your hands, and sigh,
And suddenly then it seems to me that this word,
This word so quietly said, was a terrible cry..
And I am confused, I desire to touch your hand,
But again white chasms open, the night flows chill,
And something freezes within me, and I am still. III The snowflakes tick the frosted windowpane,
The night is mad with the senseless dance of flakes,
The coal fire sinks and shakes;
And I wait by the window, and look along the street,
To where in the snow, beneath a lamp,
A man and a woman stand:
He is leaning close to her face, he takes her hand,
He pleads with her, she tries to turn away..
What is it he leans to say?
What is the savage music he plays upon her?
What chords profound with memories?
He takes her in his arms, and she is his,
She lifts her face in the sombre light,
And together, slowly, they walk away
Whirled about by the mad dance of snow;
Down the white silent street from lamp to lamp they go,
Into the immortal night.
Where have they gone? Where will the white streets lead them?
To what tempestuous or ignoble end?
To what faint peace, or dazzling pain?
The snowflakes whirl and madden my brain,
They whirl in patterns before my eyes..
And I see them at last in a small and sombre room,
In the yellow lamplight I see them rise;
She smiles, and lifts white hands to touch her hair:
And he waits wearily in the eternal chair. IV I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream,
With a sudden warmth of music, and turn it all
To petals of roses.. Why is it that I recall
Your two pale hands holding a bowl of roses,
Wide open like lotos flowers, floating in water?
I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream;
To hold the world in my hands and let it fall.
We have walked among the hills immortally white,
Golden by noon and blue by night.
I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream:
And hear you singing again by a starlight wall.. V You talk to me--what is it that you are saying?
April.. April.. The soft sun falls between,
The deep white chasm, the gorge of the frozen river,
Flashes with white and green;
And we are walking there by the blue river,
By the blue river scaled with golden fire,
Our feet move pace for pace through the tall grasses,
And the earth is light with desire.
Youth.. Youth.. So sing we for a space..
And darkness comes over your face,
A great cloud crosses the golden sky,
Wind shakes the leaves, you fall in the grass and cry;
Crying silently, hiding your face with your hands.
Youth.. Youth.. So sing we for a space,
And you are crying, I know,
Because this day, this youth, this beauty, must go,
Go down into the dust.
The golden river is dark with a sudden gust,
The green of the willows is ruffled grey,
A great cloud crosses the sky,
Wind shakes the leaves, you fall in the grass and cry.
Youth.. April.. We clamour to them to stay,
And a shadow is on us, for we know that love must die.
And rising, then, we see white peaks in the distance..
White peaks.. Quiet.. Peace.. Eternity. VI Do you remember, you who smiled at me,
Under this lamp, here in this world of snow,
Do you remember, long ago..
What was I going to tell you? What was my dream to be?
It does not matter; for all we need to say
To strike our hearts to a bitter-chorded music
Is 'do you remember.. On a certain day..'
And all the years fall down from us like leaves,
And all this sinister world is blown away.
Take my hand and dream of youth once more,
Take my arm, and let us walk
On the wet flagstones gleaming yellow with lamps,
And along the sea-furled shore;
Or up a certain flight of marble stairs,
Resting our hands on the green-veined balustrade,
And into a room where a low-toned waltz is played,
And women rise from gilded chairs.
Ah, this has been a golden day, --
You lean and say, --
A day like music of strange rich involutions,
Swift and profound and huddled and sweet..
The wind of it blows even into this room,
There is a hint of forests in this rich gloom..
You smile, your eyes intensely darken at mine,
I feel the music about us heavily beat,
Waver and vanish and shine.
One white rose with a golden heart--
Held in the cup of your hand--
To-day, I muse, all things will find solution,
The universe is simple to understand.
Take my arm, and let us drift
Like leaves when the wind is driven; for the day soon ends.
It is strange how such a day, with such a music,
And one white rose, will make friends more than friends. VII White hours like snow, white hours like eternal snow..
Long white streets jewelled with lights..
Our steps are muffled and silent, we scarcely know
How swiftly we cross the nights.
I would like to touch this snow with the fire of a dream,
With the mouth of a dream. And turn it all
To petals of roses.. I would like to touch you, too,
And change you into the chord of music I knew.
Can you not change?.. Run back again to April?
Laugh out at me from among young lilac leaves?..
Play with your jewels, and sing!
Feeling the earth beneath you float with spring!..
You talk in an even tone, I answer you;
And all about us seems to say
Peace.. Peace.. The hills and streets are cold.
You are growing cold. VIII Yes, we have changed, slowly and silently changed;
We are the hungry ghosts of the selves we knew;
We sit on each other's tombs and stare at death,
We are not lovely, we scarcely believe it true, --
And only then with a pang that is almost a cry, --
That once, long ago, we were the I and the you
Who shivered in music under an April sky.
White night of snow, and a thousand nights like this;
Snow on our lips like the ghost of a kiss;
And a thousand nights in a hollow second of time
We will return again,
Silently, or with trivial speech, to climb
From lamp to lamp up the white street of pain.
Yet, is it better, you say,
Painfully turning your darkened eyes away,
To lend our souls to a quieter music at last, --
Remembering, when we will,
The sudden and gorgeous clashings of the past?..
Snow falls about us, the hills immortally white
Wait far off in the undisturbing night.

poems.one - Conrad Aiken

Conrad Aiken