by Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish

And the way goes on in the worn earth:
and we (others)——

What are the dead to us in our better fortune?
They have left us the roads made and the walls standing:
They have left us the chairs in the rooms:
what is there more of them——

Either their words in the stone or their graves in the land
Or the rusted tang in the turf-root where they fought——
Has truth against us?
(And another man

Where the wild geese rise form Michigan the water
Veering the clay bluff: in another wind....)

Surely the will of GOd in the earth alters:

Time done is dark as are sleep's thickets:
Dark is the past: none waking walk there:
Neither may live men of those water drink:

And their speech they have left upon the coins to
mock us:
And the weight of their skulls at our touch is a
shuck's weight:
And their rains are dry and the sound of their leaves

(We that have still the sun and the green places)
And they care nothing for living men: and the honey of
Sun is slight in their teeth as a seed's taste——

What are the dead to us in the world's wonder?
Why (and again now) on their shadowy beaches
Pouring before them the slow painful blood

Do we return to force the truthful speech of them
Shrieking like snipe along their gusty sand
And stand: and as the dark ditch fills beseech them

(Reaching across the surf their fragile hands) to
Speak to us?
as by that other ocean
The elder shadows to the sea-borne man

Guarding the ram's flesh and the bloody dole....
Speak to me Conquerors!
But not as they!
Bring not those others with you whose new-closed

(O Brothers! Bones now in the witless rain!)
And weeping eyes remember living men:
(Not Anticlea! Not Elpenor's face!)

Bring not among you hither the new dead——
Lest they should wake and the unwilling lids
Open and know me——and the not-known end!....

And Sándoval comes first adn the Pálos wind
Stirs in the youg hair: and the smoky candle
Shdders the sick face and the fevered skin:

And still the dead feet come: and Alvarádo
Clear in that shadow as a faggot kindled:
The brave one: stupid: and the face he had

Shining with good looks: his pink skin:
His legs warped at the knee like the excellent horseman
And gentleman's ways and the tail of the sword swinging:

And Olíd the good fighter: his face coarse:
His teeth clean as a dog's: the lip wrinkled:
Oléa——so do the winds follow unfortune——

Oléa with the blade drawn and the clinging
Weeds about him and broken hands:
And still they come: and from the shadow fixes

Eyes against me a mute armored man
Staring as wakened sleeper into embers:
This is Cortés that took the famous land:

The eye-holes narrow to the long night's ebbing:
The grey skin crawls beneath the scanty beard:
Neither the eyes nor the sad mouth remember:

Other and nameless are there shadows here
Cold in the little light as winter crickets:
Torpid with old death: under sullen years

Numb as pale spiders in the blind leaves hidden:
These to the crying voices do not stir:
So still are trees the climbing stars relinquish:

And last and through the weak dead comes——the uncertain
Fingers before him on the sightless air——
An old man speaking: and the wind-blown words

Blur and the mouth moves and before the staring
Eyes go shadows of that ancient time:
So does a man speak from the dream that bears his

Sleeping body with it and the cry
Comes from a great way off as over water——
As the sea-bell's that the veering wind divides:

(And the sound runs on the valleys of the water:)

And the light returns as in past time
as in evenings
Distant with yellow summer on the straw——

As the light in America comes: without leaves....

Conquistador (1932)

Last updated December 27, 2014