by Conrad Aiken
The cigarette smoke loops and slides above us,
Dipping and swirling as the waiter passes.
You strike a match and stare upon the flame.
The tiny firelight leaps in your eyes a moment
And dies away as silently as it came.
This melody, you say, has certain voices—
They rise like nereids from a river, singing,
Lift white faces, and dive to darkness again.
Wherever you go you bear this river with you:
A leaf falls, and it flows, and you have pain.
So says the tune to you—but what to me ?
What to the waiter, as he pours your coffee?
The violinist who suavely draws his bow ?
That man, who folds his paper, overhears it.
A thousand dreams revolve and fall and flow.
Someone there is who sees a virgin stepping
Down marble stairs to a deep tomb of roses:
At the last moment she lifts remembering eyes.
Green leaves blow down; the place is checked with shadows;
A long-drawn murmur of rain goes down the skies.
And oaks are stripped and bare, and smoke with lightning;
And clouds are blown and torn upon high forests;
And the great sea shakes its walls.
And then falls silence And through long silence falls
This melody once more:
Down endless stairs she goes, as once before.
So says the tune to him—but what to me?
What are the worlds I see?
What shapes fantastic, terrible dreams?
I go my secret way, down secret alleys.
My errand is not so simple as it seems.
Last updated September 29, 2022