Conrad Potter Aiken

Conrad Aiken] (5 August 1889 – 17 August 1973 / Savannah, Georgia

From: Preludes For Memnon


I read the primrose and the sea
and remember nothing
I read Arcturus and the snow
and remember nothing
I read the green and white book of spring
and remember nothing
I read the hatred in a man’s eye
Lord, I remember nothing.

Scorn spat at me and spoke
I remember it not
The river was frozen round the ship
I remember it not
I found a secret message in a blade of grass
and it is forgotten
I called my lovers by their sweet names
they are all forgotten.

Where are my lovers now?
buried in me.
The blades of grass, the ships, the scorners?
here in me
The haters in the spring, snow and Arcturus?
here in me
The primrose and the sea?
here in me.

I know what humans know
no less no more
I know how the summer breaks
on Neptune’s shore
I know how winter freezes
the Milky Way
My heart’s home is in Limbo
and there I stay.

Praise Limbo, heart, and praise
We know what the tiger knows
no more no less
We know what the primrose thinks
and think it too
We walk when the snail walks
across the dew.

I was a rash man in my time
but now I am still
I spoke with god’s voice once
now I am still
Evil made my right hand strong
which now is still
Wisdom gave me pride once,
but it is still.

Lie down poor heart at last
and have your rest
Remember to forget
and have your rest
Think of yourself as once you were
at your best
And then lie down alone
and have your rest.

These things are as time weaves them
on his loom
Forgot, forgetting, we survive not
mortal bloom
Let us give thanks, to space,
for a little room
Space is our face and time our death
two poles of doom

Come dance around the compass
pointing north
Before, face downward, frozen,
we go forth.


Thus systole addressed diastole,—
The heart contracting, with its grief of burden,
To the lax heart, with grief of burden gone.

Thus star to dead leaf speaks; thus cliff to sea;
And thus the spider, on a summer’s day,
To the bright thistledown, trapped in the web.

No language leaps this chasm like a lightning:
Here is no message of assuagement, blown
From Ecuador to Greenland; here is only

A trumpet blast, that calls dead men to arms;
The granite’s pity for the cloud; the whisper
Of time to space.
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