Conrad Potter Aiken

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

From: Time In The Rock

If one voice, not another, must speak first,
out of the silence, the stillness, the preceding—
speaking clearly, speaking slowly, measuring calmly
the heavy syllables of doubt, or of despair—
speaking passionately, speaking bitterly, hunger or hope
ordering the words, that are like sounds of flame—:
if one speaks first, before that other or the third,
out of the silence bringing the dark message,
the grave and great acceptance of the rock,
the huge world, held in the huge hand of faith:
and if it says, I hold the world like this;
here in the light, amid these crumbling walls;
here in the half-light, the deceptive moment,
here in the darkness like a candle lifted—:
take it, relieve me of it, bear it away;
have it, now and forever, for your own;
this that was mine, this that my voice made mine,
this that my word has shaped for you—
if this voice speaks before us, speaks before
ourselves can speak, challenging thus the dark;
waking the sleeping watcher from his sleep,
altering the dreamer’s dream while still he dreams;
so that on waking—ah, what despair he knows!
to learn that while he slept the world was made—
made by that voice, and himself made no less,
and now inalterably curved forever—

yes, if to wake, to cease to dream, be this,
to face a self made ready while we slept,
shaped in the world’s shape by the single voice—
if thus we wake too late and find ourselves
already weeping, already upon the road
that climbs past shame and pain to crucifixion—
seeing at once, with eyes, just opened, the world,
vast, bright, and cruciform, on which so soon
ascending we must die—
and to look backward,
but know no turning back; to go forward,
even as we turn our faces to the past;
still gazing downward from the hill we climb,
searching the dark for that strange dream we had,
which the voice altered and broke—
ah, can it comfort us,
us helpless, us thus shaped by a word,
sleepwalking shadows in the voice-shaped world,
ah, can it comfort us that we ourselves
will bear the word with us, we too, we too
to speak, again, again, again, again,—
ourselves the voice for those not yet awakened,—
altering the dreams of those who dream, and shaping,
while still they sleep, their inescapable pain—?

The chairback will cast a shadow on the white wall,
you can observe its shape, the square of paper
will receive and record the impulse of the pencil
and keep it too till time rubs it out
the seed will arrange as suits it the shape of the earth
to right or left thrusting, and the old clock
goes fast or slow as it rusts or is oiled.
These things or others for your consideration
these changes or others, these records
or others less permanent. Come if you will
to the sea’s edge, the beach of hard sand,
notice how the wave designs itself in quick bubbles
the wave’s ghost etched in bubbles and then gone,
froth of a suggestion, and then gone.
Notice too the path of the wind in a field of wheat,
the motion indicated. Notice in a mirror
how the lips smile, so little, and for so little while.
Notice how little, and how seldom, you notice
the movement of the eyes in your own face, reflection
of a moment’s reflection. What were you thinking
to deliver to the glass this instant of change, what margin
belonged only to the expectation of echo
and was calculated perhaps to that end, what was left
essential or immortal?

Your hand too,
gloved perhaps, encased, but none the less
already bone, already a skeleton,
sharp as a fingerpost that points to time—
what record does it leave, and where, what paper
does it inscribe with an immortal message?
where, and with what permanence, does it say ‘I’?
Perhaps giving itself to the lover’s hand
or in a farewell, or in a blow,
or in a theft, which will pay interest.
Perhaps in your own pocket, jingling coins,
or against a woman’s breast. Perhaps holding
the pencil dictated by another’s thought.

These things do not perplex, these things are simple,—
but what of the heart that wishes to survive change
and cannot, its love lost in confusions and dismay—?
what of the thought dispersed in its own algebras,
hypothesis proved fallacy? what of the will
which finds its aim unworthy? Are these, too, simple?

Walk man on the stage of your own imagining
peel an orange or dust your shoe, take from your pocket
the soiled handkerchief and blow your nose
as if it were indeed necessary to be natural
and speak too if an idea should recommend itself
speak to the large bright imaginary audience
that flattering multiplication of yourself
so handsomely deployed and so expectant
tell them between flingings of orange peel
or such other necessary details of your rôle
precisely what they are, or what you are
since—lamentably—they are so much the same thing.
Decrepit inheritor of the initial star!
do you yourself sometimes imagine
or even perhaps say to that peculiar audience
something of this? as that yourself and they
comprise one statement? supercilious
the actor may be, often is, to those who hear him
but to be supercilious to one’s self
even in one’s dramatic moments!—marvellous
decay of what in God’s first declaration
might have been good.
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