Songs at Fifty
We Knew It
Love Songs at Fifty
to Eliot and Yeats
semblable, mon frère
Let us go then, you and
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a haiku digitized on the computer:
Let us skirt the half-deserted campus quad
Where aged men pontificate like God,
Thumbing through papers marked by coffee cups,
Shopworn debate and tired serving-ups
Of argument that draws, like a commute
To perorations of a poor repute.
(She will say, "These students are a bunch of pups!")
And then the overwhelming question's moot.
In the room the women
To monuments of unaging intellect.
Novato fog that rubs its
back upon the window-panes,
That licks and rubs its muzzle round the drains
And slouches up the headlands from Marin,
Settles upon the house with grey embrace,
Seeking a cranny, some unguarded place
To breach the walls and crash the birthday party.
Oh keep the fog far hence, that's foeman hearty,
Draw bolt, pull drape, and quiet your digestion.
Still time to dodge the overwhelming question.
I age much faster than
I learned to live.
I now wear reading-glasses, and my hips misgive.
And still there will be
time for cake and presents
For friends to chance a fling with pre-pubescents,
Grasping each mortal tatter as it gleams,
Haunted and charmed by fleeting teenage dreams.
This is no country for old men, it seems.
In the room the women
dart and flutter,
Lighting the candles, cutting butter.
Two Chinamen, behind them
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity--
Much good that does the
lot of them, say I.
No carving survives great Callimachus,
But we're alive to make a healthy fuss.
O sages standing in God's
fire, hear me:
I'm not a gyre, nor was meant to be;
I go round once--but damn! I'll not go gentle.
Inhabit! Celebrate! Then dodge the rental.
Once out of nature I shall
My bodily form from Chinaman or bird,
Hugh Grant, Madonna, any living thing--
But while these lungs draw breath, I'll make them heard.
The limbs God gave me, I intend to shake:
I'll clap my hands and sing and louder sing!
Stiff hips can dance, thin arms set bells a-ring.
We have lingered in the
groves of academe,
Embracing thoughts and poems like a wife,
Till human voices wake us--into life.
She in her tower
And I in mine,
And I awake,
Rooted in vigilance
At a cold shrine:
Chained in my curse
Like a saint to a snake.
I want to be loved.
Is it too much, too vain
That the powers and talents,
Dominions and lands
That circle me tightly
Like thread in a skein
Cannot buy a caress
For these withering hands?
I want to be feared.
By the pious and loud
Who flock to the font
In such droves to be blessed,
Till the doting, rose-garlanded
Own me for their mistress
And queen of unrest.
What are these whispers
Shards of an old prophecy
Prickle and stab at my finger.
I want only to sleep. Let me be.
I have him below.
In my keep, in my thrall,
The man who would wed her,
Unravel me quite:
Wound and cushioned in chains,
Tucked behind mortared wall,
Let him bed down on dreams
For a century's night.
I have her above.
The east turret, like mine,
Is pleated and hung
In vermillion and gold,
Ringed and twisted with thorns.
Should he break from those chains,
He will die on the briars
While I laugh to behold.
Banish all talk of their
Banish, unseat, and deny.
You cannot pluck love from a drainpipe
Or pull heaven's key from the sky.
For each is secured with
And fettered in manacles tight.
Silence your lovers and mumblers:
I plan to sleep soundly tonight.
Is it a wonder that the
Forsaking village love and maidens' sighs,
Thrilled to the white perfection of those hands?
Fell so in love with those enameled eyes?
This was your triumph,
Doctor--and your snare--
Winning the youth to worship through your arts;
Tighter than rope, stouter than cord or prayer
Binding him to Coppélia: both your hearts
Pledged to a clockwork doll. Strange sorcerous whims
To transfer burning love to wooden limbs.
His lust, Swanilda's waltz,
your clockwork trade--
These gave Coppélia life. Why add blood's varnish
To push that vision past the masquerade?
Paint's miracle enough, though paint will tarnish.
every waking passion,
Yet sprang to life after Swanilda's fashion
When she, with more of art than you'd construe,
Donning the doll's clothes, danced a while for you.
1977, Revised 2003
We Knew It All Along
The English are the Master
And God admits it's true:
He lets them see His Shining Face
And calls out, "How d'ye do?"
He sanctions all their
Like genocide and cricket
And buggery among schoolboys
In locker room and thicket.
His King James Bible shows
Says, "Don't stick pins in Granny!
We'll let you visit Heaven some day,
Take tea with Jesus' nanny."
So if you'd walk the hallowed
Our Saviour's sandals trod,
Swap compliments (perhaps a laugh)
With your Almighty God,
Attach yourself to English
Their probity and grace
Will bring you nearer to God's yoke
Than any other race.
2003 by Geoffrey Blum