Burning Byzantium

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Aug 272011

In night-devouring pride
God and ghost deride,
And not knowing what is best,
Peering past his death
Man's untiring vanity
Consumes his bitter rest.

Flame emanating, spout upon spout,
Flame on his head that shouts
Fiery Dionysus climbed
Olympian plenitude and dined
On rarer bones than men's eyes
Before or after spied;
Then, finished with that golden feast,
Burned statues down, head and feet,
In serpent-seas of fire that we
Might build again from perfected memory.

What if destruction of vast colonnades appalled?
Wrecked form to formless called:
Holy fire makes wide mind a wall,
Paints thereon, and names that image All.
Water and desire and stark upright flame begin
Where world grew ocean from some ecstatic limb.

Starved eunuchs hunching bald-eyed at the law
Know Adam to the marrow, jumping to the fall.
An engendered emptiness can beget
Strong delight for those whose minds are full;
Stark contemplation hollows out delight
Save when sword or scalpel pull.

Answer to sorrow or suffering comes
Displaying ornate mask or abrupt gun;
Michelangelo lobouring in the sculpted dark
Blazed imagination forth upon uncertain tides---
Pale constellations of his thought
Brought death and life out of one troubled heart,
Or might have brought ---O How long can man
Out of narrow sorrow extract a song?
Right action finishes out the thought
A lonely exalted mind began;
Long-loved monuments fixed in the sight
Assemble us out of desire to dissolve
Into that unutterable One again.

Die Wille

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Aug 272011

I banish all
Who fret and stall
To finish out my work:
Pitched to that extreme of thought
Or dark, and shambling room to room
As from spirit to spirit
And always preparing for that
Never-arriving guest,
I have labored over-long
Or too-thick with theme and means
Have overwrought my song.

Out of night like a distorted dream
Or storm more mysterious
A penitent ghost that cannot crest
The bound of rotted day appears;

Poets, learn to live as clay
All rich substance to underpin
Whatever a great man might make
Tinkering with his fate
In momentary play,
Or more solemnly erect,
Out of an undistracted hate.
All our lot have spurned and sung
Brevity of man, necessity of guns,
Unable as any mirror
To sing ourselves aright
Caught in enlarging night
We turned from face to face
As if every face would save us;
We who had arrogance enough
Of thought to have thought
That careless hands had made us.
So that a few good words might not perish
Or empty imagining sink unmanned
In unalterable loss
Collect like solemn children round
The myriad confusion of the foam
And write it out again:

Live, and live again, as old men say
Anxious for eternities
That make their own wisdom seem
But momentary toys that gleam
And are beaten back to mud.
I am not that holy sage
Remembers the misery of knowing all
Or turning to a wall completes
What body and its pleasure
Were forbidden to decide---
Under burdened moon
That sinks in July to rise on fire
Out of the glittering wheat
Knows man and his defeats
All the sudden infirmities
Blind violence took for sureties
And looks on them and laughs.

     From the womb man falls
     Or from the widowed breast
     Dispatched to a sultry grave
     That gives no rest.

Three Songs I. The Glass Mountain

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Aug 272011

Night and fire surround a broken tree
Made blacker by the fire;
A head, an arm, barely distinguishable there
Cant towards a broken sky---
Black eyes unwired in the ancient face,
His old heart's thudding done,
Hangs that great man who's mind's a sea;
Red torches gutter tongues.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Nor proscenium nor orchestra
Nor gilded balcony set
About the vaunting terror of the scene;
Idiot crawls to idiot
And idiot begets.
And none's alive who'll now recall
Utter nobleness of limb or sin,
Beauty beyond a fall.

Sang the burning lion on the burning mountaintop.

I picked a blank mask
And put on a changing soul,
Exampled by those blessed men
Who suffered all in all.
But I reject the holy past;
That banner cannot lift again.
Forgotten men can't raise a song
Or change my ranting soul.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Three Songs II. The Salt Heart

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Aug 272011

Sang the burning lion from the fierce mountaintop:

Death's insults emanate from ourselves;
Terror riven images that complete
Man and heaven, heart and feet.
Scarlet briars in her hair---
Love from I know not where
Descends the bitter air.

Sang the burning lion from the fierce mountaintop:

The empty prosecution of the skies
Stares at a struck stage
The tired heart derides,---
Man's best instincts gambled there---
And the watery heart about to burst
All lose out to the worst.

Sang the burning lion from the fierce mountaintop:

Beaten man twists his neck to curse,
White head in heaven
Golden heart in a hearse---
A scolded boy or oblong body bends
Dark by uncertain suavities of fire to request
The sea's intercessions.

Three Songs III. Third Song

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Aug 272011

God built man in a black fit.
I tell you suffering a pall;
Lone men could not fashion it,
Could not create themselves at all.
Heaven itself is what I gate-keep;
Descended from that sphinx
Crossed centuries between her paws,
Another hand has finished me.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Emboldened by riches
A steeple mind had heaped,
Father son and holy ghost
In his flaming mind are linked.
Stale generations that bred him
Recanted at the leap;
Rule square and trine
But toys to make the typist think.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

A man displaces a woman
With the image of her face
Until some loud stone betokens it,
Mixing ecstasy and grace.
A great Adams and Hawthorne knew it,
Knew it and turned sour;
But it is the best that man can do
Unwound by the backward hour.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Blue Heron

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Aug 272011

Among the wrack and disorder of the day: dusty floors,
Half carved resemblances and journey-work,
A symbolical blue heron stands
With wild protesting wing and look
No living heron could have struck
Deep in the grain; every crack,
Every waver of the resinous wood
Wakes a pulse in the unnatural neck.
Barren out of a barren sky---
A heron falters to the waters here.

That artist in his studio having aged
Past all bitterness to stark astonishment
At life's rapacious play
Hammers out, from all other unlikelihood
Or savage guess at parts, his fixed man
Crouched in dark patterns of the wood;
And because that image, once complete,
Can finish up the man who bodied it
Gangs of ghostly herons range against the glass,
Stiff against one window to witness it.

The Drowned Head

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Aug 272011

The gangling legs are absent; nothing whitens
The deep blue surface curling there
And never breaking. A stiffening face
Turned mask-like and muscle-stricken frightens
White birds that pern in whiter air.
Riotous cries cannot give its tossing countenance a place;
Blotched reds that crust the desert water
Until all color cakes and lies motionless, falters.

What but attitude of all man in a rage
Can reverse a death's complacency and kick
Up foam? Agony of living lonely as a bird
Between sun and moon, moving like a spade,
Empties the ragged features, the dull wickless eyes
That looked on nothing common, commonly interred. A bird-
Like woman lingers on the quay's interrupted sounds
To witness drowning sailors, her head in beauty bound.

The Overturned Head

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Aug 272011

Stands in this sand waste
An abandoned stone,
An overturned head a half house high;
Waters that have flat its cut
Vanish as a dream untold.
But on this head is concentrate
Intolerable memories
Of youth grown old.

I am that bright familiar
Wanders through the street
And banging merchants' windows in
Must beg for my milk and meat;
My old face by time betrayed
To an indistinguishable mass,
But when night and wine grow great enough
I dance on the weedy grass.

Down this long shore as a boy
Body and soul were sure
As any pale, unalterable rock
That I now dance before.
Hands urgent as a hangman's cord,
All body warped to a board,
Creep in the salt beneath a face
Heavy, androgynous.

Sliding up through valves of storm
And mastered by a rage
The variable sea has seen that form
Descend from age to age.
Wind-beaten I but seem,
Flat on the wetted sand,
A derelict, not worth
The dock-dog's howl or tooth.