I 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. II 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. III 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. IV 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Twelve white birds glimmer in a ring About my heart like fiery thorns of things Unable to be forgotten; And of all things else Oblivion alone most would bring Ease to the burnt heart's ash.