A Celebration of Women Writers


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WHITE LILAC


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[Title Page] 

WHITE LILAC

BY

BEATRICE REDPATH

LONDON: JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LTD
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY
TORONTO: S. B. GUNDY: MCMXXII


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Printed in Great Britain
by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh


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CONTENTS

 PAGE
WHITE LILAC9
CONVALESCENCE19
THE STAR20
BUT I SHALL WEEP21
IN THE NIGHT23
PONTO THE FOOL25
RESURGAM29
THE WINDLESS GARDEN30
THE BLACKBIRD IN THE LANE32
THE CONVICT33
MISS HAWTHORNE36
THE SPRIG OF MIGNONETTE38
IN A GARDEN40
MEMORY43

[Page vi] 

IMPRESSIONS 
    EARLY SNOW45
    ILLUSION45
    BEFORE THE STORM46
    WINTER46
COUNTRYMEN47
MOONLIGHT52
EARTH54
THE CLOWN55
THE LIE60
RETROSPECT72
PREMONITION73
THE MOTHER74
IS IT WELL WITH YOU?78

 


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WHITE LILAC


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[Page 3] 

WHITE LILAC

THREE MOMENTS IN THE LIFE OF A GREEK COURTESAN

PHRYNE, Greek Courtesan, lived in the fourth century, B. C. When accused of profaning the Eleusinian mysteries, she was defended by the orator HYPEREIDES, one of her lovers. When it seemed as if the verdict would be unfavourable, he rent her robe and displayed her loveliness, which so moved her accusers that they acquitted her.

FIRST MOMENT

SCENE.–In the market place of a town in Greece. The mysteries are taking place inside a great hall, from which PHRYNE [Page 4]  has been thrust by the crowd who are angry and violent at the idea that the mysteries have been profaned by the presence of a Courtesan. PHRYNE stands beside a pillar, haughtily looking upon the crowd. HYPEREIDES is pushing his way forward to PHRYNE'S side. Citizens of Greece, beggars, merchants, physicians, priests, street vendors, all surge around PHRYNE shouting in harsh voices.

A BEGGAR. Death to Phryne!

CITIZEN. She has profaned the mysteries!

PRIEST. She must be punished for her blasphemy!

MERCHANT. She has disobeyed the law!

PHYSICIAN. A Courtesan at the mysteries!

GENERAL OUTCRY. Drag her away . . . Death to Phryne . . . Death to [Page 5]  Phryne . . . Death to Phryne . . . drag her away!

HYPEREIDES. (Pushing back the crowd which threatens to overwhelm PHRYNE.)

Silence! Stand back!
Will you be still!
Listen to a man who has no love for words
Except for the worth that's in them.
Oh, how this outcry strangles the quiet,
Smothers the beauty of a summer's evening.
Hear what I have to say,
Then, if you will,
We'll speak of that which has such hold upon your minds.

How may words bring you the joy of vision?
Yet I would have you share with me

[Page 6] 

A sudden ecstasy of soul I knew to-day
Upon the awakening hills.
White lilac laid against a silver sky gives curious wings to thought;
It seemed as though I saw salvation in a lilac bough!
Have you never felt
As though white wings had brushed across your soul
Seeing the stars drift into the blue of early evening?
An orange moon spilling pale gold across a field of grain:
White moths in gardens:
Pools that cherish deep their quiet reflections:
Hills that blur to sky,
Or running rivers leap to rainbow mist?

[Page 7] 

Have you not seen, and felt
As though you had been cleansed, shrived, sanctified?
So beauty deals with souls that are not dust.
Then let it have its way with you again
Since you are not dead souls but stirring men.
Look!

(HYPEREIDES steps towards PHRYNE and tears her robe.)

You are silent now . . .
For you are men . . . for you are men indeed,
And seeing beauty level to your eyes
Feel shrived of lust, of evil word and deed,
And know compassion, kindliness, and love!

Are there some here who have no soul to see
The sum of Phryne's loveliness?

[Page 8] 

Then look again!
Even the subtle fingers of the sun
Cannot make Phryne's hair more bright.
Her eyes are deep as night when moons have left the sky
And can make men forget that life at times is weariness,
A scourge meant for the flesh.
But words are poor dull things with which to speak of Phryne's rounded limbs;
Her small white breasts are bloom of some white flower,
Her feet are folded lily buds . . .
And yet, surely some of you to-day
Have felt that Phryne is not beautiful, .
For I would swear that none among you here

[Page 9] 

Are dull enough to wish to see destroyed
That which is beautiful,
That which should cleanse our souls,
That which should be for us a sacrament.
Would any of you speak?
Would any raise again that senseless clamour of wild tongues?
Oh, you are silent,
You are grown more wise and now would cherish Phryne.

Then lift her up, high, high above you,
Worship her instead,
Kneel to her loveliness,
For beauty is the nearest thing to Heaven that we know.

[Page 10] 

SECOND MOMENT

PHRYNE and HYPEREIDES are standing beside a low wall at the sunset hour.

PHRYNE. Strange it is, when Phryne must come out to seek Hypereides.

HYPEREIDES. The world is filled with strangeness.

PHRYNE. What of my messages?

HYPEREIDES. Three times you sent and three times I replied,
I could not come.

PHRYNE. You could not come?
A strange reply to make while Phryne waits.
And what could keep you when I send for you?

[Page 11] 

HYPEREIDES. If there were anything for which you wished,
You could have said . . . and then I would have come.

PHRYNE. And if it were but Phryne's heart that called,
You would not listen!
Is that your meaning?

HYPEREIDES. Only the very surface of all that I mean.

PHRYNE. And yet,
And yet it was only yesterday
That there was such hot passion in your words!
I thought that in my arms I could repay.
But you are grown cool as raindrops!
Am I no longer beautiful?

[Page 12] 

Have I grown old since yesterday?
Have I forgotten words or ways of love
That you will not come seeking your reward
At Phryne's lips?

HYPEREIDES. You fail to understand . . .
How can I make it clear to you?
What I strove to do to that wild crowd
In doing,
I did even to myself;
Put you apart,
Placed you above all lusts,
All earthly passions and all base desires,
Until I felt that I could not profane
What I had raised so high with reverent hands.
For I had made of you a sacred cup to hold the wine of beauty;

[Page 13] 

Never, never, never more could Phryne be but passion and desire,
The vessel where I quenched my manly lusts.
If I should come to you
I should come kneeling,
As I have knelt in the cool quiet of a summer night,
Feeling the dew of beauty shrive my soul.
Oh, Phryne,
I have raised you high above the world of evil,
Too high for all but reverence.

PHRYNE. (Mockingly.)
Hypereides turned priest!

HYPEREIDES. Turned priest indeed!
A worshipper of beauty if you will.
For I would build a temple to the gods of beauty

[Page 14] 

And keep Phryne there within,
Immaculate,
That men might come and kneel at her small feet
And looking on her feel their hearts were cleansed.

PHRYNE. What whim is this, Hypereides?
A poet crazy with the moon might speak this way.
Phryne does not care for temples,
Nor would she be immaculate,
These only are the things that she desires;
Love and more love,
Laughter and soft words,
Fruits that have sucked the gold of the sun
And honey tasting wines,
Splendid silks dyed purple

[Page 15] 

Colour that a queen should wear,
For is not Phryne queen of all she knows?

HYPEREIDES. Poor child!

PHRYNE. (Suddenly disturbed.)
Hypereides . . . I do not understand,
Except where there was fire, now there is none,
And Phryne grieves . . . Phryne is almost sad!

HYPEREIDES. And yet . . . you have raised Hypereides
Higher than himself.

THIRD MOMENT

PHRYNE in her own dwelling, lying beside an opened window. Alone.

PHRYNE. Footsteps . . .
Footsteps that pass beyond the door,

[Page 16] 

Oh, it is that even more than the pains
Which makes me know that I am near the end.
For footsteps do not pass by Phryne's door
While Phryne lives.

Strange it is to lie alone,
For then it is that thoughts so wilfully come.
The windows are all opened to the spring
And there's a lilac bough outside.
"White lilac laid against a silver sky gives curious wings to thought."
That seemed a happy phrase that summer day
But now I almost feel I understand a little of its meaning.
How I mocked Hypereides,
Because he would not come to Phryne's arms.

[Page 17] 

He would have builded me a temple
And kept me there immaculate.
"Too high for all but reverence" were his words,
And I cared nothing for his reverence.
But now, since life has waned
And colour fled as at the end of day,
I seem to see with such a dreadful clearness
The worth and weight of things,
Until . . . almost I could wish
That I had been as he would have me be.
"White lilac laid against a silver sky gives curious wings to thought."
Curious indeed, when Phryne longs for purity in place of passion.

Just to-day I heard a linnet in the sky

[Page 18] 

And suddenly it seemed as though his notes
Were drops of crystal falling on my heart,
And washing it quite clear of sin.
And I remembered old, old things
That I had known before men told me I was beautiful;
Oh, I remembered moons and murmuring seas;
And trees laid bare against great width of space,
Long uplands brilliant with the dew,
Suns that bled against an evening sky,
And nights as deep and dark as everlasting.
And once . . . upon a lonely hill
I knelt in worship of a star!

God! What is this thing that man calls soul?


[Page 19] 

CONVALESCENCE

SLOWLY to creep out of the reach of pain
And aching nothingness, and days gone dreary,
To know the sharp sweet sting of life again,
And not feel old, nor worn, nor spent, nor weary;
To know again the common ease of slumber,
And feel that life can still be strangely splendid,
Forgetting days of dread . . . hours without number,
And best to find that loving is not ended.


[Page 20] 

THE STAR

I THINK God sang when He had made
A bough of apple bloom,
And placed it close against the sky
To whiten in the gloom.

But, oh, when He had hung a star
Above a blue, blue hill,
I think God in His ecstasy
Was startled . . . and was still.


[Page 21] 

BUT I SHALL WEEP

DEAREST, when your lovely head
Droops, and they shall call you dead,
I shall know that you have found
Somewhere . . . somewhere out of sound
Unsurpassed security.
There, wherever you may be,
You shall know all loveliness,
All that you gave voice to bless.

In your wide mysterious night
All that brought you dear delight
Shall be near for your content,
For your long assuagement.

[Page 22] 

All you loved you still shall keep
With you in your curious sleep,
Remembering only what you will
Remembering, dear, remembering still
Old and cherished ecstasies.
Stars that hang in quiet trees,
Apple bloom and silver light,
Wings that beat against the night,
Little gardens where the bees
Go humming.

       Dearest, all of these
Shall be with you in your sleep,
But I shall weep . . . I shall weep.


[Page 23] 

IN THE NIGHT

WHEN in the night the sky is drowned with stars,
And the moon is but a silver memory,
I am often afraid . . .
Fearful of oblivion,
Fearful of everlasting,
And my mind reaches back to the thought
Of what was before time began,
Until cold terror freezes my heart.
And I turn desperately to think of small, small things,
Of globes of dew,
Of wings and petals,

[Page 24] 

Candle flames,
A single note striking against silence,
The tinkle of sheep bells,
Oh, of any small and beautiful and familiar thing,
Until, turning quietly in the darkness
I find sleep.


[Page 25] 

PONTO THE FOOL

HOW sweet you were . . . how young and soft you were,
Your dancing feet were noiseless as the wind
That stirs the grasses at the dawn.
You were the one to whom all eyes were turned,
A gold and silken butterfly
Amongst a swarm of moths.
Seeing you, mounted on an elephant,
Your body swaying lithely to its stride,
Laughter and love of living in your eyes,
You were the dawn,

[Page 26] 

Riding above the rough grey sea.
How they coveted you, Miami,
How they warred for your lips!
And to each of them you gave
Some of your sweetness, some of your light!
But for me, Ponto the Fool, you had but laughter.
Oh, you did not know, Miami, that silver laughter can cut like steel.

But it was I, Miami,
It was Ponto the Fool
Who brought you cooling water from the spring
To bathe your soft round limbs,
Who gathered for you the great wild poppy flower,

[Page 27] 

And brought you crimson berries cupped in leaves.
It was I, Ponto the Fool, who saw to your welfaring,
But they who had the gift of your lips.

The night you fell, Miami,
It was I . . . Ponto the Fool,
Who straightened your poor crushed limbs,
Who brought ease to your sufferings in the night
And through so many nights and days.
They did not care for you then, Beloved,
You were grown too weak for laughter . . .
And he whose name was upon your lips,

[Page 28] 

He whom you called for when you were dying,
He could not come, Miami,
He was kissing the lips of the one who danced in your place.


[Page 29] 

RESURGAM

WHEN all seems over, then there is a glint
Of sunlight somewhere; sudden there's a drift
Of errant milk-white blossom; quiet hands
Lay hold of one, and clearly as a bell
A robin's note comes ringing through the rain;
And so it is we lift our heads again.


[Page 30] 

THE WINDLESS GARDEN

YOUR laugh sings,
Bees go humming, humming,
Sunshine . . . sunshine . . .
Yellow ribbons of sunshine
Curl around the trunks of the trees,
And there are hyacinths, pink hyacinths in your garden.
Your laugh sings!

But I grow languid in the sunshine,
I would feel instead the salt sting of the sea,
The beat of the wind,
And the sharp, sharp spears of the rain.

[Page 31] 

I am tired of your windless garden,
For we are not birds nor bloom,
Nor are we bees,
To look for honey all day long in the sun.


[Page 32] 

THE BLACKBIRD IN THE LANE

I SAID: I'll go far from sorrow,
To the end of the world I'll go,
To a narrow lane
Where a blackbird sings,
Smothered in orchard snow.

I heard the song of the blackbird,
There was orchard snow in the lane,
But memory came
And I cried: " Than this . . .
Oh, rather my sorrow again."


[Page 33] 

THE CONVICT

STRANGE, since they had made him free
He longed for some security
From all this dizzy sun and light
That seemed to him so scorching bright.
Such years it was since he had seen
The swollen furrows ache with green,
And now to look upon the skies
Brought tears to blind his faded eyes,
And just to smell that scented fume
That rose from those rich fields of bloom,
And know the wind upon his face.
God! Put a man within that place

[Page 34] 

To teach him what was true and right,
Away from sun and wind and light,
Where only crime might enter in
And every face was marked with sin.

The years had taught him how to hate,
Long years he'd had to cultivate
Malice towards all and love towards none
A fool he'd been when he'd begun;
He knew of love and kindness then,
A man who loved his fellow men,
But love and kindliness soon die
When one is shut in from the sky,
And hatred creeps into a heart
When sympathy and love depart.

Oh, just to feel the firm warm ground,
To hear the insects' whirring sound,

[Page 35] 

To watch the breezes' tip-toe run
Along the grasses to the sun,
To hear the bird's wings strike the air
And see the soft and timid hare
Leap startled to a covert glade,
To see the trees lay down their shade
With such quiet care upon the ground,
To feel life pulsing all around!
He knew his whole heart brimming full
Because earth still was beautiful,
That life could hold such loveliness
Did damage to his bitterness . . .
But God! Would only hate depart
And let love back into his heart.


[Page 36] 

MISS HAWTHORNE

OLD Miss Hawthorne sits so still,
While sometimes a tear will spill

From her eyes of blurred blue,
As she sits with nothing to do.

Nothing to do the livelong day
But sit and dream the hours away.

Dream and dream of a world that is fled,
Of friends that are gone . . . some of them dead.

[Page 37] 

Old Miss Hawthorne rocks in her chair,
But it's not grief, and it's not despair

That makes a tear spill from her eyes,
For she wipes it away with a tired surprise

And tries to listen to what people say,
But her thoughts are fled to a bygone day.


[Page 38] 

THE SPRIG OF MIGNONETTE

THERE'S Heaven for all, and each man's Heaven's his own.

Some dream a Heaven that is out of sound,
And some there are who name their Heaven peace!
But when I am grown tired, grown tired at last,
If they will place a sprig of mignonette,
Rain-soaked and sweet,
Where I may look on it,

[Page 39] 

There will be Heaven . . . Heaven enough for me,
Just in remembering.

There's Heaven for all, and each man's Heaven's his own.


[Page 40] 

IN A GARDEN

LEAN back your head, Beloved,
See that blown star,
And the clouds that move
Slowly processional across the sky.
Space with its awfulness!
Sore . . . sore the dread that inhabits the heart
Longing to grasp the known, the intimate, the realisable,
While instead there is only space, limitless space,
And silence for answer.

[Page 41] 

A thousand years, perhaps,
Since two walked here in this still garden,
Speaking together of life and of what shall come.
And for all that thousand years of yearning after wisdom,
We are no wiser . . . no wiser than they.

Years shall go by,
And two again
Shall see the white moths flecking the night,
The moon's light baffling the darkness,
Shall hear the beat of a bat's wings in the branches,
And shall turn aside from these familiar things
To speak again of what shall come.
Seeking to know . . . seeking always to know.

[Page 42] 

And even then, Beloved,
In that far time,
None shall give answer,
None . . . none shall know.


[Page 43] 

MEMORY

OH, I surely thought to find
Something that would fill my mind,
Thought I should not always be
So possessed by memory.
Every sight . . . each sound to start
Memory stirring in my heart.
For I cannot see the snow,
Or the rain's bright sloping flow,
Moon or sun beam falling near,
But I see you . . . see you, dear!
Cannot see a fire burn low,
But I see you sitting so,

[Page 44] 

Firelight . . . firelight in your eyes!
Cannot even see the skies
Quenched of colour and of light,
Cannot see the soft blurred night,
But I seem to feel you press
Close and close, to love and bless.

Dear, shall memory never fade?
Have you touched each thing and made
It your own for all the years?
Must I always see through tears
Loveliness . . while memory
Aches, and aches, and aches in me?


[Page 45] 

IMPRESSIONS

EARLY SNOW

THE leaves hung black,
Limp blossoms without scent
Drooped pitifully;
But in the night the earth has laid
White sheets above its dead.

ILLUSION

In my garden to-night
The trees seem heavy with snow,
And tiny candles are alight
On every bough;

[Page 46] 

But I smell apple blossoms,
And the wings of a firefly
Touched my hand.

BEFORE THE STORM

Heat . . . tenseness and heat,
The sky seems stretched too tight,
While massed grey clouds
Are as packed feathers holding back the air.

WINTER

The little houses crouch under the drifted snow,
Their windows like small bright eyes
Blinking into the sunlight.


[Page 47] 

COUNTRYMEN

"SUNSETS," he said, and slowly turned away,
"I've seen too much of sunsets in my day;
I'm not thinking of the setting sun,
I'm tired with all the work that I have done,
I'd just as soon the sky was clear and bare,
I haven't got the mind to stand and stare
At scenery; it's only folk from town
Who talk so much about the sun going down,
And seem to think that every hill and tree
Were just put somehow there for them to see.
I'd be glad never to see again
The fields grow yellow with the autumn grain,

[Page 48] 

And watch the stars come out over the hill,
And night creep up, so black, so black and still."

But Herrick shook his head; "That's what you say
But it's because you've never been away,
I know just how you feel, for even yet
I still grow tired of sunrise and sunset,
And level fields and streams and endless sky,
With silly clouds forever passing by . . .
And that was why one time I went away,
I felt I could not bear another day
To see the foolish sun come rolling down,
And so I took the train into the town . . .
I liked the paving stones beneath my feet,
And city girls were gay and trim and neat,

[Page 49] 

There was pleasure in the lighted shops,
Oh, city life goes on and never stops,
Night does not come all smothered up in dark,
There's folk all night on streets and in the park.
Yes, life was easy there and life was gay,
And yet somehow . . . somehow, I came away
I can't explain . . . it still seems strange to me,
We are . . . each to ourselves, a mystery.
It seemed that had I stayed there I had died,
Deep down in me, deep down, deep down inside,
There was a craving that I could not name,
That gripped me till I languished just the same

[Page 50] 

As cattle, when the streams go parched and dry.
I knew that what I needed was to lie
Flat on the earth and watch that silly sun
Ride down the sky whenever day was done,
And let the smothering dark creep over me
Dulling my senses in a drowning sea.
I knew the green must soak through every pore
Until it reached my very body's core,
And feel of earth sink deep to heart and brain
To stop that growing hunger that was pain.
It was strange, and odd it was, and queer,
But that's the reason that I came back here

[Page 51] 

I've never known that anguish any more
But often, as I said to you before,
I'm tired of suns that roll about the sky,
And silly clouds forever passing by.


[Page 52] 

MOONLIGHT

"LOOK, how the moon spills its thin silver
Over the aspen leaves,
How the water of the fountain
Is a crystal spire of wonder,
Look, dear,
Look how the moon transcends it all."

But I said: "I am grown tired of wonder,
I am wearied of mystery,
And even of the magic of old tales;
I would find instead for my heart's need
A sharp and tangible beauty,

[Page 53] 

Bitter or sweet . . . bitter or sweet,
No matter,
But I can no longer look upon the terrible white magic of the moon."


[Page 54] 

EARTH

OH, so much I've loved it all,
Earth and the quiet sky,
Seems that I could never go,
Never . . . never die.

Not to see that hill again,
Nor the whispering sea!
Foolish! Harbouring such a thought,
Earth is part of me.


[Page 55] 

THE CLOWN

HE often crept out late at night
Away from all the noise and light,
Out to the purple-hearted dark
Touched by the moon's shy silver spark,
To press his face close to the earth
And wipe away all unclean mirth
From off his lips. Here he could dream
How good and kindly life must seem
To one who'd not been born a clown
He would fling his body down
Beneath those everlasting skies
And worship life with hungry eyes.

[Page 56] 

But every day within the ring
He'd mock and laugh with sneer and sting,
For life had flouted him and made
Of him a fool . . . a clown by trade,
And fashioned him just like an ape
With hideous face and evil shape.
Always, from the very start
His lips had learned an ugly part,
For he'd been born within the ring,
His mother just a painted thing,
With matted curls and shifting eyes,
For men to love . . . and then despise.
His father as himself, a clown
Grotesque, with features like his own,
Had taught him, even as a boy,
That life was just a tawdry toy,

[Page 57] 

And evil was the only good
For creatures born of flesh and blood.
Oh, life had made of him a clown,
And yet he could not tear life down,
He could not make one star burn less
For all his sneers and bitterness,
Nor change the white moon's symmetry,
Nor turn the tide of any sea.
How he cursed life in his pride,
And all her loveliness denied;
He would deny . . . he would deny
That there was good beneath the sky.
Kindliness or charity
He did not see how there could be
When life could form a thing like him,
A face so vile . . . so foul of limb.

[Page 58] 

He would mock through all the day,
Until the circus tent would sway
With laughter at his quips and jeers,
For life had formed his lips for sneers.

But just at night time he would creep,
When all the earth was drowned in sleep,
And lay his heart in anguish down,
A broken, bruised and suffering clown.
Then all his angry pride would die
In sorrow for his mockery,
For by those stars . . . those skies above
He knew there must be truth and love,
A world in which he had no part
Sent warmth through all his shivering heart.

[Page 59] 

And then . . . back through the quiet night,
All blotted clean of glare and light,
Some yellow curls, a wheedling voice,
Begged him to take her for his choice . . .
He pushed her from him pitifully,
Poor jade . . . poor fool . . . she could not see
To-night he was not clown nor ape,
An evil mind in evil shape,
He'd laid his heart in anguish down,
To-night he could not be a clown.


[Page 60] 

THE LIE

A coasting schooner. Two figures appear like shadows against the deeper shadow of the night.

FIRST SAILOR. The sea is black as polished ebony.

SECOND SAILOR. But there's a flounce of foam along the side
That's like the lace beneath a woman's skirt.

FIRST SAILOR. Women are always running through your mind.

SECOND SAILOR. Perhaps that's so; and yet there's never been
A woman whom I'd care to call my own.

[Page 61] 

Women do to pass away the time
A ship's in port; but I've forgotten them
Before I'm even out of sight of land.

FIRST SAILOR. And do you think that they forget so soon?

SECOND SAILOR. I know that I have never brought a grief
To any woman born. If I thought otherwise
I should not be so easy in my mind.

FIRST SAILOR. And yet can you be sure?
Women are strange,
More subtle and more complex than a man.

SECOND SAILOR. I've never found that women are so strange,
The ones I've known have all been much the same,
If subtle it's because they act a part,

[Page 62] 

If complex it's because they shun the truth
And seldom speak the thing within their minds.
A man is not so friendly to a lie.

FIRST SAILOR. There is no sin that's blacker than a lie.

SECOND SAILOR. And yet I've known a lie put to good use.

FIRST SAILOR. It's plain to see that you have never known
The evil that may come of lying words.
A lie is just the reason I'm at sea,
Uprooted like a tree that's lost its grip
Upon the soil. A man is not a gull,
A crazy bird enamoured of the foam,
He must sink his roots deep in the earth
Should he desire to prosper and bear fruit.

[Page 63] 

SECOND SAILOR. But some would rather drift until the tide
Washes them up along the unknown shore,
It would be sharp rending at the last
If roots were struck too firmly in the earth.
I would rather roam about the world
Until I furl my sails for that last port . . .
So many men and with so many minds,
And yet each one must go the self-same way . . .
But since you feel like that why stay at sea?

FIRST SAILOR. I never meant to go to sea again;
I am one who likes the feel of walls,
And curtains drawn across the window pane
To keep the dark outside. Such endless space

[Page 64] 

Drives something like a nail into my heart.
Well I remember coming into port
After two weary years upon the sea;
I'd sworn that trip would be the very last
And that I'd never leave my wife again.
I was all eagerness to tell her so
And see the light make stars of her soft eyes.
For it is hard on women marrying men
Whose lives are given over to the sea.
But when I saw her something in me paused,
And I was puzzled, finding her so changed.
For she had been just like a slim green shoot
That strikes up from the earth in early spring,
With tangling hair and childish wondering eyes
That somehow stirred the heart inside a man.
What had worked such wonder in her now
I could not understand.

[Page 65] 

                      Then at our gate
She told me this strange tale.... How one wild night,
A woman came, begging for food and rest,
And on that very night a child was born,
The mother living only till the dawn . . .
And she had kept the infant, and had grown
So fond of it, she could not let it go.

SECOND SAILOR. There's nothing like a child to bring the bloom
Into a woman's face.

FIRST SAILOR. Especially
If it should be her own.

SECOND SAILOR. You think she lied?

FIRST SAILOR. I knew by looking in her face she lied
The blackest lie a woman ever spoke,

[Page 66] 

And that was what I held to be the sin!
For I had lived enough to understand
The ways of men, and she was but a child,
And women are not meant to live alone.
I could have even grown to love the boy
Because he had her eyes and tangling hair,
But it was just the lie . . . that wretched lie,
The crooked evil thing it grew to be,
Just like a serpent living in the house.
Sometimes I thought to strike it on the head
By telling her I knew her tale untrue,
But yet I paused . . . it seemed as though that way
It still would leave its poisoned fangs behind.
I knew that she herself must kill the lie
By speaking truth . . . and this she would not do.

[Page 67] 

SECOND SAILOR. And so you turned for comfort to the sea?

FIRST SAILOR. I came away, hoping that she might learn
To hate the lie herself. I could not stay
And watch my love go crumbling into dust . . .
The little cottage is so fresh and sweet
With its wide porch that faces to the sea,
And there on summer nights the hawthorn scent
Makes all the air taste sweet as honey-comb.
Each window holds its pot of daffodils,
And light sifts golden through the yellow blinds
As though the sun were always in the sky.
The hollyhocks that grow beside the wall
Thrust their pale stems so far into the air

[Page 68] 

That one can scarcely see the road that winds
Down to the harbour just below the hill.
There all day long the ships pass in and out
Ruffling the water of the little bay,
And you can hear the shouts of sailor men
And noise of shipping landing on the quay.
But best I love the windmill on the hill
With its long arms that stretch up to the sky,
Unweariedly reaching out to the stars.

SECOND SAILOR. The pier is shaped just like a sickle moon
Below the lighthouse rock that rears so high
The lamp seems like another blazing star.

FIRST SAILOR. (Not noticing the interruption which seems but a continuation of his own thought.)
The lighthouse is much needed on that coast

[Page 69] 

For there's a dangerous reef outside the bay.

SECOND SAILOR. (His voice strained and intense.)
Tell me . . . is there a pine grove to the north?

FIRST SAILOR. (Dreamily.)
There the pine trees grow so straight and tall
I often think upon a starry night
It's just as if their tips had pierced the sky
To let the light shine through. (Curious.) But you've been there?

SECOND SAILOR. (Striving to appear careless and natural.)
It seems as though I do remember now
A harbour something like you have described,
But I would scarcely know the place again.

FIRST SAILOR. (In a preoccupied tone.)
It's not long now before I shall return

[Page 70] 

But I am filled with such a haunting dread
That she may live for ever with that lie
Upon her heart. Oh, yet I dare to hope,
That some time truth will surely conquer fear,
And she will speak, although she thinks to lose
All, by so doing.

SECOND SAILOR. Then, you live on hope?

FIRST SAILOR. I would not grieve so hardly for her still
Were I not sure that truth was in her heart,
Although so weak and with such unfledged wings.
But fed by tears it will gain strength to rise
Strong winged above her love.
                      Think, man, just think,
What it will mean to know that lie is dead

[Page 71] 

And I may love her as I long to do.
That will be worth my patience all this while.

[He walks slowly down the deck watching a faint flicker of dawn along the horizon, a smile upon his lips.]

SECOND SAILOR. (Leaning on the rail watching the other's retreating figure.)
Life has grown too ironical to-night.


[Page 72] 

RETROSPECT

Can you still remember
How the road wound up the hill,
How the summer dark came thickening
And the moon was a silver quill?
Then our talk would fall to whispers
And our footsteps would be slow,
And the rest of the world was some dozen lights
That trembled far below.


[Page 73] 

PREMONITION

A leaf fell,
A peony bent low on its tired stalk,
Soon the air would be stained with crimson petals;
Terror squeezed my heart,
Are only darkness and light eternal?
Oh, so soon the beauty of wings and petals passes away.
Darkness and light
And the strong, strong cry of the wind,
Are they all that remain?


[Page 74] 

THE MOTHER

A blue night, with stars. Two voices sound through the darkness

THE MAN. You do not listen,
You are far from me to-night as any star
That burns above.

THE WOMAN. I thought I heard a child crying in the night.

THE MAN. Your mind has wings.

THE WOMAN. The night is still again.
Perhaps it was the cry of some small owl
Hidden among the trees.

THE MAN. It is as though you do not find

[Page 75] 

Love is enough to fill your heart.
You are like one going hungry
And craving bread.
Have I not given you all that I promised you?
Love . . . and freedom to seek beauty in the world!
Has love died?
Is there no beauty in the restless seas,
Or in the solemn night?
Are hills just silly pasteboard things
That cannot stir your soul?
To sleep . . . to dream under the stars
With love against your heart,
Is not this enough?

THE WOMAN. Such love as ours has never any ending,
And beauty stirs in me like song.

[Page 76] 

But it is this . . . and this only . . .
That always above the tides of the sea,
The hum of the stars,
The throb of your voice,
Is the sound of a child crying in the night.
Dear . . . I was dazed with passion
And thought that love was all!
But now I know man's love is not enough
For any woman who has borne a child.

Think, dear . . . just think,
If his crushed pillow should be wet to-night
With lonely tears;
Think if they do not feel
The groping of his tender mind,
And thoughts are crushed that rise,
Until it seems that life is just a maze

[Page 77] 

Of inarticulate things.
Think . . . as the years pass on,
And there is no one near to soften
Harshness . . . with understanding.
Think how he will harden towards life,
So as to protect the aching of his heart. . . .

A woman's hunger is not only love,
When she has borne a child!


[Page 78] 

IS IT WELL WITH YOU?

AND is it very well with you,
Who suddenly are grown so wise?
Is laughter shining in your eyes,
And have you found there deep content,
And no undue astonishment?
What of the things you loved and knew,
The sea's white drift; the closing view
Of evening; wind along the hill?
Oh, have you these, and have you still
The intimate red warmth of fires,
Moons, and their reluctant light,
The awful spaciousness of night,

[Page 79] 

Green alley ways where shadows run
To hide from the too constant sun,
And what of all your old desires?
Oh, dear, is it so well with you
That you no longer want for these,
Old sights, old sounds, old memories?

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom