Vol 1 No 4
FAUST AND THE DANCERS
I saw their skirts’ inverted petals
All frail and overblown,
Their heads of various shining metals,
Their arms that would have flown
Save for the dovetailed bone.
I saw the tights, chalk-white, unwrinkled,
Full of their fated shapes,
The dark or sparkling beasts’ fur sprinkled
Down deeply-valleyed napes,
The breasts unround as grapes.
I wanted privately to whisper
Their fragile public name,
Become the tease, the pet, the lisper,
Transformer of their shame,
The partner in the game.
Sick of my years’ renunciations,
Pretence of calm at joy
Bequeathed to following generations,
What soul would I destroy
To be again a boy!
Indeed, I deny that soul lives after
The power has gone to bend
These slanting spines beneath one’s laughter
Till dancers all contend
Against the dance’s end.
Standing with girded loins beside
Thalassa, watching in the tide
The bathers white as halibut,
There comes the feeling in the gut
For piteous humanity.
These faces, vulgar, gay, unfree,
These bums divided like a root,
These breasts impossible or cute,
And varied, as signatures, these howls
As from absurd displaying fowls,
Remind me of my superior brain,
My aptness for intenser pain,
And my paralysis before
That bleeding accident, the core
Now I plunge. The cold
Deludes me that I am not old.
The stringy limbs are galvanized
Like one of my own frogs, surprised
By current from the jars, and speed
Through foam, turds, condoms, bootlace weed.
Soon spent, I turn upon my back:
The billows nicely weigh the slack;
Above their syrup greens a slow
Sea-bird, brown-smudged like urban snow,
Sails skies as soft as towelling.
On land again I feel that wing,
The symbol of creative power,
Hang rotting from my neck. The hour
Has come when all philosophies
That seek mysterious unities
Of number, element and force
In stuff of air, star, gold and horse,
And those utopias of rich
Gardener, exiled tsarevich
And moral poetry, are able
No longer to console the fable-
Seeking imagination of
The sensitive, the starved of love.
Now only magic can reverse
The impetus towards the worse
And halt the atom in its rage
To burn the world, bring on old age.
It’s magic that has ravished me.
Study to magic, magic to desire,
And magic is to set me free.
Though haunted by the poetry
That shows the age its mask of ire,
It’s magic that has ravished me.
I serve that plain philosophy
Whose world is merely air, earth, fire —
And magic is to set me free.
In impotent maturity
I see afresh love’s lewd attire:
It’s magic that has ravished me.
Power to transcend the sad toupee,
The miser heart, I shall require.
And magic is to set me free
To range the kingdoms of the sea
And pluck the salt rose from the briar.
It’s magic that has ravished me
And magic is to set me free.
DREAMS IN THE CITY
The luxury of cities prompts
Deluded dreams. Of accumulating
Intaglio rings depicting, say,
The sauromatic virgins or
A tiny priest with golden bough.
Of cornering the market in
Rhinocerous horn or yellow pepper.
Of being done in terre-verte
Or bronze by some heroic artist.
Of selling against the frightful future
Or buying against the certainty
Of the exploiters’ immortality.
Fluently I write astounding words:
The force that bends missiles to the brain
Equals the wave that pulls maroon
And brown from the uncoloured moth;
And all this substance of the world
Was not created, yet lacked being
Before it flew away as stars.
Or: Faust abducted from her Duke
The grave clever beauty, starved of love.
In certain streets there seems to be
A scattering in the air — not starlings
Or dust or abandoned wrappings but
The very sordidness of the city,
Though here might stand the famous piles
I long to inhabit in the roles
That need a purple wig or huge
Cuirass with simulated paps.
But in dreams I feel myself at one
With my times and think it no disgrace
To share the lust for the principate;
And after all what great quintets
Were written for the viola-playing king!
Besides, the status quo can only
Be altered by devout ascetics
Independent of the enormously
Expensive life of cities
Where under awnings metal ticks
On porcelain through the general sound
Of laughter, wheels and wheeling birds.
And yet how fresh the air in gardens
Whose boundaries heraldic cats
And through whose trees there sometimes thread
Dead boughs whose canvas gently bears
Poppy and muskets to the heart!
Fresh on the skin, that envelope
Bulging with emotion, truly fresh,
So that with curiosity and passion
I watch the chalked and empty crescent
Fill slowly with golden light,
As though its meaning had been devised
By man — ‘A good evening for verse
Or love or happiness or money’ —
And not, as it is, an eye that sees
Even the disasters of its own
Order with complete indifference —
As: the collision of galaxies;
Life starting on primeval shores.
In the Wolf’s Glen the seventh bullet
Killed a pale deer with flaxen hair.
The portents are sufficiently grisly,
No doubt, for all who sell their souls.
I hear a terrifying aria;
Flames send their giant shadows on
Tawdry and flimsy scenery.
Human ambition elevates
The humble, introspective self
To unimaginable cruces;
Where citizens actually see approach
The flat-nosed riders of the steppe.
Can I be that improbable
Singer, this the unlikely song?
I’m quite the opposite of my clever master.
He’s at his books all day, I spy on ladies
And think of naught but filth, though there’s no faster
Road for a chap to Hades.
I wish I had his brains to take my mind
Off of the feminine anatomy.
He reads at Greek and Latin till he’s blind,
Doesn’t see the things I see.
Today the girls seem bigger there than ever:
Not that I ask for anything so young.
It’s just I find it hard that I shall never
Again slip home the bung.
A widow thirtyfive or so would do —
But what’s the use of dreaming when my chin
Says to my nose ‘How are you?’ as I chew,
And buttocks are so thin.
When bladder gets me up at four I’d give
My soul for sweeter breath and tighter pills,
And sometimes for a second really live
With magic’s miracles.
JOTTINGS OF FAUST
Assuming spectacles enables me
Better to eye the pulchritude of girls;
But joy is dulled by realizing that they see
In turn an ageing man in spectacles.
Straight from my study’s stupor I awoke;
Walked through the curtains to the dazzling sky;
Saw on a flower a frightening butterfly —
A long-horned devil in a battered cloak.
A thought occurs to me
As I comb my hair and see
The pistils at my crown
Of silver in the brown.
Not the familiar one
Of what the years have done;
Not terror nor regret
At all this coronet
Announces; but a quite
Impersonal sense of white
And coarse in common fate
With soft and chocolate —
Some creature of the snows
And mould that briskly goes
Before the aiming guns —
The sense of how life runs
In harness with another,
Its pale and powerful brother.
The fountains only play
On Wednesday and Saturday,
But the momentary spray
Is caught by the camera
Of the lucky visitor,
Which also records the blur
Of Faust crossing the square,
To puzzle the developer:
‘Who is the figure there,
That with ambiguous mission
Ruins the composition
Of the dolphins’ ammunition
Against the sea nymph’s arse?’
— A dweller in this farce
Of myth that will never pass.
That humans should engender ivory
Is Faust’s, to him, surprising reverie
As magical day ends and through the dusk
Light gleams on Helen’s even little tusk.
It staggers me to find between her thighs
The gold that struck me with such awe when first
I saw it like a halo round her head.
That I am kneeling here, that from her rise
The imperfections that make passion cursed,
That all the Grecian and the Trojan dead
Are dead indeed, that now I must despise
The breathing wish that from my old age burst
And stretched itself upon the crumpled bed,
That youth and lust are lies and are not lies,
That no man who’s alive has met the worst —
These propositions fill my heart with dread,
Pressed though it is upon a breast whose guise
Was fashioned by a swan, himself immersed
In love profane, by human nymph misled.
QUESTIONS TO MEPHISTOPHELES
‘Why did I choose this trivial shape,’ you ask —
‘The rouge, the plumpness and the mincing gait?’
I answer: is it not appropriate
For one whose Master laid on him the task
Of undertaking that the Paphian flask
And the Circassian dancing girl await
The soul’s vendor? Besides, one can’t equate
The real me with any human mask.
I mean, think how God’s hate must change the entire
Expression, serving Satan hump the back;
Imagine further how the holocaust
Of hell dries up the flesh, that devils lack,
Like angels, sex and therefore must perspire
In vile self-love. Perhaps imagine Faust.
‘If Mephistopheles in serving Faust
Can bring on dancing girls and get him soused,
Why doesn’t Mephistopheles thus serve
Himself?’ It’s not that I haven’t got the nerve,
And obviously not because I think
There’s any turpitude in sex and drink.
Why then? Remember that my former state
Was perfect innocence, without desire
Except to praise my God. Then came the dire
Notion He fell in love with to create
A being of moral cowardice and great
Pudenda. From that time His angel choir
— Thirst still unknown to them, groins still entire —
Were set to shaping man’s disgusting fate.
He didn’t talk of love at first,
But all he’d read and thought about.
A blackbird sang as though she’d burst,
And then the rosy sun went out.
It still was sultry in the garden,
And when at last he took my hand
I thought I’d have to ask his pardon
For sweating, burning, like a brand.
He told me I was innocent
And very beautiful and young,
But his best flattery wasn’t meant —
Being the seriousness of his tongue.
He asked to kiss me. Oh I gave
My lips to him with all my heart.
Close to my ear I heard his grave
Voice vow that we should never part.
And when he gently went to lift
My breast, my only qualm at all
Was that he should regard my gift
As too ridiculously small.
This was not like those other cases
When boys have fumbled, brawny, red,
And I’ve stared at their indrawn faces
A puzzled breath before I fled.
Though as he slid beneath my skirt
My voice cried ‘No’ and ‘No’ once more
When staggeringly his hand begirt
What had been only mine before.
How could he like what I myself
Had, save for nature, quite ignored:
The part thrust on me by some elf
Forgotten at my christening board?
I’d put on new the drawers that fashion
Decreed that smart girls ought to wear.
They were not meant to rouse his passion
But to make ugliness lovely there.
He never saw their style or hue,
For with a surgeon’s deft dispatch
He bent me to the pose he knew
Would let him make the outrageous scratch.
And in a moment all was done:
The pain, the dagger’s bulk and range;
And the assassin looked upon
His murder’s mess, emotion’s change.
His love was gone: I said as much.
Again his hands sought out their goal.
He said: ‘To have the right to touch
You there I’ve given up my soul.
‘Perhaps it was precisely this
Was lacking as we closely fought,
I might have pressed a father’s kiss
On one more guilty than she thought.
‘And need not have exchanged for love
What lives on love’s renunciation,
But shared with you the burden of
The cries of human tribulation.’
A reckless use of fur and cloth of gold,
Wastage of peacocks, boars and apple fool,
Enormous men with hired tights and pig
Eyes who surround descending princes,
Bargaining at impossible hours amid
Small tipsy trebles and Mongolian
Acrobats — this is how fate is ordered through
The world’s inhabited and cultured regions.
At such a weighty congress Faust arrives —
Another wizard (though a famous one)
Among decipherers and economists
And experts in the ailments of old men.
Having passed all his life through want and wars,
Innumerable wrong decisions, tyrannies,
And bluff field-marshals, he has always dreamed
Of finding a second youth and reckless power.
Two or three kings are playing in the garden
With variable skill at cup and ball.
‘Peru, this is the celebrated Faust . . .’
‘How interesting to meet a real magician . . .’
‘Do you read palms or entrails?’ ‘What success
In the alchemic line?’ The trumpet sounds.
All pass into the specially-built hail
Which cost ten architects and many masons.
Platoons of pallid secretaries surround
Each place, at which are set the texts of long
Insulting speeches. The morning’s business starts.
‘Before we can permit our boiling oil
To cool we must be sure your catapults
Are pointing from our frontiers.’ ‘If your spies
Disguise themselves as dervishes, our kites
Will tumble fire-balls on your mausoleums.’
Faust makes himself invisible and gives
The Duke of Seville a buffet on the ear.
This potentate turns to his deadly foe, the Grand
Mufti, and dabs him with his withered arm
And overturns that paralytic Turk,
Whose allies, rushing for the door, collide
With the false friends of Spain. Thrombosis, rupture,
Incontinence of urine, rife in the hall!
Then Faust ignites some Chinese crackers, which
Explode among a group of experts in
Fearsome ballistics. They take flight. And soon
The georgeous chariots and litters move
Along the dusty roadways of the world.
Faust is alone, and dares the planet’s wars
To wound him more than his unease of soul,
Gazing upon the empty towers of man.
The lid is taken off the flames of hell,
An angel chorus opens in the sky,
Its fatal twelve the clock begins to tell,
Power and ambition see that they must die,
Irrelevant love is weeping where she fell
And Faust prepares to act the final lie.
Faust’s life before the Change was all a lie:
To him the world about as bad as hell
Appeared, since he unduly feared its fell
Rulers, and he was quite prepared to die
Could the affair be painless. In the sky
There was no father he might kiss and tell.
The only good, so far as he could tell,
Was to find pretty girls with whom to lie,
But him they saw as one about to die.
To have your thoughts on earth is perfect hell
When earth imagines that they’re on the sky.
No wonder, tempted slightly, that he fell.
With profile, wealth and vigour, it befell
That his great moving moment was to tell
A simple girl that pie lurked in the sky.
And when this specious statement proved a lie
And he had left her to reside in hell,
He thought he’d find it easy just to die.
But see, the moment comes when he must die.
The pit appears in which the angels fell.
At last he truly grasps the idea of hell —
Despite his past, before he could not tell
Precisely how existence was a lie
Measured against the spite of earth and sky.
Is he by love, or something from the sky,
To be redeemed and never really die;
Or is the optimistic art a lie?
— Faust being right when in his grizzled fell,
Immured among his books, he used to tell
His fellow humans human life was hell.
Hell! a great legend spreads across the sky:
‘Tell Faust he’s dead but shall not ever die.’
Fell Gods sustained by weak men rarely lie.
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