DISCORDANTS Poem By Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

VERMILIONED mouth, tired with many kisses,
Eyes, that have lighted for so many eyes,–
Are you not weary yet with countless lovers,
Desirous now to take even me for prize?

Draw not my glance, nor set my sick heart beating,–
Body so stripped, for all your silks and lace.
Do not reach out pale hands to me, seductive,
Nor slant sly eyes, O subtly smiling face.

For I am drawn to you, like wind I follow,
Like a warm amorous wind … though I desire
Even in dream to keep one face before me,
One face like fire, and holier than fire.

I walk beneath these trees, and in this darkness
Muse beyond seas of her from whom I came,
While you, with catlike step, steal close beside me,
Spreading your perfume round me like soft flame.

Ah! should I once stoop face and forehead to you,
Into and through your sweetness, a night like this,
In the lime-blossomed darkness feel your bosom,
Warm and so soft, and find your lips to kiss.

And tear at your strange flesh with crazy fingers,
And drink with mouth gone mad your eyes’ wild wine,
And cleave to you, body with breathless body,
Till bestial were exalted to divine,–

Would I again, O lamia silked and scented,
Out of the slumberous magic of your eyes,
And your narcotic perfume, soft and febrile,
Have the romantic hardihood to rise,

And set my heart across great seas of distance
With love unsullied for her from whom I came?–
With catlike step you steal beside me, past me,
Leaving your perfume round me like soft flame.

EVENSONG Poem By Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

IN the pale mauve twilight, streaked with orange,
Exquisitely sweet,–
She leaned upon her balcony and looked across the street;
And across the huddled roofs of the misty city,
Across the hills of tenements, so gray,
She looked into the west with a young and infinite pity,
With a young and wistful pity, as if to say
The dark was coming, and irresistible night,
Which man would attempt to meet
With here and there a little flickering light. . . .
The orange faded, the housetops all were black,
And a strange and beautiful quiet
Came unexpected, came exquisitely sweet,
On market-place and street;
And where were lately crowds and sounds and riot
Was a gentle blowing of wind, a murmur of leaves,
A single step, or voice, and under the eaves
The scrambling of sparrows; and then the hush swept back.


She leaned upon her balcony, in the darkness,
Folding her hands beneath her chin;
And watched the lamps begin
Here and there to pierce like eyes the darkness,–
From windows, luminous rooms,
And from the damp dark street
Between the moving branches, and the leaves with rain still sweet.
It was strange: the leaves thus seen,
With the lamplight’s cold bright glare thrown up among them,–
The restless maple leaves,
Twinkling their myriad shadows beneath the eaves,–
Were lovelier, almost, than with sunlight on them,
So bright they were with young translucent green;
Were lovelier, almost, than with moonlight on them. . . .
And looking so wistfully across the city,
With such a young, and wise, and infinite pity
For the girl who had no lover
To walk with her along a street like this,
With slow steps in the rain, both aching for a kiss,–
It seemed as if all evenings were the same,
As if all evenings came
With just such tragic peacefulness as this;
With just such hint of loneliness or pain,
The quiet after rain.


Would her lover, then, grow old sooner than she,
And find a night like this too damp to walk?
Would he prefer to stay indoors and talk,
Or read the evening paper, while she sewed, or darned a sock,
And listened to the ticking of the clock:
Would he prefer it to lamplight on a tree?
Would he be old and tired,
And, having all the comforts he desired,
Take no interest in the twilight coming down
So beautifully and quietly on the town?
Would her lover, then, grow old sooner than she?


A neighbor started singing, singing a child to sleep.
It was strange: a song thus heard,–
In the misty evening, after an afternoon of rain,–
Seemed more beautiful than happiness, more beautiful than pain,
Seemed to escape the music and the word,
Only, somehow, to keep
A warmth that was lovelier than the song of any bird.
Was it because it came up through this tree,
Through the lucent leaves that twinkled on this tree,
With the bright lamp there beneath them in the street?
It was exquisitely sweet:
So unaffected, so unconscious that it was heard.
Or was it because she looked across the city,
Across the hills of tenements, so black,
And thought of all the mothers with a young and infinite pity? . . .
The child had fallen asleep, the hush swept back,
The leaves hung lifeless on the tree.


It was too bad the sky was dark.
A cat came slinking close along the wall.
For the moon was full just now, and in the park,
If the sky were clear at all,
The lovers upon the moonlight grass would sprawl,
And whisper in the shadows, and laugh, and there
She would be going, maybe, with a white rose in her hair . . .
But would youth at last grow weary of these things,
Of the ribbons and the laces,
And the latest way of putting up one’s hair?
Would she no longer care,
In that undiscovered future of recurring springs,
If, growing old and plain, she no longer turned the faces
And saw the people stare?
Would she hear music and not yearn
To take her lover’s arm for one more turn? . . .
The leaves hung breathless on the dripping maple tree,
The man across the street was going out.
It was the evening made her think such things, no doubt.
But would her lover grow old sooner than she? . . .
Only the evening made her think such things, no doubt. . . .


And yet, and yet,–
Seeing the tired city, and the trees so still and wet,–
It seemed as if all evenings were the same;
As if all evenings came,
Despite her smile at thinking of a kiss,
With just such tragic peacefulness as this;
With just such hint of loneliness or pain;
The perfect quiet that comes after rain.

MORNING SONG OF SENLIN,(from “Senlin, A Biography”) by: Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

IT is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Vine leaves tap my window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
How small and white my face!–
The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
And bathes in a flame of space.
There are houses hanging above the stars
And stars hung under a sea. . .
And a sun far off in a shell of silence
Dapples my walls for me. . .

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
Should I not pause in the light to remember God?
Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
To him alone, and for him I will comb my hair.
Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence!
I will think of you as I descend the stair.

Vine leaves tap my window,
The snail-track shines on the stones,
Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree
Repeating two clear tones.

It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening,
I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
Unconcerned, I tie my tie.

There are horses neighing on far-off hills
Tossing their long white manes,
And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
Their shoulders black with rains. . .

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And surprise my soul once more;
The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
There are suns beneath my floor. . .

. . . It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
And depart on the winds of space for I know not where,
My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
And a god among the stars; and I will go
Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
And humming a tune I know. . .

Vine-leaves tap at the window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

RED IS THE COLOR OF BLOOD Poem By Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

RED is the color of blood, and I will seek it:
I have sought it in the grass.
It is the color of steep sun seen through eyelids.

It is hidden under the suave flesh of women–
Flows there, quietly flows.
It mounts from the heart to the temples, the singing mouth–
As cold sap climbs to the rose.
I am confused in webs and knots of scarlet
Spun from the darkness;
Or shuttled from the mouths of thirsty spiders.

Madness for red! I devour the leaves of autumn.
I tire of the green of the world.
I am myself a mouth for blood …

Here, in the golden haze of the late slant sun,
Let us walk, with the light in our eyes,
To a single bench from the outset predetermined.
Look: there are seagulls in these city skies,
Kindled against the blue.
But I do not think of the seagulls, I think of you.

Your eyes, with the late sun in them,
Are like blue pools dazzled with yellow petals.
This pale green suits them well.

Here is your finger, with an emerald on it:
The one I gave you. I say these things politely–
But what I think beneath them, who can tell?

For I think of you, crumpled against a whiteness;
Flayed and torn, with a dulled face.
I think of you, writing, a thing of scarlet,
And myself, rising red from that embrace.

November sun is sunlight poured through honey:
Old things, in such a light, grow subtle and fine.
Bare oaks are like still fire.
Talk to me: now we drink the evening’s wine.
Look, how our shadows creep along the grave!–
And this way, how the gravel begins to shine!

This is the time of day for recollections,
For sentimental regrets, oblique allusions,
Rose-leaves, shrivelled in a musty jar.
Scatter them to the wind! There are tempests coming.
It is dark, with a windy star.

If human mouths were really roses, my dear,–
(Why must we link things so?–)
I would tear yours petal by petal with slow murder.
I would pluck the stamens, the pistils,
The gold and the green,–
Spreading the subtle sweetness that was your breath
On a cold wave of death….

Now let us walk back, slowly, as we came.
We will light the room with candles; they may shine
Like rows of yellow eyes.
Your hair is like spun fire, by candle-flame.
You smile at me–say nothing. You are wise.

For I think of you, flung down brutal darkness;
Crushed and red, with pale face.
I think of you, with your hair disordered and dripping.
And myself, rising red from that embrace.

ZUDORA (from “Turns and Movies”) by: Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

HERE on the pale beach, in the darkness;
With the full moon just to rise;
They sit alone, and look over the sea,
Or into each other’s eyes. . .

She pokes her parasol into the sleepy sand,
Or sifts the lazy whiteness through her hand.

‘A lovely night,’ he says, ‘the moon,
Comes up for you and me.
Just like a blind old spotlight there,
Fizzing across the sea!’

She pays no heed, nor even turns her head:
He slides his arm around her waist instead.

‘Why don’t we do a sketch together–
Those songs you sing are swell.
Where did you get them, anyway?
They suit you awfully well.’

She will not turn to him–will not resist.
Impassive, she submits to being kissed.

‘My husband wrote all four of them.
You know,–my husband drowned.
He was always sickly, soon depressed. . .’
But still she hears the sound

Of a stateroom door shut hard, and footsteps going
Swiftly and steadily, and the dark sea flowing.

She hears the dark sea flowing, and sees his eyes
Hollow with disenchantment, sick surprise,–

And hate of her whom he had loved too well. . .
She lowers her eyes, demurely prods a shell.

‘Yes. We might do an act together.
That would be very nice.’
He kisses her passionately, and thinks
She’s carnal, but cold as ice.

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