Auguries of Life and Death


The autumn leaves were an augury
And seemed to intend
As they yellowly drooped in the languid air
That life was a fragile mood and death
A tremendous despair.

The yellow leaves fell
Like slow tears of gold on the face of the day:
They fell to the earth with a faint sad sigh.

They sighed
As the feet of the passers-by
Crushed them into the moist black soil:
They sighed when the gentle wind
Lifted them along the way.

In the park
Old men swept the dead things in a heap to burn:
Their last fragrance
Floated about the naked trees.

I thought as the women walked in the moist still day
Wearing yellow chrysanthemums in their coats
A chrysanthemum was
A pale dishevelled emblem of death.

The sun
Was a silver pervasion across the sky:
From the sky
The dead leaves fell.


Some well-meaning fool
called him an unconscious Sidney
proudly dying in the surge of battle.
Many said
he paid the supreme sacrifice. . . .

Let us be frank for once:
Such foisted platitudes
cannot console sick hearts.
Rather this alone is clear:
He was a delightful youth
irradiating joy, peculiarly loved
by hundreds of his fellows.
The impulse of his living
left a wake of laughter
and happiness in the hearts of sad men.

Then this glad progression
is suddenly cut short
We hear
he was killed in action, leading his men. . . .
In a moment that life and its radiance
went out like a blown flame.

No natural logic can explain
that harsh departure and our dark void.
The knotted bitterness grips tight
I curse the fate that sent us
a tortured species down the torrent of life
soul-exposed to insensate shores
and the dark fall of death.

Yet in the scene of life
a consolation I can find.
All things do cry
vain is rebellion.
Is not the gargoyle leer of fate
in all its impassive cruelty
known too well
for any man to rebel?
The tendrils of our intensest emotions
are torn by its inane force
and strewn in bleeding death.
But no devastation can
utterly kill:
in the burnt blackness of earth
built from invisible beginnings
womb-warmth will engender
an animate thing.

So we might make his short delightful life
an instance of those beauties that adorn
tragically the earth with flowers
heroes and valiant hearts.
This flower hold dear
till the years evolve in their callous recession
a memorized beauty.


All the world is wet with tears
and droops its languid life
in sympathy.
But death is beautiful with pride: the trees
are golden lances whose brave array
assails the sadness of the day.
They do not meet
fate with an angry tumult:
Serene they stay
austerely dying day by day:
Their golden lances imperceptibly fade
into the sleep of winter, their victory made
in the hearts of men.
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