The Lament of Saint Denis


I, said the moon, who have been a maiden
worshipp'd of man
am now but a burnish'd emblem
of the sun's span.

But the old witch in me yet
is wooing, wooing.
And mine is the light of day
in this memorial noon.


O hallowed is the moon and holy
A bowl of languish'd fire. The years are cold
Seventy since the sun shone in midnight ecstasy
Seventy and each year shortening towards the noon
And then leaving this everlasting night
With a fitful symbol in the broken sky.


The path is steep
Narrowing between rock walls: an uncapp'd cavern
Where the ledges drip and the anguish'd winds
Woo hollows of eternal woe.
And there a rheumy host of men
Climb burden'd, stumbling in the dark unless
The clouds are torn to let the light
Stray raggedly across the land. Straining thongs
Cut their breasts: breasts will break
And spill their bloody treasure on the rocks
But still the unbroken with their burdens will climb
Between the sheer limits of stone
Into the tempest that gathers
Like a dark crown above the hill.


Their lips
Are held in the tension of lust, and lines
Of unenlighten'd care have cut
Across the mask upon the bone: the bone is fair in man
Only the flesh is false, puckering at the influx of light
In lewd habitual knots of vice.


The bones that dance after death
are very feat, very nice
And the empty box has forgotten
its load of rocking dice.


They have gathered on their backs
Arranged burdens: seventy years
Have sorted out a neat set
Of necessary tools: food for a long march
A blanket for the night, and a burden of unessential things.
All coming to a sea-level, having met there
And having a common journey to make,
They have formed into ranks
With a leader at their head.


At the summit there will be light, or sleep —
At least some release.
But when the sense of labour in limbs had slackened
And they were aware in the dark of a level
And of a bare reach into the sky,
They were still burdened, and in doubt
Whether to descend or wait for a dawn.

But a dawn might be very long
After the slow declension of light.


And then a faint rumour in the night
An approaching murmur of enemies.
Their hearts were suddenly loud in their still bodies
Fluttering wildly within those livid tunicles of flesh.

No radiance of the moon
Came to illustrate their madness,
Only the wind
To incorporate their anguish.

The menace grew louder
And out of the valley rising
Into the night came another host
Clothed in light, with limbs unveiled and free.

Their wan bodies
Contained their light;
No radiance was shed
On rocks or on the opposed throng.

With whirlpool eyes that were innocent
They searched the night,
Eager to find for their intense thoughts
An habitation in light.


When they came into the presence of the silent standing men
When their guiding fingers that should meet wet rocks

Touched warm flesh,
They halted.
And out of the place where they had expected light
Out of the dark well of night
Came the tired voice of an old man:

We hold the way: no other host can pass
Save across our broken limbs, our broken breasts.
We have toiled too long: we can entertain no guest
Save death — death who will deliver us to sleep and rest.

The voice mingled with the wind shrilling in the rocks
And rippled across a bent harvest
Of mute appealing hands.

And then the wind fell to fury.
Vacuous chaos sucked air, spewed the waters of the broken cloud
Against flesh and stone.
The old men cowered under the rocks
Waiting for the end.

But the naked children fled together in their fear.
Too many terrors dwelt in the unseen world.
Inward, in the circle of linked arms,
They could imagine calm.


Out of the storm came a figure carrying its sever'd head
Like a lantern in one hand
And stood between the throngs
And waited till the wind had lost
Its melancholy eloquence, and the dark crown of clouds
Had drifted into the pervious earth.

Then on the distraught scene
The stars and the moon shed a fabulous light
And the head began to speak
Its eyes were covered with deathly lids
And the lips that moved
Were like pale rubber valves
Distended by a wayward pulse.


Think not that I am a storm-quelling spirit
And drive before me all the unorder'd forces of nature.
Rather I am the storm, which, sunk in me
For a while evades your senses.
I was of the lambs of the sacred flock
And honour'd for my death.
But now with a doleful symbol
I come to embody this moment of time.

On this mountain top
I stand where a dark stream of old men
Has met an impediment of light —
A dawn breaking on the southern side
Against the blue northern night.
These old men who have come to meet me here
Are sons of old men, and of old men before,
The living point of all the dark forces of the past.

And these children of light
Are the empty forms winding down to earth
There to receive sight
And objects to their senses.
These two streams cross in me,
Past and future are but two lines
Intersecting at a point: in me.
From this point of time I survey eternity
I am master of all nature and knowledge
And all that exists in time
Moves through me: these fair children
Pass into life, these old bones disintegrate.
And I, in a moment of time,
Include them all;
Yesterday, tomorrow, and today
Are in my single glance
And the embrace of my wither'd arms.
And here in me is the grace of living:
Many changes must I undergo
As these streams give and take
The lanterns of a temporal light.

I am chaos and dark nothingness;
The storm you met on the way
Is now held in me.
In this lightless body,
Uncrowned, ungrac'd, devoid,
The tumult reigns.
In a moment,
In any other moment.
The storm will issue,
The chaos will be without —
In the past and in the future,
Yesterday and tomorrow.

And in that moment I shall stand
In ordain'd radiance.
A visible exaltation shall possess my limbs,
My lips shall be rosy and the porch of life,
And my eyes the light of reason.


riven rocks
eroded plains

anguish'd eyes
hands and lips
entreat in vain

Here is night
fabulous light
of icy stars
owlets screech

Our child is lost
in dream I have seen
a black bat lac'd
to his dead white face.
Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.