The Retreat

When in some sudden hush of earth
The pulsing rhythm is lost, and I am alone
With all those melancholy forces of the mind
That wait for empty moments, with no sound
Of living things, or vocal throats, or any of the subtle
Crepitations that betray
The sense in things—when in some sudden hush
I fall a victim to the ghouls
I buried years ago in a sepulchre
Of calm amnesia, then once more
I see the screen the years have built
Between this day and the patterns wrought
In love and battle by the ecstatic heart.
Again I strive
To hold the real design of life
Within the intenser
Light of the mind in these moments. I cannot tell
If this calm be illusion; or if
The fiendish days were real.
I know that then I lived
Like the clean movement of a wheel
Flying on so fair an axle that the eye
Can hardly make its motion. The mind was absent then
Or but a mirror, passively receiving
The body's ritual—a body that would glide
On quivering wings, against the sun,

And never note
The world that lay beneath, pensive with agony.
But now, the world is real and calm:
The body lives, a limp container
Of this bounding mind;
And the mind notes the visible world—
How it moves with mechanic evenness,
Dismissing hope and hasty exaltations.
The mind is melancholy, and frets
On all the futile longingness of men,
Their fantasies and thought-selected dreams.
I hold a little to the living earth,
Now so quiescent;
I hold no less to that mental life
I would at least in fancy
Mingle with the base of things—
Not mind and matter, co-distinct
In man alone, or alone in living things,
But a tympanum for the rhythms of ether,
An element
Incarnate in everything. Life is but a lesser lesion
Of this extensive energy, and so life is less
A thing to wonder at and worship—
Is but one mechanism more to manifest the force
Active even in the gulfs of uncreated space.

So let these agonies, wrung from the utterly fragile
Frame of human life, be at rest,
Perspectively doomed and wrought
To the little loudness of an insect's cry.
What matter now
The mind's phantom inquisitors?
What if they unleash the blood-loving hounds
And all the unlimited woes of hate?
These echo faintly in the corridors
Carved cavernously wherever the mind
Looks down into the waste of stars.

Liberty and power, and that light-winged joy
That is the folly of forgetfulness,
These do not come in the unguarded
Moods of quiet. At that time.
The unhealing features of the brain
Revive their dim wounds, to burn, to bleed,
To flow with the lava of thought's lucid pain.

Oh, turn your milk-dim eyes
To outer things! See where a haze
Trembles against the hard horizon,
Quivering in a rhythm that calls to mind
The ultimate harmony of the world!
The same rhythm
Governs the structure of all that's seen
And felt and heard—of all that's known
In the deep percipient heart of man.
This mind alone, like a rock
Rebounding disharmoniously down some precipice
Is carried by unconscious force
Till death give it inertia.

But the same mind has seen
Beauties beyond its reach, perfections
Never to be attain'd. Some state of high serenity
Exists beyond the range
Of fever'd sense.
The starv'd heart sickens
In longingness, and from this sickness
Emerges the troubled drift of men. The past,
Now like a riot of dreamy horror,
Is this heart's sickness, and its diurnal function.

The still day; a river at my feet;
And the yellow leaf that flags
In the calm cincture of the hollow'd bank—
These and all percipient joys,
These are the dreamland state.

We wake to conflict: the mind is in a prison
With a high small window, barr'd against escape.
A decoy of light enters there,
Reminding the tortur'd brain that somewhere unseen
The wide perfection of the sun's way exists.
Beyond time and space there is a beauty
Not to be seized by men in prison, who but languish
In shackles carried from the womb, and worn
Unto the release of death: unto the dark return
Of the world's harmony.
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