"The House of Dust:  A Symphony" by Conrad Aiken

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VII. Porcelain

You see that porcelain ranged there in the window--
Platters and soup-plates done with pale pink rosebuds,
And tiny violets, and wreaths of ivy?
See how the pattern clings to the gleaming edges!
They're works of art--minutely seen and felt,
Each petal done devoutly.  Is it failure
To spend your blood like this?

Study them . . . you will see there, in the porcelain,
If you stare hard enough, a sort of swimming
Of lights and shadows, ghosts within a crystal--
My brain unfolding! There you'll see me sitting
Day after day, close to a certain window,
Looking down, sometimes, to see the people . .

Sometimes my wife comes there to speak to me . . .
Sometimes the grey cat waves his tail around me . . .
Goldfish swim in a bowl, glisten in sunlight,
Dilate to a gorgeous size, blow delicate bubbles,
Drowse among dark green weeds.  On rainy days,
You'll see a gas-light shedding light behind me--
An eye-shade round my forehead.  There I sit,
Twirling the tiny brushes in my paint-cups,
Painting the pale pink rosebuds, minute violets,
Exquisite wreaths of dark green ivy leaves.
On this leaf, goes a dream I dreamed last night
Of two soft-patterned toads--I thought them stones,
Until they hopped!  And then a great black spider,--
Tarantula, perhaps, a hideous thing,--
It crossed the room in one tremendous leap.
Here,--as I coil the stems between two leaves,--
It is as if, dwindling to atomy size,
I cried the secret between two universes . . .
A friend of mine took hasheesh once, and said
Just as he fell asleep he had a dream,--
Though with his eyes wide open,--
And felt, or saw, or knew himself a part
Of marvelous slowly-wreathing intricate patterns,
Plane upon plane, depth upon coiling depth,
Amazing leaves, folding one on another,
Voluted grasses, twists and curves and spirals--
All of it darkly moving . . . as for me,
I need no hasheesh for it--it's too easy!
Soon as I shut my eyes I set out walking
In a monstrous jungle of monstrous pale pink roseleaves,
Violets purple as death, dripping with water,
And ivy-leaves as big as clouds above me.

Here, in a simple pattern of separate violets--
With scalloped edges gilded--here you have me
Thinking of something else.  My wife, you know,--
There's something lacking--force, or will, or passion,
I don't know what it is--and so, sometimes,
When I am tired, or haven't slept three nights,
Or it is cloudy, with low threat of rain,
I get uneasy--just like poplar trees
Ruffling their leaves--and I begin to think
Of poor Pauline, so many years ago,
And that delicious night.  Where is she now?
I meant to write--but she has moved, by this time,
And then, besides, she might find out I'm married.
Well, there is more--I'm getting old and timid--
The years have gnawed my will.  I've lost my nerve!
I never strike out boldly as I used to--
But sit here, painting violets, and remember
That thrilling night.  Photographers, she said,
Asked her to pose for them; her eyes and forehead,--
Dark brown eyes, and a smooth and pallid forehead,--
Were thought so beautiful.--And so they were.
Pauline . . .  These violets are like words remembered . . .
Darling! she whispered . . . Darling! . . . Darling! . . . Darling!
Well, I suppose such days can come but once.
Lord, how happy we were! . . .

Here, if you only knew it, is a story--
Here, in these leaves.  I stopped my work to tell it,
And then, when I had finished, went on thinking:
A man I saw on a train . . .  I was still a boy . . .
Who killed himself by diving against a wall.
Here is a recollection of my wife,
When she was still my sweetheart, years ago.
It's funny how things change,--just change, by growing,
Without an effort . . . And here are trivial things,--
A chill, an errand forgotten, a cut while shaving;
A friend of mine who tells me he is married . . .
Or is that last so trivial?  Well, no matter!

This is the sort of thing you'll see of me,
If you look hard enough.  This, in its way,
Is a kind of fame.  My life arranged before you
In scrolls of leaves, rosebuds, violets, ivy,
Clustered or wreathed on plate and cup and platter . . .
Sometimes, I say, I'm just like John the Baptist--
You have my head before you . . . on a platter.

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