The house of the governors, guarded by eunuchs,
and over the arch of the gate
these words engraved:
He who Impugns the Usurers Imperils
Within the gates the retinue of evil,
the instruments of the governors:
scabs picked from the body of the enslaved,
well-paid captains and corporals
in the army of privilege
taking the bread of tyranny, wearing
the livery of extortion; and those who keep
the records of decay,
statisticians and archivists,
turning the leaves with cold hands, computing
our ruin on scented cuffs.
For the enslaved, the treadmill;
the office and adoration
of the grindstone god;
the apotheosis of the means,
the defiling of the end;
the debasement of the host
of the living; the celebration
of the black mass that casts
the shadow of a red mass.
Backblock camps for the outcast, the superfluous,
reading back-date magazines, rolling cheap cigarettes,
witnesses to the constriction of life essential
to the maintenance of the rate of profit
as distinct from the gross increment of wealth.
In vicarage and manse
love is loose-lipped and flaps its feathers,
its talk is full of ifs and whethers,
spume of futility blown
from raging seas of sin
that lift and heave in the gales of chance,
beatified Nature, unhindered circumstance.
The Church Hesitant seeks for balm
in sunlit studies, a chatter of talk,
dead prayers and spurious calm:
and the dog-days claim for their own
the theological bone
the cracked and bitten shin
that can crawl but cannot walk.
In the suburbs the spirit of man
walks on the garden path,
walks on the well-groomed lawn, dwells
among the manicured shrubs.
The variegated hedge encircles life.
In the countryside, in shire and county,
the abode of wind and sun, where clouds trample the sky
and hills are stretched like arms heaped up with bounty,
in the countryside the land is
the space between the barbed wire fences,
mortgaged in bitterness measured in sweated butterfat.
In this air the idea dies;
or spreads like plague; emotion runs
undammed, its limits vague,
its flush disastrous as the rolling floods,
the swollen river's rush; or dries
to a thin trickle, lies
in flat pools where swarms of flies
clouding the stagnant brim
breed from thick water, clustered slime.
Gross greed, mated with fear,
that feeds on the bread
of children, buying reprieve
with philanthropic pence, making profession
of charity: the pitiful cunning of the depraved.
Small greed, the starveling weed
that grows in desperate soil
in the hearts of the enslaved,
hugging a bitten crust
with the closeness of a trust
clinging to an oil concession.
The press: slow dripping of water on mud;
thought's daily bagwash, ironing out opinion,
scarifying the edges of ideas.
And the hirelings; caught young;
the bough bent and twisted
to the shape of evil; tending the oaf
who by accident of birth has property
in the public conscience, a 'moulder of opinion';
turning misshapen vessels, and jars for subtle poisons;
insulated against discontent
born dumb and tractable, swift to disremember
the waif, and the hurt eyes of the passing stranger,
and the statistics of those who killed themselves
or were confined in asylums for the insane.
And the proletarian animal,
product of perversion and source of profit,
with a net paid circulation of a million,
and many unsold, or lying about the streets
bearing the marks of boot-protectors;
a crucified ape, preached by Darwinian bishops,
guarded by traitorous pens, handed the vinegar
of a 'belief in the essential goodness of human nature'.
The army of the unliving, the cells of the cancer:
small sleek men rubbing their hands in vestibules,
re-lighting cigar-butts, changing their religions;
dabblers in expertise, licensed to experiment
on the vile body of the State; promoters of companies;
efficiency experts (unearned excrement
of older lands, oranges sucked dry),
scourges of a kindly and credulous race;
economists, masters of dead language;
sorners, bureausites; titled upstarts; men
with dry palms and a sense of humour; hagglers, hucksters,
buyers and sellers, retchings
of commerce, spawn of greed; holders of mortgages
on slum farms where children milk
with chilblained fingers; dwellers
in warm, rich flats, forced growth of luscious weed;
old wealthy women, buyers of etchings, fondlers
of dogs, holders of stocks
in sweatshops where the young virgins,
the daughters of the poor,
housed with machines endure the hands of clocks;
councillors and legislators,
toads in plush;
octogenarians who have forgotten
the heat of their youth, giving the sadic twist
to laws of marriage and divorcement, obtruding
the rancour of a swollen prostate,
the jealousy of a withered scrotum,
upon the affairs of springtime;
and those who embrace their misery
in small closed rooms,
sucking carious teeth, sniffing
the odour of themselves, gentlemen's relish:
'You must not confiscate our sufferings,
they are private poetry.'
Above the city's heap, life's bones
licked clean, void of desire,
white clouds like images of fear
move in the barren blue; the sun's cold fire
shines in the infinite crystal
the ghastly clear
frozen emptiness of air
and formless being above the walls,
beyond the concrete edges of despair.
A death has been arranged and will take place
none knows where or when, none cares
how soon the wind will whisper 'Soon, soon,'
shaking the dead leaves in the city square
at noon, in darkening air.
This is our paper city, built
on the rock of debt, held fast
against all winds by the paperweight of debt.
The crowds file slowly past, or stop and stare,
and here and there, dull-eyed, the idle stand
in clusters in the mouths of gramophone shops
in a blare of music that fills the crumpled air
with paper flowers and artificial scents
and painless passion in a heaven
of fancied love.
The women come
from the bargain shops and basements
at dusk, as gazelles from drinking;
the men buy evening papers, scan them
for news of doomsday, light their pipes:
and the night sky, closing over, covers like a hand
the barbaric yawn of a young and wrinkled land.
Men and women, hands and faces; a nation established
by statute-makers, geographers, census-takers;
living like fleas in surface dust;
grist for the system, multiplying souls
in the jaws of chaos.
The living saddled with debt. A load of debt for the fœtus.
A load laid by for the moment of delight
hidden in the future, yet to be made flesh,
trapped in the net of statistical laws, caught
in the calculations of the actuaries.
And over all the hand of the usurer,
bland angel of darkness,
mild and triumphant and much looked up to.
In the first days, in the forgotten calendars,
came the seeds of the race, the forerunners:
offshoots, outcasts, entrepreneurs,
architects of Empire, romantic adventurers;
and the famished, the multitude of the poor;
crossed parallels of boredom, tropics
of hope and fear, losing the pole-star, suffering
world of water, chaos of wind and sunlight,
and the formless image in the mind;
sailed under Capricorn to see for ever
the arc of the sun to northward.
They shouted at the floating leaf,
laughed with joy at the promise of life,
hope becoming belief, springing
alive, alight, gulls at the masthead crying,
the crag splitting the sky, slowly
towering out of the sea, taking
colour and shape, and the land
swelling beyond; noises
of water among rocks, voices singing.
Haven of hunger; landfall of hope;
goal of ambition, greed and despair.
In tangled forests under the gloom
of leaves in the green twilight,
among the habitations of the older gods
they walked, with Christ beside them,
and an old enemy at hand, one whose creed
flourished in virgin earth. They divided the land;
some for their need, and some
for aimless, customary greed
that hardened with the years, grew taut
and knotted like a fist. Flower and weed
page 22 scattered upon the breeze
their indiscriminate seed; on every hillside fought
God's love against the old antagonist.
They change the sky but not their hearts who cross the seas.
the remnant peaks of a lost continent,
roof of an old world, molten droppings
from earth's bowels, gone cold;
ribbed with rock, resisting the sea's corrosion
for an age, and an age to come. Of three races
the home: two passing in conquest
or sitting under the leaves, or on shady doorsteps
with quiet hands, in old age, childless.
And we, the latest: their blood on our hands: scions
of men who scaled ambition's
tottering slopes, whose desires
encompassed earth and heaven: we have prospered greatly,
we, the destined race, rulers of conquered isles,
sprouting like bulbs in warm darkness, putting out
white shoots under the wet sack of Empire.
A girl comes out of a doorway in the morning
with hair uncombed, treading with care
on the damp bricks, picks up the milk,
stares skyward with sleepy eyes;
returns to the dewy step; leaves
with the closing of the door
silence under narrow eaves
the tragic scent of violets on the morning air
and jonquils thrust through bare earth here and there.
At ten o'clock a woman comes out
and leans against the wall
beside the fig-tree hung with washing; listens
for the postman's whistle. Soon he passes,
leaves no letter.
She turns a shirt upon the barren tree
and pads back to the house as ghost to tomb.
page 23 No children since the first. The room
papered in 'Stars', with Jubilee pictures
pasted over the mantel, spattered with fat.
Up the street
the taxi-drivers lounging in a knot
beside the rank of shining cars
discuss the speed of horses
as mariners the stars in their courses.
One Race, One Flag
a refugee from the Black Country
suffers the insults of the foreman
that his family may live
in the discomfort to which they are accustomed
with deductions by the Commissioner of Taxes.
Smith has four sons,
hands-in-pockets, fronting chaos;
limbs of a ring-barked tree, losing sap.
Smith is an English immigrant.
Consider the curious fate
of the English immigrant:
his wages were taken from him
and exported to the colonies;
sated with abstinence, gorged on deprivation,
he followed them: to be confronted on arrival
with the ghost of his back wages, a load of debt;
the bond of kinship, the heritage of Empire.
After the benediction and the confetti,
the photographer's parlour, the cakes and lemonade,
the bridegroom, 33, Christ's age crucified,
clerk in a bank
standing beside the bride and her best friend
discussing the beauty of the ceremony
with nervous voices, words packed in politeness
of sawdust, glumly awaiting
the nuptial taxi:
married so late they should have had many dreams,
midnight illusion, habitual fantasy: waking
not from the beauty and torpor of a dream in spring
to halcyon dawn, soft warmth of living blood,
love's aftermath in the hollow of a shoulder,
but from the excited nightmare of the self-cheated.
She, the friend, member of a literary circle,
sniggers and spreads her claws: At what hotel
do you intend to Stope for your honeymoon, te-he?
He, tapping his cigarette: No children for us
until the Budget is balanced. God save the King.
Our credit holds, the chain is long;
but the faithful hound has a name upon its collar;
our gold was shipped away to prop
the pound against the dollar.
We are the Empire's Junior Partner
and we have no gold:
what shall we do in the day when we shall be asked for?
Nothing. We shall not be asked. We shall be told.
In George's byeblow kingdom,
born of two worlds, in sin,
Hollywood, Lombard Street, we pray
for the fabled birth of a nation.
page 25 When do the pains set in?
When do the pangs begin?
When does the band begin to play,
and the trumpet sound in the street?
When the holders of private property
have property in privation.
'We're tired of these old geezers.'
'What we need is a Dictator.' (First the Republic,
and then the Caesars; and then the man-gods,
the Deified Emperors). 'Hitler as God.'
'Hitler Has a Double: Threat of Assassination.'
(Somewhere in the vicinity
of the Holy Trinity).
'The Picture of the Century: Birth of a Nation.'
Surgeon, see your knife is keen,
sharpen it up
on the Rotary strop
or on the leathery buttocks of Big Business.
Rome was not built in a day, but the break-up gang
had a soft job and good pay.
Romulus and Remus, twins born
of an old Liberal family,
were nice children, with chubby hands
and faces, and sweet dispositions.
When they grew a little older
they had aspirations, they found God
in strange places, in ductless glands,
daisies, and setting suns. They were very friendly
with God, who gave them a gun
and a scooter when they were young, and later
used to back their bills for them.
Romulus and Remus
won several prizes in the Sunday School;
they were nice children, but the neighbours used to say
(a bit after this) what a pity it was
they were suckled by a wolf.
On my land grew a green tree
that gave shade to the weary,
peace to my children, rest to the travel-stained;
and the waters ran beneath, the river of life.
My people drank of the waters after their labour,
had comfort of the tree in the heat of noon,
lying in summer grass ringed round with milk-white flowers,
gathering strength, giving their bodies
to the motion of the earth.
I cut down the tree, and made posts
and fenced my land,
I banished my people and turned away the traveller;
and now I share my land with sparrows that trespass
upon my rood of air. The earth
is barren, the stream is dry; the sun has blackened
grass that was green and springing, flowers that were fair.
Conversation in the Bush
'Observe the young and tender frond
'of this punga: shaped and curved
'like the scroll of a fiddle: fit instrument
'to play archaic tunes.'
'the shape of a coiled spring.'
In the summer we rode in the clay country,
the road before us trembling in the heat
and on the warm wind the scent of tea-tree,
grey and wind-bitten in winter, odorous under summer noon,
with spurts of dust under the hoofs
and a crackle of gorse on the wayside farms.
At dusk the sun fell down in violet hills
and evening came and we turned our horses
homeward through dewy air.
In autumn, kindness of earth, covering life,
peace of mind, and time to think;
good fishing, and burdened orchards. Winter come,
headlands loomed in mist,
hills were hailswept, flowers were few;
and when we rode on the mountains in frosty weather
the distant ranges ran like blue veins through the land.
In spring we thrust our way through the bush,
through the ferns in the deep shadow angled with sunbeams,
roamed by streams in the bush, by the scarred stones
and the smooth stones water-worn, our shoulders wet
with rain from the shaken leaves.
O lovely time! when bliss was taken
as the bird takes nectar from the flower.
Happy the sunlit hour, the frost and the heat.
Hearts poised at a star's height
moved in a cloudless world
like gulls afloat above islands.
Smoke out of Europe, death blown
on the wind, and a cloak of darkness for the spirit.
Land of mountains and running water
rocks and flowers
and the leafy evergreen, O natal earth,
the atoms of your children
are bonded to you for ever:
though the images of your beauty lie in shadow,
time nor treachery, nor the regnant evil,
shall efface from the hearts of your children
from their eyes and from their fingertips
the remembrance of good.
Treading your hills, drinking your waters,
touching your greenness, they are content, finding
peace at the heart of strife
and a core of stillness in the whirlwind.
Absent, estranged from you, they are unhappy,
crying for you continually
in the night of their exile.
To prosper in a strange land
taking cocktails at twilight behind the hotel curtains,
buying cheap and selling dear, acquiring customs,
is to bob up and down like a fisherman's gaudy float
in a swift river.
He who comes back returns
to no ruin of gold nor riot of buds,
moan of doves in falling woods
nor wind of spring shaking the hedgerows,
heartsache, strangling sweetness: pictures
of change, extremes of time and growth,
making razor-sharp the tenses,
waking remembrance, torturing sense;
home-coming, returns only
to the dull green, hider of bones,
changeless, save in the slight spring
when the bush is peopled with flowers,
sparse clusters of white and yellow
on the dull green, like laughter in court;
and in summer when the coasts
bear crimson bloom, sprinkled like blood
on the lintel of the land.
fount of life, giver of bodies,
deep well of our delight, breath of desire,
let us come to you
barefoot, as befits love,
as the boy to the trembling girl,
as the child to the mother:
seeking before all things the honesty of substance,
touch of soil and wind and rock,
frost and flower and water,
the honey of the senses, the food
of love's imagining; and the most intimate
touch of love, that turns to being;
deriving wisdom, and the knowledge of necessity;
building thereon, stone by stone,
the rational architecture of truth, to house
the holy flame, that is neither reason nor unreason
but the thing given,
the flame that burns blue in the stillness, hovering
between the green wood of the flesh and the smoke of death.
Fair earth, we have broken our idols:
and after the days of fire we shall come to you
for the stones of a new temple.
A—Our acts and torments are made meaningless.
B—They have cheated us even of tragedy.
A— Yet we have known
the limits of the mind's recession; have had
strange doors opened to us. We have seen lights
beyond these walls' engrossment. We have seen
terror, and a light shining in darkness.
to turn our faces to the world and batter
doors of wood and iron, tangible evil.
A—If that become our task let's do it gladly
and in good conscience; call it our debt to Nature;
for we are natural men, and owe a tithe
of energy to disruption. But to oppose
iron with iron gives victory to steel:
and who shall hold the sword? under what sign
shall he conquer? by what law rule? Action unties
the knot of power, and doest it up again:
but who shall set the pattern of that knot,
bowline or running noose? (Beware the reef-knot
that with a subtle twist is made a noose).
What hand shall loop it up? and shall it curb
the evil in man's heart, and give him power
to seal the will of God? Or bind the fasces?
B—Your will is water, your God a broken mirror
misted with doubt. Our minds are molecules
awaiting detonation: in that moment
they shall become the pure act that, being,
so ends itself.
A— There is no power to end,
nor purity of act, within our compass.
Yet we may strive, within our partial world,
page 31 to shatter the repeating pattern of events,
limiting evil, so gaining limited good.
Our life is of that pattern, and exceeds it;
and so has power to change it. In that strife
we have two enemies:
I mean the evil in our blood that wars
continually with good; and the vast web
of thought and action, habit and inertia
that men have woven and are caught upon.
To fight against men is easy and desirable,
calls for no heroes, gives satisfaction
even in bitterest defeat; and brings release.
But to fight against a system, invisible enemy
that shows no blood in its wounds; and to maintain
faith unimpaired, the image of divinity
within our restless hearts: these, our first tasks,
are dull, and call for courage. Well-attempted,
they shall make pure our wills to do what deeds
shall be required, or none, if faith suffice;
undone, they leave us weak.
B— Our faith, our hope—
the shadow of deeds not done. We are betrayed:
our young girls made coolies: our women caught
between the two stones, want and abortion.
What hope of life when poverty has stifled
reason and virtue, stripped us to the bone
and left us shivering? We have lost desire,
know only want.
A— True that we have no joy:
distrust ecstasy: keep sober house.
Yet we have seen the future: the impending death:
the eventual light, the candle shining in the tomb.
We have seen what is to be seen but is not yet to come,
shrouded by doubt and fear of beauty.
We are the fringes of decay, the first leaves to fall;
but many are yellow, and the gales come:
and that is not the end. Be still, my brother.
B—Naked we stand, on naked ground. Our minds
have lost the stress of matter, our feet refuse
credence to earth. Solid thought melts,
thins and flows out over the world's rim.
page 32 What shall we do but fall in the ripe hour
to blindest action, become the pure insensate
energy of destruction, rend and rip
the womb from which we sprang? We have no hope
to change men's hearts, no words to prick their comfort.
Passionate pleading, argument and remonstrance
fail. Pity is deaf, and hears no prayers.
We are the starved cells, death's proselytes,
and what we cannot mend we shall destroy.
A—There ends our power. For something is, my brother,
that may not be destroyed: faith is its vessel.
We shall arise at morning, and clothe ourselves,
and walk in green fields.
And we shall have dominion over the earth
and the forms of matter.
In us the Word endures, a seed in rock:
tomorrow, or next spring, or when our sons are dead,
the stone will split in some earth-rending shock;
or a seed lodged in a cranny, lying in silt,
will take root, and shatter the rock.
Life will grow from our dead thoughts, from the seed
hidden in the husk of darkness.
We are the sons of men, and are borne down
by old mortality, yet shall outlive
chaos returning and the night of death.
We are cold, we cannot think or speak with passion,
but past despair have found a simple wisdom
that can survey the promised good, passion of others to come,
men who will live when the cold has struck inwards,
has pierced our bones, killing all but our hope,
which shall be material only to those who follow us,
yet lives in us like a taper in the mouth of a snow-man,
our sole heritage of warmth and life.
It is this alone that justifies our breath,
joins past and future in us, makes our lives valid.
The hour shall strike, and the streets fill
with the red-eyed hordes:
and the beast
shall arise and trample the earth.
The beast was born of licence; throve
on the folly of the defeated; now grows old,
swells in grossness, his wounds
fester with pride. His soul, inordinate Satan,
usurper of Godhead, turns to pus
and runs like fire along his veins, bringing
incitement of terror to the exhausted bloodstream.
He that built bars of iron before men
wakes to find himself in a cage.
Who shall stay the beast when he breaks loose
on the last, the death rush? None, till he take his toll:
for the beast is knit of our flesh,
blood of our blood, the dregs of our own hearts;
and no man shall go scatheless, none
shall be isolate, and live. Let the field be ploughed.
Let him who would be immortal bear
the weapons of mortality, share
in the sacrament of death and renewal.
Let like strive with like, evil be locked in strife
with evil, till both lie dead: and out of their defeat,
out of their marriage in disruption,
being shall take its breath,
triumph shall come, the shape of life be filled;
the undying seed, the invulnerable good,
love that was lost,
long hidden in division, found at last,
shall feed on their corruption, drawing vigour from death.
In the hour of remembering
before the hour of forgetting
images of grief assault the brain:
thin ghosts of joy and sorrow, throbs of pain
in that old wound of sense, long-healed, wherein
creation flowered and seeded, not in vain;
the taste of lost delight, the salt of sin;
phantoms of time, by time's rough hand defaced.
Halt now, and look your last, make haste
with pathos and perspective, gather all
in one swift look, summon the past, recall
the ivy-covered wall, the house within
where long the soul dwelt,
gardens where flowers fall, rose-haunted lawns
where tears were sweet as laughter. Look!
for the gates lock, and none shall enter after.
Turn the mirror, you shall see
the destined end, world's end, the end of words,
of world compact of words, the scars of sense:
stars burning through the worldwide air of chaos,
hissing in icy seas, black winds
shaking space, the shrieking
darkness pierced by flames
from the cracked shell of earth, angels crying
under the crumpled arch of heaven, tongues of fire
that shout, and fall in silence, leaving
the carbon copy of a world of words;
black earth, stillness of ash; world of fact
In the beginning was the Word:
and in the beginning again shall be the Word:
the seed shall spring in blackened earth
and the Word be made flesh.
This poem was first published in 1938, and has for some years been out of print. It was written during the winter of 1935. The world was then recovering from the worst economic depression it could remember, and the poem bears the imprint of that period. For the benefit of those critics who have discussed it as a satirical poem I should like to say that I have always thought of the satire as being somewhat incidental to the main theme, which emerges in the last three sections, and which will, I hope, be found to have a relationship with the two later poems.