If the sun drowns in a sea of clouds
And extends a wave of darkness onto the world
And vision dies in the eyes of the vigilant
And the road is lost in lines and circles
O shrewd traveler in straight lines and in circles,
You have no guide but the eyes of speech
In honor of St. Andrew’s Day, we present this work by one of Scotland’s most pious poets.
The miser lay on his lonely bed;
Life’s candle was burning dim.
His heart in an iron chest was hid
Under heaps of gold and an iron lid;
And whether it were alive or dead
It never troubled him.
Slowly out of his body he crept.
He said, ‘I am just the same!
Only I want my heart in my breast;
I will go and fetch it out of my chest!’
Through the dark a darker shadow he leapt,
Saying ‘Hell is a fabled flame!’
He opened the lid. Oh, Hell’s own night!
His ghost-eyes saw no gold!-
Empty and swept! Not a gleam was there!
In goes his hand, but the chest is bare!
Ghost-fingers, aha! have only might
To close, not to clasp and hold!
But his heart he saw, and he made a clutch
At the fungous puff-ball of sin:
Eaten with moths, and fretted with rust,
He grasped a handful of rotten dust,
And shrieked, as ghosts may, at the crumbling touch,
But hid it his breast within.
And some there are who see him sit
Under the church, apart,
Counting out coins and coins of gold
Heap by heap on the dank death-mould:
Alas poor ghost and his sore lack of wit-
They breed in the dust of his heart!
Another miser has now his chest,
And it hoards wealth more and more;
Like ferrets his hands go in and out,
Burrowing, tossing the gold about-
Nor heed the heart that, gone from his breast,
Is the cold heap’s bloodless core.
Now wherein differ old ghosts that sit
Counting ghost-coins all day
From the man who clings with spirit prone
To whatever can never be his own?
Who will leave the world with not one whit
But a heart all eaten away?
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
I look for life in death,
for health in sickness,
for freedom in prison,
a way out from the impasse,
and loyalty in the Judas.
But my destiny, from which I would
never expect anything good,
has decreed with the Gods
that, since I ask for the impossible,
they won’t even give me the possible.
O white little lights at Carney’s Point,
You shine so clear o’er the Delaware;
When the moon rides high in the silver sky,
Then you gleam, white gems on the Delaware.
Diamond circlet on a full white throat,
You laugh your rays on a questioning boat;
Is it peace you dream in your flashing gleam,
O’er the quiet flow of the Delaware?
And the lights grew dim at the water’s brim,
For the smoke of the mills shredded slow between;
And the smoke was red, as is new bloodshed,
And the lights went lurid ‘neath the livid screen.
O red little lights at Carney’s Point,
You glower so grim o’er the Delaware;
When the moon hides low sombrous clouds below,
Then you glow like coals o’er the Delaware.
Blood red rubies on a throat of fire,
You flash through the dusk of a funeral pyre;
And there hearth fires red whom you fear and dread
O’er the turgid flow of the Delaware?
And the lights gleamed gold o’er the river cold,
For the murk of the furnace shed a copper veil;
And the veil was grim at the great cloud’s brim,
And the lights went molten, now hot, now pale.
O gold little lights at Carney’s Point,
You gleam so proud o’er the Delaware;
When the moon grows wan in the eastering dawn,
Then you sparkle gold points o’er the Delaware.
Aureate filagree on a Croesus’ brow,
You hasten the dawn on a gray ship’s prow.
Light you streams of gold in the grim ship’s hold
O’er the sullen flow of the Delaware?
And the lights went gray in the ash of day,
For a quiet Aurora brought a halcyon balm;
And the sun laughed high in the infinite sky,
And the lights were forgot in the sweet, sane calm.