Richard Aldington

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    Biographical information

  1. At the British Museum
  2. Bombardment
  3. Childhood
  4. Daisy
  5. Epilogue
  6. Goodbye!
  7. Images
  8. Lemures
  9. Round-Pond
  10. The Faun Sees Snow for the First Time
  11. The Poplar



    Biographical information

      Name: Edward Godfree Aldington
      Place and date of birth: Portsmouth, Hampshire (England); July 8, 1892
      Place and date of death: Francia; July 27, 1962 (aged 70)

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    At the British Museum

      I turn the page and read:
      'I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
      Glides noiseless as an oar'.
      The heavy musty air, the black desks,
      The bent heads and the rustling noises
      In the great dome
      Vanish...
      And
      The sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
      The boat drifts over the lake shallows,
      The fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
      The oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
      And the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
      About the cleft battlements of Can Grande's castle...

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    Bombardment

      Four days the earth was rent and torn
      By bursting steel,
      The houses fell about us;
      Three nights we dared not sleep,
      Sweating, and listening for the imminent crash
      Which meant our death.

      The fourth night every man,
      Nerve-tortured, racked to exhaustion,
      Slept, muttering and twitching,
      While the shells crashed overhead.

      The fifth day there came a hush;
      We left our holes
      And looked above the wreckage of the earth
      To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
      Across the untroubled blue.

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    Childhood

      I

      The bitterness. the misery, the wretchedness of childhood
      Put me out of love with God.
      I can't believe in God's goodness;
      I can believe
      In many avenging gods.
      Most of all I believe
      In gods of bitter dullness,
      Cruel local gods
      Who scared my childhood.

      II

      I've seen people put
      A chrysalis in a match-box,
      'To see', they told me, 'what sort of moth would come'.
      But when it broke its shell
      It slipped and stumbled and fell about its prison
      And tried to climb to the light
      For space to dry its wings.

      That's how I was.
      Somebody found my chrysalis
      And shut it in a match-box.
      My shrivelled wings were beaten,
      Shed their colours in dusty scales
      Before the box was opened
      For the moth to fly.

      III

      I hate that town;
      I hate the town I lived in when I was little;
      I hate to think of it.
      There wre always clouds, smoke, rain
      In that dingly little valley.
      It rained; it always rained.
      I think I never saw the sun until I was nine-
      And then it was too late;
      Everything's too late after the first seven years.

      The long street we lived in
      Was duller than a drain
      And nearly as dingy.
      There were the big College
      And the pseudo-Gothic town-hall.
      There were the sordid provincial shops-
      The grocer's, and the shops for women,
      The shop where I bought transfers,
      And the piano and gramaphone shop
      Where I used to stand
      Staring at the huge shiny pianos and at the pictures
      Of a white dog looking into a gramaphone.

      How dull and greasy and grey and sordid it was!
      On wet days -it was always wet-
      I used to kneel on a chair
      And look at it from the window.

      The dirty yellow trams
      Dragged noisily along
      With a clatter of wheels and bells
      And a humming of wires overhead.
      They threw up the filthy rain-water from the hollow lines
      And then the water ran back
      Full of brownish foam bubbles.

      There was nothing else to see-
      It was all so dull-
      Except a few grey legs under shiny black umbrellas
      Running along the grey shiny pavements;
      Sometimes there was a waggon
      Whose horses made a strange loud hollow sound
      With their hoofs
      Through the silent rain.

      And there was a grey museum
      Full of dead birds and dead insects and dead animals
      And a few relics of the Romans -dead also.
      There was a sea-front,
      A long asphalt walk with a bleak road beside it,
      Three piers, a row of houses,
      And a salt dirty smell from the little harbour.

      I was like a moth-
      Like one of those grey Emperor moths
      Which flutter through the vines at Capri.
      And that damned little town was my match-box,
      Against whose sides I beat and beat
      Until my wings were torn and faded, and dingy
      As that damned little town.

      IV

      At school it was just as dull as that dull High Street.
      The front was dull;
      The High Street and the other street were dull-
      And there was a public park, I remember,
      And that was damned dull, too,
      With its beds of geraniums no one was allowed to pick,
      And its clipped lawns you weren't allowed to walk on,
      And the gold-fish pond you mustn't paddle in,
      And the gate made out of a whale's jaw-bones,
      And the swings, which were for 'Board-School children',
      And its gravel paths.

      And on Sundays they rang the bells,
      From Baptist and Evangelical and Catholic churches.
      They had a Salvation Army.
      I was taken to a High Church;
      The parson's name was Mowbray,
      'Which is a good name but he thinks too much of it-'
      That's what I heard people say.

      I took a little black book
      To that cold, grey, damp, smelling church,
      And I had to sit on a hard bench,
      Wriggle off it to kneel down when they sang psalms
      And wriggle off it to kneel down when they prayed,
      And then there was nothing to do
      Except to play trains with the hymn-books.

      There was nothing to see,
      Nothing to do,
      Nothing to play with,
      Except that in an empty room upstairs
      There was a large tin box
      Containing reproductions of the Magna Charta,
      Of the Declaration of Independence
      And of a letter from Raleigh after the Armada.
      There were also several packets of stamps,
      Yellow and blue Guatemala parrots,
      Blue stags and red baboons and birds from Sarawak,
      Indians and Men-of-war
      From the United States,
      And the green and red portraits
      Of King Francobello
      Of Italy.

      V

      I don't believe in God.
      I do believe in avenging gods
      Who plague us for sins we never sinned
      But who avenge us.

      That's why I'll never have a child,
      Never shut up a chrysalis in a match-box
      For the moth to spoil and crush its brght colours,
      Beating its wings against the dingy prison-wall.

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    Daisy

      Plus quan se atque suos amavit omnes,
      Nunc...
      Catullus.

      You were my playmate by the sea.
      We swam together.
      Your girl's body had no breasts.

      We found prawns among the rocks;
      We liked to feel the sun and to do nothing;
      In the evening we played games with the others.

      It made me glad to be by you.

      Sometimes I kissed you,
      And you were always glad to kiss me;
      But I was afraid -I was only fourteen.

      And I had quite forgotten you, you and your name.

      To-day I pass through the streets.
      She who touches my arms and talks with me
      Is -who knows?- Helen of Sparta,
      Dryope, Laodamia...

      And there are you
      A whore in Oxford Street.

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    Epilogue

      Che son contenti nel fuoco.

      We are of those that Dante saw
      Glad, for love's sake, among the flames of hell,
      Outdaring with a kiss all-powerful wrath;
      For we have passed athwart a fiercer hell,
      Through gloomier, more desperate circles
      Than ever Dante dreamed:
      And yet love kept us glad.

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    Goodbye!

      Come, thrust your hands in the warm earth
      And feel her strength through all your veins;
      Breathe her full odors, taste her mouth,
      Which laughs away imagined pains;
      Touch her life's womb, yet know
      This substance makes your grave also.

      Shrink not; your flesh is no more sweet
      Than flowers which daily blow and die;
      Nor are your mein and dress so neat,
      Nor half so pure your lucid eye;
      And, yet, by flowers and earth I swear
      You're neat and pure and sweet and fair.

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    Images

      I

      Like a gondola of green scented fruits
      Drifting along the dark canals of Venice,
      You, O exquisite one,
      Have entered into my desolate city.

      II

      The blue smoke leaps
      Like swirling clouds of birds vanishing.
      So my love leaps forth toward you,
      Vanishes and is renewed.

      III

      A rose-yellow moon in a pale sky
      When the sunset is faint vermilion
      In the mist among the tree-boughs
      Art thou to me, my beloved.

      IV

      A young beech tree on the edge of the forest
      Stands still in the evening,
      Yet shudders through all its leaves in the light air
      And seems to fear the stars-
      So are you still and so tremble.

      V

      The red deer are high on the mountain,
      They are beyond the last pine trees.
      And my desires have run with them.

      VI

      The flower which the wind has shaken
      Is soon filled again with rain;
      So does my heart fill slowly with tears,
      Until you return.

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    Lemures

      In Nineveh
      And beyond Nineveh
      In the dusk
      They were afraid.

      In Thebes of Egypt
      In the dust
      They chanted of them to the dead.

      In my Lesbos and Achaia
      Where the God dwelt
      We knew them.

      Now men say "They are not":
      But in the dusk
      Ere the white sun comes -
      A gay child that bears a white candle -
      I am afraid of their rustling,
      Of their terrible silence,
      The menace of their secrecy.

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    Round-Pond

      Water ruffled and speckled by galloping wind
      Which puffs and spurts it into tiny pashing breaks
      Dashed with lemon-yellow afternoon sunlight.
      The shining of the sun upon the water
      Is like a scattering of gold crocus-petals
      In a long wavering irregular flight.

      The water is cold to the eye
      As the wind to the cheek.

      In the budding chestnuts
      Whose sticky buds glimmer and are half-burst open
      The starlings make their clitter-clatter;
      And the blackbirds in the grass
      Are getting as fat as the pigeons.

      Too-hoo, this is brave;
      Even the cold wind is seeking a new mistress.

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    The Faun Sees Snow for the First Time

      Zeus,
      Brazen-thunder-hurler,
      Cloud-whirler, son-of-Kronos,
      Send vengeance on these Oreads
      Who strew
      White frozen flecks of mist and cloud
      Over the brown trees and the tufted grass
      Of the meadows, where the stream
      Runs black through shining banks
      Of bluish white.

      Zeus,
      Are the halls of heaven broken up
      That you flake down upon me
      Feather-strips of marble?

      Dis and Styx!
      When I stamp my hoof
      The frozen-cloud-specks jam into the cleft
      So that I reel upon two slippery points...

      Fool, to stand here cursing
      When I might be running!

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    The Poplar

      Why do you always stand there shivering
      Between the white stream and the road?

      The people pass through the dust
      On bicycles, in carts, in motor-cars;
      The waggoners go by at down;
      The lovers walk on the grass path at night.

      Stir from your roots, walk, poplar!
      You are more beautiful than they are.

      I know that the white wind loves you,
      Is always kissing you and turning up
      The white lining of your green petticoat.
      The sky darts through you like blue rain,
      And the grey rain drips on your flanks
      And loves you.

      And I have seen the moon
      Slip his silver penny into your pocket
      As you straightened your hair;
      And the white mist curling and hesitating
      Like a bashful lover about your knees.

      I know you, poplar;
      I have watched you since I was ten.
      But if you had a little real love,
      A little strength,
      You would leave your nonchalant idle lovers
      And go walking down the white road
      Behind the waggoners.

      There are beautiful beeches down beyond the hill.
      Will you always stand there shivering?

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