Miscellaneous Poems

By Olaf Stapledon

*****

From Verse by W.O.S. :

Of Poems

Parenthood

Al Fresco

From Poets of Merseyside: An Anthology of Present-Day Liverpool Poetry (1923):

God the Artist

Creator Creatus

A Prophet’s Tragedy

The Good

Revolt Against Death

The Unknown

Futility

The Relativity of Beauty

From Voices on the Wind: Second Series (1924) :

Pain

Swallows at Maffrécourt

Moriturus

From Poetry of To-Day: A Quarterly “Extra” of the Poetry Review No.3 (1925) :

Two Chinese Poems

From Poetry and the Play Vol 8 No 73 1925 :

Western Culture

Wet Weather

A Gull on the Mersey

From Poetry and the Play Issue 9 1926 :

Star Worship

From The Two Houses (Beechcroft Settlement Magazine 1927) :

Squire to Knight

.

Of Poems

This is the first poem in Olaf Stapledon’s unpublished collection Verse by WOS.

***

Poems, believe me, are not made
      but found.
They are not ghostly radiances
projected by the creative mind
to deck the grey reality
      with a phantom gold.

A poem is a brute fact
      in the world,
an intricate feature for discovery,
to be known where it lies, fixed
in the nude and swift loveliness
      of the exact real.

.

Parenthood

Baby hand
clung to mine:
the man
leaves me behind

He's expert,
I wool gather
We live together—
apart

.

Al Fresco

We lie together, the girl and I,
      late, in a meadow.
The world swings round, and after day—
      night, the great shadow.
I cannot see, so feel my dear.
Hand, venturing, creeps in her breast, and oh—
      soft as feathers!
The grass is warm. Why suffer clothes?
I loosen her smock and steal it away,
      like sheath from lily.
Oh throbbing flank and smooth pale thigh!
Oh sacred region bared for me!
The stars kiss all, and so kiss I.
      Then—the deed in rhythm.

.

God the Artist

God for his own joy sings many-voiced this World.
Time is but the lilt of his song and space the breadth of
       his harmony. Save in his art, they are not.
All, the beings of the world are the words of his voice,—
       all that is substance, energy, and mind, all men and grains
       of sand, all birds and beasts and trees, and all stars.
Against a rhythm, Fate, he sings a theme, sensitive Mind
       that aspires. But each is the other's outcome. Fate is but
       the clash of minds; and Mind's free will is fated.
Triumphant now the theme swells, now breaks into discords,
       now sinks under the strong flood of doom.
Bitter to us is God's song. He sings not for us. We
       strain after the meaning vainly. For we are blind and
       very simple, and seldom we feel beyond the good that is
       nearest, and when that fails the world looks evil.
Yet we are heirs of God's own passion. Our will is that
       the Good be, that the song be sung.
Therefore, though fate sound harshly to us, let us at least
       die glad to have been a syllable in so great a music.

.

Creator Creatus

If there be God he is perfect mind finding all things good.
But this is the perfect mind which Life in the worlds may
       become.
He then from whom in the beginning Life sprang, blind
      to whence and whither, is Life self-perfected.
Created in the end of time, he persists always, and he
       creates in the beginning.
We cannot understand: time is too difficult for us. As
      well might the point comprise the sphere.
But even we may guess that it is for us only that the days
       and the aeons vanish, and that for clear mind past and
      future are here.
If there be God, the world-process is his eternal body,
      whose members must create in toil him, their own creator.
If there be God, this is to him clear. But by his members
      apart, since they are mind unfinished, this truth is obscure.
It can be glimpsed only. But if the truth be indeed this,
      how great our task.

.

A Prophet’s Tragedy

I have set up my God over the God of my enemy.
I have broken down his image and fouled his holy place.
I have assigned the name of his God for the droppings of cattle.
But I have written on the sky in stars the name of the real
      God, who is mine. I have written his name on the sun's
      eye and branded the earth his slave.
There is now nothing that denies him, —save only the
      heart, the strange heart of my enemy.
And this is a torment to me and a taunt to my God.
I will take the lightning and the earthquake and the
      subtlety of my priests to stab and rend and convince him.
I will drag him in bloody tears before the God who is
      mine; and seeing, he shall die.

I did so. I dragged him in blood, but not in tears, to the
      throne above the stars.
And lo! the great God came down, and set my enemy on
      the throne, and kissed his feet.
Why, why did God so?

.

The Good

There is nothing better in the world than you, my mate.
I set out like a fool to find the good that is real and to
      serve it. I have been far; I am tired.
But the good is not real, —save as a bubble adrift on our
      brutishness, or a dream in a lecher's sleep.
Nor is there God. No hand supports us, but only the void.
Beside us is intricate chaos, and overhead idiot immensity.
Coming to you at night I dare not be glad; for the Tyrant
      may find us this very night and wreck us. He plots ever
      an end, either in discord, or tedium, or agony, or blank death.
We are a little candle in a great wind.
And yet—I lie close with you in the dark and the world
is re-founded. And its rock is the gentle ghost that is you.
For surely whatever made you knows what good is; and
      cannot itself be less then very good.
The Tyrant of the Stars is strong, and his ways are
      strange; but he made you, be knows the good.
Though his will be cruel, embracing evil, yet with you in
      the dark I know that what he wills, that is the Good,
And what matters save the Good, though the race of
      men behold it never?
I will go to sleep with you now, glad that we are the little
      instruments of God, though presently he break us and many
      worlds, doing his dark will.

.

Revolt Against Death

Not for ever shall I drink the sun and the wind. A spring
      time comes that I       shall not see.
Not then shall I watch the young bracken thrusting
      between last year's dead, nor the bright new grasses
      standing together.
I shall not wander with a girl in the lark-bright fields any
      more. We shall not touch. We shall not laugh together,
      nor plan a life together. We shall not love any more.
Old age is upon the young man's heels. And surely worse
      than to die is to live on, futile.
Yet on-coming death is a dread ghost, a cloud rolling
      toward us from the enemy.
In it all joys cease. Even the joy of serving the Spirit
      shall be forgotten.
But the Spirit shall not cease from being served. The
      Spirit shall go on from age to age, from strength to strength,
      from world to world, shall soar—whither?—we know not.

.

The Unknown

What is He who moulds me though I will it not; whose
      face is not seen?
Fierce is the pressure of his fingers, his invisible fingers;
      fierce now, —now the touch of a lover.
In the morning blue wings over-arch me : Is it he, the lover
      of me?
But in the night, in the dark night of my soul, when I am
      broken, ashamed, —is it he whose foot is on me, whose knees
      are above the stars and his heel heavy on me?
It is a dream.
Is he then never to be seen? Is he not to be known, save
      blindly by touch, in the loving touch that is joy, and the grip, fate?
Never to be seen. Can the harp know what strikes it?
      Whether it be some hand or the wind the harp cannot know.
Sweet; though terrible, is the music, whether of the vacant
      wind or some Bard.

.

Futility

Like rats we pick over the middens. We were born in a
      sewer and stench pleases us.
Strange then that some learn to love fragrance and forego
      the sweet filth!
A man had a garden where he grew souls for roses. He
      dug and weeded and watered; and when he picked over the
      middens it was to enrich his soil. He pruned also and trained
      and fought the pest.
His back ached, —but he expected beauty.
At last the buds opened, crimson and white, sweet blush
      and cream. He determined to gather his souls day by day
      whenever they were ready and send them into dark places
      to show what beauty is.
That this should be done seemed good.
But just then the heavens made war against each other
      over his head. The sky rained shrieking death, and the
      earth was torn.
He ran into his garden and cried into heaven "Take care,
      take care! Beauty is here."
But no one heard. Some greater cause was at stake aloft.
And a hard-pressed god trod upon the garden, so that
      the man and his roses were crushed together.
When at last the battle moved over into another place,
      there was in the garden peace, but no life, —till the rats invaded.

.

The Relativity of Beauty

Were one to come to us from the moon would our sea winds
      brace him? Desperately he would choke in the heavy fumes
      that give us breath.
Would he cry, "Oh happy world not stark like mine, but
      gay with greenness and with the voice of birds"? As well
      might the grass seem to him verdigris and the birds whistling
      fiends.
Were he to meet the fairest woman would he say "Surely
      it is some divinity: I have dreamt such but not seen." To
      him she might well be repugnant as to us a toad.
And if anyone told him "Thou shalt not steal, nor covet
      thy neighbour's wife," would he answer, “Indeed it is
      against God's law"? Probably he would smile.
Our morals and politics, our arts and all that we delight
      to do, how meaningless they would seem to him!
One thing only on the earth, if he were himself an
      enlightened lover of Spirit, he might admire.
After long study he might send home this message:
"Here also are spirits. Here also they struggle to keep
      alive, though as yet they have only children's sorrows and
      their joys are brutish. Here also they begin to learn, though
      tardily, that all is for the Awakening."

.

Pain

Not in my own flesh can thy scourge dismay me,
      for I, knowing thee, am blest.
But my friend, who knows thee not,
      is hurt.
Thou hast broken him,
      yet consolest him not with thy beauty.
The agony that is cannot be undone,
      not even in paradise.
See! Thy World lies before thee with a broken heart,
      she that would be fair for thee.
Her beauty is bitter,
      because it is founded in men's pain.
Make known, oh make known thyself to each man
      lost in the dark.
For whoever has seen thy face
      forgives pain.

.

Swallows at Maffrécourt

A whisper of wings,
      a sapphire gleam —
             it was a swallow that slid past.
But now in the sky,
      a mad black star,
             she skates on the wind wild figures.
Down drops that meteor
      through the barn door,
             and clings at her nest in the rafters,
where wide mouths
      and shrill voices
             clamour.
Oh lithe, keen, sweet swallow, clinging!
      She's away!
             Stay swallow!

.

Moriturus

Life, sweet life! Let me not die,
      not die yet!
Christ! The dark!

Now steady, steady, frightened ghost.
What is it that dies, what is it lives?
All that I love lasts.
The eternal heavens endure, and Man, —
      two dark abysses, star-relieved.
And even laughter, kisses, and song,
      all fleeting beauties I have known,
      in other spirits flower.
What is it that dies? Itself not good,
      a word, rather, in the Good's praise.
Who loves a word is a fool and base.
He clings to the altar, blind to the god.
Die, ghost! Beauty endures.

.

Two Chinese Poems

      I

Noon on the moor.
A curlew is calling.
The hill’s feet are cooling
in the mere.

      II

Evening on the moor.
The lone bird is wailing.
Mists are welling
from the mere.

.

Western Culture

Storms are foreseen,
stars' fortunes told,
atoms unsealed,
minds tuned, each tone.

Mozartian universe!
Beautifully mathematical,
arithmetically musical,
Mystery ?—farce!
Yet wisdom's a submarine,
tidy within; without?
Pry no sharp query,
lest we drown.

.

Wet Weather

Cloud and its tears,
glad blue behind,
and beyond—
stars.

.

A Gull on the Mersey

Which of these two is better,—
the city's immature flutter,
or the flight
of this bird?

.

Star Worship

After the stage-play "Man"—the glass wherein
      Ego admires herself—see the stars!
Aloof, exact, sexless, most unhuman—therefore
      most worshipful.
Bow before this excellence! Admiring what is most
      far from us, we escape our mean selves; yes,
      and fulfil ourselves.
For indeed a mind is nothing but what it knows.
      Its very passions inhere not in it but in the
      form of its world.
And mind perfected were but the rich world known
      thoroughly, known as it is—beautiful.
Forsake then the worship of Mind. Surely the goal
      of minds is not Mind, but the apprehending of
      beauty, not Ego, nor Ego deified, but the
      serene rhythms of the Universe.
Therefore, ignoring man's insane agony, I will tell
      over the rosary of the stars, and await death.

One star claims most our worship, for we best
      observe it—the Sun.
One rhythm it is not enough to admire, since we
      have part in it. and must ourselves maintain
      it—the rhythm of Earth's life.
And if mind exists that beauty may be known, how
      great the need that mind be awakened!
Therefore let us put away the rosary of the stars,
      and work for the Awakening.

.

Squire to Knight

You are old
Your work is done,
And you may rest
Henceforward.

But I am young
My task not shown.
Your counsels rust
My sword.

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