Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Thoughts at night
Thoughts at night
The dancing fire flecks shadow all along the walls
And lights the rows of books across the room,
Glints brightly on the polished candlesticks
And platters on the dresser, and the light
Makes monstrous moving shapes all up the doors
And on the close drawn curtains here before
The fire-place, contemplative, half-asleep I sit,
And see things In the fire light, think things
That I may not speak.
Outside; the night is cold.
I know that bright stars flicker in a blacker night
Than any yet this winter and that light
Across the drifted snow below the garden
Gleams silvery and blue - I looked to see
The sight before I crew the curtains. I can bear
The branches snap outside the window. It is cold.
I shiver slightly, thinking of the cold world outside.
If it were summer now, those brittle twigs
Would stir in the passing breeze, and the voice
Of million leaves in the orchard trees
Would say in the evening hush,
It is summer, and life at the full
Walls deep from the earth around the roots.
Life pulses from every bush and grass,
And from every wind In the trees."
And low from the forest birds would sing
One word, and the breath of the night
Would repeat I and echo, and call it, and chant it.
Till the world would be filled with that one worn Life!
Life in the ground and in the air and in growing things,
Life eager and risk and warm, that now is still,
For death is after life, and life is after death.
But winter is upon us like death.
Outside, the bare twigs snap. I think of men
Whose life dies down turns to ash
Like the fire before me. One log cracks.
And I think of this tragedy of life in death
Lad death in life. I know a man
A poet dead years ago, and still on earth,
Who - worse yet - knows not of his death
Nor that his soul has shrunk within him.
And for the poems he wrote before he died,
My throat constricts. A fierce delight,
A sweet and subtle pain, that leaves no peace,
That thirsts the soul quenches not the thirst
But only maddens it with mere half-tastes,
Whelms over me. The music of a single line
Could make me weep for beauty of it.
He wrote his perfect line, and he should go,
His mission being done, his chanting sung.
But no. Still men mast live and linger on,
And strive and suffer, summon again old skill
In vain, and mar the perfect piece
With over carving of the curves and shape.
Grant me that I may lay my pen down
On my one and perfect line - and go,
Nor ever pick it up again, nor even live,
If all my belt is done in those few words.
And now the burned-out logs have turned to gray
And shadowed dance no longer on the hearth and wall.
A breath would break the silence of the room.
Somewhere a door has opened, and a wind
Steals coldly through the empty house.