At the alder-darkened brink
Where the stream shows to a lucid jet
I lean to the water, dinting its top with sweat,
And see, before I can drink,
A startled inchling trout
Of spotted near-transparency,
Trawling a shadow solider than he.
He swerves now, darting out
To where, in a flicked slew
Of sparks and glittering silt, he weaves
Through stream-bed rocks, disturbing foundered leaves,
And butts them out of view
Beneath a sliding glass
Crazed by the skimming of a brace
Of burnished dragon-flies across its face,
In which deep cloudlets pass
And a white precipice
Of mirrored birch-trees plunges down
Toward where the azures of the zenith drown.
How shall I drink all this?
Joy's trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.
Securely sunning in a forest glade,
A mild, well-meaning snake
Approved the adaptations he had made
For safety's sake.
He liked the skin he had---
Its mottled camouflage, its look of mail,
And was content that he had thought to add
A rattling tail
The tail was not for drumming up a fight:
No, nothing of the sort.
And he would only use his poisoned bite
As last resort.
A peasant now drew near,
Collecting wood; the snake, observing this,
Expressed concern by uttering a clear
But civil hiss.
The simple churl, his nerves at once unstrung,
Mistook the other's tone
And dashed his brains out with a deftly-flung
Moral Security, alas, can give
A threatening impression;
Too much defense-initiative
Can prompt aggression
A Storm in April
Some winters, taking leave,
Deal us a last, hard blow,
Salting the ground like Carthage
Before they will go.
But the bright, milling snow
Which throngs the air today---
It is a way of leaving
So as to stay.
The light flakes do not weigh
The willows down, but sift
Through the white catkins, loose
Or in an up-draft lift
And glitter at a height,
Dazzling as summer's leaf-stir
Chinked with light.
This storm, if I am right,
Will not be wholly over
Till green fields, here and there,
Turns white with clover,
And through chill air the puffs or milkweed hover.
Boy at the Window
Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a god-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.
The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.
Advice to a Prophet
When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name the have self-pity,
Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.
Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?---
The sun mere fit fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?
Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,
If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip
On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return
These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
As us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken
In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.
Ask us, ask us whether the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or longstanding
When the bronze annal of the oak-tree close.
The Prisoner of Zenda
At the end a
"The Prisoner of Zenda."
The King being out of danger,
(As Rudolph Rassendyll)
By renouncing his co-star,
It would be poor behavia
In him and in Princess Flavia
Were they to put their own
Concerns before those of the Throne.
Deborah Kerr must wed
The King instead.
Rassendyll turns to go.
Must it be so?
Why can't they have their cake
And eat it, for heaven's sake?
Please let them have it both ways,
The audience prays.
And yet it is hard to quarrel
With a plot so moral.
One redeeming factor,
However, is that the actor
Who plays the once-dissolute King
Who has learned through suffering
Not to drink of be mean
To his future Queen,
Far from being a stranger,
Is also Stewart Granger.
In her room at the prow of the house
Where the light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linen,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is show who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
_____. "Richard Wilbur." metalab.unc.edu.
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