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The Dry Heart
The Falling World
Alan Porter (1899-1942) became known in the 1920's and 1930's for his poetry and a wide range of critical writing. These poems are the only ones to appear from 1930 until his death. He began as a late Georgian poet but is here sunk in a rich disillusion which prophetically and disturbingly anticipates the wastelands of a post-nuclear age. My cycle was written in 1967 for John Joubert and the Motet Choir.
1. THE FALL
The battered from the crystal pinncales
In a green valley with a hanging head
In a city street smiling a pitiful smile
Men walk and mope
Babel has fallen and the pride of Babel
And the thought harries every haunted mind
These few and bitter years of life - to live them -
To escape catastrophe - to look on the ground,
To keep firm footing - to elbow no man's side.
2. FUNERAL SONG
The fair feature, the honorable exploit,
The look of love and the light word of wit,
Crossed and confounded, to elements returning,
Sunk in the swollen chaos from which they came.
It is defeat: it is going down to death.
The incorruptible man gapes and the dust
Becomes, that was hardly more than dust, dust.
The night is a night not to be slept through: no;
It is a night without the shadow of any sun,
Without the promise of any sunrise; nothing
But loss, loss, losing; it is all nothing.
3. THE DRY HEART
When the sun passed, who poured around
Comfort over the barren ground,
At whose divine and peaceable gaze
Earth flowered in beauty and shone with praise,
When death had stolen the brave sun
The land was bitterly alone.
And I can swear - for it is I
Whose blooms unseasonably die,
Whose garth is perishing with frost,
Whose ancient loving sun is lost -
I swear the sun is blood-bereft
And weeps for the dear land he left.
I saw the phantom of the sun,
The white, the cold, the miserable,
The empty phantom of the sun.
This phantom, evil and malign,
The husk and absence of the sun,
The accurst and the inconstant moon,
Told em a glozing and a lie.
This phantom told me that the sun
Was never wedded to my soil
But spread an equal and bright love
On other lands; and other lands
Flower in the sun and laugh with flowers.
I know this fable is a lie.
The round and miserable disk,
The empty moon is the sun's ghost;
The sun is dead.
I see it like a heart grown dry:
The sun is dead.
If it is cold in this gray land
And if the moon above is cold,
If all the Arctic of the sky
Looks down on the Antarctic earth,
I know the sun himself is dead
And nothing of the ancient warmth
Stirs in the dying universe.
4. THE FALLING WORLD
Here is the world falling upon our heads,
Mountains diminishing to cinder heaps.
The prophets have all taken to their beds
And even as the poet sings he sleeps.
5. WOOD PATH
He looked: year upon year of gone growth
Covered the stone bone of the old earth.
He bent and lifted a leaf: no leaf,
Only the dry channels of life left.
The deep smell of decay rose round.
But here, under an oak's rough rind,
In a dark wood, in a dead world, life lived.
© Peter Dickinson