By MONK GIBBON.
They who read…
1. THEY WHO READ them, and find there talk of many things, and a high hope, and thoughts belonging to the open spaces of the sky, and certainty, and beauty caught into a line, and praise of love; how should they know all things are born out of eternal conflict; and sweet songs out of blinded birds; and fine words out of poets broken upon the wheel?
2. TIME WILL ALTER your loveliness, taking again what he once gave, taking it as indeed he takes all things. I know it; it is certain: nor will he be ashamed to do what he had done before so often. Why then when I see you has the thought no meaning for me, and why in that moment does it seem the very thing that is most fleeting, must of necessity be most eternal?
3. AS ONE, TURNING in a crowd, sees a face a sudden beauty, and cannot for the moment look away, so I saw you. What was it drew me then? Your shy grace, your eyes with wonder in them, the very knowledge that your thoughts were far from me? I cannot tell you. But turn your head again, once, for a moment, that I may see you, that my heart may stand still. For the crowd presses upon us always, and in a little while you will be lost.
The leaves blown everywhere…
4. THE LEAVES BLOWN everywhere about the world are like my mind; now up the road, now down it, now whirled round, uncertainly: nor is it left in one place for a moment. O wind, blown up out of that vast and cloudy and uncharted heaven, deal gently with it. Must it be always driven? For though it seems a thing of nought, caught up by every gust and lightly carried, it too seeks truth: it too would find a resting place like them.
5. DAUNIS, I HOPE to meet you one day in that country of which I speak. Then we can talk of these things. But if we do not meet, then there will be no need to talk of them. For, if we have not found certainty, we shall at least have lost desire.
He promises her immortality
6. I WILL CARVE a verse on some great face of rock, in some far place, where the winds are blowing; and when they who now read of you are dust and their cities crumbled into a foolish memory, lovers, who still pass, may wonder at its strange surface, but they will know its meaning.
He questions a stranger
7. STRANGER, FROM THAT little town I have not seen for long, tell me about it. Is the sky still blue, and do white clouds drift across it on clear mornings? Is the street steep as ever, and the small harbour, do children play along its wall? At night are the lamps lit and does the light show between the curtains? Does the light show, and, within, have they laughter, and comradeship after the day’s work, and old men returning to the sea whence they returned long ago? Have they these things? And have they hope, and talk about the future, and shy glances – and that sweet pain called love? Have they these things?
The Marsh Meadow
8. LITTLE STREAM IN the meadows, I have lain by you many times and I have heard the hum of many busy workers in the tall grasses at your side, and of others their kindred in the hedgerow a little way off, beyond your bend; and I have seen the one flat stone laid across you by which one passes, and I have watched the water insects that in summer throng your surface, swimming against the current, then drifting back and clinging to some piece of grass grown deep on either side along your margin. I have lain there and I have lain on a bank nearby, and there has come to me the far off stir along a road, for there is no road near you nor any lane except the one, grass-grown, along which the cows will return in autumn; and I have heard the laughter of children on a lawn, beyond some trees, not so far distant, and I have listened to them, and dreamed away the afternoon with them.
Little stream, I forgot that it was summer. I forgot that the days would grow still longer and that there would be many evenings stretching far into the night, and when the birds, intolerant of dusk, would sing until the dawn was almost on them. I forgot all this and I forgot all that summer brings with her. For I was thinking that it would be easy to die then and in no way could death be made more easy. To rest, to sleep, to watch the grass, to hear your murmur, hardly a murmur at all, a faint stir in a warm stillness; and when the workers returned at the day’s end along the narrow track under the lea of the hedge, talking or laughing or, if they were grown old, satisfied with the warm evening and their work finished, I would be found still sleeping.
He sees two lovers
9. LOVERS BE PATIENT and not always pursuing. You do not know. Love is a bird that soars in a clear sky, and if you hope, by this or any other thing, to hold him, you hope what cannot be. What do you hope? That shy fellowship of hand and hand, straying to meet at all times, those looks, those eager ways – all your caresses, all your words at nightfall, have these held him, have these made him safe? I was a lover, too, and I killed love with many kisses?
10. ALL THEIR WORDS are only foolishness. Whom shall I believe? All are certain, yet all cannot be right. They tell me that I shall drink wine with the immortals in heaven; they tell me that I shall wander, a shade amongst other shades, in the sunless country of the dead: they tell me that I shall sleep eternally.
But I know only that I have loved the gorse on the hill, and the small sheltered bay; and the coming of summer, and autumn, and the blue stillness of the sky on starry nights; and quietness, and the conversation of friends, and the soft kisses of children. And for all these let him that gave them bear witness that I was not ungrateful.
He tells them they will never know her
11. LOOK IN HER face, you who do not know her, and do you know her then? If you find courage, and hope, and laughter, and simple thoughts, have you found all? Or if you wait and see, when she is shyly earnest; and how she can grow serious in a moment, as though she doubted, or did not understand; and the half-smile of the child, which is hers also; and that sweet calm which comes into her face at all times, have you seen all? Surely you have not. Even he, who, looking into her eyes, has seen them fill with tears, knows less than nothing.
The Last Thing
12. WHO’D BE AFRAID of death? I think that only fools are. For it is not as though this thing were given to one man only, but all receive it. The journey that my friend makes I can make also. If I know nothing else, I know this, I go where he is. O fools, shrinking from that little door through which so many kind and lovely souls have passed before you, will you hang back? Harder in your case than another? Not so. And too much silence? Has there not been enough stir here? Go bravely, for where so much greatness and gentleness have been already you should be glad to follow.
William Monk Gibbon (1896-1987) was an Irish poet and essayist. He served in France during World War I, wrote Inglorious Soldier, among many other works, became a Swiss-dwelling pacifist and was a quarrelsome cousin of Yeats, and a close acquaintance of George Moore, Katharine Tynan, Rebecca West and many other Irish writers. Most people who met him had an opinion about him and vice-versa. A commemoration of his death was held in 1996 at the Dublin Writers Museum. The Irish Times covered the event.
From our archive: ‘Twelve Prose Poems’ originally appeared in The Fortnightly Review, vol 107 (1925).