☾ Men ever will be sad and poignant till
They find rejoicing reason to cuckoo,
But then will they remember, or forget,
The heavy-hearted transients they were?
Slender enough she was to make him die,
So shameless, witless, reckless, foolish, stupid;
Until at dawn he woke, all senses stolen
By the true well-spring underneath a thorn,
Only rose of a world far past his reach.
This, for once, he could understand — the truth,
Saving the dreamer from his senseless life,
Spent bounty of a man pursuing virtue.
Yet virtue’s own reward was not enough.
The golden fluid, draining maple-syrup-
Like from his heart, sapped Alexander’s spirit,
Till, buckling on his armor, he cried out:
“Heavenly Father, I confess a kiss,
Her lissome arms entwined about my head.
Her beauty, dignity and gentleness
Cupping my soul within her reverence.”
Long lived he then, in feats of love and arms
Second to none, a paradigm of grace,
Until, again, the turning of the world
Brought sun to earth and darkness to the moon.
He woke to find her dead, oft in his mind.
End of the year, end of an age it seemed.
In that new light he lived for honor only,
Dwelt thus in virtue but had little joy.
Adam unparadised he thought himself.
Then, reconsidering once more his love,
He saw her flower in the April dew.
Whence like a bell it chimed, “Noel, Noel,
Out of your sleep arise and out of hell.”
“Ah, lady, sister, mother, grant thy kiss,”
He pled, hot tears agleam in his bright eyes.
Whereat, with sternness, she did him rebuke:
“Thou silly sinner, dare not me denominate
With terms thy mental vacancy doth generate.”
Filled with remorse he felt the deepest wounds
And sent himself abroad to earn her trust.
☾ Yet once at sea the salty spray had savored,
He deemed her judgment treachery, and thus
Pronounced himself: “Though woman may seem pure,
She’s full of doubleness, her gall well hid
Beneath a sugared veil.” At which his ship,
Hitherto steady, keeled upon its side,
Making him think of death. In loud lament
He bellowed out his fear; then with composure
Changing his mood abruptly, sang these praises:
“Oh lady mine, ghost-pallid, silver-smiled,
Of ruby red thy lips, why dost thou love
No man except he laugh a golden laugh?
Tears and the grave are all this life permits,
Not sorrow but reality my song.”
At this the cloudy skies did open wide,
A slight angelic face near noon revealing.
He gazed and listened to the sweetest voice:
“Now lonely cousin, why art thou so sad?
Thy lady lost? Take comfort then. There is
Another dwells upon the island fair,
Euphonius so-called, ensconced in swartest
Europa, whose bright waters’ golden strands
Glitter in sunlight’s beams and thus
Encapsulate those shores with heart-felt mirth.
Old Nature’s child she is, but rude she’s not,
For courtliness her heritage and manner —
As thou shalt soon see, setting foot upon
Her shore. “At this the young heroic figure
Doffing his cap smiled broadly heavenward.
“Yet one last word,” the angel recommenced,
Her disposition turning serious.
“In this pursuit one rule shall govern thee:
Thy courtship must be wholly free of lust.
Forget the dissipations of thy youth.
This mistress new, though she becomes thy fortune,
And though she seem a boon, however sweet,
However kind, is difficult of mind,
And issues in for thee a novel age.
But go, take heart, for these instructions do
But tell what is already in thy temper.”
☾ Thence turning to the task at hand, he sees
His ship, her sail replete with wind, approach
The island and her maid with fullest haste.
He kneels upon the prow, he gazes o’er
The azure sea, beneath whose crystal surface
Fish are dallying. The wind now strongly
Bears the fine craft, which follows on the groove
It makes into the lady’s golden beach.
Quickly in buckskin shoes doth he descend,
Our hero proud, alighting on the sand,
To cast his artifacts ashore: pen, wallet,
Arrow and bow, anvil and plough, and anchor,
Each destined for a part in his adventure.
(Only his flintlock does he leave behind,)
Unloaded, Alexander turns his gaze
Upon the maiden isle itself. How, here,
O gentle reader, may I put in words
The scenery that lucid eye descried?
The island lies before him like a limpid
Vessel of holy water on a sinner’s
Dry lips, its sandy beaches pure as glass,
Ground to perfection in the teeth of God.
The leafiness of tree and shrub enmesh
Still finer pleasures hidden from the eye.
And yet the silky temperament of sky,
Water and earth do ravish him before it.
Catching the sides of his head with both hands,
Repeatedly pronouncing to himself,
“These shores are not the pearly Orient,”
Our Alexander, head held heavenward,
On bended knee the shore itself doth bless
And blesses too the prospect of those truths
That he and this fair isle will tell of one
Another in the tale that we encounter
As we endite and read his current deeds.
First, then, unbending that bent knee, he stands
Erect (although relaxed), arms gently hanging
At his sides. With an easy hand he brushes
A fallen lock aside, his features — bright
Eyes, aquiline nose, firm jaw, masculine
☾ Chest, legs and torso firm, and ample heart
(Yea, all his signs of manliness) — strike true.
With lucid eye he ponders all he sees,
Rejoicing at its natural opulence,
Yet with the lightest mental inner movement
Discerns the moral meaning of the scene.
“’Tis nothing but a war, this nature’s stuff,”
He says, “its ends interminably turning
Upon themselves — the blade of grass doth cut
Both ways.” He muses, ponders and reflects.
“This path I see that winds across the glade,
How civilized and pleasant doth it seem!
Thence must I take my way toward the grove,
Which beckons with its shade and balmy palms.”
Thus speaking sets fair Alexander forth,
Fixing both mind and mien on that oasis.
Directing hence his inland gait due north,
He parts the wavy grasses with his stride.
What object of his quest may we suppose
But satisfaction of his own desire?
Or should we think of him as bearing from
Another world a message of such great
Purport that deepest heaven itself conceives
In him the image of its life and death?
No, let no meaning allegorical,
Dear reader, here intrude on our plain tale.
No fool is Alexander and no pedant
The reader, or creator, of his deeds,
No fool at least for following thus far
The mortal movements of immortal man.
What? Said without the slightest irony?
Yea, Alexander in himself is proof.
But onward with our story yet to tell.
Our hero’s heavy stride had now conveyed
Him to the very center of the isle,
When, seeking water to allay his thirst,
He joyed at once to find a natural pool
Apparent in its human fitness. Then,
Dear reader, what surprise in him must we
Imagine there if as he stoops to drink
☾ He suddenly perceives in this fell surface
A woman radiant of form and figure,
Golden hair flowing over slender shoulders,
These dressed like all the rest of her slight frame
In a white muslin tunic, gold enwoven?
Such is our Alexander’s quick delight —
Sensing in her a disembodied beauty
So fine that one might call its excellence
The spirit, yea, the quintessence of love —
He wonders at the sureness of his vision,
Begins to question that same mind as with
Self-doubt the one that turns those images
From senses of delight to these ideas
Of beauty, form and grace he here beholdeth.
As he doth gaze, the water coalesces
To represent again its natural face.
“Where then,” he queries, “must I seek her substance,
Who, but a moment past, stood bright before
Me, seeming bedded in the crystal pool?”
To which a gently (if nowhere apparent)
Voice in sweet-toned words responds: “When thou,
Dear stranger to this isle, hast answered first
My question with regard to thy intent,
Then gladly will I share my presence with thee.
But first, inform me, whither hast thou come,
And why? Who sent thee, or is it by chance?”
Her voice makes music that doth seem to strike
The gentle chords of an harmonium
Within his senses, yea, his very being.
Yet nonetheless her questions touch
Likewise the quick of his intelligence.
Their brilliant reason makes him straightway marvel,
But soon their cogency doth sober him:
“How can I answer questions such as these?”
Enquireth Alexander, as though thought
And memory were, with good faith, insufficient.
“Yet bypass these requests, and what the loss!”
Says he, considering again her face.
Perplexed, he seats himself upon a stone
First further to reflect upon her image,
☾ Then further to consider those strange questions
That she hath put to him. “Whither I come
Indeed?” he asks himself, musing upon
The tone and tenor of the words pronounced.
At which her image gently riseth up
Again before him. Ears pricked, he perceives
A fluttering of wings about his head
And feels the presence of a mind unmatched
Beating about his own and yet within.
Gaining the summit of his head, she whispers:
“Whose voice in thy sleep dost thou listen to?
Is it thine own or mine?” Incredulous
Our Alexander hearing this becomes
More pensive yet to search the origin
Of every word, to fit together what
At first was only heard, now comprehended.
Together image, voice and meaning cause
Him recollect himself — the word, the tone,
The sense of what he has been, what he is.
Still he despairs to speak his understanding,
Lest he himself misunderstand through haste
What she intendeth by her questions.
Again he wonders. Is it love herself
That he has witnessed in the pool and heard?
Is she, the figment of his eye, to be
So seriously taken that his mind
Will buckle under from the rigors she
Hath thus imposed upon his simple thought?
Now his mind flashes with the sight of virtue,
Her garb and form rolled tightly into one
Englobèd image of bright sun and moon.
The stars flash and expire. All history dies
In her twin eyes. She blinks, she swoons, she fades,
Dissolving into the vague sandy midst
Of that oasis, palms awash above
To celebrate the sudden vacancy.
His head abuzz with her quick loss, our hero,
Looking about a-daze, now wonders how
Something so real so quickly disappeared
Leaving no trace except the light of day,
☾ Which, penetrating his serenity,
Now casts the shadow on his mind implied
Inversely by the brilliance of the sands.
Her essence, thence dispersed, poses new questions:
Should he here follow? Following, perhaps
Reveal her origin? Track solar beams
And their intention through the random sand?
And doing so what then hath he to gain?
Receiving here no word, our hero, pausing,
Gradually feels himself embraced, as if
The light resplendent on the surfaces
Of Nature’s body had by fiat been
Released, its forces gathered as a spirit
Drawing close to his person by attraction.
His form corporeal seems clothed in light;
More marvelous, her form he senses naked,
Somewhere producing from the ambient
An inner luminosity with which
She makes her being known but not apparent.
Her friendly and responsive self instead
He guesses grateful for companionship.
Intimate questions quickly come to mind:
Where but a moment past didst thou retreat to?
And why didst thou reject me here alone?
And how didst thou return in other form?
She smiles, yet answers not, at which he smiles,
Both questioners reduced to their own questions.
Now in that tacit image of themselves,
Each in another, let them concord seek
As briefly we explore the rest of this
Fair island in a search for clues to know
Better the nature, amplitude and power
By learning of our queen her habitat.
Expand, dear reader, then, through deeper sight
Our timid notion of her broad horizons.
Starting from this fair oasis, which, like
The navel on a beauteous wide belly,
Forms the pure center of an universe,
Your eyes construct a circle nearly perfect
(For thus from high above the coast appears);
☾ Next conjure up your images in green
To represent the rich and verdant flora
Consorting with the azure sea about her.
There in her lap, atop that lovely sward,
Lie flowers open to the rising sun,
Whose spreading beams do tessellate the trees,
The shrubbery, sweet grasses, herbs and mints
That in this morning thrive of mist and dew.
The cricket and dear birds adorn the ear;
Gentle waves lap and foam upon the beach;
The scent of ripening fruit floats on the breeze.
All comeliness of Nature, sporting with
Herself, and deigning in the glass herself
To see doth nonetheless here understand
That life is in itself, no other end
Sustaining. Grasses, like hands on her breast,
Wave at the heavens, fluffy hand like-clouds
Gesturing higher into that high black
Above, to our hand-eye invisible.
The surface beauties plummet to the core.
Our Alexander, scans it all as if
It were his own domain or a vast realm
Shared with a tame and gentle consort. Not
So. Alexander, like ourselves, hath erred
In thinking this mild-seeming, hospitable
Woman of her own island home not queen.
(Thus with her balm hath Nature dulled his mind.)
Conversely, like an anxious and exhausted
Virgin, by love becalmed but sensing her
Betrayal, Alexander’s queen, defeat to
Prevent, lays plans to banish him whom most
She loves, though all the while that love concealing.
Out of the boles of trees her spirit now
She reassembles, leaving goodness bound
In her fair earth and joining those malign
Forces together, holding her design
Tight in the secret of her heart. In light
Sandals she trips about her isle, encircles
Its beaches, its fine veldts, its central prey,
Her small feet dabbling in the salty waves.
☾ Hair tumbling in gold ringlets to her shoulders
She muses thus upon her Alexander:
“He set his ship upon my shore, and came
In search of me. A fool was I to show
My form, for now he only wisheth more.
Yet should my father learn that I’ve encouraged
Advances amorous, he’d gather up
Into his palm and hurl me to the stars,
Fixing again in that great firmament
The constellation I’ve descended from.
She smirks a bit and, looking at the back
Of her lithe hand, smiling at her fingers,
Thinks them so tender and yet long and strong
As need be for a murder. “In my bones
I feel a debt to race and womanhood.
Why should I suffer longer this strange male
Who here regards himself the man alive
Most worthy of my charms, invades my realm
Of innocence and cuts me from my future?
I’ll muster courage and, like our first Eve,
Avenge my sex and purify my state.
My essence, in the bold and proud existence
Of me myself as act, shall realize
Its pure potential in the self-defeat
Of one who ignorant must fall of his
Own weight, unwary of this curse of mine.”
With which she takes her guise most ravishing,
Fitting again herself with tunic loose,
Undoes her coif in disarray and strides
Inland to stalk and find her unsuspecting
Prey. Before long she marks his form, reclining,
That same clear pool beside which first he had
Her wondrous image spied. The queen away,
Our Alexander shapes an instrument
Whereon his newfound grief at her departure
He can assuage. High-ho! what music issues
From this rough-hewn thing — but a birchen bark
For belly and a sedgy reed drawn taut
For string? To which, however, he now adds
His voice to sing a madrigal for sorrow.
☾ He, finishing his plaintive melody
In praise of her true virtue, lily skin,
High bearing, pearly paps and sweetest lips —
All lost though some misfortune unpredestined
And still nowise explained — now casts his lute
Aside, claps hands upon his breast and, moaning,
Recklessly dashes life and limb to ground.
Lately arrived, our winsome queen o’erviews
The scene to watch with cruel pleasure antics
Invented by her own perversity
As, alternately beautiful and vixen,
She smiles a lovely smile of hate him toward,
Baring at him her fangs with lifted cheeks.
In such a mighty mist of desperation
Rolls Alexander to and fro upon
The solid turf, grasping for that with which
He might his end-all make. Meanwhile his queen
Continues in her contumaciousness
To spread unseen within the atmosphere
A poison. When, groping about, the hand
Of Alexander falls upon an arrow
Brought by him for the hunt to this fair site.
Reluctantly he grips it, kicks the dirt,
And shouts his helpless cries to God o’erhead.
Thus writhing in the dust he brandishes
The symbol of his force, then points its head
Into his empty breast. Sweat beads his brow;
His mind, perfervid, makes its last attempt
To reduce anguish to the tune of sense.
Instead, in gruff tones of despair he speaks —
The fatal weapon poised in hand above —
These words, which he doth think to be his last:
“Heaven on high my witness be to perfidy
As no man else hath ever here encountered.
Unwittingly I caught her sight, now night
And day have sought her flesh to no avail.
Surely her cruelty is unsurpassed,
Yet even it will take no constant form,
Therefore, with this my hand I give it shape.”
So saying, it he plungeth at his heart.
☾ Quickly as she can, drawing nigh to him,
She reaches forth a tender, slender arm
And interposes her pale hand between
This saddened breast and that sharp, threat’ning point.
Still thrusting it his center toward, he forces
The engine dark into her palm, unwary
Of injury to her produced. Her fluid
Floweth forth, clear at first, then white, then red.
Dazed, half dead, slowly now to life returning,
Our Alexander, sensing he has failed,
In that same instant feels upon his chest
The warm life-giving liquid from her limb,
He moans upon the ground, his spirit fast
Expiring. Eyes bat twice or thrice. He faints.
When suddenly her pangs give way to mercy.
She swings her arm in large courageous arc
And pulls with it her gauzy garment o’er
His form, reducing hers in motion vague
Back to a state of purity, as time
Reverses matter’s fatal course toward essence.
His life, her nothingness, create a play
In which to each they breathe their sustenance,
Across a waste of substance, Nature’s girth.
From pole to pole communicating then,
They find each in the other consciousless
Yet knowing through instinct intelligence,
Whence cometh vital strength and mind sublime,
Whither those elements must each return.
Let us, dear dealer, I and thou, regard
This polar figure not as my invention
But as an esemplastic model of
Our principals, one seeming North, one South —
Not with a reference to geography
But to their own conception of themselves.
So much for this. Since now they coalesce,
Betimes adrowse in one another’s arms,
Chaste in a union, his desire and hers,
Binding their sense of opposites in sleep.
United thus, the long night through they dream,
Both mindful minds, each intrauterine.
☾ How of their reverie speak, whose images
We know through intuition only? What
Can I, a third, say of that intercourse?
Yet mystically it bubbles into sight.
A garden here before their eyes unfolds,
One vision lingering upon the grass,
The other positing huge leafy trees
That spread a canopy their heads above.
She turns to him in wonderment but speaks
His very words, as they, in unison,
Declare, declaim, describe what now appears,
Then query what it is they see. Can it
Be Nature’s paradise, the gift of God?
Or, ’tis it merely figment of their fancy?
As thus they muse, a seed in earth takes form,
Germinates, sprouts, then flowering climbs to heaven.
In naming it aloud they make it so.
“Tree, in thy braches, what is that a-glimmer?
Its wings are spread as if about to fly.
Why, look, it leaps, it glides, it flutters near,
And settling down above us spreads its wings,
Closing its feathers here about our heads,
As with its warmth us too to incubate.”
Thus seated, head to head inclining, each
Holds tight the other’s left hand in his own.
“Our nakedness” (again they speak and bring
Them into being), “natural beauty, grace
Do here abound as of their own accord.”
Words said, their inner beings radiate
Through limb, through body, through their general mien
With such intensity that golden flames
Leap from their eyes and catch that bird afire,
Who, soul departing, burns to very ash.
“Our bodies herewith blaze to incandescence!
Behold! They melt, my virtue thine, thine mine.”
And thus souls too cross lines corporeal,
Her mind becoming his, and his mind hers.
“What thoughts we think, what common visions see!
A pear tree blossoming within the garden;
A vial of purest liquid, us immersed.
☾ Within its curvature, all bathed in sleep,
The bed whereon we lie the floor of heaven;
A golden comb combing our silver locks
Together; lambs that signify our love;
To greet the dawn a porch of tortoise shell,
From which to blow our kisses through the clouds
Downward upon the mortals far below.
What sweeter thing than this our bliss to know,
A charm to us within such limits mete,
As to our narrator and reader too —
If not untuned or injured or abused.
Why man so pure in mind and soul should fight
Amongst himself I cannot understand,
Unless it be some higher goal or base
Instinct drives him to purify his race.
Let him instead sleep through the afternoon
And in that space and time his own lost glory
Interpret as we in these flowing grasses,
Gay flowers and refreshing shades now do.”
And finishing that dream they dreamt another,
As deep and perfect as the first, yet sad,
Though bright in its beginning — so I guess,
Intuiting again that state of mind.
As it begins the two are just awakened
From lengthy and sweet midday sleep. They yawn,
They stretch, they smile at one another, turning
Their thought to what amusement might this time
Of indolence and blue skies pass anon.
Sitting upon a hollow log it soon occurs
To him that he and she should make a sport
Of venturing away from this dull isle
Perhaps a league or two in search of life
Such as perchance these neighboring isles inhabits.
Together thus they make their preparations,
Filling the hollow log with these supplies
That a brief sojourn will require: an anchor —
To let them ride within another’s harbor;
Baskets of fruit, to tide them from their hunger;
And fronds of palms to keep the sun from off
Their heads and give them shelter for a nap.
☾ ’Tis thus they set out for the open sea
He, pushing off and splashing on aboard,
Takes hold the oar and rigs the crudest sail,
Which nonetheless to them seems finest silk,
For in their happiness they feel no envy.
Presently, as by provident design,
A gentle wind gust fills the eager sheet,
While, with his long oar steering, Alexander,
Turning the craft into the great and ruffled
Way, points its bow toward the barest speck
Of land upon the far and vague horizon.
Forward she seats herself to dangle there
Her ivory finger overboard and skim
The bubbling waves that leap against the prow,
Which, in its progress, cleaves the salty main.
Next Alexander steers the northward veering bow
Toward that region’s land and sets the sail.
Relaxing now, he slumbers, gazes lifted.
Meanwhile the movement of the vessel gives
To her a glimpse of those her native shores.
Her breath catches at what she sees: her home,
Encompassed by her eye entire. Straightway
Her mind reverts to that injunction old,
Father’s command that she ne’er part the isle —
Though its abeyance with his death she reckons.
Nath’less her bosom heaves against the curve
Of Alexander’s log, as she retracts
Her feet from his at the ship’s very center.
Scanning the vast and briny horizont
She feels herself forsaken, cast adrift,
And yet secure beneath the cloudy sky,
In which majestic billows intermingling
Send sheets of rain to drench the chilly North,
Shade to allay the torrid southern waters.
Soon cloud on massy cloud compounds itself,
And threats from ominous if distant heavens
Move closer to surround the tiny vessel.
The first chill strikes the air. A little drop
Touches the forearm, next the brow, then naked
Foot. Gray grows darker into night. The sky,
☾ As holding breath, dazzlingly breaks with light,
Stretching a bolt from high above to sea
Below, exploding in a mist and clapping
Its fierce ear-piercing thunder on the mortals
Wet — with a rain that falls in curtains drear —
And dreadful of the darker trembling brine
Which, peaking, knocks and rolls that tickle log,
Forming beneath it new uncertain valleys.
Whereon the heavens open to deposit
A generous apronful of fist-like hail
To dent the pates of Alexander and
His consort, which also tears their sail asunder.
Still higher, mountainous waves begin to loom
And crash against their frail and trembling bodies.
A lightning bolt released from low above,
Striking, divides in two the tender log
And casts our heroine and hero overboard.
Though she leaps clear of danger, he is trapped.
The sturdy anchor and its chain have roped
Themselves about his leg, thus down he goes.
Stunned by the impact of this recent crash,
He plummets deep, bethinks himself asleep,
Then dreams until, a-gasp with wat’ry breath,
He nearly drowns. In urgent fear he grapples
To free his leg, bound in those fatal fetters.
Meanwhile his heroine lies floating free,
Abandoned on the tempest-driven tide.
What doom they face, with nothing but despair
To differentiate themselves from lower
Animals caught in Nature’s machinations,
No hand to grasp and save them but their own!
Brutally thrashing in the naked sea
Each chances in his turn upon one half
Of that split log, which, climbed upon, provides
A water sled. Clinging with claw-like nails,
Our hero and his consort weather out
The storm, half conscious, half unconscious, hope
Alternative with hopelessness, as life
With death. When gradually the seas subside.
The heavens part and clear. A shaft of light,
☾ Firing the new-rinsed sky, has sparked to life
An arching rainbow like a shaft across
The sea. The clouds accumulate upon
Themselves once more, though this time peacefully.
Exhausted yet serene the two brave souls,
Wedded like bride and groom by that ordeal,
Gaze each at one another, each reclining
To rest upon his log, his wooden savior.
Soon deepest sleep o’erwhelms them both in turn.
Fair Alexander is the first to dream.
Clouds once dispersed, blue heaven shines above him,
Th’uncertain sea beneath him dissipated.
He seems to wake, as though from two-day sleep,
Stretches his limbs and surveys all about him.
These nights he must have passed on that fair isle
Where late he landed and did suffer much!
Its underfoot and greenery familiar
Provide much comfort to his shaken soul.
Thus bathed in paradisal mood he drowses,
And we shall not awaken him unduly.
Meanwhile she dreams a long fantastic dream.
Within the sea, once calm, a river grows,
Whose current toward a continent afar
Swiftly the sleeping heroine transports.
Under the caverned nighttime sky she wakes
To watch the stars go hurtling by.
Immersing then her hand in the warm ocean,
She finds the water not itself in motion.
And yet she knows herself speeding through air,
Though time and distance to another place.
The river slows; a harbor comes to view,
Its contours faint at first, then more distinct.
Next she perceives, o’er all its tiny buildings,
Bright light — and yet a larger higher glow
Above the scene, fading to dark blue night.
Miniature ships of commerce ride at anchor,
Their mast and rigging, sail and deck,
Transom and sides irradiate with light.
Into this port deliberately she glides.
A haze envelops it yet nothing hides.
☾ Into a waiting dock her vessel slides.
Upon a golden stair, for her to step,
A carpet, laid by hands invisible,
At once appears. She mounts the splendid ramp,
The path beneath her feet turning to gold
With each successive step of her sure progress.
Before her gaze stretches the inky fabric,
A dark reflection of the skies o’erhead,
Its hue transmogrified by her light tread,
Which spreads the dew and parts its inner fibers.
Stepping upon it, her slow steady gait
Bears her directly toward the city gate.
Her proud head, dreamlike, parts the nascent air.
The muscles of her neck are taut, as she
Pursues the narrow way from port to town.
The town itself, looming upon the hill,
Appears to her as figments of her mind,
The building walls echoes of distant words,
An atmosphere like ancient sites remembered
Washing above the present seas and past.
Striding ahead her even pace next bears
Her through that portal, diamond-, ruby-, gold-
Encrusted, which by its great richness seems
To transform her fair shape to queenliness.
Yet strangely this her reginal procession —
Alike in stateliness a coronation —
Draws no crowd. Gazing about she wonders:
“Not long ago I lived amidst a tribe,
The island, narrow though it be, my home.
Family and good friends there surrounded me.
Daily cavorted we beneath the sky
In mirth and merriment. Where then is this
I find myself, my heart entombed in vast
Chambers of golden gloom, the bright blue sky
With darkness deepened, its rich atmosphere
Oppressive to my soul and blood and life?”
Thus thinking on her recent history
She moves beneath the arch and passes on,
Encountering in time that city’s plaza.
The mist, so heavy and lugubrious,
☾ Begins to clear; the light clouds flee; the sun
Brightens and sheds its lucid beams.
Before her eyes appears a model sight,
Remnant of civil life as it was led
In days gone by. A grace adorns the square,
Charm and utility identified:
A sculptured well, the plaza’s center, fills;
Amenities of a communal life
Abound: the theater, an eating place,
Both open to the sun; a common bench;
A ring for disputatious friends to talk in,
To argue for another point of view,
Or listen to an elder speak his wisdom.
Forward she strolls into that open space,
Cherishing, as an antiquarian,
The objects of an ancient life, its relics:
A hitching post beside the well; a bridle
Carelessly tossed upon the golden ground;
It, like the hitching post and well, agleam
With the bright silv’ry sheen adorning all.
She looks about again, surveys the whole,
Is filled once more with marvel. Yet one thing
She misses in this perfect scene, the bliss
She’d thought, or hoped, to find — perhaps recalled.
She seats herself upon a bench and cries.
Even the tears that stain her ruddy cheek
Seem silver; and her pale skin glows, but glows
With that deep hue of disappointment. Here
Is nothing but the substance of the past,
Lacking its presents and its future life.
What must she do to satisfy her mind,
Her urge, not to find, but create, a world?
She wonders what to do and, wondering,
With inspiration starts to see her way.
Which presently begins before her eyes
To circulate throughout the primal plaza,
Leading her eye from gate to shops to exit,
From the flat ground to building front to sky.
Suddenly casements, here and there, swing wide.
The figure of a man stands in a window!
☾ With gestures puppet-like he moves hid arms,
In jerky motion pushing back the curtains.
Within the room a light appears, revealing
The raven tresses of his doll-like mistress.
He turns his back upon the scene below —
His movements now becoming fluid — and,
With a long swooping gesture toward the woman,
Advances there to hurl her with himself
Upon a bed. As they collapse a swelling
Of violins and woodwinds issues forth.
As toward this scene within to fantasize
Of sugared bliss our “she” must bend her mind,
A vision to her cloudy eyes arises:
Deeply-fluffed pillows have received the form
Of that dark woman — young, so delicate,
Yet in love’s sinuous ways all-knowing.
Her pearly bosom pants beneath the force
Of that opposing form mechanical
Who presses on her with his lust. The walls
Of the pink room shudder in ecstasy.
Or so she sees it in her loneliness.
In fact the heavy damask curtain falls,
Obscures the view of all those down below
Who’d peer upon the innermost delight
Of such a pair engaged in such amour.
As upward she toward the casement gazes,
Marveling at her concupiscent urge,
She feels about her private person touching
A hand. She turns, startled at the strange sight
Of yet another creature. “There, my dear,
There, now,” he soothes her, “have no fear. My name
Is Sir John Wintergreen. I am an exile
In this brave land, whose other habitants,
As you’ve no doubt observed, remain indoors
Throughout the day, emerging when
Their needs are satisfied.” Abashed, she draws
Back — such impertinence she thinks the sight
Of this old man, who, she observes, hath nary
A stitch of clothing on his meager frame!
“I quite, dear, understand this your surprise,”
☾ Saith he. “They stripped me so when I arrived
As mark of my condition — foreignness,
Ill-breeding, thus they deem it.” “Oh,” saith she,
How terribly unkind of them.” And then
Pausing to think, she adds, “And who are ‘they’?”
Oh, quite,” saith he, “Centurions, the men —
If we should call them such — inhabiting
This land by force.” “Tell me,” saith she, “what are
They like, and why ‘by force’ their tenure hold?”
Smiling benignly at her ignorance
He takes her hand, proposing that they stroll
Together thence into the sliver fields
Where they might have the leisure and the quiet
(Because the plaza is alive with motion)
For him to educate her in the ways
Of this to her strange land, to him familiar.
No sooner past the gate they twine their fingers
In one anothers’, he and she both eager
For human contact after such delay,
His age deserting him before her youth,
She flushed but smiling at his withered shape.
Sir John directs them down a shady lane,
Where silver foliage turns the evening moon
Aside, come to the full in th’eastern sky.
The path is dappled silver, bronze and gold.
Before too long the lovers find their couch,
Especially fabricated for them by
An elven tribe, which notes with interest keen
Their aventure. By threads of gold enwoven
The couch’s frame is held together, beads
Of silver strung across the seat and arms
For ornament. The newly conjoined couple
Settles upon its leafy cushions, here
To consummate their vows of winsome love.
But leave we must this happy, or unhappy,
Couple that once again we may encounter
Our hero who, tossing upon the sea,
Then slumbering in dream, we lately left.
Thus she on terra firma we deposit
Our Alexander’s state of mind to posit.
☾ A beautiful though plaguey place it is
That Alexander wakes again to visit.
“This golden island is no Eden, is it?”
He muses to himself, remembering
The recent past he seemed to spend upon it.
“But was I dreaming then, perhaps?” he wonders.
“Was she who threatened and then solaced me
A figment of my fine imagination?”
He yawns and, rolling with the waves, falls back
To sleep, to waters deep below the common
Considerations he has just been kin to.
Soon a near-finished thought once more invades
Him. Sitting up he stretches out his legs
And, to catch its glow, holds his rounded arms
Up to the sun, a-stream with rays at noon,
Fulfilling Nature’s need, as Adam, Eve.
He keeps that fateful posture for a minute,
Then in the sun lies down to bathe within it.
Happily drowsing, yet he this time fails
To dream, as acid indigestion, brought
About by much wild fruit and many berries,
Causes him slumber restlessly all day.
When finally at dusk awakening
He views the scene, the moon grown to the full
Projects its crystal, melancholy beams,
In which an image indistinct of “she”
Appears, but now erased by deeper pangs:
Our hero proud craves meat and feels within him
His savage instinct, sharpened by Diana’s
Rays. In short, quickly must he arm himself
To set his sinews more propitiously
Against the forces of those animals
Which in his eye and brutal mind do dance,
Tempting his motion forward to the kill.
Though firm of will, ferocious in his frame,
Yet lacks he still the wherewithal to slay.
His sharp eyes glance about the wilderness,
Scanning its features crude for sign of pointed
Branch, object blunt, or missile fit to throw;
When, lighting upon a glint within the grass,
☾ Our Alexander spies the very arrow tip
Fashioned from polished stone that once his life
By his own hand did threaten to destroy.
Bending a branch from nearby willow tree
He quickly twists its leaf-stripped form to make
A clumsy string, then searches for a sapling
So thick as to sustain the force of drawing,
So thin as to allow him with an arrow
To fashion it, this tip his only blade.
Soon Alexander’s bow is made and strung,
As tough yet fine in feature as his own
Supple and sinewy frame. Only the shaft
To fit that tip upon remains to make.
His task once done he pauses by a brook
His arduous sweat to loosen from his pores,
The keener his fine sense of smell to sharpen.
Next sets he out for meat, the images
Primordial of blood and hoof and muzzle
Dancing within his cruel hunter’s vision.
The moon has risen to heaven’s center
And shines upon the middle of the isle.
There at its navel stands our hero strong,
His mind considering which step to take
In search of living animal. No grain
Will here suffice, no fruit or berry ripe;
Instead he must the fleeting form arrest,
Tear it asunder and its flesh devour.
At once he plots his course, stepping at first
From out that center to his right, his right
Foot leading forth; then left; then right.
Next he begins to circle round the point
From which he started, making a narrow spiral,
Now wider, wider yet, until he stands
Twenty paces distant from that first point
Still he descries no game: no hare, no fowl,
No cleft-foot doe — nothing for him to eat.
Further then must he spiral, entering
At first the brush, here dodging in and out
’Mongst smaller trees, ’mongst larger ones, until
At last he finds himself obscured within
☾ The wood. Startled, he stops. A glistening eye
Glares from the darkened foliage. What is this?
A leaf rustles; a padded paw he hears
Upon the earthen floor. Two eyes appear.
Rank feline odor here pervades the air.
Faint Alexander’s blood runs cold. His hands,
Placing the arrow shaft upon his bow,
Tremble — ever so slightly. Yet his nerve
Is true. The tiger springs! Growling, it claws
To reach the eager hunter, who with a grace
Unmatched evades its bright and steely fang.
Once past, the great cat pauses — doom but done.
For Alexander pivots on his toe,
Letting slip from his grip the whistling missile,
Which, in a twinkling of the eye, finds home
In the hot tiger’s flank. Relinquishing
Its dignity the cat flees to it lair,
Screaming its banshee yell. Though wounded sorely,
Halt, nonetheless it handily outstrips
In that short race our fleet pursuing hero.
What now to do? These late exertions hard
Have left our Alexander out of breath
And hungrier by far, his bloody eye
Famished with thirst to taste his bloody prey.
He follows farther on the heels of his
Elusive mark, succeeding step with step
Until the prints of the great beast have led
Darkly toward the mouth of a gloomy cave.
Without he pauses as within “she” roars,
Moaning with bitterness. So deep concealed
She is that no fine missile of the archer’s
Art could hope to discover and dispatch her.
Imagination must instead prevail.
Again he ponders what to do. The wounded
Animal at bay, to assure his future
Meat Alexander rolls a stone before
The entrance to the cave, then traces back
His steps to the fair island’s center, where
He seats himself to puzzle out an answer.
How the fierce beast to trap with his bare hands,
☾ His meager weapon ineffectual?
“Why,” he reflects, “not a new weapon forge?
With what? With this firm anvil whereupon
I sit. And what to forge, then, thereupon?
A sword — with which to challenge and to chop
The head of that fierce beast, to give me meat.
And what upon this anvil to compound,
A sword to make, no metal crude at hand?
Why, there, my plough reposing in the grass!”
With further cogitations such as these
Bright Alexander starts in zeal his work,
Arising from his seat to fetch the plough
And then — a second thought — with stony hammer
Forge fast that implement agrarian
Into the most ferocious sword yet seen.
With seasoned grip he seizes fast his weapon,
Slashing in practice at the nearby foliage,
Decapitating saplings, flowers, buds.
Courageous, spirit flowing with new pride,
He searches out again the prison cave.
Approaching nigh he sniffs the musky air.
(The odor of the cat is everywhere.)
Here cautiously he peers above the stone
To find her pacing nervously about.
The mother cat whines anxiously, her dugs
Painfully full — no kittens them to suckle.
A moral twinge attacks the hero’s heart:
Shall he leave in distress the childish spawn
Or yet go hungry for the meat he seeks?
Perhaps he should turn vegetarian.
Forsooth he cannot. It is not his nature.
Instead, a man, he fetches up his sword,
Girding his loin alone with human courage,
Pushes aside that weight athwart the cave’s
Entrance and boldly strides into its mouth.
The tigress snorts, filling his breast with fire.
Alexander returns her grunt with his,
Locking her eyes in his own fervid gaze.
She coils in frenzy. He withdraws the sword.
She springs, making her bid for daylight clear.
☾ She shall not have an exit. Alexander,
Mustering all his strength, extends his arm
Her chest toward, reaching his crude but steely
Tip into her quick heart. She falls. She lies
Prostrate upon the floor damp with her blood,
Her whelps, assembled now without, protesting,
Left to their fate, as she to hers, as he to his.
Thrusting his blade in, Alexander cuts
The heart from out the cavity. With bare
Hands grasping the dark form he draws
In to his maw and sinks his teeth therein,
Gulping that life along with flesh.
The sounds of splashing water here awake him,
A southern breeze gently having resumed.
He rises from his log to look about,
To relocate his bearing and his mate.
Nearby she floats, a smile upon her face,
And only just beginning to awake.
She bats her eyes and yawns, stretches her arms,
Then, marking him, paddles to reach his side.
Soon they recount their dreams to one another,
Until the sun has reached high in the sky.
Piecing their craft once more together, off
They sail, prudently, having set their sights
Upon her native island, whence they came.
Then, dreaming still, her silver shores they touch,
The moon now faint upon her western shore.
The sunlight beams awaken them together.
Having while dreaming fallen asleep, they wake
Past wakefulness, aware once more of all
The life about them on that island fair.
Lo, in a bush a rustling now they hear,
Warriors have landed ship upon their isle
While they have slept and dreamt. Yet they fear not.
Meeting the captain with civility,
Our Alexander, opening his wallet,
Offers a gold and silver coin which hence
Insures their passage safe returning home.
Thus his and her adventure finishes,
A fitful tale recorded by his pen. ☾