Canto I


You stranger, long before your glance can light
Upon these words, time will have washed away
The moment when I first took pen to write,
With all my road before me⁠—yet to-day,
Here, if at all, we meet: the unfashioned clay
Ready to both our hands; both hushed to see
That which is nowhere yet come forth and be.


This moment, if you join me, we begin
A partnership where both must toil to hold
The clue that I caught first. We lose or win
Together; if you read, you are enrolled.
And first, a marvel⁠—Who could have foretold
That in the city which men called in scorn
The Perfect City, Dymer could be born?


There you’d have thought the gods were smothered down
Forever, and the keys were turned on fate.
No hour was left unchartered in that town,
And love was in a schedule and the State
Chose for eugenic reasons who should mate
With whom, and when. Each idle song and dance
Was fixed by law and nothing left to chance.


For some of the last Platonists had founded
That city of old. And mastery they made
An island of what ought to be, surrounded
By this gross world of easier light and shade.
All answering to the master’s dream they laid
The strong foundations, torturing into stone
Each bubble that the Academy had blown.


This people were so pure, so law-abiding,
So logical, they made the heavens afraid:
They sent the very swallows into hiding
By their appalling chastity dismayed:
More soberly the lambs in spring time played
Because of them: and ghosts dissolved in shame
Before their common-sense⁠—till Dymer came.


At Dymer’s birth no comets scared the nation,
The public crêche engulfed him with the rest,
And twenty separate Boards of Education
Closed round him. He was passed through every test,
Was vaccinated, numbered, washed and dressed,
Proctored, inspected, whipt, examined weekly,
And for some nineteen years he bore it meekly.


For nineteen years they worked upon his soul,
Refining, chipping, moulding and adorning.
Then came the moment that undid the whole⁠—
The ripple of rude life without a warning.
It came in lecture-time one April morning
—Alas for laws and locks, reproach and praise,
Who ever learned to censor the spring days?


A little breeze came stirring to his cheek.
He looked up to the window. A brown bird
Perched on the sill, bent down to whet his beak
With darting head⁠—Poor Dymer watched and stirred
Uneasily. The lecturer’s voice he heard
Still droning from the dais. The narrow room
Was drowsy, over-solemn, filled with gloom.


He yawned, and a voluptuous laziness
Tingled down all his spine and loosed his knees,
Slow-drawn, like an invisible caress.
He laughed⁠—The lecturer stopped like one that sees
A Ghost, then frowned and murmured, “Silence, please.”
That moment saw the soul of Dymer hang
In the balance⁠—Louder then his laughter rang.


The whole room watched with unbelieving awe,
He rose and staggered rising. From his lips
Broke yet again the idiot-like guffaw.
He felt the spirit in his finger tips,
Then swinging his right arm⁠—a wide ellipse
Yet lazily⁠—he struck the lecturer’s head.
The old man tittered, lurched and dropt drown dead.


Out of the silent room, out of the dark,
Into the sum-stream Dymer passed, and there
The sudden breezes, the high hanging lark
The milk-white clouds sailing in polished air,
Suddenly flashed about him like a blare
Of trumpets. And no cry was raised behind him.
His class sat dazed. They dared not go to find him.


Yet wonderfully some rumour spread abroad⁠—
An inarticulate sense of life renewing
In each young heart⁠—He whistled down the road:
Men said: “There’s Dymer”⁠—“Why, what’s Dymer doing?”
“I don’t know”⁠—“Look, there’s Dymer,”⁠—far pursuing
With troubled eyes⁠—A long mysterious “Oh”
Sighed from a hundred throats to see him go.


Down the white street and past the gate and forth
Beyond the wall he came to grassy places.
There was a shifting wind to West and North
With clouds in heeling squadron running races.
The shadows following on the sunlight’s traces
Crossed the whole field and each wild flower within it
With change of wavering glories every minute.


There was a river, flushed with rains, between
The flat fields and a forest’s willowy edge.
A sauntering pace he shuffled on the green,
He kicked his boots against the crackly sedge
And tore his hands in many a furzy hedge.
He saw his feet and ankles gilded round
With buttercups that carpeted the ground.


He looked back then. The line of a low hill
Had hid the city’s towers and domes from sight;
He stopt: he felt a break of sunlight spill
Around him sudden waves of searching light.
Upon the earth was green, and gold, and white,
Smothering his feet. He felt his city dress
An insult to that April cheerfulness.


He said: “I’ve worn this dust heap long enough,
Here goes!” And forthwith in the open field
He stripped away that prison of sad stuff:
Socks, jacket, shirt and breeches off he peeled
And rose up mother-naked with no shield
Against the sun: then stood awhile to play
With bare toes dabbling in cold river clay.


Forward again, and sometimes leaping high
With arms outspread as though he would embrace
In one act all the circle of the sky:
Sometimes he rested in a leafier place,
And crushed the wet, cool flowers against his face:
And once he cried aloud, “Oh world, oh day,
Let, let me,”⁠—and then found no prayer to say.


Up furrows still unpierced with earliest crop
He marched. Through woods he strolled from flower to flower,
And over hills. As ointment drop by drop
Preciously meted out, so hour by hour
The day slipped through his hands: and now the power
Failed in his feet from walking. He was done,
Hungry and cold. That moment sank the sun.


He lingered⁠—Looking up, he saw ahead
The black and bristling frontage of a wood
And over it the large sky swimming red,
Freckled with homeward crows. Surprised he stood
To feel that wideness quenching his hot mood,
Then shouted, “Trembling darkness, trembling green,
What do you mean, wild wood, what do you mean?”


He shouted. But the solitude received
His noise into her noiselessness, his fire
Into her calm. Perhaps he half believed
Some answer yet would come to his desire.
The hushed air quivered softly like a wire
Upon his voice. It echoed, it was gone:
The quiet and the quiet dark went on.


He rushed into the wood. He struck and stumbled
On hidden roots. He grouped and scratched his face.
The little birds woke chattering where he fumbled.
The stray cat stood, paw lifted, in mid-chase.
There is a windless calm in such a place.
A sense of being indoors⁠—so crowded stand
The living trees, watching on every hand:


A sense of trespass⁠—such as in the hall
Of the wrong house, one time, to me befell.
Groping between the hatstand and the wall⁠—
A clear voice from above me like a bell,
The sweet voice of a woman asking “Well?”
No more than this. And as I fled I wondered
Into whose alien story I had blundered.


A like thing fell to Dymer. Bending low,
Feeling his way he went. The curtained air
Sighed into sound above his head, as though
Stringed instruments and horns were riding there.
It passed and at its passing stirred his hair.
He stood intent to hear. He heard again
And checked his breath half-drawn, as if with pain.


That music could have crumbled proud belief
With doubt, or in the bosom of the sage
Madden the heart that had outmastered grief,
And flood with tears the eyes of frozen age
And turn the young man’s feet to pilgrimage⁠—
So sharp it was, so sure a path it found,
Soulward with stabbing wounds of bitter sounds.


It died out on the middle of a note,
As though it failed at the urge of its own meaning.
It left him with life quivering at the throat,
Limbs shaken and wet cheeks and body leaning,
With strain towards the sound and senses gleaning
The last, least, ebbing ripple of the air,
Searching the emptied darkness, muttering “Where?”


Then followed such a time as is forgotten
With morning light, but in the passing seems
Unending. Where he grasped the branch was rotten,
Where he trod forth in haste the forest streams
Laid wait for him. Like men in fever dreams
Climbing an endless rope, he laboured much
And gained no ground. He reached and could not touch.


And often out of darkness like a swell
That grows up from no wind upon blue sea,
He heard the music, unendurable
In stealing sweetness wind from tree to tree.
Battered and bruised in body and soul was he
When first he saw a little lightness growing
Ahead: and from that light the sound was flowing.


The trees were fewer now: and gladly nearing
That light, he saw the stars. For sky was there,
And smoother grass, white flowered⁠—a forest clearing
Set in seven miles of forest, secreter
Than valleys in the tops of clouds, more fair
Than greenery under snow or desert water
Or the white peace descending after slaughter.


As some who have been wounded beyond healing
Wake, or half wake, once only and so bless,
Far off the lamplight travelling on the ceiling.
A disk of pale light filled with peacefulness
And wonder if this is the C.C.S.,
Or home, or heaven, or dreams⁠—then sighing win
Wise, ignorant death before the pains begin:


So Dymer in the wood-lawn blessed the light,
A still light, rosy, clear, and filled with sounds.
Here was some pile of building which the night
Made larger. Spiry shadows rose all round,
But through the open door appeared profound
Recesses of pure light⁠—fire with no flame⁠—
And out of that deep light the music came.


Tip-toes he slunk towards it where the grass
Was twinkling in a lane of light before
The archway. There was neither fence to pass
Nor word of challenge given, nor bolted door,
But where it’s open, open evermore,
No knocker and no porter and no guard,
For very strangeness entering in grows hard.


Breath not! Speak not! Walk gently. Someone’s here,
Why have they left heir house with the door so wide?
There must be someone.⁠ ⁠… Dymer hung in fear
Upon the threshold, longing and big-eyed.
At last he squared he shoulders, smote his side
And called, “I’m here. Now let the feast begin.
I’m coming now. I’m Dymer,” and went in.