The Hoofs of Pegasus by Letitia Stockett

THE HOOFS OF PEGASUS


BY
M. LETITIA STOCKETT

1923

THE NORMAN, REMINGTON COMPANY
PUBLISHERS   BALTIMORE

Copyright, 1923, by
THE NORMAN, REMINGTON COMPANY

Published November, 1923.

PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.


TO
MARY SHIPLEY MILLS


The thanks of the author are due to Winfred Douglas for his criticism and help in arranging the material in this book; and to the editors of Poetry (Chicago), Contemporary Verse, The Literary Review and The Bowling Green for permission to include in this collection the poems which first appeared in these magazines.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Pegasus 13
In October 14
Sleep 15
Free 16
Our Lady of Understanding    17
At Eventide 18
Sacrament 19
Truth In a Well 20
Silence 21
Jewels 22
The Pool 23
Larkspur 24
Sounds 25
To Salari’s Madonna 26
The Bathers 27
At the Symphony 28
Wedding Song 29
February 30
To the Four Archangels 31
A Prisoner 32
Afterward 34
The Ascent of Ishtar 35
Discovery 37
Pomegranates 38
To Botticelli’s Venus 39
Hagar 40
The Piper 41
The Judas Tree 42
Waiting 43
The Last Furrow 44
Horse Chestnuts 46
The Unknown Soldier 47
The Fallow Fields 48
The Patteran 49
To a Musician 50
Tempo 51
To Scriabine: L’Extase 52
Adam Asleep 53
An Old House 54
Moonrise 55
Caged 56

THE HOOFS OF PEGASUS


[Pg 13]

PEGASUS

ONCE in a saffron twilight, rich with the sound of bells,In a dim meadow straying, high on the lonely fells,I saw Pegasus, winged Pegasus, cropping the asphodels.
His neck was clothed with thunder, his feet with strength were shod;Terrible in his beauty, he grazed on the starry sod,A white, untameable beauty, a stallion fit for a god.
Meekly he ranged unfettered; his wings were wet with dew,And where they trailed in the blossomy grass, a misty rainbow grew,Those strong, exultant pinions that trample the windy blue.
Then suddenly he raised his head. I felt the pulsing beatOf his valiant hoofs. He sprang on the track of the stars, unleashed and fleet.I was alone; but deep in the grass was the print of his deathless feet.

[Pg 14]

IN OCTOBER

IN a shower of ruddy goldFrom a thinning treeJove comes down.Naked, brown,The earth lies Danae.
Still she lies with hushed breath;Through each dreaming clodRuns the fireOf desire,Passion of a god.
Danae lies in her dark tower.On a March hillsideSprings the wheat—There the feetOf young Perseus stride.

[Pg 15]

SLEEP

LAST night I slid into the sea of sleep,Translucent, cool and deep.I left my dusty self upon the sandLike an old garment. Naked, free,I felt the waves close over me;The curious, eager water pressedAgainst the white curve of my breast.Then deep, deepThrough the green depths I sankInto the sea of sleep.
This morning I rose out of the dark tide,I rose through darkness, and there was no light,No radiance to illumeThe dusk; only the pallid gloomOf sleep. First green, then blue,Then the thin water parted, and the sun shone through.There lay my body; strangely it was I.
What did I bring back from the soundless deepFrom that grey, ancient sea of sleep:—
The glint of sunken gold, the plaintive knellOf some drowned bell,Remembrance vague and dimOf ghostly argosies,The misty shores of far Hesperides,The wraith of mermaids beckoning white and slim,The faint sea-music of a curvéd shell.

[Pg 16]

FREE

I am a beggar maiden,I sleep beneath a thorn,At night my tree is thick with stars,I see the slender hornOf the young moon,I see the cleanEssential light of morn.
The King Cophetua and his QueenRide by disdainfully;He glitters like a dragonfly,A scornful mouth has she—A curled red leaf—Yet she was onceA beggar maid like me.
The spearmen ride before them.My path no mortal knows;A ruby smoulders on her brow,My thicket yields a rose.Dance, dusty feet!I’m glad I’m notThe maid Cophetua chose.

[Pg 17]

OUR LADY OF UNDERSTANDING

OUR Lady understandsThough prayerful are her folded hands;Her face is paleWithin the azure shadow of her veil.Here in this shrine she seems remote, apart,For the dim centuries have quenched her fire,The slow years molded her to their desire.Ah, still she knowsThe ecstasy that glowsIn my wild heart!Once, not submissive, meekWith pensive brow and duteous cheek,There came a cry exultant, strong;“My soul doth magnify the Lord!”Clear as a ringing swordI hear her song.In high humilityShe knew herself to beThe Chosen of God, the Gate of the Divine.I kneel before her shrine,I gaze upon her tranquil face,Hail Mary, full of grace!I, too, know Love,And I am humble, proud, and wise.Our Lady understandsAll joy, all woe;The Son of God she laid to restUpon her breast,She knew the wounded Hands,And there is nothing else to know.

[Pg 18]

AT EVENTIDE

I shall light the candle,You will play for meIn the winter twilightA quiet melody.
Let there be no sorrowIn your song, or tears,Let all grief be ended,All the iron years.
Set our love to music,Like a rose in June,All the summer’s beautyIn one slender tune.

[Pg 19]

SACRAMENT

AS up and down the fields I went,The fields of trembling wheat,Under the high blue heavens of JuneIn summer’s poppied heat,I worked at homely common tasksSharp stubble ’neath my feet.But I was not alone; I knewA comradeship most sweet.
For as I gathered up the sheavesAnd bound the heavy grain,One whispered: “Yea, the world needs Food;Hungry it goes, and fainAm I to be its Bread, and giveMy Body for its pain.For this I lay in the dark earthThrough sun and singing rain.”
Into the vineyard I was sent,There One was keeping tryst.I cut the grapes—how beautifulTheir bloomy amethyst!He said “This is my Blood, the WinePoured for the world, ye wist.In wheat and grape ye work with meTo make my Eucharist.”

[Pg 20]

TRUTH IN A WELL

I PEERED into a well, and sawThe blue, blue eye of GodLook into mine far from the sun,Far from the friendly sod.
And suddenly I was afraid—The old wives’ tales are true—God is the truth hid in a well,How dread His gaze, how blue!

[Pg 21]

SILENCE

WE are still;There are no words.Across the skyA wedge of birdsFlies northward. Brown and thinned,A brittle leaf rasps in the wind.The sun creeps on from tree to tree.
We are still.Were a word spoken,Like a troubled poolIs silence broken.Better far be dumb.There are depths no stone could plumb;Circles widen endlessly.

[Pg 22]

JEWELS

EMERALD, ruby, amethyst,Sardius, beryl, topaz, jade;All the ramparts round high HeavenOf these shining stones are made.
But to beggars who must trudgeParched roads with weary feet,God has flung His jewels downIn the very city street.
In this meager dusty squareLindens bud in emerald mistLilacs burdened with perfumeBloom in heavenly amethyst.
Here is water crystal clear,Virgin jade is not more green.At the pool’s edge Judas treesStarred with ruby blossoms lean.
Emerald, topaz, amethyst,Glittering unearthly bright,Scattered by the hand of God,Beryl, sardius, chrysolite.

[Pg 23]

THE POOL

THERE is a poolSilent, dark and still,It holds the patterns of the treesThe polished lacquered traceriesUntil a whimpering breezeBreaks the design at will.
And through those waters dartEyeless fish and blind,Some silver coloured as a starOr crimson as a bloody scar,Sinister their beauties areLike mad thoughts in the mind.
Stranger than scaly thingOr imaged leaf,I see myself a shadow there,The fish are gliding through my hairMy dull eyes have a fixed stareDrowned in the pool of grief.

[Pg 24]

LARKSPUR

OUT in the garden as you played,A breeze moved to and froAcross my bed of larkspurIn grave adagio.
The wind with touch most delicate,Went up and down the scale—Wine-dark, frail amethyst, and blue,Blue as Our Lady’s veil.
You played softly to yourself,Your brown hands on the keys;And God with larkspur,You with sound, were making harmonies.

[Pg 25]

SOUNDS

I SHUT my eyes and all aroundThe room is murmurous with sound,Small lovely sounds without, within,Faint as a muted violin.
On the low roof the quiet rainFalls hushingly in wistful strain,It makes soft music in the leaves,And drips staccato from the eaves.
A grey moth flutters her frail wingsAgainst the glass; the kettle sings.Someone is reading low and clearOf Roncesvalles and Oliver.
And with this voice all sounds are blentIn pensive slow accompaniment,A melody made up of rain,Young leaves, a grey moth on the pane.

[Pg 26]

TO SALARI’S MADONNA

O LITTLE Son who draweth life from me,How deep a mystery.The very source of life thou art,And yet thou liest on my heart.
O little Son, joy pierceth me.Is thus fulfilled the old man’s prophecy?Sweet, sweet thy lips! Nay, little Son,“A sword, a sword”, said Simeon.

[Pg 27]

THE BATHERS

ALL in the misty weather,When clouds were hanging low,I trod a leafy woodland pathLong, long ago.
The cold green light of morningShivered among the trees,The little leaves were tremulous,Stirred by an eery breeze.
And then to me was givenA sight that one might dream,Three maidens white and glistening,Bathing in a stream.
One floated idly drifting,One shook her wet locks free,One stood as slender as a boy,As white as ivory;
Naked, unshamed, untrammelled;Ah, never did they know,I saw three maidens bathingLong, long ago.

[Pg 28]

AT THE SYMPHONY

THE lights grow dim. There comes a hush.Then swiftly in a mighty rushAs of great waters, over meBreak the slow surges of the symphony.
With a vast sweep majesticalLike emerald waves that topling fallIn foam, far off and faint beginsThe swelling beauty of the violins.
Silence. On some far beach I’ve heardThe high sweet keening of a bird.Now all the instruments are muteBut the rich music of a lonely flute.
Once more the wave is poised to break,Once more the wind-swept water shakeMy soul; and in this harmonyI know the splendour of the trampling sea.

[Pg 29]

WEDDING SONG

THIS is her room. The sunlight liesIn squares upon the floor.Here are her books, the ivory godShe brought from Singapore.
Here she stood in shining whiteHer hands were kind and cool,Her eyes were very still that day,Serene and beautiful.
Out in the sun the garden glowedAnd I remember this:The fragrance of the grapes, a showerOf starry clematis.

[Pg 30]

FEBRUARY

ALL the rhythms of life are slowAll the streams are choked with snow,Evening skies are pale,The very stars are still,On the long slope of the hillWoodsmoke weaves a pattern frail.
No cloak, no pretense here;The earth is clean as a naked spear,Beauty is stripped bare;But she will stoop as winter lingersTo pluck arbutus with expectant fingers,And weave the cold sweet blossoms in her hair.

[Pg 31]

TO THE FOUR ARCHANGELS

IF Michael lent his splintering lanceAnd his blue eager blade,Though you with scaly dragons fightYou would not be afraid.
If Gabriel should stoop to you,A rainbow in his wings,What luminous secrets you would know,What wise and simple things!
If Raphael with you should striveUntil the stars grew dim,Angelic vigour would be yours,The strength of Seraphim.
If on your sight great Uriel burned,Whose feet with fire are shod,He’d touch your earthly song of praiseInto a flame for God.
Michael, Gabriel, Raphael,Holy Uriel, guard you well.

[Pg 32]

A PRISONER

A PRISONER am I.In fivefold gyves and strongI shall be captive, bound,My whole life long.But fettered, I shall make my bondsInto a shining song.
For if it were not for the chains I bearI should be unawareOf the frail splendour of a peacock pacing slow,Rich, opalescent dyes,Blue, green, bronze-burnished, lustrous argent eyes—A fanfaradeOf lapis, azure, emerald and jade—A glory of spread plumes where shattered rainbows played.
And never should I knowThe sound of running water soft and low,The hushed grey music of a summer rain,A plain song cadence, beautiful and strange,Old wistful chants scarred with lost Eden’s pain.
Nor should I mark the rough austerityOf surf, the rude caress of waves that buffet me.Or find delightIn the cool touch of smoothéd ivory.[Pg 33]
And always I should lackThe scent of burning leaves, the poignant smackOf box; or heliotrope in the hot sun;Primroses opening their pale stars one by one.
Then, too, I should forego the savour of fresh bread.Clear-dripping honey thick with the perfumeOf the red clover bloom.And never should I cool my parchéd mouthWith luscious apricots, warm, tinctured of the South.
God, when my body mustReturn to dust,O let me beNot utterly set freeFrom these my friendly bonds!O let me use them there, as here, for TheeWith deeper rapture, keener ecstasy.

[Pg 34]

AFTERWARD

NOW I remember very plain:A sumac leaf was red,The bloom of grape was on the hills,The river was a twisted thread.
That day I marked not leaf nor hill,Nor rivers to the sea—I was my lover’s garden closed,I was his tower of ivory.

[Pg 35]

THE ASCENT OF ISHTAR

AT the first gate they gave the veil to Ishtar:On earth a pear tree trembles into bloom,The poplar weaves a web of changeful green and silver,Lord Tammuz comes back from his dusty tomb.
At the second gate they sped her on the journey,They gave her bracelets for her hands and slender feet:Through the reeds the wind goes piping, piping,The flutes of Tammuz are piping shrill and sweet.
And the jewelled circlet they bound about her waist.Can a ruby make the Daughter of the Moon more fair?Like bright spears in battle are the young men,And the maidens braid the pomegranate blossoms in their hair.
About the breasts of Ishtar they bound the sumptuous ornaments.The necklace they surrendered, and caused her to depart.And the cedar knows the Lady’s strength and her dominions,For the Dweller in the Morning Star makes strong the cedar’s heart.[Pg 36]
At the sixth gate they brought to Lady IshtarThe ear-rings, lovely as the silver-threaded rain;On the housetops there is the pleasant sound of showers,And on the slopes the green swords of grain.
At the seventh gate they crowned the Queen of Heaven,She has brought back Tammuz from the house of death.The winter is past, the rain is gone and over,And sweet is the vineyard in the south wind’s breath.

[Pg 37]

DISCOVERY

A BIRD to me was just a bird,A feathered thing one often heardPiping in the early dawnIn the lilacs on the lawn.But from you I learned to seeAll the beauty there can beIn the birds—the deep wood noteThrobbing in the veery’s throat,A cardinal adventuring byAs if a poppy tried to fly.God speaks indeed from bush and treeSince you discovered birds for me.

[Pg 38]

POMEGRANATES

IN city streets the blue dusk falls.The lights prick out. Folks hurry by.Buses are thronged. Sleek motors flash.“Extra—ship sunk!” the newsboys cry.
Before a little shop I pauseWhere Pietro sells, strange, precious fruit,Great globes of scarlet, heaps of goldBarbaric as a pirate’s loot.
I see pomegranates glowing there,And I forget the strident night,I hear the song of Solomon—“Return, return, O Shulamite.
Thy lips are like a scarlet thread,O prince’s daughter, thou art fair;Thy garments are perfumed with myrrh,With aloes drips thy braided hair.”
Dim fragrant gardens close me in,The city as a dream has gone,And from the South I feel the windsBlow soft from cedared Lebanon.

[Pg 39]

TO BOTTICELLI’S VENUS

IN the early dawning before the sun had risenThe wind piped mournfully along the lonely sand,The sea lay desolate, sunless, desolate,There was no light upon the deep or light upon the land.
Before the sun had risen in the cold green twilightCame a Lady from the foam, a Lady wistful eyed,The crinkled waves beneath her feet ran eagerly before her,She drifted in from alien seas at the turn of the tide.
Light came into the world with her. I knelt before her beauty,Her pure and awful nakedness unaware of shame,Her slender fingers hiding the apple of her bosom,Her red gold hair unfilleted blown like a windy flame.
Softly blew the winds about her, softly fell the blossoms,But in her face was sorrow for the long years to be:The kiss beneath the olives, the anguish of betrayal,Her grief was for the wounds of Love, Our Lady of the Sea.

[Pg 40]

HAGAR

THE desert trembles in the heatThe water pools are bitter.Boy, we follow the camel track;Sarah rides in a scarlet litter.
Here is the water, Ishmael,The bread your father gave.Sarah crumbles a wheaten cake,Her cup is filled by an eager slave.
Tonight our tent is hung with stars.In comfort Sarah rests.Abram dreams of the bondwoman,Of Hagar’s brown breasts.
Lord Osiris hear me!Isis, Heavenly One!All men’s hands are against me,But mine was the first-born son.

[Pg 41]

THE PIPER

YOU laid your slender fingers,Your fingers long and brown,Upon the pipes, and lured meFar from the stolid town.
You piped me to the greenwood,And there, when grace was said,We brake and ate togetherThe fairy’s secret bread.
Oh then my ears were openedAnd magically I heardThe small leaves talk together,The gossip of a bird.
Bewitched? There is no telling:But always, till I’m dead,I’ll hear your silver pipingAnd eat your fairy bread.

[Pg 42]

THE JUDAS TREE

WINTER to my tree has lentBeauty clean and innocent,Here no purple flowers blow,But crystal blossoms of the snow,Every crooked bough is setWith starry petals delicate.
Judas flung the silver down,And hanged himself beyond the town:Spring returns. The traitor bloodQuickens in each scarlet bud.Frost and snow remember not—Mercy on Iscariot.

[Pg 43]

WAITING

I WILL be silent,But in the hushMy heart will singLike a hermit thrush.
I will be silentI’ll say no word,My love shall burnLike a flame unstirred.
I will be silent,My joy I’ll hide,And wait as the sandFor the turn of tide.

[Pg 44]

THE LAST FURROW

(On Edward Calvert’s Woodcut)

AND suddenly my field was Heaven:I saw a shepherd standOn the edge of my ploughed land,And every dusty furrow shone with gold.And every leaf and blade of grassWhose common loveliness I had let passNow did unfoldNew beauties to my sight.God was that Shepherd garmented in light.
And there was singing:In a beechen woodThree maidens stoodAnd with their music praised GodIn a sweet and pleasant hymn.They danced, three maidens white and slimA measure, delicately trod.He loves no sad austerities,God is well praised by nymphs beneath the trees.[Pg 45]
My field was Heaven.An angel spedWith a bright bolt, and pierced the Serpent’s head,Satan is under heel. Good beasts, enthralled,Velvet mole, and leathern wing,Worm with fiery sting,And every noisome slug that crawledAre all set free. God is not in some alien place.In my ploughed field I saw the brightness of his face.

[Pg 46]

HORSE CHESTNUTS

IN April my horse chestnutsWere beautiful to see!Tapers set on every boughLike candles on a tree.But now in late OctoberWith frosty nights and coldThere is more poignant beautyIn their dim tarnished gold.

[Pg 47]

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

THEN Jesus said, “I thirst”, and there was oneWho filled a spunge, and put it to His mouth—An unknown Roman soldier—his the joyIn the three hours to quench that sacred drouth.
They had been dicing, and the seamless coatHad fallen to him. Now the thick darkness cameOver the land. He watched the CrucifiedWondering, in doubt, this soldier without name.
“Bacchus! The Jew knew how to die. The nailsWere blunt. He neither railed nor cursed.Even the sturdy thief had called him ‘Lord’”.At the ninth hour there came the cry, “I thirst”.
The Roman held the vinegar to his lips,And looked with pity on His dying Face.O Unknown Soldier, pray for me to giveMy love’s poor wine, and give it with such grace.

[Pg 48]

THE FALLOW FIELDS

LET the fields lie fallowBare and brown.Let the great winds stride over themAnd the snow come down.
Let them lie open to the sunTo the patient rain,And the dews whiten themE’er they yield again.
Plough in the sturdy weed,The common flower,Let their wild vigor yieldA lusty dower.
Then after sun and snowAfter dew and sleetFrom the earth will spring the greenFlame of the wheat.

[Pg 49]

THE PATTERAN

I’M married to a proper wife,My home is clean and neat,But I hear the gypsies calling me,I love the dancing feet.
I long to up and follow themOver the rolling moor;I sicken of my own hearth-fire,The lilacs by the door.
I long to see the sweep of starsWheel nightly overhead;I want the four strong winds to beThe four posts of my bed.
I long to wake at dawnWhen all the world is grey and cool,And slip into the lonely depthOf a mountain pool.
Three meals my wife sets for me—Enough for any man.But on her freshly sanded floorI see the patteran.

[Pg 50]

TO A MUSICIAN

I THOUGHT that only God could make the rain,But when you laid your hands upon the keysThe room was full of gentle harmonies—An eager shower pattering on the pane,The hushed and wistful treadOf rain at night that marches overhead,The kind, grey rain that stills the windy trees.
I thought that only God could make a star,But I have heard your fingers build the sky,Have watched the yellow dusk of autumn dieAnd night creep up the east immense and far,Then glittering and bright,I’ve seen the Hunter girt with silver light,Orion with his shining hounds sweep by.
I thought that only God could make the sea,But in your music the unbounded deepIs gathered up as in a treasure heap—Calm spaces, rocks where singing tides run free,The cloudy-emerald foamShips on the world’s dim verge, far, far from home,And pools unrippled where the hushed winds sleep.

[Pg 51]

TEMPO

MY body could play delicate tunes,Music exquisite and thin,But I must keep it in its caseLike a violin.
A Scherzo prances in my blood,Mercurial and quick;I pirouette—the box snaps tightWith a malicious click.
A Saraband is not for me,It makes the varnish crack.I must play a grave, grave tuneSlow and elegiac!

[Pg 52]

TO SCRIABINE: L’EXTASE

NOT with the drums, the throbbing scarlet drums,Not with the voice of a silver flute,Not with the brazen clangour of cymbals,Nor the trumpets slitting the silence;Not with the maelstrom of soundMonstrous, prodigious,Comes ecstasy.But with stillnessAs when a flame burns unflickeringIn far, empty places;With the quiet of a leaf falling in the forest;With the hush of the elevation of the Host.

[Pg 53]

ADAM ASLEEP

FAR away I hear the voices of four rivers flowing,Wings in the thicket, and the four winds blowing.Adam sleeps in Eden. In this still placeI lie within his circling arm and look upon his face.
God walks in the garden when the day is cool,But the face of Adam is far more beautiful;He is like the splendour of the sun at noon,And the slope of his body like the white young moon.
Of what is he dreaming as he lies at rest?Of God in the Garden? Or Lilith’s breast?Adam sleeps in Eden, but down in the brakeI watch the cool glitter of a painted snake.

[Pg 54]

AN OLD HOUSE

I LOVE an old house,It is like an aged face,The worn lines,The strange, defeated grace.
Sorrow looks through these windowsThrough the crooked glass.And the sill is hollowWhere Death’s feet pass.
But there is yet a beauty,A triumph, a haughty thrust;The meek defiance of ancient lovelinessBefore the dust is dust.

[Pg 55]

MOONRISE

LIKE a white lotus flower the moon unfoldsHer luminous petals and the stars grow pale.Vague mists withdraw, grey shadows o’er the waterShadows of twilight tremulous and frail.The flutes of dusk are still; new worlds unveil;God for such moments made the nightingale.
And yet, O Philomel, thou couldst not chantFrom the cool shadow of a cedar tree,So high a lay as this I hear in rapture,The song his utter silence sings to me.Of the brown earth is thy winged melody.But God is in this wordless ecstasy.

[Pg 56]

CAGED

I HAVE a caged bird,He beats the bars;Wild and bright his eyes,On his breast, scars.
An oriole whistles;My bird has not a note,Though I can see the songTrembling in his throat.
Other birds fly southTo the green pampas floor,But in the blue airMine spreads his wings no more.
I have a caged bird,He neither flies nor sings,But when the house is stillI hear the beat of wings.