The Poetry Corner

The Defeat Of Youth

By Aldous Leonard Huxley

I. UNDER THE TREES. There had been phantoms, pale-remembered shapes Of this and this occasion, sisterly In their resemblances, each effigy Crowned with the same bright hair above the nape's White rounded firmness, and each body alert With such swift loveliness, that very rest Seemed a poised movement: ... phantoms that impressed But a faint influence and could bless or hurt No more than dreams. And these ghost things were she; For formless still, without identity, Not one she seemed, not clear, but many and dim. One face among the legions of the street, Indifferent mystery, she was for him Something still uncreated, incomplete. II. Bright windy sunshine and the shadow of cloud Quicken the heavy summer to new birth Of life and motion on the drowsing earth; The huge elms stir, till all the air is loud With their awakening from the muffled sleep Of long hot days. And on the wavering line That marks the alternate ebb of shade and shine, Under the trees, a little group is deep In laughing talk. The shadow as it flows Across them dims the lustre of a rose, Quenches the bright clear gold of hair, the green Of a girl's dress, and life seems faint. The light Swings back, and in the rose a fire is seen, Gold hair's aflame and green grows emerald bright. III. She leans, and there is laughter in the face She turns towards him; and it seems a door Suddenly opened on some desolate place With a burst of light and music. What before Was hidden shines in loveliness revealed. Now first he sees her beautiful, and knows That he must love her; and the doom is sealed Of all his happiness and all the woes That shall be born of pregnant years hereafter. The swift poise of a head, a flutter of laughter-- And love flows in on him, its vastness pent Within his narrow life: the pain it brings, Boundless; for love is infinite discontent With the poor lonely life of transient things. IV. Men see their god, an immanence divine, Smile through the curve of flesh or moulded clay, In bare ploughed lands that go sloping away To meet the sky in one clean exquisite line. Out of the short-seen dawns of ecstasy They draw new beauty, whence new thoughts are born And in their turn conceive, as grains of corn Germ and create new life and endlessly Shall live creating. Out of earthly seeds Springs the aerial flower. One spirit proceeds Through change, the same in body and in soul-- The spirit of life and love that triumphs still In its slow struggle towards some far-off goal Through lust and death and the bitterness of will. V. One spirit it is that stirs the fathomless deep Of human minds, that shakes the elms in storm, That sings in passionate music, or on warm Still evenings bosoms forth the tufted sleep Of thistle-seeds that wait a travelling wind. One spirit shapes the subtle rhythms of thought And the long thundering seas; the soul is wrought Of one stuff with the body--matter and mind Woven together in so close a mesh That flowers may blossom into a song, that flesh May strangely teach the loveliest holiest things To watching spirits. Truth is brought to birth Not in some vacant heaven: its beauty springs From the dear bosom of material earth. VI. IN THE HAY-LOFT. The darkness in the loft is sweet and warm With the stored hay ... darkness intensified By one bright shaft that enters through the wide Tall doors from under fringes of a storm Which makes the doomed sun brighter. On the hay, Perched mountain-high they sit, and silently Watch the motes dance and look at the dark sky And mark how heartbreakingly far away And yet how close and clear the distance seems, While all at hand is cloud--brightness of dreams Unrealisable, yet seen so clear, So only just beyond the dark. They wait, Scarce knowing what they wait for, half in fear; Expectance draws the curtain from their fate. VII. The silence of the storm weighs heavily On their strained spirits: sometimes one will say Some trivial thing as though to ward away Mysterious powers, that imminently lie In wait, with the strong exorcising grace Of everyday's futility. Desire Becomes upon a sudden a crystal fire, Defined and hard:--If he could kiss her face, Could kiss her hair! As if by chance, her hand Brushes on his ... Ah, can she understand? Or is she pedestalled above the touch Of his desire? He wonders: dare he seek From her that little, that infinitely much? And suddenly she kissed him on the cheek. VIII. MOUNTAINS. A stronger gust catches the cloud and twists A spindle of rifted darkness through its heart, A gash in the damp grey, which, thrust apart, Reveals black depths a moment. Then the mists Shut down again; a white uneasy sea Heaves round the climbers and beneath their feet. He strains on upwards through the wind and sleet, Poised, or swift moving, or laboriously Lifting his weight. And if he should let go, What would he find down there, down there below The curtain of the mist? What would he find Beyond the dim and stifling now and here, Beneath the unsettled turmoil of his mind? Oh, there were nameless depths: he shrank with fear. IX. The hills more glorious in their coat of snow Rise all around him, in the valleys run Bright streams, and there are lakes that catch the sun, And sunlit fields of emerald far below That seem alive with inward light. In smoke The far horizons fade; and there is peace On everything, a sense of blessed release From wilful strife. Like some prophetic cloak The spirit of the mountains has descended On all the world, and its unrest is ended. Even the sea, glimpsed far away, seems still, Hushed to a silver peace its storm and strife. Mountains of vision, calm above fate and will, You hold the promise of the freer life. X. IN THE LITTLE ROOM. London unfurls its incense-coloured dusk Before the panes, rich but a while ago With the charred gold and the red ember-glow Of dying sunset. Houses quit the husk Of secrecy, which, through the day, returns A blank to all enquiry: but at nights The cheerfulness of fire and lamp invites The darkness inward, curious of what burns With such a coloured life when all is dead-- The daylight world outside, with overhead White clouds, and where we walk, the blaze Of wet and sunlit streets, shops and the stream Of glittering traffic--all that the nights erase, Colour and speed, surviving but in dream. XI. Outside the dusk, but in the little room All is alive with light, which brightly glints On curving cup or the stiff folds of chintz, Evoking its own whiteness. Shadows loom, Bulging and black, upon the walls, where hang Rich coloured plates of beauties that appeal Less to the sense of sight than to the feel, So moistly satin are their breasts. A pang, Almost of pain, runs through him when he sees Hanging, a homeless marvel, next to these, The silken breastplate of a mandarin, Centuries dead, which he had given her. Exquisite miracle, when men could spin Jay's wing and belly of the kingfisher! XII. In silence and as though expectantly She crouches at his feet, while he caresses His light-drawn fingers with the touch of tresses Sleeked round her head, close-banded lustrously, Save where at nape and temple the smooth brown Sleaves out into a pale transparent mist Of hair and tangled light. So to exist, Poised 'twixt the deep of thought where spirits drown Life in a void impalpable nothingness, And, on the other side, the pain and stress Of clamorous action and the gnawing fire Of will, focal upon a point of earth--even thus To sit, eternally without desire And yet self-known, were happiness for us. XIII. She turns her head and in a flash of laughter Looks up at him: and helplessly he feels That life has circled with returning wheels Back to a starting-point. Before and after Merge in this instant, momently the same: For it was thus she leaned and laughing turned When, manifest, the spirit of beauty burned In her young body with an inward flame, And first he knew and loved her. In full tide Life halts within him, suddenly stupefied. Sight blackness, lightning-struck; but blindly tender He draws her up to meet him, and she lies Close folded by his arms in glad surrender, Smiling, and with drooped head and half closed eyes. XIV. "I give you all; would that I might give more." He sees the colour dawn across her cheeks And die again to white; marks as she speaks The trembling of her lips, as though she bore Some sudden pain and hardly mastered it. Within his arms he feels her shuddering, Piteously trembling like some wild wood-thing Caught unawares. Compassion infinite Mounts up within him. Thus to hold and keep And comfort her distressed, lull her to sleep And gently kiss her brow and hair and eyes Seems love perfected--templed high and white Against the calm of golden autumn skies, And shining quenchlessly with vestal light. XV. But passion ambushed by the aerial shrine Comes forth to dance, a hoofed obscenity, His satyr's dance, with laughter in his eye, And cruelty along the scarlet line Of his bright smiling mouth. All uncontrolled, Love's rebel servant, he delights to beat The maddening quick dry rhythm of goatish feet Even in the sanctuary, and makes bold To mime himself the godhead of the place. He turns in terror from her trance-calmed face, From the white-lidded languor of her eyes, From lips that passion never shook before, But glad in the promise of her sacrifice: "I give you all; would that I might give more." XVI. He is afraid, seeing her lie so still, So utterly his own; afraid lest she Should open wide her eyes and let him see The passionate conquest of her virgin will Shine there in triumph, starry-bright with tears. He thrusts her from him: face and hair and breast, Hands he had touched, lips that his lips had pressed, Seem things deadly to be desired. He fears Lest she should body forth in palpable shame Those dreams and longings that his blood, aflame Through the hot dark of summer nights, had dreamed And longed. Must all his love, then, turn to this? Was lust the end of what so pure had seemed? He must escape, ah God! her touch, her kiss. XVII. IN THE PARK. Laughing, "To-night," I said to him, "the Park Has turned the garden of a symbolist. Those old great trees that rise above the mist, Gold with the light of evening, and the dark Still water, where the dying sun evokes An echoed glory--here I recognize Those ancient gardens mirrored by the eyes Of poets that hate the world of common folks, Like you and me and that thin pious crowd, Which yonder sings its hymns, so humbly proud Of holiness. The garden of escape Lies here; a small green world, and still the bride Of quietness, although an imminent rape Roars ceaselessly about on every side." XVIII. I had forgotten what I had lightly said, And without speech, without a thought I went, Steeped in that golden quiet, all content To drink the transient beauty as it sped Out of eternal darkness into time To light and burn and know itself a fire; Yet doomed--ah, fate of the fulfilled desire!-- To fade, a meteor, paying for the crime Of living glorious in the denser air Of our material earth. A strange despair, An agony, yet strangely, subtly sweet And tender as an unpassionate caress, Filled me ... Oh laughter! youth's conceit Grown almost conscious of youth's feebleness! XIX. He spoke abrupt across my dream: "Dear Garden, A stranger to your magic peace, I stand Beyond your walls, lost in a fevered land Of stones and fire. Would that the gods would harden My soul against its torment, or would blind Those yearning glimpses of a life at rest In perfect beauty--glimpses at the best Through unpassed bars. And here, without, the wind Of scattering passion blows: and women pass Glitter-eyed down putrid alleys where the glass Of some grimed window suddenly parades-- Ah, sickening heart-beat of desire!--the grace Of bare and milk-warm flesh: the vision fades, And at the pane shows a blind tortured face." XX. SELF-TORMENT. The days pass by, empty of thought and will: His thought grows stagnant at its very springs, With every channel on the world of things Dammed up, and thus, by its long standing still, Poisons itself and sickens to decay. All his high love for her, his fair desire, Loses its light; and a dull rancorous fire, Burning darkness and bitterness that prey Upon his heart are left. His spirit burns Sometimes with hatred, or the hatred turns To a fierce lust for her, more cruel than hate, Till he is weary wrestling with its force: And evermore she haunts him, early and late, As pitilessly as an old remorse. XXI. Streets and the solitude of country places Were once his friends. But as a man born blind, Opening his eyes from lovely dreams, might find The world a desert and men's larval faces So hateful, he would wish to seek again The darkness and his old chimeric sight Of beauties inward--so, that fresh delight, Vision of bright fields and angelic men, That love which made him all the world, is gone. Hating and hated now, he stands alone, An island-point, measureless gulfs apart From other lives, from the old happiness Of being more than self, when heart to heart Gave all, yet grew the greater, not the less. XXII. THE QUARRY IN THE WOOD. Swiftly deliberate, he seeks the place. A small wind stirs, the copse is bright in the sun: Like quicksilver the shine and shadow run Across the leaves. A bramble whips his face, The tears spring fast, and through the rainbow mist He sees a world that wavers like the flame Of a blown candle. Tears of pain and shame, And lips that once had laughed and sung and kissed Trembling in the passion of his sobbing breath! The world a candle shuddering to its death, And life a darkness, blind and utterly void Of any love or goodness: all deceit, This friendship and this God: all shams destroyed, And truth seen now. Earth fails beneath his feet.