Low Tide on Grand Pré: A Book of Lyrics

by Bliss Carman


 

PULVIS ET UMBRA


 

THERE is dust upon my fingers,
     Pale gray dust of beaten wings,
Where a great moth came and settled
     From the night’s blown winnowings.

Harvest with her low red planets

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     Wheeling over Arrochar;
And the lonely hopeless calling
     Of the bell-buoy on the bar,

Where the sea with her old secret
     Moves in sleep and cannot rest.

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From that dark beyond my doorway,
     Silent the unbidden guest

Came and tarried, fearless, gentle,
     Vagrant of the starlit gloom,
One frail waif of beauty fronting

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     Immortality and doom;

Through the chambers of the twilight
     Roaming from the vast outland,
Resting for a thousand heart-beats
     In the hollow of my hand.

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"Did the volley of a thrush-song
     Lodge among some leaves and dew
Hillward, then across the gloaming
     This dark mottled thing was you?

"Or is my mute guest whose coming

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     So unheralded befell
From the border wilds of dreamland,
     Only whimsy Ariel,

"Gleaning with the wind, in furrows
     Lonelier than dawn to reap,

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Dust and shadow and forgetting,
     Frost and reverie and sleep?

"In the hush when Cleopatra
     Felt the darkness reel and cease,
Was thy soul a wan blue lotus

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     Laid upon her lips for peace?

"And through all the years that wayward
     Passion in on mortal breath,
Making thee a thing of silence,
     Make thee as the lords of death?

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"Or did goblin men contrive thee
     In the forges of the hills
Out of thistle-drift and sundown
     Lost amid their tawny rills,

"Every atom on their anvil

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     Beaten fine and bolted home,
Every quiver wrought to cadence
     From the rapture of a gnome?

"Then the lonely mountain wood-wind,
     Straying up from dale to dale,

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Gave thee spirit, free forever,
     Thou immortal and so frail!

"Surly thou art not that sun-bright
     Psyche, hoar with age, and hurled
On the northern shore of Lethe,

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     To this wan Auroral world!

"Ghost of Psyche, uncompanioned,
     Are the yester-years all done?
Have the oars of Charon ferried
     All thy playmates from the sun?

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"In thy wings the beat and breathing
     Of the wind of life abides,
And the night whose sea-gray cohorts
     Swing the stars up with the tides.

"Did they once make sail and wander

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     Through the trembling harvest sky,
Where the silent Northern streamers
     Change and rest not till they die?

"Or from clouds that tent and people
     The blue firmamental waste,

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Did they learn the noiseless secret
     Of eternity’s unhaste?

"Where learned they to rove and loiter,
     By the margin of what sea?
Was it with outworn Demeter,

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     Searching for Persephone?

"Or did that girl-queen behold thee
     In the fields of moveless air?
Did these wings which break no whisper
     Brush the poppies in her hair?

80

"Is it thence they wear the pulvil—
     Ash of ruined days and sleep,
And the two great orbs of splendid
     Melting sable deep on deep!

"Pilot of the shadow people,

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     Steering whither by what star
Hast thou come to hapless port here,
     Thou gray ghost of Arrochar?"

For man walks the world with mourning
     Down to death, and leaves no trace,

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With the dust upon his forehead,
     And the shadow in his face.

Pillared dust and fleeing shadow
     As the roadside wind goes by,
And the fourscore years that vanish

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     In the twinkling of an eye.

Beauty, the fine frosty trace-work
     Of some breath upon the pane;
Spirit, the keen wintry moonlight
     Flashed thereon to fade again.

100

Beauty, the white clouds a-building
     When God said and it was done;
Spirit, the sheer brooding rapture
     Where no mid-day brooks no sun.

So. And here, the open casement

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     Where my fellow-mate goes free;
Eastward, the untrodden star-road
     And the long wind on the sea

What’s to hinder but I follow
     This my gypsy guide afar,

110
When the bugle rouses slumber
     Sounding taps on Arrochar?

"Where, my brother, wends the by-way,
     To what bourne beneath what sun,
Thou and I are set to travel

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     Till the shifting dream be done?

Comrade of the dusk, forever
     I pursue the endless way
Of the dust and shadew kindred,
     Thou art perfect for a day.

120

"Yet from beauty marred and broken,
     Joy and memory and tears,
I shall crush the clearer honey
     In the harvest of the years.

"Thou art faultless as a flower

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     Wrought of sun and wind and snow,
I survive the fault and failure.
     The wise Fates will have it so.

"For man walks the world in twilight,
     But the morn shall wipe all trace

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Of the dust from off his forehead,
     And the shadow from his face.

"Cheer thee on, my tidings-bearer!
     All the valor of the North
Mounts as soul from flesh escaping

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     Through the night, and bids thee forth.

"Go, and when thou has discovered
     Her whose dark eyes match thy wings,
Bid that lyric heart beat lighter
     For the joy thy beauty brings."

140

Then I leaned far out and lifted
     My light guest up, and bade speed
On the trail where no one tarries
     That wayfarer few will heed.

Pale gray dust upon my fingers;

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     And from this my cabined room
The white soul of eager message
     Racing seaward in the gloom.

Far off shore, the sweet low calling
     Of the bell-buoy on the bar,

150
Warning night of dawn and ruin
     Lonelily on Arrochar.