For Easter, 2018, I am posting this poem on my website. It's one of my favorites, and
I think it should be better known.
This is an excerpt from the long poem The Jig of Forslin,
(Part IV, Section 2, 1916), by Conrad Aiken.
He later revised it, but the revisions are minor and the copyright on
this version has expired, so I'm posting the earlier version with a
few typos corrected.
Conrad Aiken published three sections of The Jig of Forslin
under the title Miracles, and this is the middle one.
The first of these sections has been reprinted widely by itself
with the title Miracles, but I like this section
better. It stands alone quite well.
To avoid confusion, I'm titling it Miracles II.
Under a tree I sit, and cross my knees,
And smoke a cigarette.
You nod to me: you think perhaps you know me.
But I escape you, I am none of these;
I leave my name behind me, I forget ...
I hear a fountain shattering into a pool;
I see the goldfish slanting under the cool;
And suddenly all is frozen into silence.
And among the firs, or over desert grass,
Or out of a cloud of dust, or out of darkness,
Or on the first slow patter of sultry rain,
I hear a voice cry ‘Marvels have come to pass,—
The like of which shall not be seen again!’
And behold, across a sea one came to us,
Treading the wave's edge with his naked feet,
Slowly, as one might walk in a ploughed field.
We stood where the soft waves on the shingle beat,
In a blowing mist, and pressed together in terror,
And marvelled that all our eyes might share one error.
For if the fisher's fine-spun net must sink,
Or pebbles flung by a boy, or the thin sand,
How shall we understand
That flesh and blood might tread on the sea-water
And foam not wet the ankles? We must think
That all we know is lost, or only a dream,
That dreams are real, and real things only dream.
And if a man may walk to us like this
On the unstable sea, as on a beach,
With his head bowed in thought—
Then we have been deceived in what men teach,
And all our knowledge has come to nought;
And a lit flame should seek the earth,
And leaves, falling, should seek the sky,
And surely we should enter the womb for birth,
And sing from the ashes when we die.
Or was the man a god, perhaps, or devil?
They say he healed the sick by stroke of hands;
And that he gave the sights of the earth to the blind.
And I have heard that he could touch a fig-tree,
And say to it `Be withered!' and it would shrink
Like a cursed thing, and writhe its leaves, and die.
How shall we understand such things, I wonder,
Unless there are things invisible to the eye?
And there was Lazarus, raised from the dead:
To whom he spoke quietly, in the dusk,—
Lazarus, three days dead, and mortified;
And the pale body trembled; as from a swoon,
Sweating, the sleeper woke, and raised his head;
And turned his puzzled eyes from side to side ...
Should we not, then, hear voices in a stone,
Talking of heaven and hell?
Or if one walked beside a sea, alone,
Hear broodings of a bell?—
Or on a green hill in the evening's fire,
If we should stand and listen to poplar trees,
Should we not hear the lit leaves suddenly choir
A jargon of silver music against the sky?—
Or the dew sing, or dust profoundly cry?—
If this is possible, then all things are:
And I may leave my body crumpled there
Like an old garment on the floor;
To walk abroad on the unbetraying air;
To pass through every door,
And see the hills of the earth, or climb a star.
Wound me with spears, you only stab the wind;
You nail my cloak against a bitter tree;
You do not injure me.
I pass through the crowd, the dark crowd busy with murder,
Through the linked arms I pass;
And slowly descend the hill, through dew-wet grass.