Behind the Arras

Original Text: 
Bliss Carman, Behind the Arras: A Book of the Unseen (Boston and New York: Lamson, Wolffe, 1905), pp. 1-15. PS 8455 A7B4 1895 Robarts Library.
1I like the old house tolerably well,
2Where I must dwell
3Like a familiar gnome;
4And yet I never shall feel quite at home.
5I love to roam.
6Day after day I loiter and explore
7From door to door;
8So many treasures lure
9The curious mind. What histories obscure
10They must immure!
11I hardly know which room I care for best;
12This fronting west,
13With the strange hills in view,
14Where the great sun goes,-where I may go too,
15When my lease is through,-
16Or this one for the morning and the east,
17Where a man may feast
18His eyes on looming sails,
19And be the first to catch their foreign hails
20Or spy their bales
21Then the pale summer twilights towards the pole!
22It thrills my soul
23With wonder and delight,
24When gold-green shadows walk the world at night,
25So still, so bright.
26There at the window many a time of year,
27Strange faces peer,
28Solemn though not unkind,
29Their wits in search of something left behind
30Time out of mind;
31As if they once had lived here, and stole back
32To the window crack
33For a peep which seems to say,
34"Good fortune, brother, in your house of clay!"
35And then, "Good day!"
36I hear their footsteps on the gravel walk,
37Their scraps of talk,
38And hurrying after, reach
39Only the crazy sea-drone of the beach
40In endless speech.
41And often when the autumn noons are still,
42By swale and hill
43I see their gipsy signs,
44Trespassing somewhere on my border lines;
45With what designs?
46I forth afoot; but when I reach the place,
47Hardly a trace,
48Save the soft purple haze
49Of smouldering camp-fires, any hint betrays
50Who went these ways.
51Or tatters of pale aster blue, descried
52By the roadside,
53Reveal whither they fled;
54Or the swamp maples, here and there a shred
55Of Indian red.
56But most of all, the marvellous tapestry
57Engrosses me,
58Where such strange things are rife,
59Fancies of beasts and flowers, and love and strife,
60Woven to the life;
61Degraded shapes and splendid seraph forms,
62And teeming swarms
63Of creatures gauzy dim
64That cloud the dusk, and painted fish that swim,
65At the weaver's whim;
66And wonderful birds that wheel and hang in the air;
67And beings with hair,
68And moving eyes in the face,
69And white bone teeth and hideous grins, who race
70From place to place;
71They build great temples to their John-a-nod,
72And fume and plod
73To deck themselves with gold,
74And paint themselves like chattels to be sold,
75Then turn to mould.
76Sometimes they seem almost as real as I;
77I hear them sigh;
78I see them bow with grief,
79Or dance for joy like any aspen leaf;
80But that is brief.
81They have mad wars and phantom marriages;
82Nor seem to guess
83There are dimensions still,
84Beyond thought's reach, though not beyond love's will,
85For soul to fill.
86And some I call my friends, and make believe
87Their spirits grieve,
88Brood, and rejoice with mine;
89I talk to them in phrases quaint and fine
90Over the wine;
91I tell them all my secrets; touch their hands;
92One understands
93Perhaps. How hard he tries
94To speak! And yet those glorious mild eyes,
95His best replies!
96I even have my cronies, one or two,
97My cherished few.
98But ah, they do not stay!
99For the sun fades them and they pass away,
100As I grow gray.
101Yet while they last how actual they seem!
102Their faces beam;
103I give them all their names,
104Bertram and Gilbert, Louis, Frank and James,
105Each with his aims;
106One thinks he is a poet, and writes verse
107His friends rehearse;
108 Another is full of law;
109A third sees pictures which his hand can draw
110Without a flaw.
111Strangest of all, they never rest. Day long
112They shift and throng,
113Moved by invisible will,
114Like a great breath which puffs across my sill,
115And then is still;
116It shakes my lovely manikins on the wall;
117Squall after squall,
118Gust upon crowding gust,
119It sweeps them willy nilly like blown dust
120With glory or lust.
121It is the world-ghost, the time-spirit, come
122None knows wherefrom,
123The viewless draughty tide
124And wash of being. I hear it yaw and glide,
125And then subside,
126Along these ghostly corridors and halls
127Like faint footfalls;
128The hangings stir in the air;
129And when I start and challenge, "Who goes there?"
130It answers, "Where?"
131The wail and sob and moan of the sea's dirge,
132Its plangor and surge;
133The awful biting sough
134Of drifted snows along some arctic bluff,
135That veer and luff,
136And have the vacant boding human cry,
137As they go by;-
138Is it a banished soul
139Dredging the dark like a distracted mole
140Under a knoll?
141Like some invisible henchman old and gray,
142Day after day
143I hear it come and go,
144With stealthy swift unmeaning to and fro,
145Muttering low,
146Ceaseless and daft and terrible and blind,
147Like a lost mind.
148I often chill with fear
149When I bethink me, What if it should peer
150At my shoulder here!
151Perchance he drives the merry-go-round whose track
152Is the zodiac;
153His name is No-man's-friend;
154And his gabbling parrot-talk has neither trend,
155Beginning, nor end.
156A prince of madness too, I'd cry, "A rat!"
157And lunge thereat,-
158Let out at one swift thrust
159The cunning arch-delusion of the dust
160I so mistrust,
161But that I fear I should disclose a face
162Wearing the trace
163Of my own human guise,
164Piteous, unharmful, loving, sad, and wise
165With the speaking eyes.
166I would the house were rid of his grim pranks,
167Moaning from banks
168Of pine trees in the moon,
169Startling the silence like a demoniac loon
170At dead of noon.
171Or whispering his fool-talk to the leaves
172About my eaves.
173And yet how can I know
175In mocking woe?
176Then with a little broken laugh I say,
177Snatching away
178The curtain where he grinned
179(My feverish sight thought) like a sin unsinned,
180"Only the wind!"
181Yet often too he steals so softly by.
182With half a sigh,
183I deem he must be mild,
184Fair as a woman, gentle as a child,
185And forest wild.
186Passing the door where an old wind-harp swings,
187With its five strings,
188Contrived long years ago
189By my first predecessor bent to show
190His handcraft so,
192As a core of fire
193Is laid upon the blast
194To kindle and glow and fill the purple vast
195Of dark at last.
196Weird wise, and low, piercing and keen and glad,
197Or dim and sad
198As a forgotten strain
199Born when the broken legions of the rain
200Swept through the plain-
201He plays, like some dread veiled mysteriarch,
202Lighting the dark,
203Bidding the spring grow warm,
204The gendering merge and loosing of spirit in form,
205Peace out of storm.
206For music is the sacrament of love;
207He broods above
208The virgin silence, till
209She yields for rapture shuddering, yearning still
210To his sweet will.
211I hear him sing, "Your harp is like a mesh,
212Woven of flesh
213And spread within the shoal
214Of life, where runs the tide-race of the soul
215In my control.
216"Though my wild way may ruin what it bends,
217It makes amends
218To the frail downy clocks,
219Telling their seed a secret that unlocks
220The granite rocks.
221"The womb of silence to the crave of sound
222Is heaven unfound,
223Till I, to soothe and slake
224Being's most utter and imperious ache,
225Bid rhythm awake.
226"If with such agonies of bliss, my kin,
227I enter in
228Your prison house of sense,
229With what a joyous freed intelligence
230I shall go hence."
231I need no more to guess the weaver's name,
232Nor ask his aim,
233Who hung each hall and room
234With swarthy-tinged vermilion upon gloom;
235I know that loom.
236Give me a little space and time enough,
237From ravelings rough
238I could revive, reweave,
239A fabric of beauty art might well believe
240Were past retrieve.
241O men and women in that rich design,
242Sleep-soft, sun-fine,
243Dew-tenuous and free,
244A tone of the infinite wind-themes of the sea,
245Borne in to me,
246Reveals how you were woven to the might
247Of shadow and light.
248You are the dream of One
249Who loves to haunt and yet appears to shun
250My door in the sun;
251As the white roving sea tern fleck and skim
252The morning's rim;
253Or the dark thrushes clear
254Their flutes of music leisurely and sheer,
255Then hush to hear.
256I know him when the last red brands of day
257Smoulder away,
258And when the vernal showers
259Bring back the heart to all my valley flowers
260In the soft hours.
261O hand of mine and brain of mine, be yours,
262While time endures,
263To acquiesce and learn!
264For what we best may dare and drudge and yearn,
265Let soul discern.
266So, fellows, we shall reach the gusty gate,
267Early or late,
268And part without remorse,
269A cadence dying down unto its source
270In music's course;
271You to the perfect rhythms of flowers and birds,
272Colors and words,
273The heart-beats of the earth,
274To be remoulded always of one worth
275From birth to birth;
276I to the broken rhythm of thought and man,
277The sweep and span
278Of memory and hope
279About the orbit where they still must grope
280For wider scope,
281To be through thousand springs restored, renewed,
282With love imbrued,
283With increments of will
284Made strong, perceiving unattainment still
285From each new skill.
286Always the flawless beauty, always the chord
287Of the Overword,
288Dominant, pleading, sure,
289No truth too small to save and make endure.
290No good too poor!
291And since no mortal can at last disdain
292That sweet refrain,
293But lets go strife and care,
294Borne like a strain of bird notes on the air,
295The wind knows where;
296Some quiet April evening soft and strange,
297When comes the change
298No spirit can deplore,
299I shall be one with all I was before,
300In death once more.


174] Ariel: New-World spirit employed and then freed by Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Back to Line
191] Aeolus, the Greek wind-god, plays the "wind-harp" (186), the strings of which are identically tuned so that the wind, playing over them, produces different harmonics of the one tone. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.