Selected Poems of Edwin Muir (1887-1959) The angel and the girl are met Earth was the only meeting place. For the embodied never yet Travelled beyond the shore of space. The eternal spirits in freedom go. See, they have come together, see, While the destroying minutes flow, Each reflects the other's face Till heaven in hers and earth in his Shine steady there. He's come to her From far beyond the farthest star, Feathered through time. Immediacy Of strangest strangeness is the bliss That from their limbs all movement takes. Yet the increasing rapture brings So great a wonder that it makess Each feather tremble on his wings Outside the window footsteps fall Into the ordinary day And with the sun along the wall Pursue their unreturning way Sound's perpetual roundabout Rolls its numbered octaves out And hoarsely grinds its battered tune But through the endless afternoon These neither speak nor movement make. But stare into their deepening trance As if their grace would never break. The Days by Edwin Muir Issuing from the Word The seven days came, Each in its own place, Its own name. And the first long days A hard and rocky spring, Inhuman burgeoning, And nothing there for claw or hand, Vast loneliness ere loneliness began, Where the blank seasons in their journeying Saw water at play with water and sand with sand. The waters stirred And from the doors were cast Wild lights and shadows on the formless face Of the flood of chaos, vast Lengthening and dwindling image of earth and heaven. The forest's green shadow Softly over the water driven, As if the earth's green wonder, endless meadow Floated and sank within its own green light. In water and night Sudden appeared the lion's violent head, Raging and burning in its watery cave. The stallion's tread Soundless fell on the flood, and the animals poured Onward, flowing across the flowing wave. Then on the waters fell The shadow of man, and earth and the heavens scrawled With names, as if each pebble and leaf would tell The tale untellable. And the Lord called The seventh day forth and the glory of the Lord. And now we see in the sun The mountains standing clear in the third day (Where they shall always stay) And thence a river run, Threading, clear cord of water, all to all: The wooded hill and the cattle in the meadow, The tall wave breaking on the high sea-wall, The people at evening walking, The crescent shadow Of the light built bridge, the hunter stalking The flying quarry, each in a different morning, The fish in the billow's heart, the man with the net, The hungry swords crossed in the cross of warning, The lion set High on the banner, leaping into the sky, The seasons playing Their game of sun and moon and east and west, The animal watching man and bird go by, The women praying For the passing of this fragmentary day Into the day where all are gathered together, Things and their names, in the storm's and the lightning's nest, The seventh great day and the clear eternal weather. "They Could Not Tell Me..." by Edwin Muir They could not tell me who should be my lord, But I could read from every word they said The common thought: Perhaps that lord was dead, And only a story now and a wandering word. How could I follow a word or serve a fable, They asked me. `Here are lords a-plenty. Take Service with one, if only for your sake, Yet better be your own master if you're able.' I would rather scour the roads, a masterless dog, Than take such service, be a public fool, Obstreperous or tongue-tied, a good rogue, Than be with those, the clever and the dull, Who say that lord is dead; when I hear Daily his dying whisper in my ear. (A poem from One Foot in Eden ) Reading in Wartime by Edwin Muir Boswell by my bed, Tolstoy on my table; Thought the world has bled For four and a half years, And wives' and mothers' tears Collected would be able To water a little field Untouched by anger and blood, A penitential yield Somewhere in the world; Though in each latitude Armies like forest fall, The iniquitous and the good Head over heels hurled, And confusion over all: Boswell's turbulent friend And his deafening verbal strife, Ivan Ilych's death Tell me more about life, The meaning and the end Of our familiar breath, Both being personal, Than all the carnage can, Retrieve the shape of man, Lost and anonymous, Tell me wherever I look That not one soul can die Of this or any clan Who is not one of us And has a personal tie Perhaps to someone now Searching an ancient book, Folk-tale or country song In many and many a tongue, To find the original face, The individual soul, The eye, the lip, the brow For ever gone from their place, And gather an image whole. The Child Dying by Edwin Muir Unfriendly friendly universe, I pack your stars into my purse, And bid you, bid you so farewell. That I can leave you, quite go out, Go out, go out beyond all doubt, My father says, is the miracle. You are so great, and I so small: I am nothing, you are all: Being nothing, I can take this way. Oh I need neither rise nor fall, For when I do not move at all I shall be out of all your day. It's said some memory will remain In the other place, grass in the rain, Light on the land, sun on the sea, A flitting grace, a phantom face, But the world is out. There is no place Where it and its ghost can ever be. Father, father, I dread this air Blown from the far side of despair, The cold cold corner. What house, what hold, What hand is there? I look and see Nothing-filled eternity And the great round world grows weak and old. Hold my hand, oh hold it fast -- I am changing! -- until at last My hand in yours no more will change, Though yours change on. You here, I there, So hand in hand, twin-leafed despair -- I did not know death was so strange. THE CONFIRMATION Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face. I in my mind had waited for this long, Seeing the false and searching for the true, Then found you as a traveller finds a place Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong Valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you, What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste, A well of water in a country dry, Or anything that's honest and good, an eye That makes the whole world seem bright. Your open heart, Simple with giving, gives the primal deed, The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed, The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea. Not beautiful or rare in every part. But like yourself, as they were meant to be. IN LOVE FOR LONG from his collection, The Voyage(1946) I've been in love for long With what I cannot tell And will contrive a song For the intangible That has no mould or shape, From which there's no escape, It's not even a name, Yet is all constancy; Tried or untried the same, It cannot part from me; A breath yet as still As the established hill. It is not any thing, And yet all being is; Being, being, being, Its burden and its bliss. How can I ever prove What it is I love? This happy happy love Is seiged with crying sorrows, Crushed beneath and above Between todays and morrows; A little paradise Held in the world's vice. And there it is content As careless as a child, And in imprisonment Flourishes sweet and wild: In wrong, beyond wrong All the world's day long. This love a moment known for what I do not know And in a moment gone Is like the happy doe That keeps its perfect laws Between the tiger's paws And vindicates its cause. The Killing That was the day they killed the Son of God On a squat hill-top by Jerusalem. Zion was bare, her children from their maze Sucked by the dream of curiosity Clean through the gates. The very halt and blind Had somehow got themselves up to the hill. After the ceremonial preparation, The scourging, nailing, nailing against the wood, Erection of the main-trees with their burden, While from the hill rose an orchestral wailing, They were there at last, high up in the soft spring day. We watched the writhings, heard the moanings, saw The three heads turning on their separate axles Like broken wheels left spinning. Round his head Was loosely bound a crown of plaited thorn That hurt at random, stinging temple and brow As the pain swung into its envious circle. In front the wreath was gathered in a knot That as he gazed looked like the last stump left Of a death-wounded deer's great antlers. Some Who came to stare grew silent as they looked, Indignant or sorry. But the hardened old And the hard-hearted young, although at odds From the first morning, cursed him with one curse, Having prayed for a Rabbi or an armed Messiah And found the Son of God. What use to them Was a God or a Son of God? Of what avail For purposes such as theirs? Beside the cross-foot, Alone, four women stood and did not move All day. The sun revolved, the shadows wheeled, The evening fell. His head lay on his breast, But in his breast they watched his heart move on By itself alone, accomplishing its journey. Their taunts grew louder, sharpened by the knowledge That he was walking in the park of death, Far from their rage. Yet all grew stale at last, Spite, curiosity, envy, hate itself. They waited only for death and death was slow And came so quietly they scarce could mark it. They were angry then with death and death's deceit. I was a stranger, could not read these people Or this outlandish deity. Did a God Indeed in dying cross my life that day By chance, he on his road and I on mine? 'The Combat' (from 'The Labyrinth', 1949) It was not meant for human eyes, That combat on the shabby patch Of clods and trampled turf that lies Somewhere beneath the sodden skies For eye of toad or adder to catch. And having seen it I accuse The crested animal in his pride, Arrayed in all the royal hues Which hide the claws he well can use To tear the heart out of the side. Body of leopard, eagle's head And whetted beak, and lion's mane, And frost-grey hedge of feathers spread Behind -- he seemed of all things bred. I shall not see his like again. As for his enemy there came in A soft round beast as brown as clay; All rent and patched his wretched skin; A battered bag he might have been, Some old used thing to throw away. Yet he awaited face to face The furious beast and the swift attack. Soon over and done. That was no place Or time for chivalry or for grace. The fury had him on his back. And two small paws like hands flew out To right and left as the trees stood by. One would have said beyond a doubt That was the very end of the bout, But that the creature would not die. For ere the death-stroke he was gone, Writhed, whirled, into his den, Safe somehow there. The fight was done, And he had lost who had all but won. But oh his deadly fury then. A while the place lay blank, forlorn, Drowsing as in relief from pain. The cricket chirped, the grating thorn Stirred, and a little sound was born. The champions took their posts again. And all began. The stealthy paw Slashed out and in. Could nothing save These rags and tatters from the claw? Nothing. And yet I never saw A beast so helpless and so brave. And now, while the trees stand watching, still The unequal battle rages there. The killing beast that cannot kill Swells and swells in his fury till You'd almost think it was despair. The Horses Barely a twelvemonth after The seven days war that put the world to sleep, Late in the evening the strange horses came. By then we had made our covenant with silence, But in the first few days it was so still We listened to our breathing and were afraid. On the second day The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer. On the third day a warship passed us, heading north, Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter Nothing. The radios dumb; And still they stand in corners of our kitchens, And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms All over the world. But now if they should speak, If on a sudden they should speak again, If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak, We would not listn, we would not let it bring That old bad world that swallowed its children quick At one great gulp. We would not have it again. Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep, Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow, And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness. The tractors lie about our fields; at evening They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting. We leave them where they are and let them rust: "They'll molder away and be like other loam." We make our oxen drag our rusty plows, Long laid aside. We have gone back Far past our fathers' land. And then, that evening Late in the summer the strange horses came. We heard a distant tapping on the road, A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again And at the corner changed to hollow thunder. We saw the heads Like a wild wave charging and were afraid. We had sold our horses in our fathers' time To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield. Or illustrations in a book of knights. We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited, Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent By an old command to find our whereabouts And that long-lost archaic companionship. In the first moment we had never a thought That they were creatures to be owned and used. Among them were some half a dozen colts Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world, Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden. Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads, But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts. Our life is changed; their coming our beginning. The Incarnate One The windless northern surge, the sea-gull's scream, And Calvin's kirk crowning the barren brae. I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd's dream, Christ, man and creature in their inner day. How could our race betray The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake Who chose this form and fashion for our sake? The Word made flesh here is made word again A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook. See there King Calvin with his iron pen, And God three angry letters in a book, And there the logical hook On which the Mystery is impaled and bent Into an ideological argument. There's better gospel in man's natural tongue, And truer sight was theirs outside the Law Who saw the far side of the Cross among The archaic peoples in their ancient awe, In ignorant wonder saw The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside, Not knowing that there a God suffered and died. The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down, Pagan and Christian man alike will fall, The auguries say, the white and black and brown, The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all Invisibly will fall: Abstract calamity, save for those who can Build their cold empire on the abstract man. A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well The bloodless word will battle for its own Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell. The generations tell Their personal tale: the One has far to go Past the mirages and the murdering snow. Merlin O Merlin in your crystal cave Deep in the diamond of the day, Will there ever be a singer Whose music will smooth away The furrow drawn by Adam's finger Across the memory and the wave? Or a runner who'll outrun Man's long shadow driving on, Break through the gate of memory And hang the apple on the tree? Will your magic ever show The sleeping bride shut in her bower, The day wreathed in its mound of snow and Time locked in his tower? The Castle All through that summer at ease we lay, And daily from the turret wall We watched the mowers in the hay And the enemy half a mile away They seemed no threat to us at all. For what, we thought, had we to fear With our arms and provender, load on load, Our towering battlements, tier on tier, And friendly allies drawing near On every leafy summer road. Our gates were strong, our walls were thick, So smooth and high, no man could win A foothold there, no clever trick Could take us, have us dead or quick. Only a bird could have got in. What could they offer us for bait? Our captain was brave and we were true.... There was a little private gate, A little wicked wicket gate. The wizened warder let them through. Oh then our maze of tunneled stone Grew thin and treacherous as air. The cause was lost without a groan, The famous citadel overthrown, And all its secret galleries bare. How can this shameful tale be told? I will maintain until my death We could do nothing, being sold; Our only enemy was gold, And we had no arms to fight it with. The Good Man in Hell If a good man were ever housed in Hell By needful error of the qualities, Perhaps to prove the rule or shame the devil, Or speak the truth only a stranger sees, Would he, surrendering quick to obvious hate, Fill half eternity with cries and tears, Or watch beside Hell's little wicket gate In patience for the first ten thousand years, Feeling the curse climb slowly to his throat That, uttered, dooms him to rescindless ill, Forcing his praying tongue to run by rote, Eternity entire before him still? Would he at last, grown faithful in his station, Kindle a little hope in hopeless Hell, And sow among the damned doubts of damnation, Since here someone could live, and live well? One doubt of evil would bring down such a grace, Open such a gate, and Eden could enter in, Hell be a place like any other place, And love and hate and life and death begin.